One common goal of religions is to overcome the ego and awaken to reality. Ordinary egocentric reality is considered to be a trancelike succession of automatic impulses and attachments and thus the concept of overcoming the ego is a common theme in many religions and spiritual traditions. While the specific teachings and practices may vary, the general message revolves around recognizing and transcending the ego or the self-centeredness of the individual in order to attain spiritual growth, enlightenment, or a closer connection with the divine. This also allows for the cultivation of qualities such as mindfulness, humility, and selflessness, all of which contribute to improving society and human flourishing.
“Consume the egotistical veils with the fire of oneness, sincerely for the sake of God.”
– Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í prophet
“This māyā, that is to say, the ego, is like a cloud. The sun cannot be seen on account of a thin patch of cloud; when that disappears one sees the sun. If by the grace of the guru one’s ego vanishes, then one sees God.”
– Sri Ramakrishna, Hindu saint
“To return to the observance of the rites through overcoming the self constitutes benevolence […] However, the practice of benevolence depends on oneself alone, and not on others.”
– The Analects, Confucian text
“In the end, we are very minor blips in a cosmic story. Aspirations for importance and significance are the illusions of the ignorant”
– L. James March, Stanford university
In Buddhism, the concept of ego or self (called “anatta” or “anatman”) is considered an illusion or a false sense of self. Buddhist teachings emphasize the practice of mindfulness, meditation, and self-inquiry to cultivate awareness and insight that leads to overcoming the ego the realization of the non-existence of a fixed or independent self. Overcoming the ego in Buddhism is seen as a path to liberation from suffering and the attainment of enlightenment, and is therefore at the forefront of Buddhist theology, scripture, and practice.
In Hinduism, the ego is seen as a false identification with the physical body, mind, and emotions (known as “ahamkara” or “I-maker”) that leads to ignorance and suffering. Hindu teachings emphasize self-realization, inner purification, and detachment from worldly desires through practices such as yoga, meditation, and self-surrender to the divine (known as “bhakti”) as a means of overcoming the ego and realizing one’s true nature.
In Christianity, the concept of overcoming the ego is often associated with humility and selflessness. The teachings of Jesus emphasize love, compassion, and service to others, and call for self-denial, sacrifice, and surrendering one’s own will to the will of God. Overcoming the ego in Christianity is seen as a way to cultivate virtues and imitate the example of Jesus in order to attain spiritual growth and closeness with God. The concept of dying to the self or “losing oneself” in God’s will is often seen as a way of transcending the ego and aligning with God’s purposes.
In Islam, the ego is often referred to as “nafs” or the lower self, which is prone to selfish desires, greed, arrogance, and worldly attachments. Islamic teachings emphasize self-discipline, self-awareness, self-control, self-purification, and mindfulness of God (called “taqwa”) as means to overcome the ego and attain spiritual purity. Islam also emphasizes practices such as fasting, prayer, and acts of charity as ways of embodying humility, gratitude, and surrender to the will of God.
In Sikhism, the concept of ego or self-centeredness is referred to as “haumai”, which is seen as the source of ignorance and attachment and therefore an obstacle to spiritual realization and liberation. Sikh teachings emphasize the practice of humility, selflessness, and service to others (called “seva”) as a means to overcome the ego and attain oneness with the divine (called “Ik Onkar” or the One Divine Reality).