Industrial Psychiatry Journal

: 2012  |  Volume : 21  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 89--93

Concept of personality: Indian perspective

Kalpana Srivastava 
 Scientist F, Department of Psychiatry, Armed Forces Medical College, Pune - 411040, India

Correspondence Address:
Kalpana Srivastava
Department of Psychiatry, Armed Forces Medical College, Pune - 411 040, Maharashtra

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Srivastava K. Concept of personality: Indian perspective.Ind Psychiatry J 2012;21:89-93

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Srivastava K. Concept of personality: Indian perspective. Ind Psychiatry J [serial online] 2012 [cited 2022 May 20 ];21:89-93
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Eastern influence on Western thought goes back at least to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Alexander the Great (4 th century BCE) made it as far as northern India, and the Roman philosopher Plotinus made a trip to study the philosophies of the region in 242 CE. Theosophical movement in the 19 th century that a real interest in Eastern thought (including Buddhism) emerged. The Indian authors have always realized that the Supreme is the Infinite and perceived that to the soul in Nature the Infinite must always present itself in an infinite variety of aspects. [1]

The insights in understanding human nature as per Indian thoughts is derived from various Indian philosophical traditions like Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, Jainism, Buddhism, and other Researchers and Scholars in India have attempted to explain these concepts. [2],[3],[4],[5],[6]

 The Concept of Swabhaava

This concept is very indigenous to the Indian description of personality and temperament. In Indian psychological thought the term 'personality' has not been used in strict sense, instead the concept of Swabhaava referred in scriptures, covers all aspects of personality. Swabhaava is the essential quality. It is that speed of spirit which manifests itself as the essential quality in all becoming. "Dharma, says the Gita, is action governed by Swabhaava, the essential law of one's nature. And this Swabhaava is at its core the pure quality of the spirit in its inherent power of conscious Will, and in its characteristic force of action." (p. 263). Sri Aurobindo in his "Essays on the Gita" used the term "spiritual personality" too. According to him "We have before us three powers, the Purushottama as the Supreme truth into which we have to grow, the Self and the Jiva. The supreme spiritual nature of being, the Para Prakriti, free from any limitation by the conditioning ignorance, is the nature of Purushottama. In the impersonal self, there is the same divine nature, but there it is in its state of eternal rest, equilibrium, inactivity, Nivriti. Finally for activity, for Pravriti, the Para Prakriti becomes spiritual personality, the Jiva." The spiritual personality is explained as expression of actions of supreme power, the loss of doership in actions is another facet of spiritual personality. The yoga is instrumental in leading to egolessness and desirelessness, without which the development of impersonality is not possible. [7]

 Levels of Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo emphasized on simultaneous activity of the concentric system and a vertical system. The concentric system is like a series of rings or sheaths. The outermost circle is comprised of awareness of physical body, awareness of vital (pranic) body or sheath, and awareness of mental sheath. These three types of consciousness are interconnected. The inner circle is composed of inner mind which is in touch with the universal mind or Supreme Energy. The innermost core is called as Psychic being which is a spark of the Divine (Supreme Energy) present in all of us and in everything. It is also called as Atman. The vertical systems is like a staircase consisting of various levels, planes of consciousness ranging from the lowest-the inconscient to the highest-Sat chit anand [Figure 1]. [8]{Figure 1}

Upanishads are store house of psychological material. The nature of mind and its functions and different psychological phenomena-normal, abnormal, pathological, paranormal, and spiritual-are explained in Vedas and Upanishadas. The core themes, according to the ancient philosophical tradition are centered around self, soul, human nature, human existence, and human experience. [9]

There are 12 major Upanishads, which fall into three groups, 'each standing for definite stage of thought development connected with the two Ultimates of reality' Brhada¯ranyka, Cha¯ndogya, I¯s'a, Kena, Ma¯ndukya, Aitereya, Taittiriya, and Kausitiki are the ones, which come under the early Upanishadic period. Mundaka and Katha fall into the mid-Upanishadic period. Prasna and Svetasvatara belong to the later Upanishadic period. Upanishads Ma¯ndukya and Taittiriya, have significance in contemporary psychology in the context of studies on consciousness and personality.

The ancient Indian model of "Personality", given in the Upanishads, consists of the 'five' sheaths. They are 'Annamaya' (food sheath), 'Pranamaya' (vital air sheath), 'Manomaya' (mental sheath), 'Vijnanamaya' (intellectual sheath), and 'Anandamaya' (bliss sheath). 'Annamaya'; a segment of human system is nourished by 'anna', that is, food. 'Pranamaya' is that segment which is nourished by 'prana', that is, 'bioenergy'. 'Manomaya' is the segment nourished by 'education'. 'Vijnanamaya' is nourished by 'ego' and 'Anandamaya' is the segment nourished by 'emotions'. [10]

