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Respect for Individuality

Wednesday, 18 July 2007 / Published in Articles, Urmila Devi Dasi / 10,191 views

From ICJ Vol 6, No 2

By Urmila Devi Dasi

The individuality of the self is a central teaching in Vaisnava philosophy, but what is our practical understanding of this term? Individuality is present in all living beings on both a material and a spiritual level. This article translates how this concept needs to relate to education practices in ISKCON today. The author explores evidence in some of Srila Prabhupada’ writings and scripture that deal with the issue of individuality together with some more recent research by academics in the field. With this data, the author builds a persuasive argument for devotees to become more aware of the individual, both in themselves and in others so that they may respond with respectful awareness to the individuals needs.

Every living being is a separate and uniquely distinct individual. The Vaishnava scriptures, such as the Bhagavad-gita, teach us that this individuality is present on three different levels: from the physical appearance of a person, to the subtle level which is made up of the mind, intelligence and ego, and also more profoundly, on a spiritual level the spiritual identity of a soul is also unique and individual. Members of ISKCON have a strong understanding of uniqueness in spiritual identity of an individual soul, as this is one of the major teachings of our tradition. Unfortunately, the individual uniqueness of a person on a material level (body and subtle elements) is often overshadowed by our understanding and emphasis of the spiritual ideal.

The need to respond to the needs of a separate and unique individual is an everyday issue for the students and teachers that work in the Society’s schools. We need to respond to this need more comprehensively through raising awareness in our teachers. There are a number of well-researched systems that have been put forward by various academics which may be useful for teachers. These will be examined in more detail together with references to the Vaisnava scriptures in the demarcation of personality types. There will also be a few suggestions as to how these concepts can be put to practical use by the teachers in our movement.

A good education system in Krsna consciousness must show respect for individuality, first by recognising differences as inherent and value-neutral. The failure either to recognise the existence of distinct personality types or to accept them as value-neutral lead to various problems to the development of an individual or a society, one of the most damaging of which is an understanding that spiritual perfection is an adjustment of material personality. Teachers must then learn to establish a rapport with students based on this understanding, and respect and adjust their teaching methods accordingly to give useful direction for vocation and spiritual service that will be in harmony with each individual’s nature. We can then go beyond respecting individuality, to glorifying diversity as a means of pleasing the Lord.

The Gaudiya Vaisnava position on individuality
The soul, according to Vaishnava theology, is not simply ‘light’ or existence, it is, in fact, an individual living entity which has an individual relationship with God. When Krsna tells Arjuna, ‘Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be’, [1] the Lord is directly referring to the unending nature of individuality and the immortality of the soul. Srila Prabhupada comments, ‘The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the supreme individual person, and Arjuna, the Lord’s eternal associate, and all the kings assembled there are individual eternal persons . . . [2] The individuality, to which Lord Krsna and Srila Prabhupada refer to in these examples, means that each soul is a separate and distinct being with an individual relationship with God, and these relationships have been described in the scriptures.

One of the first broad categories of distinctions of spiritually liberated souls is that of their rasa, or relationship, with the Lord.[3] According to the various divisions and gradations of devotees, permanent devotional situations can be divided into five categories: peacefulness, service to Krsna, friendship with Krsna, parental affection toward Krsna, and conjugal love for Krsna. Each division has its own different taste and relish, and a devotee situated in a particular division is happy in that position. [4] So one aspect of spiritual individuality is seen in that one perfected soul relates to the Lord as a friend, whereas another perfected soul relates to the Lord as their master, and yet another perfected soul relates to the Lord as their worshippable Deity.

However, even within these five categories, there is great scope for individual expression; it is not that all those who view the Lord as their intimate friend are alike in their mood of friendship, or even alike in their personality. The Bhagavatam, one of our main scriptures, relates a story where the demigod Brahma steals not only Lord Krishna’s calves but steals His cowherd boy associates well. Krsna then expands Himself into replicas of each of those boys and calves. It is described that each boy and each calf appeared with their own individual characteristics and personalities and appearance, so Lord Krishna had to replicate each boy and calf with all of these differences.[5] This is a good example to demonstrate that the Lord actually enjoys variety, as each of these boys and calves has an individual relationship with the Lord due to their individual personalities.

Krsna delights in experiencing a variety of relationships with individuals. So, does the Lord have a preference? Many devotees and scholars have analysed the spiritual variety described in the scriptures in terms of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’. While such an analysis has validity, it is also true that in Krsna’s eyes, and in the vision of the devotee of Krsna, all types are good, and wanted. Srila Prabhupada would often say, ‘Variety is the mother of enjoyment.’

In the material world the specifics of our original identity with the Lord are hidden, as we have not only been given a material body, but also a subtle mentality as well. Even though we are not aware of our eternal spiritual rasas with the Lord (unless we are on an elevated spiritual platform), we are still aware that each of us has unique body and mind. Even if we observe identical twins, they are never exact copies of one another; each has a unique personality.

When dealing with the issue of personality types, and individuality it is helpful to use certain categorisations for the purpose of analysis. It is common to hear criticism, even outrage, whenever one attempts to demarcate personality types. One hears accusations such as that one is trying to ‘label’ or ‘pigeonhole’ people. Presumably, the assumption is that labels for personality types, especially broad labels, are an insult to the very individuality they are meant to honour. Yet, broad descriptions have value, not only for a theoretical, academic purpose, but also as a tool for understanding others and ourselves in the context of our practical interpersonal dealings. Properly understood labels broaden rather than narrow our view, bringing us to a deep and genuine respect for one another.

