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Self-actualising People

Abraham Maslow My studies of "self-actualizing people" i.e., fully evolved and developed people, make it clear that human beings at their best are far more admirable (godlike, heroic, great, divine, awe-inspiring, lovable, etc.) than ever before conceived, in their own proper nature. (Maslow 1964, chap. 5)

Taste on that definition: "fully evolved and developed people". As a definition it is loose. It would be better to say "much evolved persons" instead - yet "much" is still a relative thing. "Much - compared to what?" that is the question. "Evolved - in what directions? Is it for good or bad or something else in between?" Jaina philosophy teaches the soul has "infinite potentiality" (Chatterjee and Datta 2007, 100), and Hindu and Buddhist texts abound in feats that "godly evolved persons" can do, but may prefer not to flaunt.

Entering the Realm of "Fully Developed" or What?

Maslow "did the talk, but did he walk the walk"? A common yoga stand is that through adequate, advanced yogi training one may find these powers, siddhis, which can also be translated as "perfections", "accomplishments", "attainments", or "successes", says the Wikipedia (s.v. "Siddhi").

In the Panchatantra, a siddhi may be any unusual skill or faculty or capability. In Tantric Buddhism, siddhi refers to supernatural powers, including such as clairvoyance, levitation, bilocation, to become as small as an atom, to materialize objects, to have access to memories from past lives, etc.

Buddha powers

Buddha speaks of the ten powers of an enlightened one, a Tathagata, saying that a Tathagata understands as it actually and really is:

  1. The possible as possible and the impossible as impossible.
  2. The results of actions undertaken, past, future and present, with possibilities and with causes.
  3. The ways leading to all destinations.
  4. The world with its many and different elements.
  5. How beings have different inclinations.
  6. The disposition of the faculties of other beings, other persons [with their inherent inclinations and attainments].
  7. The defilement, the cleansing and the emergence in regard to the [four] jhanas [states of meditative absorption], liberations, concentrations and attainments.
  8. Recollects [in details] his manifold past lives, that is, one birth, two births, . . . a thousand births, a hundred thousand births, many aeons of world-contraction, many aeons of world-expansion, many aeons of world-contraction and expansion . . . [W]ith their aspects and particulars he recollects his manifold past lives.
  9. With the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, the Tathagata sees beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate, and he understands how beings pass on according to their actions thus: 'These worthy beings who were ill-conducted in body, speech and mind, revilers of noble ones, wrong in their views, giving effect to wrong view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a state of deprivation, in a bad destination, in perdition, even in hell; but these worthy beings who were well-conducted in body, speech and mind, not revilers of noble ones, right in their views, giving effect to right view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a good destination, even in the heavenly world.' Thus with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, he sees beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate, and he understands how beings pass on according to their actions. [Thus: He comprehends that beings are mean, excellent, comely, ugly, in a good bourn, in a bad bourn according to the consequence of karma]
  10. By realizing it for himself with direct knowledge, the Tathagata here and now enters upon and abides in the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom that are taintless with the destruction of the taints. [Having realized here and now the freedom of mind and the freedom through wisdom that have no outflows, he abides in it.]

    [◦Maha-sihanada Sutta 9-21; with additions in square brackets from the Majjhima-nikaya I, 69-71, in Conze 1995, 115-16.]

The older Buddhism regarded psychic powers as one of the by-products of yogic trance, but little importance was attached to them, says Edward Conze. (Conze 2003, 33)

Otherwise, historically, the display of supernatural powers and the working of miracles were among the most potent causes of the conversion of tribes and individuals to Buddhism. (Conze 1958, 84)

Edward Conze tells further that as a result of practising the trances [jhanas] the Buddha and his disciples came to possess many miraculous or magical powers, including clairvoyance, clairaudience, recollection of former births, and knowledge of the thoughts of others. Others were more physical. The disciples could "pass at will through wall or fence or hill as if through air, pass in and out of the solid earth, walk on the water's surface, or glide through the air. By magical action, they could prolong life in this body. Or they could project or conjure up a double of themselves, and make it endure. They could give their body the form of a boy, of a snake, etc."

Psychic abilities are not in all cases beneficial to the character or the spirituality of the person in whom they manifest themselves. On the whole, the attitude of the Buddhist Church during the first millennium of its existence seems to have been that the occult and the psychic are allright as long as one does not take too much notice of them, and exhibits them as a kind of cheap stunt to the populace.

