The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

No matter how we succeed in any field, a great danger exists within us all—the human ego. That common inner enemy has destroyed the relationships, careers and lives of millions.

Our ego—the insistent, grasping, demanding lower self inside everyone—can make a lifetime of achievements disappear in an instant. It can manifest itself in the form of a gesture, a look, a word or an action, but the end result is often the same.

When the ego dominates our behavior, it usually results in a victory for negativity and the forces of passivity or evil. Like a volcano ready to erupt, our egos constantly require the supervision of our higher, more spiritual nature.

The Baha’i Faith has numerous spiritual teachings that prepare us to face this lifelong test. The Baha’i writings differentiate between our two selves: our animal, material or lower nature—that insistent self we call the ego—and our spiritual, divine or higher nature:

In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in man. In his material aspects he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcomes of his lower nature. The attributes of his divine nature are shown forth in love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice, one and all being expressions of his higher nature. Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man’s spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 60.

We can find in our human history and the history of different religions many examples of how this hidden enemy victimized even good-hearted and spiritual men and women, destroying the great achievements earned in a lifetime. It has been the cause of the downfall of a great many leaders and learners in all walks of life. They could not see it coming or recognize its imminent danger until it was too late.

So being aware of the demands of our egos, and recognizing its signs, offer ways of dealing with it and finding ways combat it or to keep it under control. This awareness is essential for those who want to progress in life both materially and spiritually, presenting us with a lifelong conversation that we have to continually have with ourselves:

A man may converse with the ego within him saying: “May I do this? Would it be advisable for me to do this work?” Such as this is conversation with the higher self. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 179.

We can see from this Baha’i approach that the human ego is not necessarily always a negative force—but like a spirited animal that can injure us if not kept under control, it requires careful vigilance.

Great religious figures, philosophers, poets and people of vision such as Rumi have recognized that truth, and warned us to be aware of this invisible and elusive enemy:

Your worst enemy is hiding within yourself, and that enemy is your “nafs” (self) or false ego.Rumi

Though one should conquer a 1000 times a 1000 men in battle, he who conquers his own self is the greatest of all conquerors. – Gautama Buddha

The lowliest and most abject of all things holdeth sway over thee, and that is none other than self and passion, which have ever been reprehensible. – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 170.

Though very difficult, there are ways that insistent self can be contained and subordinated with the help of two age-old methods used by different spiritual disciplines:

1. Self-knowledge

Because it lets us take an inventory of our minds and souls, with honesty and the intention of discovering more about who you truly are, self-knowledge represents a valuable tool for controlling the ego. It allows us to discover what abilities we have to face our insistent self; and also helps us find the areas where we will likely be tested, where possibilities of failure exist. This ongoing process of self-examination requires the courage to face ourselves as who we are and not who we might wish to be. It requires honest self-examination, which the Baha’i teachings advise us to implement on a daily basis:

Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 11.

An added benefit of self-knowledge is the spiritual growth and depth of understanding that comes with that ongoing process:

O, My servants! Could ye apprehend with what wonders of My munificence and bounty I have willed to entrust your souls, ye would, of a truth, rid yourselves of attachment to all created things, and would gain a true knowledge of your own selves—a knowledge which is the same as the comprehension of Mine own Being. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 326-327.

2. Meditation

Research has proven that meditation can strengthen the powers of your higher nature to deal with the challenges of life—and no challenge is bigger than the insistent self residing within:

As long as man is a captive of habit, pursuing the dictates of self and desire, he is vanquished and defeated. This passionate personal ego takes the reins from his hands, crowds out the qualities of the divine ego and changes him into an animal, a creature unable to judge good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness. He becomes blind to divine attributes … – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 133.

We have to deal with our insistent self or ego; otherwise, it can undo any success or progress. Once we recognize it as a serious threat to our good efforts—that our lives and our efforts in this world and our progress in the next world depend on the decisions we make—we will recognize the necessity to be vigilant.

The Baha’i teachings say we make our own heaven and hell here on Earth as a result of the choices we make:

Think ye of love and good fellowship as the delights of heaven, think ye of hostility and hatred as the torments of hell. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 245.

If we don’t make the right decisions, and give our higher nature the upper hand, we can easily fall victim to our lower nature. So we need to tune ourselves spiritually to make the right choices, and receive the rewards and benefits of those choices. When we read the spiritual writings and meditate on their meaning, our souls are uplifted, and that affects our decision making. Our souls are tuned by reading, praying and meditating, and bringing ourselves to account each day. This important matter has great consequences in our lives, and we need to take the opportunity to adequately deal with it so that our lifelong achievements are not left to our egos.

