Assagioli explains the difference between our personality and our soul and how to unite them.
By Roberto Assagioli, Nov. 1930, The Beacon
This is an extract from a five-part 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 and later published in Mrs Baileys Journal.
One of the most fundamental divisions and one of the most fruitful angles of consideration in individual psychology is the distinction between personality and Individuality, or the Soul, and the study of their respective natures, their varying relationships and complex interactions.
Analysing the original etymological meaning of the words “personality” and “Individuality” we get a true idea of the entities which they respectively indicate.
Personality is derived from the Latin word—persona—which designated a mask behind which actors hid their true features and through which they made their voice resound (personari). Thus it aptly indicates that illusive entity which constitutes the outer garb and mask of the Soul and through which the Soul performs its part in the dramas or comedies enacted in the world’s theatre.
Individuality is derived from the Latin—individuum which means, “that which cannot be divided”, and thus well connotes the indivisible spiritual Spark which is man’s true self, his intimate essence, his immortal principle. It is interesting to observe also that the word ‘atom’ has the same significance coming from the Greek A-temnos, i.e. uncuttable. And man, as you know, has been denominated “the human atom”. It is easy to understand theoretically this distinction between “personality” and “Individuality”; but it is not so easy to apply it concretely to oneself and to others, and to draw all the important practical consequences which derive from it. To achieve this, it is necessary first of all to become acquainted with the nature and the origin of the various groups of psychological elements which enter into the make-up of human personalities. We must then understand the true relationship existing between personality and Individuality and the various ways in which the latter operates upon the former, After having acquired this preliminary knowledge, we shall be in a position to determine the various types according to the different ways in which those elements and groups are aggregated or dissociated; are harmonised or conflicting, and how the different specific qualities or rays of the Individuality and personality blend or clash. Thus we shall possess some of the necessary data for successfully achieving the stupendous task of transforming and perfecting ourselves, of chiseling our inner statue, and that of helping others to give form and beauty to their own inner being.
When we begin to find out the true origin of the various elements which compose our personality, we are surprised and perhaps shocked, in discovering that many things which we considered to be ourselves are really not so at all. Their origin is far removed from, and extraneous to, our true being and we realise to what a great extent we are invaded, dominated and led by psychological elements and forces belonging to other entities. We feel then as if our personality were collapsing and we are bewildered and often wonder who we are. But this is a very necessary and useful experience; it dispels many dangerous illusions and it forces us to search deeper in ourselves, until we find something stable and permanent, our true self, our Souls. Then the confusion and the uncertainty give place to a new assurance, more solid and permanent than the one we had before, because it is based on truth and not on illusion. Then we understand that we have “lost” ourselves only to more truly “find” ourselves.
In order to understand thoroughly the way in which these external elements act, in us and on us, we have to consider the mystery of the collective psyche.
According to the esoteric doctrines animals have no individual souls, but all the animals of the same species are the manifestation of one collective psyche, or, as it has been called, group soul.
Individualisation is the characteristic of the human kingdom; but in primitive man this individualization is still rudimentary. In reality he is still largely merged in the collective psyche, which he obeys, not only because he has little power of resistance, but also because, owing to the shallowness of his separate psychological life, he has the sense of being and living fully only in collective vital expressions. This is confirmed by the most recent ethnological studies of primitive societies (tribes. clans) which point out the importance which the ceremonies, rites and other collective manifestations as the totems, etc. have in them.
But also the average civilized man, who has so accentuated the sense of separateness and egoism; the modern man who is proud of his independence, and liberty, is in reality only very partially himself; he is dominated and obsessed, without knowing it, by all sorts of psychological forces and currents extraneous to his true being.
Let us examine first those forces and influences which are called hereditary. We find in the first place certain racial psychological characteristics, i.e. the tendencies to perceive, feel, see and react in certain ways, which are more or less common to all individuals belonging to the same race. Let us recall for instance, the very peculiar way of thinking of the Chinese and of their way of expressing themselves as shown in their ideographic language.
There are further, the national psychological characteristics which color the personalities of the citizens of a nation. For instance, we find very definite distinctions of mentality between an Englishman and a German, or between a Russian and an Italian. This has given rise to a very interesting branch of psychology, national psychology, which deserves to be developed and widely spread, because it can be most helpful, contributing to a better understanding and good feeling among individuals and nations.
The same can be said in a different measure of the psychological characteristics prevailing in different regions and even in different towns of the same nation. In Italy, for instance, the psychological make-up of a Florentine, a Bolognese and a Roman show wide differences, in spite of the geographical proximity of these towns, and I think that each of you could make similar observation about the citizens of various towns of your country.
