Beyond Sustainable Economy: Abraham Maslow

Published: 13.07.2017

Aparigraha is a concept which is fundamental to both the Yoga and Jain traditions of Indian thought. It is a very interesting concept but one whose nuances are not commonly understood. It is usually translated as "non-possession of objects, one of the ethical disciplines for attaining spiritual perfection." [1]

This definition does a disservice to the nuances of this word and it is in these nuances that a philosophy of life is encapsulated. The first point to note is that the root of the word is grah which means to acquire or to grasp. If a simple negation was sought then the word would have been agrahana, but that is not the word that is used. What is negated is not grahana itself, which in any case would be impossible since basic needs must be satisfied for life itself to exist, but parigrahana or grasping all around.

What this means is that one should take only what is appropriate, and not more. Further, it is important to leave something for others. Let us examine the classical texts for further illumination.

In Yoga, aparigraha is one of the five yamas [virtues] which are the first and most basic step in the practice of yoga. Similarly in Jainism, it was also one of the five Mahavratas or great vows for spiritual seekers. which again provided the basis of spiritual practice. In the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, sūtra 2.30 is about the five yamas. In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, Vyasa says:

Viśayānām-arjana-rakṣana-kśaya-saṅgha-hiṁsādoṣadarśanādasvīkaranam anypādānam aparigrahaḥ.

Na punarasāmarthyena-asvīkaranam. Ityete yamaha (30).[2]

Trevor Legget's translation[3] is as follows:

Seeing the defects in objects involved in acquiring them and defending them, and losing them and being attached to them, and depriving others of them, one does not take them to himself, he does not appropriate them to himself, does not take them, and that is not holding possessions.

It does not mean failure to appropriate them because of the impossibility of doing so. The above are the restraints.

It is clear why aparigraha is recommended. The process of acquiring objects, securing objects, facing the threat of loss and finding oneself attached to them as well as coming in the way of others using those objects, takes one's energies away from the spiritual path and should be avoided as much as possible. The important thing to note is that the objects are not renounced because that is impossible; rather, the objects are available but the yogi turns away from them.

This of course is entirely appropriate for renunciates such as sadhus and munis. However, in a modified and milder form these vows are equally appropriate for householders.

Here it may be interpreted as not keeping everything for oneself. As the Atharvaveda (3.24.5) itself recommends:

śatahasta Samāhara sahasrahasta saṁkira.

That is, 'gather with a hundred hands and give away with a thousand hands.' In other words, one should acquire resources abundantly and also give them away abundantly. This is what makes for social harmony.

There are, of course, other reasons for aparigraha. As we go through life we steadily accumulate possessions. Through an inability to let go, we usually have a lot of clutter. This clutter does not just accumulate in our attics, storerooms and trunks but also in our consciousness and slows us down. We not only possess things, but in reality, things also possess us. We get stuck at lower levels of conscious functioning.

This point may be appreciated by looking at the famous Theory of Hierarchy of Needs by Abraham Maslow. He wrote: "There are at least five sets of goals, which we may call basic needs. These are briefly physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization." Further, "These basic goals are related to each other, being arranged in a hierarchy of prepotency. This means that the most prepotent goal will monopolize consciousness and will tend of itself to organize the recruitment of the various capacities of the organism. The less prepotent needs are minimized, even forgotten or denied. But when a need is fairly well satisfied, the next prepotent ('higher') need emerges, in turn to dominate the conscious life and to serve as the center of organization of behavior, since gratified needs are not active motivators." 



Love and Belonging



Figure 1: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

So Maslow is basically saying that one must fulfill lower needs before one fulfils higher needs. In particular if one gets stuck at self-esteem which one builds through over-indulgence in the acquisition of material objects, one's full realization of potential would likely be stymied. For this reason also, aparigraha, which allows one to focus on self-actualization which includes the realization of one's spiritual potential.

Aparigraha, therefore, is a mūlamantra (root mantra) for the development of both the individual and the society.


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Title: Beyond Sustainable Economy
Author: Dr. Rudi Jansma, Dr. Sushma Singhvi
Publisher: Prakrit Bharati Academy

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Aparigraha
  2. Consciousness
  3. Hinduism
  4. Jainism
  5. Mahavratas
  6. Mantra
  7. Munis
  8. Sadhus
  9. Sūtra
  10. Yoga
  11. Yoga Sutras
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