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Jivamuktas and Self-Realizers of Abraham Maslow



The Sanskrit word Atmajnana is Self-Knowledge, and is built up of Atma(n) (Spirit, soul, God) and jnana (true knowledge, or gnosis). Atmajnana is used by Shankara, and Self-Realization is a translation of it which is in use.

Abraham Maslow uses the terms self-actualization and self-realization interchangeably, and touches upon a few characteristics of Self-realized ones in ancient scriptures that he refers to.

I should perhaps add that there are nobler definitions of atmajnanis in Hindu scriptures than all of those below, and that Nikhilananda seeks to tell of some of them further down.

A Maslow Description of Self-Actualizers


The factors above could be called more or less interrelated, developmental factors. Maslow's list seems inconclusive, though, considering what Sanskrit sources, Buddhism, and Taoism say about the highest types of humans, be they women or men. Maslow's self-actualizers:

  1. Are efficient and accurate in perceiving reality.
  2. Are accepting of themselves, of other people and of nature.
  3. Are spontaneous in thought and emotion, rather than artificial.
  4. Are problem-centred - concerned with the eternal philosophical questions of humankind.
  5. Are independent and autonomous [relatively so].
  6. Have a continued "freshness of appreciation" of ordinary events.
  7. Often experience "oceanic feelings" that is a sense of oneness with nature.
  8. Identify with all of humanity and are democratic and respectful of others.
  9. Form very deep ties but only with a few people.
  10. Appreciate the process of doing things for its own sake.
  11. Have a philosophical, thoughtful, non-hostile sense of humour.
  12. Have a childlike and fresh creativity and inventiveness.
  13. Maintain an inner detachment from the culture in which they live.
  14. May appear temperamental or ruthless, as they are strong and independent people with own ideas, plans, or visions. [1]

Drinking and Urinating Like Cows

In Abraham Maslow's many lists of what marks self-realizers, the factor "drinking and urinating like cows" is absent, and so is "competing with dogs for crumbs of bread in the rubbish heap" and "behaving like a madcap in general". However, in old and recent Hindu sources a jivamukta - called "Absolute Consciousness" and the "Supreme Self", for example by Ramana Maharsi (1879-1950) - may do such things. [2]

In a major Hindu scripture, the Srimad Bhagavatam, a paragon of Self-actualization is described quite in detail, as a great personality and "Supreme Lord of all". This person, Rishabha, placed his son Bharata on the throne in India to be free to live like a madman with his hair unkempt, stark naked and roaming about like a deaf and mute madman and castaway of strange, imbecile-looking ways. He remained unconcerned about the world and did not speak at all, even if spoken to. Passing through cities, villages, and farms he was surrounded by bad people and flies, was threatened, urinated and spit upon, thrown into the dust, and given bad names. But he did not care, for he had a lovely nature and a great abundance of curly brown hair. He smeared his body by rolling in excrements, ate, drank and urinated exactly like cows, crows and deer. In such ways Rishabha incessantly enjoyed the Supreme in great bliss and achieved the full of the mystic powers, like traveling through the air, moving with lightening speed, noting without difficulty things from afar and other perfections [siddhis]. [3]

The description is not a singular incident either. A jivanmukta is in fact said to behave like a madman, and like a scholar, and so on. In The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna there is a significant passage:

Sometimes the paramahamsa [4] behaves like a madman . . . A few days after the dedication of the temple at Dakshineswar [5], a madman came there who was really a sage endowed with the Knowledge of Brahman . . . He didn't follow any social conventions. After bathing in the Ganges he didn't perform any religious rites. . . . The madman wasn't allowed to eat at the guest-house, but he paid no attention to this slight. He searched for food in the rubbish heap where the dogs were eating crumbs from the discarded leaf-plates. Now and then he pushed the dogs aside to get his crumbs. The dogs didn't mind either. Haladhari followed him and asked: 'Who are you? Are you a perfect knower of Brahman [purnajnani]?' The madman whispered, "Sh! Yes, I am a perfect knower of Brahman." . . . We all went to see the man. He spoke words of great wisdom to us but behaved like a madman before others. Haladhari followed him a great way when he left the garden [and] he said to Haladhari: "What else shall I say to you? When you no longer make any distinction between the water of this pool and the water of the Ganges, then you may know that you have Perfect Knowledge." [6]

A Discussion Related to Name and Form (Nama and Rupa)

