Three human temperaments and three spiritual paths


In the context of the spiritual path one chooses (or is chosen for), love and devotion are parallel to the ‘faith’ or trust one has, or must have, in the validity and benefit attending that path. These are foundational elements or requirements in this regard. Without going into the four prerequisites of sadhana-chatustaya, the two above qualities plus sincerity (alternately, intense desire for liberation, or for the truth), which leads to persistent effort (the ‘skillful means’ of Buddhism) are essential. It is thus not just one or another, but all three of those requirements that must be present. But ‘three is one’, and, if one would have to choose, one would choose mumkshutva or earnestness, which is equivalent to intense desire for the truth.

Sometimes it is said that there is only one path, meaning that the destination is always the same (“all roads lead to Rome”), and that the effort and dedication are also one and the same; but this does not take away from the fact that traditionally three paths are listed, which obeys to the nature of things, or of men. Evidently there are men (and women) more predisposed – vocationally, or by constitution – to follow one rather than another of the three – karma yoga, bhakti yoga, and jñana yoga (there is a fourth one, Raja yoga – the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali being the classical text –  which requires complete control of the senses and mind, and where deep meditation and samadhi play  important roles).

Traditionally – in different cultures – three types of men have been considered to exist: men of action, men of devotion or passion, and then the intellectual ones (Salvador de Madariaga, Spanish professor of English in Oxford, UK, wrote an interesting book: ‘Ingleses, Franceses y Españoles’, where he described with psychological acumen and powers of observation three types of  – European – men: Englishmen (‘men of action’), Spaniards (‘men of passion’), and French (the intellectual, the ‘thinkers’). But also, in classical Antiquity, the same, or similar, characterization was made: hylic (action), psychic (bhaktic-karmic), and pneumatic (intellectual or contemplative predominantly).

In modern times the German psychiatrist Kretschmer, and the American psychologist Sheldon classified human types into pyknic, athletic, and asthenic or leptosomatic (Kretschmer), and, correspondingly, endomorphic, mesomorphic, and ectomorphic, (Sheldon). The pyknic type can be intellectual or bhaktic, but certainly not given to athletic prowess or performances. A significant correspondence is also: sattva=pneumatic, rajas=psychic, and tamas=hylic or somatic.

It can be seen from the above that the bhaktas are an intermédiate category, the “higher” being pneumatics, and the “lower” psychics. The jñani, in principle, has the quality of a pneumatic. In fact, however, owing to human imperfection (if we may say so), he may “live beneath himself”, and, in the manner of a psychic, may have to make an effort of the will in order to become his “true self”.