07.04 – Ahankara = aham + car

by Chaitanya CharanNovember 2, 2012

“You are your car,” declares a billboard that displays a person proudly driving a good-looking car. The ad alludes to how one’s car defines one’s public image in a status-driven world. Additionally, the ad’s explicit identification of a person with a vehicle illustrates how we misidentify with that which we are not.

The subtle arrangement that brings about such misidentification of the soul with the body and things connected with the body is called ahankara. The Bhagavad-gita (7.4) lists it as the subtlest of all the eight material elements. Thus, ahankara is both an object and a concept; the object, a material element, is the tool through which the concept, misidentification, is created and sustained. The more we become purified and realized, the less we misidentify with our body. That’s why, in self-realized souls though ahankara as an object remains, ahankara as the concept of misidentification disappears.

Gita wisdom helps us see through the deceptions fostered by ahankara using a car-body analogy: just as the driver is ontologically different from the car and is functionally its activator, the soul is ontologically different from the body and is functionally its activator. The car-body analogy works because people intuitively understand that the driver is different from the car.

Given this implicit understanding, the explicit identification of a person with a car in an ad illustrates graphically how our culture increases our ahankara to absurd levels. Just as a person misidentifies with a car due to the desire to enjoy the car, we misidentify with our body due to our desire to enjoy the body and bodily pleasures. As an antidote to such desires, we can remind ourselves of the absurdity of our bodily misidentification using a creative, non-historical etymology of the word ahankara as aham + car “I am my car.”


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Chaitanya Charan