17 Comments

characters remaining
  • Hamid Golshan
    Feb 13, 2019
    Talking about our egos and physical reality of us as human beings , reminds me of our attachments to this earthy life and the troubles we go through because of it.Enjoyed reading your article dear Badi.Hamid Golshan
    • Badi Shams
      Feb 13, 2019
      Very valid point dear Hamid.
  • Owen Allen
    Feb 09, 2019
    Words are important. "Fighting" & "threat" is tantamount to supporting ego effects. Our ego is a significant aspect of our human-ness. It's job is to find threats against itself/us and defend or attack them. The ego loves nothing more than to fight itself. In the spiritually unprepared, the egos internal attack can create depression and chronic anxiety. The ego can also can see the environment and other people, even the instability of life, as danger. Ego driven successes is often developed in childhood. Human adults will have their material success connected to ego-identity developments. Lavish praise on this hard ...working best friend. Provide loving direction when it is time to take the backseat to spiritual approaches.
    Read more...
  • Badi Shams
    Feb 07, 2019
    Dear Chris,
    I can see the problem, the link "here" unfortunately takes you to page 60 of the book. When you are there you will notice a box below
    Go to printed page
    GO
    write 179 in the box and push go and that will take you to page 178-170. You will find the Writing on the bottom of the page.
    I hope that this helps. I admire your sense of investigation.
  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Feb 07, 2019
    Oh my my, this is excellent Badi and thank you. It is so easy for one to puff-up their chest when being praised and extolled on achievements, but it is also better to thank God for the assistance in achievements made. I try hard to do this, and it does become easier as one becomes older. When young we like to relish in our little bit of glory and sadly some become more accustomed to this and forget the true One that gave them the ability to achieve that goal. Even sadder is when that achievement turns to a constant ...need then fails to grow, and drugs alcohol and despair turns their life upside down. Interesting about speaking to one's ego though, I hadn't thought about that.
    Read more...
    • Badi Shams
      Feb 07, 2019
      Thank you for your encouraging words. You said it very well that the credit has to go where it belongs.
  • Steve Eaton
    Feb 06, 2019
    I should add that your commenters are awesome!
    • Badi Shams
      Feb 06, 2019
      Thanks, dear Steve, You are too kind.
  • Steve Eaton
    Feb 06, 2019
    Jeepers, do I ever love your article! There aren't many spiritual subjects more important than this. We can be undeveloped in numerous virtues, but if we've got real deep humility, they will mostly fall into place as a result!
    • Badi Shams
      Feb 06, 2019
      Dear Steve, It warms my heart to know that I have been of little service.
  • Chris Badostain
    Feb 06, 2019
    Thanks for a profound essay. I don't have "Paris Talks" so I cannot check the source. It is preplexing that Abdu'l-Baha seems to suggest that a conversation between "ego" and higher nature is beneficial. I don't recall ever reading that conversation with the ego is going to bear fruit. I am not saying it is or is not i am jut saying that it is strange. The "enemy within" should be respected as such, in all of its subtle machinations as well as its obvious manifestions. Although it does make life quite difficult, self knowlege and meditation (two sides of ...the same coin) are extremely crucial to recognizing and sometimes passng tests---Abdu'l-Baha's Writings on meditation are extremely enlightening and helpful.
    Read more...
    • Chris Badostain
      Feb 07, 2019
      Badi, when I clicked on "here" I did not see the "ego" quote that you referenced in your essay
    • Badi Shams
      Feb 06, 2019
      Dear Chris, Thanks for sharing your feelings with me and hope that you found The source. Being a Baha'i is one of the hardest job and yet immensely rewarding.
    • BahaiTeachings.org
      Feb 06, 2019
      Hi Chris! You can find Paris Talks on Baha'i Reference Library and the quotation referenced above here.
  • Robert Green
    Feb 06, 2019
    "O, My servants! Could ye apprehend with what wonders of My munificence and bounty I have willed to entrust your souls, ye would, of a truth, rid yourselves of attachment to all created things, and would gain a true knowledge of your own selves—a knowledge which is the same as the comprehension of Mine own Being. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 326-327." if I had to cite a single source now for my confidence and presumed awareness it would be this one. I really have nothing to compare it too, but it keeps telling me, I ...keep "hearing" we have given you this comprehension. and I still cannot explain it hahahaha. part of the point. we think...
    Read more...
  • Robert Green
    Feb 06, 2019
    "We can find in our human history and the history of different religions many examples" one really good example is when Abdul-Baha explains what made Judas jealous. I cant think of more of the top of my head right now. this statement now seems like a test. that if we ask may "I" we get ego answers, but when we notice the door opened by the phrase "such as this" it was not difficult to see how "we" is inclusive and we is exclusive, essentially. "A man may converse with the ego within him saying: “May I do this? Would ...it be advisable for me to do this work?” Such as this is conversation with the higher self. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 179."
    Read more...
    • Badi Shams
      Feb 06, 2019
      Dear Robert, Thank You for sharing your conversation within you with me. It is a pleasure to see the effect of the Writings on our souls. Love your excitement.