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Ego, the Chronic Disease

Then the life becomes principled, ego is checked; watched over which will initiate its dissolution....

Haumai IMG_2280.jpg

The Punjabi word ‘Haumai’ is a compound word made by the combination of 2 words – Hau plus mai. Interestingly both the words mean “I”; making them synonymous, however the combined word ‘Haumai’ has a connotation for “I, me, mine”. Its closest English translation is EGO. This word has a Latin root which means “a conscious thinking subject”. The trait of ego makes a person lay claim on everything as either me or mine. The existence of ego is as old as the humans. It is not visible to anyone including the self yet exercising controlling influence on our lives. That notion of controlling or owning is considered as false by Gubani. Why? Because everything that belongs to “I” has an expiry date, including an expiry date for me. As per Gurbani the only thing true is that which does not have an expiry date, that is eternal or God. Based on this criterion everything in the material world including the humans is false and only the Creator is True. Thus, huamai is separation from the source. So, when one false ‘me’, associates with other things (which are also false) including laying the claim of ownership it becomes a deceitful act. Gurbani portrays it in these words:

“ਕੂੜਿ ਕੂੜੈ ਨੇਹੁ ਲਗਾ ਵਿਸਰਿਆ ਕਰਤਾਰੁ ॥”

“KooR kooRai neh lagaa visariaa karataar.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 468)

Translation: The false (transient) ones have fallen in love with falsehood (transient world) and forget their Creator (the only permanent).

Gurbani defines haumai as a chronic disease in these words:

“ਹਉਮੈ ਦੀਰਘ ਰੋਗੁ ਹੈ……”

"Houmai dheeragh rog hai…." (SGGS, Pg. No. 466)

Translation: Egotism is a chronic disease.

The biological conditioning of selfhood is further reinforced and enhanced through our cultural conditioning. If it is a chronic disease, what about its cure? Guru Ji has provided an assuring response in the second part of the sentence as:

“ਹਉਮੈ ਦੀਰਘ ਰੋਗੁ ਹੈ ਦਾਰੂ ਭੀ ਇਸੁ ਮਾਹਿ ॥ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਕਰੇ ਜੇ ਆਪਣੀ ਤਾ ਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਸਬਦੁ ਕਮਾਹਿ ॥”

“Haumai dheeragh rog hai dhaaroo bhee is maeh. Kirapaa kare jae aapanee taa gur kaa sabadh kamaeh” (SGGS, Pg. No. 466)

Translation: Egotism is a chronic disease, but it contains its own cure as well. If the Lord grants His Grace, one acts according to the Teachings of the Guru's Shabad.

Guru Ji is saying that the curing only be initiated only after the existence of egotism is recognized, and a yearning to live life according Guru’s teachings emanates within. Guru Ji says that the entire mankind is in the grip of egotism:

“ਹਉਮੈ ਰੋਗੁ ਮਾਨੁਖ ਕਉ ਦੀਨਾ ॥”

"Houmai rog maanukh kau deenaa." (SGGS, Pg. No. 1140)

Translation: (The entire) Mankind is afflicted with the disease of egotism.

Few of the tell-tale signs of a person with ego are:

  1. It is all about me.
  2. I like to be the center of attention.
  3. I cannot be wrong or do no wrong. No criticism please.
  4. Always ready to take credit for any success/good work, blames failure on others.
  5. Complete blindness to own flaws.
  6. Comparing self with others.
  7. Absence of gratitude.


  1. What is EGO

The essential construct of ego is our separate identity. The theme of ego recurs frequently in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS). It is defined in SGGS as:

“ਹਉਮੈ ਸਭਾ ਗਣਤ ਹੈ ਗਣਤੈ ਨਉ ਸੁਖੁ ਨਾਹਿ ॥ ਬਿਖੁ ਕੀ ਕਾਰ ਕਮਾਵਣੀ ਬਿਖੁ ਹੀ ਮਾਹਿ ਸਮਾਹਿ ॥”

“Haumai sabhaa ganat hai ganatai nau sukh naeh. Bikh kee kaar kamaavanee bikh hee maeh samaeh.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 36)

Translation: In egotism, all actions are performed by keeping their count (in hopes of rewards). In this keeping count, there is no peace. Acting in evil and corruption, people are immersed in corruption.