One day the Buddha came across an ascetic who sat by the bank of a river, and who had practised austerities for 25 years. The Buddha asked him what he had got out of all his labour. The ascetic proudly replied that now at last he could cross the river by walking on the water. The Buddha tried to point out that this was little gain for so much labour, since for one penny the ferry would take him across. (Conze 1958, 103-5, passim)

"Do not tell about your special powers," is a counsel given by Milarepa (in Conze 1995, 260)

Powers in Hindu Teachings

In the Bhagavata Purana, of which the Uddhava Gita is a part, the Five Siddhis of Yoga and Meditation include: knowing the past, present and future; tolerance of heat, cold and other dualities; knowing the minds of others; and remaining unconquered by others.

There is also the concept of the eight siddhis in Hinduism:

  1. Reducing one's body even to the size of an atom
  2. Expanding one's body to an infinitely large size
  3. Becoming infinitely heavy
  4. Becoming almost weightless
  5. Having unrestricted access to all places
  6. Realizing whatever one desires
  7. Possessing absolute lordship;
  8. The power to subjugate all.

It may be hard to see how two or ten or a thousand persons can develop to have power to subjugate all - each possessing "absolute lordship", each realising whatever they desire, and maybe falling out with one another on occasion. The following, condensed story is about that.

An ancient story of Vasistha and Vishvamitra

There is a gripping legend about how to accomplished yogis fought one another over a King Harishchandra, who was renowned for keeping his word and never lie. A great sage, Vishwamitra, made Harishchandra hand over his kingdom to him and sell his wife and son and even himself, to end up as a guard at a cremation ground - all the three of them suffering extreme hardships.

After Harishchandra had been treated like that, the brilliant priest Vasistha emerged and heard all about how Vishwamitra had debased the king of noble deeds, and grew angry at the seer Vishwamitra, saying, "When Vishwamitra killed my hundre sons I was not so furious as I am now . . . Harishchandra . . . that great-souled man with virtue in his soul, relied on me! Because of what Vishwamitra has done, I curse that enemy to become a heron!"

When Vishwamitra heard that curse, he cursed Vasistha back, saying, "Then you shall become a crane!"

Then the heron and the crane began to fight with one another. They beat at each other with blows of their wings. The heron's eyes were swollen red with blood, the crane slashed at it, and the earth began to quake till it tipped over. Creatures were shrieking, people confounded. Grandfather God appeared and asked the furious birds to stop fighting. They fought on, however. Then Grandfather God took away their bird natures and said, "Give up that passionate anger. Brahmin power shall prevail!"

At his words the two of them embraced one another and forgave each other. Then they all went home. (Dimmitt and van Buitenen 1978, 274-86; 266-67)

When desires conflict, which desires of almighty ones will triumph? And how can such conflicts end to end well?

More siddhis

In addition, here are ten secondary siddhis that Maslow does not go into, but Krishna does in the fifteenth chapter of the Uddhava Gita:

  1. Being undisturbed by hunger, thirst, and other bodily disturbances
  2. Hearing things far away
  3. Seeing things far away
  4. Moving the body wherever thought goes (teleportation)
  5. Assuming any form desired
  6. Entering the bodies of others
  7. Dying when one desires
  8. Witnessing and participating in the pastimes of the gods.
  9. Perfect accomplishment of one's determination
  10. Orders or commands being unimpeded.

These mentions - as presented in a Wikipedia survey of "Siddhi" - indicates that the eminent Abraham Maslow (1908-70) could have defined the persons he studied, less pretentiously, among other reasons because of "fully developed" goes largely unexplained by him, and with few specifics: So it is not much defined by Maslow. But there are many good kernels in the writings of Maslow - a good ore, if you like.

Are the theories of Abraham Maslow dated by now? No. The recent branch of psychology, Positive Psychology, owes much to Maslow and other humanists of the latter half of the 1900s. Is positive psychology still going strong, then? It depends on which variables in it find favour, and by whom.

Self-actualisation of Abraham Maslow

The American psychologist and philosopher Abraham Maslow is best known for his self-actualization theory. What Maslow calls integration of the self should be the main goal of psychotherapy, he argues, and "The word Existentialism . . . had better be dropped. The trouble is that I have no good alternative label to offer (Maslow 1964, Preface)."

Maslow was a main contributor to humanistic psychology, sometimes called the "third force", with its then new ways of perceiving and thinking. To Maslow, humanistic psychology integrates Goldstein's Gestalt psychology and Freud in a scientific spirit (Maslow 1978, 7-9, passim). In his main works he thinks that humans have basic bodily need, safety, love, esteem, and, on top, self-actualisation and believe that truly healthy people are self-actualisers, among other things because they work on or excel in integrating various parts in their personality, or self. Maslow:

Abraham Maslow It will be helpful here to talk about a pilot investigation . . . of the people I have called non-peakers. In my first investigations . . . I used this word because 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)

Accordlingly, his dichotomy of "peakers" and "non-peakers" is a root problem that needs not be repressed. The object of Maslow's study appears to be less of an either-or thing than he first thought, admits Maslow, you can see. Take care; awkward definitions tend to breed awkward goings. They may ensnare some.

