Saturday, August 17, 2013

Beyond the Self



I am still reading David Michie’s book, The Dalai Lama’s Cat.  What is interesting about the book for me is that just when I’m about to surrender myself to the feeling that it is a rehash of some clichéd though noble thoughts, it comes up with a sparkling notion that’s quite out of the way.  Out of the way, for me, that is.

The last time I put down the book in order to reflect on one such sparkle was when it spoke about “Other Development.”  Self-development is the dominant theme of most inspirational works, whether it be books, workshops, or counselling sessions.   Helping you realise your potential and thus become a self-actualised person is the goal of such books and sessions.  I too was of the feeling that self-actualisation was the ultimate in the quest for meaning for each individual.   Then came Michie throwing a little pebble into the tranquil pool of my complacence.

Self-development is just another quest not very unlike the other usual human quests, suggests Michie.  Some seek happiness questing after wealth, some after power, some after fame, and so on.  Wealth does not necessarily guarantee happiness.  There are a lot of wealthy people who remain unhappy.  On the other hand, there are many poor people who are fairly happy.  That’s enough proof to argue that wealth is not a necessary and sufficient condition for achieving happiness.

The same is the case for other things like powerful positions, fame, etc.  Michie goes on to argue that even self-development (he does not use the phrase ‘self-actualisation’) does not necessarily ensure happiness.  A person who has achieved a significant level of self-development may still remain unhappy.  There may still be a feeling of hollowness in him/her.

It is here that Michie introduces the concept of ‘Other-Development’.  In simple words, it means our contribution towards the development of the other people in our world.  Real happiness lies in giving.  Michie even quotes some scientific evidence from the functioning of the brain to show that giving makes people happier than taking.

The entire argument is founded on the fundamental Buddhist principles of love and compassion.  If we can love others and be compassionate to them, we will be happy creatures. 

Very simple.  And yet very difficult.  The pebble landed right at the centre of my mental pool. 

I recollected what I had studied about self-actualisation in my psychology course.  Really self-actualised people, according to Maslow and other psychologists who advocate self-actualisation, are also people who are genuinely concerned about other people.  In fact, they have reached a stage when they do not think of themselves any more.  They look at what they can do for others.  They are the Mahatma Gandhis and Mother Theresas, Aruna Roys and Medha Patkars...

So my reflection arrived at the conclusion that the fundamental Buddhist principles of love and compassion are not at all alien to self-actualised people.  In fact, self-actualised people are those who have internalised those fundamental principles as integral parts of their world view.

No contradiction as long as we are willing to take a step beyond self-development toward self-actualisation.   The ripples in my mental pool are at ease once again.


22 comments:

  1. So true, I couldn't agree with you more.

    "Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it."

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    1. Life can be very simple if we all learn to be passionate about meaningful things... thanks.

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  2. yes ,Real happiness lies in giving.

    A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?
    Albert Einstein

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    1. And Einstein has been mentioned as a self-actualised person, by Maslow.

      Thank you for adding that quote. It plainly asserts what all self-actualised people learnt: we need very little and happiness has nothing to do with how much we possess, or what position we hold, or what others think of us.

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  3. This art of giving or sharing your experience to others always started in home. I don't know when I had learnt to write 1st Alphabet "A". How much satisfaction and pleasure this learning might have given to my parents. I understood that when I became a father only. My Son's attempt to learn and write "A" and seeing his effort and accomplishment to learn this small small initiations in life could help me understand the immense satisfaction that could have have given to my parents too. Happiness always an in-ward feeling and we search many a times in outer orbit.

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    1. Dash ji, have you heard the story about a woman who was searching for her lost earring? She was searching in the front yard of the house where her neighbour joined her in the search. After a thorough search which was futile, the neighbour asked, "Are you sure you lost your ring here?" "No, I must have lost it inside the house," said the neighbour.

      "Why are you then searching here?"

      "Because there's no light inside the house."

      Human pursuit of happiness is quite akin...

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  4. Most of the problems we face now arise from the fact that we have not stopped to ponder and think about the people around us. Be it terrorism, naxalism, poverty . . . it's all because the haves don't care about the have-nots. Instead more time is spent on theorizing it. I wish we can put this into practice.

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    1. Putting into practice? That's exactly what I meant when I wrote "Very simple. And yet very difficult." People have become preachers. I am familiar with religious leaders who ask others to make sacrifices while they themselves live in opulence. Practising what you preach is the most difficult thing today. Instead, the religious leaders encourage people to donate money to them so that sins can be forgiven. Everything is purchased and sold. Commerce. That's all. That's why the problems keep mounting. ...

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  5. Real happiness lies in giving :)
    Nice read!

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  6. Good read ! Hindu principles also advocate achieving a level of knowledge where there is no 'other', so loving oneself and loving others become one and the same thing. I recently read Viktor Frankl's Man Search for Meaning. Suggest reading if you get a chance.

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    1. Most religions would teach love and compassion as basic principles or as duties of man.

      I'm fairly familiar with Frankl's views though I haven't read Man's Search for Meaning yet. I would like to read it.

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  7. Agree with you..:-) Nice write-up..:-)

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  8. Great read. The word 'self-actualization' reminded me of Victor Frankyl's book, 'Man's Search for Meaning.'Would love to read this book (The Dalai Lama's cat) one day.

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    1. There are a whole lot of self-actualisation psychologists.

      You are the second one here to mention Frankl. Maybe, soon I'll have a look at his 'Search for Meaning'.

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  9. Even if, sir, you don't agree with me, the same concept attracted me to Vipassana. Sometimes coming forward to help others is looked at as poking nose. That's what I wonder and silently smile at when they say so.
    One more philosophy is nature sees our intention or volition not obviously words or actions though they are congruent to our thought process. Because sometimes our actions are easily interpreted according to others' maturity levels. So at heart if we have a good intention, I think, we need not fear anything. My it be a strong criticism or whatever.

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  10. Wings, when I questioned the relevance of Vipassana, I was questioning its relevance for students who are not even anywhere near serious thinking. Taking Vipassana to young people who haven't even realised the need to maintain silence while prayers are being recited is like teaching differential calculus to one who is suffering from discalculia.

    Intention is a slippery ground, wings. Even the murderer can justify his deed applying the logic of intention. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," says the proverb.

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    1. Fine. But I'm only talking about genuine intention with concern. Not the murderer's excuse.

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  11. Sir,I feel,the gist is acceptance from within.. can only allow us to love and be compassionate :) One needs to feel content while performing Art of Giving .. and I have seen people being proud rather :) hence discontented !!

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    1. Pride is one of the seven cardinal sins, Jack, according to the Catholic catechism. I recited those sins and their counter-virtues umpteen times as part of my childhood religious instruction. But my pride never vanished. :)

      Yes, the Art of Giving comes with much effort. But one can always make a beginning. Even a small beginning can make much difference. In spite of pride, you know.

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