Basically, it means I am doing this so the result should be I should get that (what I want). Ego becomes a game of numbers - defined, measured, and propagated. Guru Ji is saying we even keep a tab on our good deeds in hopes of rewards in return. The thinking that I have done this and that, creates an aura of being the sole architect. However, in this process the real architect, the real doer God, is forgotten. Guru Ji has clarified that actions under the influence of ego only enhances ego:  

“ਹਉਮੈ ਏਹਾ ਜਾਤਿ ਹੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਹਿ ॥”

“Haumai ehaa jaat hai haumai karam kamaeh.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 466)

Translation: The (very) nature of haumai (ego) is that people perform their actions in ego.

What we consider as an individual self, is in fact a temporary separation from Truth by a partition or a wall. Basically, we keep on promoting our separate existence through the egoistic actions in life. Ego generates and feeds on the assumptions of what will make us happy, yet the final result is only disappointment and frustration. It pushes us to promote our self-importance, while we yearn for a deeper and a richer life experience. Ego is not to be confused with confidence. The acts performed for gaining accolades inflate the ego, thereby creating a desire for a repeat action in anticipation of getting the cascading effect. Gurbani has compared the actions performed under the influence of ego as those which are going to inflict deeper wounds as:

“ਜਿਉ ਜਿਉ ਚਲਹਿ ਚੁਭੈ ਦੁਖੁ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਜਮਕਾਲੁ ਸਹਹਿ ਸਿਰਿ ਡੰਡਾ ਹੇ ॥੨॥” 

“Jiau jiau chaleh chubhai dhukh paaveh jamakaal saheh sir dda(n)ddaa hae.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 13)

Translation: The further they walk (in ego), the deeper it pierces them (like a thorn), and the more they suffer in pain, until finally, the Messenger of Death smashes his club against their heads.

The egoistic actions emanate out of the thought waves in the mind as per Gurbani:

“ਜਿਚਰੁ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਲਹਰੀ ਵਿਚਿ ਹੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਅਹੰਕਾਰੁ ॥”

“Jichar eh mun laharee vich hai haumai bahut aha(n)kaar.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1247) 

Translation: As long as (the thought) waves agitate his mind, it is filled with ego and egotistical pride. 

Ego like a sugar-coated pill tastes sweet, but it is deleterious and addictive. Therefore, Guru wants us to get rid of it.  But getting rid of it is quite challenging. Guru Ji has clarified:

“ਹੈ ਕੋਈ ਐਸਾ ਹਉਮੈ ਤੋਰੈ ॥ ਇਸੁ ਮੀਠੀ ਤੇ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਹੋਰੈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥”

“Hai koiee aaisaa haumai torai. Eis meeThee te eh mun horai . 1. Rahaau. ”  (SGGS, Pg. No. 212)

Translation: Is there anyone, who can shatter his ego, and turn his mind away from this sweet Maya? 1. Pause.

Moreover, where egotism pervades, God does not reside there.  When “I”, which is behind this ego is there, God is not there as Guru Ji says:

“ਹਉਮੈ ਕਰੀ ਤਾਂ ਤੂ ਨਾਹੀ ਤੂ ਹੋਵਹਿ ਹਉ ਨਾਹਿ ॥”

“Haumai karee taa(n) tu naahee tu hoveh hau naeh.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1092)

Translation: When one acts in egotism, then You are not there, Lord. Wherever You are, there is no ego. 

The famous authors David Peplinski and Dr. Wayne Dyer have defined ego using acrostics as:

EGO =Edging God Out

This makes good sense. The “I” has overtaken all the space and “You” has been edged out. It is Haumai that leads to endless cycles of transmigration. 

