Derived from the Vedas and first encountered in the Dharmaśāstras, Puruṣārtha (पुरुषार्थ) translates as 'Puru' for human, 'artha' for purpose, signifying the objectives of man. The four-pronged approach consists of Dharma(righteousness, duty), Artha(prosperity, political order), Kama(love, pleasure, psychological values) and Moksha (liberation/salvation), indicating the various aspects that one should incorporate and actively pursue in one's life. Though Moksha is the only one of the four that goes hand in hand with the 4th stage of Ashrama (Sannyasa), the rest can be subsumed in varying degrees at relevant stages in life. As with all texts of Vedic origin, no theory is set in stone which makes room for a divergent point of view. Hence while Dharma is central in the case of the Dharmaśāstras, the Kamasutra, Chanakya's Arthashastra or Adi Shankaracharya's Vivekachudamani have a different focus. All of them agree though that the excessive pursuit of any one element cannot lead to a virtuous life.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs, on the other hand, is a theory in psychology first published in 1943 in a paper called "A Theory of Human Motivation". It speaks about the prime stages of growth for a human being after their need in the preceding stage has been met, described in the pyramid as Physiological, Safety, Love, Esteem and Self-actualization. Students of sociology, pyschology and management studies would be aware of this as I was during my studies though I was invariably unaware of how it juxtaposed alongside Puruṣārtha.
The stark difference between the two would be the absence of any set of principles in Maslow's theory in order to reach any stage. Puruṣārtha has this entrenched in it, as Dharma is the pivot around which all other objectives of man revolve. A person is fully aware at all times that his actions need to be in harmony with his fellow man and nature. There is also no concept of Moksha as the hierarchy deals with pure gratification and hence seems lacking when compared with the Puruṣārtha. The Indic concept of experiential knowledge has been absent in western thought where sensory elements are intrinsic leading to more focus on creation rather than manifestation. Though this gulf is being bridged by people from both sides, universal acknowledgment is still absent.
Dharma is applicable across race, culture, ethinicity etc, as there is no fear of punishment or eternal damnation if one doesn't follow this path. Any action performed without observing dharma is bound to bring unhappiness and suffering, delaying one's liberation as the Samskara cycle continues. Though dharma doesn't have an English translation, according to The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions it means “the order and custom which make life and a universe possible, and thus the behaviours appropriate to the maintenance of that order”.
If one were to live a life based on soley satisfying one's desires, our attitudes would probably be skewed. Being motivated by external stimuli alone has a limited and temporary effect on people. Hence, the need to be self-motivated should be encouraged. Indian ethos teaches one the art of motivating oneself and others from within.
The pyramid structure is analogous to climbing the ladder of success while the Dharma centric theory envisages the objectives of man as being intertwined. Prioritizing and then moving on to the next need is another area where Maslow deviates. Dharma is deemed essential for the sustenance and welfare of the individual, society and creation. It emphasizes the need to perform one's duty with sincerity. Selfless action where compassion and empathy are innate are anomalies in today's world.
"Dharma is the law of conduct by means of which man attains worldly prosperity as well as final beatitude or Moksha".
Sri Adi Shankaracharya
The personal needs of individuals vary in intensity and vacillate daily within the same individual as well. One might look at these fulfillments to be key motivators of an individual. Stressful situations rise up where the materialistic tendencies overpower our inner self leading to the gross inequalities which we now see in our daily lives. The collectivist and individualistic society makeup highlight this contrast in the way each side views life. Though with globalisaton and 'progress', the collectivist viewpoint is slowly fading away at least in the urban realm. Artha which includes wealth, profession, financial security and economic prosperity is considered important for overall happiness and comfort. A preoccupation with the urge to amass wealth is discouraged at the cost of harming society. Austerity is also an important element though not to the extent that you live in poverty. A purely hedonistic life is deemed deficient which is where Dharma acts as a guide to lead a giving, just and worthy life.
“He is able who thinks he is able.”
