Asanga on Personality Types: The Right Meditation for Each One

Book coverAsanga discusses a range of issues that relate to different kinds of personality types. One classification of seven types is based on the degree to which an individual may be susceptible to any of five mental afflictions.

They are described as:

(1) one who has a strong tendency to develop desire;
(2) one who has a strong tendency to develop hatred;
(3) one who has a strong tendency to develop ignorance;
(4) one who has a strong tendency to develop pride;
(5) one who has a strong tendency to develop discursive
thoughts;
(6) one who is equally [but only moderately] disposed [to all the mental afflictions]; and
(7) one whose mental afflictions are weak.

The first five types are said to be individuals who, because they indulged in one of the five named mental afflictions extensively and habitually in past lives, will develop that fault in an intense and long-lasting form whenever they encounter objects that have the potential to evoke it.

The sixth type of person—who is equally [but only moderately] disposed [to all the mental afflictions]—is described as an individual who did not indulge in any of the five mental afflictions extensively and habitually in previous lives. However, in those previous lives this type of person also did not reflect correctly on the disadvantages of the mental afflictions or attempt to reduce them. As a result, while this individual does not develop desire or any of the other mental afflictions in an intense and long-lasting form, he or she still does manifest them whenever objects that have the potential to evoke them are present.

Book cover The last type of person—one whose mental afflictions are weak—is an individual who did not indulge in any of the mental afflictions extensively and habitually in previous lives, and who also did reflect correctly on their disadvantages and succeeded in reducing them. As a result, this type of individual will only develop a weak form of desire, etc., even when objects that have a very great potential to evoke those particular mental afflictions are present. Moreover, he or she will not develop the mental afflictions at all in relation to objects that only have a moderate or slight potential to evoke them.

Among four categories of meditation object that are discussed in Listeners’ Level, one is called “the object that purifies an unfavorable mental trait.” This category identifies the meditation object that is essential for each of the five types of person who are particularly susceptible to developing one of the five mental afflictions just mentioned. The meditation object for those who are highly prone to develop desire is unattractiveness; the one for those who are highly prone to develop anger is loving-kindness; the one for those who are highly prone to develop ignorance is dependent origination; the one for those who are highly prone to develop pride is the diversity of the constituents; and the one for those who are highly prone to develop discursive thoughts is to cultivate mindfulness of one’s breath.

Book cover
Later on in the text, Asanga makes an important point concerning the ability of these five types of practitioner to develop one-pointed concentration and, ultimately, quiescence. Near the end of the second chapter, he declares in a direct and unambiguous manner that individuals who are prone to one of the five mental flaws must first purify themselves of that obstacle before seeking to develop mental stability. At the same time, he notes that this requirement does not apply to the latter two of the seven types of person. A significant portion of his analysis of the process for achieving mental stability and quiescence is devoted to this initial stage of meditative practice in which these unfavorable mental traits must be overcome. Here is his assertion:

Those [five types of individual] who are highly prone to develop desire, hatred, ignorance,
pride, and discursive thoughts must at the very outset purify themselves of their unfavorable
mental trait on the basis of the type of meditation object that purifies those who are highly
prone to a particular mental affliction. Following that, they will [be able to] attain mental
stability. The [appropriate meditation] object for these individuals is absolutely fixed and
[these practitioners] must apply themselves using their specific [meditation] object.

On the other hand, the person who is equally [but only moderately] disposed [to all the
mental afflictions] may take up whatever meditation object [he or she] prefers. That [type
of person] applies [himself or herself] to that [meditation object] solely for the sake of
[developing] mental stability, not for the sake of purifying some unfavorable mental trait. As
with the person who is equally [but only moderately] disposed [to all the mental afflictions],
the same is true for a person whose mental afflictions are weak.

Excerpted from The Inner Science of Buddhist Practice: Vasubandhu’s Summary of the Five Heaps with Commentary by Sthiramati, translated by Artemus B. Engle

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