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In short, liberated ones may not be found, and mature, elevated guys could be few and far between as well.

Who may recognise the liberated, the great and the mature unless they are of the same kind or have good criteria and fair measurements?

A jivanmukta (from jiva, individual, spirit, and mukti, freedom, life), a "free soul," is someone who has gained Self-knowledge, also called Self-realisation, and is liberated with an inner sense of freedom while living. In Sanskrit, this state is called jivanmukti. A rishi (seer, sage) who becomes a jivanmukta is then called a Brahmarishi, that is, a Brahman-sage. Jivanmukti contrasts with being freed after death, in afterlife.

(WP, "Jivanmukta")

The Sanskrit word Atmajnana means Self-Knowledge, and is built up of Atma(n) (Spirit, soul, God) and jnana (true knowledge, gnosis). 'Atmajnana' is used by Adi (= the first) Shankara, and Self-Realisation is also a translation of it. An atmajnani is someone who is aware of his Self. Another term used by Sri Shankara is Atmabodhi. It means "having awareness/knowledge of the Self', that is, 'Awakened'. (Nikhilananda 1947)

Abraham Maslow uses the terms self-actualisation and self-realisation interchangeably, and touches upon a few characteristics of Self-realised ones in ancient scriptures that he refers to. We may compare them with a fuller range of traditional descriptions of jivanmuktis (also termed atmajnanis) so as not to get too limited views.

A Maslow Description of Self-Actualizers

The factors below could be called more or less interrelated factors. Yet Maslow's list seems inconclusive in the light of what Sanskrit sources, Buddhism, and Taoism say about the highest types of humans, women and men. Maslow's self-actualisers:

  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. (Maslow, 1987, 103-15, 157. Cf. Maslow 25-26, 61, 38; 132, 156-7)

Drinking and Urinating Like Cows

Swami Nikhilananda of the Ramakrishna Order informs that in Hindu sources a jivanmukta means "Absolute Consciousness" and the "Supreme Self" (see also Chatterjee and Datta 2007, 41, 267, 377-82). Nikhilananda's descriptions show how Abraham Maslow's lists of what marks self-realisers are incomplete. An example:

In the Srimad Bhagavatam, a paragon of Self-actualisation 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; 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 travelling through the air, moving with lightning speed, noting without difficulty things from afar and other perfections [siddhis]. (Raghunathan 1976, 1:419-21) Rishabha was "the supreme master of all Vedic knowledge." (Anand 2016, 5.6)

A jivanmukta may also behave like a scholar and further. In The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna there is a significant passage:

Sometimes the paramahamsa behaves like a madman . . . A few days after the dedication of the temple at Dakshineswar [nearby Calcutta], 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."

(Gupta 1942, 176, 370)

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

Name and form, nama and rupa are central concepts in Sanatan Dharma. It is the same with play, lila and many more "avenues back home," into Spirit, or beyond concepts. The concepts deal with meditative avenues toward Brahman, Godhead, the Sea (the essentially nameless has many names to allude to It). Patrick Laude is into how:

The relative also "includes" seeds of absoluteness, if one may say so, and these seeds may be grown into ladders leading up to heaven (Laude 2005, 3).

1. Name. The Spirit who moves toward expression, makes waves, including those of sound patterns. They are variants of nama (sound, name). For example, you start with mentally repeating a good, fit and fair mantra, and it serves as an uplifting agent, an avenue to All-Home. So nama may be used to travel inwards and upwards by. It is part of mantra yoga. (See e.g. Forem 2012)

2. Form. By some forms we are lifted up mentally. A flower has it in it to do that. Name and Form and twins. They start out from deep inside together, and may branch out. By fit fit forms, one may get higher. That is the philosophy of (a) yantra yoga, yoga of forms, which is found fit in Buddhist yoga too. Patterns with a centre are commonly used. Some such patterns are seen in a flower bed. (b) There is also old iconography where gods and goddesses are depicted and represented in certain set ways. Conventional Hindu icons are visual images laden with symbols, and a tradition that puts meanings into them. Differences among icons suggest different qualities or features, as the case may be.

3. Play. Play all day may get difficult, for we typically need rest and sleep too (Dream yoga exists as well). Name, form and play are found on different levels. Divine play, lila is God-play. Lila is a way of describing Reality as the outcome of creative play. Lila is a central idea in the traditional worship of Krishna (as prankster). Children play well too. There are helpful, healthy plays and other kinds of play. It is best not go get entangled in the latter type, for they hinder many and bully others.

[Johan Huizinga's book,] Homo Ludens . . . [is] capable of opening extremely fruitful avenues to research and reflection. [It is to his] credit that he has masterfully analyzed several of the fundamental characteristics of play and has demonstrated the importance of its role in the very development of civilization [and] he discovers play in areas where no one before him had done so. (Callois 2001, 3 Huizinga defines play as follows:

Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside "ordinary" life as being "not serious," but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means. (In Callois 2001, 4)

Roger Callois: "Such a definition, in which all the words are important and meaningful, is at the same time too broad and too narrow. (Callois 2001, 4)

More about games and play: Berne 1968; Laude 2005; WP, "Lila (Hinduism)"

4. Dreams. Dream Yoga is in part for rousing or getting in contact with content in subconscious levels of one's mind while retaining a steady gaze.

