Study Hinduism

The Study of Hinduism According to Advaita Vedanta

“Though the name Hindu was given by somebody from Persia, as we saw in the beginning, we accept it. We are stuck with a name that is a product of the language limitations of somebody. But then, the Sanskrit language is such a thing that even in this we can find a meaning. The word him (which becomes hin when followed by d according to grammar rules) in Hindu means falsehood, and du is one who condemns. Thus, a Hindu is one who condemns falsehood. Expressed positively, the one who pursues truth is called a Hindu. It is a good word; it is in keeping with what we are talking about. Therefore, for a Hindu truth is important. It is a fact, a truth, that is most important in our religion. What is truth, what is the truth of everything, what is the truth of life? Anyone who condemns untruth, one who wants to discover the truth is a Hindu. It is view and a way of life.”

~ Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Pujya Swamiji Dayananda Saraswati giving the Anniversary Address via video for Arsha Vidya Gurukulam (Saylorsburg) on the topic of the Greatness of Satsanga.

Harih OM!

The Truth Of Ego (and Surrender) – Pujya Swamiji Dayananda


Ego is that which owns up to any type of activity. For example, when I see, I say ‘This is my sight.’ The one who owns up to the activity of seeing, the one who is the subject behind the seeing or behind hearing, tasting, smelling, thinking, or doing anything, is what is meant by the kartaa or the ego or ahankaara.

To say that one should surrender one’s ego to the Lord is a very common statement that is much too simplistic in terms of understanding what is meant by surrender. First of all, I do not know who or what the Lord is. And why should I surrender the only ego that I have to this Lord? As it is, I have only a few things and these things are owned by this ego. If I surrender it to the Lord, what will I get in return? ‘Everything,’ I am told.

The question that would arise would be, ‘If the ego is already surrendered, who will get everything?’ Once I have surrendered my ego, I become totally decimated. Then who is there to get anything out of that surrender? Nobody. Therefore, that type of surrender is useless. Also, the next question is ‘Who is surrendering the ego?’ Somebody has to do the surrendering. It is the ego that has to surrender itself. And that is not possible. Again, if I am wearing a coat, I can surrender the coat. I can hang it somewhere or put it on someone’s shoulders. Also, when I am the owner of the coat, it is easy to surrender it. If I am not the owner of the coat, I can ask you to take it, but I cannot surrender it because it does not belong to me.

Similarly, I am told that the ahankaara, the ego, belongs to the Lord and that I must surrender it. How can I surrender what does not belong to me? I can only surrender what belongs to me. And if it belongs to the Lord, how is it that I do not know this? In fact, I think that everything belongs to me, including the Lord. Why else would I address him as ‘My Lord’? To address the Lord, I must be there; because I am here, he is the Lord. If I am not here, where is the Lord? He is the Lord because I call him ‘Lord’!

And if there is a Lord, and this Lord includes everything, then I have nothing to surrender. I have only to know. Furthermore, if I have to surrender to a Lord who is separate from me, then I am the ego. Who, then, is to surrender this ego? The ego alone has to surrender. How can the ego surrender? The one who surrenders is the ego. And being the one who surrenders, the ego can only surrender what it owns. The owner cannot be surrendered. If the ego has to surrender to the Lord, something else must be there to surrender it, which can only be another ego because whoever owns up to the act of surrender is the ego. The ego requires an ego which requires yet another ego! Thus, we find ourselves in infinite regression. How, then, are we going to surrender our ego to the Lord?


Surrender is an attitude, a mature attitude. There is no other surrender than this. Surrender as such is not possible for the ego because it cannot surrender itself. But, with an attitude of surrender, I can deflate the ego. I can appreciate that there is nothing in this creation that is authored by me, that everything is given to me, including my physical body, mind, and senses. What is given to me is not mine. When I say, ‘I am just a trustee, O Lord, and you are the giver,’ the ego is what tells me all this. Thus, surrender can be only in terms of attitude.

