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“Self-Actualization and Self-Realization” Part 2.- 3 September 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 19:19

If the ultimate goal of mankind is happiness, what is that which makes us happy is the ultimate question. The materialistic world will say, buying the best home in the neighborhood will give you happiness. Or better still if only you could possess an E-Class Mercedes it would be my ultimate happiness. A woman said her dream was ‘to see Disney-Land’ and she had expressed her wish to her husband. All this is fine for there is no harm in seeing the world, travelling, staying in good homes, possessing the best cars, eating good food and dining in ultimate restaurants. There is nothing against materialism in ‘VEDANT’ at all. Attaining of ‘KAMA’ and ‘ARTH’ (pleasure and material success through excellence) is a valid goal of mankind. But we know, following the ‘law of diminishing returns’, everything material loses its charm gradually. Even diamonds seem to lose their sparkle and diminish in their value. So, what is that that gives lasting happiness is the quest again.

Psychology has made great strides from the times of Abraham Maslow in 1943 as new thoughts have come in. Psychologist Martin Seligman spearheaded the movement of ‘Positive Psychology’ from the year 2000 onwards deviating from the medical model of mental health to extensively researching the ‘signature strengths’ of people. He thought psychology was too focused on illness and disease and its curative/therapeutic methods instead of positive strengths of mankind. Seligman makes an effort to define happiness as constituting of three factors. One factor he says is ‘Pleasure’, which means that anything that gives us pleasure makes us happy. Simple tasks like eating, driving, sports, partying, artistic hobbies can give us pleasure and hence happiness. He says we need to go beyond that to the next level of ‘Engagement’, which means that when our mind is engaged with full attention and concentration on a task and we are also enjoying it, it leads to happiness. Hence people who have found their vocations and are engaged in it are happy people. Conversely, those who feel trapped in their jobs and work are suffering for they do not engage in their tasks to derive happiness. Lucky are the ones who are able to combine work and pleasure leading to happiness. Now Martin Seligman goes up the ladder of happiness to define another concept called ‘Meaning and Purpose’. According to him when a task also gives him a sense of purpose and adds meaning to his life he gets a higher level of happiness. In an experiment with children he concluded that when we do ‘things for others such as helping others’, we are happier than consuming an ice-cream or watching a movie. Such good actions and good feelings remain entrenched in our memory bank longer. Therefore, to sum it up, he talks of ‘pleasure, plus engagement plus purpose’ that gives happiness.

Let us see what th e ‘VEDANT’ has to offer us. The ‘Vedant’ talks of the four goals of life for attainment of happiness and self-fulfilment. The first one is ‘DHARMA’, which should be the basis of all actions and thoughts that humans indulge in. ‘Dharma’ has a very broad definition that includes morality, ethics, religion, duty towards society, unselfishness and doing for others. Dharma is also a code of ethical and moral living. It does not discount the material attainment but it codifies the manner and method of attainment of ARTHA and KAMA on moral and ethical foundations. Any action done for benefit of gaining pleasure and economic gain has to done on moral and ethical principles. This is what the VEDANTA proposes emphatically. This issue of morality was sorely missing among the western psychological thought for years and is now is being talked and written about in alarming tones. Modern times is also being termed as ‘the age of ethical crisis’. Csikszentmihaly Mihaly, one of my favorite psychologist in his pathbreaking book “The Evolving Self” says ‘moral codes have become necessary because evolution, in liberating humankind from complete dependence on instincts, has also made it possible for us to act with a malice that no organism ruled by instincts alone could possess’. What a powerful statement on the need for ‘Dharma’!!!

Therefore, the ancient concept of ‘Dharma’ which is known to be the foundation of all thought and actions in ‘Vedant’ is gaining due recognition after much damage has been done with the sole concept of ‘excellence, self-actualization and materialism’. Although Seligman talks of ‘meaning and purpose’ as vital ingredients of ‘happiness’, and Milahy talks of ‘moral and ethical codes’ of as vital to ‘evolving and developing a harmonious self’, the concept of ‘Dharma’ is more complex and encompassing of many aspects.

Again, western thought stops at morality and purpose, while the Hindu thought goes beyond the material world to talk of ‘MOKSHA’ which is the attainment of self-realization, spiritual liberty, and ‘divinity within’ (as stated by Swami Vivekananda). ‘Moksha’ is a difficult thought to understand and implement but not impossible. It starts with understanding the ‘SELF’, to dig deep into one’s own mind with the purpose of being aware of the self, to understand it, and conquer it. The ‘self’ is chained in ignorance and illusions of its own importance of the ‘ego’, which deludes it and ties it down to the material world.

