Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #12 – Ego Death Again

March 20th, 2023

Ego Death Again[1]

Last week, I was fortunate to visit Srila Kadamba Kanana Swami a few days before he passed from this world. He set the ideal example of how to leave this mortal frame—no drugs to dull the consciousness, fasting to further purify the mind, and in a resultant calm and clear consciousness constantly hearing the holy name.


When I thought about how he passed away and how he qualified himself for that moment by a life of full surrender to guru and Krishna, somehow the term “ego death” kept coming into my mind. Seeing how the Swami died, it seemed “ego death”—a state where one is no longer apparently ruled by bodily and mental dictates, which are the life of the false ego—was something the Swami seemed to have attained. I began to explore this concept beginning with how we acquire our present identification that ultimately needs to die and how as bhaktas we transcend it.


We acquire our present false ego practically at the time of our past death. At that moment, Sri Krishna, through His inconceivable potencies, gauges both our cumulative deeds and present desires and chooses a suitable body for our next life to help further purify us of ignorance. The complete identification with this next body is then accomplished by the false ego (ahaṅkāra), a subtle material element designed to funnel or delimit our consciousness to identify with the body that Krishna has selected as the most suitable vehicle to carry out our next karmic journey. As this false ego, as described above, is born from and embodies material consciousness, the aim of human life is to eventually transcend this identification as controller and enjoyer. But how to accomplish this ego death?


On the path of bhakti, it is attained when one fully surrenders to the will of God through His representatives and thus no longer follows the irrational impulses of the body and mind. As the ego dies out of neglect, and one is no longer bound by bodily identification, then—like the Swami—fully identified as Krishna’s eternal servant, one faces the death of the material body fearlessly.


Although Kadamba Kanana Swami was a sannyāsī, specifically an order focused on “dying while living” by ideally leading a renounced life, attaining ego death is not exclusive to any one ashram. A devotee in any position of life, by strictly focusing on God’s will, including their duties within this world, can identify as servant of guru and Krishna and transcend the false ego, or at least put oneself in the best position to do so, as eventually old age and death overtly crush our sense of control and seem to leave us little choice anyway.


The Swami’s death was certainly impressive. It should inspire all of us to take an inventory of our sincerity and to aspire for the path of “ego death” offered in our tradition:


“Śukadeva Gosvāmī, however, gave this direction to him as follows: “My dear King, if you want to be fearless in meeting your death next week (for actually everyone is afraid at the point of death), then you must immediately begin the process of hearing and chanting and remembering God.” If one can chant and hear Hare Kṛṣṇa and always remember Lord Kṛṣṇa, then he is sure to become fearless of death, which may come at any moment.” (NOD, Chapter Two)


[1] By the number of times I have broached this subject in Monday Morning Greetings over the years, you may think I have an obsession with the subject of death. But it’s not an obsession. It’s just one of the most prominent subjects discussed in our philosophy. The Bhagavad-gītā dedicates a whole chapter to the subject of death (Ch. 8) and the seminal inquiry on which the whole Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is based centers on facing impending death.


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