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Ego - false self-representation

In the Gurmat and other Indic wisdom traditions, there is not just psychology, but whole schools and systems of psychologies. Unfortunately due to the dominant colonial and ego-centric worldview, many of these sophisticated systems have been ignored, marginalized or distorted to fit within the rather primitive understanding being presented as “psychology” within Western or modern main stream.

Fortunately, as a result of the epidemic of mental illness sweeping across developed nations, such as depression, anxiety, stress and its impact of physical health has now brought to light the incredibly therapeutic impact on psychological and physical health through intervention especially mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, chi kung to mention but a few.

Neither the World Health Organization (WHO) nor the NHS can agree on what is the definition of mental health. An interesting question arises, how can a culture who does not even understanding the difference between the mind (mann), ego (Haumai), awareness (Surti) and consciousness (atma) actually define mental health?

The emphasis from Western psychotherapy is the need for a strong actualized ego which is competent in its world function. In contrast Gurmat like Buddhist psychology recognize the ego (Haumai) as a conditioned self preservation and defense mechanism, which appears to be in charge of the psyche but is in its essential nature, nothing more than a psychological construct which functions in as a controlling, managerial structure, but more importantly also as a dynamic active self-grasping activity. A process of continually re-presenting itself through thoughts, beliefs, opinions, emotions, actions which maintain it’s bounded and constraint sense of self.

It is important to recognize that the ego (Haumai) is a natural function and essential part of human development and function. The difficultly is when the ego is all that is recognized as representing the sense of self at the expense of what enables the ego to exist.

The limitation of Western psychology is evident as its entire psychotherapy is predominantly focused on "ego fixing" this is again in contrast to Gurmat, which recognises the ego as the root cause of suffering, but more importantly, the ego also contains the cure for its own disease.

ha-umai boojhai taa dar soojhai.
Understanding ego, enables the doorway to be known.

To transform the ego / mind, it is essential to first recognise the mind and its patterns, and then to understand how suffering in created through fusion with the content of the mind, including thoughts, emotions and attachment to the body.

Western psychology has been developed around the work of Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis, attempts to bring the various components of one's psyche such as memories, emotions, beliefs etc into some sort of cohesive sense of "self" so the person feels balanced and harmonised.

Gurmat affirm a psychological self at a conventional level, although false. For the most ultimate perspective ones being, one's actual nature is without margin, centre or reifiable qualities of any kind. This undermines any intellectual or conceptual grasp of its essence, at the same time, that essential nature is presented as positive, energetic, an open awareness.

Gurmat, identifies deeper instinct, in addition to the Freudian ones of sex and aggression, commonly known as "ignorance" (avidya); this is known as intrinsic reality instinct within Gurmat. This is the tendency to see a false and absolute identity in people and things.

Inclination of the human personality to see things as "something" or "nothing", the need for the ego to concretize reality so it can be understood and managed, extends to our experience of ourselves, this is ultimately a clinging for certainty.

Of the four parts of the mind, the empirical ego (haumai) is the most dominating. The empirical ego is the sense that "I, exist", so that it falsely experiences the phenomenal world as its own. (SGGSJ 76)

The ego creates an illusionary and erroneous (avidya or ignorance) sense of separation (duality) from the essence that binds all. The sense of "I" and the experience of separateness from the spiritual self leads to a struggle for existence and permanence. (SGGSJ 226, 538, 466)

According to Gurmat, the ego is seen in a number of ways, primarily as a chronic disease, as bondage, as a continuous self-grasping, and as conditioning (maal) of one’s mind. Yet, the ego is also seen to contain its own cure.

The ego as a result of its conditioned development and nature falls into the semiconscious and consensual-reality semi hypnotic state called maya, deluded and actively grasping external materialist pursuits believed to be a source of validating one's existence and the basis of happiness (SGGSJ 75).

Gurmat helps cultivate authenticity by uncovering the psychological, intellectual and emotional layers of the functioning Haumai (ego-complex).

The physical body (sareer) is regarded as the vessel for the spiritual self, consciousness (Atma), along with the mind created out of subtle matter and functions with the life-force prana, radiating from the spiritual self.

The physical body is regarded as transitory and after death when consciousness the formless Self spiritual separates, the physical body merges back into the five original elements, ether, air, fire, water and earth (SGGSJ 870).

Gurmat world view recognises that a person is not seen as an isolated entity,but rather as inter-connected and inter-dependent with all existence. This can be viewed from the self presective as existing as a result of parents and family (parvar), which is connected to the widers social circle (sangat), society (samaaj), nature, Existence (kudrat) and operating within the natural laws of creation, Hukam, all unified within the ultimate reality, Ek Oankar, one cosmological essence that unifies all diversity.

