Self-Transcendence and Prosociality

by Martin Dojčár (Author)
©2017 Monographs 180 Pages
Series: Uni Slovakia, Volume 15


This book is a study in philosophy of religion, which proposes a new inversion model of self-transcendence. At the same time, the study examines the relation between self-transcendence and prosociality in order to broaden our understanding of self-transcendence also as a moral concept relevant to human behavior and its ethical reflection. The inversion model of self-transcendence is based both on the intentionality analysis of consciousness and phenomenological analysis of self-transcendence conducted on examples of great figures of spirituality from the East and the West – an anonymous medieval Christian author of «The Cloud of Unknowing», an Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, and a contemporary spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Heuristic Criteria of Self-Transcendence and Prosociality
  • 2.1 Starting Point: Intentionality
  • 2.2 The Structure of an Intentional Act
  • 2.3 Modalities of Consciousness
  • 2.4 Non-Intentional Consciousness
  • 2.5 The Notion of Self-Transcendence
  • 2.6 The Notion of the Self
  • 2.7 Heuristic Criterion of Self-Transcendence
  • 2.8 Heuristic Criterion of Prosociality
  • 3 Self-Transcendence in the Mysticism of The Cloud of Unknowing
  • 3.1 Sources
  • 3.2 Phenomenology of Self-Transcendence in the Mysticism of The Cloud of Unknowing
  • 3.3 Summary
  • 4 Self-Transcendence in the Life and Teachings of Ramana Maharshi
  • 4.1 Sources
  • 4.2 Phenomenology of Self-Transcendence in the Story of Ramana Maharshi
  • 4.2.1 Traditional Narratives of Ramana’s “Death Experience”
  • 4.2.2 Phenomenological Description of Ramana’s “Death Experience”
  • 4.2.3 Characteristics of Ramana’s “Death Experience”
  • 4.3 Implications of Ramana’s “Death Experience” in His Teachings
  • 4.4 Summary
  • 5 Self-Transcendence in the Life and Teachings of Eckhart Tolle
  • 5.1 Phenomenology of Self-Transcendence in the Story of Eckhart Tolle
  • 5.1.1 The Autobiographical Account
  • 5.1.2 Characteristics of Self-Transcendence Based on the Autobiographical Account of Eckhart Tolle
  • 5.2 Implications of Self-Transcendence in the Teachings of Eckhart Tolle
  • 5.2.1 Basic Distinction: Authentic vs. Non-authentic Identity
  • 5.2.2 Morphology of Ego
  • 5.2.3 The Principle of Self-Transcendence
  • 5.2.4 Methods of Self-Transcendence
  • 5.2.5 Finality of Self-Transcendence
  • 5.2.6 Mediated and Non-Mediated Knowledge
  • 5.3 Summary
  • 6 Inversion Model of Self-Transcendence
  • 6.1 Inversion Model of Self-Transcendence Proposal
  • 6.2 Self-Transcendence and Prosociality
  • 6.3 Summary
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Index


The book you open is a result of more than a decade of study of self-transcendence, study largely conducted on the background of spirituality. Going through teachings of mystics from the East and the West, along with theories of scholars throughout the years I gradually came to an understanding of self-transcendence, which I had finally found worth to elaborate into the form of a scholarly book.

On the pages that follow you will find a proposal of a theoretical model of self-transcendence, accompanied by arguments, and illustrated on examples. You will notice that I rely mainly with philosophical argumentation and I prefer to draw examples to illustrate the matter from the history of spirituality. An encounter with three renowned representatives of particular forms of spirituality, an anonymous Christian author of The ← 7 | 8 Cloud of Unknowing, an Indian jñānī Ramana Maharshi, and a contemporary spiritual teacher acting within the popular trend of “spirituality without religiosity” Eckhart Tolle, will allow us to approach our topic trans-culturally and trans-religiously.

