Negative impact of Personality Defects on Spiritual Practice

Whichever Path a seeker may follow – Karmayoga, Bhaktiyoga, Jnanyoga, Hathayoga, Kundaliniyoga, etc. to progress spiritually, it is essential to eradicate personality defects (PDs) and ego. People in the earlier eras of Satyayug, Tretayug and Dwaparyug had comparatively very less PDs and ego. In the current era of Kaliyug most people are not progressing spiritually due to their intense PDs and ego. Hence, a seeker on any Path of spiritual practice, must give importance to the eradication of his personality defects and ego.

– Sachichidananda Parabrahman (Dr) Athavale

1. Introduction

There is a proverb in the ancient Scriptures : The mind is responsible for man’s bondage as well as his ultimate liberation from the cycles of birth and death or his happiness and unhappiness.

While personality defects are responsible for unhappiness, the individual’s qualities contribute towards his happiness and contentment. The personality defects and qualities of an individual also impact society especially if he is in a position to influence society. Today, with the popularity of the Internet and social media, the scope of how one individual can affect others across the world has dramatically increased. Personality defects generally result in giving an individual and others unhappiness and also warp the attitude towards life. Besides causing unhappiness, there are also spiritual repercussions of personality defects. Let’s look at what happens to a seeker who tries to practice Spirituality but has many personality defects.

Lack of concentration : Sanatan Sanstha recommends Gurukrupayoga (Path of the Guru’s grace) which has 8 steps in spiritual practice. Although chanting the Name of God is the foundation of this spiritual path, it is difficult to create a devotion centre of the chant in the subconscious mind since it is already full of personality defects and ego. Due to various personality defects, a seeker is unable to concentrate on his chanting. In fact, due to the personality defects, an individual finds it difficult to concentrate on any type of spiritual practice.

Unable to merge with God : The ultimate goal of spiritual practice is to merge with God. However, just as a drop of oil cannot mix with water due to inherently different properties, for one who has many personality defects, it is impossible to merge with God who is flawless and all virtuous.

No satisfaction from spiritual practice : A seeker who has many personality defects and a high ego can never get satisfaction from spiritual practice since his negative temperament will always get in the way.

Control of negative energies : Such a seeker can very easily be swayed and even controlled by distressing energies in the spiritual dimension as they take advantage of his personality defects and ego.

Reduced capacity for spiritual practice : Mistakes committed by a seeker due to personality defects and ego reduce the energy obtained through spiritual practice, and his efficiency also get depleted.

2. The priority to Personality Defect Removal in spiritual practice

Due to all of the abovementioned reasons seekers who have many personality defects do not progress and get stuck in the cycles of birth and death.

If one really wants to improve the personality and overcome personality defects, then a good place to start is by understanding the nature of personality and how the ‘personality’ and the ‘mind’ are influenced by the spiritual dimension. With its emphasis on the importance of being liked by people, nothing is more important in our culture than ‘personality’. In this popular sense, personality is conceived by most people as an intangible quality that makes one attractive or unattractive to his fellows.

3. What defines an individual’s personality ?

What is personality and what does it comprise ?

Human beings have a mind and a body, both of which act or behave. Thinking, emotions, etc. are some attributes of the mind, while physical movements, secretions, temperature, etc. are some attributes of the body. Behaviour of the mind or body are categorised into – episodic, transient or recurrent.

Episodic behaviour : This is temporary; for example, when a student becomes anxious before appearing for an examination, his anxiety is an episodic behaviour of his mind. Whereas, scratching, walking, etc. is the episodic behaviour of the body.

Transient behaviour : That which is observed for more than a few weeks but for less than six months or a year; for example, when an individual feels depressed for a few months after the death of a loved one. Here, feeling depressed is a ‘transient behaviour’ of the mind.

Recurrent behaviour : When the same behaviour persists for years, it is called ‘recurrent behaviour’ or ‘chronic behaviour’.
Episodic and transient behaviour do not affect one’s life to a major extent, but recurrent or chronic behaviour, which constitutes the personality affects life to a great extent.

4. More about understanding personality

Unless a peculiarity is observed in an individual over time, it is not considered when describing his personality and may be misleading; for example, one may become revengeful from the moment his family is murdered. If the same person goes to a psychologist within a few days or weeks of his becoming revengeful, the word ‘revengeful’ will not be used while describing his personality since it has not been present for a long period. When the same person is seen after a few years, if the characteristic of revenge is still there, then it will be confirmed that ‘revengeful’ is a part of his personality. This is why, it is good to nip a bad personality trait in the bud, else it could even lead to criminal behaviour or harming society in severe cases.

As you can well imagine there have been many definitions of personality given by various psychiatrists and experts in this field.

However, the essence of various definitions of personality is that it is a unique combination of characteristics that determine the individual’s recurrent or long term pattern of behaviour. This pattern encompasses all types of behaviour of the body and mind, which we have grouped under the following five headings.

