What is Ego Death?

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Ego Death Definition

Ego death, sometimes called ego dissolution or ego loss, is a relatively modern term sometimes used synonymously to describe enlightenment, transcendence, bodhi, moksha, samadhi, fana, etc.

Often considered the goal of spiritual practice, it is frequently equated with the concept of dying before one dies.

In yogic philosophy it may be summarized as disidentifying with your false sense of self.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life. – Prayer of St. Francis.

an image of a digital head splitting in half with a bright white light in the forehead to represent ego death

Ego Death Deep Dive

First of all, what is the ego?

There are many definitions, but in yoga it is generally seen as your sense of self as a separate being, separate from the world and from others.

Sometimes called ahamkara, it is the mistaken assumption of individuality or personality.

The word ahamkara comes from the root word “kr,” meaning “action,” or “to make.” And “Aham” means “I.” Ahamkara may therefore be translated as the I-maker.

It contributes to suffering by nurturing a lifelong case of mistaken identity. You end up telling a story about yourself – and everything else – instead of seeing things as they really are.

In the Yoga Sutras, the five klesas (afflictions of the mind) essentially lay out the ingredients to what we commonly think of as ego:

  • Avidya: Ignorance. Not seeing things as they are.
  • Raga: Attachments, likes.
  • Dvesa: Aversions, dislikes.
  • Asmita: The story (and indispensable importance) of I, me, mine.
  • Abhinivesa: Fear of death and clinging to bodily life.

Ego, in sum, is the one who has taken on the personality of their fluctuations of mind. They have become their thoughts.

Ego death may be seen then as the passing away of these klesas.

It may come as a result of spiritual practice, or as a result of psychedelic use. For others, it comes spontaneously. Likewise, for some, ego death is temporary; for others, permanent.

Regardless, when you experience ego death, the version of yourself you believe yourself to be loses its power over you.

So, what is it like to experience ego death?

For many, this transcendent shift in perspective is a frightening experience. This is why the scriptures recommend sustained practice. In the Yoga Sutras, the antidote to ego is said to be the eight limbs of yoga.

Those who are prepared in this way to experience ego death find the imperturbable peace and freedom that comes with truly letting go.

a digital image of a body laid over purple psychedelic fractals, representing ego death

Ego Death in Your Life

Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. – John 3:3.

If you are reading this today because your aim is ego death, ask yourself first who it is that wants to achieve it – and why.

The Yoga Sutras and other scriptures point to a path of moral principles and internal discipline. And paradoxically, that discipline leads to a radical sort of freedom – to know and make peace with your true self.

You may find it illuminating to read the Yoga Sutras and focus on the 8 limbs of yoga (Chapter 2, verse 28-55). They are meant to be practiced.

They can be summarized as:

  • Moral Principles – non-violence, truth, avoiding stealing, celibacy, absence of greed.
  • Observances – bodily purification, contentment, the burning off of desires, the study of sacred texts, and dedication to one’s higher power.
  • Withdrawal of the senses
  • Concentration
  • Pure contemplation

There are books and guides worth exploring that expand on the 8 limbs – because reducing them to the above list doesn’t do them justice.

In time you may find that the death of ego is not the end of your yoga journey, nor the beginning. It’s just the truth, here and now.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Hailing from the Yukon, Canada, David (B.A, M.A.) is a yoga teacher (200-hour therapeutic YTT) and long-time student and practitioner of various spiritual disciplines including vedanta and Islam.

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