We now come to the psychological tendencies of a family origin. These have been widely discussed. In the last century the influence of heredity and atavism, considered in the purely materialistic sense, have been over-emphasised, reaching sometimes to the conception that man is fatally determined by the bodily constitution he has inherited from his ancestors.
As a reaction to this gloomy doctrine, certain idealists and spiritually minded students have gone to the other extreme and have undervalued the importance of hereditary psychological influences. I think we can admit the existence and the true import of these influences without falling in any way into materialism and fatalism.
The transmission of psychological hereditary traits does not necessarily take place only through the physical body. it can happen through a direct transmission of elements and psychic forces on other planes, i.e. the emotional and the mental. This ancient doctrine of [esotericism] has found recent confirmation in the studies of psychic phenomena.
The admission of this psychological heredity is thus quite independent of any materialistic doctrine and is not in conflict with any spiritual conception of life.
Those who would like to enter more fully into this important subject would find many materials and suggestions in Ribot’s book “L’Heridite Psychologique”—and in Leon Daudet’s L.llérédo. A very interesting document of the eruption of hereditary psychological elements is found in Romain Rolland’s novel “Colas Breugnon”; and in the preface which explains its production. A special study of the more remote and collective aspects of hereditary psychological elements can he found in Jung’s books.
To all these hereditary traits must be added those other psychological influences which can be called “actual”, because they operate during the present incarnation of the individual. They begin to act not only from the moment of birth but from that of conception, because many sure evidences have proved the great influence that the impressions received by the mother during pregnancy can have in the moulding of the future personality.
I can give you a striking example of this influence. Some years ago, I met a young lady whose face bore a strong resemblance to the famous Rosetti type of woman which this artist has reproduced in many of his pictures. I mentioned this to the young lady and she told me that her father was a great admirer of Rosetti’s works and that when she was about to be born he took her mother to a solitary cottage near a forest and surrounded her with reproductions of Rosetti’s pictures. But, she added that she did not like this resemblance, because it did not correspond to her own psychological and soul qualities, a statement that, knowing her, I could well agree with. She felt a kind of disharmony between herself and her body. This case offers an important lesson to parents who often try to impress their ideals upon their children without stopping to consider if those ideals are in harmony with the real nature of their children and with the will and purpose of their souls. Very much mischief, more than is generally realized, has been done and is still being done in this way. I think that the very independent and peculiar attitude of the present young generation against their parents, and in general against all kinds of authority, can be considered, at least partly, as a violent reaction against the former imposition which the young have suffered from their elders.
The numberless psychological influences which concur in modifying the growing personality, may be grouped under the following headings:-
- Race—which acts not only in the form of heredity, but also as a present and continually operating factor, giving the fundamental color or tone, so to say, to the psychic atmosphere by which the individual is surrounded.
- Climate—as well as scenery and environment, which, besides their physiological effects, have also a definite psychological influence upon us.
- The national soul—which is not merely a metaphorical expression indicating the sum total of individuals belonging to a nation, but corresponds to a [esoteric] reality, a living entity on the astral plane, as has been recognised even outside our [esoteric] groups by intuitive thinkers, as for instance the Polish philosopher, Vincenty Lutoslawski.
- Family and relations.
- Nurses, teachers and professors.
- School mates and friends.
- Books, magazines and journals.
- Influences directly from the inner planes, as: the great waves of emotions and impulses which sway humanity as is clearly seen in important historical crises, and also other subtler and more mysterious, but no less powerful, mental and spiritual currents, which are said to be projected by the Great Beings who are directing human evolution. These currents are caught at first by a few pioneers, particularly receptive and attuned to them, and which gradually influence all the more advanced and progressive souls, and, through them, the bulk of humanity.
The second great group of elements which comprise the personality are endogenous, i.e. they have their origin in ourselves, but in some respects they are just as mysterious and difficult to trace as the others.
On this subject we find some interesting information in the esoteric teachings.
According to these, many of the elements of which we are composed were originated in other lives and are transmitted and linked up with the present personality through the permanent atoms namely, the physical and astral permanent atoms and the mental unit.
These atoms preserve in themselves the synthesis of the experiences and the powers developed in each incarnation, and when the new personality is in process of formation these latent faculties tend to manifest themselves; they affect and color the respective bodies. Thus the chief traits of the personality are determined.
