Ahankara: Guard it tight to get it right!!
For psychology, philosophy, religion, and science, the mind and its various dimensions have always been a subject of fascination/ intrigue and research. Antah Karan ( अंतः करण) is the word in Sanskrit which stands for the totality of mind and is commonly used in Hindu philosophy to refer to the mind and its functions. According to famous poet Kalidas, Antahkarana provides us with absolute clarity when in conflict of thoughts.
सतां हि सन्देहपदेषु वस्तुषु
प्रमाणमन्तकरण प्रवृत्तयः |
-अभिज्ञानशाकुन्तलम् (महाकवि कालिदास)
(when people of virtue are in a state of dilemma or doubt about the merit of a particular action, then for them, their inner conscience is the final guide)
According to Vedantic philosophy, Antah Karan has the following parts; Ahamkara (अहंकार), Buddhi( बुद्धि), Manas (मानस) and Chitta (चित्त). Ahamkara is the principle of individuation. It is instrumental in generating the feeling of possessiveness by the notion of "I" or "mine". Not only humans but even the Divine have been baffled by the uncontrolled Ahamkara. Ahamkara is most egalitarian as the uncontrolled Ahamkara engulfs its carrier, divine or human.
Since Ahamkara is one of the inner functions of the Antahkarana and an essential part of the human mind, so no one is free from it. The power of Ahamkara, if harnessed/trained properly, becomes excellent willpower, the strength of determination or self-power. If Ahamkara goes unharnessed, it can root out even the most powerful.
Ravan, a scholar and powerful Shiva bhakta, fell prey to his own Ahamkara. Ravan's Ahamkara killed him; Lord Ram was an instrument to accomplish the task. Duryodhana, the eldest of the kuru prince, could have enjoyed his life happily surrounded by the learned people, scholars and sages. Still, his Ahamkara led him to believe that he was the most superior and deserved to be the crown prince. It was Duryodhana's untamed Aahamkara that killed him.
The story of Lord Indra being penalised for not having controlled his Ahamkara brings an essential lesson for all of us. The "I Doer "- Ahamkara, or the one which creates a sense of possessiveness and ego, made Indra believe as being the supreme in the entire universe. This ego of his made way for him to be reborn as a human being and undergo the trials n tribulations of human life as a repentance
Once so happened that Lord Indra was sitting along the Bhagirathi river and noticed a golden lotus carried along with the river's current. Desirous of seeing from where the golden Lotus flower came, he walked towards the source of the Bhagirathi river. At one point, he noticed a beautiful woman beside the river who was weeping. Her tears, as they fell, turned into golden lotus. Indra inquired about her pain. She replied that he must come along with her and see for himself. She asked Lord Indra to follow her. The lady took lord Indra near a beautiful stream where a young man was engaged in a dice game with a woman. The man did not bother to acknowledge the presence of Lord Indra and continued playing his game.
Lord Indra addressed the young man and said, "Hey, young man, you must know that this world is under my control". Even after saying this, the young man remained engrossed in his game. Lord Indra got furious and, in a fit of anger, said, "I am the lord of this universe." The young man, who was none other than Lord Shiva, glanced at Lord Indra, which almost paralysed him. He told Indra that "you will have to pay for this excessive ego n pride and dare not ever behave this way."
Lord Shiva directed Indra to remove the huge stone at the mouth of the cave nearby and move inside. Inside the cave, there were a few others who looked like Indra. Lord Shiva said that once even they had the power and splendour of the Sun but carried excessive ego like Indra and were punished to restrain themselves in the cave. Seeing their plight, Shakra/ Indra was shaken and, with folded hands, prayed to lord shiva to forgive him. Rejecting his appeal, Lord Shiva said that any person with uncontrolled Ahamkara doesn't receive his grace.
Lord Shiva further addressed them and said they needed to take birth as human beings. After facing the difficulties, trials and tribulations of human life and adhering to Dharma in the most challenging situations, they will achieve the merits of their karma and regain their place among the Divine.
However, the current Indra requested Lord Shiva that he should be allowed to create a fifth person from his body portion who will be reborn as human along with the other four Indra's.
After this, lord shiva took them to Narayana and consulted him for the same. Narayan approved of lord shiva's decision and added to the plan by sending two men created from his body part to the earth along with the five foremost Indra's. The two men born on earth were Krishna and Baldev. Pandavas were the five Indra (four past and one current Indra) reborn as humans. And celestial Shree reincarnated as Draupadi was sent as the common wife to the Indra.
So the Pandavas, after being born in human form, faced the vagaries of life, still maintained their steadfastness to Dharma and ultimately regained their position as celestial beings. Despite various (atrocities bestowed on them at a young age by their cousins and their uncle, who was also their guardian, they (Pandavas ) always maintained their composure and never resorted to unethical means.
This story beautifully weaves the despair of Lord Indra and the hope that Lord shiva offered him to regain his celestial position after undergoing the life of a human being. The story is a blatant reminder that we would have no respite as mortal humans if Lord Indra had to repent for his untamed Ahamakar. However, this story gives us the hope of a second chance to rectify our mistakes.
Lord Shiva's reply to Indra seeking forgiveness that "no one who has this kind of Ego receives my grace" is a message to practice humility. Lord Shiva shows an example of participative leadership by approaching Lord Narayan for his input. Lord Narayan gives his valuable input to the scheme like an able leader. A true leader moulds his Ahankara in a way that it becomes his strength rather than it being his weakness.
(The story is found in Vaivahika Parva of Mahabharat)