As long as an individual is locked within a framework of understanding, he is unable to truly recognise or exceed the limits of that framework. The ego-consciousness is such a frame of awareness. It creates the sense of a separate individual, apart and having his own autonomy in contra-distinction to the rest of the creation. It creates a sense of “self” and “other” that drives the individual to see things in a fragmented manner. Depending on the cultural background, this may lead people in a particular society to try to control or ‘gain dominion’ over the rest of the creation; or, it may lead to a collective understanding of codependence and interconnectedness that reduces the hold of the ego-consciousness as it raises up the sense of community. This does not totally remove the ego-awareness, however, and there are still opportunities for it to set itself in opposition to others, even in a community that recognises the interconnections of all nature.

The ego naturally attempts to maximize the sense of well-being, health, achievement, progress, success and recognition for the individual. It is bound up tightly with the attempt to control or master the outer world, its beings, forces and events. As long as the ego holds sway, it is not really possible to gain any true insight to the nature of the reality within which we exist. It is only when we find a way to transcend the barrier set up by the ego, and shift the standpoint to a place where we can observe and see the ego-personality in action, that the spiritual development can occur. This occurs through the mechanism of the separation of the Purusha from the Prakriti, the witness-consciousness from the active nature. This shift of standpoint provides leverage to understand the various forces that act upon the nature, and to see and understand the various parts of the being that respond to these forces.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The ordinary mind knows itself only as an ego with all the movements of the nature in a jumble and, identifying itself with these movements, thinks ‘I am doing this, feeling that, thinking, in joy or in sorrow etc.’ The first beginning of real self-knowledge is when you feel yourself separate from the nature in you and its movements and then you see that there are many parts of your being, many personalities each acting on its own behalf and in its own way.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 1, Our Manifold Being, pg. 5

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 17 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.