Then how does one get rid of samsaara? Only by getting rid of the ego, the karta. And, if surrender is not possible, how does one get rid of the ego? In the name of getting rid of everything else, the ego remains in one form or the other because it cannot get rid of itself. It remains to say things like, ‘I am the most charitable person around.’ Even a person who does not talk about his or her good actions, may think of himself or herself as a humble person and say, ‘I never mention all of the charities I have done. I don’t boast about them. Ask anyone and they will tell you that this is so.’ The ego knows very well how to sustain and perpetuate itself in so many ways.

Because the ego, the karta, is always there in one form or the other, it cannot be defeated — except by the one who undertakes an inquiry into ‘Who am I.’ A person can study every philosophy there is and the ego will remain, saying, ‘I am a philosopher.’ Only when the question, ‘Who am I,’ is asked, is the ego in trouble. Why? Because the ego, the kartaa, is really an impostor, a superimposition. There is no kartrtva, no doership, in fact, because it is mithyaa, dependent on aatmaa.


When the truth of oneself is recognised, the ego does not go, strictly speaking. Rather, this recognition is what makes one see the ego as mithyaa (that which has no independent reality of its own). The ‘going’ of the ego, then, is purely in terms of negation, baadhaa, or destruction, naasha, by knowledge. The word ‘destruction’ is generally used in a physical sense, such as destroying an object so that it no longer exists in that form. Here, destruction of the ego is purely in terms of negation, baadhaa.

Negation by knowledge occurs when an object is there, but its reality is taken away. For example, you can enjoy the blue sky and, at the same time, knowing that the sky is not really blue, dismiss its blueness. Or, enjoying a movie, you can dismiss its reality. A child, on the other hand, cannot dismiss the movie as unreal because, for the child, the elephants, tigers, and everything in the movie are real. The child may even cry, not knowing that the objects and situations in the movie are only appearances and therefore, mithyaa. Until the child knows the movie is mithyaa, the movie will remain real. This knowing comes by negation, baadhaa, understanding an object or situation and removing the reality of it.

Similarly, the ego is not removed, but the fact that it has no independent existence is understood. And what does the ego that everyone has, depend upon? What is it that exists independently without depending on the ego upon which everything else depends? The ego depends for its existence on the self, which is not the ego. Therefore, the self is the truth of every ego.

There is one truth for every ego and everything that is done by the ego, and that truth, satya, is called aatm¡aa or the self. The self is the very content of the ego, without which there is no ego. This one satya, aatmaa, is not the ego and is akartaa. Then who is the kartaa? The ego alone is the kartaa.

To be a kartaa, you must have thought and this thought has its being in ‘I,’ consciousness. Therefore, you say, ‘I am the doer.’ Doership itself is a thought centred on ‘I.’ What is to be understood here is that while thought is centred on ‘I,’ ‘I’ itself is not centred on thought. Recognition of this fact is not the elimination or removal of thought. It is understanding — understanding the truth of ‘I.’

Om Tat Sat

To all USA citizens:

Bede Clifford

Bede Clifford

This is the first of an ongoing series written by Bede Clifford. Bede is a student of Swamini Atmaprakasananda. He comes to Vedanta from a background of Theology, Philosophy, Sociology & Psychology.

Click here to view Bede Clifford’s YouTube channel

This is a series. To start at the beginning, click here.

Being a Student of Vedanta Part 5

One of the most interesting things that Swamini has made clear to me is the growth of clarity and what it involves. What we become clear about is ever present and therefore beyond time. It is rather our clarity concerning what is ever present that undergoes a change and this change happens over time. Clarity of vision does not just happen. Swamini talks about how as we listen to the teaching layers of vagueness is removed bit by bit. The range and the depth of our SEEING is what is transformed not ourselves. What we are in reality does not undergo any change it does not need to. Sunlight in the morning does not produce what is seen it just reveals what is already there. The light becomes slowly evident until it takes up all the room. This transformation of our vision or our way of seeing is what Vedanta is all about. As Swamini pointed out to me from the start. Vedanta is a vision not a philosophy. Swami Dayanada uses the analogy of a developing photo to describe the growing of clarity from small beginnings to the total vision.