Self-realization can take place only through self-knowledge which is a difficult proposition because of the peculiar and complex nature of the mind. The Hindu concept of the mind is very complex and not part of my western education unfortunately. The science of Psychology believes in the theory of the three- layered mind- the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious. In 1917 Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychological thought, realised that a person’s actions are determined not by the self he calls self, but by the unconscious mind deep within of which he is not aware. He further said – ‘the difficulty with knowing the self was that no one from outside can know it. Only you can know it. The problem is that humans cannot perceive the subjective self in an objective manner. There are barriers difficult to penetrate. The ego creates illusions around its self and lives in its own created delusions’.

The objective study of the subjective self is akin to a scientific enquiry which has to be done without delusion and prejudice. It has to be done with detachment, without emotions and that’s the difficulty. Albert Einstein was once asked ‘what is the most important thing in scientific investigation?’ He said ‘absence of egoism’. The ego creates illusions around you which does not allow honest enquiry. Only when the fine mind is able to lift the veil of illusions, called ‘MAYA in Vedant’, you become aware of the pure and true nature of your soul, your ‘ATMAN’, which is pure and infinite consciousness leading to infinite bliss. For then we realize that ‘we are one with the Universe and not different from it. ‘We are the Universe’ it says. This leads to liberty from life and from future birth cycles. It answers philosophical questions such as, ‘Who am I? What is the purpose of life? Why was I born?’

The methods to develop self-knowledge are through regular introspection, being brutally honest with ourselves, calmness of the mind, meditation, prayer, Yoga, attention, concentration, through good habits of discipline, good eating, virtuous thinking, discrimination and discretion before making the right choices and leading a good life. It leads to developing good human values such as compassion, empathy, care, love for others, and respect for each organism.

We must empower and enrich our self with the need for self-actualization and the need for self-realization. Only when we develop both self-actualization and self-realization do we blossom fully to become a wholesome human being to attain success and happiness. These are the two pillars of good life that complement each other, enhance each other, and enrich one another.

 

“Self actualisation and self realisation”- 20 August 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 10 September 2017 22:05

Life is like the battle-field of Kurukshetra where Mahabharta takes place. Life throws up challenges that are strange and unique to you. Since each individual is unique in their own way, each one has to face their own set of challenges as part of their very own destiny. But we must remember what the great Hindu monk who established the order of the Rama Krishna Mission, Swami Vivekananda, said that ‘divinity is within us, each one of us has infinite strength within and we have to tap that source of strength within us’. The process of education and training is all about the manifestation of the perfection and divinity within us.

Nature is beautiful when it is in full bloom. When a flower blossoms to its fullest, when a tree is laden with fruits, when a bamboo grows to its fullest height of being 100 feet tall, it’s a lovely sight. The seed of a banyan tree is very small but it grows into a majestic plant because the potentiality is within it. Every human being has its own seed of potentialities and the challenge is to manifest it against all diversities and adversities. There are two principles that can be our guiding lights towards self fulfillment and becoming a wholesome and fully blossomed human being –those principles are – self actualization and self realization.

The concept of self actualization was defined by Abraham Maslow an eminent psychologist who explained the hierarchy of human needs in a pyramid form with the lowest needs at the base of the pyramid and the highest ones at the top.  The lower needs are the survival needs like food water sleep, then we have the security needs –we want money, a job, a shelter, the next level consists of the need for love and belonging, family and friends, but the highest need is the need for self-actualization- the need to grow to your fullest potential. According to him a large majority of people remain at the level of mediocre needs of being secure, having a job, raising a family and being happy. A miniscule percentage of people aspire for the higher need of self actualization and work hard to achieve it. Privileged people should not be happy with small aims and as such must rise higher to empower themselves with the need for self actualization.

Carl Rogers another eminent psychologist called it the fulfillment of your potentialities –the urge to expand, extend, develop, mature- the tendency to express and activate all the capacities of the organism or the self. C. Mihaly calls it the process of differentiation where the self grows in all possible directions to differentiate itself and express its creativity and potentiality. This is also called individuation or development of autonomy.

Self actualization can be achieved with setting high goals, motivating one-self to do better and better, competing with oneself, competing with others and the world. It is also done by setting unique goals or deciding to make a long term commitment to a single cause.  As the individual develops and evolves and attains various types of knowledge and skills he understands the bliss of excellence. It elevates the individual to higher levels of existence and makes him engrossed in his quest for perfection. His creative juices just flow like a stream. It also brings in material rewards besides subjective happiness.

But the quest for self actualization is known to have major limitations. The western world is under the influence of this concept and has pushed it to nearly obsessive levels. In the process of individuation and self actualization it has cared less for finer human values. It has cared less for social and psychological harmony.  That is one of the significant causes for so many creative geniuses with lop sided personalities, fragmented within, conflicted within, with egocentric and eccentric traits, maybe destructive and evil too.

