The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 23, 2000

An Indian view of motivation
By A.P.N. Pankaj

THE Brihadaranyaka Upanishada is one of the earliest and most important Upanishada. It tells in detail of story of creation. It is mentioned, in one of its passages, that the primeval being, realising his loneliness, had two feelings: One of fear and the other of desire for companionship. Then he thought to himself, "since there is nothing else except me, of what am I afraid? Thinking this, his fear passed away. The desire for companionship still remained and he satisfied it by dividing himself into two parts, called husband and wife.

Fear and desire are thus identified as the primal causes of motivation for any activity. Later, the Upanishada also says that "it is not for the sake of husband that husband is dear but a husband is dear for the sake of self, it is not for the sake of wife that wife is dear but a wife is dear for the sake of self; not for the sake of sons are sons dear but sons are dear for the sake of self; not for the sake of wealth is wealth dear but wealth is dear for the sake of self... not for the sake of all is all dear but all is dear for the sake of self."

  Obviously, an individual’s love for him/her self comes first. While this love of the self is another fundamental source of motivation, the definition or the meaning of self, as the process of experience and thought evolves, extends from the individuated "I" to "mine" and embraces "ours" into its fold, eventually going on to denote the Universal Self so that it embraces everyone and everything within its meaning.Call it Utopia if you like but the ultimate evolution of human mind sees only one self all around and it is at the attainment of this vision where the final vedantic frontier of human motivation rests.

Between the narrow, ego-centred self and the Universal Self, lies a whole range of concepts which we call relationships. An individual extends himself into these relationships and treats them as part of his own identity. The definition of self, thus, starts becoming wider: Singular becomes plural, "I" becomes "we". What is mine becomes ours and what is his becomes theirs. Thus, as one goes on expanding himself, the concept of self becomes larger and that of the other, smaller. For example, between me and my wife, we are two separate people. One could say the same thing about himself and his son or daughter. When, however, one of them, representing his/her family, speaks to those outside it, it is described as one unit and referred to as "we" or in certain contexts even as "I".

Likewise, the area of the self extends to one’s tribe or society, the workplace, the birthplace, the language group, the province and the country. When, hopefully, man shall one day meet some individuals from another planet of the universe, he shall perhaps greet them identifying himself as one belonging to planet earth.

In this process while the narrow concept of self becomes larger, existential problems also arise. In order to be accepted as a part of the larger self, one has to shed bits and parts of his ego-centred self. Those who have experienced life in a joint family system or a large work organisation would readily agree that for earning and retaining their space in that type of set up, they had to yield substantial space to others — not just physical but also of emotional and intellectual space. Often, frictions arise when one individual tries to assert himself and the others feel threatened or fear encroachment on their space. There are then splinters and break-ups. Not only do the organisations but even nuclear families break up as husband and wife and father and son move away from each other. Since an individual loathes loneliness, he, looking for a new emotional infrastructure, again moves into some larger domain of self.

In the midst of all this, he also experiences an urge to make his contribution so that he is not seen as a useless part of the larger body. Initially, this body assists him to become a useful resource. Later as he grows, he takes up the responsibility of developing latest resources. He also looks for opportunities to fend for himself. The four ashramas, dividing an individual’s life span, as envisaged by our ancients, are perhaps indicative of how a person in his years as a resident student in the hermitage of his teacher, learned to lead a community life where princes and commoners not only studied together but also grazed cattle, raised crops, collected firewood and obediently did the bidding of the teacher and his wife, the gurumata.

It was only when he was in a position to earn his livelihood was he expected to bring his offerings to the teacher so that the latter too may continue to take care of needs for his subsistence and also manage the hermitage. Once the student entered family life, he took upon himself the social responsibilities earning, side by side, the livelihood for himself and his family. As he grew older, he endeavoured to rise above the narrow confines of selfish, even familial concerns and multiplied his unit-centred self by sharing his knowledge, craft and experience with all those around him in a selfless manner. Vanaprastha was that stage of life when one dedicated oneself to his surroundings so that one could return the debt one owed to the community. It was only at the last stage of life that a person sought renunciation in his bid to attain self-realisation.

Thus while, Moksha was the ultimate quest, an individual was motivated by the other ideals or factors of life too which were no less important: subsistence, sexual and familial, social and duty towards the others. He also realised, in the course of his growth that he was indebted to his parents and ancestors his ecology or forces of nature and his teachers and the sages. With this he carried the gratitude for his being and becoming and strove to repay this debt in the best possible manner by proving himself worthy of life and legacy he got from them by passing it down in a richer and greater measure than he had received it.

The classical Indian view of motivation, thus is a combination of the following constituent beliefs:

The ultimate human endeavour is self-realisation and the process is to move from the narrower definitions of self to the final definition, i.e. the Universal Self or Brahman.

(b) As the individual passes through the various stages that define self and gradually broaden its spectrum, he owes it to himself, to his preceding family, i.e. his parents and their children, immediate family i.e., his wife and children, his teachers, his society, his workplace, his country and the world at large to give each one of them his best so that he may repay the debt he owes to them.

(c) Since the process of extending the self to broader definitions has its own ramifications, involving considerable amount of giving and receiving, one must continue to painstakingly work at it so that one may adjust with one’s environment as one moves from narrower to broader scales.

(d) While material, biological and social considerations are not less powerful factors of motivation, the spiritual factor, i.e., Self Realisation being the highest stage of evolution is the final source of motivation.

(e) All this, however, is a continuum and each earlier stage is a preparation for the subsequent one till one attains the Supreme Self.