Symbolism is a funny thing, isn’t it? We use symbols all the time to help us to represent abstract or intangible concepts in a more everyday manner. Wedding rings can symbolize a lifelong commitment that we enter into with another human, car keys can symbolize a coming of age, and unicorns can symbolize innocence and childhood. But why exactly would coconuts be used in Hindu and yogic philosophy to symbolize the ego?
Well, coconuts have some interesting and unusual characteristics that many consider to make them uniquely appropriate as a symbol of the ego. They have a hard, dark outer shell, and a soft, white, delicious inner shell. Inside this, they are full of clear, sweet coconut water. (Learn more in How to See the Ego for What it Is.)
The outer shell is what is likened to a person’s ego. This tough, resilient layer represents all the protection and the roughness that we build up around our inner self. The outer shell houses all the markers that make this coconut individual and identifiable. It is rough, marked and somewhat ugly. But actually, like the ego, it has a clear purpose. It is a container and vehicle for something precious. It protects, and it helps keep the soft flesh and fruit of the coconut safe.
Like the coconut’s shell, our ego serves an important function. It helps us to survive and maintain our form in the rough and tumble of life. It also keeps the goodness inside separate and hidden from the world. And it is not the whole story. Like the coconut, there is more to us than just an ego. (Read more in How to Dissolve Your Ego.)
It is the soft, white inner core and water of the coconut that represents our inner light, beauty and divinity. It could even be said that just as the water of one coconut is indistinguishable from another, our truest essence is the same as everyone else. And once it is freed from the ego, it can flow out and be absolutely unrestrained.
During Hindu puja ceremonies, a coconut may be broken to symbolize the dropping away of the ego. For many following a spiritual path, our intention is to break through or transcend the individual ego and connect with the true essence of our being, thereby uncovering our purity, our life force, and all the loveliness inside. The coconut being broken also symbolizes an intention or commitment to break through our negative qualities and open ourselves up to be awakened. (Read more on What is Puja and How to Perform Your Own.)