When I first met her I was confused and unhappy. I did not know my problem was lack of clarity. I thought the self that I took myself to be was the problem and I knew all my efforts to fix it had failed and I had no hope of any resolution. I did not just have despair as something that existed by itself. I was suffering from self despair. My life appeared to me as a very convincing “ tale told by an idiot” and as Swami Dayanada says we can’t stand being unacceptable to ourselves. I couldn’t stand it but there was nothing I could DO about it. And you know what I was about to find out that there was nothing I could do about it. My problem was not that I was DOING wrongly it was I was SEEING wrongly. This teacher had no interest in fixing me she just proceeded to correct how I saw myself, other people, the world and God. She really did not see me as the problem.

The shift from struggling with myself and trying to improve myself and my life to correcting how I was seeing myself and my life was the real beginning of my vedantic studies. Seeing the value of knowledge shifts our lives into an entirely different context. It is our real starting point as students of vedanta.

Part 6 will be posted in the next day or two – please check back.

Bede Clifford

Bede Clifford

This is the first of an ongoing series written by Bede Clifford. Bede is a student of Swamini Atmaprakasananda. He comes to Vedanta from a background of Theology, Philosophy, Sociology & Psychology.

Click here to view Bede Clifford’s YouTube channel

This is a series. To start at the beginning, click here.

Being a Student of Vedanta Part 4

When we talk about depending on the scriptures we really need to see what this really means. Swamini told me that the scriptures are like a mother. They look after us. This was strange to me because I was brought up Roman Catholic and it was more of a weapon of coercion to keep me in line. The threat of hell fire and and the rules to obey to avoid it were contained in the scriptures.

The idea that the scriptures were a way of seeing was an entirely new thing for me. One such way of seeing was that behind all my suffering was my dependence on people and situations for my happiness. We can easily accept this as a philosophical proposition where we agree with it or not based on our intellectual background. But agreement is not seeing in the Vedantic sense. Because mental agreement is not based on listening, awareness and discrimination it is simply a mental reaction. If I said to you I think the republican party is the best party to run the country you will find agreement or disagreement will arise automatically without awareness or our faculty of discrimination coming into play. I could say you are the Self, distinct from the mind body complex and give you the reasoning behind this and you can agree with it or not depending on your intellectual or religious background. The Vedantic vision arises entirely from a different context than these mental reactions of agreement.

What I started to do after that first phone call was whenever I noticed myself getting upset I would pause and consciously and deliberately look at the situation from the scriptural standpoint that this suffering was a result of my dependence on people or things for my happiness. Now you can’t do this sort of practice without committing to it. You won’t commit to it unless you see the value of it. You won’t see the value of it unless you discover it. You won’t discover it unless you see it. You won’t see it unless it is unfolded by someone who sees it this way and helps you see it this way yourself. You also need someone who knows how to unfold it in the right way otherwise you won’t see it in the first place. Once you have seen it you have to actively depend on it if you wish to establish this way of seeing in your life. What we are looking at here is constantly shifting from looking at our lives from our own standpoint , which SEEMS so true and real, to looking at our life in the light of the scriptures. If we do not depend on the scriptures this way we will study Vedanta but continue to look at ourselves, others and the world in the same way. There will be no change in our vision because we are looking at our lives from the context of our own standpoint not from the context of the vision of the scriptures.

What would happen was that something would happen that I became unhappy about. At the beginning I would forget to pause and look at in in the light of what Swamini had unfolded to me. But the more I did this the more I remembered. We only learn in the real sense when we assimilate experience in the light of the teaching. This makes the teaching clearer. The initial understanding is not complete it is a starting point. The more I paused in the middle of an upset and consciously looked at my upsets as another expression of my dependence the more I saw my upsets from an entirely different light. And strangely enough the less upset I got. You see when I get upset with people my attention is riveted on them and what they have done. But here is the thing. When we reawaken to the vision of the scripture, right in the middle of our upsets this vision gathers us up and lifts us beyond our upset. We are still in the same situation but seeing it in an entirely different light. Swami Dayananda calls this a cognitive shift. The more we depend on the scriptures in this way the more we live in the light of the Vedantic vision.