“ਹਉਮੈ ਏਈ ਬੰਧਨਾ ਫਿਰਿ ਫਿਰਿ ਜੋਨੀ ਪਾਹਿ ॥”

“Haumai eiee ba(n)dhanaa fir fir jonee paeh.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 466)

Translation: This is the bondage of ego, that time and time again, they are reborn. 

Guru Sahibs believed in the sole existence of “You” (God) alone and termed “I” as false. In their perspective there is none other:

“ਦੂਜਾ ਕਉਣੁ ਕਹਾ ਨਹੀ ਕੋਈ ॥”

“Dhoojaa kaun kahaa nahee koiee.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 223)

Translation: Whom should I call the second, when there is only the One?

As ego is a separated part from whole, this separation is painful, and a yearning for reunion is inbuilt. This wall of separation creates a false vision of self, an adoption of right attitude will lower it. With the correct vision, the right perspective will follow. Let us explore ego which unleashes all the turmoil.

  1. How Ego is formed and nurtured

Guru Ji first posed the question on how ego is formed and then provided the answer as:

“ਹਉਮੈ ਕਿਥਹੁ ਊਪਜੈ ਕਿਤੁ ਸੰਜਮਿ ਇਹ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਹਉਮੈ ਏਹੋ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਹੈ ਪਇਐ ਕਿਰਤਿ ਫਿਰਾਹਿ ॥” 

“Haumai kithahu uoopajai kit sanjam ieh jai. Haumai eho hukam hai piaai kirat firaeh” (SGGS, Pg. No. 466)

Translation: Where does ego come from? How can it be removed? This ego exists by the Lord's Order; people wander according to their past actions.

The Creator God himself is the creator of Ego, through His command or Hukam. It is through their own life actions and the compulsive nature of the ego that the humans exert to maintain their unique and separate existence, thereby extending the separation from God. So, ego becomes the veil of separation that shrouds the divine existence but enables humans to experience their individuality. This separation impels us to consume all resources to acquire wealth, property, fame, and status, while preventing us from experiencing our divine essence. Guru Ji has shared this paradox in these words:

“ਧਨ ਪਿਰ ਕਾ ਇਕ ਹੀ ਸੰਗਿ ਵਾਸਾ ਵਿਚਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਭੀਤਿ ਕਰਾਰੀ ॥” 

“Dhan pir kaa ik hee sa(n)g vaasaa vich haumai bheet karaaree.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1263)

Translation: The soul-bride and the Husband Lord live together as one, but the hard wall of egotism has come between them.

When no efforts are made to check the ego, it spreads like a pandemic. Guru Arjan Dev Ji says:

“ਹਉਮੈ ਬਿਆਪੈ ਦੁਬਿਧਾ ਫੈਲੁ ॥”

“Haumai biaapai dhubidhaa phail” (SGGS, Pg. No. 893)

Translation: Afflicted by egotism, duality only increases.

When the wall is removed then the union or merger will take place. To experience that Oneness which Guru Nanak Dev Ji has defined as “Ik Onkar” this veil of separation needs to be removed. Guru Ji strongly advises to check ego, and purge it in these words:

“ਭੋਲਿਆ ਹਉਮੈ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਵਿਸਾਰਿ ॥”

“Bholiaa haumai surat visaar.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1168)

Translation: O ignorant one, forget your egotistical intellect.

Guru Ji advises us to make concerted efforts in that direction with these words:

“ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰਿ ਬੀਚਾਰਿ ਮਨ ਗੁਣ ਵਿਚਿ ਗੁਣੁ ਲੈ ਸਾਰਿ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥” 

“Haumai maar beechaar man gun vich gun lai saar. 1. Rahaau.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1168)

Translation: Subdue your ego and contemplate Him in your mind; gather in the virtues of the Sublime, Virtuous Lord. 1. Pause.

