Ego – how it arises

The immutable consciousness that the witness-self is, being reflected in the mind, and apparently limited by it, appears as the ego, the empirical self, which functions as the percipient.

Methods of Knowledge, Swami Satprakashananda, Advaita Ashrama, 1974. ISBN 81-7505-065-9.Buy from Amazon US, Buy from Amazon UK

9 thoughts on “Ego – how it arises

  1. As I see from a review by ‘tepi’ at Amazon, Dennis is all praise for this work of Sw Satprakashananda.

    So in the absence of the total context where, in the said book, this specific quote given by Dennis here appears, my Comment below may look superfluous or irrelevant. Nevertheless, I would like to state the following with due apologies for, there is a risk of being branded ‘irreverent.’

    IMHO, the quote neither explains really the origin of the ‘ego’ nor does it bring any clarity to the issue. In the typical style of the vedantaspeak of some teachers, it only obfuscates the matter by pushing it to still darker realms through the (unnecessary) technique of using more abstruse terms as if those are common everyday words!

    See how many undefined extra words are brought in to explain the arising of ‘ego’:

    “witness-self” (which is different from) “percipient”,
    (a pre-existing) “mind”,
    “apparently” (the author is unsure)
    (a process of) ‘limitation’

    No wonder many reasonably intelligent and logically oriented people shy away from lapping up such mumbo-jumbo.

    For example, the glaring questions that arise from the above quote are:

    Does a mind ‘pre-exist’ the ego as a reflector?
    What is ‘mind’ and in what way it differs from Consciousness and ‘ego’?
    And how does ‘mind’ arise?
    Why is there an apparent ‘delimitation’ in the process and to whom is it ‘apparent’?
    How does ‘witnessing’ differ from ‘perceiving’?

    I know, one can answer all the above questions, but my point is why can’t the Advaita teachers use simple words understandable to all rather than make things mystical or difficult to comprehend.

    While at it, I may as well say here about another pet peeve of mine. And that is about the usage of such mysteriously sounding words like: anAdi, anirvacanIya, mithya etc. These are glorious euphemisms that conceal the plain simple admission, “I do not know.”

    Advaita is much simpler and straight forward than what it is made out to be!


  2. Dear Ramesam,

    Not sure what I have said to upset you (or maybe you got out of the wrong side of the bed) 🙂

    However, if you wish your criticism to remain, may I suggest that you provide your own equivalent ‘definition’, in less than or equal to 30 words as is Swami Satprakashananda’s, and let us all be independent judges of which is the more instructive. Personally, I would find it very difficult to convey so much in so few words (with no Sanskrit in sight)!

    Some of the concepts that are touched on (very efficiently in my view) in these 30 words are as follows:
    (nitya, ananta)
    pariNAma vAda
    avachCheda vAda


  3. Many Thanks, Dennis.

    No, firstly I am not upset and secondly you couldn’t be a cause even remotely, simply because you have not said, as a matter fact, anything at all!
    After all, it was the Swami who said something that provoked my observation.

    Quite a number of years ago I happened to read a book, “Mind according to Vedanta” by one Swami Satprakashananda. I do not know if it’s the same teacher, but that book was such a ‘forgettable’ work.

    Referring to the present quote:

    I hope I have added some spice to make the readers alert in this otherwise pacific festive season! But I was also cautious to add suitable disclaimer in the prefatory paragraph.

    And picking up the gauntlet you have thrown (in a sportive sense), here is my attempt, with two more words to spare:

    “Consciousness, when in vibration, is mind. A judgmental mind exercising likes and dislikes is the ego. One doesn’t know why Consciousness vibrates except to say ‘It thought so.’ ”

    Trust this can generate active debate.


    Warm regards,

  4. Ultimately, anything that you can say (about the nature of reality) is going to be wrong, because it is not possible to say anything at all that is true.

    Advaita teaches by adhyaropa-apavAda; saying one thing that seemingly clarifies the topic, removing some ignorance, and then later conceding that it is not really like that. For this to work, it is essential that the hierarchy of things that you want to say (and later take back) is logical and really does continually move the understanding forward. Traditional advaita works because it (the scriptures unfolded by a saMpradAya teacher) has been carefully honed over thousands of years to do just that. Some patience is needed and commitment to follow the entire process. But the chances of anyone, using their own resources, no matter how clever, educated and enlightened, coming up with something better – are nil.

    I suggest that much the same criticism as you yourself levelled at Swami Satprakashananda could be made against your own offering. Consciousness, for example, does not ‘vibrate’ and the last sentence seems to be saying nothing at all – and admitting it.

    Furthermore, you have not even mentioned most of the other topics in the list of Sanskrit terms…

    Happy New Year!

  5. How about this, adapted from Mandukya karika II-12 and 16.

    The self-luminous consciousness imagines in itself, by itself, first of all the ego and then the various entities, objective and subjective, that are perceived.

    Best wishes,


  6. That’s good! Gaudapada can do no wrong! Of course it is still an interim explanation only, as his ‘bottom line’ is ajAti vAda – nothing has ever been created.

    Best wishes,

  7. Dennis,

    In the sentence “The self-luminous consciousness imagines in itself, by itself, first of all the ego and then the various entities, objective and subjective, that are perceived”, it is said that everything is imagined, an illusion, and not real. As such, it cannot have been created. How is that different from ajati vada?

    Best wishes,


  8. Yes, you are right of course, Venkat. I was looking at it rather in the spirit of Gaudapada’s entire outlook. In 1.9 he refutes the notions that the ‘creation’ is for enjoyment or sport, pointing out that there can be no desire in that which is already perfect, complete and unlimited.

    Best wishes,

  9. Dennis, thanks for that reference.

    Nikhilananda in his notes to that verse has a helpful comment: “Those who look upon the act of creation as real and then explain it as of the same nature as dream and illusion, forget that dream and illusion are after all unreal and hence they cannot explain the supposed reality of the act of creation. Therefore manifestation is not an act of creation”.

    As an aside, Paramarthananda in one of his comments on chapter 4, says jnana is where the experience (of the world) continues, but it is understood to be mithya.

    I have to say, Mandukya karika has it all, doesn’t it? When I first read it, I didn’t understand it; but having read some of the other upanishads (especially Brihadaranayaka) and listening to Paramarthananda’s commentary on Mandukya, it starts falling into place. And one is overwhelmed by its complete perfection.

    Best wishes for the New Year,


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