Maharṣi Patañjali has written in the third sutra of the sādhana-pāda of his book Yoga-darśana

avidyā-’smitā-rāga-dveṣābhiniveśāḥ pañca-kleśāḥ`


ignorance (avidyā), false-ego (asmitā), attachment to material enjoyment (rāga), aversion to suffering (dveṣa) and material absorption (abhiniveśa) are five different types of kleśa, or misery.

ahaṁkār is also translated as false-ego by many vaishnava translators like for example in Bhagavad-gītā 13.6:

mahā-bhūtāny ahaṅkāro ...
The great elements, namely - false ego ...

So my question is: are these two terms interchangeable or is there any technical difference.

Would appreciate if any example and references from scriptures is given to explain the differences or sameness.

  • 1
    I have gone through Vyasa Bhasya on Patanjali Yoga Sutras and found that Asmita is also translated into egoism. It's related to consciousness though. (May be subtle than Ahamkara). Will check etymology and add answer if anything useful is found
    – Pandya
    Nov 26, 2021 at 17:17

1 Answer 1


Asmita is egoism that leads to false identification with mind and intelligence. Ahankara is egoism which leads to identification to 'I' and 'mine'.

asmitā (‘sense of “I exist”,’ ‘egoism’)

The Yogasūtras of Patañjali (200 B. C.) defines yoga as the suppression of the citta-vṛttis or the modifications of the mind. Among these modifications one group is called ‘kliṣta’ (‘the afflicted’). These ‘kleśas’ or afflictions are again listed as five, of which ‘asmitā’ or egoism is the second (2.3). It has been defined as the false identification of the seer or the Self, called dṛkśakti or puruṣa, with the instrument of seeing viz., the buddhi (intellect or mind) (2.6). When the puruṣa who is really asaṅga or unattached and free, thus gets identified with the mind, he experiences happiness and misery resulting in bondage. Due to this reason asmitā is called a kleśa, an affliction, which is an obstacle to yoga.

A Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism by Swami Harshananda


Ahaṅkāra is that which produces abhimāna, the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine.’ According to Sāṅkhyan metaphysics, a large part of which is accepted by Vedānta, ahaṅkāra is the principle of individuation that arises after mahat or buddhi in the process of evolution from prakṛti (nature). It is regarded as a substance since it is the material cause of other substances like the mind or the sense-organs. Through its action the different puruṣas (individual selves) become endowed each with a separate mental background. These puruṣas identify themselves with the acts of prakṛti through ahaṅkāra.

At the individual level it makes the puruṣa feel that he is receiving the sensations through the senses and the mind, and deciding about appropriate action, through the intellect.

At the cosmic level, the five senses of cognition (jñānendriyas), the five organs of action (karmendriyas), the mind (manas) and the five subtle elements like the earth (tanmātras) are produced out of ahaṅkāra.

In some works of Vedānta, ahaṅkāra is considered as a function of antaḥkaraṇa (internal instrument or mind), responsible for ego-sense and possessiveness.

Ahaṅkāra as egoism or self-conceit is considered as a great obstacle in spiritual life and the cultivation of humility is prescribed as its antidote.

A Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism by Swami Harshananda

  • 1
    Very subtle difference, beautifully explained.
    – user22253
    Dec 29, 2021 at 12:59

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