  1. Cure from the Ego Disease

As we saw earlier Guru Ji says that ego is a chronic disease, but its cure is also within it. If God grants His Grace, one starts living his/her life according to the teachings of the Guru. Then the life becomes principled, ego is checked; watched over which will initiate its dissolution. Guru Ji says those who implement Guru’s teachings in their lives will look beautiful in the court of God. They let go of their own self or ego and bring God in their hearts.

“ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸਦਾ ਦਰਿ ਸੋਹਣੇ ਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਸਬਦੁ ਕਮਾਹਿ ॥”

“Gurmukh sadhaa dar sohane gur kaa sabadh kamaeh.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 591)

Translation: The Gurmukhs always look beautiful in the Court of the Lord; they practice the Word of the Guru's Shabad.

So, a Sikh or student of the Guru, works on transforming life through Guru’s teachings, to become deserving of divine Grace. When that Grace is received ego is purged:

“ਜਾ ਹਰਿ ਪ੍ਰਭਿ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਧਾਰੀ ॥ ਤਾ ਹਉਮੈ ਵਿਚਹੁ ਮਾਰੀ ॥”

“Jaa har prabh kirapaa dhaaree. Taa haumai vichahu maaree.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 879)

Translation: When the Lord God showered His Mercy, egotism was eradicated from within me.

Guru Ji says that our true self is eternal, which is the force of One God in us. Guru Ji wants us to reflect on this eternal reality within, rather than on our body shell, which we had treated as our self:

“ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਆਪਣਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣੁ ॥”

“Mun toon jyot saroop hai aapanaa mool pachhaan.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 441)

Translation: O my mind, you are the embodiment of the Divine Light - recognize your own origin. 

Guru Ji has prescribed the method for ego dissolution, which is singing the praises of God:

“ਰੈਣਿ ਦਿਨਸੁ ਜਪਉ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਉ ॥ ਆਗੈ ਦਰਗਹ ਪਾਵਉ ਥਾਉ ॥”

“Raian dinas japau har naau. Aagai dharageh paavau thaau.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 893)

Translation: Night and day, I chant the Lord's Name. Hereafter, I shall obtain a seat in the Court of the Lord.

This method will untie the knot of ego and help purging it. Guru Ji has said:

“ਗੁਣ ਨਿਧਿ ਗਾਇਆ ਸਭ ਦੂਖ ਮਿਟਾਇਆ ਹਉਮੈ ਬਿਨਸੀ ਗਾਠੇ ॥”

“Gun(h) nidh gaiaa sabh dhookh miTaiaa haumai binasee gaaThe.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 453) 

Translation: Singing the Praises of the Lord, the treasure of virtue, all my pains are erased, and the knot of ego has been untied. 

“ਗੁਨ ਗਾਵਤ ਤੇਰੀ ਉਤਰਸਿ ਮੈਲੁ ॥ ਬਿਨਸਿ ਜਾਇ ਹਉਮੈ ਬਿਖੁ ਫੈਲੁ ॥”

“Gunn gaavat teree utaras maial. Binas jai haumai bikh phail.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 289)

Translation: Chanting His Glories, your filth shall be washed off. The all-consuming poison of ego will be gone.

The outcome of singing God’s praises and glories is that even the chance of getting afflicted by ego diminishes:

“ਕਬਹੂ ਨ ਬਿਆਪੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਰੋਗੁ ॥੧॥”

“Kabahoo naa biaapai haumai rog. 1.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 893)

Translation: The disease of ego never afflicts me. ||1||

Kabir Ji has said uttering You in remembrance and praise took the “I” and “me” from my inner self in these words:

“ਕਬੀਰ ਤੂੰ ਤੂੰ ਕਰਤਾ ਤੂ ਹੂਆ ਮੁਝ ਮਹਿ ਰਹਾ ਨ ਹੂੰ ॥ ਜਬ ਆਪਾ ਪਰ ਕਾ ਮਿਟਿ ਗਇਆ ਜਤ ਦੇਖਉ ਤਤ ਤੂ ॥੨੦੪॥” 