We can only learn by assimilating experience in the light of the scriptures. To do this we have to rely on the standpoint of the scripture to look at ourselves, others and events. We still very much live in the world but from an entirely different context. Try this. The next time you are upset. Pause and consciously and deliberately recall an understanding you were given in class that is relevant to this present upset and look at this event in the light of this understanding. Bear in mind you don’t have to transform how you see this event because the understanding you were given will do that. This is what is meant by dependence. This understanding is a gift from the lord and will lift you above your upsets if you rely on it not yourself. I am going to say more about this later . But at this point I just wanted to start on the practical meaning of relying on the scriptures and how valuable this is. There is nothing that beats practice so long as it is the practice is in the context of understanding.

Click here to go to the next part in this series

Bede Clifford

Bede Clifford

This is the first of an ongoing series written by Bede Clifford. Bede is a student of Swamini Atmaprakasananda. He comes to Vedanta from a background of Theology, Philosophy, Sociology & Psychology.

Click here to view Bede Clifford’s YouTube channel

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Being a Student of Vedanta Part 3

“This is what we call samsara- the dependence upon another person, another situation, for your own sense of well-being” Swami Dayananda.

So here I was living in the context of complete and utter dependence on objects other than myself and trying to get a sense of well being from them. According to this Indian teacher my entire life was built around this but I did not know it and I did not know that I didn’t know it. It was only in the presence of certain experiences (objects) and the absence of certain other experiences (objects ) did I feel secure, peaceful and happy. What could I say this was true.

What was being suggested here was that there was a sense of well being (security, peace and happiness) that stands alone in and as itself. A well being which is unshakable in the face of any circumstance even such extreme extreme ones like failure, social rejection, imprisonment, the physical pain of sickness and the fact of and experience of death. A well being which could not be acquired by effort but was ever present as the truth of myself. It was also pointed out that the only distance between myself and this absolute freedom was ignorance. Not the world. Not other people. Not even myself. There was something very important I was not seeing and the only solution was seeing it.

I didn’t even recognise the existential condition of samsara let alone have any notions of its solution. I just wanted to be happy. Freedom from dependence was not my issue. My emotional upsets and unhappiness lay with things other than my self. The relief from these things also lay with things other than myself. At the time this basic conclusion or notion seemed fairly obvious. This was my entrenched standpoint on life. This was the context in which I “lived moved and had my being” but it as a context was entirely hidden from me though it determined entirely how I lived in the world. .

This was my first encounter with the standpoint of the Vedanta scriptures. They were scriptures that weren’t telling me what to do but rather what to see. Frankly from my Christian Judaic background scriptures used in this way is unknown. In the light of this scripture I could see myself and my situation in an entirely different way. From my own standpoint life looked one way. From the standpoint of the Vedantic scriptures it looked entirely different. I did not know I was seeing my life in the light of the Vedantic Vision. I was talking to a stranger who was unfolding a way of seeing which was entirely new to me. I was yet to appreciate she was the scriptures in living form. I wasn’t Indian so I didn’t know about such things.

In this first conversation I asked Swamini what was the best way to approach this problem of dependence on objects. She said that I must depend on the guru, scripture and God. I could already see that talking to her opened my eyes to things that I could not see myself. Depending on my own standpoint had proved to be very unhelpful given my emotional misery at the time. I knew the teaching was from the Vedantic scriptures so I thought that was acceptable. The God thing was hard. I just wanted the teaching without the religious stuff. I knew from her photos she was some kind of Hindu monk because she wore yellow clothing. Also she was often surrounded by Hindu deities which made me uncomfortable. I could not understand how she could have such clarity about life and living but be so religious and prayerful at the same time. I had rejected prayer long ago. Also I didn’t have a religious bone in my body. However I set aside all my misgivings about that and just stuck to what did make sense which was what she had unfolded so clearly to me . I was desperate at the time so I had nothing to lose.

