I love a good personality test. In fact, I ventured deep into the typology space two years ago after taking a personality test that gave me a confusing result. I ended up joining a class for a typology system called the Objective Personality System and eventually had a podcast and YouTube channel that ran for about a year, all about personality types and how we can use our knowledge of types for self growth.
Fast forward to 2020 and, while I’ve left the podcast behind to strike out on my own with Bright Star, I still find personality type systems to be both fun and useful. While types can be used to pigeon-hole people and put them in category boxes, I do believe that understanding personality types and temperaments can be incredibly powerful tools for self-growth.
The other day, I was listening to a dharma talk by one of my favorite teachers: the Ven. Pannavati and she mentioned the 6 (or 3 depending on how you count them) Buddhist temperaments and how understanding your natural temperament can be a useful guide for your practice. Listening to her dharma talk reminded me of a Buddhist personality type quiz that I had come across many years ago. I went back to that site to review the types again.
The value of understanding your personality type is that you begin to understand and see your natural tendencies and where you can direct your focus for improvement. It also helps you know what practices would be most beneficial for you, given your temperament and which practices likely won’t be as beneficial for you as they might be for others.
Gaining an understanding of different personalities allows you to both focus on your own growth while also giving space for others to be different from you. It’s important to remember that all typology systems are simply a way to understand ones natural, habitual tendencies. I believe that it’s important to take a playful, lighthearted approach to typology systems of any kind. If you hold your type lightly, it can be incredibly useful and powerful but if you identify with your type as who you *are*, it can lead to pain and frustration.
I like to count the Buddhist personality types as three pairs: greedy/faith, aversive/discerning and deluded/speculative. These then echo the Three Poisons in Buddhism: Greed, Hatred and Delusion. The pairs are not opposites, those who are a “greedy” type also have incredible faith and those who are aversive also have naturally strong discerning wisdom and so on. In this way, each type has both a positive or “wholesome” side and a negative, “unwholesome” aspect.
In modern day, the types are typically referred to by their “unwholesome” side: greedy, aversive and deluded. These aren’t accusations or pejoratives. Everyone has the Three Hindrances within them and your temperament simply points to the one you have a natural habitual preference for whether it’s greed, aversion or delusion.
The Three Buddhist Temperaments
From the Buddhist perspective, having a greedy temperament doesn’t make you a greedy person. Rather, those with the greedy temperament tend to walk into a room and see all of the wonderful things they desire. They tend to easily overlook any mess or decay. Aversion types are the opposite: their discerning eye picks out every fault and shortcoming. They tend to be overly critical and negative in their thinking. Deluded types tend to be muddled in their thinking, neither pursuing what they want nor really dealing with the negative. As an aversive type myself, I have a more intuitive understanding of the aversive and greedy types so I’ll quote Sharon Salzburg here for the deluded type:
If something goes wrong, the great temptation is to take a nap, tune it out. If something is wonderful, it might not be fully taken in.
This is the type who in a meeting will be slow to process the dilemma or opportunity, and not quite sure right away how they feel about it.The Three Personality Types of Buddhist Psychology – On Being
While we tend to label the temperaments by their “unwholesome” form, each type has a purified form that we can access through meditation and mindfulness. The purified form of the greedy type has faith in the basic goodness of life, an optimism that things will work out. Those with the aversion type tend to have keen discerning wisdom, able to look deeply at a situation and look darkness and difficulty in the face. In its purified form, the deluded type has great equanimity, able to keep a balanced perspective in the face of the good and the bad.
Using Your Type to Guide Your Practice
The Buddhist personality types are set forth in the Visuddhimagga or “Path of Purification,” an early commentary on the teachings of the Buddha. The discussion of the temperaments are introduced as guidance for finding the right practice for a person, given their temperament.
One of the things I learned in the Western typology community is how powerful and how harmful typology can be. If you can learn to see your type as your conditioned, habitual tendency or preference rather than a life sentence, defining who you are then you can use your type to help guide you to find practices that are more likely to be beneficial to you.
For example, I know that I am an aversive type and so looking for and focusing on practices for my type will likely be more beneficial for me than taking general advice, not tailored for my temperament.
This Tricycle article has a fun test to determine your type along with some guidance on what practices would benefit you, given your type.
Check out the full article for details but here are a few of my favorites from the list of recommended practices for your type:
• Contemplation of old age, sickness and death (taking walks through a cemetery, reflecting on the graves is a “favorite” practice of mine for this)
• Putting oneself in uncomfortable and unpleasant situations in order to become disenchanted with sensory pleasures
• Loving kindness (metta) and compassion.
• Putting oneself in pleasant surroundings in order to soften the heart and connect with life.
Side note: as an Aversive type myself, I will say that the last one is often harder for us than it sounds. We tend to always focus on the negative and that can mean never taking the time to simply enjoy our life and circumstances. Making an effort to take the time to put myself in pleasant, calm surroundings is a practice I plan to do more often.
• Mindfulness meditation with noting (labeling) your experience.
• Body awareness including qi gong and yoga.
• Putting oneself in safe and pleasant surroundings to prevent dissociation.
I have a special place in my heart for typology. I truly believe it can be transformative by giving you signposts to find the right help along your journey. Before I fully recognized my type, I would try practices that people recommended for me and struggle when they didn’t bring me the benefit that was promised. Finding my type helped me focus on the practices that most benefit me, given my natural tendencies and temperament. This has allowed me to understand myself better and be a greater help to others in my life.
Oh! And because I’m sure you were curious: my full, official Objective Personality type is MM-Ne/Te-PC/B(S). I am an unusual ENFP who is tribe above self.