Insights from Indian Psychology for Personality Development of the Learner

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Editor’s note: Development of integral personality of the learner is accepted as one of the highest aims of education. We feature some excerpts from an article where Kireet Joshi highlights a few key insights from Indian understanding of human personality and its integral perfection. The article was originally titled ‘Indian Psychology and Education. We have made a few editorial and formatting revisions for the purpose of this online presentation.


If there is one science which has been developing in India uninterruptedly from the Vedic times to the present day, and if this development has been both comprehensive and subtle in heights and profundities and if because of its ever-progressiveness, it is far more advanced than the advances made in that field in any part of the world, then that science is the science of psychology.

Already in the Veda we find the record of the discovery of the loftiest states of consciousness and also of the surface levels and deeper levels of human consciousness. We also find there unmistakable awareness of what we call today Depth Psychology or the Psychology of the Subconscious and Unconscious.

Subtle distinction of different constituents of consciousness are clearly discernible in the Veda. We have distinctions between cittamedhāmanasmati, and dhī as also the distinctions of higher faculties of knowledge, ‒ mahi, ila, saraswati, sarama and dakshinā (faculties of vastness, revelation, inspiration, intuition, and discrimination).

What is most important is that there is in this system cogent and detailed exposition of the processes by which one can rise from ordinary states of consciousness to the highest levels of consciousness. These states are those of rita-chit, truth-consciousness, supported and guarded by the powers of wideness, friendliness, austere will and joy that springs from universality (powers of Varuņa, Mitra, Āryaman and Bhaga).

And in this process of ascent, we have a detailed description of the role played by the powers of illumined will, illumined intelligence, and the powers of subtleties of the physical, vital and mental consciousness.

Veritably, the Veda is the earliest existing book of a comprehensive and profound system of psychology of the world. And, fortunately, Indian history of psychology shows how the truths of psychology were continuously developed.

It is noteworthy that Integral Psychology of Sri Aurobindo is today being studied in different parts of the world with increasing receptivity. One or two psychological systems of the West today have clearly acknowledged the debt they owe to Sri Aurobindo.

It is against this background that it is appropriate that we raise today three important questions:

  • Firstly, what is Indian psychology or rather what is the universal psychological knowledge that has developed in India and what are its contents?
  • Secondly, . . . what is the importance of the study of this psychology as a part of the total scheme of knowledge in India into which we need to initiate our students in the country?
  • And thirdly, what are those elements of this psychological knowledge that we can fruitfully incorporate in our school curriculum?

[. . .]

From our archives:
Indian Approach to Psychology: An Educator’s Experience and Insights (Video)

Very often, courses in psychology devote a good deal of time to the relationship between physiology and psychology and to the systems of structuralism and functionalism. A large space is devoted behaviouristic psychology, the premises of which are confined to the processes of stimuli and responses.

In recent times, Gestalt psychology with its emphasis upon unifying consciousness and operation of intuition is being proposed. But since the time when Freud and subsequently Jung made an impact on the psychological field, much attention is being paid to the subconscious and the unconscious, individual and collective. The study of Eros and Thanatos have gained importance. These are being shown as fundamental drives that shape human personality.

Lately, personalistic psychology has emerged and wider horizons are being explored. But in these courses of psychological studies the truths of psychology discovered by the long Indian tradition hardly figure. We do not have as yet adequate teaching-learning material that incorporates insights and lessons of Indian psychology.

This situation must change.

One of the most important lessons of Indian psychology is that what goes in the name of psychoanalysis or psychiatry is a mere abc of psychology. More importantly, that it is dangerous to deal with the inconscient and the subconscient without attaining a good deal of mastery and harmony in the waking consciousness and in the super-consciousness.

It is clear in the light of Indian psychology that the roots of human personality are not in the subconscient or inconscient but in what may be called the subliminal, psychic and spiritual levels of consciousness. Hence, to teach students to be confined to the subconscient and the inconscient is to give them a wrong clue and to limit the possibilities of development to a very narrow and distorted process.

The most interesting part of Indian psychology is related to the analysis of personality and the concept of perfection of personality.

To state it briefly, Indian psychology presents us three concepts which are relevant to the development of personality. These are the concepts of sattwarajas and tamas in the context of the construction of personality which can be largely effected through the development of prakriti, the power of executive energy as ordinarily explained in the psychology of the Sankhya.