The Sanskrit term jiva(n)mukta, "liberated when living", "free soul", is used in the Vedanta philosphy after Shankara, who distinguishes between supreme spirit (paramatman) and individual spirit or soul (jiva atman). The latter is thought to be limited in wisdom, power and capacity of movement. Yet it is taught that the individual atmans are not properly distinct from the supreme atman. Each of them is in full and complete measure the supreme atman himself, explains Paul Deussen, who says that the idea of two different and yet not different entities by the one word atman, is of secondary origin, and that the texts of the oldest Upanishads do not recognize two souls, but only one. In the old cosmogony of the Upanishads it is taught that the atman created the universe and remain in it as soul, Atman. The contrast between the supreme spirit (Parabrahman) and individual spirit (Atman, jivatman) is first seen as the atman who creates the universe and as such remains in his creation becomes a so-called duality. A real distinction between the supreme soul and the individual is first found in the Kathaka Upanishad, where there is a first distinction of the supreme and individual souls. [7]

Comparative studies indicate that some major concepts cover similar or identical ground: Jivamukta, which means "free soul", "liberated while living"; Tathagatha which suggests "Truth-state-arrived"; Buddha (Awakened One), Self-realized, Taoist Sage of Old, atmajnani (soul-knower), paramahansa ("supreme swan") and so on - terms are many and varied, and the field of investigation is vast. A selection of key elements is possible, yet may remind somewhat of walking on thin ice. Things are not always clear-cut in such schemes. For example, stanza 26 of the Diamond-Cutter (Vagrakkhedika) says "A Buddha is not to be known by having signs." But many ancient Buddhist texts make use of some dozens of outward signs that include patterned lines on the soles of the feet to recognize a Buddha by his having signs. The essence of the foregoing may be "It takes one to know one." [8]

Self-realization is Self-Knowledge in Hinduism, like "Know yourself" (Gnothi Seauton) from ancient Greek sources. Maslow uses 'self-actualization' interchangeably with 'self-actualization', but his claim that all the terms he lists to back up his concept mean one and the same thing, is far from correct. Strictly speaking, self-realization in Sanskrit (Atmajnana) does not add up to development of all possible faculties in a human, for example, but focuses on "waking up", just as Buddha did to become an Awakened or Enlightened One in Buddhism, one of the Vedic religions (not orthodox, though). Even in Buddhism the focus is not on developing all sorts of capacities - to the contrary. Development of mysterious, latent powers, for example, may turn dangerous, it is said, both in Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

Svetasvatara Upanishad, adhyaya 5, contrasts the supreme spirit with the individual soul (spirit) who is "an inch high", "the size of a thumb", "small as a needle's point", "small as the ten-thousandth part of the tip of a hair", yet brilliant like the sun. This seemingly tiny and almost insignificant entity, the individual soul, is yet the same as the immeasurable universal spirit, and can be realized by the pure heart, is the Upanishadic teaching about these matters. Thus, ancient sages of Taoism and Self-realizers of Hinduism are said to have an ineffable, somewhat inscrutable nature. Parts of the ancient Taoist descriptions coincide with descriptions of the so-called arrivers in Buddhism, the Tathagathas, the "Thus-arrived Ones". This is not to suggest a perfect match of concepts, but vital similarities anyhow across cultures. It needs surprise no one that the understanding of what Tathagathas stand for in Buddhism are varied too, Kåre Lie points out. [9]

How Self-realizers behave, depends to some degree on circumstances and how they are received. The ancient Srimad Bhagavatam explains further, "Without being a slave to rule and prohibition . . . he will entertain himself like child, though accomplished, he will behave like an idiot; though learned, he will talk like a madman; though well-versed in the teaching of the Veda, he will feed like a cow [10]." It reminds of the proverb, "It is a fool who cannot hide his wisdom." Maslow overlooks that distinct point, and where Maslow refers to Taoist virtues, he omits difficult, recurring descriptions from the writings of the best known Taoists in history: Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu, and Lieh-tzu. The Tao-te Ching's chapter 15 says,

Of old those who were the best rulers [11] of old had subtle wisdom and depth of understanding,
So profound that they could not be understood.

A large part of the rest of the chapter goes on to describe them arbitrarily, it says. [12]

From among the wealth of constructs about self-realizers and similar ones it stands out that many names are used to describe the Unnamable. Further, many of the said marks of the "arrivers" - Godmen and so on - differ, and not all of them can be correct, for example when one text says the Buddha has no marks, and other texts say he has thirty-two marks or signs. Maslow's limited characteristics of self-actualizers is rather instructive and in part entertaining in that hovering, historical-philosophical light.

