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.