Perspectives on Motivation – II


Motivation is an important subject in management, psychology and leadership. But most of modern thought on the subject is either fragmentary or too result-oriented with a heavy emphasis on human efficiency or performance rather than on human development. In this series of articles, we are presenting a more holistic vision which views motivation as an integral part of human evolution and development.

In our previous article we have discussed the principles, limitations and the validity of Western motivational models. In this article we will discuss the principles of the Indian spiritual paradigm on motivation.

The Higher Motives

Ancient Indian thought recognised all the ego-motives of the modern motivational theories and viewed them as some of the aims of life. But the Indian seers also perceived a higher nature in man with moral and spiritual motives which can uplift the human being beyond the motives of his physical and vital ego to a higher level of motivation, fulfilment and creativity. The key to this higher motivation lies in that higher need or urge in man for self-dedication, service or surrender to a moral cause or spiritual ideal which transcends the self-interest of the ego. The path to this higher motivation is not by nurturing or flattering the ego but by loss of ego, partially through moral self-dedication and fully in a spiritual consciousness.

But how or in what way this ego-transcending motivation is superior to the ego-driven motivation? In the Indian spiritual perspective Ego is the factor which limits, confines and veils the consciousness of the individual and prevents it from coming into contact with his higher potentialities. The Ego limits the consciousness creative energy and the inherent delight of our being. So loss of ego means, in proportion to the loss, expansion of our being and consciousness and as a result an increase in understanding, energy, sympathy and delight of being. And when there is a total annihilation of ego, our consciousness is projected into the infinite and universal consciousness, energy and delight of our highest self. But this applies only to those who are in the higher levels of development with a well-developed and individualised ego. But for those who are in the lower stages of evolution with a weak and underdeveloped ego, if they try to prematurely dissolve their ego, they may sink into the subconscious instead of rising to the superconscious. For we have to first develop our ego and raise it to a certain level of self-consciousness before it can be safely dismantled into higher levels of consciousness beyond ego.

There are two stages in our progress from ego-driven motivation to the higher ego-transcending motivation. The first stage is self-dedication or service to a mental, moral or social ideal beyond the desires and interests of our physical and emotional ego. The second stage is spiritual self-surrender to a transcendent and universal Reality.

The moral self-dedication does not eliminate the ego but only enlarges it or loosens or softens its knots. But the moral motives and the ethical discipline are indispensable preparatory stages to the higher levels of spiritual motivation which can be realised only through a ruthless elimination of ego from every level of our being. But such a total elimination of ego can be accomplished only through a psychological and spiritual discipline of vigilant self-awareness, or deep meditation or selfless work or total surrender to a higher divine Power. This higher discipline requires a radical change in the mind-set and life-motives from a self-serving mode to a self-annulling or self-giving mode of being. In work and action, the central thrust of the discipline is the complete and thorough renunciation of the fruits or rewards for our action from every level of our being, from the lower material rewards of money, power, name and fame, position and status, to higher psychological rewards of recognition, acceptance, appreciation and ever for inner fulfilment and happiness.

Thus there are four stages in Motivation. First is the ego-driven motivation through external rewards; second self-motivation through taking joy in work; third, ethical motivation through self-dedication to a mental, moral and social ideal; and fourth, spiritual motivation through elimination of ego and desire and renunciation of rewards.

But this Indian ideal of ego-transcending and reward-renouncing action may raise some pragmatic questions in the mind of the manager. Does the Indian paradigm ask for abolition of all rewards, especially for outstanding performance? The answer is an emphatic No. As we have already indicated elsewhere not all individuals or employees have the inner resources or development for rising beyond ego and its reward-seeking impulse. For such people, some form of material, social or psychological rewards are needed for their motivation and development. But they should not be allowed to remain there. They have to be helped to rise to the higher levels of motivation by awakening them to their dormant higher needs. We will come to this evolutionary or developmental aspect of motivation a little later. But even those who are potentially capable of higher levels of motivation, the ideal of reward-renunciation action has to be voluntarily embraced and not imposed from above by an external authority.

So the Indian paradigm does not ask for abolition of reward but for freedom from slavery to rewards. For someone whose motivations and performance depends on external rewards has not attained the highest level of human dignity and self-worth. He is still at the level of Pavlov’s rat!

Thus the Indian paradigm of motivation provides the theoretical and strategic framework for creating a work-culture in which individuals can ascend to higher levels of consciousness where the highest motivation and performance happens irrespective of rewards.

Motiveless Action

But what is precisely the nature of this highest spiritual motivation? This higher state of consciousness is a distant aim and a bit away from our present condition. But still our discussion on motivation cannot be complete without some understanding of the highest ideal of motivation. Knowing the ideal can be a useful mental aid on the path and can also help us not to mistake some lower stage for the highest.

The Indian ideal of motivation is selfless, motiveless and God-directed action. Here the word “selfless” means not an altruistic selflessness but literally elimination of the small, separate and personal self and its motives and replace it with something deeper, impersonal and universal. There are two aspects to this highest state of motivation. First aspect is that action proceeds from a state of being or consciousness which is made of an inherent joy and therefore doesn’t need any external or internal motives for its fulfilment. We must note here that this is different from and beyond the state of taking joy in work or self-motivation. Here the individual lives in a state of constant, objectless, motiveless and inherent joy, with or without work. The second aspect of this higher state is that the action of the individual or the worker is not determined by any specific vital, mental or moral motives, principles or ideals of the ego-self; it wells-out spontaneously from the deepest truth of our being, which is in union and harmony with the universal truth of the Spirit or God, and each action will be a free, unfettered and spontaneous response to the truth of each moment, situation or circumstance.