Before we enter into the details of spiritual anthropology, it will be good to provide some general observations on the differences we encounter between the various human types. These differences often seem to reach beyond mere preference or even biological heredity, nationality, or race, differences so conspicuous that we get the impression that someone ‘is from another planet’, or at any rate that we ourselves are the aliens. And in a sense, this impression is valid, since men possessing very different spiritual temperaments will experience the world in ways that seem diametrically opposed, resulting in two distinct interpretations of reality that can be very difficult to reconcile. In these cases, it is not a stretch to say the live in different worlds.
Human nature is limited. Therefore, when it comes to the pursuit of truth and goodness, we can say that it is “natural” for man to lock himself into some conceptual limitation or “point of view,” to the exclusion of other possibilities. He must do this or else he could not conceive of anything at all. This limited point of view then becomes the point of departure for the individual, the framework within which he realizes his spiritual potential.
To refuse to acknowledge the naturalness and necessity of such a limitation is to spread oneself too thin and achieve nothing. Man is not God.
Human nature is also diverse. This means that all men cannot share the same point of view. All are limited as men, but their point of departure differs drastically. This again is “natural” to man.
Having acknowledged the necessity of a framework that corresponds to the limits of the human condition, and also the diversity natural to the human condition, we can see that the religions obviously serve as frameworks catering to a particular type of limitation. In other words, each religion corresponds to a certain type of man. For his type, and for his type only, it serves as the horizons which do not so much limit him as sustain and feed him, and beyond which he can only travel at great risk.
Each religion is the “natural environment” for a specific type of person and each Revelation is given by God for the sole purpose of providing a certain type of humanity with the means of grace to work out its own salvation. Such is the Mercy of God, that through each religion he “empties Himself, taking on the nature of a servant, being made in human likeness,” which is to say, becoming nothing (in comparison to what he is in Himself), taking on a limitation, a form comprehensible to man, so that man may know Him through that limitation.
Since each Revelation is given by God to serve a certain human type, we can say that the range of Revelation corresponds to the range of “spiritual temperaments” present in human nature, each with its own needs. These temperaments could also be described as modes of the spiritual life, or ways of relating to God. It is my purpose here to dwell on this particular aspect of human differentiation—the spiritual temperaments of man.
We can start with a fundamental distinction between bhakti and jnana, which are Hindu terms corresponding to love and knowledge as spiritual temperaments. These two primary types—love and knowledge—seem to precede all others, all others presenting themselves as variations of these two.
The disciple of love, or the bhakta, pursues God by distinguishing between charity and selfishness, or love and egoism. The bhakta emphasizes fervor and devotion, seeking salvation through faith and, in a subordinate but necessary way, good works. Bhaktic religion focuses on “salvation,” usually through the invocation of the Divine Name. As examples, we can cite Christianity, which seems to be the only religion emphasizing bhakti as a primary way, whereas in other traditions it is present but secondary.
For the jnanin, or the disciple of knowledge, the all-important distinction is between truth and error. While the bhakta concerns himself with righteousness before God, and as a result, salvation from his own unrighteousness through faith, the jnanin pursues “realization” through contemplation. What matters to him is not so much salvation as knowledge of God, since to know God is, in a sense, to be united with Him. While the bhaktic way leads men to become sons of God via devotion to a Divine Name, the jnanin seeks to become one with God, and this is the meaning of Deliverance.
Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, and when they go astray they go in predictable ways. The bhakta, by his efforts to overcome selfishness in the name of charity, will naturally tend toward moralism and emotionalism, because the goal of overcoming the ego in the name of love naturally requires a focus on fellow-feeling and right action. Catholic legalism is an example of the moralistic over-emphasis on right action; Protestant sentimentalism, on the other hands, displays the over-zealous pursuit of devotional feeling. Both of these extremes belong to the bhaktic way.
The jnanin, for his part, tends to lack an appreciation for beauty and can easily become allergic to all things human, since the human condition is merely relative and is ultimately nothing in comparison to the Absolute, which it is the goal of jnanin to come to know. But the realization sought by the jnanin cannot be achieved except within a human context, and the beauty of the religious life, which provides the very atmosphere in which contemplation takes place and acts as its support.
The disciple of love risks neglecting knowledge and tends to spurn the very concept of orthodoxy, which for the jnanin is everything, and in this way the bhakta will resemble a fleshly body that lacks a skeleton: embodying warmth and beauty but lacking direction and support. The jnanin, for his part, may lack charity and will easily become like a skeleton without flesh, clinging to the abstract as if theory were the total of reality.
The religious tradition functions as the skeletal support for the bhakta. It does his thinking for him, and in this way he participates in the knowledge of the jnanin passively. This is why the major traditions typically make room for the bhaktic way but do not permit it to become a directing force, since the bhakta is prone to “cut off the branch he is sitting on” by denying the primacy of knowledge and orthodoxy that is in fact his sustenance and the only thing that permits him to safely pursue the Divine.
The bhakta is permitted to sacrifice his judgement in faith, as is his way, only when he operates within the context of a tradition which makes all of these necessary judgements for him. The way of love/faith requires dogmas in which to place one’s faith. Outside of the traditional context, the bhaktic way becomes dispersed and impotent until it dissolves entirely, even if it leaves behind a residue of vague religiosity. Such is the case with much of modern Protestantism which, acting on a legitimate impulse, surgically removed itself from the only body in which it could have thrived. This does not mean that all the blame for this must be placed at the feet of Protestantism, for by this analogy we mean to say that it represented a “vital organ” in the Christian body, and it was surgically removed in part because the protectors of orthodoxy—the jnanin—failed to appreciate its value and so permitted it to be separated from the body. Its loss is felt and is apparent: both sides have suffered from the operation.