Asmita (ego) is the second branch of the klesa-s (causes of suffering) according to yogic philosophy.

Asmita is characterised by thoughts such as “I am better than you”, “I am right”, “I know more than you”.

As humans we are all subject to asmita (ego). In fact we all need a little bit of ego to have a healthy view of ourselves! But when it becomes a dominant force in how we communicate and make decisions it can bring suffering to our lives.

We all know someone who likes to talk about them self constantly or force their beliefs on us! Have you ever wondered why they do this, what it is deep down that is driving their need to be right?When we only see the world through our perspective we close our self off to other people and opportunities. We cease to grow!

Asmita (ego) is the first branch growing from the tree whose roots are bound in avidya (wrong understanding). (See last week’s post for more on avidya).

Through asmita we identify with ourselves falsely seeing our actions and perceived status as truth.

What about asmita in the yoga class? Ever tried to do that inversion when you knew deep down it wasn’t appropriate for you? Felt some competition with the super flexible student next to you? Pushed yourself well beyond the limits of what you know was good for you just to keep up? Yep… there’s asmita. A small amount of ego can bring us confidence – an overabundance can be destructive.

Politicians, dictators, musicians, actors and people in the public eye can be susceptible to the unleashed ego. In the realm of yoga, many ‘gurus’ have fallen into the traps of asmita. Believing his or her publicity, being lost in a false sense of power or ‘rightness’ are all conditions of an out of balance ego. Perceived power can be destructive!

As with the other four klesa-s, asmita builds a wall between our true self and the false self. When we attach ourselves to our job title, role, bank account, house size, physical ability and the like we are seeing ourselves through the false self. The curtain is drawn preventing the light from shining through.

When the false self is the one we relate to the most we will experience suffering, unease, states that can lead us down the path of depression or negative emotions (or injury in the yoga class!). We all know false identification is easy to fall into in our world. There is so much to distract us and draw us outwards, away from what is deep inside.

Consciously exploring who we really are takes work. Practices like yoga or other meditative disciplines can assist to filter out the rubbish we accumulate in our minds and draw back the curtain that is covering the light. Then our own truth can be revealed.

Moving forwards towards happiness (sukha) is the goal of yoga, free from the binds of the klesa-s.

by Jill Harris

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