Maslow tried to explore outstanding persons and thought he recognises some common features in most of them. He describes the features well in his works. Many of his more profound understandings may be good, although a final touch is missing.

"And what is that final touch?" you may ask. It may be sanitising the awkward concepts and reevaluate his theories from bottom, well adjusted to more data. For not all of Maslow's theorising has been conformed by simple research. That should be known and acknowledged as well. But Maslow speculates well as he draws on other sources and his own observations and studies.

There are complements to many savoury points and chapters in Abraham Maslow's book Motivation and Personality; some are in his Toward a Psychology of Being, his second main work. Also, summaries of and comments on various findings and ideas by Maslow abound world-wide.

Abraham Maslow Existential and humanistic psychologists would probably consider a person sick or abnormal in an existential way if he were not concerned with these "religious" questions. (Maslow 1964, chap. 2)

Even here it is not necessary to agree with Maslow. He really refers to existential probings, and "religious" is hardly a big thing if understood as "ceremonial, massing-crank, or cryingly ritual-occupied", whereas "spiritual" can be a beneficial if it indicates mind-finding and inner development that is constructive. And yet, have the terms much to offer if you drastically lack selfhood? If you lack substantial self-confidence, self-assertiveness and self-care? If you are yourself, fine. Then you may develop, because you are not a fake. Otherwise, many good points may not serve you, and most of your efforts may stupidly lack the needed core ingredient, your own assertiveness as an "I am".

Instead of being taken in by glib words, focus on being yourself and gyrate to your advantage. To develop yourself, be yourself first and assert yourself a lot. Compare the ancient burning bush message of "I am what I am; I become what I become." The ideal answer may not be "Burnt and extinct."

Others who are not able to be themselves, be genuine, as a basis of all they accomplish, may seek vicarious self-aggrandising, vicarious self-confidence as members of groups, including churches and may become devious characters too through steps and stages, including neuroticism.

Once again, learn there can be many and divergent definitions of key words, and that they should be well defined in the case of serious treatment. The central meanings of many terms can vary. So you can see it may be a teaching error to slur along without telling just what is meant by such as "religious", after telling something like "There is a dichotomy between peakers and non-peakers - no, they are on some sliding scale and need to be differently defined: There are those who say they have had happy moments on the one hand, and on the other hand some who suppress that information, even to themselves."

The latter are called non-peakers, but might just as well be called feeble flaggers. If they were understood as that, according to Maslow's later conclusions, studies of such men and women might take other turns than they have done, and Maslow-grounded personality tests of like that of Shostrom might be more apt. It remains to see.

In the end the foregoing illustrates that collected data needs interpretations, and interpretations have their frameworks. Some may seen more solid that others, but may still be wrong and askew. That is illustrated in the realm of physics around 1900. The framework of physics seemed satisfactory and mature then, with just a few snags to it. How wrong the establishment in physics was! How wrong many of their basic throught were. How they erred when they thought they were profound! How obsolete and irrevocably faulty many of their cherished views! And so on. (Zukav 1979, 150 ff)

There is more: Those who are materialistic or mechanistic tend to regard their peak- and transcendent experiences as a kind of insanity. Further, extremely other-directed people scarcely know what is going on inside themselves. (Maslow 1964, chap. 3)

Maslow says "The private religious experience is shared by all the great world religions. Both men and women have peak-experiences, and all kinds of constitutional types have peak-experiences, he asserts further. Also, transcendent experiences seem to occur more frequently in college people who have rejected their inherited religion. (Maslow 1964, chap. 3, 4, emphasis added)

On Top of Robert Frager

Robert Frager is behind the posthumous, third and enlarged edition of Maslow's Motivation and Personality (1987). These points are extracted from Frager's preface.