It is acknowledged though, that as each person is a unique blend of characteristics, categorisation can give a broad idea of a personality.

If we look to one of our main scriptures, the Bhagavat-gita, Lord Krsna Himself categorises people. In fact, we will first consider His categories. Krsna names the categories of personality as follows; ‘Brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas and sudras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes.’[6] Brahmanas are the priestly class, ksatriyas are warriors, vaisyas are the business community and the sudras are the manual workers in Society. It is important to note that these are understood differently to the modern context of the term ‘castes’, which is delineated in terms of race, ethnicity, or birth in a higher or lower social group. Rather, Krsna speaks of an individual’s personal ‘qualities’ and ‘nature’.

It is common for those who study personality types to conclude that much of our type is ‘inborn’. This is in line with Prabhupda’s translation that indicates that these four groups have an ‘inborn’ nature (Srila Prabhupada writes, ‘born of their own nature’). Dr. Rohm, for example, writes that we are different ‘by design’ and that we are ‘wired’ to be a particular style.[7] If we accept this as fact, then each of us is born with a strong tendency toward a particular type of personality. We find all the above personality types represented in all races and cultures in the world, for all must exist in order to have a heterogeneous society

To return to the four divisions of individual natures as described in our scriptures, Krsna continues in the Bhagavad-gita to describe the psychology of the brahmanas. He says, ‘Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work.’[8] In the Bhagavatam, a similar description is given. The symptoms of a brahmana are control of the mind, control of the senses, austerity and penance, cleanliness, satisfaction, forgiveness, simplicity, knowledge, mercy, truthfulness, and complete surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.[9]

The ksatriya’s nature is defined as heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership.[10] To be influential in battle, unconquerable, patient, challenging and charitable, to control the bodily necessities, to be forgiving, to be attached to the brahminical nature and to be always jolly and truthful these are the symptoms of the ksatriya.[11]

The vaisya being always devoted to the demigods, the spiritual master and the Supreme Lord; endeavouring for advancement in religious principles, economic development and sense gratification; believing in the words of the spiritual master and scripture; and always endeavouring with expertise in earning money these are the symptoms of the vaisya.[12]

The qualities that are the hallmarks of the sudra are offering obeisances to the brahmanas, ksatriyas and vaisyas, being always very clean, being free from duplicity, serving one’s master, performing sacrifices without uttering mantras, not stealing, always speaking the truth and giving all protection to the cows and brahmanas–these are the symptoms of the sudra.[13]

Brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya and sudra also known as the four varnas can be defined in terms of an individual’s situation in what the Bhagavad-gita terms the ‘modes’ of nature. Those modes are termed goodness, passion and ignorance. Each of the four varnas will gravitate towards one or more of these modes. The relationship between the three modes and the varnas is a vast topic and for the purpose of this discussion, it is sufficient to note that a person’s alignment with these modes is another indication of his or her varna. Very briefly, the brahmanas are situated in the mode of goodness, the ksatriyas are situated in the mode of passion, the vaisyas are situated in the mixed modes of passion and ignorance, and the sudras are situated in the mode of ignorance in terms of material nature.[14]

Acceptance of the personality types described in the Bhagavad- gita and Bhagavatam do not preclude the validity of some of the classifications which modern researchers have developed. Sometimes modern academic classifications will simply be described in different terminology to those of the Vaisnava scriptures. At other times, personality classifications will be a wholly different way of defining individuality. Below are a few examples of various theories in personality types. They are not presented as the definitive models by which teachers in ISKCON should base their work, but they are presented simply to show that several empirically verifiable models exist which have practical application for teachers.

Models for classifying personality types
The first model is one originally proposed by psychologist, Dr. Howard Gardner. The seven types are linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Recently, those who use this system in education have added a category of ‘spiritual’. Gardner stresses that most people are a blend of strengths and weaknesses in several of these areas.[15]

Those with linguistic ‘intelligence’ have highly developed auditory skills. They like to read, write and tell stories. Their memory is good, as is their spelling, and they take pleasure in solving puzzles involving words. The logical-mathematical type thinks in concepts, patterns and categories. They are capable of abstract logical thinking and are concerned with philosophical questions. Those with spatial ‘intelligence’ can think well in images and pictures. They love to draw, design things and build. The musical type often remembers by putting information into melody and can discern subtle differences in music that they hear. The bodily-kinaesthetic ‘intelligence’ is demarcated by physical restlessness, and either fine-motor co-ordination or abilities in activities such as sports and dance. Those of the interpersonal type understand other people, and tend to have positions of leadership. They enjoy and are good at anything that involves relationships between people. The interpersonal ‘intelligence’ types are aware of their own feelings and motives. They often like to work alone and have a sense of independence or strong will. They can motivate themselves, have strong opinions, and are generally self-confident.[16]

We now turn to the categories which psychological researcher Howard Witkin used when conducting experiments for the US Navy. He was seeking to understand why some pilots would fly out of a cloudbank upside-down. He concluded that there are two broad ways in which people gain an understanding of the world: global and analytic. Most people are capable of both types of understanding, but will rely more on one of the two. The analytic types like things ordered step-by-step, observe details, value facts over feelings, want to concentrate on one thing at a time, are self-motivated, rarely become personally or emotionally involved, and may miss the main idea while grasping the facts. The global type is sensitive to others’ feelings, flexible, needs reassurance and reinforcement, takes criticism personally, avoids competition and may skip steps and details.[17]