So at the end of that conversation I was prepared to depend on her as a teacher. Not only was she wise she was also very kind. I was a stranger to her of a different race and a different culture. Yet she was willing to talk to me and she had such a accepting manner about her I could speak frankly without reservation. I opened up like a clam which was unusual for me. After the first conversation I didn’t feel as helpless and as unhappy as before we talked. I knew I had finally come across something good. Looking back I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Click here to go to the next part in this series

Bede Clifford

Bede Clifford

This is the first of an ongoing series written by Bede Clifford. Bede is a student of Swamini Atmaprakasananda. He comes to Vedanta from a background of Theology, Philosophy, Sociology & Psychology.

Click here to view Bede Clifford’s YouTube channel

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Being a Student of Vedanta Part 2

When I first meet up with Swamini Atmaprakasananda on skype I asked her why there was suffering. I didn’t say “why am I suffering” that was too close. I wanted to know what she would say. I had never talked to a guru before and it was embarrassing to ask. In the past I had rubbished people who needed them. It seemed to me like weakness. Swamini said the following. “the reason people suffer is that that are dependant of people and things for their happiness”. Because I had lost most of the things I depended on for my happiness and was suffering extremely as a result what she said made complete sense. She also said in this first conversation “people and things never hurt us they are just instrumental in revealing the pain that is already with us. This understanding is the beginning of emotional maturity”.

I got the point very clearly. I did not like it but I could see that what she was saying was that people and events which SEEM to be the cause of our misery and unhappiness. I mean the experience of being hurt by events and others seems to be convincingly real. But here she was saying that MY DEPENDENCE ON PEOPLE AND EXTERNAL CONDITIONS FOR MY HAPPINESS WAS MY PRIMARY PROBLEM. So here I was with my atrophied discrimination giving consent to what she was saying but in terms of experience and a very convincing experience at that, what she was saying did not seem to true. This was the first time and no means the last that the standpoint of the scriptures was in direct opposition to my own standpoint which is based on my experience which APPEARS so true. I mean I had a whole life time of experiencing the absence of objects CAUSING me pain and a whole lifetime of the presence of objects CAUSING me pain. Swamini was making it very clear that blaming was not only futile but incorrect. What was causing my pain was my dependence.

Until I met this Vedanta teacher I lived entirely in the context of a world of objects (people and conditions) that were giving me happiness or taking it away. All I wanted was the happenings of the universe to line up with what I wanted so I could be happy. Because if it did not I was very unhappy. I also knew that the fault lay with the universe not me. I looked at the world and drew a big line down the middle. I put all the things that MADE me happy on the left hand side and put all the things that MADE me unhappy on the right hand side. Then I built my life around staying on the left hand side because my happiness depended on staying on that side. This context WITHIN which I lived determined entirely how I lived in the world and what everything that happened meant to me. My way of seeing was determined by this context and the way I lived in my world came out of this way of seeing. My living in my world was my way of seeing the world in action. Any efforts to improve myself was like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. It seemed like I was doing something but it was all done within the same context that was the problem. So the same old suffering in new forms kept on appearing no matter what I did.

“This is what we call samsara- the dependence upon another person, another situation, for your own sense of well-being” Swami Dayananda.

Before my conversation with Swamini I thought like the Buddhists that life was samasra. Life was suffering. Something was wrong with life because it was suffering. From appearances this seemed to be very true. But this was not was being said here. This teacher was saying that my dependence on objects was MY problem. This made me wrong of course but at the same time I knew that if the problem lay with me and not the world maybe something radical (going to the root) might be able to take place in my life. I felt I was beginning something. 8I just didn’t know what it was. Even though she was saying was very tough she was very kind at the same time which enabled me to take on board what she was saying. Something within me knew that the problem lay with me in spite of all the “evidence” to the contrary.

Click here to go to the next part in this series

Bede Clifford

Bede Clifford

This is the first of an ongoing series written by Bede Clifford. Bede is a student of Swamini Atmaprakasananda. He comes to Vedanta from a background of Theology, Philosophy, Sociology & Psychology.