These karmic dispositions and tendencies are called in India skandas, and must be conceived as dynamic elements, living and intelligent forces. H. P. Blavatsky has said that in some cases the astral elemental of a passionate person can be so vital and enduring as to persist through the period intervening between two incarnations and to attach itself to the new personality, acting upon it as an obsessing entity. This I think could be the […] explanation of some strange manifestations of abnormality, for instance of certain cases of double personality, of epilepsy, of crimes; while others are determined by conflicts and obsessions of a different nature. All this confirms the […] statement contained in the Treatise on Cosmic Fire that “The devas of the astral plane at present very largely control what he (man) does and says.” Page 662.
For clarity’s sake I have indicated only a few elements and complexes but in reality there are hundreds and hundreds, not to say thousands in us. These varieties include all of the following elements and complexes: Instincts, impulses, fears, likes and dislikes, aptitudes (musical, technical, etc.), ideas, desires, aspirations.
We have now to consider those elements of the personality which are of the individual nature, i.e., which have their origin in the Individuality or Soul. But in order to understand their nature and workings we must study first the source from which they come.
WHAT IS THE INDIVIDUALITY?
The best western philosophers have recognised the existence of a spiritual element or essence in man, but in expounding their abstract systems of thought they have not elaborated a true spiritual psychology; they have not indicated the living relationships and connections between the personality and the Self or Soul.
Modern scientific psychology generally ignores the Soul. It is, really the psychology of kama-manas. Only lately some scientists and thinkers are beginning to have a more or less clear inkling of the existence of man’s true self.
Thus Dr. Jung who started as a disciple of Freud and later followed an independent path has arrived at the recognition of an element in man, different both from the conscious personality and the superconscious psychological elements, a point of equilibrium, as it were, between the conscious and the unconscious, which he calls the transcendental function, thus discovering one of the essential characteristics of the self, i.e. its transcendence.
‘It is very significant that even Freud who has so persistently denied and belittled all the higher and spiritual side of human nature, endeavoring to reduce it to illusions, to mere projections or transformations of the lower instincts, has been compelled, in his latest writings, to admit the existence of a higher element in us which he calls “Es—and Uber – Ich’ that is: “It—and Over—I” but his conception of it is still rather hazy and one-sided.
We must mention the Baltic philosopher Herman Keyserling, whose recent outspoken and often paradoxical statements on the American and the various European nations have aroused much discussion and resentment but who in his more fundamental and serious books as Schofferische Erkenutniss (translated in English as Creative Understanding) and Wiedergeburt appears to be a genial suggestive and spiritually minded thinker. Also his center in Darmstadt, the “School of Wisdom” is a very remarkable endeavour to unite Western and Eastern thought and methods, and the experiments which have been made there of group meditations using the Grail symbol are very interesting.
Keyserling, while not elaborating a definite doctrine of the Self, often insists in his works on the “spiritual sense”, or “meaning” which creates and gives value to every form or living being, which is their actuating purpose and thus has discovered a vital aspect of the Self. There is also Oskar Schmitz who has developed and carried further in an original way Jung’s and Keyserling’s theories. He has cleverly reorganized and emphasised the difference between the I (personality) and the Self and has dwelt on the methods by which to awaken and free the Self. (See his books Brevier fur Einsame and Psychoanalyse and Yoga.)
I must mention also Leon Daudet, the brilliant French writer and politician, who is better known for his violent political campaigns and scathing articles than for his more valuable novels and philosophical essays. In his books L’ Heredo and Le Monde des Imagines he has cleverly distinguished what he calls the Moi which corresponds to the personality, and the Soi, the Self. He characterises the latter as having three qualities or powers: Creative initiative, knowledge of the Soul, and wise equilibrium.
While these modern attempts are significant and promising, since they point to the foundation of a new spiritual psychology, of the true science of the Soul, if we wish to have full and satisfactory information on the real nature and the powers of the Individual Self we have again to have recourse to oriental teachings and [esoteric] philosophy.
This philosophy teaches us the triple nature of the Self as Manas “active intelligence”, Buddhi “love-wisdom” and Atma “spiritual will.” It explains to us the true position of the Ego between the personality on the one side and the divine Monad on the other. It reveals to us the self as a Solar Angel, a radiant centre of energy, whose essential nature is love and who is in process of developing and perfecting its instrument of manifestation, the causal body on the higher levels of the mental plane.
It further teaches us that the Egos [Souls] differ not only according to their degree of development (previously referred to) but also in their nature and essential quality. In this respect they are divided into seven groups, each connected with and ruled by one of the seven great Planetary Spirits. Each of these has a special psychological and spiritual note, a particular function in the great cosmic plan. This special quality is called a Ray.
These Rays and their characteristics are well explained in Mrs. Bailey’s books, and I will not dwell upon them now as they will form the subject of one of the next lectures.