FIGURE. A simplifed illustration of 'Arrivers' and others

In the illustration some vital and helpful lore has been condensed into a display of "arrivers", called Tathagathas, that is, those who have "arrived into the Truth-realm". There is room for many such arrivers, or Buddhas, Buddhism holds. In Hinduism too, there is room for many Self-realizers. Maslow devises quality surveys, that is, surveys of qualities he thinks appropriately describe peakers, or "stream-enterers" and "arrivers". One detected flaw in Maslow's thinking is that he varies his descriptions from book to book and even within one and the same book as part of his holistic presentation. And ancient sources of India do similar things about atmajnanis, jivamuktas, realized persons. It is also held in many Asian traditions that those who have arrived are either spoken of as enigmatic, too profound to understand - like Brahman-God, or explained by how they behave, or by outer signs, including birth-marks on their skins - and that such descriptions must be arbitrary. That last point in Tao-te Ching's chapter 15 is obviously ignored by Maslow.

Hence, Maslow comes close to special parts of Indian thinking by a blur of concepts and a rich variety of definitions. The term 'self-realization' which Maslow uses, was in use among Buddhists and Hindu thinkers before him, as evidenced in a work by Paul Goddard, A Buddhist Bible (1932). Also, an ambassador of Hinduism in the United States, the yogi Yogananda, used the word when his Yogoda Satsange Fellowship - founded by him in Boston in 1920 - later was renamed Self-Realization Fellowship. This kind of 'Self-Realization is an equivalent of atmajnana [13]

By taking these data into account, we can solve many value problems that philosophers have struggled with ineffectually . . . For one thing, it looks as if there were a single ultimate value for mankind, a far goal . . . This is called variously by different authors self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity, but they all agree that this amounts to realizing the potentialities of the person, that is to say, becoming fully human, everything that the person can become, [14]

writes Maslow. His main constructs and his recurrent use of them are flawed, though: in some places he discerns between arrivers (variously called peakers, self-actualizers by him) and non-peakers, and calls the peakers "Fully evolved "self-actualizing people" i.e., fully evolved and developed people". He also tells that more serious study revealed that what he looked for or detected, was not so much of an "either-or" thing based on dichotomy, but a "both-and" thing, that is, qualities fit for a sliding scale. In short, it became clear to him that it was not a matter of either peaking or not peaking, but more or less peaking. Those who did not report peaking experiences to him, tended to suppress information, at least from him, and perhaps to themselves. [15]

Hence, Maslow tones down the definition of the "fully evolved and developed" ones, and "upgrades" the non-peakers somehow, by "In my first investigations . . . I thought some people had peak experiences and others did not. But as I gathered information, and as I became more skillful in asking questions, I found that a higher and higher percentage of my subjects began to report peak-experiences . . . I finally began to use the word "non-peaker" to describe, not the person who is unable to have peak-experiences, but rather the person who is afraid of them, who suppresses them, who denies them, who turns away from them, or who "forgets" them." In such ways he blurs the conceptual basis of his own findings. [16]

Nikhilananda on the Jivanmukta

Nikhilandanda, author of many books on Hinduism, seeks to describe the free soul in his book Hinduism [17]. He thinks that "The description of the phenomenal world as maya, or illusion, is only part of the Vedantic truth [p. 63]. Accordingly, maybe his descriptions are not completely arbitrary. The following are excerpts that I think emancipated Hindus will not argue against at all:


The self is always free . . . freedom is its very stuff. [p. 64]

A knower of atman is called a jivanmukta; he is free while living in a physical body. How does a free soul act? How does he move? How does he behave? [p. 65]

A free soul . . . is like one who, having been asleep, has again awakened. The attainment of self-knowledge is the soul's entrance into a new realm of consciousness. [p. 65]

The illumination of a free soul is steady and his bliss constant. Though often he behaves like an ordinary person, . . . he is not bound [and] he is the embodiment of fearlessness. . . .[p. 65]

A free soul is bound neither by the injunctions of the scriptures, nor by the conventions of society. [p. 65]

The greatness of a free soul can be known only by another free soul . . . a free soul moves in the world unnoticed by others: A free soul is not a miracle-monger . . . [p. 66]

To ordinary men in society the free soul is an enigma. "Sometimes like a fool, sometimes like a sage, sometimes possessed of regal splendour, sometimes wandering about, sometimes behaving like a motionless python, sometimes wearing a benign expression, sometimes honoured, sometimes insulted: sometimes completely ignored - thus lives a free soul.' [H]e is ever content . . . though detached . . . though outwardly active, yet inwardly actionless . . . [p. 66]