Gurmat emphasises that to live a full life, it is essential to be a productive part of society, respect and reverence for nature (unshorn hair), making a living through ethical work (kirt kami), sharing both time and resources with others (vand ke chakna), engage in egoless service (seva) and maintaining the lifestyle of a householder as opposed to becoming a sanyasi or ascetic.

Ego driven cyclic behaviour patterns

The sense of separation from the sacred and therefore, non-awareness of one's true nature, gives rise to the empirical ego in a fragile body, leading to fearfulness and deficiency. This gives rise to cravings (trisna) towards temporary sense gratification to substitute and compensate the inner sense of deficiency (SGGSJ 42)

Cravings bring about attachments towards oneself, objects, sensations or people, which intensify becoming greed (lobh). When the ego is prevented or threatened in the pursuit of greed or lust, it gives rise to fire (energy) of anger.

Anger creates the experience of internal turmoil and intoxicates oneself. (SGGSJ 152) To pacify or divert attention, the empirical ego engages in lust (kaam), which create additional attachments. (SGGSJ 210)

These attachments, together with three other cyclic behaviour patterns, rob the consciousness from gaining self-awareness, of its spiritual self. These four cyclic patterns are attachments (moh), greed, (lobh) anger (kroad) and lust (kaam). Within Gurmat thought they are referred to as the five thieves, robbing awareness from present moment and ones its innate desire to awaken to its true self.


Salok Mehlaa 1.
Shalok, First Mehl:

ha-o vich aa-i-aa ha-o vich ga-i-aa.
In ego one come, and in ego one go.

ha-o vich jammi-aa ha-o vich mu-aa.
In ego one are born, and in ego one die.

ha-o vich ditaa ha-o vich la-i-aa.
In ego one give, and in ego one take.

ha-o vich khati-aa ha-o vich ga-i-aa.
In ego one earn, and in ego one lose.

ha-o vich sachiaar koorhi-aar.
In ego one become truthful or false.

ha-o vich paap punn veechaar.
In ego one reflect on virtue and sin.

ha-o vich narak surag avtaar.
In ego one go to heaven or hell.

ha-o vich hasai ha-o vich rovai.
In ego one laugh, and in ego one weep.

ha-o vich bharee-ai ha-o vich Dhovai.
In ego one become dirty, and in ego one is washed clean.

ha-o vich jaatee jinsee khovai.
In ego one lose social status and class.

ha-o vich moorakh ha-o vich si-aanaa.
In ego one is ignorant, and in ego one is wise.

mokh mukat kee saar na jaanaa.
One do not know the value of salvation and liberation.

ha-o vich maa-i-aa ha-o vich chhaa-i-aa.
In ego one love Maya, and in ego one is kept in darkness by it.

ha-umai kar kar jant upaa-i-aa.
Living in ego, mortal beings is created.

ha-umai boojhai taa dar soojhai.
Understanding ego, enables the doorway to be known.

gi-aan vihoonaa kath kath loojhai.
Without spiritual wisdom, one babble and argue.

naanak hukmee likee-ai laykh.
O Nanak, by the Divine order, destiny is recorded.

jayhaa vaykheh tayhaa vaykh. ||1||
As you see, so it is seen. ||1||

Mehlaa 2.
Second Mehl:

ha-umai ayhaa jaat hai ha-umai karam kamaahi.
This is the nature of ego, that people perform their actions in ego.
(nature of ego is that it earns actions)

ha-umai ay-ee banDhnaa fir fir jonee paahi.
This is the bondage of ego, that time and time again, one are reborn.
(this actions bind in cyclic rebirth)

ha-umai kithhu oopjai kit sanjam ih jaa-ay.
Where does ego come from? How can it be removed?

ha-umai ayho hukam hai pa-i-ai kirat firaahi.
This ego exists by the Lord's Order; people wander according to their past actions.

ha-umai deeragh rog hai daaroo bhee is maahi.
Ego is a chronic disease, but it contains its own cure as well.

kirpaa karay jay aapnee taa gur kaa sabad kamaahi.
With the grace of One, can one earn the gurus shabd
(naam simran=mindfulness of Sound as an experiened onthologivcal Presence)

naanak kahai sunhu janhu it sanjam dukh jaahi. ||2||
Nanak says, listen, people: in this way, troubles depart. ||2||