I will only say that their study constitutes the true individual psychology in the proper sense of the word, while all the rest of so-called individual psychology should he more appropriately called personal psychology.
Let us now consider the relationship between personality and individuality, and more concretely how individual elements and influences reach and affect the personality and manifest themselves in and through it.
A natural analogy will help to give a clear idea of this. The individual influx descending from the Ego to the personality may be compared to the solar rays which reach the earth. These rays are variously intercepted, deflected and refracted according to the greater or lesser purity and transparency of the atomspheric strata through which they pass.
Thus the subtler ultra-violet radiations are for the most part intercepted in the upper parts of the atmosphere even when this is pure. When there are clouds and mists, the luminous and calorific rays are also partly arrested. When the rays reach solid objects on the, earth the reaction is different, according to the nature of the objects. Lustrous objects reflect the rays and opaque objects absorb them; colored objects absorb some radiations and reveal others, And so on.
Very similar is the fate of the spiritual and higher mental radiations emanating from the higher self, and descending through the mental and emotional levels of the personality to the objective consciousness functioning through the physical brain. The highest and most subtle intuitions and promptings are generally arrested and do not reach the consciousness. When mental mists befog the mind, or psychic storms agitate or obscure the emotional nature, most if not all of the individual radiations are obstructed. Then these radiations are absorbed or rejected according to the ideas, opinions, projections, likes and dislikes, desires, tendencies, and so on, which constitute the variegated (miscellaneous) furniture of our mental home.
Taking as a basis the average man of our race, we may say that the more frequent and persistent elements of a higher individual character which normally reach and affect his personality are:
- The moral sense. The consciousness of what is right, just and good, which expresses itself through the “voice of conscience and the sense of responsibility.”
- The sense and the love of Truth. The urge to search for reality. The Light aspect of the Soul.
- The sense and love of beauty, in every sensuous enjoyment, but as a sense of harmony and proportion and fitness, and as a suggestion and expression of higher realities.
- Love in its higher aspects which enables us to transcend the limitations of personality, overcome self-interest and unite with others who are attaining spiritual group consciousness.
- The power of the will, which manifests itself chiefly as control, and coordination of the personal elements, as a synthetic power; a tendency to abstraction and as a force driving onward and upward. This individual influence, which in a sense is the highest, is still scarcely felt by the average man.
There are then individual influences which reach the personality in special moments with an unusual intensity and which are of a more or less temporary nature. To these belong artistic inspiration, philosophical and religious illumination, rapture and ecstacies, and in general all the mystical states of consciousness.
This rapid survey of the various personal and individual elements gives us the necessary basis for classifying human beings into different types according to the various predominating characteristics and the process by which those elements are combined. We can outline two classifications:
- Genetic, i.e., according to the genesis or origin of those elements.
- The structural, i.e., according to the different psychological structures or groupings in which those elements are combined.
a. Exogenous Types.
These are characterised by the prevalence of elements originating from outside:
1. Heredos. I have adopted this word coined by Leon Daudet, because it clearly and concisely characterises those types in which hereditary elements in the widest sense are predominating.
a. The General Herédos in which we find many collective and atavic forces and traits. To this type belong the bulk of primitive, very slightly differentiated people, and also people living in small and secluded communities in which the collective traits are very accentuated.
b. Specific Herédos in which specific family influences dominate the individuals, and in some extreme cases becomes a kind of family obsession.
2. Followers. These types are no more individual and original than the previous types; they are swept into the strong currents created by prevailing ideas, emotions and overpowering personalities. We can distinguish them thus:
a. Followers of a definite religious movement or sect, of a political party, or of a special philosophy. These are apt to fall into fanaticism, and to a hardening and crystallisation of the mental body.
b. Followers of an imposing personality either in the social, national or religious fields. They are characterised by an intense devotion, which within certain limits, may uplift them and inspire them to noble acts of self-sacrifice, but when it is excessive and unbalanced, it can degenerate into emotional fanaticism and excessive personal attachment.
3. Mired Types. In these, the various exogenous influences, which we have enumerated, mix in different degrees. Individuals of this type are generally rather young souls which are extraverted and need to make many contacts and live through many experiences.
b. Endogenous Types.
- Auto-hereditary Types. To this group belong individuals who have within themselves a strong trait, quality or ability developed in previous lives. For instance, musicians who show their vocation in early childhood; mathematicians, painters and so on
- Individual Types—which comprises those who show in their personalities strong individual elements, vivid rays from their higher selves. These individuals show original thought, moral independence and often are pioneers and leaders, but they can also follow quietly a solitary path prompted by an inner leading. These are generally mature and experienced souls.
a. From this angle we can distinguish (first of all) in a general way:
- The rigid type in which the personality has a very definite outline, composed of strong, marked characteristics and persisting elements. (This corresponds astrologically to the prevalence of fixed and earthy signs.)