But C. Mihaly also states that actualisation alone is not enough for evolution for we need to integrate all the parts of the self to harmonise the self. Till we do that we may remain fragmented and conflicted within. That is why we see many creative geniuses who have actualised their talents have dismal personalities. They come across as eccentric and egocentric people. They may have social disdain and have no connection with people and society. They may not necessarily be good human beings. They have gained in the process of individuation but have lost out in humanity. Today’s society is obsessed with the creative genius but that has led to an imbalance because social and psychological harmony that has been neglected. That is a heavy price to pay.

Indian thinkers of ancient times had understood this dangerous possibility of the human individual going astray in the quest of excellence. They evolved a cogent thought called Vedanta, the essence of the wisdom embodied in the Vedas. They gave to the world a whole range of thought and action which is explained by the four goals or achievements of human life, also called the Purusharthas-Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Let us understand the meaning of the Vedanta quadrangle. Artha is the fulfillment of your-self, your job, your work, your status, your wealth that you earn, etc. Kama is the pleasures that you seek in whatever form, whether physical or mental. These two tenets Artha and Kama cover the entire theory of Abraham Malow’s need hierarchy including self actualization. But Vedanta goes beyond that to mention Dharma and Moksha which lead to Self Realization.

(To be continued..)

 

“Expectations in proportion”- 6 August 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 10 September 2017 22:02

It is commonplace to think that we should have expectations in life for we must look forward to greater and better things and plan a good life for ourselves. But wise sages say we should not have expectations in life for they alone bring misery. These expectations are therefore tricky things that make us strive higher with better goals and also make us miserable if they remain unfulfilled. There must be some golden rule for balancing them and keeping them in proportion. Psychologically as long as you have expectations from yourself you are on the right track and within your right. If you have expectations from others there is no guarantee of their fulfilment. There are good reasons for that. Most people would have simple expectations of looking forward to a good future with all material benefits and having good personal relationships. As long as they have the locus of control within themselves and set about satisfying their desires with their own efforts and perseverance they would be firmly set in the reality zone. The problem begins when they ‘expect’ others to fulfil their desires and dreams and ‘expect’ others to share their fantasies.

Ajay wants a good life with luxuries and a living standard that he is used to in his father’s home. Now he cannot afford the same life style but ‘expects’ in his mind that his father or his father-in-law fulfil his wishes by giving him gifts and money too! He has some pent-up anger which gets expressed at times against his parents and his in-laws and he is unaware of the origins of his emotions. He justifies his thinking in his head by rationalising it. ‘He deserves a better life and it is the duty of his parents to fulfil it’, goes his thought process. He does not realise that this is a fault line thought. A person with self-respect and with the proper sense would accept whatever his parents give with gratitude and take it on himself to satisfy his dreams and go about it systematically. So, the good expectations should weigh on the person’s own head and heart and not on the other. The internal locus of control is a good indicator of high emotional intelligence and hence mental balance.

Mrs. Veena cried that her life was miserable because of her in-laws who have not accepted her even after six years of marriage because she had a ‘choice marriage’ and her husband’s parents have severely opposed it. Even today they discriminate against her and do not involve her in functions and ceremonies and do not give her respect and due recognition. She went on about how they should treat her and how she is a good lady and has tried her best to be a good daughter-in-law. She over-exerts herself when she visits them by slogging in the kitchen by cooking for a large joint family of twenty members and then doing the dish cleaning too. She has a small one- year old baby in her arms and a backache to reckon with but she does all this to ‘please’ them in ‘expectation’ for a mutual reciprocation. In spite of explaining to her for an hour that ‘you cannot control others behaviour’ her mind refuses to accept the logic and the philosophy. She believes in the dictum that ‘one good turn deserves another’ or the belief that ‘if you are good to the other they will be good to you in return’. This belief is just that- a belief of yours and not a reality.

Anyway, human relationships do not follow any rule of life and is dynamic in nature- it keeps changing all the time. And ‘expectations’ from others is a killer in most relationships whether it is your friend, spouse,parents or in-laws. Expectations from others is a dangerous proposition and at most times a phantasy which has zero probability of being fulfilled. You would consider yourself lucky if a small percentage of your wishes gets fulfilled! Ideally you should go along with people and improvise your own side of the behaviour in terms of giving and receiving. Relationships are about give and take and if you feel unsatisfied in terms of ‘receiving’ and begin to feel exploited in terms of ‘giving’, change gears and change your behaviour but do not expect and cast aspersions.