Yet, another way of demarcating personality types is the model that Dr. Anthony F. Gregorc developed. His concern was mostly in the area of the different ways that people process information, although his definitions of types overlap areas of interpersonal interaction, vocational preferences, and so forth. His research has shown that people are primarily concerned with either concrete or abstract information, and then organise this information either sequentially or randomly. [18] Taking all combinations of these mental organisational systems, we can classify four personality types: the concrete-sequential, abstract sequential, abstract random, and concrete random. Again, most human beings can, and to a certain extent do, function in each of these four ways

The concrete sequential’s general qualities are that he or she is hardworking, conventional, accurate, stable, dependable, consistent, factual, and organised. They may have difficulty working in groups, in a disorganised environment, with incomplete instructions, and with demands to use their imaginations. The abstract sequential’s general qualities are those of being analytic, objective, knowledgeable, thorough, structured, logical, deliberate and systematic. Their difficulties are with not enough time for research, repetitive tasks, many specific rules, ‘sentimentality’, and being diplomatic. Abstract randoms are categorised by being sensitive, compassionate, perceptive, imaginative, idealistic, sentimental, spontaneous and flexible. Their challenges are in the areas of having to explain their feelings, competition, giving exact details, accepting criticism, or focusing on one thing at a time. The qualities of concrete randoms are to be quick, intuitive, curious, realistic, creative, innovative, instinctive and adventurous. They struggle with restrictions, formal reports, routines, fixing something after it has been done, keeping detailed records, and having no options.[19]

Dr. W. Lee Carter has analysed six personality types-oppositional, sensitive, anxious, depressed, self-centred, and deceitful.[20] The difficulty with his understanding is that he focuses on the negative aspects of these types, which is reflected even in the labels he assigns to them. There is little guidance as to how the ‘negative’ qualities can be applied as strengths.

There is also the Barbe-Swassing model of modalities-does a person learn and remember primarily through auditory, visual, or kinaesthetic channels? The ‘modality’ model for understanding varieties of human behaviour is of great importance to the educator, as it addresses how each of us best assimilate and store information. Fortunately, although most of us have a predominant strategy for the order and circumstances where we use each modality, we can learn and remember in various ways. However, some people have such a strongly dominant mode that learning in other ways may be difficult. Individuals with such an intensely dominant modality will have describable patterns of learning, and, often, behaviour.

Finally, the model put forward by Dr. Robert Rohm is particularly well developed.[21] He and other researchers such as Charles Boyd, have extensively applied their research to educational applications, and perhaps most importantly, he defines each type in terms of tendencies that can be either useful or harmful to the person depending on the use and direction of those inclinations.

Dr. Rohm first categorises people as primarily outgoing-fast-paced-or reserved-slow-paced. Those who are fast-paced generally have the following attributes: confidence, ingenuity, like learning new skills, work in bursts of energy, are future-oriented, have more enthusiasm than patience, and are interested in results. Those who are slow-paced generally have the following characteristics: questioning attitude, like using skills already learned, work steadily at an even pace, are present-oriented, have more patience than enthusiasm, are fine. [22]

Within each broad category of fast and slow-paced, are those who are primarily task oriented and those who are primarily people oriented. The general characteristics of the primarily task oriented are: they value logic over emotions, are truthful rather than tactful, question conclusions, can live without harmony, make decisions impersonally, are firm-minded, guard their emotions, are more decisive than curious, and take pleasure in finishing projects. Those who are primarily people oriented have these general tendencies: they value emotions and traditions over logic, are tactful rather than truthful, have strong relational abilities, accept conclusions, desire harmony, live according to the moment, are more curious than decisive, and take pleasure in starting projects.[23]

By combining the above categories, we arrive at four basic personality types. There are the fast-paced task oriented people, the fast-paced people oriented people, the slow-paced task oriented people and the slow-paced people oriented people.

Those who are fast-paced and task oriented tend to be strong-willed, determined, independent, optimistic, practical, productive, decisive, a leader, and confident if they use their tendencies for good purposes. If they use their tendencies improperly, they are likely to be angry, cruel, sarcastic, domineering, inconsiderate, proud, crafty and unemotional.[24]

The people oriented fast-paced person who uses his or her tendencies well will be friendly, compassionate, carefree, talkative, enthusiastic, personable, and fun. When those qualities are used improperly, they will be weak-willed, unstable, undisciplined, restless, loud, undependable, egocentric, exaggerative and fearful. [25]

A people oriented and slow-paced individual’s well-used tendencies will include being calm, dependable, easygoing, trustworthy, efficient, practical, conservative, diplomatic, and humorous. Improperly used, the qualities of this type will be stingy, fearful, indecisive, spectator, self-protective, unmotivated, selfish, timid, and shy.[26]

The slow-paced, task oriented person’s tendencies when used well will include being gifted, analytical, sensitive, perfectionist, aesthetic, idealistic, loyal, self-sacrificing, and thorough. When used improperly, such people will be self-centred, moody, critical, negative, rigid, theoretical, impractical, unsociable and revengeful.[27]

What of the differences in the physical appearances of an individual? Of course, we have the two broad distinctions of male and female. Some people are stronger and more athletically/physically able than others, some are healthy and some not, and so on. The differences of gender and physical ability are also certainly part of an individual’s material inclinations such as their way of learning and vocational aptitude. Finally, the culture, or cultures in which we grow up also has a great influence on how we exhibit our personality to others.

