Teachers today often speak of adjusting their techniques to a student's learning style. Howard Gardner, for example, suggested that some students learn through their bodies (kinesthetic intelligence), others through music and rhythms (musical intelligence), and many others through traditional academic means such as using logical symbols and equations (logical-mathematical intelligence).
The idea that students learn in different ways dates back to ancient times. Teachers of Hinduism, Confucianism, Judaism, and Christianity all evaluated their students' personalities, with an eye as to how to best teach them.
In earlier posts, I have examined how Hinduism regards judgments of personality (see parts one and two). For example, Hindu thought suggests that the wise person judges others with detachment and peace (as opposed to over-involvement, annoyance, or condescension). (For a general overview of this discussion, click here).
In Hinduism, the role of the yogi, or teacher, evolved to assist those who sought enlightenment to learn about their essential ätman (real inner self). The word yoga means to unite together, and to place under disciplined training.
Accomplished yogis distinguish among different types of students so as to provide each student with practices that will best guide him or her on the path to enlightenment.
Consider, for example, a student who would be best guided with Jnana yoga. This individual possesses a reflective nature, a capacity for intuition, a living in one's head. This student is a philosopher who might be perceived as having her "head in the clouds". To accomodate such a student, a yogi might emphasize the study of the sages, scriptures, and treatises of Hinduism first. Next would be a course of prolonged, intensive reflection on one's inner ätman (God within), until the ätman changes from conjecture or hypothesis to realization. "If the yogi is able and diligent, such reflections will eventually induce a lively sense of the infinite Self that underlies one's transient, finite self."
A second type of student is far more loving, emotional, and devotional in nature than interested in knowledge. For this individual there is Bhakti yoga. In Bhakti yoga, the student is advised that the ätman is different from one's personality. The student will strive to adore the divine ätman with every element of her being, singing to and seeking a personal union with the divine other. The relationship to the divine becomes a kind of friendship of the most loyal and sensitive sort.
A third type of student hopes for empirical demonstrations of the divine. For him, Raja yoga involves personal -- though empirical -- tests of Hindu religious ideas in a series of steps. The earliest steps involve abstaining from such desires as to quench one's thirst or to feel envy toward someone. In the middle steps, the student first learns to sit in a lotus position, letting go of the pain until the position becomes comfortable. The mind is trained in regular breathing so as to free the yogi to contemplate the world. The last steps of the practice involve turning inward and becoming alone in one's mind to experience a placid serenity. This is most challenging because left alone, Hindu practitioners sometimes analogize, the mind is like a "drunken crazed monkey...just...stung by a wasp". Ultimately, dreams, imaginings, anxieties and the like must drop out; the sense of self disappears until the person is able to reach a synthesis with the divine (samadhi).
Yet another kind of student prefers to approach divinity through work and for him there is Karma yoga. The student who wishes to attain union through work must develop a particular view of his endeavors. According to the Bhagavad Gita:
Who dares to see action in inaction, and inaction in action,
he is wise, he is a yogi,
he is the man who knows what is work.
And if he works selflessly,
if his actions are made pure in the fire of knowledge,
he will be called wise by the learned.
He abandons greed; he is content;
he is self-sufficient;
he works, yet such a man cannot be said to work.
If he forsakes hope, restrains his mind, and relinquishes reward -
he works yet he does not work.
So, judgments of personality are made in Hinduism. Yogis recognize different personalities when it comes to those who wish to learn. Among the personalities are those who wish to think, to love, to experience, and to work. Each of these types are valued; each pursues knowledge of the divine, but in his own way. No person is exclusively one type or another, and a disciple may need to try different paths until it is clear which best fosters her learning. Still, the better the yogi identifies the student's correct path, the more successful the student's learning may be.
More broadly, Hinduism says that the wise person judges with detachment and love, but one who is wise will judge so as to distinguish among different kinds of spiritual types: the knowing, loving, empirical, and working. Judging people -- particularly sorting them into types -- is helpful, but it must be done carefully and with understanding that some people may be of more than one nature.
Such Hindu thought has a long reach. There exists an intellectual lineage from Hindu teachings through the theories of Carl Jung on personality types, up to the corporate training programs of today. More on that in an upcoming post.
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The roots of the word "yoga" are discussed on p. 27, and a description of the four Hindu types can be found on p. 28 of Smith, H. (1991). The world's religions. San Francisco: Harper Collins. The quote "If the yogi is able and diligent" is from the same source, p. 31. The four types of yoga are described by Smith, pp. 29-50. The bhakta is described on pp. 34-35; the mind described as "drunken crazed monkey...just...stung by a wasp" is from p. 48 of Smith. The selections from the Bhagavad-Gita are from Lal, P. (Trans) (1965). The Bhagavad Gita. Lake Gardens, Calcutta: P. Lal. "Who dares to see action in inaction, and inaction in action," - Chapter 4, pp. 18-19.
(c) Copyright 2009 John D. Mayer