Inspirational Thoughts 11/18/2012: Yoga Hierarchy for Self-Realization

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”.


The human mind and brain are complex and have parallel processes running at the same time, thus many different motivations from various levels of Maslow’s hierarchy can occur at the same time. Maslow acknowledged the likelihood that the different levels of motivation could occur at any time in the human mind, but he focused on identifying the basic types of motivation and the order in which they should be met. Maslow also coined the term Metamotivation to describe the motivation of people who go beyond the scope of the basic needs and strive for constant betterment.

The most fundamental and basic four layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called “deficiency needs” or “d-needs”: esteem, friendship and love, security, and physical needs. If these “deficiency needs” are not met – with the exception of the most fundamental (physiological) need – there may not be a physical indication, but the individual will feel anxious and tense.

The Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory can be applied to Yoga Hierarchy for Self-Realization through metamotivation and deficiency needs for spiritual advancement. Meaning of Yoga is ultimate Union with God.

As in Maslow’s hierarchy there are those on the bottom of the rung who are so consumed with ignorance that they basically live life to fulfill their basic physiological needs. Consumed with ignorance they are so self-centered that all life’s obligatory activities such as breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping, sex, etc. are performed purely from a self-centered perspective. There is no acknowledgement of spirituality within or around them. In my opinion, because of severe spiritual deficits they lose sight of the greater good. They are the truly blind souls. These are the criminals, sociopath, psychopaths, terrorists, etc. If they are able to metamotivate themselves they can also rise up to the next level of Yogic Hierarchy. These souls are probably the Chandalas or Untouchables or the outcasts in the spiritual system of human hierarchy.

The next level of Yogic Hierarchy is the Karma Yoga (Yoga of Duties) performed by those who use their body and their limbs to satisfy their basic daily needs. Spiritual deficit at this level where the prescribed duty or Karma is performed begrudgingly or for self-serving purposes stagnates them at a Shudra level. With Metamotivation and spiritual aspiration they can move to the next level. The metamotivation enables them to do their duties with total surrender to God.

The next level of Yogic Hierarchy is the  Raja Yoga (Yoga of Nobility)  performed by those who are aware of a greater power other than themselves. They use their resources to help themselves and others in the society. They are the merchants, the lawyers, the teachers, doctors, etc. Although they are paid for their services, they perform their duties for societal advancement through spirituality and metamotivation. Deficiency in spirituality at this stage stagnates them at a Vaisya level where their actions are self-serving, amassing wealth at other’s expense, causing unnecessary distress to others, etc. Corruption and fraud are all result of lack of spirituality at this level.

The next level of Yogic Hierarchy is the Bhakti Yoga (Yoga or devotion) performed by those who are leaders, administrators, kings, rulers, etc. Through spirituality and metamotivation they perform their duties assertively without causing distress to others, to defend righteousness. They will defend spiritual advancement and righteousness at all costs without any attachment to their kith and kin or their own personal gains ( as Arjuna did in the Mahabharat war).  A Spiritual deficit at this stage causes them to stagnate at a Kshatriya level where their actions lead to callousness, self-centeredness, indiscriminate wars and battles with the idea of amassing more wealth, property, fame, power etc.

The final level is the Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge) performed by those who aspire to gain self-realization, or self-actualization or Moksha. The goal is for permanent union with God and breaking the cycle of life and death for the individual soul. There is a very deep understanding of God, and all duties are performed to facilitate spirituality among others for the sake of uniting them with God. There is no egotistic connection to their mortal coil. There is no interest in gaining fame and power. They are in the world but not of the world. Spiritual deficits and egotistic attachment to this world and their mortal coil stagnates them at a Brahmin level where they may have knowledge of God but do not have the wisdom to integrate their knowledge into their life. The knowledge is then useless and has no value.

As Maslow suggests people are constantly moving from 1 level to the other at different times. It takes a lot of effort to reach the self-realized state in this busy world full of distress and atrocities. With undying faith and complete surrender and faith as well a lot of practice and self-determination the state of Self-Realization can be reached. May take life times, so patience is the key.

Maslow’s principles of motivation can also be applied to developmental stages of Hinduism.

Physiological stage: Bal Ashram- stage of a baby where they primarily have physiological needs.

Safety stage: Brahmacharya- the stage of learning where safety and security are the main needs as in the stage of youth. Here they learn about life and living. Mostly performing Karma Yoga.

Love and Belonging state: Grihastha Ashram- the stage of family life where love, care, and friendships are emphasized. Learning to balance the trials and tribulations of life. Mostly performing Raja Yoga.

Self-Esteem state: Vanaprastha Ashram- the stage of retirement from worldly duties. Downsizing, and learning to live a life of non-attachment to worldly possessions. Mostly performing Bhakti Yoga

Self-Actualization state: Sanyasa Ashram- the stage of no worldly attachments, and devoting all time left on earth to spirituality and God.  Mostly performing Jnana Yoga.

If spirituality is taught right from the beginning to all humans, the spiritual advancement to Jnana Yoga may become somewhat easier. If the advancements have not occurred as a child, one has to go back to the appropriate basic level of need as an adult for spiritual advancement.


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