Practical application for understanding others
Suppose all the above methods of classifying personality are rejected because we do not want to classify people into types, wishing to relate to, and deal with, one individual in exactly the same way we do others. We may think that everyone is basically the same-or ought to be the same. When we do perceive differences, we will then evaluate against a fixed set of criteria. Charles Boyd writes, ‘I have yet to meet a person who does not ‘put labels’ on people. When you meet someone, for example, you make a quick evaluation of him . . . You size up his look, his personality, his intelligence, and how he makes you feel. If you’re mature, you’ll adjust your evaluation as you get to know this person.’ [28] So, we are always evaluating-but perhaps only in comparison to some ‘ideal’ or ourselves.

A practical example of this is my observation of two women that were living in the same temple accommodation. One was outgoing and people-oriented while the other was reserved and task-oriented. Each thought that there was something very wrong with the other. They saw each other as inconsiderate, either uncaring or too pushy about the physical environment. Another example is that of a young man who was content to do rather simple and repetitive tasks in the service of the Lord. When he would be called upon to explain why he wished to live as a devotee of Krsna, he would simply explain how much happiness there is in Krsna consciousness. I would sometimes hear others remark that this young man was foolish, and, others felt that this man’s spiritual life would not last if he did not quickly became more philosophically learned.

In both of these examples, people were making judgements of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, both in relation to materially and spiritually desirable qualities, using the positive aspects of their own individual type as an absolute criteria. In other words, if I am courageous and heroic, ready to take all personal risk to right the wrongs of society, I may see someone with a more peaceful, forgiving, and tolerant nature as weak and useless. The other person may in turn see me as conceited and reckless. The Sanskrit term for such narrow-minded thinking is atmavan manyate jagat, or ‘everyone thinks of others according to his own position’ [29], or in other words, ‘I see others against the criteria of my own qualities, which I consider as good qualities.’

If one does not acknowledge the existence of various types of personalities as being fixed and value-neutral, they may have the opposite difficulty, thinking that everyone should be more like himself or herself. He or she may think a type very unlike him or herself to be the ideal. A person then strives to change one’s basic innate nature, rather than to utilise one’s nature in the service of the Lord. Such an attempt is generally useless, as the individual will never achieve the ‘ideal’ goal, which is in their imagination because their innate nature and talents are incompatible for achieving this ideal personality. This is acknowledged by Lord Krsna as he points out that, ‘Even a man of knowledge acts according to his own nature, for everyone follows the nature he has acquired from the three modes. What can repression accomplish? [30]Compelled by the work born of your own nature, you will act all the same.’ [31]

If one who thinks that spiritual advancement, or even becoming a materially ‘better’ person, means changing their personality, then this person will surely be frustrated. He or she will also be wasting valuable time and energy that could be used to enhance and utilise his or her own personality type for a good cause. It is even more dangerous to present only one ‘ideal’ personality type for a devotee of the Lord. In an extreme case a person may even reject spiritual life as irrelevant if they do not perceive success for themselves in becoming the ‘ideal’ personality type for a devotee. It is more healthy and philosophically correct rather, for an individual to render service to the Lord according to their innate natures, and from these activities every individual can become perfect: ‘By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all pervading, a man can attain perfection through performing his own work.[32]

Categorisation into superficial and unhelpful personality types is another problem that arises when there is a failure to recognise that there are many varieties of personalities. Unhelpful categories are those that are taken as the total description of what the person is, or should be, for example, those relating to age, gender or race are particularly unhelpful; We can illustrate this further with an example of personality categorisation according to gender. If all women are expected, for example, to be a particular personality type such as that they all should have a sudra mentality (suggesting low intelligence) or, they should all be concrete-sequential, or slow-paced people oriented, then women who do not fit into the assumed ‘correct’ behaviour pattern would be classed as deviant to the expectation of that society, clearly creating many problems. Some of these problems would be that that society would attract only a certain type of woman who naturally had these personality traits, those already part of that society with different natures to the accepted personality would either feel alienated or attempt to artificially change their natures to the expected ideal they would not be able to simply be themselves. Similar examples can be drawn from racial perspective. If a society classed all oriental people as a business orientated and only accepted them if they fitted this categorisation, then clearly there would be a section of the oriental community which would not be accepted in that society.

Empirical research has shown that, whichever of the above model, one uses, there is not an equal distribution of personality types in the population in general. For example, in Dr. Rohm’s model only
10% of the population are predominantly fast-paced and task oriented. On at least one occasion, Srila Prabhupada described the ideal society as containing 5% brahmanas.[33] In the Gregorc model, the smallest group in the population is the abstract-sequential, though interestingly there is virtually an even distribution of each personality type within all models, across gender and cultural lines.

