Hinduism: Week 3 Recap

Here’s a quick recap on my third week of Hinduism:

Daily Puja (Bhakti Yoga)

This past week I’ve been inconsistent about making my offering to Ganesh. My girlfriend’s mother had been visiting and staying with us and my shrine is right next to where she sleeps, so I didn’t want to disturb her in in the morning by getting incense smoke in her face.

Yoga (Hatha Yoga)

I’ve been good about going to Bikram Yoga. I’ve gone twice a week for the past few weeks, including this week, and have seen some improvement (meaning, I don’t feel like I want to die). Going to Bikram Yoga a few times a week will show you how quickly the body can adapt to new circumstances.

Daily Study (Inana Yoga)

I have not been doing so great in this area. I finished reading the Gita several weeks ago, but I haven’t spent too much time revisiting it and diving deeper into its teachings.

I also haven’t been spending that much time reading the Upanishads. I don’t have a good reason. I just haven’t drummed up the will to rack my brain against difficult concepts, especially after work.

In addition, I haven’t been writing. I just didn’t have the mental energy to churn out blog posts this week.

Selfless Action at Work (Karma Yoga)

I have pretty much failed at doing anything selfless at work. I’ve been pretty much doing the minimum to get the work done, and doing it while having a self-pitying/cynical attitude. I really don’t know what to do about this particular problem as it seems to be persistent.

Overall Understanding of the Self

This past week has mostly been a depressing one. I failed to meet most of the expectations I set for myself (writing, praying, studying, etc.) and as a result, I was in a sour mood almost all week.

I did some thinking about why I became depressed, and I believe it’s largely due to the fact that I base my ego in my accomplishments (or lack thereof). I’m less concerned about what others believe I should achieve, but I am very emotionally affected by what I think I should achieve.

I suspect this is the case for most people.

Most personality tests assess how you react in various scenarios, and then place you in a personality category based on these reactions. In essence, they define you by the thought processes and emotions you feel in response to different situations.

But this view of the Self describes only what Hindus believe to be a small and transient part of what makes you, you. Yes, as an introvert, you may consistently react negatively to big parties, but can this describe you in your entirety?

It can’t.

However, we live our lives as if it does.

This past week I was depressed because I didn’t meet my own expectations. I thought I was a failure and that this whole project would collapse and I would be stuck hating my job forever. My perception of myself changed based on actions I didn’t take.

On Friday, my mood changed. I volunteered at Miriam’s Kitchen (which I started doing during my Catholic month), and while I was chopping potatoes, I had a wonderful conversation with a history professor about this project and medieval concepts of vocation (note: history professors make great conversation partners).

There was something about the conversation and volunteering that created a deep sense of satisfaction.

After a week of being depressed, I was suddenly a much happier person.

Our emotions and minds are capricious, and basing our identity on these things can only lead to confusion and suffering.

Religion does a good job of trying to separate the mind and body from the soul. The mind and body will eventually disappear, but the soul is forever.

I’m not sure why religions distinguish between the ego and the soul, but it seems smart, and it’s becoming clear to me that personality tests can only get you so far. They do a good job of assessing your temperament, but they can’t explain what it is about you that makes you feel connected to another person, or why serving others leads to feelings of joy and contentment. Those feelings seem deeper than introversion or extroversion, or detail oriented vs. idea oriented.

This of course doesn’t mean we should abandon personality tests altogether. They’re still useful in some contexts. But to reduce yourself to a personality profile may prevent you from seeking the Self or the soul or that indescribable sense of harmony with your environment that makes life worth living.

I can’t quite articulate why, but I think we’re selling ourselves short by focusing exclusively on the ego as measured through personality tests.

If you have any thoughts on the shortcomings of personality tests in understanding the self or Self, please leave a comment.

  • MarcHamann

    Are you familiar with the Enneagram? Some interpretations of it fit with the Hindu notion of Atman, in the sense that personality (like ego) is assumed to be a superficial phenomenon that “hides” the deeper universality of one’s real nature. Each personality type can be seen as a particular distortion or deviation from this real nature, and can give a clue to which of our behaviours and beliefs we need to compensate for to return to our real, balanced nature.

    To give a very simplistic example, the extreme introvert might need to develop their connection with others, while the extreme extrovert might need get in touch with themselves separate from other people. The assumption is that one’s true nature has both qualities in balance, each serving its healthy and useful function.

    Even if you don’t buy the premises of this scheme, I think there is wisdom and utility in not seeing one’s personality as an inflexible identity to be bolstered, but as a tool of self-knowledge of one’s own “failure modes” and “hidden strengths”, to be used or compensated for as appropriate.

    • I had no idea what an Enneagram was until you brought it up here. Just did some quick research (wikipedia) and it’s an interesting concept. However, it still seems fairly similar to a typical Myers-Briggs test that lists your preferences and corresponding “weaknesses.” I guess where it differs is the broader philosophical context in which it is used.

      Have you used the Enneagram model to make an improvement in your outlook and/or behaviors?

      • MarcHamann

        The Enneagram is a more complex system than MBTI. Any personality system really just gives you tools to understand yourself and others.

        Very often your strengths and weaknesses are the same thing. To take a very simplified example, being introverted is great if you need to do focused work on your own, but it can mean your are at a disadvantage when networking or building consensus for a project.

        To understand that about yourself, and perhaps better yet to understand what your underlying motivations are that make you introverted, can make you more aware of when you are sabotaging yourself, when you need to compensate, or when you need to ask someone else with different strengths to help you.

        My own experience is that understanding the Enneagram and other personality systems has definitely helped me to recognize (and improve) previously hidden tendencies, as well as to get along with others who are quite different, by making me understand their (to me alien) motivations.

        You can certainly achieve these ends through other means, but for me it was a useful tool.

        • Very interesting. I’ll have to look into a little more. I like the concept of strengths and weaknesses being the same thing, it’s only the context that allows for the distinction.

          I may follow up with you about this in the future.

          Thanks for writing.

  • Stephan

    My mother has her Ph.D. in psychology, and has had a long interest in assessment. She generally refers to the MBTI as being a fun toy, but clinically and statistically useless. You may wish to look at some of its criticisms (e.g. at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers%E2%80%93Briggs_Type_Indicator#Criticism ), and also compare it with the MMPI, a personality inventory that has a strong history of rigorous use.

    All that said, I agree with you that understanding your temperament, or the structures and patterns in your mind, while useful, is only one part of going through life with greater ease and clarity.

    • Yes, my company has a bunch of Industrial-Organizational Psychology PhDs and they believe MBTI is a joke. They prefer “Big-5′ personality assessments.

      I like your thought on going through life with greater ease and clarity. That’s a great way to state the limitations of personality tests!