This paper was presented at
Psychology: The Indian Contribution
National Conference on
Indian Psychology, Yoga and Consciousness
organised by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research
at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education
Pondicherry, India, 10-13 December 2004

(click to enlarge)

An Integrative Model of Personality and Personal Growth

V.George Mathew

Integrative Psychology Institute, Thiruvananthapuram, India - 695 583

Indian Approach to Psychology

Indian approach to Psychology is naturalistic, holistic and humanistic. It stresses intuitive theory formulation more than empirical testing. It is more hypothetico-deductive rather than inductive. Most Indian systems work well only in the hands of a person with siddhi (high degree of personal growth and intuition). The Psychologist in the Indian tradition is a yogi who has a high degree of personal growth and intuition. Mere book learning will not make a person a psychologist.

Three Points of View

Reinterpretation of ancient Psychology in the modern framework has led to a stalemate or impasse where people go on repeating parrot-like, some ancient theories and call this Indian Psychology (for example the Thriguna theory or Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga). At the same time they do not practice yoga and they do not try to innovate along the lines originally pursued by the ancient psychologists.

There are three positions regarding the way ancient Indian thought and systems can be integrated with psychology.

1. Accept a book, theory or system as such. Do not try to criticise, modify or integrate it with anything else. Do not try to apply modern measurement methods to it or develop tests based on it. You can venerate it, appreciate it and interpret it. The original ideas were developed by sages through intuition. Who are we to criticise or modify them? They think that the ancients were a superior race. We have been polluted. We have deteriorated by mixing, exposure to heat and undesirable environmental influences.

2. Another set of people think that the ancient theories can be used to develop psychological tests and also suitably modified when applying to different situations.

3. The third set of people think that you can do what you like with the ancient theories and methods. For example, you can combine yogic postures in the form of a dance,innovate, criticize, modify or integrate with other theories or methods from anywhere else, so long as you acknowledge the source.

The majority of Psychologists in India today fall in the second category.They take a via media position.

Psychologist Behaviour

Psychologists in India today suffer from experimental neurosis resulting from inability to decide which among the systems of psychology viz. Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, etc. is more meaningful and find an escape in the stereotypy of correlations, ready to get reinforced by significant correlations.

Rigidity of approach

The caste system probably made people rigid regarding their possessions, including knowledge. Knowledge was not to be shared, but kept hidden for oneself and one's clan. There was a whole lot of intermixing of people from different parts of the globe and considerable sharing of knowledge. The Thriguna theory has close resemblances to Greek theories and the theory of Sakshimatrabhava has close links to Taoist conceptions. The ancient theories themselves probably were the result of creative combining of ideas from different places in addition to intuitive personal revelations.

Indians discovered that the planets are going round the sun and applied this knowledge for astronomical calculations about a thousand years before Europeans. Yet their rigid notion of circularity of orbit prevented their discovery of the ellipse and this stood in the way of further developments. Similarly rigidly defining Thamas as actionlessness and Rajas as activity, led to a blind alley in understanding personality.; They could not integrate the thriguna theory with the still more ancient theory of karthrubhava vs sakshibhava (active vs passive modes). This led to an impasse in psychology and medicine and they had to conceptualise the Thridoshas in Ayurveda to explain pathology and they failed to relate in a simple fashion the Thriguana and Thridosha models.

Need For a More Flexible Integrative Approach

Modern academics is based on the spirit of sharing and innovating.The rigid authoritarian exclusiveness should give way to development through teamwork based on democratic discussion and mutual stimulation. This also involves ethics of acknowledging originators of ideas, mutual respect, mutual appreciation and readiness to encourage and promote other people.

These conditions were apparently present in the ancient times as seen through many statements in Upanishads and other places. As society rigidified,these behavioural traits also were lost and ideas rigidified and development was curtailed.

Further growth depends on bringing back the same old values, reexamining the old concepts and promoting open thought and discussion.

An Integrative Model of Personality (Mathew, 1996)

The Integrative theory sees Stability (integration) as the single holistic level factor of personality. Instability (action or rest with Karthrubhava) is of two types and these are the two type level factors: Inertia being compulsive introversion, inactivity or Thamas and Activation is compulsive extraversion, Rajas or overactivity. Free action or rest (action or rest with sakshimathrabhava) is Stability. Stability is not ambiversion (rigid fixity at a middle point), but awareness, freedom and flexibility in over behaviour. Personality is identified not in terms of overt behaviour observed externally, but from the point of view of origination of behaviour and degree of autonomy. Personal growth is increasing stability which involves decreasing Inertia and Activation. This reformulation makes it unnecessary to postulate a fourth Gunatheetha state. This is in line with the principle of parsimony which encourages simplicity and minimum number of explanatory concepts. Pure S (Inertia and Activation zeroed out) is the same as enlightenment. Effective yogic practice is what is required at a given time to decrease Inertia or Activation of the person and depends on the existing personality of the practitioner. The combination of practices which is most effective changes as the person’s personality pattern changes. What is effective for a person with one type of personality can even be harmful for a person with a different combination of the three components. For example, mediation is highly useful for a person with a medium S person. Meditation can be harmful for a person with very low levels of S and meditation becomes a block for further development for the same person when he reaches a very high level of S. Therefore the role of Psychologist lies in identifying the personality pattern of the aspirants and suggesting the combination of practices most useful at a given time for a person.


V. George Mathew (1996). Integrative Psychology.