Monday, July 28, 2008

I, Ego and Pride

I haven't really blogged in a few months so I apologize for that. I was going to blog on the Dark Knight today but decided I will save that for a week or so after more people have seen the movie, because I do have a lot to say about that movie. The pertinent topic I wish to engage in today is the idea of Ego or Pride, in sanskrit the word is Ahamkara (literally means the I maker). Ahamkara is used in three primary ways in sanskrit philosophical writings. First, it is used in the most fundamental way, the notion of first person perspective or fundamental consciousness, which is linked to (either qualitatively or identically) with Atman or soul. Second use is in the idea of agency, as in the idea that "I am the agent of my actions". The third and final use of the word Ahamkara is for the idea of pride and even arrogance. For the purposes of this blog I want to focus on the second and third uses of the word because the use of Ahamkara in the primary sense is an issue of epistemological and ontological significance not so much practical or psychological.

In a previous blog I talked about anger and how that is the root of a lot of problems but that's not entirely true. There are many roots to problems and one of the biggest ones is the pride. There are numerous sayings in all cultures about the negative consequences of pride. But there are few positives and I'll start with them first. According to Aristotle, pride is the crown of all virtues. He defines right or true pride as the idea of claiming something that is in accordance of your merits. Ayn Rand also lists pride as a virtue but specifically calls it the virtue of selfishness. Its the idea of placing yourself and your goals as paramount in your life and never sacrificing your own self or ideas for others. Now all the major religions of the world see Pride as a negative trait. As the old saying goes, Pride cometh before the fall (Proverbs 16:18). It is one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity, one of the six enemies in Hinduism (it is called mada in that list, which comes closer to the idea of arrogance) and in Buddhism it is an illogical idea as no one person can be better or worse than anyone else so Pride itself is irrational.

What is the difference between self-esteem and Pride? Self-esteem is upholding ones own self worth in that "I matter and am of significance at the same level as everyone/anyone else." Now I'd be stupid if I didn't admit the existence of different types of pride, there is the base idea of pride which is a bit stronger than the idea of self-esteem. Statements like "I'm proud of my effort" or "I'm proud that you tried" or "I'm proud that you did the right thing" are of that nature. They reaffirm the potentiality that self-esteem professes. Self-esteem is the potential that one sees in themselves and pride is the actualization or attempt to actualize that potential. At this point, it'd be prudent for me to differentiate Pride as I used it immediately above and the stronger notion of Pride. The stronger notion of Pride can also be called hubris and arrogance. From here on in, I'll refer to it as Hubris.

Hubris is the notion that because of one's education, wealth, race, religion or other discrimination criteria, that one is better or of more self worth than another. We have all at some point if not consistently dealt with this. How many of us have ever been in a situation where someone told us something and we thought to ourselves "who the hell is this person to give me advice" or something of that nature. Now that's hubris. Instead of listening to what the person says we cut them off in our minds as not someone worthy or in a situation of equal gravitas as us to give us advice. Or the idea "what does X person know, he is just a kid" or "she just has a high school degree". Now someone might make the argument you won't give the same weight to the advice of Joe Schmoe with that of a Doctor when it comes to medical issues. This argument would miss the point, as Hubris is an issue of how one views oneself in relation to others, not how others should be view with regard to specific questions in particular cases and professions. That being said, I'd take the advice of a doctor in regards to medical problem because of their expertise in that particular subject (given it is highly specialized) not because I view them as equal or not equal with me.

This the root of many of our problems. Hubris is the elevation of ourselves above others in the realm of inherent worth of human experience and existence. We take offense when we are reprimanded because it knocks us off our sense of elated self worth. When we are called out for our flaws, we instead of listening to the criticism allow our hubris to feed into our base emotion, anger. It is why we think to ourselves "how does this person have all this and I don't" or "I worked hard for what I got and I deserve it but clearly the people who don't have what I have aren't at my level" Hubris makes us buy these fancy cars and fake bodies, for appearances, so that we appear better than everyone else. This goes into my next point about Ahamkara.

Hubris has its foundation in the notion of the self as an agent. The notion that we actually do things or have control over anything more than our actions. As if our action is the direct cause of something happening. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth. Our actions are only one of the infinite number of causes that contribute to the occurrence or non-occurrence of things. Any causal relationship can be broken into millions of various other factors. I think if work hard and win a trial then its due to my effort. But if one were to really consider it, there are numerous if not unlimited factors that go into the actualization of that act. My ability to comprehend what actually happened, my ability to present that information coherently, the witnesses ability to actually witness the events, their ability to relate that information, the credibility and honesty of the witness, the defense's ability or inability to argue their case, the judge's ability to listen and understand what I want him/her to understand, their own world views being similar to the views i want them to hold and so on and so forth. Right there are so many factors that are beyond my control, in essence, the win isn't something I was responsible for it is merely something I contributed to, co-relational at best.

Krishna says in the Gita:
Karmany eva adhikaras te Ma Phaleshu Kadachana
Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhur Ma Te Sango astva Akarmani
(chapter 2 verse 47)

In doing your karma is your only right, not in the fruits of that action.
Do not be attached by the fruits of the work, nor should you be attached to inaction.

Why should we only be attached to our actions alone and not the fruit? As shown above it's because the fruits are not in our control, we don't really have any real sense of agency to "cause" things to happen. All we can do is act accordingly to what we should do and need to do. Meaning, that we should act because it is what is necessary and right not because we will always gain our goals. Make money so that we can live not making the acquisition of wealth the goal, work to live but the point which i haven't addressed here but Krishna says in the Gita, Live to know and eventually know to love all beings and things as oneself, in essence removing that Ahamkara and seeing oneself as not a separate agent but part of all existence, an fundamental and defining aspect or part of the grandeur that is existence and Being.


pr2008 said...

I did a piece for my last show based on this bit... Arjuna on the battlefield with Krishna. Krishna shows his vishwarupam (true self as God Almighty) as he tells Arjuna it is his "karmic" duty to fight and kill in the war. It is what he must do, and everybody has their karmic duty to play out.
A comment I'd like to make is about my observation about ego & pride. Being in Silicon Valley and observing people that have acheived great success (not the ones that have blown up in the stock market, but the ones that have actually built companies etc.) I must say, that even when people acheive a degree of wealth in their lives, they do come to a point where they feel they have a greater mission to accomplish. They do not "hang out" in the glory of their success for too long...somewhere along the line, they or someone else forces a challenge on them once again that humbles them. That is the beauty of "driven" is a perspective that is constantly checked and balanced.

Ketaki Karpe said...

Just like the verses of the Gita, I've had to read this single post several times to fully comprehend it. Good thinking and great writing.
I think you're right in saying that we are all merely contributing. However, we all need to be motivated to even just contribute. How does one self-motivate if they don't think of the outcome? What about repeated failure? Isn't it all about winning or the hope of it in the end?

A.V.G.Warrier said...

Very interesting. I enjoyed reading your post

Vandana said...

Very well written! I have hardly read something so enlightening and so intriguing!