Questioner (Q): I try to experiment with and apply the philosophies I have heard of in class to real life situations. So, during one of our classes, I came across a philosophy called ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’.
In that hierarchy, self-actualization was placed at the top of the pyramid. And I think that for many of the individuals, including myself, our long-term goal is either instinct-based or security-based. If you ask me, I will say that I want to become a CEO of a company, which is a security-based or an esteem-based need. But the self-actualization need won’t be a long-term goal for many.
Do you think that having a long-term goal of attaining self-actualization, which in turn is spiritual, is important? Do you think that creating awareness about self-actualization in an individual from an early age is important?
Acharya Prashant (AP): See, the way Maslow constructed his pyramid is good, nicely indicative, but not very exact. Self-actualization is not something that stands distinct from all your other needs. The way that pyramid stands is, you say, “Once all my lower needs are satisfied, only then I come to self-actualization,” right? So, you have kept self-actualization at the top and you say, “Food, security, and self-esteem, and only then self-actualization.” No, that is not how it actually is. Maslow did a great job, but he was not quite there. Self-actualization is not the top of the pyramid; it is the foundation of everything that you do; it is the foundation of your activity even when you are fulfilling your lower needs.
Let me give you an example. You want to go for self-esteem. Why do you want to be known in the society as someone important or respectable? You want to be known that way because you think that being known that way would give you self-actualization. So, when you are going for self-esteem, you are actually going for self-actualization through self-esteem.
So, given the way we are, as a conscious organism, our only deep need is self-actualization. All other needs are just precursors and mediums. We even eat to be alive to be self-actualized. It is not as if eating and self-actualization are separated by a mile, like in the pyramid that you find in your textbooks. If self-actualization were not possible at all, then you would not even eat, believe me, because you are not an animal. An animal has no respect for any actualization, so it will continue eating throughout its life with no concern for, no idea of, no craving for anything like self-actualization.
But you are not an animal. So why do you eat? You eat to be alive to be actualized one day. You may not know that, but that is the case. Similarly, why do you have relationships? Why do you have money? Why do you want respect? All these things you want either because you think that they lead to self-actualization, or sometimes you want them as a proxy to self-actualization. Many people do that.
Self-actualization, in spiritual terms, is the state of liberation. In traditional religious terms, you could call self-actualization as God-attainment. Religious vocabulary would say ‘God-attainment’; the spiritual mind would say ‘liberation’. Does it not happen that when you get your dream job, or when you get your dream partner, you yell out, “Well, I got my God. Tujhme rab dikhta hai (I see God in you)!” Now, what is going on? You are thinking that you have attained self-actualization via a relationship, via security in relationship, no? Security needs. It is just that you have been deluded; you don’t know that this is not the way.
So, in Maslow’s thoughts, the thing is sequential: you have one, you have the other, you have the next one, the next one, and finally self-actualization. The Indic realization, the spiritual understanding is way deeper and far better: it takes actualization as the very bottom of the pyramid; not even the bottom, because if you say it is the bottom, then you will say it is not really intimately connected to the top.
You take self-actualization as present at every level of the ladder. Whatever you are doing is really for self-actualization, directly or indirectly, because you are a human being. And a human being lives only for one purpose, whether he knows it or not. Even the worst rascal, even the most unconscious person is actually living only for actualization, just that he does not know it.
Why do you wake up in the morning? Don’t say you wake up to attend classes. You actually wake up to be actualized, just that you don’t know it. Why are you having this conversation? Why do you even watch a movie? Why do you commit a heinous crime? Even that you do just for self-actualization. Because the one within, that you can call as the ‘I’ or the ego, is crying out for fulfillment.
Q: So, that is the source of all this?
AP: That is the best word. It is the source of all this and also the purpose of all this. Everything arises from that.
Whatever you do, your entire universe, all your deeds, thoughts, purposes, motivations—all arises from there and it all arises for the sake of actualization. So, it is both the earth and the sky, and in between the earth and the sky you are doing all your miscellaneous activities and mischief.