THEOSOPHY, Vol. 43, No. 9, July, 1955
(Pages 399-405; Size: 21K)


[Part 24 of a 29-part series]

THE word personality has had a very interesting history, during recent decades standing for something quite different from what was originally signified by the term. When moderns speak with respect of "human personality," they usually mean to include those qualities which the theosophist attributes to "individuality."

In her Theosophical Glossary, H.P.B. establishes this distinction:

The Personality embraces all the characteristics and memories of one physical life, while the Individuality is the imperishable Ego which reincarnates and clothes itself in one personality after another.
A consultation of Joseph Shipley's Dictionary of Word Origins leaves no doubt that H.P.B.'s use of personality is appropriate. Shipley gives the origin and meaning of person as follows:
When we speak of someone as quite a personage, we do not recognize that his origin was sham. L. persona was a character in a play, whence the list of dramatis personae, characters in the drama. In ancient times, the great theatre spaces made it impossible to see facial changes; masks were therefore used, often with megaphonic mouth-pieces. The mask was a persona.
However, ever since questing minds felt it necessary to repudiate the type of "dualism" foisted upon Western civilization by Christian theology, there have been strong prejudices against dividing human consciousness into two segments. Instead -- and this is valid enough from one point of view -- it has appeared most helpful to consider the human being as a unity rather than as "divided" -- since the implication, in the latter case, seems to be that a man is only part owner in his own castle; God holds primary title to the domain by way of possessing a creator's claim upon the soul. The soul was simply "God-given"; personality, however, was built by each for himself, and on this basis one can understand a subsequent characteristic preference for the latter term among liberal thinkers.

How far, on the other hand, a trend toward liberation of personality from "original sin" suspicion has proceeded is illustrated in the writings of Shailer Matthews, former Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School. In Is God Emeritus? Matthews chose to define God as a "symbol of the personality-producing activities of the universe." Any other definition of God, this liberal theologian implied, would show inadequate faith in man as a being capable of governing himself; human personality has grandeur because it is each person's "God given" right to choose his own values, express his own conscience. "God" thus correctly represents the innate quality of man's independence -- not his dependence upon an alien creator. Now, if one substitutes individuality for personality, in Matthew's definition, one approaches familiar Theosophical doctrine, which makes it evident that the essential meaning intended is in all cases far more important than the terminology employed. For instance, though Madame Blavatsky's writings continually stress the "evanescence" of the personality, she often gives the adjective "personal" another value -- as in her discussion of charity in the Key. There she writes:

The Theosophical ideas of charity mean personal exertion for others; personal interest in the welfare of those who suffer; personal sympathy, forethought and assistance in their troubles or needs. We Theosophists do not believe in giving money (N.B., if we had it) through other people's hands or organizations. We believe in giving to the money a thousandfold greater power and effectiveness by our personal contact and sympathy with those who need it.
Why use "personal" instead of "individual"? Perhaps the word "personal" suggests a kind of warmth which "individual" at times does not. The personality is the "feeling nature," and noble and generous feelings are radiated through the "person." Each personality is, then, a medium of great potential sympathy -- the only means, in fact, by which the ego can reach out to help other human beings through every aspect of being.

A good example of the dignity and value with which personality has often been invested by psychologists is provided in the writings of Carl Jung, as for example:

The achievement of personality means nothing less than the best possible development of all that lies in a particular, single being. ... Personality is an act of the greatest courage in the face of life, and means unconscious affirmation of all that constitutes the individual, the most successful adaptation to the universal conditions of human existence, with the greatest possible freedom of personal decision.

The development of personality ... means fidelity to the law of one's being. ... Not only the causal motive, the need, but a conscious, moral decision must lend is strength to the process of developing the personality. ... True personality always has a vocation and believes in it.

Similarly, Erich Fromm, though one of the defenders of the word soul and hence, of necessity, of a division between the most easily perishable and transitory elements of man and his essential nature, defines personality as "the totality of inherited and acquired psychic qualities which are characteristic of one individual and which make the individual unique." Also, by way of another example, George Ross Wells, in The Art of Being a Person, combines every aspect of human consciousness under personality by writing that "a person is all of his physical, physiological, psychological, mental, moral details arranged in a pattern."

For the past two decades, however, a number of writers have perceived a sort of pragmatic need for subdividing the familiar concept of self, or personality. An example of this development is provided by psychiatrist Karen Horney in Neurosis and Human Growth. There she suggests the following classification, distinguishing between three "levels" of the self:

The real self is the alive, unique, personal center of ourselves; the only part that can and wants to grow. The actual self is an all-inclusive term for everything that a person is at a given time: body and soul, healthy and neurotic. ... The idealized self is what we are in our irrational imagination, or what we should be according to the dictates of neurotic pride. The real self is the "original" force toward individual growth and fulfillment.
Dr. Horney also intimates the inevitability of conflict between the two chief aspects of selfhood, and remarks that "this conflict can turn into an open battle only at a point when the real self has become active enough for one to risk it."

