Buddhist "temperaments"

One of the central tenets in Buddhism is that there is no enduring self, which also means that the Western conception of self as a part of one’s personality that persists over time and situations (e.g., Feist and Feist 2009; Phares and Chaplin 1997) is not fully consistent with the Buddhist view. However, even the Buddha occasionally used the common ways of describing personality for pragmatic purposes and his discourses about a “personality theory” were elaborated in a famous ancient commentary called Visuddhimagga, or “Path of Purification” (Buddhagosa 2010; see also Kornfield 2009 for a recent rendering). This personality theory was used to find the most suitable kind of meditation practice for a given individual. The theory describes six types of personalities, consisting of three pairs—a negative temperament is always paired with respective positive tendencies. The greed/faith type is characterized by craving and optimism, the aversive/discerning type by criticism and clarity, and the deluded/speculative type by doubt and equanimity (see also Ekman et al. 2005; Schmidt 2009).

Correct practice of meditation is expected to change the “personalities” more into the respective positive dimension. For instance, greedy types should contemplate old age, sickness, and death to recognize the inherent transience of all objects and experiences; to develop faith and optimism, aversive types should learn to relax or notice joy (and not only suffering) to redirect their critical abilities into analytical ones; and deluded types should increase their awareness by labeling experiences and practicing single-pointed concentration, such as simple breath meditation. This theory of personality could be used to predict people’s success in practicing a given kind of meditation or to give advice to those who are interested in taking up a meditation practice but do not know which one to choose.

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