If we consider, even superficially, the various human beings who surround us, we soon discover that they are not equally developed from the psychological and spiritual standpoint.
By Roberto Assagioli, Oct. 1930, The Beacon
This is an extract from an article that first appeared in the Journal: the Beacon, the editor’s (KS) input in the text is bracketed […]. The above lecture is the first of a series of six addresses that were delivered by Dr. Roberto Assagioli at the International Centre for Spiritual Research at Ascona, Switzerland, in August 1930.
Until a few decades ago individual psychology was still mostly dominated by the old Galenic doctrines of “temperaments.” This doctrine was based on the physiological theory prevailing in Galen’s time, which taught that there existed in the human body four fluids; blood, phlegm, atabile, bile. The various mixtures (“tempering”) of these four fluids and the prevalence of one or the other determined, so they believed, the temperament; i.e. respectively, the sanguine, the phlegmatic, the bilious and the melancholy.
I think it is unnecessary to illustrate the inadequacy of this doctrine, its physiological basis has no validity and its superficial and static classification do not cover the richness, complexity, and dynamism of a human personality. Yet most of the modern classifications of temperaments can be considered as more or less ingenious modifications and developments of the Galenic doctrine; such as, for instance, those of Dorst, Kant, Herbart, Bahnsen, Carus, He!twig, Hoffding, Wundt, Ebbinghails, Heymans, Ku1pe, Ach, Meumann, and various others, which have been rightly criticised by Stern in his book ‘differentielle Psychologie’ (Leipzig, Barth 1911), which contains much useful information on our subject.
Also other classifications which differ from the traditional schemes, such as those of Ribot, Queyrat, and Albert Levy, etc., present the same faults of superficiality, rigidity and lack of synthetic interpretation of the living human being.
Recently an interesting attempt has been made to build up a new classification of psychological types based on the physiology of the inner secretions. The author of this attempt, the well known Italian Endocrinologist Prof. Pende, described among others, the following psycho-physiological types:
- hyper thyroidical type, which is emotional, changeable, active, quick and very intelligent:
- hypo-thyroidical type, which is slow, apathetic, and not intelligent;
- hyper adrenal type, strong, violent, often well developed mentally;
- hypogenital-hyperthyroidical type, having a temperament at times excitable, with a tendency to be mentally childish or to have the mentality of the opposite sex.
- hyper-genital, hyper-thyroidical and hyper-pituitarical type, which is optimistic, demonstrative, has a vivid imagination and an average intelligence.
It is very interesting to compare these first attempts made by modern scientific men, based on the correlations between occult teachings concerning the glands, the etheric centres, and psychological characteristics. Those who are interested in this subject will find many valuable facts and suggestions in a book by Alice A . Bailey, The Soul and Its Mechanism, which is a very important contribution to the unification of Western and Eastern thought in the fields of physiology and psychology.
A different line of research in individual psychology has been started in the last decade, not aiming at classifying or describing temperaments, but only making an analytic and experimental study of the elementary functions in the various individuals. It has thus discovered the visual, auditory, motor types, and so on. In this way some results have been reached of practical value in education, in psychotechnics, and in vocational guidance.
But from the standpoint of true individual psychology all these studies have a very limited scope. They are too analytical and fragmentary, and the study of simple aptitudes, and even that of the mutual co-relations between various elementary psychological functions, does not help us to penetrate the inner working of the human personality; does not reveal to us its secret.
Another method used by some psychologists is that of the detailed study of a single personality by means of minute psychological schemes called “psychograms.” We have such a study of the German writer Hoffmann made by Paul Margis, and that of the French novelist Zola written by Dr. Toulouse.
This method, owing to the wealth of concrete elements it collects, represents a notable progress compared with those preceding it. But, as it is now used, is too analytical and merely descriptive; it does not begin with the living centre of the personality, and it lacks a unifying principle showing the inner significance, the relationships, the reasons and purposes of the several personal characteristics it enumerates.
Another way has recently been opened to individual psychology by the Psycho-analytic movement in its various branches and developments, represented chiefly by Freud, Adler, Jung. This method goes deeper than the previous ones and has given very useful results in psychotherapy and education. We will not stop now to discuss the complicated and often far-fetched and onesided theories of Freud and Adler, because these authors (although the latter calls his work “Individual Psychology”), have not given a description of definite human types.
We will instead devote two of our next lectures to the consideration, and development of Jung’s most fruitful analysis of psychological types according to the four fundamental functions (sensation, emotion, thought, intuition) and to the two directions of the vital interest (extroversion and introversion).