Arthur Jersild, professor of education at Teacher's College at Columbia, similarly indicates that while the core of the self is a distinctive "center of experience and significance," there are other divisions and attributes of selfhood which must be given separate attention. In his volume, In Search of Self, Jersild argues (1) that "the self is a composite of thoughts and feelings which constitute a person's awareness of his individual existence, his conception of what and who he is. A person's self is the "sum total of all that he can call his." (2) The self includes, among other things, a system of ideas, attitudes, values, and commitments. (3) The self is a person's total subjective environment It is a distinctive "center of experience and significance." (4) The self constitutes a person's inner world as distinguished from the "outer world" consisting of all other people and things. The self is "the individual as known to the individual." (5) It is "that to which we refer when we say 'I'." It is the "custodian of awareness;" it is the thing about a person which has awareness and alertness, "which notices what goes on, and ... notices what goes on in its own field." (6) The self is reflexive -- it is an object to itself."

Here we have self aware of self, or, in theosophical terms, individuality aware of its relation to personality. Rollo May, in Man's Search for Himself, develops this idea further, indicating the manner in which the term individuality has worked its way back into scholarly usage. May writes:

Consciousness of self actually expands our control of our lives. ... This is the truth behind the seeming paradox, that the more consciousness of one's self one has, the more spontaneous and creative one can be at the same time. Individuality is one side of one's consciousness of one's self. We can see this point clearly when we realize that consciousness of one's self is always a unique act -- I can never know exactly how you see yourself and you never can know exactly how I relate to myself. This is the inner sanctum where each man must stand alone. This fact makes for much of the tragedy and inescapable isolation in human life, but it also indicates again that we must find the strength in ourselves to stand in our own inner sanctum as individuals.
C. J. Ducasse's Nature, Mind and Death provides an excellent summary of the subtleties involved in contrasting the terms individuality and personality -- a discussion occurring during his treatment of reincarnation and karma. Dr. Ducasse here points out a clear distinction between those aspects of "self" which represent personality and those which represent individuality:
In what a human being is at a given time we may distinguish two parts, one deeper and more permanent, and another more superficial and transient. The latter consists of everything he has acquired since birth: habits, skills, memories, and so on. This is his personality. The other part, which, somewhat arbitrarily for lack of a better name we may here agree to call his individuality, comprises the aptitudes and dispositions which are native in him....

There can be no doubt that each of us, on the basis of his same individuality -- that is, of his same stock of innate latent capacities and incapacities -- would have developed a more or less different empirical mind and personality if, for instance, he had been put at birth in a different family, or had later been thrust by some external accident into a radically different sort of environment. ... Reflection on this fact should cause one to take his present personality with a large grain of salt, viewing it no longer humorlessly as his absolute self, but rather, in imaginative perspective, as but one of the various personalities which his individuality was equally capable of generating had it happened to enter phenomenal history through birth in a different environment. Thus, to the question: What is it that could be supposed to be reborn? an intelligible answer may be returned by saying that it might be the core of positive and negative aptitudes and tendencies which we have called a man's individuality, as distinguished from his personality. And the fact might further be that, perhaps as a result of persistent striving to acquire a skill or trait he desires, but for which he now has but little gift, aptitude for it in future births would be generated and incorporated into his individuality.

A man's individuality, as we have here defined it, would be what remains of a man after not only the death of his body but also after the disintegration of his lifetime-acquired "personal" mind, whether at bodily death or at some longer or shorter time thereafter. On the other hand, although his "individuality" would not itself be a personal mind, it would be an intrinsic and indeed the basic constituent of what his total mind is at any time. Out of the union of this basic or seminal constituent with a living body there would gradually develop a personal mind, whose particular nature would be the resultant on the one hand of the experiences due to the circumstances of that body, and on the other, of the core of aptitudes and tendencies therein embodied.

Ducasse's reasoning affords good ground for the Theosophist's maintaining that the matter of "individuality" and "personality" comes into clear focus only when the context of discussion includes the hypothesis of rebirth. Turning to the writings of H. P. Blavatsky again, we discover that it is always in such context that she makes her own distinction. Consider, for example, these paragraphs from The Key to Theosophy -- tucked away in the section, "The Doctrine as Taught in St. John's Gospel." Since this section may sometimes escape attention because of its unrevealing title, it may prove a service to quote it at length:
The Ego or thinking man crucifies himself in Space (or the duration of the life cycle) for the redemption of MATTER. This he does by incarnating over and over again, thus leading mankind onward to perfection, and making thereby room for lower forms to develop into higher. Not for one life does he cease progressing himself and helping all physical nature to progress; even the occasional, very rare event, of his losing one of his personalities, in the case of the latter being entirely devoid of even a spark of spirituality, helps toward his individual progress.