A free soul, while living in the body, may experience disease, old age, or decay; may feel hunger, thirst, grief, or fear; may be a victim of blindness, deafness, or other deformities; but . . . he does not take them seriously and so is not overwhelmed by them . . . a free soul living in the midst of the joys and sorrows of the world enjoys . . . [p. 66-67]

[W]hen his days on earth are completed, he departs from the world as if he were going from one room to another. [p. 67]

What happens to a knower of the self after death? Where does his soul go? . . . "Being Brahman, he merges in Brahman." . . . the illumined soul absorbed in Brahman becomes one with Brahman . . . bathed in the light. [p. 67]

Jivamuktas, jivanmuktas,  self-realizers, peakers of Maslow , END MATTER

Jivamuktas, jivanmuktas,  self-realizers, peakers of Maslow , LITERATURE  


  1. Abraham Maslow, 1987????, 103-15, 157. Cf. Maslow 19xx, app G.
  2. Arthur Osborne 1971, 190; Chatterjee and Datta 42; 408-09.
  3. N. Raghunathan, tr., Srimad Bhagavatam, Vols 1-2 (Madras: Vighneswara, 1976), 419-21; Deussen 1966, 256-61; Deussen: 1980, 705-07; Swami Nikhilananda, tr. The Upanishads, Vol 1 (New York: Ramakrishna Center, 1977), 104-106; Swami Nikhilananda, Hinduism (Madras: Ramakrishna Math, 1968), 64-66; Mahendranath Gupta, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1942), 233, 719. Swami Venkatesananda, tr., The Concise Yoga Vasistha (Albany: State University of New York, 1984), 44, 169.
  4. Literally: Supreme (parama) Swan (hamsa). Figuratively it suggests a Self-realizer, one endowed with deep discernment (Gupta 176, 370).
  5. Nearby Calcutta.
  6. Gupta 491.
  7. Deussen 256-59; Maslow 1964, ch 5.
  8. Chan 148. Compare ch. 17, in Chan 149-50; Lie 1992, 25.
  9. Deussen 1966, 256-61, Nikhilananda 1977, 137-38; Lie 1992, 25.
  10. That is, by no fixed rule.
  11. Lin Yutang (Wic 38) "wise ones" for "rulers", and the tradition has "Taoists, Arthur Waley "officers of Court". Tat 160
  12. Raghunathan 591; Chan 146.
  13. Goddard, Dwight, ed. A Buddhist Bible. Thetford, Vt.: Dwight Goddard, 1932.
  14. Maslow 1968, 103.
  15. Maslow 1964, ch 5.
  16. Maslow 1964, ch 3.
  17. Nikhilananda 1968.


Chan, Wing-Tsit. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Chatterjee, Satischandra and Datta, Dhirendramohan. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. 7th ed. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1968.

Deussen, Paul. The Philosophy of the Upanishads. New York: Dover (Reprint of Clark's 1906-ed), 1966.

Deussen, Paul, tr. Sixty Upanishads of the Veda, Vols 1-2. Varanasi: Banarsidass, 1980.

Goddard, Dwight, ed. A Buddhist Bible. Thetford, Vt.: Dwight Goddard, 1932.

Gupta, Mahendranath. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1942.

Lie, Kåre A, oms. Buddhas samtaler: De lange tekstene. Digha Nikaya. Bind 2. Det store bindet: Mahavagga (Buddha's Conversations: The Long Texts. Digha Nikaya. Vol 2. The Long volume: Mahavagga). Oslo: Solum Forlag, 2005.

Maslow, Abraham. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1987.

Maslow, Abraham. Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences. Columbus: Ohio State University, 1964. Online: []

Maslow, Abraham. Toward a Psychology of Being. 2nd ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1968.

Nikhilananda, Swami. Hinduism. Madras: Ramakrishna Math, 1968.

Nikhilananda, Swami, tr. The Upanishads, Vol 1. New York: Ramakrishna Center, 1977.

Osborne, Arthur ed. The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharsi in His Own Words. New ed. London: Rider, 1971.

Raghunathan, N., tr. Srimad Bhagavatam, Vols 1-2. Madras: Vighneswara, 1976.

Venkatesananda, swami, tr. The Concise Yoga Vasistha. Albany: State University of New York, 1984.

Waley, Arthur, tr. The Way and Its Power. A Study of the Tao the Ching and Its Place in Chinese Thought. New York: Evergreen/Grove, 1958.

Yutang, Lin. The Wisdom of China. London: New English Library, 1963.

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