Click here to view Bede Clifford’s YouTube channel

Being a Student of Vedanta Part 1

Everything that happens in our lives has a meaning to us. When we are loved, that means something to us. When we are hated, this hatred has a different meaning to us than when we are loved. So everything that we see has a meaning for us. Now here is the thing. What determines how we understand ourselves, other people and our world? Obviously everything that happens to us means something to us. We go “I like that”. Or “I don’t like that” or “I am indifferent to that”. Before we make conclusions like these we have ascertained what the event or person means to us. When someone says that rotten person did a horrible thing. That person is communicating the meaning that that person has for them. But again here is the interesting question. What determines the meaning? If you asked the person who thinks that the person is rotten why they think that way they will tell you that it is because of what they have done. This sounds reasonable however this is not the determining factor that determines the meaning you have about the things that happen to you. Another factor remains hidden in the background.


Let us say that I told you about a guy who ripped open another guys belly with a knife. Now that means something to you straight away. You probably won’t like the guy because you don’t like violent actions like that. But what if you found out that the guy was a young surgeon trying to save another’s life under enemy fire. Now the same event has an entirely different meaning for you. You see it differently. Now the point we need to take from this is this. THE CONTEXT FROM WHICH WE LOOK AT PEOPLE AND EVENTS DETERMINES THE MEANING THAT PEOPLE AND ENVENTS HAVE FOR US. 

The oxford dictionary defines context in this way.

Context: the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood

this is a good definition but we are going to modify it slightly for our Vedantic our purposes here

Context: the standpoint that forms the setting for an event, statement, or idea, in terms of which the event, statement, or idea is understood. 

When you found out that the setting was a battlefield and the guy was a surgeon there was a sudden context shift which transformed your cognition of the event. Within this context and only within this context could you understand this event in the right way? This shifting of our way of seeing or cognising Swami Dayananda gives the term “cognitive shift”. 

Now you may be thinking Bede has gone of on a tangent. This is supposed to be about Vedanta. In fact it is about the most important thing for us as students of Vedanta. The most important thing for us as students of Vedanta is to study Vedanta from the right context. If we fail to do this we will not understand the teaching in the right way. We will understand it in our way.

My teacher early on in my Vedantic studies made it very clear that there was only one context and one context alone that Vedanta can be understood. If we don’t study from WITHIN this context Vedanta will have a meaning for us but not the one intended by the scriptures. We will be wasting our time. Everything we hear will be taken in the wrong way. This was very important thing for me to understand and I wish to share this with my fellow students. I will do it in parts so I can go step by step. I just wanted to set the context first so you would understand me in the right way.

By Bede Clifford, as posted on Facebook:

I wrote this article for a secular audience but it is all about the living of a life of dharma. My teacher makes the point again and again that given the discovery of the value of values and hence the desire to live a life of values we must then exercise our choice over action to satisfy this ethical striving. This is the often difficult task of making our actions conform to what we know to be the best thing to do. She pointed out when we don’t conform to what we know is the best course of action in each situation we meet we become disturbed within ourselves and in conflict with the environment. Living a life of values brings us into a new relationship with others and our world and transforms the quality of our minds so that they become more subtle. Without this she says the teaching won’t take. I have changed the article in small ways but mainly have kept it the same. The topic self honesty is important for us as Vedanta students. We have a choice before us every day. A life of dharma or a life of trying to become someone who looks good in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. 

Self Examination

“I am convinced that man’s fundamental problem is his human egocentricity … A living creature is a bit of the universe that has set itself up as a kind of separate counter universe. It tries to make the rest of the universe serve the creature’s purposes and centre on the creature. That is egocentricity. Of course, this is a forlorn hope. All the great historic philosophies and religions have been concerned, first and foremost, with the overcoming of egocentricity.” 
-Arnold Joseph Toynbee (14 April 1889 – 22 October 1975

Egocentricity, ego inflation and self improvement

When someone criticises us, without thinking we defend ourselves. No way do we want to be wrong! If we are wrong we are ‘no good’ in our own eyes and feel we are ‘no good’ in the eyes of the critic or those around us at the time. We find this intolerable. The ‘flaw’ being exposed by the criticiser is not the issue. Protecting our image of ourselves, the person we take ourselves to be, is what is at issue. The feeling of being diminished (being put down) is extremely unpleasant and emotionally painful. So what is it that is being deflated or made smaller, and why is it a life and death issue? 