The final difficulty we will consider, that arises when we fail to acknowledge individuality, is intolerance for differences in opinion. We are not referring to differences of opinion about the Vaisnava siddhanta, the ultimate goal of life or the Absolute Truth. Rather, we are considering differences of opinion when considering how to accomplish a goal, the order of priorities that we take and the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ with the actions taken in a particular situation. Srila Prabhupada explained that:

So far as your question about controversy amongst the disciples . . . that is a fact. But this controversy is not material. Just like in a national program, different political parties are sometimes in conflict and make propaganda against each other, but their central point is always service to the country. Similarly, amongst the disciples . . . there may be some controversy, but the central point is how to preach the mission of His Divine Grace. If the central point is fixed up then there is no harm in such controversy. Every individual being must have his opinion; that is the significance of individuality, but all such differences of opinions must coincide in Krishna. In the battlefield of Kuruksetra were Arjuna and Bhisma who were fighting with one another, and because Krishna was on the side of Arjuna, sometimes Bhisma pierced the body of Krishna also with arrows. But still they remained the greatest devotees of the Lord.’ [34]

Individuality and the teacher

In order to respect individuality in education, we need to understand that individual uniqueness is an integral feature of reality, both in the material and spiritual worlds. We cannot make everyone the same, and as illustrated earlier, this is the opposite to the desires of Lord Krishna as he enjoys variety. We also need to accept that the innate material characteristics of an individual cannot change in this lifetime. Further, all varieties of personality are neutral, with the possibility of application for good or ill, spiritual advancement or material degradation.

After accepting the above values, we can demonstrate our respect for the individual practically when we work with their nature rather than against it. We can do this if we first recognise our own nature, and, seeing both our strengths and weaknesses, make an action plan for turning our inclinations to good purposes. In a similar way we can teach and relate to others in a more constructive way if we adjust to their individual motivating forces and self-perceptions. Cynthia Tobias lists five stages that one goes through when understanding individual differences. The first is awareness that there are fundamentally different types of people. The second may be to think our style is best. The third stage is appreciation of others, realising that diversity is necessary for balance in society. Fourth, one may make excuses based on the limitations of one’s own nature. And, finally, one can learn to adjust one’s style to meet the needs of others that think and act quite differently.[35]

We can also develop understanding and rapport with others by knowing enough about their personality to understand how they experience the world, without which we cannot teach them, or be taught ourselves. We adjust our methods of teaching and explanation to the needs of the student, his or her modalities of learning, ways of intellectual processing or interpersonal dealings, or all three. The specifics of how to adjust according to these considerations are a vast topic beyond the scope of this essay. It is sufficient to say that a good teacher can and will adjust to the student. At the same time, giving a good education requires that we teach our students how to adjust as well, as the world will rarely come to meet them on their terms. Instruction on how to adjust their style is carried out with the idea that their style is wrong, or deficient and that we must ‘fix’ them. Instead, we must know how to be helpful, and this necessarily means that the emphasis is on the teacher to adjust if we wish to give the student a beneficial education.

In the field of vocational training, teachers need to guide students to a career that will resonate with the student’s tendencies and thus bring the individual satisfaction and contentment in their lives. Varieties of vocations are meant not only to accommodate various talents and propensities, but also tend to a balanced society. If we look at it in Vaishnava spiritual terms different vocations are not meant for the gratification of either the individual or society, but for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord, Krsna. Our duties will only truly satisfy ourselves when they satisfy the Lord.

If we understand personality through the models presented in the Bagavad-gita, the corresponding vocational direction becomes easier, as in that model personal qualities and work are closely entwined. Those with brahminical qualities work as priests, teachers, physicians, scholars, astrologers and government advisors. Ksatriyas administer governments and serve in the military. Vaisyas have work related to farming, business and trade. And sudras work in manual labour, entertainment, crafts and as general assistants to the other three types in society.

The concept of matching individual personality types to suitable vocations is not unheard of in academic research. From the other models discussed earlier. Each model of personality classifications described earlier also have vocations that naturally fit them; for example, the concrete random would be well suited for creative and innovative work, and the abstract sequential for intellectual pursuits, among other occupations.

For devotees of Krsna, vocation indicates not only one’s means of earning one’s livelihood, but also the way one serves the Lord. There are services to the Lord that are purely on the spiritual platform and are equally available to everyone, regardless of personality from any angle of vision. These are services such as hearing about the Lord, chanting His name and His glories, remembering Him, and so on. However, when it comes to whether one should manage a temple or a temple garden, be a renunciate or get married we should look not at what is considered ‘best’ in absolute or theoretical terms, but rather what is best for the individual according to his or her nature.

Probably the most significant advantage of respecting individuality for the educator is the ability to encourage everyone as a devotee of Krsna. For example, when a student prefers to talk and be with friends rather than concentrate on his or her work, do we see him as distracted and lazy, or people oriented? When a student wants extra details for assignments, do we see him or her as picky or analytical? Similarly we can view the qualities of students in two ways, there are almost always two sides to any personal quality, and it is an important responsibility for the teacher to guide a student to utilise their personal characteristics for a positive purpose. A teacher can see every ‘fault’ as a potential good quality that simply needs the right direction and environment to manifest properly. And, as every type of person has a contribution to make in the Lord’s service, we can encourage the development of an ability to make a contribution that is in accord with one’s nature.

Understanding the nature of others is fundamental to good teaching practice. Without this understanding it is impossible to guide them in their vocation and service. How is that understanding accomplished? Formerly, determination of varna was established by the spiritual master observing the student’s qualities and studying their astrological chart. Unfortunately, this facility is not available to most of us now, yet we can still guide others based on our observation of their qualities. Of course, there are many modern tests to determine personality and corresponding vocation according to various models, and such tests may be helpful as long as they are used as with other guides rather than the sole determining factor. Information on this subject should also be gathered from the Vaisnava scriptures for this.

