Ahamkara in Yoga Meditation
QUICK EXPLANATION ON AHAMKARA
Ahamkara = ego, or “I-maker”, aham = I, kara = maker, it is the ability of the mind (antahkarana) to take on identities, to make things “me” or “mine”.
Ahamkara = one of the four functions of mind: manas, chitta, ahamkara, and buddhi
Ahamkara can label or color the incoming sensory impressions with “I like” or “I don’t like” and “me” and “mine”, therefore it is ahamkara that builds the identity of an apparent individual. All coloring created by ahamkara together makes up the ‘you’. A sensory impression that is colored by ahamkara with attraction or aversion is stored in chitta and is now called a samskara (a colored seed, a latent desire). When a samskara awakens from the storehouse of chitta, it is called an active desire. Ahamkara does not color all sensory impressions, some go to the chitta neutral. It is important to note that ahamkara remains separate from all the samskaras, meaning it is the function of the mind-field that is able to take on identities and not the collection of identities itself.
Ahamkara and kleshas: the third and fourth kleshas; raga and dvesha, attraction and aversion, come into existence because of the instrument called ahamkara. After Consciousness forgets (avidya) it is pure non-dual Consciousness, it then appears as an individual (because of the coloring of asmita), which has the four functions of mind; manas, ahamkara, chitta, and buddhi. It can then take on attractions (raga) and aversions (dvesha). And these colorings are protected by the last and fifth klesha abhinivesha, fear.
Ahamkara and willpower = if ahamkara is trained it can become the power of will, the power of determination: “I can do it, I will do it, I have to do it!”
Ahamkara = is also used as one of the 7 streams of emotions, because the feeling of ‘I’ or egotism is also an emotion.
7 streams of emotions are: kama (desire), krodha (anger), moha (attachment), lobha (greed), muda (pride), matsarya (jealousy), and ahamkara (egotism)
Witness ahamkara in action
Witnessing ahamkara in action is to directly observe this function of mind while you are performing an action. This means that in the midst of an action, if you pay close attention, you can see what ahamkara is doing ‘live’ in this moment. Ahamkara is the function of the mind that can label the sensory expression with aversion or attraction. Thus, during any sensory experience you can consider the following: Do you enjoy it? Do you find it tasty or pleasant? Or do you find yourself saying to a friend “I like this”? Or do you not enjoy it? Do you dislike the taste? Or it is not pleasant and the sentence “I don’t like this” arises? Not only has this sensory experience now been labeled by ahamkara with like or not like, but it is also immediately a part of ‘me’, as it is the I who likes or doesn’t like it. Therefore if you can witness ahamkara ‘live’ in action, you can discover that it both can label an incoming sensory experience, as well that it expands the false identity called ‘me’.
Something can be labeled differently by another ahamkara
Another way to witness ahamkara is to observe that the same experience can be labeled differently by different people. When a whole group of people has what appears to be the same experience in the same situation, each of them will form their own coloring around it. Realizing that this happens will give insights over the importance we give to the labels made by ahamkara. We often think that our perception of reality is the correct one, but if sensory experiences can be experienced so differently by others, what then is true or real about “our own” experiences?
For example, when a group of people goes out for lunch some may find the food tasty while others may think it was horrible. One may remember most that the staff was nice, while another thought s/he was ignored. For one the lighting was pleasant, but the other thought it was too dark or too light. For one was the music adding to the ambiance while others thought it was too noisy. Of course, each of those observations can also perceived as neutral.
When a group of friends all do practices these different observations of the same situation can be noticed with humor. It will become clear that when ahamkara is labeling the sensory impressions, for some reason, by one ahamkara this situation gets colored with “I like” and by another ahamkara it gets colored with “I do not like”. The way ahamkara does its labeling could be partially based on how the person labeled similar or related situations in the past.
