Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

3.4: Relating the Ways to Each Other and to Personality Types

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    The positioning of each of the six ways in relation to each other in the following diagram is not random and is meant to reflect several considerations.


    Screen Shot 2019-12-11 at 11.25.22 PM.png

    First, the three ways in the upper half of the diagram have a certain affinity in opposition, to some extent, with the affinity shared with the three ways in the lower half of the diagram. Practices in the ways of right action, sacred rite, and reasoned inquiry tend to be relatively more well defined, focused, and ordered-objectified, as it were-than are practices in the ways of devotion, shamanic mediation, and mystical quest. The latter are relatively more informal, spontaneous, and openended. In addition, the focus of attention in their practices seems to have more to do with things outside the self than inside the self, whereas the focus of attention for the ways in the lower half of the diagram seems more turned inward.

    Second, the pair on the vertical axis, sacred rite and shamanic mediation, tend more to employ concrete symbols (though not in the same way). Both address, fascinate, and occupy the senses. To the contrary, those away from the vertical axis have less use for concrete symbols and are, relatively speaking, more abstract. Interestingly, the two ways on the vertical axis predominate in small-scale, nonliterate, relatively undifferentiated societies; it is hard to find clear indications of the other ways in such contexts-especially not as ways unto themselves. Contrariwise, distinct expressions of ways away from the vertical axis tend to emerge only in larger-scale, differentiated societies in which individual religious predilections are given opportunity to develop and express themselves. In this connection, it is noteworthy that those to the right of the vertical axis are somewhat more reflectively governed, those to the left somewhat less so.

    Third, notice the oppositional pairings: sacred rite with shamanic mediation, right action with mystical quest, and reasoned inquiry with devotion. An alternative way of construing the diagram would be in terms of a set of three coordinates or axes in three dimensions, with each opposing pair in the current diagram serving as one of the three axes. Thus construed, it would be possible to speak of the relationship between any two ways independently of their relationships to others. Also it would be possible to plot within that three-dimensional space the location of a given religious phenomenon that combined more than one way of being religious. Nonetheless, within each pair is a tensed opposition or oppositional tension, with each way serving, or capable of serving, as a kind of balance or complement to the other.

    The practices associated with the way of sacred rite are, as they must be, clearly ordered and well defined in advance; relatively little is left to spontaneity, improvisation, and intuition-except for the private thoughts, feelings, and associations of the participants. By way of contrast, practices associated with the way of shamanic mediation, while often involving certain rituals, are for the most part quite informal, spontaneous, and intuitive, always leaving room for "the movement of (the) spirit." Indeed, they involve giving up mundane human control in order to allow the spirit(s) to take over-a prospect directly at odds with the typical sensibility associated with the way of sacred rite. Whereas sacred rite centers essentially on a symbolic recovery and presentation of timeless archetypes-which is an essentially conservative enterprise-shamanic mediation very often centers on the emergence of new (previously unknown) archetypes of the sacred, or fresh, unconventional, and unpredictable expressions of old (previously known) ones. Accordingly, priests are usually linked to and serve the established social order (within which they often hold a privileged place), whereas shamans, being never wholly domesticated and representing sacred power uncontrolled by any human agenda, are always a potential threat to vested mundane interests. Accordingly, shamans are specialists in dealing with the liminal regions of life-those areas that are unstructured, unknown, and radically other-dealing with them as liminal, rather than attempting to impose on them some structure. In the history of Western religions (including primarily Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), rarely if ever do priest and shaman-prophet coincide in the same person. Sometimes, however, they are found in a kind of creative tension alongside one another in a given religious tradition. Each would seem to need some aspect of the other to keep its balance, for sacred rite (left to itself?) can degenerate in spiritless ritualism, and shamanic mediation (left to itself?) can degenerate into a kind of spiritual autism or chaos. In Eastern Asian religions and indigenous African religions priest and shaman frequently coincide. Why that should be so is an interesting question. At least in China, this may be due in part to the differentiation in social roles between the Confucian and Daoist traditions, for there the opposition between priest and prophet characteristic of Western religion is more closely paralleled by the opposition between Confucian scholar and Daoist shaman-priest.