To say that our educational system needs to be founded on respect for individuality does not go far enough. We need to learn to see ourselves honestly, and then engage our strengths while compensating for our weaknesses if we can attempt to do this we need not envy nor disparage other personality types in our schools and temples. We need to honour, glorify and teach students in consideration of both theirs, and our own, individual characteristics.


    [1] Bhaktivedanta Swami, A. C., The Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Los Angeles, USA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1989, 2.12

    [2] Ibid., 2.12 purport

    [3] The word rasa is impossible to translate exactly into English; it has a number of different meanings. For the purpose of this essay, we will loosely translate rasa as ‘relationship’. For more details see Bhaktivedanta Swami, A. C., The Nectar of Devotion, Los Angeles, USA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1997

    [4] Bhaktivedanta Swami, A. C., Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Los Angeles, USA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1994, ch.14

    [5] Bhaktivedanta Swami, A. C., Srimad-Bhagavatam, Los Angeles, USA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust,
    1987. 10.13.38 purport

    [6] Bhaktivedanta Swami, The Bhagavad-gita, 18. 41

    [7] Rohm, Robert A. , Who Do You Think You Are, Anyway?, Atlanta, GA: Personality Insights,
    1997, p. xi, 3

    [8] Bhaktivedanta Swami, The Bhagavad-gita, 18.42

    [9] Bhaktivedanta Swami, Srimad-Bhagavatam,

    [10] Bhaktivedanta Swami, Bhagavad-gita, 18.43

    [11] Bhaktivedanta Swami, A. C., Srimad-Bhagavatam, 7.11.23

    [12] Ibid., 7.11.24

    [13] Ibid.

    [14] Bhaktivedanta Swami, The Bhagavad-gita, 4.13, purport

    [15] Dr. Thomas Armstrong has made Gregorc’s work accessible to the lay person. He lays out a method of assessment for the lay person. Armstrong, Thomas, In Their Own Way, New York, USA: G. P. Putnam’s Sons Publishers,

    [16] Rohm, Who Do You Think You Are, Anyway?, ch. 2

    [17] Tobias, Cynthia Ulrich, The Way They Learn, Colorado, USA: Focus on the Family, 1994, ch. 9

    [18] For those who feel that ‘random’ has negative connotations, they could use the terms ‘linear’ and ‘lateral’ for sequential and random, respectively.

    [19] Tobias, The Way They Learn, ch. 2

    [20] Carter, W, Lee, Kid Think, Houston and Dallas, TX: Rapha/Word Publishers, 1991

    [21] While there are several other models of personality type that could be listed, we’ll end with those of

    [22] Rohm, Who Do You Think You Are, Anyway?, pp. 34-39

    [23] Ibid. pp. 40-45

    [24] Rohm, Dr. Robert A., Get Real, Atlanta, GA, Personality Insights, 1995, p. 12

    [25] Ibid., p. 15

    [26] Ibid., p. 18

    [27] Ibid., p. 21

    [28] Boyd, Charles F., Different Children, Different Needs, Oregon, Multnomah, 1994, p.47

    [29] Bhaktivedanta Swami, Srimad-Bhagavatam, 5.8.16

    [30] Bhaktivedanta Swami, Bhagavad-gita, 3. 33

    [31] Ibid., 18. 60

    [32] Ibid., 18.45 & 18.46

    [33] Bhaktivedanta Swami, Room Conversation, Vrindaban, 20, April, 1975, Hillsbrough, N.C., USA: Bhaktivedanta Archives

    [34] Bhaktivedanta Swami, A. C, Letters, Hillsborough, N.C., USA: Bhaktivedanta Archives, letter to Mandali Bhadra, 28, July 1969

    [35] Tobias, The Way They Learn, pp. 144-5


  1. 0
    Akruranatha ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    One of the old “sayings” we used to hear in ISKCON in the ’70s was (paraphrasing), “the more you become Krishna conscious, the more your own individuality will come out.”

    In other words, surrendering to Krishna does not mean we all become the same, like going through the same cookie cutter machine. As we grow in Krishna consciousness our real individuality blossoms.

    One night in the late ’80s, I was a junior associate at a big law firm called Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro in San Francisco (the same firm featured in monologist Josh Kornbluth’s film “Haiku Tunnel”), working all night with a team of lawyers, paralegals and secretaries on a huge antitrust appellate filing that was to due the next day.

    At one point, looking up from proofreading footnote 82 or whatever, I whimsically wondered out loud to the the sleep-deprived crowd, “As we succeed in our careers at Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, will we become more unique as individuals or less so?”

    Everyone laughed good naturedly and one aging-hippy secretary who had been working there for years winked at me and said something to the effect that I was “too good for this place”.

  2. 0
    Tamoharadasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In a similar vein , there are psychologists who specifically study moral development, for example Kohlberg, whose system of categorization involves explaining individual moral growth from reward-punishment motivation, to broader scopes of social cooperation, upwards to individualized personal moral choices. The latter are the least in percenatge of any population, roughly corresponding to a self-realized platform of thought, as opposed to purely conditioned by rewards and punishments.

    Also, Piaget, has outlined stages of cognitive development, from external concrete thinking, up to mental abstract operations as a primary thought process.

    So, no doubt there are correlations between spiritual growth and these materialistic sytems. There is correlation between the pychological systems also, in that one advanced , say, in abstract thinking, is likely also to be advanced in moral considerations.