These are the main aspects of the scientific studies in the field of individual psychology.[Esoteric] sciences, however have preceded modern science in this field, and the knowledge given us is, in my opinion, of a higher, more comprehensive and more fundamental character. Its contributions include the description of different human groups according to the difference in the age of the soul and in the stage of spiritual evolution; the various relationships existing between the personality and the individuality, or Ego [Higher Self]; the different Rays and astrological signs, to which the personality and individuality belong, and the different planets under whose influences they are placed.
All these points will be dealt with in our following lectures.
I think that no one method of study can give us an adequate understanding of such a complex unity as a human being, and that only by using all the available channels of approach, only by looking at this multi-faced prism from many angles, only by tracing as far as possible the origin of the elements of which it is composed, and endeavoring to visualize the goal towards which it consciously or unconsciously proceeds, we may hope to really know a human unit, a microcosm. Only thus we will become able to coordinate and harmonize the disconnected and often complicating energy and faculties of our personalities into a harmonious whole, to achieve our psychosynthesis.
We will begin by dealing with “the age of the soul.”
THE AGE OF THE SOUL
If we consider, even superficially, the various human beings who surround us, we soon discover that they are not equally developed from the psychological and spiritual standpoint; that there are some who are still at a primitive and almost savage stage; others, a little more developed; others more advanced and a few who are transcending normal humanity and are reaching the superhuman or spiritual stage.
It is well to study more carefully these differences; to realize their origin, their characteristics, the individual and social consequences they bring about, and to find out which is the best attitude to adopt regarding them.
The origin of these differences cannot be explained by modern science. Even the contemporaneous existence on the face of the earth of different races, some still at a primitive and barbaric stage, and others quite cultured and mentally highly developed, cannot be easily accounted for by Biology and Anthropology: certainly these sciences cannot give us any satisfactory explanation as to why in the same country and ethnical group, even in the same family, we find side by side individuals of a very different degree of inner development. […]
The causes of such difference are hinted at in the “Secret Doctrine”, and in the “Treatise on Cosmic Fire.” But we cannot dwell on them now. Moreover, among the souls which have started their pilgrimage on an equal basis, differences can easily have arisen during the long series of lives through which they have since passed, owing to different external influences, to successes and failures and to inner decisions. But whatever the cause of these differences, they serve a useful purpose. I would even say that they are necessary for the working out of the evolutionary plan. They give occasion to all the various relationships existing among human beings; relationships of leadership and obedience, of teaching and learning, even of oppression and revolt, which constitute fruitful experiences and assist the process of evolution. In a world in which all was at the same level, these interactions would be lacking and while life would be simpler, it would be more monotonous, less interesting and stimulating, even, I fear, decidedly tiresome and would fail in great part to achieve its purpose.
According to the various degrees of inner development and maturity, human souls have been called “young” or “old”; meaning by this expression a shorter or longer span of their earthly pilgrimage; the smaller or greater number of “days” or lives in which they have rejoiced and suffered on the earth.
Here, as elsewhere, we can find a sure and suggestive guide in the great law of analogy, which, if used with discrimination and in the right way, gives us the “key” to many secrets of nature and of the soul. In our case the use of that “key” is not difficult and very illuminating.
The analogy existing between the psychology of children and that of primitive peoples is evident, and it has been often pointed out: both children and savages or primitive persons, are simple, impulsive, curious, easily distracted; they live only in the present moment; they are sensitive and emotional but their feelings, though intense at the time, are not deep and have short duration. They are not moral, because the sense of responsibility has not yet awakened in them, and they are apt to be unconsciously cruel. They tend to personify the natural objects and forces. Their personality is rudimentary, and they do not feel it as sharply distinct from the surrounding world.
At a stage a little more advanced we find on one side the older children, and on the other, souls of a corresponding inner age, which appear to us in their more typical aspects at the beginning of great civilizations.
Let us recall, for instance, the men of the primitive Vedic age in India and of the Homeric period in Greece, with their fresh sense of poetry and their childlike simplicity, their communion with nature, their gigantic and somewhat childish gods, which only very gradually have risen from being personifications of natural forces and human passions, into symbols of high spiritual principles.
Before proceeding in this analysis, it is well to remember that in every age of body and soul, as in every psychological type and in every human manifestation, we must distinguish the lower and the higher aspects of the same principle or quality.
Thus in childish souls we find the lower qualities of roughness, violence, a certain barbarity, an intelligence of a primitive type, sometimes a certain slyness and deceitfulness, a candid egoism, and little sensitiveness for the pain of others.
Many of these characters are to be found, more or less marked, in the Homeric heroes depicted in the Iliad. The higher aspects of that psychological age are those described by poets when they celebrate the golden age, as purity, innocence, naturalness, docility, devotion and obedience to the gods, or childlike trust in God,
In our civilization we do not find many souls of this type; we must look for them among faithful servants and devoted followers, mostly among country people and mountaineers.
