Anahankara = an + aham + car (I am not my car)
“You are your car,” claims a billboard displaying a person driving a flashy car. The ad indicates how one’s car determines one’s image in a status-driven world. Additionally, the ad’s equalization of a conscious person with an insentient 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 is called ahankara. Significantly, the Bhagavad-gita (07.04) also mentions ahankara as one of 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, the misidentification, is manifested and maintained.Ahankara as an object, as a material element in our body, will remain as long as we are in material existence. But ahankara as the concept of misidentification will disappear when we become self-realized, as the Gita (13.09 – anahankara) alludes to.
To counter the delusion caused by ahankara, we can contemplate the car-body analogy from ontological and functional perspectives. 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.
With this exposé of ahankara, we can see how our culture aggravatesahankara to absurd levels, as in the ad’s equalization of a person with a car. Just as the desire to enjoy a car causes a person to misidentify with it, the desire to enjoy the body causes us to misidentify with it. As an antidote to such desires, we can use a creative, non-historical etymology of the word ahankaraas aham + car “I am my car” and cultivate anahankara by training ourselves to respond: “No, I am not my car. So, I won’t be driven by unnecessary bodily desires.”