A beautiful example happened in the ashram once. Someone brought a treat from Sweden. It was chocolate with liquid licorice in it. No one had ever eaten this kind of combination, but each of us already had some preconceived ideas about if s/he would like it or not. This was based on the coloring stored in the chitta that was labeled by ahamkara in the past, relate to both chocolate and licorice separately. If ahamkara has already labeled licorice or chocolate with aversion, then when it is combined with the other it would be expected that it would not suddenly be experience as attraction. And for those who liked both chocolate and licorice the thought of combining them was already thought of as nice or not nice. Then the experience itself came, and we each ate a piece of licorice chocolate and each noticed his or her response; was it labeled by ahamkara as nice or not nice? For each it was different. Some had a strong aversion. Some had a minimal attraction. Some were not exited nor disliked it. It was a fun moment to witness ahamkara at play.
When ahamkara is witnessed with awareness, the coloring is already less intense, because you know it is all a game and you take the coloring of ahamkara less seriously. Therefore observe what your ahamkara does, how this could be based on previous experiences and that it can be different from other people. Then you can remind yourself that this is just your perception of the manifestation, which is not the same for everyone.
Ahamkara; the I-maker
When going through life we each have thousands of experiences and each situation gets colored differently by different people, like the story of the licorice chocolate or the restaurant. Therefore the collection of coloring is different for everyone. By the choices we make and the predispositions we have, we each move in different directions within this magnificent manifestation. Something to observe in your daily life is that it is a habit to identify yourself with the experiences you like or don’t like. When ahamkara has labeled the experience of playing the game of tennis with “I like”, it soon happens that you now think of yourself as a tennis-player. It went from a verb to a noun. This happens all the time. When we invest a reasonable amount of time in acquiring a skill or performing an activity, soon we start the think that we are that skill or activity. Enjoying painting becomes “I am a painter”. Learning to take care of people when they are sick turns into “I am a nurse”. Several years of practicing meditation and you are a meditator! Or I am not a chocolate-licorice lover!
Due to the colorings made by ahamkara there is a collection of false identities and thus it is useful to look into your closet (chitta) and see which identities you have stored there. Or said in another way, which collections of impressions are clustered into folders on the hard-drive (chitta). We may think that we are a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a spouse, a manager, a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, a student, a teacher, a biker, a cookie-lover, a dog-lover, a tennis-player, a swimmer, a …… Anything can be added to “I am …..”. It is ahamkara that is able to fill in the blank space after “I am …..” and is therefore called the I-maker.
Who am I?
Along with the increasing awareness toward ahamkara and how it functions within the mind-field, you can ask yourself, who am I really? If all the things I think I am at this moment are merely labels added by ahamkara, and these can be removed, changed, or maybe not have been applied in the first place, then who is it that I really am? What is beyond all the labels? Ask yourself the question who am I? What is that which is not subject to change, death, and decay?
Who you really are is that formless pure Non-dual Consciousness that is beyond all the labels, called by many different names like Brahman, Atman, Self, Turiya, Tripura, or Love, Silence, Peace, Joy, Self-realization….
Spend some time with ahamkara, making it aware of what it is
When we start to understand how ahamkara functions; that ahamkara is the ability in the mind-field to make “I-am ….”, it becomes clear that ahamkara is an instrument. Then you can take some time to talk to ahamkara personally in an internal dialogue. One thing you can explain to ahamkara is that in the past we have made some mistakes or misunderstandings; we thought that what ahamkara had labeled as mine was indeed who I really was. All the coloring ahamkara was wearing was mistaken to be our true nature, but what we really are is pure Consciousness. You can explain to ahamkara that it is a magnificent representative of the Self, and by forgetting this it has brought us suffering. All the temporary identities and habits are not who we really are, we are that which is un-changing, eternal and non-dual. Therefore you can use internal dialogue to make ahamkara aware of its true nature; that it is a wonderful instrument. This is a part of coordinating the four functions of mind. If you make ahamkara aware of its place in between the other three functions, they can start to work together.