At the beginning, I had to make a fundamental methodological decision, so I made it. I have decided to study the topic within the field of philosophy of religion, and approach self-transcendence through consciousness, or more precisely, starting with intentionality. By including the topic of prosocial behavior and its motivation into the scope of my research interest in regard to self-transcendence, I attempt a sort of interdisciplinary study concerning both philosophy of religion and ethics.

Let me hope that this publication will be of some use not only for specialized scholars, but also for the general public, particularly those individuals who take the threat of contemporary crisis of values seriously. ← 8 | 9 →

1 Introduction

It was in 1967 when Abraham Maslow introduced the notion of self-transcendence into his hierarchy of needs. Even though he did not revise his theory of motivation formally, self-transcendence can since then be considered the imaginary keystone of Maslow’s psychology of motivation.

Maslow’s theory of motivation rests on the concept of hierarchically organized levels of motivation ranking from basic needs up to meta-needs. Maslow believed that human needs are arranged in ascending order – after satisfaction of lower needs higher needs enter consciousness and claim their fulfillment.

An early version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1943, 1954) contains five degrees of motivation – it begins with physiological needs and closes with selfactualization (physiological needs, safety needs, love ← 9 | 10 and belonging, esteem, self-actualization). The fivestage model of the hierarchy of needs found its application not only in psychology, but also in management and it spread across the commercial sphere, too, where it participated in shaping of contemporary corporate culture. However, the highest degree of the early version of Maslow’s theory of motivation, the need of self-actualization as a complete development of an individual’s potential, was interpreted in the intentions of personal success at-all-costs as Henry J. Venter points out: “Financial success and reward became the most important criteria of success and a benchmark of actualizing one’s potential.” (Venter 2012, 65). It was the crisis of corporate culture based on the values of personal success and profit at-all-costs that revealed the limits of the narrowed interpretation of self-actualization. “Immoral self-serving behavior,” as Henry Venter puts it, “is certainly not what Maslow had in mind when he proposed and described self-actualization as a high level of need and human motivation.” (Venter 2012, 65).

When Maslow explored “peek experiences” at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s he discovered that these experiences led some of the selfactualizing individuals to transcendence of their individual interests and values. Probably in October 1966 Maslow became convinced of the need to supplement his model with a new, higher degree of motivation, the degree of self-transcendence (Koltko-Rivera 2006, 304). ← 10 | 11 → For the first time Maslow clearly differentiated selfactualization from self-transcendence in a public lecture entitled “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature” (September 14, 1967, San Francisco), as Koltko-Rivera states (Koltko-Rivera 2006, 306). Even though he did not formally revise the model of the hierarchy of needs, throughout the last three years of his life Maslow differentiated between the degree of self-actualization and the degree of self-transcendence. While the early model places the self-actualizing individuality at the highest level of motivation, the rectified model places transcendence of individuality – the motivation to supreme experiences that go beyond basic needs and the need of self-actualization – at the highest level.

Understandably, the rectified model brings a different image of a developed human personality. While at the level of self-actualization an individual develops their personal potential, at the level of self-transcendence they are detached to a certain extent from their individual needs and themselves in favor of the service to others and to what transcends them. In this sense, “self-transcendence can occur whenever an activity causes you to forget yourself and go out of yourself to concentrate on a problem, an action, a subject, or a person” (Maslow 1968, 37).

When reflecting his observations about the capacity of an individual to become a part of a greater “whole” (Maslow 1968, 19), Maslow introduces the concept of ← 11 | 12 → transcendence into his theory as referring “to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos” (Maslow 1971, 269).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (April)
Self-transcendence model Spirituality Consciousness The Cloud of Unknowing Ramana Maharshi Eckhart Tolle
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 180 S.

Biographical notes

Martin Dojčár (Author)

Martin Dojčár is Professor of religious studies at Trnava University. His research interests include comparative spirituality and interreligious dialogue.


Title: Self-Transcendence and Prosociality
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182 pages