Maslow's Hierarchy & Buddha

I can understand your anguish. Let me tell you a story from the life Buddha. After his enlightenment he went about life as a mendicant ekeing out a living begging for food from whoever he can get it. He once wnt to the house of a rich man and stood before him seeking something to eat. The rich man looked at Buddha who was looking resplendant (years of penance does add a radiance to the face!). He started abusing him for leading a life of indolence begging for food when he is so whole and hearty. He kept harangueing and through it all Buddha kept smiling and had a pleasant face. After a while, the rich man stopped and asked him, ' you don't seem upset at all?'.

Buddha said, 'Suppose you donate me a cow and I refuse to accept it, who does it belong?' The rich man answered, ' Of course, it belongs to me'. 'So there, I refuse to accept all those harsh words that you showered on me', Buddha responded. The rich man was so shame faced he invited him inside his house, treated him to a sumptuous meal and begged for forgiveness. The moral of the story is this. If you are convinced that you have a point, it shouldn't matter if someone accuses you..

Maslow’s theory of Hierarchy of Needs is not just about stacking human needs in a particular order but goes much beyond that. Maslow, like many other great thinkers was not well understood by his contemporaries and ours likewise. It was fashionable in his time to critic his work and a lot got written that rubbished it piece by piece. However, there are such pearls of wisdom in it that if understood well, they could possibly transform our lives.

Maslow’s primary premise about human beings was much positive. While his contemporaries focused on finding what was wrong and fixing it by looking into a person’s past, Maslow focused on human potential. He believed that normally human personality is coherent and consistent. He also believed that if an `organism’ is provided the right climate it will produce a healthy personality and hence optimum performance. He proclaimed that self actualization is an organism’s sovereign drive. Life’s journey is towards self actualization.

This I think is a great insight. If we naturally gravitate towards self actualization, then in our current area of interest, we are capable of achieving great heights.

Maslow’s biggest contribution was indeed his understanding of Self Actualization. `What a man can be, he must be. Self Actualization refers to man’s desire of self fulfillment; a tendency for him to become actually, what he is potentially’, Maslow says. Self Actualization is a need that grows as one starts working towards satisfying it. Other needs get satisfied eventually but Self Actualization never does. Maslow studied such Self Actualizers closely thinking that `if we must find how tall does human species grow then we must study people who are already very tall’’. He identified eight personality factors in people that make them self actualizers. I find the following three particularly important.

It starts with what he calls `driven by purpose’. His actualizers had a purpose which was intrinsic and larger than them, certainly greater than money, security, recognition etc. It need not be a social cause but it is something they were willing to devote themselves to, something they felt passionately for. They were possessed. Another important characteristic was that they valued experiences. They looked for a feeling of ecstatic high, an intellectual or emotional stimulus. `They are moments of ecstasy that cannot be bought, sought or guaranteed’ , Maslow quoted. Third most important characteristic they exhibited was autonomy. They were on their own, self driven, self regulated, not externally dependent, and operated without much aid. Control and external direction didn’t work with them.

I believe any great concept, if not meaningfully applied is just a waste. Therefore for me, the moot point is, How to apply this understanding in the industry, education, research and such fields? In today’s challenging times we need leaders who could take risks, innovate, push their limits, open new vistas. If we could identify such `peakers’ as they are called and create opportunities for them, in the long run we would benefit greatly. Imagine your organization has a battalion of these peakers. What would it achieve, where would it be in the next decade? The question then is how to nurture such people?