    The problem, is that all this is based upon speculative processes, ie science, and so they usually miss the spiritual side of the questions they seek to answer. Thus, by dint of their cutting “religious thinking” out of the issue, they miss the whole point , and are left scratching their heads as to the ultimate meaning of it all, or more often, they don’t even go to that length. They have many zeros without the one in front.

    By emphasizing these material authorities, we are lending credence to the underlying materlistic thinking which is part and parcel of their systems of thought, such that as Mataji points out, all this must be understood in relation to the Vedic analysis , lest we become atheists and count all these systems as of equal value.

    Urmila Deviji may speak of these systems , putting them within their broadest contesxt. Otherwise, if the common devotee takes these systems of delineation into account, inevitably materialistic ideas will surface, and we must take some caution not to give the impression that this material knowledge is anything but a fancy level of conditioning.

    Urmila Devi may wish to enquire from Dr. Paranjpe, well known in the field of personality, from Simon Fraser University, who has written a number of papers on the topic of personality from the vantage point of the yoga systems. My own work in this regards increased my faith in Krsna consciousness, as the other systems seem to parallel some of what Lord Krsna gave us in Gita, but Krsna’s knowledge so much surpasses even these modern ideas, in that the absolute value of spiritual loving service is the focus. We must have faith, and study of these lesser systems of knowledge can have the effect of making it clear which ideas are superior. For a devotee with less advancement, bewilderment can also occur.

    My obeisances to Mother Urmila and all the Devotees.

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    srimanta ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The individuality that is personified within individual soul is because of the different experience about material nature. It is the whole dynamics of Krsna Consciousness. The illusionary potencies of Lord is personified nature within soul but the inner substance is always submissive and full of pure devotion. One is pure gold and another is ornament that is made of gold and various alloys. When Lord looks to one individual soul Lord can see both amounts directly. The amount of pure gold and the amount of other alloying substance. Similarly when one perfect spiritual master looks at one particular individual, one always tries to find out how much gold and how much alloying substance is there. Once that amount is known it is very easy to understand the nature of that particular ornament within different colorful light. Similarly one teacher must look to one student first to find out how much pure gold is remaining in it. Without submissive and devotion, no teaching can be perfectly given and perfectly taken. The vocational teaching is like mixing alloying element with pure gold and making different ornaments to the satisfaction of Lord. Thus the first thing is that if the gold is less then add some pure gold into the individual such that later any alloys can be added to make one perfect ornament as Lord Krsna likes to see. Thus the core of the teaching of Vaisnava philosophy is to find amount of pure gold in every individual then try adding or taking of extra amount of gold if it is possible to distribute among many. Once this amount of gold is not sufficient than what is the need of finding other alloying substance? The only reason is this material world is full of alloys only and to get some extra piece of some alloying element is very easy but to extract pure gold by finding a gold mines is very rare. That’s why the first and foremost thing for teaching student is that making student one perfect pure gold in devotional platform who is completely submissive and humble and the process of making each student perfect in devotional platforms always one different process and difficult task based on the existence of unworthy alloys within gold. Thus teacher must emphasis to develop pure gold like students and devotees whatever learning they are giving to students such that one student first grows in devotion to accept all pure spiritual knowledge. Later based on the need of the life teacher can add little alloys that is called variety of vocational learning to make different types of ornament in variation to the pleasure of supreme Lord Hari. All glory to Hari! All glory to Prabhupada! All glory to Mohaprabhu and Pancha Tattva! All glory to associates vaisnavas! Hare Krsna! Haribol!

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    shiva says:

    While I agree with the main thrust of the article there are some points which are based upon judging personality types which do not take into account the nature of the evolution or growth of people’s consciousness or mentality. People are by nature capable of radical change in the sense of personality and ability. For a while someone may fit into a specific category and then change into a different person and then change again and again. This is especially true for people taking up bhakti yoga. There seems to be some kind of proposing of trying to figure out student’s varna so as to guide them to fulfill their potential according to the judgement made about them. That approach can lead to a lot of problems. A childs formative years in modern society is radically different then a childs formative years in traditional vedic culture. What we have now is a society where children are exposed to far more varied choices for their lives to take then what they were exposed to within traditional vedic culture.

    In the old world children didn’t spend countless hours every day for many years in school learning the wide range of subjects now taught. Also girls were not educated to learn to make a living, they were educated in being housewives and if the family needed them as labor then they would learn what was needed for the family. If boys didn’t show an aptitude for the work of their father then they had a hard time changing their occupation unless they came under the care of someone they could apprentice for. In today’s world the modern society is not set for the vedic paradigm. The vedic paradigm will not work for various reasons. Girls need to be given the chance to be educated because the traditional support system for women in vedic society is no longer extant. Women cannot depend on husbands, sons, or parents as they could in vedic times. Regardless of ideals the reality of the high divorce rate amongst devotees and the concomitant lack of proper ex-spousal and child support is one indicator that pure vedic idealism in today’s modern society is unrealistic. Girls need to be able to fend for themselves, if we think otherwise then we deny the recent history of gaudiya vaishnavism in the modern world.

