The Barking Dog of the False Ego
Our ego is one of the most intimidating and inscrutable realities we face in our lives. Countless philosophers, spiritualists, seekers and armchair prognosticators have tried to define its parameters and its meaning to our existence. We even have wonderful teachers -- like my friends at Gita Sutras -- attempting to actualize and excavate the nature of our ego for our most positive spiritual benefit.
Some would also rather do away with the whole idea of the ego altogether, but according to the teachings of the bhakti-yoga tradition, that is not possible. The Bhagavad-gita and countless other wisdom teachings of the bhakti tradition teach us that we are eternally individual spirit souls, currently going through a materialistic bodily experience. We always have an ego, or existence as a unique, individual being, but what we have to watch out for is our "false ego."
One of my teachers has explained the concept like this: We have two dogs in our heart. One is our actual ego, our reality as spirit soul, and one is the false ego, or our false identification with our temporary material body. Both dogs are barking to get our attention, and whichever one we pay attention to the most, or feed the most, becomes dominant in our consciousness. Or, as the Cherokee proverb says:
There is a battle of two wolves inside us all.
One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, lies, inferiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.
The wolf that wins? The one you feed.
Our false ego disguises itself as our best friend, when it is actually our greatest adversary in our spiritual journey. It is the voice in our consciousness which makes us think we must be the center of the universe, the repose of all prestige, and when we don't get these accolades we react with all the violence of our envious, prideful, and greedy outbursts, ruining our relationships, communities, and hopes in our own search for the Divine.
At its essence, the false ego creates for us suffering, and according to the wisdom of the bhakti tradition, that is completely antithetical to our natural sense of being. As spirit souls, our substance is made of eternality (sat), knowledge (cit), and bliss (ananda), which is also the very same substance as God. Perhaps the greatest form of ananda we can experience is our direct loving relationship with God through His grace and mercy. How we gain access to this is defined by our practical understanding of our own ego-nature.