A. Physical constitution, characteristics, health, stamina and an individual’s image of these
B. Temperamental characteristics (i.e. an individual’s nature) such as short-tempered, forgetful, untidy, reserved, suspicious, stubborn, generous, trustworthy, daydreamer, etc.
C. Likes and dislikes
D. Instincts, desires, urges, cravings, ambitions, wishes, etc.
E. Intelligence, knowledge, beliefs, disbeliefs, convictions, attitudes, opinions, ideas, ideals, etc.

5. A practical viewpoint in assessing personality

Personality is not simply the sum total of various characteristics under the aforementioned headings but a dynamic organisation in which they are combined to give the individual his typical and somewhat recurrent pattern of behaviour. We use the words characteristic, quality and trait synonymously to indicate a peculiarity, which has been present for at least six months to a year and impacts day-to-day functioning. This excludes episodic and transient behaviour, which exist for a short period.

While there may be hundreds of possible characteristics in an individual, it is our experience that in the majority of cases, about twenty to thirty characteristics constitute the bulk of the personality. All other characteristics in them are like those of any average individual, and hence, they need not be mentioned or taken into account.

6. Personality is dynamic, and the importance of being in satsang

Personality continues to be moulded throughout the eight stages – infancy, early childhood, play age, school age, puberty, adolescence, young adulthood and maturity. Thus, personality is not a static phenomenon, but a dynamic process which starts from the moment of conception and continues until one breathes his last. This means that some characteristics in the personality may become less prominent, may disappear, may become more prominent, may get replaced by new ones or new characteristics may develop as time marches on.

Personality changes when a child becomes an adolescent, an adolescent falls in love, through marriage and through the birth of children, through getting or losing religion, or through changing political beliefs.

We acquire many characteristics by emulating others. If his father is very short-tempered, a boy may imitate him. If an adolescent comes in contact with other adolescents who steal money or smoke cigarettes, he may also ape their behaviour. If other people in the office are corrupt, an honest person too may become corrupt by following their example. Thus, the company in which an individual lives is important for the development of his personality. Hence, being in good company, the company of seekers (Satsang) is considered to be of great significance for the development of a healthy personality.

7. Importance and definition of self-awareness

Anyone who is dedicated to self-improvement, personal development or the higher goal of spiritual growth needs to actively seek to understand himself. This is because only when the individual understands where he is falling short, will he be able to focus on improving himself.

A. Self-awareness is the ability of a person to introspect.
B. It includes gaining an understanding of and insight into one’s strengths, qualities, weaknesses, defects, ideas, thoughts, beliefs, ideals, responses, reactions, attitude, emotions and motivations.
C. Introspection also includes assessing how one is perceived by others.
D. How others are impacted based on our behaviour, responses and conduct.

Psychologists often break down self-awareness into two types – either public or private

Public self-awareness : This emerges when people are aware of how they appear to others. Public self-awareness often emerges in situations when people are at the centre of attention, such as when giving a presentation or talking to a group of friends. When we are aware that we are being watched and evaluated, we often try to behave in ways that are socially acceptable and desirable. Public self-awareness can also lead to ‘evaluation anxiety’ in which people become distressed, anxious or worried about how they are perceived by others.

Private self-awareness : This emerges when people are aware of some aspects of themselves, but only in a private way. For example, seeing your face in the mirror is a type of private self-awareness. Feeling your stomach lurch when you realize you forgot to study for an important test or feeling your heart flutter when you see someone you are attracted to are also good examples of private self-awareness. Close family members and friends are privy to some aspects of our private self as we let our guard down in front of them.

As we practice becoming more aware of ourselves and how we are perceived by others, we learn many shades of our characteristics to a minute level. Hence, we are in a better position to overcome our personality defects and understand where our strengths lie.

8. How to increase self-awareness – By observing oneself

To understand our personality, we need to understand the nature of our mind. The mind is made up of two parts – the conscious and sub-conscious mind. The sub-conscious mind is vast and the impressions that are buried deep inside are not easy to uncover and analyse. However, ever so often during the day the mind erupts and reacts to some events and situations negatively. As a result, we feel a certain amount of restlessness and emotions such as insecurity, fear or anger. Most of us plod on through our daily lives not taking a moment to pause and introspect why we experienced an emotion in the first place.

In fact, through such situations in daily life, by reacting negatively to situations and events our mind opens up a window and gives us a vignette into its nature.

If we are alert and objective in our outlook, we can follow the path through the window the mind opens up. Through this process we begin to gain greater self-awareness on how our mind works and how it responds to various stimuli. This is known as metacognition, which means having an awareness and understanding of our own thought processes. This particular type of self-development pertains to becoming conscious of our own body and mental state of being, including thoughts, actions, ideas, feelings and interactions with others. It is therefore the first step in overcoming negative emotions and reactions.

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A seeker on any Path of spiritual practice, must give importance to the eradication of his Personality Defects and Ego !

Only when one understands where he is falling short, will he be able to focus on the efforts required to improve !

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