 Triguna and Personality Psychology

The concept of Guna dates back to Atharva Veda, it was discussed in Bhagawat Gita and later included in Sankhya Darsana. The concept of Triguna has been utilized to explain the concept of personality in modern era as well. Indian researchers have also deliberated on this concept of Triguna in their writings. [11],[12],[13],[14] The development of consciousness is apparently rooted in this concept of Triguna. These are known as (sattva) called as stability; rajas called as activation and tamas called as inertia. Manas has been ascribed the functions which are mental functions and mental processes (Mnaovritti manopravrtti). They are considered to be manifestations of Triguna [Figure 2].{Figure 2}

Bhagawad Gita, at different places gives the models of highly developed human potential in its totality. It also describes three gunas and says that we all are combinations of these gunas (characteristics) which are Tamas, Rajas, and Sattwa. Paranjpe [14] considers jiva, svabha¯va and prakrti, ahamka¯ra, and A¯ tman, and Purus'a as the most important concepts related to personality and self, which can help in developing indigenous personality theories. Following are explanations given about the three attributes of human personality. These three gunas lead to different kinds of temperament. This is primarily influenced by both physiological and psychological parameters.

 The Sattvic Guna

Sattva guna is the "spiritual quality". When sattva guna is dominant, a person has inherent desire to be good and caring. There is a resolute constancy of mind and senses. When sattva is prevalent, the light of wisdom shines through the individual. Sattvic intellect clearly understands the difference between desirable and undesirable, undutiful and dutiful action. When sattva is dominant a person does his work as a duty. An action is done with calm understanding and the person is free from doubts. When sattva is dominant a person pays homage to divine and spiritual values.

Strength Respect for Gurus, nonviolence, meditation, kindliness, silence, self-control, and purity of character are the motive force of sattvic action. One of the limitations of sattvic guna is that it binds a person through attachment to happiness and knowledge. The sattva guna also brings with it the problem of goodness.

 The Rajasic Guna

Rajas guna is the "active quality". Rajas guna is considered to give rise to passion and desire, it causes greed, activity, undertaking of works, restlessness, and desire. Rajas dominant person is full of attachment, full of longings for fruits of action. Due to dominance of self-interest, the intellect gives distorted picture of right and wrong. Renunciation and detachment are not fostered by Rajas dominant person. Enthusiasm, interest, and activity are some of the attributes of this guna.

 The Tamasic Guna

Tamas guna is the "material quality". Tamas arises from hopes and illusions. Tamas produces ambiguity, idleness, fantasy, and persistence.

Characteristics of Tamas guna dominant people are cautious, apprehensive, and revengeful. Tamasic guna also suggests disillusionment and cynicism.

When Tamasic guna is dominant, a person derives happiness which originates and ends in self-delusion and miscomprehension. The positive manifestation of Tamas guna is willingness to work very hard. One of these limitations of these attributes are attachment to possessions and self-centered tendencies.

 Sattva and Rajas Interaction and Its Impact on Attributes

This combination is considered to be the "spiritually active quality". When rajas is restrained and guided by sattva, people become ethical and noble in thought and action. The influence of spiritually active quality a person is self-assured and spiritual.

 Rajas and Tamas Interation and Its Impact an Attributes

It is worth mentioning here that this combination is indicative of "materially active quality". When the active quality of rajas combines with material quality of tamas it determines the ability to deal with people and events. It helps in building relationships and achieving objectives. This can also be called "human relation" ability.

 Ayurveda and Postulates of Personality

Ayurveda postulates that all living beings on the earth, including the nonliving too, are made up of these elements meant the five Mahabhutas-Akasa, Vayu, Tejas, Ap, and Prithvi. The earth and man are made up of these five elements. These five elements combine with each other to form the three humors of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha (also called as the Tridoshas in unison). Ayurvedic principles are drawn heavily from Samkhyan Philosophy. "In Ayurveda, the three Doshas are considered to be universal principles that function in all aspects of material creation, including the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms. The Doshas have been correlated with systems theory in the field of physics, providing a sound theoretical basis for this Ayurvedic concept. A pilot study revealed the possibility of utilizing Prakriti to correlate phenotypes with genotypes in the human population, which could have wide ranging implications for healthcare. [15],[16],[17]

Descriptions of the evolutes of prakriti

The most important principles are that of Purusha and Prakriti, which are consciousness and primordial matter. All the levels of manifestation of the human (gross and subtle) are Prakriti, but have life due to the infusion of Purusha It is the primordial state of matter, even prior to matter as we know it in the physical sense. Prakriti manifests as the three gunas and the other evolutes. [18]


Purusha is consciousness that is untainted, it is self-existent, standing alone from other identities of individuality, the principle of spiritual energy.

Mahat or Buddhi

This is the purest, finest spark of individuation of Prakriti (primordial matter). It is very first of the evolutes of Prakriti. It is individuation, but yet, without characteristics.


This is the process of ego, by which consciousness can start to (incorrectly) take on false identities. Ego refers to the actual qualities such brother or sister, or loving or cruel, but the capacity itself to take on the countless identities.


