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Self-Transcendence, the Other and the World

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Self-Transcendence, the Other and the World                        


Ronnie Dunetz*

Recently I enjoyed reading some of the writings of my logotherapy colleagues on “self-transcendence” with specific linkages to the work of the famous existential philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, and of course, Viktor Frankl himself. Levinas wrote prolifically about “the other”, saying the following (among others): “The very relationship with the other is the relationship with the future.”

Frankl often stressed that self-transcendence is a key human capacity to “reach out beyond oneself, toward meanings to fulfill, people to love, causes to serve”. Frankl also came out against the emphasis on “self-actualization”, claiming: “What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”

While I very much resonate with both these master thinkers and philosophers, I find myself wondering if there is not a component here that may be missing…? What about the connection not to the “other” but to “the world”? One might say that one cannot connect to the “world”, as it is an abstract concept amorphous, huge and not tangible. However, as a student of Eastern thought through the years, I am wondering if Levinas and Frankl, two great Western thinkers, simply did not interact with philosophies coming from the East, and had they done so, there would not have been any conflict only an enhancement of what they were considering.

Let’s take the beautiful writing of Thich Nhat Hahn, the late Vietnamese Zen teacher, global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist, who spent most of his life teaching in the West. He coined the term “inter-being” which he explained as the Order that reveals the inter-connected-ness of all things, connected through our actions, feelings, thoughts, and basically everything else.

“Imagine, for a moment, a beautiful flower. That flower might be an orchid or a rose, or even a simple little daisy growing beside a path. Looking into a flower, we can see that it is full of life. It contains soil, rain, and sunshine. It is also full of clouds, oceans, and minerals. It is even full of space and time. In fact, the whole cosmos is present in this one little flower. If we took out just one of these “non-flower” elements, the flower would not be there. Without the soil’s nutrients, the flower could not grow. Without rain and sunshine, the flower would die. And if we removed all the non-flower elements, there would be nothing substantive left that we could call a “flower.” So our observation tells us that the flower is full of the whole cosmos, while at the same time it is empty of a separate self-existence. The flower cannot exist by itself alone.”

What Thich Nhat Hahn is sharing is that there is no conflict between the “other”, the “self” on a philosophical basis since they are all inter-connected. Life is all inter-connected, even though our vision is blinded by our concentration on ourselves and the person with us. I am wondering, therefore, perhaps “self-transcendence” has a far greater reach and that is this dimension that is most potent in our lives, if we cultivate the consciousness for it.

In the words of another Indian-born teacher who has influenced me over the years, but also a thinker who grew up in the West- England- and taught around the world for decades, J. Krishnamurti: “You are the world, and the world is you. Therefore you have a tremendous responsibility.”

We do have tremendous responsibility, no matter in which direction we look. And in the end is it not all inter-connected?


*Ronnie Dunetz, MBA, is a senior life & business coach, group/workshop facilitator and a graduate of the advanced training in logotherapy from the Viktor Frankl Institute in Israel. Ronnie specializes in coaching for life transitions, with an emphasis on cultivation of meaning in the second half of life. He is currently a PhD candidate in Wisdom Studies writing his dissertation on Reflections of children of Holocaust survivors in their second half of life. His website is

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