Ahamkara; a great power
What if we could constantly be aware of our true identity, that we are pure Consciousness? Then we can play as mother, play as friend, play as teacher, play as …. Therefore we do not have to kill ahamkara, as if it is a completely useless mistake, but we polish ahamkara. We can make it aware of the true nature of existence and then ahamkara becomes a wonderful instrument that can play together with manas, chitta and buddhi. When ahamkara is properly trained or polished, when it is made aware of the real Self and when ahamkara is willing to be the representative of the real Self, then ahamkara can become an immense power. Because from ahamkara comes the power of sankalpa shakti (determination). The power that comes from the sentence “I can do it, I will do it, I have to do it, and I am going to do it” is the power of ahamkara. Therefore, ahamkara can be the power of determination, or willpower. If buddhi starts to lead ahamkara, its power can be used to free ourselves from ignorance. When you see someone radiating strength, power, or determination it comes from ahamkara.
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DAILY OBSERVATION AND YOGIC SELF-AWARENESS ASSESSMENT
Eventually ahamkara will swim around in your awareness all the time, as it becomes a part of constant self-awareness. Also, becoming aware of ahamkara will have the effect that you will increase your use of this word in your daily vocabulary to express yourself and you will discover how ahamkara relates to other concepts, processes, or insights. For example, you may come to see that when you feel rajasic, you may also think of ahamkara, or you find a relationship between vikalpa and ahamkara. Eventually you will discover how all these concepts dance together and coming to know this dance will guide you toward that which is beyond all the concepts. This is because as you increase your self-awareness, you will discover that everything you can observe is not who you truly are, you are not ahamkara, you are the One that is able to witness all these concepts. Therefore ahamkara itself will have to be transcended, who you really are is beyond ahamkara. This will increase the non-attachment toward ahamkara itself, while you can be in awe of the beauty of the Divine dance of Consciousness that appears to play as ahamkara. Therefore practicing self-awareness is actually practicing not-self-awareness by which the True Self will eventually reveal itself.
Look at the self-assessment PDF (assessment-yymmdd.pdf) and a PDF that includes daily internal dialogue and daily observation (sumseven-yymmdd.pdf) on the website of www.abhyasaashram.org (when you are on this page scroll all the way down to find the downloadable PDFs) These PDFs can be used as tools to explore and expand your understanding on ahamkara.
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MORE ON AHAMKARA
Ahamkara and emotions
There is a relation between ahamkara and the emotions we experience. Anything that rises into the conscious mind-field has once been colored by ahamkara. It was ahamkara that colored the incoming sensory impressions with “me” and “mine” and with aversion and/or attraction. This colored impressions were then stored into chitta by manas. Therefore, only that which has been colored rises up from my unconscious mind-field; as neutral experiences have nothing to do with me, so therefore they do not arise in “my” mind-field. So, if I am aware of the rising thought which is now called an active desire, I can witness the coloring of this thought. For example, if this thought wants me to do something, or wants me to repeat an action, or makes me smile, I know it was once colored with attraction (raga). If this thought wants me to avoid something, or makes walk away from something, or makes me sad, angry, or unhappy, I know it was once colored with aversion (dvesha). In this way you can discover how a thought, that is moving through the mind-field right now, once was colored by ahamkara. This is yet another way to observe ahamkara. Every observation increases the insights on the functioning of ahamkara.
Additionally, anything that arises from the latent unconscious mind (which was once colored by ahamkara!) is now an active desire which can be either fulfilled or can be left unfulfilled. There is no other outcome possible (expect to observe the desire, let it go, without identifying with it, so that is falls back into chitta less colored or neutral. This is what happens in meditation or during meditation in action). As a result of the fulfilled or unfulfilled desire there is an unavoidable emotional response; fulfilled desires bring smiley-face emotions (happy, alive, loved, inspired, proud) and unfulfilled desires bring frown-face emotions (sad, depressed, unhappy, jealous, angry). If you can observe this process you will find out that the colorings of ahamkara eventually unavoidable lead to positive and/or negative emotions. The constant movement in the mind-field, based on the coloring of ahamkara, will give a constant fluctuation in emotions. To find the peace, happiness, and bliss that is not an emotion and thus not constantly changing, you will have to move beyond the colorings made by ahamkara. The Center of Consciousness is the real, everlasting source of true happiness.