Prakriti (primordial "matter") has three characteristics or attributes of lightness (sattvas), activity (rajas), and stability (tamas). These three combine and recombine so as to form the various aspects of mind, senses, and the five elements: Earth, water, fire, air, and space.


Mind (manas) is the instrument, which is the driving force behind actions, speech, and the thinking process. It is also the recipient of the sensory input. It is useful to know that, here, mind is being used in this more limited way, rather than the whole of the inner process called antahkarana, which includes manas, ahamkara, buddhi, chitta, along with the senses and the five elements.


The five senses and five instruments of expression are like 10 instruments These ten indriyas are evolutes of mind [Figure 3].{Figure 3}

Tridoshas-Vata, Pitta, and Kapha

According to Ayurveda, the human body (the physical entity) is composed of three fundamental categories called Doshas, Dhatus, and Malas. The Doshas are three in number, the Dhatus are seven, and the Malas are three. The three Doshas (Tridoshas) are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Their psychological correlates which play a role in the functioning and behavior of humans is the Trigunas-Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Characteristic Guna/Prakriti which gives that matter its unique quality.

The Tridoshas are composed of all the five Mahabhutas, but one or the other is predominant, with the other four are in lesser dominance. There can never be a state when one or the other Mahabhuta is absent totally. All five are essential to sustain life. Proper balance among these three Doshas is essential for good health.

Vata Dosha is composed of Akasa (ether) and Vayu (air) Mahabhutas.Pitta Dosha is composed of Tejas or Agni (fire) and Ap Mahabhutas.Kapha Dosha is composed of Ap (water) and Prithvi (earth) Mahabhutas.

Charaka and Sushruta recognize seven types or categories into which people can be classified, depending on the dominance of the Doshas in their body. [19],[20] Besides the basic seven types of Prakriti (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha and their blends), Ayurveda recognizes 16 types of personalities based on the classical Guna theory. Both Charaka and Sushruta Samhitas have a description of these types. There are seven types of Sattva, six of Rajas, and three of Tamas, totaling 16 types of personalities under which all people can be grouped. The seven types of Sattva are: Brahma Sattva, Mahendra Sattva, Varuna Sattva, Kubera Sattva, Gandharva Sattva, Yama Sattva, and Rishi Sattva. The six types of Rajas Sattva are: Asura Sattva, Rakshasa Sattva, Paisaca Sattva, Sarpa Sattva, Praita Sattva, and Sakuna Sattva. The three types of Tamas Sattva are Pasava Sattva, Matsya Sattva, and Vanaspatya Sattva.

 Personality Types Based on Triguna

Seven types Sattvika, six kinds of Rajasika, and three kinds of Tamasika are noted. [21],[22]

Brahma Type are pure individuals and have freedom from passion and envy, they are equal to all creatures. The individual with these characteristics are noted to be emotionally stable.

Arsa (Sharing the traits of Rsis)

The predominant characteristics are engaged in sacrifices, study, vow, and celibacy. The intelligence and imagination are defining characteristics.

Aindra (Traits of Indra)

Happy go lucky individuals, brave, and outgoing are grouped under these categories. Incidentally this is an exception to the mention of company of women for the sake of pleasure especially in sattwik type of category.

Yamya (Sharing the traits of Yama)

The traits are characterized as readiness for action, freedom from attachment and similar to God of death.


Persons with these trait cluster are sobre and conservative. They are clean and brave.


The Kauvera is a God of wealth, hence the persons with these traits possess luxuries and have liking for pleasure and recreation.


Fondness for dancing singing and music are the predominant traits of people.

Thus, Sattvik types have been divided in above description. Rajasik types are dominated by wrathful disposition. The six types are enumerated in brief.


Such persons are deceitful, violent, and toughminded.


Intolerance, overeating, and indulging in sleep are defining characteristics.


The characteristic traits of these types are fondness for women, gluttonous habits, and cowardice disposition.


Sharp reaction and bravery in wrath terrorizing are some of the defining traits.


They have excessive desire for food and have greediness. The undisciplined traits are also present.


Group dependent, tense, and attachment with passion are noted in these types of individuals.

Tamasik are described as under:


They share the traits of animal, they are less intelligent sleep and indulge in sex excessively.


The instability is the hallmark of this trait cluster. They are passionate and have wrathful disposition.

"Mind influences the physiology and pathology of the physical body. This fact was realized by the founding fathers of Ayurveda. Therefore, Ayurveda is defined as a philosophy and science of life…". [22] The attempts have been made by Indian researchers to develop scale of measurement of Triguna. [23]


Indian tradition explained in Ayurveda and the other ancient Indian scriptures placed heavy emphasis on the physical and psychological aspects of corollary of Triguna. Swabhaawa and Prakrati. The manifestations of attributes are synthesized across these constructs. Knowledge of these constructs can be used to promote mental health.


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