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Article LXXVII: Overcoming the Ego

Here, the verses of the Katha Upanishad allude to the infinite and eternal nature of Brahman, beyond the constraints of space and time. These verses also suggest how Brahman is within each person as Atman (the Self) and must be realized as no different from Brahman. One of the Mahavakyas (great sayings) of the Upanishads states that "Ayam Atma Brahma - This Self is Brahman."

The ego is a great obstacle in the realization of the Self as Brahman, ultimate Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. The ego identifies oneself with the sheaths of maya superimposed upon the Atman within. The ego gives oneself the identification of: I am this; I am that; I did this; I did that. This perspective makes it difficult to transcend the ego and I-ness, but one must transcend to realize the true, ultimate nature of the Divine, which lies within. Truth of Brahman is revealed by removing the nama (name) and rupa (form) given to objects of the universe by the power of maya. Hence, one must remove the identification of the name and form given by the ego.

In daily life, one can aspire to transcend the maya of the ego. From a karma yoga approach, one can perform each action selflessly, which will detach the ego. By avoiding selfish action, and by focusing upon selfless action in life, one can become less identified with the ego. From a bhakti yoga approach, one can offer all actions and fruits of actions to Iswara, the supreme Lord. The detachment from work and results of work, allows one to overcome the ego through love and devotion to God. From a jnana yoga approach, one can meditate upon the ideas of "neti neti," i.e. I am not this, not that. Meditation can allow one to destroy the ego and approach that ultimate knowledge of the Self as Brahman. Any combination of these approaches, among others, allow one to orient to the Divine within and ascend toward enlightenment. Infinite paths exist to transcend the ego and approach enlightenment depending on each person's vasanas (tendencies), samskaras (impressions from past action), and gunas (characteristics). Vedanta provides a guide and a framework for paths to enlightenment, from which each person can find their own way to Truth.


Katha Upanishad

The context of this scripture is a dialogue between Naciketas, a spiritual aspirant, and Yama, the god of death:

IV.7: Aditi (boundless one), the soul of gods, who manifested in form of Prana (cosmic life) and was created with the elements, who dwells having entered the heart, -- (he who knows her, knows Brahman indeed). This is verily that.
IV.8: Like the fetus well preserved by the pregnant mother, the omniscient Agni (cosmic energy), lodged in the fire-sticks, is worshipped day after day by the awakened men and the sacrificial offerers. This is verily that.
IV.9: That from which the sun rises, and into which it merges again, -- in that are all the gods fixed, and none can verily transcend it. This is verily that.
IV.10: Whatever is here, that is there; what is there, the same is here. He who sees here as different, meets with death again and again.

East-West Counseling & Meditation -- Modern Psychiatry Integration -- Himalayan Philosophy -- Penn & Stanford Medicine
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