The Four Predominant Personality Types and Spiritual Development

The outward organisation of society needs a broad mix of individuals with all the capacities of the four orders of society. Men of thought, men of knowledge, men of productive interchange and men of labour and service all have a role to play in society. It is also quite true that many individuals combine varying degrees of these qualities to create a range of capacities incorporating the working of all three Gunas.

The Gita makes it clear that the outward capacities and role in society are somewhat independent of the capacity of any individual to achieve liberation, and we see the Gita’s constant injunction to follow one’s own inner being and line of action (Swabhava and Swadharma), no matter how apparently imperfect than to try to follow another line, however highly it is regarded or perfect it may seem.

The individual necessarily follows the general line of evolutionary development through lifetimes of progress. Sri Aurobindo weighs in: “…for we must perforce proceed progressively through the tamasic, the rajaso-tamasic, the rajasic or rajaso-sattwic to the sattwic nature, ascend and fix ourselves in an inner Brahminhood…and then seek salvation from that basis. But in that case there would be no logical room for the Gita’s assertion that even the Sudra or Chandala can by turning his life Godwards climb straight to spiritual liberty and perfection.”

The Gita’s assertion leads us to a deeper analysis. “Each Jiva possesses in his spiritual nature these four sides, is a soul of knowledge, a soul of strength and of power, a soul of mutuality and interchange, a soul of works and service, but one side or other predominates in the action and expressive spirit and tinges the dealings of the soul with its embodied nature; it leads and gives its stamp to the other powers and uses them for the principal strain of action, tendency, experience. The Swabhava then follows, not crudely and rigidly as put in the social demarcation, but subtly and flexibly the law of this strain and develops in developing it the other three powers.”

The action of the Gunas plays out in each form of action, and thus, even the individual focused on the way of knowledge may be following it with a rajasic or tamasic method or limitation.

“And it may be noted that the inner Swadharma is not bound to any outward social or other form of action, occupation or function. The soul of works that is satisfied to serve or that element in us can, for example, make the life of the pursuit of knowledge, the life of struggle and power or the life of mutuality, production and interchange a means of satisfying its divine impulse to labour and to service.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 20, Swabhava and Swadharma, pp. 505-506