An Indian Perspective to Personality

The interest in personality and mind is as old as humankind's history, yet these are the most unexplored and mysterious themes of investigation for any seeker. It is not easy to find a theory that is both perfect and universally accepted. Over the course of history, many seers explained the personality, most of which could not survive the rigors of time. Interestingly, the Indian perspective is an exceptional school of thought that has been standing strong for more than two thousand years and yet attracts the interest, scrutiny, as well as commendation of academicians.

Concept of Swabhava

The Sanskrit word 'Swabhava' can be considered a direct translation of the word 'personality,' though Swabhava may have a deeper meaning. Understanding the Indian approach to personality will require exploring some fundamental concepts that explain certain parts of personality as we currently understand it. The concepts of Prakriti, Tridosha, Triguna, and sheaths of mind, or the levels of consciousness, are Indian concepts that explain different dimensions and aspects of personality with underlying physiological, hereditary, and psychological explanations. These have been explored in the upcoming sections.

Swabhava is the quality of spirit and mind and helps predict a distinctive way of behaving. It has three components as sources of influence, i.e.,

  • Purushottama, which is the supreme truth, provides the basic characteristics of spirit and nature, and provides a space for other elements to grow in whichever direction the being wants. In other words, Purushottama sets the limits and potential for development;
  • Self is the present life's awareness and 'I'ness that an individual develops in the course of life;
  • Jiva is the immortal spirit residing within the body that has a memory of all past and future lives, of evolution that has taken place.

Levels of mind

According to yogic tradition mind's cognition or 'pragna' has 16 dimensions collectively falling into four categories, namely (i) Buddhi, the logical dimension of thought referring to intellect, wisdom, and the power of the mind to understand, analyze, discriminate and decide; (ii) Ahankara, sense of who he or she is and the identity in whose context intellect works; (iii) Manas, the sensory or processing mind which is also present in every cell of the body in the form of intelligence (not intellect) and memories of the past; (iv) Chitta, pure cosmic intelligence which is unchanged and simply there, it is the bridge between conscious and unconscious on the one end and superconscious on the other end. All these categories interact with each other to form a complex mind.

The Upanishads further classify five levels or sheaths of mind, which are the basis of self and personality. These panchkoshas are −

  • Annamaya Kosh − It is the outermost layer of existence, referring to the physical body, which is grounded in the food we consume.
  • Pranamaya Kosh − This is the life or prana component, which represents the functions of breathing and metabolic process.
  • Manomaya Kosh − It refers to the five sense modalities. It is the seat of the 'ego' based on personal involvement, desires, and activities.
  • Vigyanmaya Kosh − It is the level of interaction of the senses and intellect that regulates worldly life. It leads to the feeling of "I"ness and a sense of self.
  • Anandmaya Kosh − The highest, most profound level of self leads to the experience of spiritual bliss and euphoric pleasure derived from non-worldly foundations and pure spiritual pursuits.

These sheaths and one's connection with these levels determine one's personality, behavior, goals, emotions, cognition, etc.


Guna refers to the basic attributes of human personality, which lead to different temperaments. These are inherent and developed by an individual within one's environment, including society, diet, experiences, and thought patterns. There are three Gunas −

  • Sattva Guna − It is the spiritual quality characterized by stability, goodness, wisdom, dutifulness, calmness, spirituality, self-control, respect, and kindness.
  • Rajas Guna − This implies an active quality characterized by passion, desire, restlessness, attachment, enthusiasm, longing for results, and self-interest.
  • Tamas Guna − It is the material quality characterized by ambiguity, idleness, revengefulness, fantasy, apprehensiveness, laziness, persistence, and cynicism.

These guns interact to form many other gunas. As per Indian texts, there exist seven sattvik guna, six types of rajas guna, and three types of tamas guna, summing up to form 16 types of personality types.


The ayurvedic concept of tridosha is based on the Mahabharata, i.e., the five elements: air, fire, water, earth, and sky/ether. These five elements combine to form tridoshas −

  • Vata − It is a combination of the sky and air.
  • Pitta − It is a combination of fire and water.
  • Kapha − It is a combination of water and earth.

These tridosha are largely biological in nature and impact an individual's physiological and psychological processes. Based on the above concepts, the Yoga sutra maps personality (as per U. Arya's commentary) as follows −


The Indian tradition holds the immense capability to change how we view the world and holds the key to opening doors to new knowledge. Nevertheless, the science embedded in Indian texts is science only beyond the complete understanding of the present paradigms of academic investigation. Perhaps a paradigm changes in the investigation methodology applied to this field study may bring relevant results. Finally, and fortunately, the zeitgeist and paradigm shift is taking place to accommodate this old science, and researchers have not only started doing relevant studies in this field but also started acknowledging its relevance.


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