Ahamkara in the “source of karma”:
Swami Jnaneshvara made a table called “source of karma” which was derived from the book “Freedom from the Bondage of Karma” by Swami Rama. This table is used in the Yogic Self-awareness Assessment outline. In this outline, ahamkara is mentioned in the context of the ’emotion of ahamkara’ or the ’emotion of ego’. To see ahamkara as a feeling is another way to look at this function of mind; it means the feeling of “I” that arises together with an emotion. Every emotion is experienced as me, so every time an emotion is experienced it adds to the false identity called me. “I am sad” or “I am angry”; every time this is experienced, the garment that ahamkara is wearing gets thicker, the identification heavier or stronger. So therefore the feeling of “I am…..” gets more intense; this is a way to look at ahamkara as a feeling, the feeling of “I am” that comes as a result of a fulfilled or unfulfilled desire.
Ahamkara; a spoke in a wheel
The four functions of mind are described in the Upanishads as being like a wheel with four spokes. The center of the hub never moves, which is the Self, on which the wheel of the mind seems to rotate, therefore the Self seems to operate in the apparent manifestation through the four functions of mind. When I was young, I once rode a bike where the spokes where not of equal length, so the hub appeared not to be in the center. When I would ride it there was the experience as if I was riding over little hills, while the surface was flat. Which to me is a nice way to look at the way the four functions of mind need to work together, all are equally important, otherwise I would experience the world as a bumpy road!
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SWAMI RAMA ON AHAMKARA
“If you train manas, and if you lead your ahamkara toward chitta and your manas toward buddhi, then you have accomplished something. Don’t do anything in life unless your buddhi, the counselor within, tells you to do it. You need to make internal experiments with yourself: you need to train your buddhi to give a correct, clear judgment to your manas. You also have to train your manas to take advice from buddhi. Perhaps you feel deprived of something of value and suddenly the idea occurs that you want to steal it. You know that it is wrong, you you want to do it. This is due to your mental habits. So you must train both your manas and your ahamkara, and that process is what we call polishing your ahamkara.”
~ The Art of Joyful Living pg. 82
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SWAMI JNANESHVARA ON AHAMKARA
Read the whole article “Coordinating the Four Functions of Mind” on www.swamij.com
The paint and the decorations: In our common language and in the field of modern psychology, the word Ego generally refers to our personality structure. Thus, in our house metaphor, the Ego of psychology refers to the paint and decorations, with less regard for the existence of the house itself.
The underlying house itself: In Yoga psychology, the word Ahamkara means the I-maker and refers to the powerful wave of individuated existence that declares “I am!” When the word Ahamkara is translated into English, we use the word Ego. Thus, in our house metaphor, the Ego of Yoga psychology, or Ahamkara, refers to the house itself, not to the paint and decorations, which are considered to be false identities.
Read the whole article “Integrate” on www.swamij.com
Allow our levels of being play together like music
Once the aspects within each level of our being are coordinated and integrated, then those levels can work together, flow together, like the different musicians playing together to form a beautiful harmony.
The senses work with each other. The parts and systems of the body work with each other. Inhalation, exhalation, and transition of breath flow together. The four functions of mind (manas, chitta, ahamkara, and buddhi) are coordinated and integrated, and work together.
Then each of the levels can integrate with one another, becoming one powerful force. Senses, body, breath, and mind join together in one integrated force, like the power of a symphony orchestra.
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OTHER TEXTS ON AHAMKARA
Vivekachoodamini, Adi Shankaracharya
Translated by Swami Madhavananda, Published by Advaita Ashram, Kolkatta
93-94. The inner organ (antahkarana) is called manas, buddhi, ego [ahamkara] or chitta, according to their respective functions: Manas, from its considering the pros and cons of a thing; buddhi, from its property of determining the truth of objects; the ego, from its identification with this body as one’s own self; and chitta, from its function of remembering things it is interested in.