Devotees would often come to Sri Ramakrishna and express their helplessness or inability to control their ego. They would say that again and again in spite of their desire to behave otherwise, ego asserts itself and leads them along the wrong path. This results in terrible sorrow and suffering. They would seek a way for redemption. In reply Sri Ramakrishna would narrate a commonplace incident to highlight the nature and behavior of ego.
A thief entered a house to steal some articles. Since it was the dead of night and it was darkness everywhere, he thought that he could accomplish the task easily. Unfortunately, the residents woke up and caught him. First they recovered and snatched away the articles that he had stolen, then they severely thrashed him. Even then they were not satisfied and finally they handed him over to the police for further punishment and suffering. Sri Ramakrishna would compare the ego to the thief. The ego tries to assert itself in many ways and gets caught and thrashed again and again leading to terrible sorrow and suffering for the Jivas. Yet, the ego is not ready to learn. It is not an easy task to control the ego.
Then, Sri Ramakrishna would offer a beautiful way out. He would say if the turbulent or the rascal ego is not ready to be subdued or be obedient, then don’t try to forcefully wipe it out. Such attempts would end in failure. Rather, give it a new direction and convert it into a servant ego. Let the ego assert itself as God’s servant. Let it take pride in whatever it does but as subservient and obedient to God. Even if it has to fight, let it fight with God. Thus the ego would lose all its power to delude or bring attachment.
This attitude would slowly convert the individual into a wonderful devotee of God and take him forward in his spiritual journey.