We all have notions about ourselves and when these notions turn into experience they become entirely unconscious. For example, the notion that I am inferior and inadequate (a universally unacknowledged notion that governs many human beings) is not just a thought in the mind. It is lived out in our constant attempts to experience ourselves as someone who does not have certain imagined defects or limitations. These very attempts clearly imply an unconscious admission of the imagined defects. Swami Dayananda has made this very clear. My teacher drove it home to me when she first began the difficult task of getting through to me that any notion positive or negative about ourselves were always erroneous. 

When I think about myself, I have in mind an idea of who and what I am. Positive or negative, this is only an idea. However, on being lived, it takes the form of an experience. Typically, that experience unconsciously ‘confirms’ what I believe I truly am.

When we experience our identity as inadequate and inferior a strong tendency develops of moving towards a solution to our being a small, inadequate and inferior person. Feeling we are less than others, we seek to be better than others. Feeling imperfect and full of defects, we seek to become perfect. Feeling unloved and disapproved of, we seek to be a person who is loved and approved of. Feeling that we are a bad person, we seek to be a good one. Feeling wrong, we seek to be right. In Vedanta this is called becoming.

Whenever, in our own eyes, we feel better than others we are filled with a delicious sense of ego inflation. We then feel we are the superior person we want to be. Whenever, in our own eyes, we feel perfect we experience ourselves as free from error; and when we feel loved and approved of, we feel very happy indeed. 

Whenever we look, we often find we do not find ourselves matching our image of ourselves. However, our image of ourselves (how we are both in our own eyes and we hope in the eyes of others) is something we will defend – sometimes to the death. Yet there is a big difference between ego inflation and improving the way we live in the world. 

Improving our way of living in the world means improving our ability to see and think clearly, to become less emotionally reactive and living in relation to others in a socially beneficial and being productive by bringing value to our activities. It means developing our skills so we can bring real value to the market place in terms of making a good living and learning to and responding usefully and beneficially to people. This is improving our way of living in the world. It is good and very necessary. It is not trying to improve an image of myself –that is only trying to experience myself looking good in my own eyes and in those of others. Such image buffing takes our mind and efforts away from doing what will serve our best interests in terms of living happily, usefully and productively with others. 

Vainly trying to ‘prove’ ourselves to ourselves (and others) by puffing ourselves up generates a lot of anxiety, and always leads to hostility and an intense feeling of loss. The bigger you inflate an ego balloon the more likely it is to be popped by the actions of others. You may think I am stretching a point here, but think of when you were last upset and defending yourself. It felt very important didn’t it, and it was no little thing to you? 
People generally don’t fight to defend themselves, they fight to defend their image of themselves, an image they take themselves to be or desperately want to be. This image is a defence against experiencing ourselves as deficient or inadequate in some way. 

When our lives are based on ego-inflation and a defence of our view of ourselves we can easily become blind to what is really in our best interests, consequently doing things that are harmful to a happy and productive life.

If we hurt someone with our words or actions (which as fallible human beings we do often) it is good to say sorry and correct our hurtful behaviour. However, if being “right” is more important to us than living rightly with others, which is really in our best interests, we will find ourselves very resistant to saying sorry or to minimising the destructiveness of our actions, and will tend to justify them. This is the problem with living under the sway of false values (values we value that have no value in living a happy, productive and peaceful life). We find ourselves not living in our best interests. Instead, our interest is in building our image of ourselves and defending it. 