These souls develop chiefly through external activity,—Karma Yoga — through which they gather experiences, develop their minds and acquire moral qualities such as patience, courage, self-sacrifice. The main ideal for them, their Dharma, is devotion, fidelity, obedience to the gods, to rulers or superiors, to the moral and religious precepts, to established laws.
But souls cannot and most not remain always at this childish stage. Their growth is marked, as it happens with adolescence, by a series of contrasts and conflicts.
In the mental sphere we see the beginning of critical reflection, which causes questionings and doubts.
Principles and theologies are no longer accepted at their face value: the eager mind asks for their credentials; it wants to know their origin, their foundations, their agreement with facts.
On the emotional side there is the intensification and complication of the feelings, the outbursts of new passions.
On the active side we find a thirst for independence, a revolt against the “gods”, against all kinds of authority. It is the Titanic and Promethian stage. We find also an accentuation of self consciousness and self assertion, with sometimes a leaning towards subjective introspection, which is the chief characteristic of the romantic attitude. It is an inharmonious and chaotic stage, which is accompanied by much stress and suffering for the individual, and proves troublesome and most difficult to handle for others.
The lower aspects of this age of the soul are the excessive self-assertion and tendency to destructiveness and anarchy, fanaticism, pride. rigidity, a tendency to go to extremes, separativeness, intolerance, lack of respect and understanding of others.
The higher aspects of this age arc, on the other hand, idealism, the spirit of sacrifice for a cause, generosity, courage and daring, combativity for good purposes, a keen sense and worship of beauty, a sense of honor, in general all the qualities included in the chivalrous attitude and conduct.
The Dharma of this age is the development of the mind and of autonomous moral powers, the development of self-consciousness and spiritual independence, the study of life and the acquisition of a wider experience; the active dedication to a cause or an ideal, not accepted from outside, but inwardly felt and willingly adhered to.
Many souls are at this stage nowadays and some of the characteristics enumerated will be found to apply exactly to the mental state of the majority in our civilization. We need only recall the rapid breaking away from traditions and forms, the restlessness, the individualistic, critical and rebellious attitude now prevailing. See: F. Bailey Humanity Comes of Age. Beacon, June 1928.
THE ADULT SOUL
If we compare the adult with the young man or woman, we find that there has been a gradual subsiding of the vital exuberance, or the emotional effervescence, and a parallel increase of the mental and reasoning faculty. The chaotic condition, rapid changes, and extreme oscillations have given place to a certain adjustment; a definite formation or shaping of the personality, a consolidation.
This stage too, has its lower and its higher aspects. The former lie chiefly in the direction of an excessive limitation, hardening and aridity. The contact with the hard facts of life, the struggles, the disappointments, the failures shatter the illusions, dampen the enthusiasm and put to a severe test the individual’s faith. Thus a reaction of sceptism and disillusionment might occur, even leading to cynicism. The development of the mind (a very necessary instrument) carries with itself certain dangers, those of excessive criticism and of intellectual crystallization, thus debarring or destroying the consciousness of the Real.
Absorption in practical interests and personal duties lead easily to separativeness and to the undue assertion of the personal self, of the Ahamkara.
The higher aspects of this psychological age can be summed up in three words :—Harmony, Equilibrium, Efficiency.
At this period the soul is capable of realizing the equilibrium between spirit and form: the personality is shaped and perfected in order to become a fit instrument of expression for the soul, well defined and resistant, yet sufficiently plastic. It is suitable then for service, for the work of bringing about in the world the will of the spirit, and the materializing of the plans of the Logos.
In a sense, while this age appears more static and free from tumultuous crises, spiritually it is the critical age, the point of the parting of the ways, of the choice which decides the soul’s future. If the process of hardening and crystallization goes on unchecked and the form side prevails more and more upon the vital and spiritual aspect, or if the mind becomes domineering old age inevitably follows, in its negative aspects of ossification, debility, self-centeredness, and a gradual segregation from surrounding life; and if this process is not interrupted by the intervention of some counterbalancing influence, it can lead to that extreme lack of responsiveness and selfish isolation which culminates in spiritual death, just as physical senility ends in physical death. Fortunately spiritual death, in contradistinction to physical death, is a rare exception because, as I have mentioned, usually other factors intervene to stop the personality on the descending curve and to turn it gently or violently onto an upward course. The violent way is a great sorrow or persistent increasing pain which breaks up the personality and forces it to invoke a higher self, to turn to God for assistance!
The gentle way is based on the fact that, parallel to the development of the mind, life’s experiences bring about the maturation and development of the soul itself. Spiritual discrimination is acquired, by which man begins to realize the difference between the real and the unreal. The true perspective is gradually perceived, a new and more correct table of values is recognized and adhered to. Thus the limitations of the personality are gradually transcended and it develops the spiritual virtues of judgment, serenity, higher indifference (vairagya), understanding, wisdom, compassion.