    I assume the article was aimed at improving education and relationships within ISKCON. I don’t think that the vedic educational paradigm of trying to fit personality types into specific varnas or trying to figure out someones varna in the current society is the best way to approach education. Modern society has a radically different effect on children then traditional vedic society. Children are constantly bombarded by the work of professional advertisers with the hope of making them mind controlled consumers of products and lifestyles. There is a reason why such a large percentage of devotee children do not take to bhakti. On the one hand you have spiritual instruction which is telling them that they should not try to spend their lives in pursuit of anything but Krishna consciousness, and at the same time they are surrounded by every imaginable type of temptation being offered to them as if they cannot live without it while being conditioned to believe that the seemingly unlimited amount of sense enjoyment being offered can make them happy or at the least let them have nonstop fun. Unless you want to cut the children off from any exposure to modern culture (which is impractical and reckless) you have to come to terms with the reality that children today are liable to manifest sudden changes to their personality from day to day or from week to week or from month to month or from year to year due to the influence of modern society. What worked in vedic times when it came to deducing a students varna or propensity for marriage etc, will not work well in the modern society.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the main thrust of the article which is to be respectful and liberal with others. As Srila Prabhupada wrote “A Krsna conscious man is always a very liberal well-wisher of everyone”. But in practical reality until people are advanced in spiritual realization they will act to varying degree at various times under the modes of nature. Sometimes they will be angry or disrespectful or harm others, other times they will do more then their duty and what is necessary in order to serve someone in the hope of gaining some sukriti. We shouldn’t expect that a perfect situation will arise due to some type of education and planning. What we can do is be there for the students as their well wishers, not as their spiritual inquisitors. Always be the person who they can depend on to treat them the way that we would want to be treated. With the endless hypnotic consumer centered modern culture always ready to offer shelter to confused or unhappy young people by promising countless panaceas for all that ails them, devotee children can easily be swayed to abandon the desire for any type of bhakti in their lives and become fixated on living a life dedicated to being a materialist. Their upbringing should be less about telling them what they have to do and how they are bad if they don’t, and more about providing them with happy healthy environments so that they want to stay and learn from you because they see you are their true friend and family.

  5. 0
    krishna-kirti ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Mother Urmila is a woman of keen intelligence and has a long history of using it in Krishna’s service. Although I have never met her in person, I have had occaision to correspond and converse with her on a number of controversial issues–some that we are on the same side of and others on which we have been opponents. Either way, I consider my past encounters with her to have been a well-spent opportunity to improve my understanding of the subject we have happened to discuss or debate.

    Over the time that I have discussed some of the topics she presents in her article, one recurrent theme in her scholarship has been a recategorization of gender-based societal roles. Although the article above is general enough to apply outside of gender, it nevertheless includes an example of her thinking about gender. She wrote:

    Categorisation into superficial and unhelpful personality types is another problem that arises when there is a failure to recognise that there are many varieties of personalities. Unhelpful categories are those that are taken as the total description of what the person is, or should be, for example, those relating to age, gender or race are particularly unhelpful; We can illustrate this further with an example of personality categorisation according to gender.

    Her recategorization of gender and society is significantly coming from outside the Vedic tradition. In the Bhagavatam and other authorized Vedic scriptures, the categorizations she describes as “particularly unhelpful”, particularly gender, are significant categories in the Vedic social theology we have received through our parampara. In the Vedic social model (varnasrama), women are always supposed to be under the control of a father, husband, or son. Even learned men are enjoined not to “sit on the same seat” with one’s mother, sister, or daughter. Even the Bhagavatam treats “woman” as a special class of occupational duty like that of a brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, or shudra. In Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.11.25 – 29, following a list of qualities that categorize the four varnas, are qualities and prescribed occupational engagements for women. They are exclusively focused on serving the husband and the home. Although there are exceptions to these rules found throughout Vedic literature, within the Vedic tradition they are the exceptions that prove the rule.

    This is why I say that Mother Urmila’s declaration that gender is particularly unhelpful is predominantly informed from outside the Vedic tradition and our parampara, not within it.

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    sita-pati ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Great article.

    Marcus Buckingham’s new book “Go Put Your Strengths To Work” starts off with a few myth busters. One of them is this:

    Myth: As you grow older you change.
    Fact: As you grow older you become more who you are.

    It’s all about developing in your understanding as to your nature – your strengths and weaknesses. And from there your dharma becomes more and more apparent – what you are supposed to do with those abilities to serve the others in your community in the collaborative effort to live together serving the Supreme Lord.

  7. 0
    Urmila Devi Dasi ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Please accept my obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

    Thank you for all the thoughtful comments.

    To clarify–my statements about relating personality type to race and gender is simply that not all people of the same race or gender are of the same type of personality as each other. This statement has absolutely nothing to do with gender social roles as explained in the sastra. And, in fact, it is totally within the Vedic understanding.

    Explaining this from the Vedic point of view, we could use the personality demarcations (yes, they apply to the psychology, and not just the body) of kapha, pitta, and vata. (Incidentally, some people have a mentality that is different from the body so one could have a pitta body and a vata-pitta personality). These three-and combinations of them–are ways of categorizing personalities.

    Those who know Ayurveda will explain that these types exist in all races and in both genders. That is my point. Not everyone who is, for example, Indian, will have the same personality type, nor will all men have the same personality type.

    Of course, those who are from the same cultural background tend to have some attributes in common. There are also certain general psychological tendencies shared by most or almost all men, or bymost women. The study of personality types is a different way of understanding individuality than the discussion of general gender psychological tendencies. The two studies complement each other, but are not exactly dealing with the same thing..

    I hope the above eliminates any confusion.

    Your servant, Urmila devi dasi

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