Psychological health is best supported by an environment that freely allows each individual a wide range of choices. - Robert Frager (in Maslow 1987, xiv)

With destructiveness, as for any behavior, we must consider three factors: the individual's character structure, cultural pressures, and the immediate situation. - Robert Frager (in Maslow 1987, xiii)

In a book chapter called "Self-actualizing People: A Study of Psychological Health," Maslow offers detailed descriptions of self-actualisers, their common qualities and attributes. These include: accurate perception, spontaneity, detachment, independence, peak experience, sense of humour, and creativeness. - Robert Frager (in Maslow 1987, xiv)

In another chapter, "Creativity in Self-actualizing People," Maslow compares the creativity of artists, poets, and others in "creative professions" with self-actualizing creativeness, which springs more directly from the personality. This second kind of creativity manifests as a tendency to do anything originally and creatively. - Robert Frager (in Maslow 1987, xiv)

Scientists are people with fears, hopes, and dreams. Maslow points out that science is not the only way to discover truth: add the approaches of the poets, philosophers, dreamers, and others. The healthy, happy, well-rounded person is likely to be a better, more creative scientist. - Robert Frager (in Maslow 1987, xiv)

In yet another chapter (No. 17) Maslow stresses the importance of first attending to a new experience, seeing it clearly and in detail, rather than immediately categorizing new experiences. For Maslow, stereotyping is one example of blind categorizing; habits are another example. In dire cases new problems are either unrecognized or handled with inappropriate techniques, old solutions that do not fit. - Robert Frager (in Maslow 1987, xv)

Creative self-actualizing people tend to see the world with clear, fresh eyes and to be more spontaneous and expressive than most. The original insight and inspiration that form the basis of great art, primary self-actualizing creativeness is a fundamental aspect of our basic humanness. - Robert Frager (in Maslow 1987, xiv)


Was the eminent physicist Albert Einstein a jivanmukta? He was, rather, a deep thinker.

The fully developed person that Maslow goes for, is most likely a jivanmukta (from the Sanskrit words jiva, soul, spirit, and mukti, freedom), the free spirit told of in many Hindu texts. The jivamukta - free while in a body - has realised the Self and Its jubilation, also called freedom.

In the ancient Shramanic traditions of wandering ascetics, the jivanmukta is called an arhat.

[WP, "arhant"]


Arhat (Sanskrit: arhat; Pali: arahant), in Buddhism, signifies a spiritual practitioner who has realized certain high stages of attainment. Yet the implications of the term vary based on the respective schools and traditions. In the Theravada tradition, the word arahant or arhat has been interpreted to mean the "worthy one", but that translation has come to be challenged through recent research of the term, its possible roots and its uses.

A range of views on the perfection of arhats existed among early Buddhist schools. However, in Theravada Buddhism, 'arhant' means anyone who has reached the total Awakening and attained Nirvana. In the Pali Canon, the word is sometimes used as a synonym for tathagata, "the thus-come" (who has Arrived).

In Theravada Buddhism, the Buddha himself is first identified as an arahant, as are his enlightened followers, too. Being free in the now, the arahant knows and sees the real here and now by serene, uncorrupted insight. Mahayana Buddhism on the other hand has viewed arhatship as a lesser accomplishment than complete enlightenment.

(WP, "arhant")

Wandering ascetics

Famous wandering ascetics include Buddha. Buddha came to regard extreme austerities and self-mortification as useless or unnecessary for Awakening, and recommends instead a middle way of avoiding extremes.

Shramanic traditions were aiming at individual liberation through breathing techniques (pranayama), physical postures (asanas) and (meditation, dhyana). Patanjali's Yoga Sutras show one school of this ancient philosophy.

Shramana concepts like non-violence, ahimsa; retributions, karma; re-incarnation; renunciation; the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth or reincarnation, samsara; and freedom, moksa, were in time accepted and incorporated in the beliefs and practices of brahmins.

(WP, "shramana"]


On the next page is Maslow material about peakers or peak experiences.


Self-actualisers, Abraham Maslow peakers, siddhas, Literature  

Chatterjee, Satischandra, and Dhirendramohan Datta. 2007. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy.. New Delhi: Rupa Publications.

Conze, Edward. 1959. Buddhism: Its Essence and Development. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

⸻. 2003. Buddhist Meditation. Mineola, NY: Dover.

Conze, Edward, tr., ed. with I. B. Horner, David Snellgrove and Arthur Waley. 1995. Buddhist Texts through the Ages. Oxford: Oneworld.

Dimmitt, Cornelia, ed., and J. A. B. van Buitenen, tr. 1978. Classical Hindu Mythology. Philadelphia: Temple University.

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

⸻. 1968. Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

⸻. 1973. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

⸻. 1970. På vej mod en eksistens-psykologi. Copenhagenm DK: Nyt Nordisk Forlag.

⸻. 1987. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. New York, HarperCollins.

Maslow, Abraham H., with Deborah C. Stephens and Gary Heil. 1998. Maslow on Management. New York: John Wiley.

Wilson, Colin. 1972. New Pathways in Psychology: Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution. London: Gollancs.

Zukav, Gary. 1979. The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics. London: Rider.

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

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