Maslow, Greek Philosophy & Indian Mysticism!

I was talking to a friend yesterday about something random. Suddenly I found myself sermonizing on Maslow’s Need hierarchy. It is a pretty interesting concept. If you are / have been an economics / philosophy/ management student (or ever had a curiosity to know more on the subjects!), then the chances of you coming across Maslow’s theory are as good as that of the Sun rising from the east tomorrow morning. It is a very simple postulate which states that only after the basic needs (like food, breathing, shelter) have been satisfied, do human beings seek to satisfy successively ‘higher needs‘ that occupy a set hierarchy.

The hierarchy depicted by a pyramid, followed by the explanation (Thanks to Wikipedia for both) have been shamelessly copied and pasted here:

Maslow’s Need Heirarchy

“Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of five levels: the four lower levels are grouped together as deficiency needs associated with physiological needs, while the top level is termed growth needs associated with psychological needs. While deficiency needs must be met, growth needs are the need for personal growth. The basic concept is that the higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus once all the needs that are lower down in the pyramid are mainly or entirely satisfied. Once an individual has moved past a level, those needs will no longer be prioritized. However, if a lower set of needs is continually unmet for an extended period of time, the individual will temporarily re-prioritize those needs – dropping down to that level until those lower needs are reasonably satisfied again.”

Interestingly, the evolution of Greek Philosophy surprisingly tends to agree with Maslow’s theory. Earlier Greek Philosophers like Thales (640 – 550 B.C.) and Anaximander (610 – 540 B.C.) thought primarily on the lines of Physics and Astronomy. They probably did because at that time a lot of the laws that seem “natural” to us were unknown and understanding these laws (and making “sense” of nature) was essential for survival. Then came the era of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. One can almost see a change in direction of Ancient Greek thought from “the physical to the Moral” (The story of Philosophy, Will Durant, 1926). The era in which Socrates, Plato and Aristotle lived was one in which Greek was in the midst of a political turmoil. Therefore, their thoughts and area of study focussed around ethics, righteousness and justice. (Although Aristotle ventured a lot towards Science as well). But the point to note is that only once “basic needs of mankind” were satisfied (Roti, kapda aur Makaan), did they start thinking of “higher” needs like society, organization and governance.

I also beg to point out that in contrast to evolution of Greek thought, Indian mysticism has a different story. We hear (and perhaps know!) of the great sages and Rishi’s who meditated for days, months (perhaps, years!) in jungles by conducting a very “basic existence,” to the extent that they did not fulfill their basic needs. However, their thoughts centered around the “spiritual” and although Maslow does not categorically state that the highest triangle in the pyramid (Self-Actualization) actually refers to Spiritual Needs, it would, according to me, be safe to assume that. This would imply that the evolution of Indian thought actually contradicts Maslow’s Need Hierarchy. I am not trying to disprove anything here. I am incompetent to even venture! It is purely an observation.

However, i found this article (whose authenticity I am yet to completely determine), but the author says, and I quote:

“Spiritual Needs are redundant and differ from mere self actualization. Spiritual Needs actually could be placed around the pyramid, as they are accessible at any level”

I can’t confirm whether Maslow said anything about Spiritual Needs. But I’ve decided not to put too much thought into it for the time-being. As long as MY basic needs are satisfied! Ha! 🙂


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24 thoughts on “Maslow, Greek Philosophy & Indian Mysticism!

  1. In fact that top level which Maslow ascribed to “self-actualization” should pertain to philosophy!…To look at it in a logical manner when all of your basic materialistic needs are taken care of….what more can you ask for other than spirituality….!!

  2. The comparison you made was good. I wish to comment on the “spiritual” aspect of your article. Well, frankly speaking, I did not know of Maslow’s Need hierarchy till yesterday. What I found fascinating was the spiritual point you had made and thus looked it up on the web.

    Well, the premise of these articles was that the spirtual level is attained after the basic heirarchy is met. In fact, two scholars have made a modified version of this pyramid and continued it further to form a spiritual zone. One scholar says that the spiritual level goes beyond Maslow original five needs. “This is the need for spiritual transcendence. It is a need to feel close to God and perform acts according to His will. What is unique about the spiritual level, it is not dependent on the lower needs, for as we face death, we have a choice of fear (the body need level) or the Spiritual level.”


    Another article I was reading said it slightly differently and it also followed this modified model. It says that spiritual needs are redundant and differ from mere self actualization. We need a higher form of love than we find from fellow humans. This Love is part of the natural Law of the universe.


    All in all, a rather interesting piece. See, what I mean by what we were missing!

  3. my two bits:

    Specifically speaking of the mythological Rishis and related hermits, I think they knew that they could meet the “basic needs” of existence whenever they wanted. Most probably they found filling those needs distracting and therefore did away with them.