- The plastic type, in which the psychological forces are more fluidic, changing, illusive, disappearing and recurring. To this type belong many artists. (Astrologically it corresponds to a prevalence of watery and mutable signs.)
b. Another grouping is that according to the mutual relationships among the elements constituting the personality. In this respect we have
- The harmonious or well-organized type in which the different elements fit in well with each other, constituting a homogeneous whole. (These people have in their horoscopes mostly the so-called good aspects; trines, sextiles, etc.) They generally have a fortunate life and a facility for self-expression, but the very harmony they enjoy, the lack of inner problems and the stimulus created by conflict and suffering, often induces them to be easy-going, shallow and satisfied with themselves. Often these are incarnations of comparative rest, of assimilation and utilisation of the qualities developed in previous lives.
- The inharmonious, conflicting, differentiated type. Here we have the co-existence in the same person of psychological elements of very different origin, quality and level, which are uncongenial, incongruous and incompatible with each other.
An analogy with the political structure of a nation can prove, I think, illuminating. The various groups of psychological elements; complexes, and the main tendencies of the personality, correspond to the various social classes, groups and interests (industrial, agricultural, and so on), and the various political parties. The true ruler and king who ought to have dominion over the nation, corresponds to the Ego; to the Inner Ruler, the Rex-Lux, as H. P. B. calls it, but in us this wise and loving ruler is in exile and its place has been usurped by the false king of the personal self. This false king has no real power of his own, but only the outward appearance and pretense of power; he is in reality the slave of the dominant party, of the strong coalition of financial interests, i.e. of the strongest passion, which may be ambition or vanity, or any other chief interest of the personality.
Let us now indicate briefly the practical application of this analysis and classification of our make-up for the purposes of harmonising and elevating the personality and unifying it with the Soul.
The struggle for life, for supremacy which is constantly going on between the various elements of the personality, and the struggle between the personality as a whole with the Ego constitutes what Daudet aptly calls, “the inner drama”, which is being enacted continually in ourselves.
Up to a certain time, or stage of evolution, this drama is staged by the evolutionary law, through the entities and forces which are its co-workers and servants for its great purpose; and the various characters, including the false king, have played their part in ignorance of its true meaning and purpose. But there comes a moment in which the false king, the personal self, awakens; the scales of illusion fall from his eyes and he sees the true situation; he realises that the pomp and glory of which he is so proud, is a mere sham; that his position is most insecure being always threatened by revolutions, or various invasions, and that his only safety lies in the recognition of the true king and the submission to his wise will which earns for him his guidance and his mighty support in every emergency.
The chief task which all of us have to accomplish, in order to be able to reorganize and harmonise ourselves is that of dis-identifying our conscious self from the personality and identifying it with the Soul. This entails a growing alignment with the Ego which is attained mainly by […] meditation and the use of the methods of Raja Yoga.
When one has attained even a partial degree of dis-identification from the personal elements one can begin the work of conscious and active transformation of the personality. The first task is that of a discriminative choice.
After having taken stock of ourselves, i.e. having recognized the various hereditary and auto-hereditary constituents of our personality and those added from outside, we have to valuate them carefully and decide which of them we can retain, which have to be variously transformed and which must be entirely eliminated from the new personality we are trying to build.
After this analysis and this sifting comes the actual reconstruction, the psychosynthesis. It implies the formation of a wise and ordered inner hierarchy of elements and forces, granting to them various degrees of autonomy and responsibility; a wise equilibrium between centralisation and department autonomy which is the secret of every good and efficient organisation, from that of a State to that of a factory or business concern.
But this psychosynthesis should not be static, i.e. aiming at a mere personal harmony and efficiency, it should be expanding and growing towards the ultimate and complete spiritual psychosynthesis; that in which Individuality and personality are coordinated and unified. This entails a more radical purification and complete regeneration of the personality.
This is a general outline but its practical and concrete realisation varies according to the many individual differences; not only those we have examined, i.e. those due to the age of the soul and the different make-up and structure of the personality; but also those which we will have to examine in our following lectures, i.e. the different polarization, the different direction of the vital interest, and the different rays to which we belong.
This complexity should not confuse us nor discourage us from the task. It is a work which has not only a great practical value in eliminating many causes of mistakes, complications and suffering; it is as fascinating as the exploration of a new continent. It yields the joys of a wider understanding, the discovery of new beauties, the attainment of new beneficent powers.
(To be continued)