The Ego: Lessons from a Flight
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool...
On Monday, I flew into Ahmedabad, India with one of the most inspiring and wise individuals in my life – Pujya Anandswarup Swamiji – the head swami of Swaminarayan Akshardham, Gandhinagar. From this journey with him, here is what I learnt about humility...
We buy expensive homes with loans far beyond our ability to pay. The same goes for cars and luxury goods. We strive to create a ‘personal brand’, packaging ourselves like a product to be sold. When our unhealthy ego becomes almost obsessive, everything we do becomes tailored around ‘me, me me’. This is what we call narcissism. It’s the belief in an inflated sense of one’s own importance.
Wherever you are, whoever and whatever you do, your worst enemy is already within you – your ego. The ego that we refer to here goes by the more casual definition that we see. It’s the unhealthy belief in one’s own importance and significance. Arrogance. Conceit. Vanity. Grandiosity. Self-centred ambition. I switch between using the words ‘ego’ and ‘narcissism’. It’s when the notion of ourselves and the world grows so inflated that it begins to distort the reality that surrounds us.
I was very indecisive to write and discuss this topic, but with the prevailing culture in the modern world, and to live the focused life, I think it is of great importance, now more than ever before.
During my trip into India, Pujya Anandswarup Swami would introduce me to everyone we met, “This is Vinay Sutaria, he is an accomplished author.” As much as I try to remain humble when introduced in this manner by one of the greatest individuals I have ever met, it is difficult, and our mind is so easily swayed. But at the same time, it helped me understand and see the inherent humility in Anandswarup Swami, who was of a much, much, much higher calibre in all areas of human existence (as well as his years and years of wisdom and dedication) compared to me. I was literally nothing in front of him, yet he didn’t introduce himself to others, he introduced me. Why? I am yet to ask him this question when we meet again in a couple of weeks…
Adolf Hitler’s narcissism caused the humiliation and inhumane massacre of over sixty million people. His arrogance and narcissism thinking killed three per cent of the world’s population at the time. Ego.
Jim Jones, born to parents who thought their child was a messiah turned out to amass nearly 1,000 followers and establish a small community of his own in South America.2 Through his delusional, narcissistic mindset of manipulation, he led over 900 people, including 304 children, to kill themselves by consuming a grape-flavoured drink laced with cyanide. It’s where the phrase ‘Don’t drink the Kool-Aid’ comes from. Ego.
Saddam Hussein rounded up over 800 men, women, and children after a failed assassination attempt and detained them for over two years. At the same time, he tortured and executed 148 of the men for taking part in the assassination attempt. Ego.
The engineers of the Titanic believed so strongly that the ship was unsinkable that they only equipped it with the legal minimum safety precautions, despite the fact that the safety regulations at the time were not designed for boats this big of a size. There was nowhere near enough crew to sail the ship safely through the Antarctic, and there was nowhere near enough life boats to prepare for any kind of disaster. The ship itself didn’t have a great design for the time, with flood compartments not being watertight, allowing all of the compartments to fill once the boat sank to a certain point. The materials used were also shoddy. Low-quality iron was used for the rivers which became easily brittle in cold conditions. 1,500 people died. Ego.
The cause of every war, invasion and dispute throughout the history of humankind can be narrowed down to one common enemy – the ego. Swaminarayan even went as far to say, “Ego is the greatest of all sins and biggest of all blemishes.” Many faiths believe that pride, same as the ego here, is a sin because it is a lie. One that convinces people that they are better than they are, or even better than the God that made them. The Vedic texts share numerous stories of those whose pride has engulfed them and who have then become delusional.
Pride leads to arrogance, and then away from humility and connection with those around us. As the famous conqueror and warrior Genghis Khan groomed his sons and generals to succeed him later in life, he would repeatedly warn them, “If you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead.”
We must prepare for pride and get rid of it as soon as we notice it. American novelist Flannery O’Connor said, “The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” And that is exactly what we will explore next time. Until then, I leave you all with the inspiring words of my guru.
And until then…
Prayers and love,
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