Vedanta, or crystalized Wisdom from Vedas -Holy Source of God’s words for Hindus, is considered the finest achievement of the human mind in spiritual matters. Vedanta provides a pathway, Jyana Maarg, that is set to liberate humankind from the misery of pain, sorrow, and bad karma from cycles of birth-suffer-death-rebirth. As the saying goes, Liberation (Moksha) from these cycles is the ultimate fruit for practicing Vedanta.
However, one does not have to wait for death or rebirth to realize the benefits. Vedantic principles and practices help us lead an exhilarating life here and now.
Here we focus on one such principle.
Ahamkara — Ahaṃkāra (अहंकार) is a Sanskrit word referring to the “individual, ego.” This is the one that produces a feeling called “I or mine.” Ahaṅkāra is a function of antahkaraṇa (internal instrument or mind), part of Prakruti (Nature), responsible for ego-sense and possessiveness. Pride, egoism, haughtiness, etc., are the manifestations of Ahamkara.
By its very nature, Ahamkara is a relational entity. This relation exists in three layers: internal, local, and global. Internal Ahamkara is about me, my family, my money, my happiness, etc. It revolves around what one can control, influence, and manipulate. For ordinary people, the area of influence is small and restricted, but for leaders, the same is prominent but still restricted.
Another way Ahamakara manifests is when the “my” identity extends to my group. My group can be a particular religion that you were born, converted to, or adhere to a specific social or political ideology. This is the local part depending on the depth of this Ahamkara, a devotional or a terrorist is born.
Then there is Universal-Ahamakara, where I or the ego encompasses everything. ‘I’ is no longer local or particular; it is global and universal. At this point, the “I” is no longer I. It is part of the Infinite. It is Infinite. No “relational” exists at this stage because no other ‘I’ exists. Ekum Sat.
Vedanta helps us to grow from internal and local Ahamkara to Universal Ahamkara. From Particular to General. From ever-changing to ever-lasting. From Prakrit to Prusha. From anatma (not Atma) to Atma. From Maya to Brahman.
How to do this?
From which the Ahamkara arises, the mind divides the world into categories — Mine and not Mine. This division is key to unraveling the whole function of Ahamkara.
Interestingly, this division is an integral part of humans and an evolutionary necessity. Without these internal or local identities, the existence and progress of humans are questionable. Without the extended-Ahamkara (eA), there is no family, no society, and no civilization.
Vedanta does not deny this. Nor advises getting rid of it completely.
Let me be clear: despite the countless religious teachers, sects, and writings, neither Vedanta nor Vedas ever advised the general public to relinquish the eA. The extreme renunciation is reserved for yogis, gurus, sanyasis, and Jyanis.
Well, if eA is natural, evolutionarily necessary, and part of humans, then what is the issue? Why does one need to learn about it? Focus on it.
To answer these questions, let us inquire into eA a little more closely. The same Ahamkara that makes a family also breaks the family. Bestows happiness and brings sorrow. Provides stability and evokes violence. Ahamakara is a force; unchecked can do great harm.
Besides, what does this “Mine-notMine” mentality do to our understanding and cognition? Mine essentially means something that agrees with me, resonates with me, makes me happy, and belongs to me. I HOLD it tightly, and I cherish it.
A natural consequence is that if something that is MINE ‘deviates’ from me, I try to defend it. I do everything to defend something that belongs to me being attacked or even go offensive if necessary. In other words, we tend to fight back and reject any force that is not akin to Mine.
Internally the Ahamakara also does the same thing. MINE, the part of the mind, puts restrictions and demands on people or other entities. My wife should do this or be like this, or wife should be, should behave like this, and my son should not do this, etc. Ahamkara (MINE) tries to CONTROL what it thinks is mine. The unchecked control leads to both big and small emotional and physical violence.
This unquestioned cognitive defense of, Mine-NotMine, is the root cause of violence in society. Whether the violence is in politics, left vs. right-wing, or religion, my god is the only god; your god is false. Anyone such division of US-vs-THEM ideology always leads to violence.
Vedanta calls this tendency as Avidaya (cognitive ignorance). It is a milder word for such a violent tendency.
Vedanta teaches that if one identifies with the object -the object being anything other than the Atma-if one merges with the object, sorrow is assured eventually.
The proof is simple. The object, say it is material, a person or an idea, etc., is NOT permanent. It is a part of every changing Prakriti (Nature). While some changes might give happiness, some do not. In the end, this non-permanence becomes sorrow.
Therefore Vedantic prescription is to maintain Samatulya, a balance. Balance comes when the identification of YOU (your Atma) with the object ceases and the realization of the ever-changing nature of the Prakriti.
One practical way to practice is to learn “visualizing” things, relationships, etc., as they are not as YOU (your inner core) or something that you can control or something as you want it to be. Seeing things as they are, without any imposition of YOU or memory-driven projection. The moment one does this, everything appears as it should.
This is happiness. Or at least part of it.