When we find ourselves being judgemental of others our attention will be riveted on their behaviour and on our self-satisfaction with our imagined superiority. Finding fault with others is often a favoured pastime because of its usefulness in raising ourselves above others in our own eyes. Having a condescending attitude to others also protects us against experiencing ourselves as inferior. Needing to be superior makes it very hard to be sensibly self-critical, to examine ourselves in an honest light. There is an old saying: “Don’t ever let the truth interfere with a good story.” Honest self-examination is not ego-gratifying; on the contrary it is ego-deflating. If we feel that the value of being superior to others – which is mainly unconscious – is what our life and happiness depend on, honest self-examination will not really be possible for us. 

Trying to be right, superior, perfect and better than other people – which is clearly evidenced when we see ourselves becoming critical, judgemental, condescending, superior and non-compassionate – takes us away from our imagined defects as a person and protects our image of who we think we are and how we like to experience ourselves as being. 

As human beings it is very true that we have defects that we need to remedy: we have defects in our understanding, we have emotional reactivity that drives us to say and do stupid things, and we have defects in our behaviour which prevent us from meeting the demands of the present situation in the best way possible. We need to improve our understanding (our seeing what is important and unimportant in living happily with others and in leading a productive and useful life) and we have to improve our skills in responding to the people around us. Defects in our understanding and behaviour don’t make us a defective person, and feeling bad about stupid and unhelpful behaviour is not negative, it is mainly helpful because it prompts us to correct our mistakes. However, if we feel bad about ourselves about our bad behaviour is unhelpful because we become ‘lowlifes’ in our own eyes and we will resist looking honestly at our behaviour and will fear doing so. 

Improvement in the way we live with others and how we engage in our daily activities is extremely important. However, ego-gratification has nothing to do with this and will in fact interfere with genuine improvements. To improve ourselves we need to examine our values and thinking. We need to be aware of our feelings and evaluate them in terms of their helpfulness or unhelpfulness in living our lives. Most importantly, we need to be aware of what we are doing and how we are doing it, and see whether or not these actions are serving our best interests. Without honest self-examination, improvement of our living, in the genuine sense of the term, is not possible. 

We need to be honest with ourselves – especially about what we value. When we are unaware that we are under the sway of ego-inflating needs or values (the need for fame, status, power, for a self approved by others and one that is better than others etc.) we are in trouble. Values we hold that drive us to repeat harmful and stupid actions, actions that make our lives empty and meaningless, can’t be released by an act of will because we did not consciously choose them in the first place. However, if we can become aware of self-harming values around which we build our lives, honestly examining them to see whether they have any real value, and discover that they are in fact harmful to a happy, socially beneficial and productive life, we are then in a good position to start the difficult but meaningful process of relinquishing them. 

Self-honesty is a major key to a better life. However, if we don’t see its value because of our ego-defensiveness our minds will not tend towards it. The only way to learn self-honesty is to practise it. The more we practise it, the more we see our dishonesty about ourselves. This is not ego-gratifying, however, it is more truthful, and being truthful with ourselves, which can at first be quite bitter, can become something highly valued once we see what we get out of it and what we lose by not practising it. 

The Latin root of the word vanity is vanus, meaning ‘empty’. In our culture, being rich and famous is highly sought-after and valued. However, we read of numerous people who have money and fame, who are yet unhappy in their relationships, and who are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Money can buy comfort, that is very true, but it does not in itself produce happiness. There are rich people who are unhappy and comfortable, and there are poor people who are unhappy and not as comfortable. There is no essential difference. We all share the same problem. 

Living rightly with others by contributing value to our relationships with them, engaging in productive activity that is personally meaningful, produces relative happiness. If you start doing this, a feeling of happiness accompanies such activity. “What can I put into life?” is the most important question. Not “What can I get out of it?” It is the difference between a beneficial and productive ongoing contribution that becomes a way of living in this world, and a way of life based on getting things to make me happy. Pursuing ego-inflation is a worthless effort, having no value. It contributes literally nothing of value, giving only a fleeting feeling of ego-satisfaction that goes away which means the necessity to engage in compulsive efforts to boost it up again and this to , will turn out to be empty. To build your life around such a pursuit in such a way as to make it the reason for your living is an incredible waste.