In one of his aphorisms, Sri Aurobindo observes: “…the ego was the helper, the ego is the bar.” For most spiritual seekers, the attachment to the ego-personality is the great hindrance which they must find a way to overcome. Some try extreme methods to minimize the role and power of the ego. But we must ask the question: Why does the ego exist in the first place in the Divine creation, if it has no purpose and must be done away with?

A close examination of plant life and that of many of the less complex animals shows that they seem to live a life without individual reflection or ego-awareness. In many cases there is a “hive” or congregation of some sort of which each member is a part and to which each member relates its entire awareness. Ants and bees, for instance, seem to have a ‘group’ existence rather than an individual life. As animal life developed greater mental power, we begin to see a growing awareness of the individual as a somewhat separate entity, and we thus see, not only the ‘pack’ or the ‘hive’ awareness, but something of an individual consciousness which we may term a rudimentary form of ego.

With the development of the higher primates and eventually the human species, we see the development of a clear and distinct ego-consciousness. The ego-consciousness is not, however, an unmixed blessing. It has its drawbacks and this leads to results like selfishness, greed, self-aggrandisement, and other forms of ego-centeredness and attachment. Along with the ego-consciousness comes, at a certain point in development the capacity for self-reflection, for a quest for meaning and significance and eventually, the aspiration for progress in various fields, including the development of the spiritual aspiration. At this point, the ego has reached its peak of development and significance and it is then time for a new phase that transcends and supersedes the ego-awareness. This does not imply a return to the “hive” but a new formation that can recognise both the value of the individual and the integration of the individual into the collective entirety of the universal manifestation.

Dr. Dalal notes: “Even after the emergence of Mind, the growth of consciousness in the human being continues to be a more or less unconscious process, because the roots of Matter, Life and Mind lie in the Inconscient out of which they have evolved. The first step for emerging out of the primeval unconsciousness is to develop a conscious ego — a separate and independent individuality. So long as an individuality has not been formed, the human being remains an amorphous entity, more or less fused with the unconscious totality of existence. It is by the development of a conscious ego — ‘… individualisation of being in becoming’ — that a person becomes an individual. Ego is the identification of our being with the superficial, outer self made up of the body, the vital nature and the mind. Due to the ego, a certain formation of physical, vital and mental experience is distinguished from the rest of the being and is regarded as the “self”. Thus the ego serves to bring about the emergence from unconsciousness through a progressive consciousness (awareness) of the physical, vital and mental aspects of the being.”

“Once the separative ego has been adequately developed, evolution of consciousness can be accelerated through growth in a different dimension — that which lies in the transcendence of the ego, liberation from the ignorant identification with one’s superficial nature, and the discovery of the true Self. Inner growth, thus, represents a new dimension of evolution.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. iv-v

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.