Ego is the subtlest of the eight material elements. This means false pride that is born of ego is a disease that cannot be perceived by us easily. Imagine you go to a doctor, and there is a tumour in your body. You are suffering the pain and misery caused by it, yet you can’t locate it, leave alone remove it. How will a person become healthy if the tumour is spreading fast and wide, yet he doesn’t know how to cure himself of this disease? That’s our situation; that’s how the false ego has pervaded our consciousness.
In its gross form the false ego manifests as a desire to enjoy all delights and pleasures of this world. When we come to Krishna consciousness however, we learn we are not the enjoyers, but the servants of Krishna. We may then give up the various pleasures of this world. But we haven’t really given up the ego. On a subtle level, we may still enjoy the respect, adoration, and glories that devotional service brings to a practitioner. I may be motivated to perform some service because I think I’ll be admired for it. Then the false ego is still there, playing havoc in my life, but ironically now I am totally unaware of its malicious presence in my heart.
As preachers of Krishna consciousness our main service is to help others connect to Krishna. This is an immensely rewarding service, yet it presents a major distraction if we think ‘I am the doer’. That is while presenting Krishna consciousness to others we may forget Krishna and think of ourselves as someone special and also an expert in delivering the message of the Lord to others. Then we are tightly in the grip of the material energy, although externally it may appear that we are acting on behalf of Krishna, and we may also fool ourselves to think we are free from false ego. In our discourses we may educate others on the dangers of false ego while we may ourselves be in its vicious grip. That’s how insidious pride is.
King Yayati helped the young and beautiful girl Devyani who was helpless, having been thrown into a well. This act was service for sure. Yet it caused severe complications in his life; he got emotionally entangled with her, and went far way from Krishna. Eventually of course, he surrendered to the Lord and became a pure devotee. King Bharat was also the emperor of the planet, and after renouncing all worldly pleasures, and engaging in exclusive devotional service to Krishna, he had reached the stage of Bhava, the preliminary stage of love of God. Yet, while compassionately helping a deer, he himself got attached to the animal, and later died remembering the deer. He paid dearly for this lapse as he himself was born as a deer in his next life. Both are classic examples of devotees serving selflessly, yet subtly when the ego gets in and plants a desire in the heart to enjoy, one slowly but surely goes away from Krishna.
The act of helping others is certainly noble, but if our motivation is not pure, we may go away from Krishna. That’s because the ego takes us away from the Lord; it’s subtle and sinister, and we can’t trace it through our mind or intelligence. Since the false ego is more menacing than the intelligence’ ability to subdue it, it’s beyond the scope of our brain power to quell this deadly enemy of the soul. We need to access a power that is superior to the ego.
Krishna alone, through the agency of guru can tame this dangerous false ego. This translates practically as a sincere desire and endeavour on our part to serve the mission of guru, in the mood of a humble servant. Service attitude is the direct and surest antidote to the false ego, and the guru expertly helps a disciple render service to Krishna. The guru in turn is he who also is fixed in his identity as a servant of his own guru. This is the legitimate line of teachers, each of who thinks himself as a servant.
Thus when we are connected to a person free from false ego, and fixed in the consciousness of being the servant of Krishna, can we ourselves become free from false ego.