We all know how many of the world’s problems could be solved if the warring parties could resolve their ego problem. Caligula, Nero, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Napoleon and a few names from our Vedic history like Ravana, Hiranyakasipu and sisupala are all prime examples of otherwise successful individuals with big ego problems.

Now, brace for something shocking. The Bhagavad-gita does not put only these characters in the rogue’s gallery of big time egoists but squarely puts all living entities — bar none — in the same category. But surely, you may protest, “I do not have an ego problem like Genghis Khan or Ravana. I am merely a small fry.” Well, let’s analyze these so-called small fries and see whether they are all innocent.

Let’s begin with a definition. srila Prabhupada writes: “When we are materially contaminated, we are called conditioned. False consciousness is exhibited under the impression that I am a product of material nature. This is called false ego.”

Thus, the bare acceptance of our material body as our real self is the evidence of one acting under the influence of the false ego. If this is the “false” ego, then is there a “real” ego? Yes. The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad (1.4.10) states, aham brahmasmi: “I am Brahman, I am spirit.” This sense of “I am” also exists in the liberated stage of self-realization. This sense of “I am” is ego, but when the sense of “I am” is applied to this false body, it is called false ego. When the sense of self is applied to reality, that is real ego.

There are some philosophers who say we should give up our ego, but we cannot give up our ego, because ego means identity. We ought, of course, to give up the false identification with the body.

The very first sign of the false ego trapping a living entity is the identification of the living being with bodily relationships. This false ego associates with different modes of material nature, and thus the senses become attached to the modes of material nature. The mind is the instrument for feeling different material experiences, but intelligence is deliberative and can change everything for the better. The intelligent person, therefore, can attain salvation from the illusion of material existence by proper use of intelligence. An intelligent person can detect the awkward position of material existence and thus begin to inquire as to what he is, why he is subjected to different kinds of miseries, and how to get rid of all miseries, and thus, by good association, an advanced intelligent person can turn towards the better life of self-realization.

Can Krishna , or God, also have a false ego?

As explained in the Bhagavad-gita (7.4), the separated material energy of the Personality of Godhead is covered by eight kinds of material coverings: earth, water, fire, air, sky, mind, intelligence and false ego. All these are emanations from the Personality of Godhead as His external energy. These coverings are just like the covering of clouds for the sun. The cloud is a creation of the sun, yet it actually covers the eyes so that one cannot see the sun. The sun cannot be covered by the clouds. The cloud can at utmost extend a few hundreds of miles in the sky, but the sun is far greater at millions of miles. So a hundred-mile covering is not sufficient to cover millions of miles. Therefore, one of the various energies of the Supreme Personality of Godhead cannot, of course, cover the Lord. But these coverings are created by Him to cover the eyes of the conditioned souls who want to lord it over the material nature. Actually the conditioned souls are covered by the illusory creative cloud of matter, and the Lord reserves the right of not being exposed to their eyes. Because they have no eyes of transcendental vision and because they cannot see the Personality of Godhead, they therefore deny the existence of the Lord and the transcendental form of the Lord.

Although a cloud is a product of the sun and is also made visible by the sun, it nevertheless creates darkness for the viewing eye, which is another partial expansion of the sun. Similarly, material false ego, a particular product of the Absolute Truth made visible by the Absolute Truth, obstructs the individual soul, another partial expansion of the Absolute Truth, from realizing the Absolute Truth.

When the cloud originally produced from the sun is torn apart, the eye can see the actual form of the sun. Similarly, when the spirit soul comes out of his material covering of false ego by inquiring into the transcendental science, he regains his original spiritual awareness.

Just as the sun can burn away the clouds that prevent one from seeing it, the Supreme Lord (and He alone) can remove the false ego that prevents one from seeing Him. There are some creatures, however, like owls, which are averse to seeing the sun. In the same way, those who are not interested in spiritual knowledge will never receive the privilege of seeing the Lord.