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Bulleh Shah the Self-Actualized

Zoya is a fresh graduate from Forman Christian College/University and has been a student of psychology for six years.


Bulleh Shah as his raw self

I chose Bulleh Shah for my analysis because I believe that he is someone who lived his life to the fullest. His name is one of the finest among the Sufi poets and it is hard to miss him out whenever humanitarians of Pakistan are mentioned. His poetry carries meanings and codes waiting to be decrypted by us to achieve self-actualization. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that an individual is capable and has the desire to move up the hierarchy (from physiological needs to safety needs to love needs to esteem needs) toward a level of self-actualization. Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by a failure to meet lower level needs. Bulleh shah lived through a painful period of poverty and was suspected to go through caste stratification at a very young age in Punjab. Yet, when he achieved fame, money (physiological needs) and other worldly needs and knowledge mattered the least to him. He addresses this in his mystic poetry:

Ilmoun bas kari oo yaar
Ikko alaf tere darkar
Stop acquiring worldly knowledge

Only Alaf (Allah) is required

Parh parh, likh likh ladain dher
Dher kitabaan, cho pheyr
Kerdey chanan, Wich unheyr
Pecho: “Rah?” tey khabar n satar

You have amassed much learning around
The Quran and its commentaries profound
there is darkness amidst lighted ground
without the guide you remain unsound

Self Actualization and his raw self

Maslow describes self-actualized people as people who can see the world above themselves. Their life is not centred on their own physiological, safety, love and esteem needs. They see the world for what it is. Their approach towards this universe is much more profound. Bulleh Shah focuses on this himself when he writes for his people:

Bulleh Shah gal taeeyon mukdee
Jadon may nu dillon gawaeeay

Bulleh Shah the ultimate is
When the “I” is removed from the heart!

Moreover, Bulleh Shah possesses the characteristics self-actualized people are supposed to possess. One of the characteristics is that self-actualized people embrace the unknown and the ambiguous. According to Bulleh Shah, our identities are our biggest mysteries. We usually define ourselves by our ethnicity, religion etc. But is that really what we are in this universe? He does not find it fearful or frightening, he finds it intriguing when he questions:

Bulleya ki jaana main Kaun
Bulleya! to me, I am not known

In addition, this adds that he was motivated by growth, not by the satisfaction of needs and that made him enjoy the mystery and provides him with a purpose of life. These are also features of a self-actualized person.


Another characteristic is that self-actualized individuals accept themselves with their flaws. Even though, they have lived to their fullest, they know that they are not perfect. We can see that in his Kaafi where he criticizes his own abilities and how he fails to grasp what matters the most. Hence, it does not matter how profound his knowledge was, he knew his shortcomings and identified them. It also shows humbleness as a part of his personality which is also identified as a self-actualized persons characteristic.

Bulleh Shah asmaani ud-deya pharonda ay
Te jera ghar betha unoon pharya ee na

Bulleh Shah you try grabbing that which is in the sky
But you never get hold of What sits inside you

Another characteristic is that they resist enculturation or conformity. They reject what they see as bad and accept what they find right. Similarly, in an era where castes held great significance in the subcontinent, Bulleh Shah thought beyond them. The people of this world lose the grip of reality and define themselves by their religion, caste etc. His work focuses upon loosening the grip of these societal boundaries and looking for the real meaning of life. He puts this in his work as:

Na main arabi na lahori
Na main hindi shehar nagauri
Na hindu na turak peshawri
Na main rehnda vich nadaun

Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun

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Bulleya ki jaana main Kaun
Bulleya! To me, I am not known

Furthermore, self-actualized people share deep relationships with a few, but also feel identification and affection towards the entire human race. Bulleh Shah focused a lot on how we have lost our ways and we only seek self-gratification. He highlights this issue in his poetry because he has affection towards people and wants them to change. In another Kafi, he talks about the worldly attitudes that are surrounded by materialism:

" Dhee maan noon lut ke le gai"

The daughter got away robbing her mother

“Mati qudam kraindi o yar"

O my friend, it is soil that takes every human and non-human shapes.

Another striking part of his personality is how thankful he is to his teacher, Shah Innayat. He mentions him thoroughly in the last phrases of his poetry as a token of remembrance for leading him on the right way. This is another feature described by Maslow for self-actualized people i.e. they are always grateful.

Jed main sabaq Ishq da parhaya
Derya dekh Wahedat da warria
Ghuman gheraan dey wich uRRia
Shah Inayat laya paar

The day I learnt love’s lesson
I plunged into the river of devine passion
An overwhelming gale. I was confused and lost
When Shah Inayat cruised me across

Moving on, I chose this person because I believed that the purpose he chose in his journey of self-actualization was beyond any of us. He talks about the profound knowledge that no textbook will ever teach and no course can compete. Somehow, we have made this world our only abode and we fail to move past the point to see it more than that. We make our own realities to release ourselves from the underlying anxieties this journey of truth causes us.


The Subtle Art of Not Caring

There is an anxiety that hinders our journey to self-actualization. From Bulleh Shah’s life history, this anxiety can be seen in his childhood when he was bullied for his caste/socio-economic class. However, he overcame it when he started seeing how shallow the approach was and how much deeper the worldly problems were. In fact, he was very blunt about his opinions and he voiced them fearlessly. For example, he was not fond of Mullahs and Pundits and courageously wrote harsh things about their religious practices that lacked the meaning of prayer. An example from his poetry is:

'You [Mullah] wasted your life in the mosque/ Your inner side is filled with filth/You never stood for prayer of unity/ Now why are you making loud noises? You stay awake but dogs are also awake at night!'

© 2018 Zoya Dawar


Zoya Dawar (author) from Pakistan on July 16, 2018:

Thank you! I try my best.

Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on July 15, 2018:

I love how you apply the idea of self-actualization.

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