Western pyschology is seen as a corrective action helping people shed their harmful behaviour. It is directive and not self-evident (where it is left to the individual to choose his karma - may it be Nishkam(self less), Sakam(self-centred) or Akarma(in action).
Maslow did take a leap forward from Freud's Psychoanalytic theory which classified abnormal human behaviour as a result of painful childhood experiences. With the western notion of a finite, limited ego, Freud believed that libido alone was responsible for the formation of the core personality. Self-actualization itself was brought about by the Humanistic theory, a concept developed by Kurt Goldstein, that recognized the inherent goodness of man and that each individual was more than the sum of his/her experiences. He desired to display a more positive, healthy side to the structure of the human psyche.
Carnal desires are included in physiological needs, placing it alongside food and shelter as a basic instinct for survival. It possibly has something to do with the taboo nature of Judeo-Christian faith that such a need is deemed so intrinsic. Love is at the 3rd level in the pyramid so one can fairly conclude that sex is just a part of fulfilling your animalistic desires. Kama on the other hand whose mere mention now conjures up temples of Khajuraho is deemed to include passion, emotions, desire, aesthetic enjoyment of life, love, with or without sexual implication. No subject was considered unworthy of study or discussion which is why the Kamasutra came into being. Moderation of such pleasures for a quality life was considered worthy which also contributed to society. Instant gratification now has marred its relevance in today's world.
Esteem, respect at the fourth level shows the constant need for approval or validation. In a society where a fillip is necessary to carry out any action, a surge of emotion might sweep through if faced with disappointment. Equanimity is missing and the dharmic core that directs you to accomplish a task. A purpose is definitely needed for most beings to start, continue through strife and eventually finish a task but it rests on the knowledge that it is but a small part of what everyone contributes in their lifetime.
Maslow's view on self-actualization leads him to say 'What a man can be, he must be'. This is the stage where one needs to explore ones capabilities with all worldly needs met and become the person that you were destined to. Maslow had further refined his theory especially for Self-actualized people in order to accomodate more qualities and called this Metamotivation. Wholeness, simplicity, meaningfulness etc came to be associated with this. Eventually, Transpersonal Psychology came into being, borrowing heavily from Eastern philosophy which encompassed spiritual, mystical experiences and transcendental elements.
In the occidental view, man is essentially a creature endowed with a mind and possessed of a soul. One life and hence the urge to maximize and exploit in every which way. Atheistic views might deny a higher power but the philosophy of living doesn't seem to have changed. The dharmic view is that man is but a part of a common consciousness which is all pervasive. Atman is Purusha that enters the body made up of the three gunas(sattva, rajas, tamas) which under this illusion identifies itself as Ahamkara or ego. After fulfilling all his worldly desires and responsibilities a man still wants to know how he can suppress his inner restlessness and attain peace. Moksha which means the absence of moha encourages a man to find his own way where delusion is caused by the inter play of the 3 gunas. When a person overcomes these, he attains liberation.
A righteous life in harmony with natures laws via dharma was regulated through sustainable lifestyles and traditional norms of behaviour. Considerable emphasis was placed on personal responsibility which contrasts with the current world trend towards individual rights. The Vedic view is that execution of one's duties automatically fulfills the rights of others and that stressing dharma fosters a climate of social and spiritual responsibility. Thus the acknowledgment of interdependence differs from the modern individualistic, self-centered approach to life.
The Indian psyche and society are in a phase of rapid evolution guided by western thought. The pursuit of Artha and Kama has changed the structure of our society and left it at a crossroad. Prosperity has given rise to greed and corruption. Reminding oneself of such a virtuous past and understanding its essence can bring back the necessary balance for us to develop and evolve into mature beings. This would not only benefit Indian society but also the world at large.
"Artha and Kama, which all people desire so much, can be attained from Dharma itself. Why then do they not follow Dharma?"
Vyasa in the Mahabharata
References / Footnotes
1. Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality.
2. Western and Indian Psychology by Swami Sivananda
3. Toward a psychology of being, 1968
4. Morality and moral development: Traditional Hindu concepts
5. Dharma: Leading a Righteous Life
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