18.04 – Don’t massage or pinch the false ego; pat it onwards
The Bhagavad-gita treats our bodily misidentification paradoxically. It analyzes cogently that we are not our material bodies, but are souls. Yet out of the 25 names it uses to address Arjuna, 14 refer to his bodily connections: Bharata, Bharatarshabha, Bharatasattama, Bharatashreshtha, Dehabhritam-vara, Kaunteya, Kurunandana, Kurupravira, Kurusattama, Kurushreshtha, Pandava, Partha, Purusharshabha and Purushavyaghra. All these names are complimentary; for example, Bharata-sattama (18.04) means ‘the best of the Bharatas.’
Why does the Gita first teach the falsity of bodily identity and then repeatedly refer to it positively?
Because it deals with the false ego sensitively: neither massaging, nor pinching it, but patting it along.
Massaging the false ego involves flattering others for their dynasty, race or state without illuminating them about their spiritual identity. This causes their false ego to swell, thereby aggravating their illusion.
Pinching the false ego involves bombarding others with an unrelenting monotone: “You are not the body.” As they cannot separate the soul from the body physically, nor wish away their bodily relationships emotionally, the monotone soon becomes grating, even denigrating.
Patting the false ego involves acknowledging others for what they are and then urging them towards what they can become. The Gita seamlessly integrates its bodily addresses with its central message that we become lastingly successful only by realizing our spiritual glory as beloved children of Krishna. Its bodily address engages its audience emotionally in the spiritual pursuit: “You are so good already; therefore, you can and should become better by realizing your spiritual glory.”
Following the Gita’s example, we can avoid the extremes of an ingratiating massage and an irritating pinch while treating others’ false ego. By adopting the balance of an encouraging pat, we can help them see spiritual ambitiousness positively: not as a rejection of their past but as its culmination.