    As for mere mortals like us who try to traverse the same path, its more out of faith on the guide and hope for redemption from the pain that we do it!


  4. Pure….I’m sure Maslow was aware of these “higher” levels, but probably understood that it actually hampers your spiritual growth to go beyond or aspire to something you are not yet ready for. Even the Beautitudes of Jesus (Sermon on the Mount-Matt.) are said by St. Origien to be a step by step process. Maslows top stop would then be compatible with having a “pure heart” and finding God within…the next steps deal with how the mystic then works for God and improves society or helps those around him. Clearly, if your heart is not pure or you have not found God within yourself, the other steps won’t apply….yet. Don’t put the cart before the mule…
    To Amit: Steps 3 and 4 are spiritual steps in that they relate to what is inside your heart. 1 and 2 are related to your body or animal nature. Step 5 is a cummulation of the other four…for a better symbol look on the back of the one dollar bill (left and right…war arrows represent animal nature and olive leaves represent spritual nature, phoenix or eagle is the “new” you and heaven is above–the pyramid speaks for itself…wonder where Maslow got his idea???). Thus if you are perfectly “balanced” then your heart will be pure. This requires putting your “spiritual” nature over your “animal” nature and using your reason to make educated decisions. Supposedly, Buddha didn’t find “enlightenment” by starvation, he found it when stopped looking and resigned himself to eating–realizing he had to satisfy both his natures. Paul claims Jesus was able to do the same thing. Clearly, an insight into human nature is needed–Maslow’s speciality.

  5. oops….didn’t realize you were in India. The U.S. dollar bill…but most countries use some sort of similar symbology–just look at our flags. Now we are getting into Jung….

  6. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Talking Tails, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

  7. It is a useful presentation about blogging. Simple and direct. Good communication. As you know I am new to blogging and each page in my view has an interesting concept to meditate. Thanks for sharing. Only, to practise some of those rules for blog success one needs plenty of time.. :-(.
    By the way, I was also reading that post of yours about “Maslow, Greek Philosophy & Indian Mysticism”. Pretty interesting. I am thinking about it. I will post u a comment on that soon. Bye from manofroma

  8. @ manofroma

    I’m glad you found the presentation on blogging interesting .. Welcome to the Blogosphere.. It is a very user-friendly medium to I’m sure yuou will pick it up very fast… and we’d be happy to have u share your ideas with us..!

    Looking forward to ur views on my Maslow post! 🙂

  9. Yesterday I had made a mental note to read this post….I have read about Maslow’s pyramids so many times while creating courses for management students….

    And I agree with your assumption…that spiritual needs should be part of self-actualization….and as someone pointed out above that our rishis knew that they could meet their basic needs anytime, they devoted themselves for greater pursuits….

  10. I am sorry Amith. I didn’t forget I had promised a comment on Maslow but I am defeated, overwhelmed by my job, by the people around me, even by my new blogging activity in a foreign language (my English is decent but I have to toil A LOT to keep it like that while I am writing, even now).

    Thus said, maybe I can say something on the fly about Maslow, Gods forgive. On the whole I do not intuitively trust this type of approach. How could this guy, Maslow, create a model like that? From empirical data? Of course this might be a lack of knowledge about this author’s works (and his ways of proceeding) on my side. But what I mean is this: when one is so detailed, so analytical and precise about this type of ranking, he’s got to have some evidence.

    Otherwise his model is useless, being only generically correct, a type of correctness which doesn’t seem such a big deal. It is well known that only when you have solved your food, water, shelter etc. basic survival problems you can get higher mind and spiritual levels.

    While if you have awful survival problems, you might even not have morality (not to mention spirituality), as it is often the case with people suddenly isolated in ocean islands with no food: they do not behave like in Lost (that is only tv), they sadly eat each other.

  11. Sorry Amith. Of course, you prob. were interested about the link between Greek philosophy and Indian Mysticism. And Maslow’s thought might be very fruitful as far as this relationship. So I probably just said silly things.

    In any case – this might be a digression – it seems to me you Indian people have this advantage on us here in the West. You have your own deep civilization (older than ours), but you also have (or can have) first-hand direct knowledge of the West – at least thru the British guys and their language.

    The same cannot be said of many westerners. It cannot be said about me anyway. How can I read your sacred texts in their original language? I know there are translations …. Actually I read Mahabharata and Ramayana synthesized in English. Interesting, ok, but I sure LOST 90% OF IT ALL: how can poetry/philosophy be translated (not to mention *synthesised*) like that?

    To me first knowledge means something like reading the sacred Vedic Sanskrit texts *in the original*, to fully enjoy the beautiful, profound, poetic etc. things they say they have…but how can I attain that?
    My old ancient-Greek language teacher being a great man he could read Sanskrit pretty well, an exception, in a country, Italy, where people do not *even* speak English, such a national shame it can never be forgiven! Thus said I am too old to learn Sanskrit lol.

