If the ego were the act of thinking, we could investigate it simply by observing our thinking, which is obviously not the case. To investigate this ego we must ignore all thinking and observe only the thinker, the one who is aware of thinking and of the thoughts produced by thinking. Therefore it is necessary for us to clearly distinguish the thinker from its thinking, and also from whatever it thinks.
The thinker, its thinking and its thoughts together form a tripuṭi, a triad consisting of the three factors entailed in any form of objective (or transitive) knowledge or experience, namely the subject, the object and whatever action connects these two. Other examples of a tripuṭi include the knower, its knowing and whatever it knows; the experiencer, its experiencing and whatever it experiences; and the perceiver, its perceiving and whatever it perceives. In all these cases the subject — the one who is thinking, knowing, experiencing or perceiving — is the ego; the object is whatever it thinks, knows, experiences or perceives; and the action that connects these two is the subject’s thinking, knowing, experiencing or perceiving.
The one constant factor in all such tripuṭis is the ego or subject, because it is always the same ego and is essentially unchanging, whereas what it thinks, knows, experiences or perceives changes from moment to moment, and its actions of thinking, knowing, experiencing or perceiving therefore change along with whatever objects it is thinking about, knowing, experiencing or perceiving. The ego is therefore the root, foundation and support of every tripuṭi, as Bhagavan points out in verse 9 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
When we identify ourself with a body made of flesh, we become that flesh, but when we cease to identify ourself with that flesh and know ourself to be mere spirit, we are born again as our original nature, the pure spirit or consciousness ‘I am’.
The need for us to sacrifice our individuality in order to be born anew as the spirit is a recurring theme in the teachings of Jesus Christ. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12.24-25).
“Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Luke 17.33). “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10.38-39).
That is, in order to rediscover our true and eternal life as the spirit, we must lose our false and transient life as an individual. If we seek to preserve our false individuality, we shall in effect be losing our real spirit. This is the price we have to pay to live as an individual in this world.
Therefore, whatever we may gain or achieve in this world, we do so at the cost of losing our real self, the state of perfection and wholeness (which in this context is what Christ means by the term our ‘own soul’). In exchange for regaining our original and perfect state of wholeness, we have only to give up our individuality and all that goes with it. Which is truly profitable, to lose the whole and gain merely a part, or to give up a mere part in exchange for the whole?
In order to give up or lose our individuality, as Christ had done, he says that we must follow him by denying ourself and taking up our cross. To deny ourself means to refrain from rising as an individual separate from God, who is the whole – the ‘fullness of being’ or totality of all that is. To take up our cross means to embrace the death or destruction of our own individuality, because in the time of Christ the cross was a powerful symbol of death, being the usual instrument of execution. Thus, though he used somewhat oblique language to express it, Christ repeatedly emphazised the truth that in order to rediscover our real life as the spirit we must sacrifice our false life as an individual.