Many paths, one mountain


You may think that I am writing about different world religions leading to the same destination here, but I am not. I am exploring the ways in which different personality types approach their spirituality. I am writing about diversity, on a level that is not terribly obvious.

I have been wondering for a while if I am abnormal, as I feel spiritually… numb. My interest in spirituality is more intellectual than practical, more head-based than heart-based. Is study and knowledge an end in itself, or am I wasting my time? It turns out that there are others like me, hence my theory that one’s spiritual path depends on one’s personality type.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not generally a fan of labels, boxes and stereotypes as they can be very restrictive, but I believe that categories can serve a useful purpose when it comes to explaining some of our differences in attitudes and behaviour. I also don’t believe that a handful of categories can explain all personality types as we are after all complex individuals.

Offhand I can think of two established systems of categorizing spiritual paths into ones which can be linked to personality type, providing some interesting food for thought in this regard.

Mysticism and Occultism

I remember learning about the differences between mysticism and occultism in my studies of metaphysics. The differences between the two are subtle and often overlooked, plus occultism is generally considered to include mysticism.

I view mysticism as a heart-based spiritual path of faith, devotion and service, and occultism as a head-based spiritual path of questioning, knowledge and study.

According to The Watkins Dictionary of Magic by Nevill Drury, mysticism is “the act of seeking union with the godhead” via “contemplation, meditation, or self-surrender” and it was defined by St Thomas Aquinas as “the knowledge of God through experience”. Occultism is a broader term covering the study of occult knowledge, i.e. hidden or secret knowledge, in various branches including magic, spiritualism and mysticism.

St John of the Cross is a well-known mystic whose classic poem Dark Night of the Soul about the painful journey to mystical union with God uses the metaphor of romantic love, describing the narrator as “lover” and God as “Beloved”:

“Oh, night that guided me,

Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,

Oh, night that joined

Beloved with lover,

Lover transformed in the Beloved!”

Paths of Yoga

Different spiritual paths are illustrated in the four main paths of yoga:

1) Karma Yoga, the path of action and selfless service, i.e. work as worship.

2) Bhakti Yoga, the path of unconditional love and devotion.

3) Raja Yoga, the path of self-control including meditation and Hatha Yoga which is primarily associated with physical control.

4) Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge and wisdom.

While these paths are not mutually exclusive and a practitioner may incorporate techniques from all paths in their spiritual path, a practitioner’s personality usually dictates one or more preferred paths to focus on. All paths seek to transcend the ego self and achieve alignment and union with the entire universe.

“The meaning of our self is not to be found in its separateness from God and others, but in the ceaseless realization of yoga, of union; not on the side of the canvas where it is blank, but on the side where the picture is being painted.”

Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

“Yoga means union, in all its significances and dimensions.”

Indra Devi (1899-2002)

“Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”

B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-)

The Yoga Tarot is what I would call a maverick Tarot deck, as it deviates from its Rider Waite ancestor in many respects, providing an interesting variation that helps to illustrate my theory. In this deck, the symbols of the Rider Waite Minor Arcana suits representing the four classical elements of life and how their energies play out in our daily lives are replaced by symbols and ritual objects of Eastern religions, and each suit follows a practitioner’s personal development on a particular path of yoga as follows:

The Mandala replaces the Pentacle as the symbol of the earth element associated with the body and physical matters, and its suit is associated with the path of Hatha Yoga.

The Lotus flower replaces the Cup as the symbol of the water element associated with the heart and emotional matters, and its suit is associated with the path of Bhakti Yoga.

The Trishula (trident) replaces the Sword as the symbol of the air element associated with the mind and mental matters, and its suit is associated with the path of Raja Yoga.

The Vajra (staff) replaces the Wand as the symbol of the fire element associated with energy and creative matters, and its suit is associated with the path of Karma Yoga.

The Minor Arcana suits can also be linked to our personalities in two different ways, via the element assigned to our astrological sun sign (Libra/Swords/air in my case) and via the court card that we most identify with, known as a significator card (Queen of Swords/air in my case).

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273), as translated by Coleman Barks

This article was first published here


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2 Responses

  1. Helen says:

    Thanks for your comment Talianah!

    I will give it some thought. It helps to know readers are interested in a topic to make the effort worth while. 🙂

  2. Talianah Breet says:

    Okay, for some reason my first comment didn’t go through! I wanted to know if you were going to write more o this topic as I would like very much to read more?

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