XLRI: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is flawed

Acharya Prashant
4 min readOct 17, 2022

The following is an excerpt from a samvaad (dialogue) session with Acharya Prashant.

Questioner (Q): I try to experiment with and apply the philosophies I have heard of in class to real-life situations. So, during one of our classes, I came across a philosophy called ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’.

In that hierarchy, self-actualization was placed at the top of the pyramid. And I think that for many individuals, including myself, our long-term goal is either instinct-based or security-based. If you ask me, I will say that I want to become a CEO of a company, which is a security-based or an esteem-based need. But the self-actualization need won’t be a long-term goal for many.

Do you think that having a long-term goal of attaining self-actualization, which in turn is spiritual, is important? Do you think that creating awareness about self-actualization in an individual from an early age is important?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, the way Maslow constructed his pyramid is good, nicely indicative, but not very exact. Self-actualization is not something that stands distinct from all your other needs. The way that pyramid stands is, you say, “Once all my lower needs are satisfied, only then I come to self-actualization,” right? So, you have kept self-actualization at the top and you say, “Food, security, and self-esteem, and only then self-actualization.” No, that is not how it actually is. Maslow did a great job, but he was not quite there. Self-actualization is not the top of the pyramid; it is the foundation of everything that you do; it is the foundation of your activity even when you are fulfilling your lower needs.

Let me give you an example. You want to go for self-esteem. Why do you want to be known in society as someone important or respectable? You want to be known that way because you think that being known that way would give you self-actualization. So, when you are going for self-esteem, you are actually going for self-actualization through self-esteem.

So, given the way we are, as a conscious organism, our only deep need is self-actualization. All other needs are just precursors and mediums. We even eat to be alive to be self-actualized. It is not as if eating and self-actualization are separated by a mile, like in the…