When I first came across a model of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, in a college psychology class, I was struck with the similarities to the model of the 7 chakras that I was already familiar with from yoga. My first thought was that Maslow must have been inspired by the chakra model, which predates Maslow and Western psychology (images of two serpents crossing a staff 7 times have been found on Mesopotamian cylinders from 3000-4000 BCE!) Then I realized that there was a far simpler explanation. The reason that the chakra model and Maslow’s pyramid look so similar is that they are both maps of the same territory and that territory is real.
Maslow did not invent or discover these needs. His fellow psychologists were already acquainted with basic animal and human drives. Maslow’s real insight was that these needs have an internal hierarchy.
A similar hierarchy can be seen in the chakras. The motivations inherent in the chakras can be arranged from first to seventh as follows: Immediate Personal Survival; Immortality through procreation; Power; Love; Self Knowledge; Wisdom; Illumination. Until the needs of the first chakra (immediate Personal Survival) are being met or transcended, we are not free to aspire to higher goals in the domains of the 2nd or higher chakras.
Once the needs of the lower chakras are met however, we are not satisfied for long, and soon begin to long for needs that can only be satisfied by the higher chakras. Someone who is in no immediate danger, turns their attention to the 2nd chakra needs. Having lots of children or transcending the need for children does not bring contentment either, and we the struggle moves to the 3rd chakra. Those who meet the needs of the 3rd chakra, finding power over others and their environment, are not content either, and long for the needs of the 4th chakra. Someone who loves and is loved still senses a lack, and turns inwards to meet the needs of the 5th chakra.
The rare person who makes it this far, achieving a high degree of self-knowledge (sometimes referred to as self-control or self-expression) find that they still lack for something, and turn to the 6th chakra. A wise person knows that nothing else matters if they remain lost in the illusion of separation and so they begin to seek immortality through union with the infinite. Finally, even Buddha, having attained illumination, came back as a teacher in order to help others free themselves from delusion.
Interestingly, Abrahama Maslow, who gave us the image of the 5 layered pyramid of needs, came back 30 years later and released two more versions of his pyramid which were widely ignored by his peers and the public. First he published a 7 layered pyramid, with Self Actualization at the summit (even more similar to the 7 chakra model that I grew up with). Then a few months later he released his final version, with 8 layers, the top layer being the need to help others self-actualize. I am sure that Buddha would approve.