The Spirit (or Buddhi) is the centrifugal and the soul (Manas) the centripetal spiritual energy; and to produce one result they have to be in perfect union and harmony. Break or damage the centripetal motion of the earthly soul tending toward the centre which attracts it; arrest its progress by clogging it with a heavier weight of matter than it can bear, or than is fit for the Devachanic state, and the harmony of the whole will be destroyed. Personal life, or perhaps rather its ideal reflection, can only be continued if sustained by the two-fold force, that is by the close union of Buddhi and Manas in every re-birth or personal life. The least deviation from harmony damages it; and when it is destroyed beyond redemption the two forces separate at the moment of death. During a brief interval the personal form (called indifferently Kama rupa and Mayavi rupa), the spiritual efflorescence of which, attaching itself to the Ego, follows it into Devachan and gives to the permanent individuality its personal colouring (pro. tem., so to speak), is carried off to remain in Kamaloka and to be gradually annihilated.

If during life the ultimate and desperate effort of the INNER SELF (Manas), to unite something of the personality with itself and the high glimmering ray of the divine Buddhi, is thwarted; if this ray is allowed to be more and more shut out from the ever-thickening crust of physical brain, the Spiritual EGO or Manas, once freed from the body, remains severed entirely from the ethereal relic of the personality; and the latter, or Kama rupa, following its earthly attractions, is drawn into and remains in Hades, which we call the Kama-loka. These are "the withered branches" mentioned by Jesus as being cut off from the Vine.

One might, incidentally, make cross-reference here to the recent "Word Puzzles" article on Metempsychosis, [Note: The 22nd in this series.--Compiler.] wherein H.P.B.'s remarks concerning reincarnation in Isis Unveiled were reproduced. When she wrote that "the appearance of the same individual, or rather of his astral monad, twice on the same planet, is not a rule in nature; it is an exception," the words "or rather of his astral monad," establish a distinction of importance. Here she simply expresses the view of Buddha -- that the personality, being a compound, does not reincarnate. As her other statements on Metempsychosis indicated, the Higher Ego, or individuality, does incarnate in personality after personality, distilling, each time, the essences of experiences gained and making them part of the permanent character or soul. This essence of past personalities, she explains, is not lost at death or even during Pralaya, but the personality, as a compound, perishes with each bodily death.

This is "Theosophical dualism," dualism of a far different structure than that taught by theologians. The difference lies in the fact that, according to Theosophic teaching, the manasic ego is responsible for his own destiny -- and also responsible for the nature of each personality, through which destiny unfolds. So, finally, it seems clear that no complete Theosophical exposition is possible without distinguishing between personality and individuality -- but, on the other hand, it is the distinction and not the phraseology which is of import. In discussion with those who have, in reaction to theology, invested the word personality with at least some of the qualities of higher manas, care might well be taken to explain why insistence that the highest dignity of man resides in realms beyond the personal does not imply that the "soul" belongs to God -- or the personality to Satan.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


The ambiguity of thinking, the dichotomy between reason and a rationalizing intellect, is the expression of a basic dichotomy in man, the coextensive need for bondage and freedom. The unfolding and full emergence of reason is dependent on the attainment of full freedom and independence. Until this is accomplished man will tend to accept for truth that which the majority of his group want to be true; his judgment is determined by need for contact with the herd and by fear of being isolated from it. A few individuals can stand this isolation and say the truth in spite of the danger of losing touch. They are the true heroes of the human race but for whom we should still be living in caves.

Man will attain the full capacity for objectivity and reason only when a society of man is established above all particular divisions of the human race, when loyalty to the human race and to its ideals is considered the prime loyalty that exists. 


Next article:
[Reincarnation. Metempsychosis. Transmigration. Etc.--

Compiler's Note: Because of responses to the Editors by readers to the first one on the subject, this next one is a continuation of the "Metempsychosis" article that was the 22nd one in this series. A second article, by H. P. Blavatsky, and very much related, follows this one on the same page, and is entitled "Thoughts on Karma and Reincarnation" (it's a full copy, not a link). And a link to another related article by HPB, entitled "Transmigration of the Life Atoms", is also provided. The whole overall subject is made even clearer in this "Continuation" of the subject.]
[Part 25 of a 29-part series]

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