Ego is the Helper and Ego is the Bar – M.S. Srinivasan

(A story which illustrates the stages of human growth in the light of Indian spiritual thought)

Raghav is a young student studying in a college. He was awakened to the spiritual aim early in his life by his mentor, Sri Rangarajan, who is a great scholar and an inwardly advanced adept in Tantra yoga. He is a disciple of a great spiritual Master of modern India and became an inmate of the Ashram founded by his Master.

Raghav wrote to his mentor about a conflict troubling him. “I feel a sense of superiority over my classmates”, wrote Raghav, “I know it is the ego but I am not able to get rid of it.” His mentor replied, “Keep it. There is nothing wrong in having a dignified sense of superiority over your classmates, provided you are putting into practice the higher ideals in your mind, which have awakened you to a nobler life. It will prevent you from slipping in to the level of your classmates and getting trapped into all the harmful habits they indulge in and the silly things they do.”

After finishing his postgraduate course, Raghav visited his mentor in the Ashram. Rangarajan welcomed Raghav warmly and said, “You have finished your studies and crossed a stage in your life. You have to move on to the next stage in your journey.  What are your future plans?” Raghav replied, “That is exactly what I wanted to ask you and guide me in the right direction.” Rangarajan remained silent for some time and then said:

”Your case is very different from your classmates. You have a strong spiritual inclination and openness to the spiritual ideals. There are two alternative paths before you. You can take up a job, get married and conduct your life according to the paths laid down in the Gita and Tantra. Be honest and efficient in your work. Earn wealth but use it selflessly to help the poor and needy in your family and the community. Fulfill scrupulously all your responsibilities as a householder. Enjoy whatever joys, comforts, or luxuries which come to you in the course of your work and as a result of your past karma. But do not allow these enjoyments to degenerate into greed. Keep a watchful control over your ego and desire. Be kind, charitable and forgiving in your relationship with others. Constantly remember the Divine and offer all your work, life and action and your inner and outer movements to the Divine. If you practice this discipline with sincerity and persistence, it will prepare your inner as well as your outer being for a full-fledged spiritual life in the future. The other alternative is to skip this stage and join the Ashram for a full scale spiritual life, if you feel you are ready for it. But this second alternative depends on the approval of our Master. If you feel you are ready for it I can present your case to our Master. But think over these alternatives carefully before taking a decision.”

Raghav listened to his mentor’s words with rapt attention. After a few minutes of thoughtful silence Raghav said:

“But sir, I don’t have any inclination for a worldly life. I want to join this Ashram and tread the path of our Master.”

“If that is your spiritual destiny it will be”, said Rangarajan, “but don’t come to a hasty decision. You will be here for three days. In this tranquil atmosphere you have all the inner help you need for arriving at the right choice. Keep the mind calm and contemplate on what I said. Offer the alternatives to our Master or the Divine and pray: help me to make the right choice which is in harmony with Your Will.”

Raghav spent the next day almost entirely in contemplation and meditation. The next day, he told his mentor with a calm certainty, “Sir I did what you said and I feel deeply this path you have chosen is also the path for me. I feel absolutely no inclination for the married life.”

“Very good”, said Rangarajan, “I always felt you are inwardly ready for it. I will present your case to our Master.” After a week, when Raghav received a letter from his Mentor, he took the letter with trembling hands and with great expectation and anxiety in his heart. He was delighted to read his Mentor’s words, “My dear Raghav, I am deeply happy to inform you that our Master has approved your choice.” Raghav had not much problems in joining an Ashram at such a young age, leaving his parents, who are also spiritually inclined and noble souls. They approved his soul’s choice and let him go.

A few months after joining the Ashram, one day Rangarajan said to his protégé, “Raghav, your first inner task here is to eliminate all sense of superiority from your consciousness. Not even a trace of it should remain there.” Raghav was perplexed because this is the opposite of what his mentor told him when he was studying in college. “But Sir, you said something very different when I was in college” responded Raghav, expressing his doubts, “You asked me to keep my sense of superiority.” Rangarajan replied with a smile, “Because it was a help at that stage. When you are a student, in that environment it helped you to keep your dignity and character and prevented you from slipping into the low level of the surrounding environment. But now you have entered into an altogether different stage. You have stepped into the spiritual path; in this path what you have to develop is true humility and not the sense of superiority. If you keep that sense of superiority, it will only perpetuate your ego and block your spiritual progress.”

“Does it mean”, asked Raghav, “what is helpful at a stage becomes an obstacle at a higher stage?”

“Exactly”, replied Rangarajan, “An aphorism of our Master brings out this principle in simple and potent words: ‘Ego is the helper, Ego is the Bar. Desire is the helper, desire is the bar.’ Have you understood what it means?”

“I think from what I have heard from you, it describes the stages of evolution. But I would like to hear from you a more detailed commentary on it.”

“You got it right”, said Rangarajan, “The first stage is where ego and desire are helpers. This is a unique insight of our Master which you will not find in any other spiritual teaching. All spiritual teachers preached renunciation of ego and desire. But what is not recognized is that this counsel applies only to the spiritual seekers in the second stage and cannot be preached as a rule or principle for the whole of humanity, because large mass of humanity is still in the first stage where ego and desire are helpers. Secondly, we as humans are driven by ego and desire for many millenniums. And suddenly one day Buddha comes and says, ‘Renounce desire’, it may not be easy to do it, because all the millennial impressions of ego and desire are within us, embedded in the subconscious. They have to be first used for progressive evolution of the individual and then eliminated through a conscious inner discipline.”

“But sir, how can ego and desire be a helper when it is not under the control of higher values”, questioned Raghav.

“Good question.” said Rangarajan, “It can help those who are in a primitive stage of evolution. In Tantra philosophy, they are called as Pasu, the animal man or the physical man who lives predominantly in his bodily consciousness driven by the needs and instincts of his body and more or less submerged in the consciousness of his tribe or group. A strong and passionate ego and desire for wealth or power can help the Pasu to raise from this sub-conscious mass and move up in the evolutionary ladder to the consciousness of his dynamic  rajasic self and develop a self-conscious individuality. As he grows in his rajasic consciousness and awakens to the higher vital motives for achievement, conquest and expansion it helps in developing his higher potentials and faculties like that of the pragmatic mind and the capacity for execution or organization.  Similarly as he grows further, and becomes conscious of the motives of his thinking and ethical mind for knowledge and values, it leads to a more and more self-conscious growth in the mental domain. Left to the slow process of Nature, this evolution within the domain of ego and desire may take millions of years. But the ancient Indian paradigm of human development, aims at accelerating this evolution by imposing the mental and moral ideals of Dharma and the spiritual ideal of Moksha even at the early stages of evolution, on the tamasic and rajasic man, providing them with uplifting ideals which are in harmony with their nature, temperament and the stage of evolution.”

“That’s very enlightening”, said Raghav, “you have given a sweeping vision of human evolution. But I have not gone through the rajasic phase of this evolution.”

“Not perhaps in this birth”, replied Rangarajan, “you might have gone through it in your previous birth.”


  1. According to Indian philosophy Nature, human and Universal Nature, is made of three qualities. Tamas, Rajas and Sattwa, which means, roughly translated, Inertia, Dynamism and luminosity. In our human organism, our physical nature is made of Tamas, our emotional and vital nature is made of Rajas and our higher nature made of our intellectual, ethical and aesthetic being is made of Sattwa, predominantly, and not exclusively.
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