Open your eyes and let them remain at least partially open with your gaze resting vacantly in the space in front of you, and direct your attention to the space of the mind and whatever arises within that space. . . . This practice is very simple: you do your best to maintain an unwavering flow of mindfulness directed to the space of the mind, attending to whatever arises therein without reactivity, without judgment, without distraction or grasping. (Wallace 2012, 50-51)

The practice of fixing the gaze at a point ahead of you, is also called tratak(a). It has many variants. (See e.g. Janakananda 1992, 106-8)

The practice has much in common with Bodhidharma's wall-gazing Zen method. To Bodhidharma, books, logical ideas, study, ritual, worship were useless; but much "wall-gazing" was of value. He lived in a cave where he "faced a wall for nine years, not speaking for the entire time." (WP, Bodhidharma")

5. Maithuna ("sexual union") involves intercourse in Tantric practises, but not necessarily. Maithuna is regarded a one more avenue towards Home (WP, "Maithuna"). It comes quite close to the Christian view that the body is God's temple (1 Corinthians 6:19) coupled with "The unbelieving husband is made acceptable to God by being united to his wife," and vice versa, "the unbelieving wife is made acceptable to God by being united to her Christian husband." (1 Corinthians 7:14-16; Good News Translation). This is taken to mean "put right with God through sex", which is "saved by sex." The uniting means having sex in the tradition and time this was written. A wedding without having sex was a sham wedding. And "Seeing is believing," one may add, and "There is often room for interpretations" also.

Indian traditions use sex too. Gavin Flood writes in The Tantric Body (2006) about changing humans into gods if all goes well and far enough:

This book . . . seeks to understand the tantric traditions in their historical and doctrinal contexts and to offer constructive readings of the texts that are true to Indology and sympathetic to the internal concerns of the traditions. . . . (Flood 2006, 3-4)

The tantric body is of more than historical interest . . . While it is important to maintain discourses within the boundaries of tradition in order for them to retain meaning and relevance for particular communities of readers, it is also germane, enriching and challenging to engage theologically and philosophically with thought systems outside of those discourses. (Ib., 5-6)

6. Practising Awareness. Awareness of the breath is advocated by Buddha in such as the Majjhima Nikaya 118. Mindfulness of the breath, "developed and repeatedly practiced, is of great fruit, great benefit," the text says. Buddha's detailed instruction on using awareness of the breath (anapana) for meditation is described. There are many steps of practice.

The discourse exists in several forms, though. Besides, the core instructions appear in several discourses, with different commentaries. (WP, "Anapanasati Sutta")

What could it be good for?

Answer: It depends . . .

Each of these cardinal concepts - name (sounds), form (figures), play, sex, and dreams and cardinal things in life, like awareness and breathing. Some forms of yoga encourge skilled use of such means: there is a need to be instructed so as not to be battered.Maslow's five-levelled pyramid of needs - useful as it is in some things - does not show good development avenues built into it, but allows for developing and nurturing and filling higher and higher needs, all of which serves moving into higher levels of unfoldment. So the yoga margas ("avenues" upwards) may give the impetus to rise to higher levels.

Thus, Maslow shows layers based on subtlety, and the six "avenues" or routes above - and many other routes - show how to get finer awareness, perceptions and perhaps interests. These avenues (paths, margas) converge at the top, for wise yoga (union) favours unification, integration. This is in part as Gurdjieff maintains (also see Speeth 1989, 62-3 etc.) There is sound integration and unhealthy integration, though.

Progressing in meditation is allied to skills of practice, getting good counsel, getting a method or more that suit oneself, and furter. This is to say that progressing upward and into finer sides of the art of living (Going upwards in Maslow's pyramid, for example) could be wise, rewarding in itself. To go for sound wisdom is advocated in Buddhist, Hindu and Hebrew sources. But what kind of wisdom? Is is getting aware enough of oneself, or much else? It depends, again.

Adi Shankara distinguishes between supreme spirit (paramatman) and individual spirit or soul (jiva atman, jivatman). The latter is thought to be limited in wisdom, power and capacity of movement.

Yet it is taught that the individual atmans (souls) are not properly distinct from the supreme atman. Each of them is in full and complete measure the supreme atman himself, explains Paul Deussen (1845–1919). He 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. (Deussen 1906, 256-61)

Related concepts

In the ancient 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. (Deussen 1966, 256-61)

Comparative studies indicate that some major concepts cover similar or identical ground: jivanmukta, which means "free soul", "liberated while living"; Tathagata which suggests "Truth-state-arrived", a Buddha (Awakened One), Self-realized One, 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." (Chan 1969, 148; cf. chap. 17 in Chan 1969, 149-50; Lie 1992, 25)

Self-realization is Self-Knowledge in Hinduism, like "Know yourself" (Gnothi Seauton) from ancient Greek sources. Maslow uses 'self-realization' interchangeably with 'self-actualization.' However, his often overlapping, descriptive terms contain errors. 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. Here are many of them: [Paranormal abilities]

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, 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 Tathagatas, the "Thus-arrived Ones". This is not to suggest a perfect match of concepts, but vital similarities across cultures. Further, the understanding of what Tathagatas stand for in Buddhism are varied too, Kåre Lie points out (2005, 14-16).