Kabir too(n) too(n) karataa tu hooaa mujh meh rahaa na hoo(n). Jub aapaa par kaa miT giaa jat dhekhau tat tu. 204.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1375)

Translation: Kabir, repeating, "You! You!", I have become like You. Nothing of me remains in myself. When the difference between myself and others is removed, then wherever I look, I see only You. ||204||

  1. Benefits of Controlling Ego 

The above quote by Kabir Ji eloquently describes the benefit of controlling the ego; now what he sees is God alone and nothing else. The ego has been put on a leash with the realization that the One Creator of this universe is omnipresent, as well as the sustainer and the destroyer. That viewpoint opens vistas of new realization along with the new way of looking at self, others, and the world. It brings the thoughts that while I may have certain freedom of action, but my writ does not run the world, nor am I the center of the universe. It is a reappraisal and reset of the equation of the self with the rest. It is a realization that I am just a mere speck in the vast canvas of creation. This canvas of creation runs according to the divine laws of the Creator. The very realization of this aspect of world reality starts the process of ego depletion. Guru Nanak Dev Ji has said that:

“ਨਾਨਕ ਹੁਕਮੈ ਜੇ ਬੁਝੈ ਤ ਹਉਮੈ ਕਹੈ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥੨॥”  

“Nanak hukamai je bujhai ta haumai kahai na koi. 2.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1)

Translation: O Nanak, one who understands His Command, does not speak in ego. ||2||

Guru Ji opens the new vistas for us by sharing that when ego departs one becomes one with the Creator:

“ਹਉਮੈ ਜਾਈ ਤਾ ਕੰਤ ਸਮਾਈ ॥”

“Haumai jaiee taa ka(n)t samaiee.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 750)

Translation: But if she gets rid of her ego, then she merges into her Husband Lord.

Guru Ji has shared the idea from a maiden’s desire to be united with her husband. When she removes her ego, then she is left with what is real - God as her husband. Nothing else is left to do in life, as the mission is accomplished. Guru Ji has expressed the same idea in slightly different words as:

“ਹਉਮੈ ਜਾਇ ਪਰਮ ਪਦੁ ਪਾਈਐ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥”

“Haumai jaaie param padh paieeaai. 1. Rahaau” (SGGS, Pg. No. 226)

Translation: When egotism departs, then the state of supreme dignity is obtained. ||1||Pause||

Such perspectives can only come from the enlightened, who have shared those with us to inspire us to experience it. The experience of ego dissolution has been shared with us as:

“ਖੁਦੀ ਮਿਟੀ ਤਬ ਸੁਖ ਭਏ ਮਨ ਤਨ ਭਏ ਅਰੋਗ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਦ੍ਰਿਸਟੀ ਆਇਆ ਉਸਤਤਿ ਕਰਨੈ ਜੋਗੁ ॥੧॥”

“Khudhee miTee tab sukh bhe man tan bhae arog. Nanak dhirasaTee aaiaa usatat karanai jog. 1.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 260)

Translation: When my ego was effaced, I experienced elation, peace, and the mind and body were healed. O Nanak, then He comes to be seen - the One who is worthy of praise. ||1||

When ego is gone, one finds that self is a part of the Creator, not separate from Him. With that ultimate achievement nothing else is left unachieved in life. 

  1. Kohli, Surindar Singh. Guru Granth Speaks -6: Ego. 
  2. Neki, Jaswant S. Haumai to ‘Tu He’ Vaal. Singh Brothers (2014)
  3. Bir, Raghbir Singh, Bandgi Nama. Atam Science Trust (1981)
  5. Grossman, Cathy Lynn. Let it Go. Houston Chronicle, January 18, 2018. 
  6. Singh, Sher. Philosophy of Sikhism. SGPC (January 1993)

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