 

‘A relationship cannot have any meaning if there are no expectations from each other and we should be able to take each other for granted to some extent’, said a wise wife. The key word here is ‘to some extent’. People who know how to proportion their expectations make for better balance in their relations. Being rigid and stuck up with your expectations make for a good recipe in unhappiness. Flexibility of perception and thought makes adaptability to the reality easier. Being aware that the other too has fixed and perhaps rigid ideas and beliefs that may be difficult to shake off easily makes one sensitive to the situation. Your expectations of the other is likely to be denied and shot down by the other who is also within their right of refusing and asserting their disapproval. Accepting the right of the other to refuse and assert themselves gives a better standing on reality. There are expectations on both sides and domination does not make for healthy and democratic relations. Therefore,making them proportionate to the circumstances is the best remedy.

“Making personalities or puppets”- 23 July 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 30 July 2017 18:52

A strange feeling takes over me when a teenager or a youth says, ‘I do not know what I like to do and what I want to do’. They are at most times good students achieving high percentage in examinations but there a blank when it comes to talking about their talents and their likes and dislikes. One undergraduate student who passed with distinction said something interesting ‘I have passed examinations but now I want to learn!’. A graduate engineer said ‘I hate engineering although I have cleared all my papers without a single failure but I dread to think of doing this all my life!’ Another girl goes a step further to say ‘I wanted a post graduate degree after my graduation so I continued with computer science but I do not like the subject at all’. She further tries to clarify her goals in yet uncertain terms that ‘her aim is to get a government job in whatever sector whether it is banks, railways, life insurance and that’s it. She did computer science only for the post graduate degree and not for the love of computer science’. She was unsuccessful in her multiple attempts in gaining a government job and claimed to be the unhappiest person in the world in spite of two professional degrees. She was feeling suicidal.

The attainment of degrees is taking over the goal of learning. The educational industries manufacturing degrees have robbed the fun out of learning and the development of talents and skills. Earlier people followed traditional vocations of their families learnt the skills and related knowledge from their elders or teachers who refined and honed their skills. Today it seems skills have been replaced with the attainment of degrees with practically no sense of attaining any specific applied skill. Therefore data analytical studies have set the alarm bells ringing by stating that employability among engineers and management graduates are as low as 25% and 18% because most of the degrees are generally hollow in content and application leaving the students confused with the process of learning.

A girl X was forced into dental science by her parents and she was an unhappy soul. She eventually made a circle of friends who were non achievers, indulged in fun and adventure and gradually got hooked onto drugs. Her addiction negatively impacted her concentration, focus and studies. She kept failing and kept blaming it on her parents not taking the onus of responsibility on self. Obviously when we allow students to choose their own path with full consciousness, we push them into positions of responsibility. When parents decide for them the burden of failure and future success is on parents.

Parents may suffer from many types of mythical thinking. One of them is that ‘your life is made when you take a good professional degree’. The second myth is that ‘your life is set when you get a secure government job’. The third myth follows from the above two that ‘to get there you need high marks in school and board examinations so that you can compete with the best’. In this rat race of attaining high marks and high degrees and government jobs, you lose your soul and your life as they fall by the way side. You mind is conditioned by parents, teachers and guardians of society alike so greatly that you are ready to sacrifice and comprise to any extent that you lose contact with your inner self.

Although formal education has become a necessity for every child today in India and the world to earn your livelihood and ‘survive’, it has done much harm to the psyche’ and the soul of the children. For children are forced to study for livelihood and survival and not for the joy of learning and discovering their talents. Children seem split in their minds and personalities as they cannot integrate their likes and desires with an education that has fixed curriculum with no scope for flexibility. Children should be allowed some freedom to be independent and to determine what they like and dislike and be allowed to express their interests in terms of games, sports, artistic hobbies and other creative pursuits besides their formal education. Methods of ‘open learning’ should be introduced in schools beyond class room teaching or should be pursued by parents out of school for their wards. The relevance of learning mathematics, social studies, science and languages to the lives of children needs to be explained to children.

 

Besides all this is giving utmost importance to the child as an individual and not a cog in the giant educational wheel that keeps churning out masses from the same mould. The talents, originality of the child, their creativity remain hidden under the burden of the fixed curriculum and the teaching methods employed. We believe that every child is gifted by God in different ways and the duty of the educational process is to allow the child to discover the latent talents and manifest them in a systematic manner. According to Swami Vivekananda the great Hindu monk education is “the manifestation of perfection within man”. Therefore the success of nurturing a child lies in the blossoming of its talents and God given gifts which will eventually lead to the passionate pursuit of excellence in those talents. There can be no better goal than this. For the moment we seem to be failing miserably in our educational agenda.

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