The second is the concept of five levels of personality:

  • the personality fixed in the physicality of the human composition, annamaya,
  • personality fixed in the vital sheath of human composition, prāņamaya,
  • that which is fixed in the mental energy of rationality, ethicality and aesthesis, manomaya,
  • the personality that blossoms in the fullness of comprehensive supramental consciousness, vijñānamaya,
  • and the personality that enters into the supreme regions of consciousness, the key of which is in the spontaneous ocean of delight, ānandamaya.

These five levels of personality have each behind them the status of consciousness that originates them and sustains them. This has been called the status of purusha, known not only in the Samkhya but in the more ancient system of Taittiriya Upanishad and even in the still more ancient system of Rigveda.

The third analysis of personality is at a much deeper and profounder level. And it is related to the concept of what Sri Aurobindo has called chaitya purusha.

This chaitya purusha is described in the Kathopanishad as the being that is no bigger than a thumb (angushthamatram). It is also described symbolically as madhvadah, the eater of honey. This is not the static purusha of the Sankhya, but a portion of the kshara purusha. And its nature is triguņātita, that which transcends the limitation of aparā prakriti of tamas, rajas and sattwa, but which partakes of the Parā Prakriti.

The real maker of personality is this chaitya purusha. When it interacts with the prakriti, the prakriti of sattwa, rajas and tamas or the aparā prakriti, it puts forth in a progressive manner what may be called four soul-forces. These four soul-forces derived from parā prakriti are:

  • one manifesting the personality of knowledge,
  • the other manifesting the personality of heroism,
  • third manifesting the personality of harmony
  • and the soul-force manifesting skill, dexterity and perfection.

We all consider the development of personality or integral personality to be one of the highest aims of education. Educationists, teachers and students are constantly in search of the knowledge by which personality can be rightly developed and integrated.

We need to have, first, the psychological knowledge of the various intricacies of the notion of personality, different kinds of personality, and various levels of personality. Also needed is the knowledge of conflicts of personalities within oneself. And thirdly, we must also know about the processes of harmonisation of personality which can remedy these conflicts.

Where shall we find this knowledge?

Fortunately, the Indian tradition of psychology has developed this knowledge, knowledge which is repeatable and verifiable, and a knowledge which can be practised, knowledge on the basis of which true guidance can emerge.

[. . .] it would be instructive to observe that the latest Report of UNESCO speaks of learning and emphasises on the utilisation of the treasure that is within us. Interestingly, again, it speaks of four pillars of learning:

  • the pillar of knowledge,
  • pillar of living together or the pillar of harmony,
  • the pillar of doing and working or the pillar of skill and dexterity,
  • and the pillar of being, that which endows the individual with a true self-possession and self-mastery.

These four pillars are not entirely different from the four soul-forces to which we made reference earlier. The only pillar that is missing in the analysis of the UNESCO’s Report is the pillar of heroism.

In any case, it is instructive that when we come to analyse the inmost process of learning and development of personality, we seem to come nearer to the Indian insights.

Swami Vivekananda speaks of man-making education. And what is that education if not the education that develops personality, a complete personality and personality of perfection? He also spoke of every individual as potentially divine. And what is that potentially divine if not the dynamic soul and its soul-force?

One of the most important questions is to conceive of an ideal of perfection or a perfect personality. I can only refer to the concept of sthithaprajña in the Bhagavadgita.

Or we have the luminous example of the Buddha. Seated in utter calm in his inner consciousness and yet dynamically engaged in the works of verity, he produced results so extraordinary. Indeed we speak of him as the greatest personality that ever walked on the earth.

And if we want a fuller elucidation of the concept of perfect personality, I can do no more than presenting the following from Sri Aurobindo:

When the full heart of Love is tranquilized by knowledge into a calm ecstasy and vibrates with strength, when the strong hands of Power labour for the world in a radiant fullness of joy and light, when the luminous brain of knowledge accepts and transforms the heart’s obscure inspirations and lends itself to the workings of the high-seated Will, when all these gods are founded together on a soul of sacrifice that lives in unity with all the world and accepts all things to transmute them, then is the condition of man’s integral self-transcendence. This and not a haughty, strong and brilliant egoistic self-culture enthroning itself upon an enslaved humanity is the divine way of supermanhood.

~ CWSA, Vol. 13, p. 157

~ Design: Beloo Mehra

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