The HINDU, Tuesday, July 11, 1995
Perceptions of Personality

A mental health worker at various institutions in Amsterdam and a citizen of the Netherlands the author Joseph Vrinte, has had his higher education in Sanskrit and philosophy in India. This book is based on his research here.

The first chapter is a biographical account of Sri Aurobindo and Abraham Maslow. The author is candid in not omitting the psychologically significant fact that Sri Aurobindo’s mother “collapsed into hysteria” during his early childhood, which led his father to heavy drinking. The psychological significance in turn derives from a decisive pattern discernible in the biographies of most philosophers — from the Buddha through Pascal, Rousseau, Tolstoi, Rabindranath Tagore, John Dewey, to Bertrand Russel and Jean Paul Satre: they have either lost their mothers in early childhood or have had poor maternal care. As for Maslow, he has himself gone on record regarding this aspect of his early childhood: that he had a schizophreno-genic mother and that he used to wonder how come he did not go mad.

The second chapter offers a comparison of the theories of personality in the schools of humanistic and transpersonal psychologies in contemporary Western thought with the concept of personality in the Upanishads, the Sankhya and the Yoga schools in the Indian tradition. This chapter as a whole is pivotal to the author’s thesis. The last four pages of this chapter (pp.65-68) summarising and contrasting the concepts of personality in the East and the West attest to the author’s understanding of the subject.

The third chapter presents Maslow’s theory of personality. Vrinte has done well to highlight the significant contributions of Maslow to our understanding of the psychodynamics of personality; emphasis on the hierarchical nature of man’s needs which become motives when they are activated; the study of healthy personalities as a complement to the original psychoanalytic approach through sickness; and, on holistic inner experiences as against discrete empiricism which is the dominant paradigm in contemporary Western psychology.

Maslow’s theory of need hierarchy is to the effect that unless a man’s lower needs — like food and shelter, security and belongingness — are satisfied his higher needs for self-actualisation — like becoming an artist or scientist — will not be activated. It is to the credit of Maslow that he was aware of the Eastern tradition, which upheld ascetic discipline — that is, control of the lower needs — as the sine quo non for self-actualisation.

The fourth chapter is a presentation of Sri Aurobindo’s ideas on “the nature of Being and the process of transformation”. As the author observes, “Sri Aurobindo’s views of personality is a systematisation as well as elaboration of earlier Indian views on the subject based on his own Yogic explorations and experiences”. However, the relationship between the contents of this chapter and the earlier Indian views given in the second chapter is not properly highlighted. Despite the acknowledged difficulties of Sri Aurobindo’s stylistics Vrinte has succeeded in offering an acceptable topography of Being and an outline of the dynamics of its transformation in the corpus of his writings. The next chapter goes beyond the individual to the social dimension as it is treated by Sri Aurobindo and Maslow. It is presented in terms of ‘Sri Aurobindo’s Divine Humanity and His Vision of a Spiritual Society’ and Maslow’s “Transpersonal Humanism and Eupsychia’. Sri Aurobindo certainly made for a stronger bonding between man and society in his soteriology than has ever obtained in the orthodox Indian tradition. But in his primary emphasis on the individual as against the social unit Sri Aurobindo remained true to the Indian tradition.

‘Eupsychia’ is Maslow’s version of an ideal social order. Its distinct characteristic is ‘synergy’ — the resolution of the dichotomy between selfishness and altruism and, by implication, between the individual and society. Vrinte has rightly pointed out that unlike Sri Aurobindo, Maslow has not paid attention to the problem of accommodating individual differences — in the psychological sense of the phrase — within a framework of unity. Maslow’s lingering affiliation to the Western tradition is evident in his two-pronged approach to normative social change — simultaneously through individuals and institutions. Both ‘Eupsychia’ and the ‘Ashram’ are utopian but both dwell on non-materialistic, psychological processes unlike the earlier utopias. As Maslow explores the unfolding possibilities of ‘Eupsychia’ he reaches beyond basic human needs into the trans-human realm. Vrinte has duly highlighted the differences between the two thinkers in terms of the importance of the individual, the relation of the individual with society and their visions of the future of humanity.

The final chapter offers a critical estimate of the new dimensions in the concept of personality as it is seen by the two thinkers. Both of them, as Vrinte points out, ‘brought the depths of inner reality out of the exclusive sphere of religion, and stressed the need for its systematic investigation’. The outcome of systematic and penetrating scholarship, Vrinte’s book, would certainly interest other scholars in the East and in the West, but not the general reader. The author should have consulted books that are now available on rendering a scholarly thesis into a popular book before he committed this work to publication.

D. Raja Ganesan