Giving names to the Unnameable

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 [i.e. by no fixed rule].

It reminds of the proverb, "It is a fool who cannot hide his wisdom." Maslow overlooks that nice 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 is translated far and wide. This is a pinpointing of how translations differ:

Of old those who were
   - "the best rulers" [Chan 1969)
   - "skilled at practicing the Way" (Henricks 1989)
   - "The ancient master workers of the Way" (Roberts 2001)
   - "officers at Court" (Waley 1958, 160)
of old had subtle wisdom and depth of understanding,
So profound that they could not be understood.

A question arises: How could they be identified? or: Who are we talking about?

A large part of the rest of that chapter goes on to describe them arbitrarily, the chapter also says. (Cf. Chan 1969, 146). It may not be much of an approach, but strokes of luck occur.

Free souls, Maslow's peakers and decadent ones

From among the wealth of constructs about self-realizers and similar ones it stands out that many names are used to describe the Unnameable, or Essence. 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 - helpful as well - yet falling short in describing full-fledged free ones in a 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 Tathagatas, 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 of what he thinks describe peakers appropriately. They tend to be more like "stream-enterers" in Buddhist thought than "arrivers".

Maslow varies his descriptions from book to book and even within one and the same book as part of his holistic presentation. Ancient sources of India do similar things about atmajnanis, jivanmuktas, realized persons. Taoism's enigmatic and arbitrarily described ones (in chapters 15 and 17) come in addition and goes beyond Maslow -

So Maslow comes close to special parts of Indian thinking by a plenitude of concepts and varied of definitions of Who is beyond many words, simply. Adi Shankara says succinctly against a description circus:

Wisdom Study of the scriptures is fruitless as long as Brahman [God] has not been experienced. And when Brahman has been experienced, it is useless to read the scriptures. [Shankara)

When the Great Reality is not known, the study of the scriptures is fruitless. When the Great Reality is known, the study of the scriptures is also fruitless. [The same, reworded] (in Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, v. 15-16)

Regardless of that, Self-Realization does not depend on it! Still, apt study of some clarifying scriptures is not completely useless up to a certain level.

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).

The supreme thing

By taking a plenitude of data into account and sort them well, we may in time get some issues "crystallised" and then resolve many value problems. This approach lies at the back of the newly developed five-factor model of psychology, for example. The human computer (mind) enrolled hardware and software and came up with five factors to describe one's personality by the five-factor model, which is also called the Big Five.

In Sanatan Dharma (Hinduism), the supreme goal in life is called variously Moksha means freedom, liberation. In Western psychology - which for most part is a long way from that goal, or moksha, which means feedom for concepts too if one wills - is termed self-actualisation, self-realization, but such concepts are not descriptive of full-fledged Self-Realisers. Concepts like integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity, realizing potentialities, becoming fully evolved humans may still be of help up to a level, "up to a point." (Cf. Maslow 1968, 103)

Maslow's main constructs and recurrent use of them are flawed: He found out himself that his "fully evolved self-actualizing people" 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 was not a matter of either peaking or not peaking, but more or less peaking. (Maslow 1964, chap. 5)

Hence, Maslow tones down the definition of the "fully evolved and developed" ones, and "upgrades" the non-peakers somehow, writing that

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." (Maslow 1964, chap. 3 - highlighting added)

In such ways he blurs the conceptual basis of his own findings.

Nikhilananda on the Jivanmukta

Swami Nikhilandanda, author of many books on Hinduism, seeks to describe the free soul in his book Hinduism (1968). He thinks that "The description of the phenomenal world as maya, or illusion, is only part of the Vedantic truth (Ib., 63). Accordingly, his descriptions may be relevant a long way inwards-upwards.


The self is always free . . . freedom is its very stuff. (Ib., 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? (Ib., 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. (Ib., 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. . . .(Ib., 65)

A free soul is bound neither by the injunctions of the scriptures, nor by the conventions of society. (Ib., 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 . . . (Ib., 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 . . . (Ib., 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 . . . (Ib., 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. (Ib., 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. (Ib., 67]


Liberated ones, Jivamuktas, jivanmuktas, Atmajnanis, self-realisers, peakers of Maslow, Self-actualisers, Abraham Maslow peakers, Literature  

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

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Nikhilananda, Swami, tr. 1947. Self-Knowledge: An English Translation of Shankaracharya's Atmabodha, with Notes, Comments, and Introduction. Madras: Mylapore: Sri Ramakrishna Math.

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

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

Shankara. Crest-Jewel of Wisdom. Tr. John Richards, 2000. Online.

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Wallace, B. Alan. 2012. Dreaming Yourself Awake: Lucid Dreaming and Tibetan Dream Yoga for Insight and Transformation. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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