    And you, sweet Indian guys? Well, you can read Byron, Shakespeare, Rudyard Kipling (which seems a minor author while to me he’s one of the *greatest*, so much related to India by the way). You can read great Milton etc, etc, etc …..and also Maslow. Not bad. Not at all bad.

    Wait, something I read 30 years ago that got me closer to some real Indian *feel* (English helping lol): S Radhakrishnan’s short essays “The Creative life”, “Living with a purpose” and “Recovery of faith”. Outstanding. Such a great thinker. Such a great politician, Radhakrishnan.
    Plus ALL your comic books on Indian stuff about ALL your religions and regions (when I say ALL, I really mean it, Roman-like: 2-3 hundred of them): from these Comics you Indians published in order to instructing common people I learned a few bits about all your religions (of which I forgot almost all). I bought two hundreds dollars of Indian books (not in Hindi or Urdu though lol) the first time I went to seducing Bombay. Finally, of course, great Mahatma Gandhi’s great autobiography.

    Very confused comment, Amith. I told you I am overwhelmed. I really need a vacation from EVERYTHING.

    All the best from Rome


  12. Thank you David. What you say is so true and thought provoking. Most management principles are from the Bible and Maslow could have looked it up. Who knows…..

  13. When a person’s lowest needs are not fulfilled(food,water,etc.), why is it that we look to spirituality ,which according to Maslow, is less important?

  14. Very interesting, A-myth! 🙂 I have no clue if what I am saying makes sense…..but, right now, the thought on my mind is that spirituality is not a need. It can’t be a piece of Maslow’s pyramid. I see spirituality as a tool….as an attitude… an enabler….for achieving our needs…controlling them….and actually, defining them….and so on! ????

    PS: Thanks for the comment on my blog. Appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing you there often. 🙂


  15. This has me curious as to what self-actualization really is …. I guess I saw it as a person being self-possessed and taking on humanist goals like justice, equality, truth.

    These abstract concepts are only possible to focus upon once we have overcome our own personal needs …. so we graduate from individual concerns to those of society.

    The question is why? Why do we feel the need to do things that are beyond our personal interests?

  16. Maslow studied the highly functional, most contented people he could find for 20 years. This triangle was the result of studying the characteristics of very healthy human minds.

    It seems to me the transcendence is a highly desirable state. Perhaps the Yogi’s and Mystics performing their spiritual lifestyles are able to assimilate levels two and three on their fast track journey to the very tip of the pyramid. The field of Trans personal psychology is about that stuff.

  17. Examining the Chakras and the rising of the Kundalini in Yoga also reveals a striking resemblance to Maslow’s hierarchy.

    To clear up the confusion with the top of the pyramid in relation to religion, I would ask, “What is the purpose of religion?” or “What do you get from religion?” to which I think the reply would be:
    1. acceptance of facts (god did it)
    2. morality
    3. purpose/meaning in life

    Now we can see that Maslow didn’t forget religion or spirituality in the top level. Nor did he “forget” to list “eat steak” or “eat chicken” in the first level; he just said “eat” Religions and other forms of spirituality are just different means to achieve the stuff Maslow listed under Self Actualization.

    If you don’t think Maslow came up with anything and it’s just common sense, that in itself shows the genius just like a Zen proverb that is “so true” but you just never thought of it that way.

  18. Dear, D.K,
    ifound your article intersting and realy you are in the run way just go a head.
    my point here is to say that Masalo he collocted through his learning journey and research from mysticism books and wisdom (greek,indian)and sperate it from spirtuality and gather it in this pyramid, the reason was at that time , eurpopean facing losing of hope,disblive against the church law and sepration of religious from scince to be honest even they didn’t mention the source of his finding for to be truely him.
    my point here is not about thinking badly about Masalo but just to clear way he omit spirtuality.

  19. It’s pretty interesting the ‘tower structure’ that is organized from baser to finer needs, in that it corresponds roughly with the Indian ‘Chakra’ system which is organized very similarly.

    Also of you look at the ‘Centers’ of Fourth Way psychology, from the baser (Moving-Instinctive-Sexual) up through the finer (Emotional, Intellectual) it too appears to agree.

    Should this surprise us?

    It makes sense that people with ‘trauma’ or deep deficiencies in the lower levels (say, chronically unmet needs or a disrupted early life) would be more challenged in properly integrating & developing the higher-level ‘needs’ (Chakras/Centers) of the WHOLE organism. It’s even possible with basic ‘animal-level’ needs satisfied many of us tend to stay at a ‘lazy’ low level of development, neglecting the top half of the pyramid. So the ‘picture’ for many (or most?) of us may be a very disorganized system of energies with poor connections, and nothing fully developed.

    It is a picture of chaos. But possibly a tool for better understanding people!

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