At this point a strange thing happens—i.e., strange if considered from an ordinary standpoint.
A new wave of power, fervour, efficiency pours into those souls. It is a kind of rejuvenation, a new inner youth with its best qualities added to, but not superseding, those of old age.
There is an interesting physical correspondence to this fact. In a few cases of robust men or women more than 80 years old, there has been observed the growth of new teeth, the beginning of a third set, which is a very partial but significant attempt on nature’s part towards physical rejuvenation. In such cases it remains only a small beginning because there is no corresponding psychological and spiritual rejuvenation to support it.
In other cases there is an attempt towards an emotional rejuvenation. The best known example of this, is that of the great German writer, Wolfgang von Goethe, who at the age of 84, fell in love with a young German girl. This happened while Goethe was in full possession of his mental powers and self-control, and should not be considered as a sign of incipient dotage; it was a true sentiment of an ideal and youthful character, which expressed itself in an exquisite poem. But even these flames revived from an old fire rapidly subside because they are not fed by any lasting fuel.
Instead, in the case of the spiritual rejuvenation, the process is a much deeper and more fundamental thing; it is not only a rejuvenation, but an epigenesis, or “birth from above”! It is produced by such an alignment of the threefold personality (physical, emotional and mental) with its indwelling spirit, as to permit a powerful downpouring of spiritual energy; of light and love, which actually transforms, rebuilds and vitalizes the personality.
The spirit knows no old age and decline; and the advanced souls in which the spirit manifests freely and fully can verily be said to have found the spring of Eternal youth. […]
The souls thus regenerated by the spiritual rebirth start on a cycle of renewed activity, of service and realization. This new activity not only operates on higher levels, but generally uses altogether different means. It is carried forward on the inner planes through [esoteric] means, of the use of which the soul has acquired the right.
In this way results more far reaching and immeasurably more powerful are obtained with less expenditure of time and energy, just as on the physical plane the use of machines enables us to obtain much greater results than we could possibly achieve by muscular efforts. Verily, yoga is “skill in action.”[…]
Let us now see what is the spiritual and practical value of this consideration of the ages of the soul. First of all, I think, it gives us a right sense of proportion and a better understanding of all our fellow pilgrims on the path of evolution. It helps us to take the right attitude towards those who are behind us, towards our younger brothers. It eliminates all sense of pride, which appears to us just as foolish as that of the man who prides himself on being a few years older than his brother. The present personality has no merit concerning its soul’s age, and the fact of being spiritually older involves only a greater responsibility, a more severe judgment of oneself and the duty of understanding, being benevolent to and actively helping the younger souls. And if any sense of pride still lingers in us, it is easily crushed by directing our thoughts towards the glorious attainments of our elder brothers who are well nigh the radiant peaks of perfection. Towards those souls we are naturally induced to be humble and devoted, to willingly obey them, well knowing that they will never take advantage of this attitude of ours, but that they will always respect, indeed foster, our spiritual autonomy.
If we apply this realization to social and collective life, we find that much light is thrown upon some of the most debated social problems and that it points out the direction in which the true solutions lie. This applies, for instance, to the question of democracy versus aristocracy, and to that of equality, and of political freedom.
The affirmation of the equality of human beings contained in the famous three catchwords of the French Revolution—Liberty—Fraternity —Equality, had its historical justification at that time as directed against the unjust privileges of the nobility, and against class distinctions which had no correspondence to inner differences and real values. It can also be considered true from a purely abstract and metaphysical standpoint, inasmuch as we are all, as monads, equally “sons of God”, sparks of the Supreme;-but as Egos and personalities in time and space there are, as we have seen, profound differences.
In this respect equality cannot be sustained and the division of man into castes and classes is amply justified and inevitable. The difficulty is to establish social classes which correspond to the real differences of inner evolution and which are not built upon external standards or privileges.
The reconstruction of society on such a basis would be much facilitated if the great spiritual principles and laws concerning human souls and their evolution were widely recognized and accepted. Then comparatively older souls would not adopt an attitude of pride towards younger souls or attempt to tyrannize them; they would fed that their higher standing entails greater responsibility, and the duty of greater service—a service which for some of them can take the form of social and political leadership.
Young souls, in their turn, will find in these principles and laws, and particularly in that of progressive evolution through a series of incarnations, a reason for a willing acceptance of their present condition without any despondency, any feeling of inferiority for its limitations, or of envy and resentment towards their elder brothers.
Each age of the soul, as each age of the personality has its qualities and faults; its opportunities and dangers, its tasks and trials, its sorrow and joys, and its proper place in the great scheme of evolution.
The recognition of these facts can do much towards establishing a greater understanding of oneself and others, and a more harmonious adjustment between all human groups, from the family circle to the great social, national and world-wide human associations.
(to be continued)