    Right action is the quintessential journey outward, into the world. It is above all concerned with doing something, undertaking tasks, and making a difference. Mystical quest, to the contrary, is the quintessential journey inward, a withdrawal from the world (even though it may ultimately involve a return to the world and be for the sake of the world). It is above all concerned with quieting down, letting go, and finding "the still center of the turning world." Both seek ultimate reality but in apparently opposite directions. Yet each seems to require something of the other to keep on track and be at its best, for right action (left to itself?) can degenerate into hyperactivism (frenzied activity without grace or center), and mystical quest (left to itself?) can degenerate into quietism (uncaring indifference and shirking of responsibility).

    The way of reasoned inquiry is the way of the intellect. It is above all concerned with gaining reasoned comprehension of the highest and most comprehensive truths. Devotion is the way of the heart and the affections. It is above all concerned with cultivating purity of heart in whole-hearted worship of, and devotional surrender to, the all-sufficient grace of ultimate reality. By way of contrast with the careful differentiations of the way of reasoned inquiry, the way of devotion groups things together in terms of how they feel (how they relate to the heart) and how they participate in praise of ultimate reality. The intellectually gifted and educated person is often drawn to one way, the simple and uneducated person more often to the other. This correlation has many exceptions and is by no means meant to imply a value judgment. In any case, no two ways could seem more opposed. Yet, again, each seems to require something of the other to keep it balanced and authentic, for the way of wisdom (left to itself?) can degenerate into insensitive, heartless intellectualism, and the way of devotion (left to itself?) can degenerate into mindless sentimentality.

    The basic conception of generic ways of being religious suggests a possible correlation between ways of being religious and types of personality. This has certainly been recognized in Hinduism, as mentioned in Chapter 1, where it has been taught that the different "paths to God," or yogas, are suited to different personalities and that it would be inappropriate, or at least frustrating, for a person of a personality type suited to one yoga to attempt to seek at-onement with "God" through another. A similar teaching can be found in certain traditions of Mahayana Buddhism (e.g., Tibetan Gelukpa and Chinese T'ien-t'ai or Japanese Tendaz), which assigns a different path of Buddhist practice to different personality types, some of which correlate with the six ways. Both in terms of what were called their existential motivations in Chapter 2 and in terms of their characteristic practices, it seems plausible that, where choice among alternatives is available, certain persons are more likely to be drawn to, or be reasonably satisfied with, one way (or certain ways) of being religious over others. Inversely, when choice among alternatives is available, these same persons are more likely to avoid, or be unsatisfied with, certain other ways of being religious. A person usually does not choose the religious subtradition in which she is raised or that is most immediately available in her culture. That subtradition may very well emphasize one way of being religious over others, perhaps at the exclusion of others. It is plausible that, in the event of a poor "fit" between her own personality and existential needs on the one hand and the immediately available way of being religious on the other, she would be motivated to seek satisfaction of her own religious needs elsewhere, outside that subtradition, or at least withhold her full participation in it. Thus, the framework of ways of being religious may offer some insight into what leads people to move from one subtradition to another, if not from one religion to another. Contrariwise, it would explain how a subtradition that generously included within itself multiple ways of being religious addressed to different peoples' religious needs would more likely satisfy the full range of its members' needs.

    The correlation of personality types with ways of being religious makes up a whole field yet to be seriously explored. 6 However, despite the rich possibility that this seems to represent, it must not be forgotten that a stronger, natural motivation for involvement in a certain way of being religious exists than affinity with a certain personality type-namely, the existential predicament that raises the problem of meaning in one of its specific aspects. For example, even though persons may by personality be drawn, say, to the way of devotion, they may be compelled by dint of circumstance to confront momentous events requiring an archetypally grounded sense of propriety (e.g., a wedding or a death) that sacred ritual provides. Or they may find themselves forced to confront a situation of radically unjust behavior that calls for rectification through right action. Thus personality type, though it is no doubt a factor in determining an individual's way of being religious, is hardly a determining factor unto itself.

    This page titled 3.4: Relating the Ways to Each Other and to Personality Types is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dale Cannon (Independent) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.