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2007/12/26

"Ahaṃkāra" (अहंकार) or "Ahamkara"

I have just updated the Wikipedia content on this subject, as it was a bit thin and as I believe it to be a fundamentally important concept for us to learn, to work towards the realisation of the Self.
"Ahaṃkāra" (अहंकार) is a Sanskrit term that is related to the ego and egoism - that is, the identification or attachment of one's ego. The term "Ahamkara" comes from an approximately 3,000 year-old Vedic philosophy (according to documents and teachings of the School of Philosophy, Aro Street, Wellington, New Zealand), where:
  • "Aham" refers to the concept of the Self, and
  • "kara" refers to the concept of "any created thing".
The Vedic philosophy apparently taught that when one's Mind was in a state of Ahamkara, one was in a state of subjective illusion, where the Mind had bound up the concept of one's Self with a created thing. The created thing is usually a phenomena which can be thought of as external to the Self. It could be a tangible, concrete (material) thing - e.g., a motor car - or an intangible thing - e.g., such as a concept or idea (as in, for example, the concept of the fight for peace). The ego is involved in constructing the illusion.

Thus, an otherwise sensible young man might feel that his new sports car was a reflection of his true self and this would encourage him to race his car recklessly against another person's car. Similarly, someone who believed in the fight for peace, and who ordinarily might behave in a non-violent manner, might come to blows with someone who threatened or challenged his notions of peace.

In both cases, the Mind has created a state of illusion, but it seems real to the person in that state, and objectivity and reality is obscured. This illusory state is what can often cause people to do the strangest, oddest things, sometimes evil, and often quite out of character. All humans could - and usually do at some time or other in their lives - suffer from this. Consider how an otherwise apparently nice, normal family man in the military - Rudolf Höss, could also happily undertake the role as Commandant of the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi Germany. He apparently never could see that he was doing anything other than just doing his job to the best of his ability.

Even though it is not discussed in great detail in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjun that
Ahamkara must be removed. The reason for this is that the Self is not (cannot be) present when one is in a state of Ahamkara.

A very good example in English literature of an individual in a state of Ahamkara would be Shakespeare's Othello. An Indian rendition of Othello apparently gives the name "Omkara" (Aumkara) to the Othello-like main character.
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