The ego is a fascinating thing to observe. We can’t live without it yet if you are on the yogic path, the goal is to eradicate it. Ahamkara, or ego, literally means “ I-am-ness.” It is what creates the sense of “I am doing, I am feeling, I am thinking.” This complicated attribute is what separates us from the animal kingdom, yet if not tamed, it hinders our spiritual evolution.
The ego sees itself as a distinct, separate entity – like an island — removed from everything around it. It provides identity to our functioning, but Ahamkara also creates our feelings of separation, pain, and alienation. Each individual ego is shaped and molded from an early age by those closest to it. We were taught how to interpret, categorize, and store information based on the belief system of the egos around us. If we don’t take the time to observe and deconstruct this system we end up acting out of habit and continuously generating self-inflicted pain.
In yoga philosophy, the mind has different levels, or functions. It is helpful to think of the mind as a company, where Manas is the supervisor of the senses. It is considered to be the lower mind, which interprets information from the external environment by questioning and doubting. If we allow this part of the mind to make most of the decisions we become slaves to the insatiable desire of the senses.
Chitta is the part of the mind that stores memories (impressions and experience). These impressions constantly come up in our daily life in the form of attraction or aversion depending on past experience. We make the mistake of thinking that “we” want or don’t want, when really it’s the individual thought pattern itself (the deep impression or habit pattern of the mind field) that wishes to fulfill its desire or aversion. Still with me? We have learned to identify with the thought patterns instead of realizing that we are much more than our thoughts.
Buddhi is our higher mind – intelligence and wisdom. Buddhi knows, decides, adjudges, and discriminates; it sees the situation clearly and therefore Buddhi should be decision maker. For most of us, Buddhi is clouded over by the habit patterns of Chitta that are in turn tainted by Ahamkara (ego).
One of the main causes of our suffering lies in association. Our ego has attached to the thought patterns of Chitta instead of connecting to the higher quality of the mind, which has the ability to experience pure consciousness. Through yoga and meditative practices one is able to observe these four qualities of the mind, their interactions and our mistaken identity. Eventually, the Self or Atman is seen as witness to all of the functions of mind, including Buddhi itself.