Thought, Character and Conduct - The Triad of Personality

Mar - Apr 2006

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Sam va¡ p—chyantam tanva¡ sam manamsi samuvrrata
Sam vo'yam brahmanaspatirbharga¡ sam vo ajigamat.

- Atharvaveda: 6/74/1

“May your body, mind (thought), dharma (character) and action (conduct) be in synergy.  May God, the Lord of knowledge, harmonize you, and the Lord of splendour integrate you.”

Understanding the different dimensions of personality and a proper synthesis between them provides energy for jivana sadhana.  It is absolutely essential for such a sadhaka to become fully familiar with his own personality and know which are the aspects, that express his inner consciousness.  'Personality' is a widely used term.  It is used in different meanings and connotations in psychology.   Psychologists have written much about it.  But still most of the people remain ignorant of the essence or real meaning of the term.  The depths of personality yet remain unfathomed.

In the beginning, the psychologists may have understood the word 'personality' simply as a derivative of the Latin 'persona', meaning a mask or facade or outer covering.  But now it is commonly accepted that the real reasons behind human behavior remain hidden in the depths of his interior.  If we are to reach at the root of a man's conduct, we will have to dig through the layers of his character and mind.  Without properly knowing these entities an objective explanation of his conduct will be impossible.

A meaningful definition of personality may be given as the aggregate of a person's characteristic features and qualities.  These features and qualities are manifested in his external conduct but their origins go far deeper and remain hidden in his thoughts and samskars (persistent mental impressions).  This is also spoken of by the rishis – "yanmanasa dhyayati tadvacha vadati; yadvacha vadati, tatkarmaña karoti; yat karmaña karoti, tadbhisampadyate". Meaning: As a man thinks in his mind, so is his speech; as he speaks, so does he conduct himself; as is his conduct, so does he become.

Thought, character and conduct - these form the three-dimensional identity of personality.  Between these three, the first dimension is of thought.  It consists of that which we think and keeps cropping up and circulating in our ideas and imaginations.  The continuity and intensity of this thought shapes our character.  The process of this character building is very gradual, because the underlying basis of character is the samskars or innate dispositions which lie dormant in the depths of the unconscious mind.  As long as the intensity of thought does not reach the stage where it can refine the samskars, the character remains totally unaffected.  This very composite of thought and character is reflected in the conduct.  So, if the personality is to be refined and developed to its fullest potential, and along the right path, it would be imperative to mould its three-dimensional nature afresh.

There is an instructive anecdote about moulding the personality in this way.  In South India there was a very learned and tapasvi sage, Sadashiva Brahmendra Swami.  Those days he was studying vedanta in his guru's ashrama.  His whole time was spent in study, contemplation and tapa.

Once a renowned scholar, Pandit Mahashaya, visited the ashrama.  It so happened that soon he and Sadashiva Swami were locked in a debate.  In no time, Sadashiva Swami, with his dazzling scholarship, tore all his adversary's arguments to shreds and reduced him to a position where the Pandit Mahashaya had to apologize and retreat.

Feeling exultant at his victory, Sadashiva Swami narrated the incident to his gurudev expecting probably a pat on the back.  But quite the opposite happened.  Gurudev severely reprimanded him.  He said: "Sadashiva! Noble thought is worthwhile only when it builds a noble character, and a noble character is meaningful only when it is translated into noble conduct.  You studied and contemplated on vedanta, but were unable to sculpt the character of a truth seeking sadhaka, nor were you able to train your conduct accordingly.  For this reason, your whole effort thus far at study and contemplation can only be worthy of condemnation. 

These words of his guru burst Sadashiva Swami's bloated sense of ego.  Very humbly he asked: "Gurudev! How should we sculpt noble character"?  Gurudev replied: "Son! To sculpt the personality afresh, one should have, first of all, its clear outline in the mind.  For example, for formation of the personality of a truth seeking sadhaka, it would be essential that every moment of the sadhaka's thinking is imbued with his jóana sadhana.  The second important point is that no idea or element of thought contrary to the main purpose is allowed to enter the mind.  Thirdly, the intensity of purposeful thinking is maintained continuously.  Reflection and contemplation must continue ceaselessly.  By such deep thought the suitable personality is formed.”

"But remember", gurudev warned, "contemplation is meant to shape one's own personality and not to score debating points over others and satisfy one's ego.  Unnecessary argumentation is a hindrance to the process, and only by avoiding this can a new character be sculpted - a character, which purifies and illumines even the nature and attributes of the body and the sense-organs.  It is for this reason that the vedic rishis have included the body and the sense-organs within the definition of character.”

"As for conduct", gurudev continued, "it should be wholly transparent and guileless like the character, no matter how much trials and suffering one has to undergo.  It is through the conduct that deeper layers of a man's personality find expression.  So it must be commensurate with the dignity and honour of one's jivana sadhana".  Sadashiva Swami imbibed deeply these words of his guru and advanced on the path of his jivana sadhana.  For those who wish to tread this path in a similar way it will also be essential that they find a noble and lofty goal for themselves.


In the year 1885, the New English High School, Pune was celebrating a big function.  A volunteer had been deputed at the gate to allow admittance to the invitation card holders only.  The chief guest of the function was the then Chief Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade.  When Ranade arrived at the venue he was stopped by the volunteer who requested for the invitation card.  "My boy, I do not have any such card with me," Ranade said. "In that case, Sir, you cannot go inside" was the volunteer's polite answer.  Seeing the chief guest held up at the gate many members of the reception committee rushed over there and tried to escort him inside.  But the volunteer protested: "Gentlemen, how can I perform my duty sincerely if reception committee members themselves interfere in my work?  Whoever the guest be, he is supposed to carry the invitation card with him.  I can not be partial".  This same volunteer later rose to fame as the great Gopal Krishna Gokhale and rendered great service to the nation.  Gandhiji considered him his political guru.


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