Unitarian minister Peter Tufts Richardson, in his book Four Spiritualities, contends that it is important to pay attention to the works of religious, spiritual, and philosophical teachers in traditions that are different from our native one (See Part I and Part II).
But how can we identify which teachers might be helpful to us? Richardson believes that our inherent personality type (see links at the bottom of the article) helps to determine which teachings are attractive, meaningful, and useful to us.
The following descriptions of four personality-based spiritual paths and their mentors are condensed from Peter Tufts Richardson’s book Four Spiritualities, with some of my own research intermingled. If you have figured out your personality type, please let me know if, and how, any of these differing paths resonate with your own spiritual journey!
Sensing Feelers (SF): The Journey of Devotion (Mentors: St. Francis, Mohammed, St. Mark (apostle))
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was born into a wealthy Italian family. As a young man, he was injured in war. On the way home, exhausted and in pain, he spied a leper and was overwhelmed by compassion. St. Francis writes that he ”saw the face of the suffering Christ” on the leper. He dismounted, embraced the man, and gave him all of his money.
Later, St. Francis had a vision of his life’s work. He writes that a crucifix came alive, saying ”Go, Francis, and repair my falling house.” Francis took the words literally, and spent years repairing ruined churches. Later, he saw his revelation as a directive to repair the “spiritual house” of Christianity.
St. Francis founded an order of monks (The Franciscans), and in his later years he composed Canticle of Brother Sun, an ode to mother earth and her inhabitants. He is often pictured holding birds, a reference to a tale of him rescuing two doves on their way to slaughter.
The life of St. Francis reveals a Sensing Feeler’s passion for his God, a dedication to serving others in direct and tangible ways, and a gift for finding inspiration in the lives and works of ancestors.
The SF Spiritual Path: Sensing Feelers value personal experience and action through direct service to others. They often feel that God is present here and now, in our bodies and in our lives. Sensing Feelers are inspired by pilgrimages, heroes, and stories.
In their practical approach to spirituality and their appreciation of religious myth, Sensing Feelers bring continuity, integrity, and pragmatism to religious traditions, giving them staying power through generations.
Sensing Thinkers (ST): The Journey of Works (Mentors: Confucius, Moses, St. Thomas (apostle)). (Also my best guest for HH the 14th Dalai Lama).
Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) never achieved his goal of becoming a governmental administrator. As a teacher and scholar, however, he made a lasting impact on philosophy and government.
Confucius reworked the oldest documents of Chinese culture (now known as the Confucian Odes) into a coherent system for the conduct of life that is remarkably practical and democratic. Confucius believed that the well-being and consent of the common people constitute the legitimacy of a government, and societal reform works from the bottom up. His teachings guided Chinese society for nearly 2500 years.
In the words of Confucian translator Arthur Waley:
"In the West, we tend to instill ethical principals into young children until they are internalized: This is right, that is wrong. In traditional China…a young child is taught a number of considerations, none of which is absolute. You have to reason out what is appropriate, operable, and right in any specific situation."
Confucian principals help us decide what action is practical, skillful, and humane in any given situation, not what is “right” or “wrong.”
The life of Confucius gives clear evidence of a Sensing Thinker’s love for law and order and attention to careful thought, planning, and stewardship.
The ST Spiritual Path: Sensing Thinkers are realistic, practical, and sometimes righteous. They strive to keep to religious organizations running smoothly based on a foundation of law and order. They feel responsible for personal, social, and natural resources.
Sensing Thinkers believe that a clear-cut personal identity is essential for a fulfilling spiritual life. They see work as life’s aim and fulfillment, spiritually as well as practically.
Intuitive Feelers (NF): The Journey of Harmony (Mentors: Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Jesus, Lao-Tzu, St. Luke (apostle), Thich Nhat Hahn, Buddhist Master).
Mother Theresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) ministered to the world’s poor, sick and dying for over 40 years. In 1997 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. When asked what the average person can do to promote world peace, she simply said “Go home and love your family.”
As a young woman, Theresa felt a strong call to help the poor while living among them. ”To fail would have been to break the faith” she writes of her spiritual imperative.
Theresa founded an order of nuns, the Missionaries of Charity, in 1940. At first her order was so poor that the sisters had to beg for food and supplies. But Mother Theresa, with her Intuitor’s grasp of the big picture, was a good administrator. At the time of her death in 1997, she had founded 610 missions in 123 countries to care for the poor, sick, and dying. Her order includes over 4,000 sisters and 100,000 lay volunteers.
Mother Theresa honored the religious beliefs of others. In her homes for the dying, ministrations are offered in several religious traditions: Muslims are read the Quran, Hindus receive water from the Ganges, and Catholics are given the last rites.
Mother Theresa continued her spiritual journey throughout her life, aided by her “spiritual advisor,” a priest to whom she was close. Her diaries, published after her death, reveal that for much of her life she struggled with strong doubts about the existence of God.
Mother Theresa’s story reveals an Intuitive Feeler’s quest for self-hood, focus on process as part of a religious path, tolerance of differing spiritual traditions, and love of harmony.
The NF Spiritual Path: Intuitive Feelers are social idealists. Their spiritual journey includes a quest for self-hood and a mystical pursuit of harmony. They project an attitude of expectancy and an openness to their unconscious selves, including their dreams, as a way towards spiritual healing.
Intuitive Feelers focus on process in relationships, whether to family, friends or society. They often enjoy exploring different spiritual traditions, and may combine several in their belief system. They avoid conflict, and are peacemakers and “carriers of the banner of tolerance” among traditions. They are our social visionaries.
Intuitive Thinkers (NT): The Journey of Unity (Mentors: Thomas Merton, The Buddha, Thomas Aquinas, Carl Jung)
Thomas Merton (1915-1968), an important 20th century religious writer, hated church as a child. During college, however, he became interested in Catholicism. After graduating, became a Cistercian monk, maintaining a vow of silence for two years.
In 1948 Merton published his spiritual classic The Seven Storey Mountain, an account of his quest for God. Though eloquent and passionate, this book reveals Merton as narrow-minded (or at least unworldly) and judgmental, dismissing pagan traditions as “evil old religions.”
In the decades that followed, however, Merton matured, and his world view widened. He became a political activist and peacemaker. His interest in other religions, particularly Eastern ones, grew. Merton dialoged with the worlds’ leading Buddhists— the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hahn, and D.T. Suzuki. He died in an electrocution accident in 1968, at the age of 51.
Merton’s life story reveals an Intuitive Thinker’s love of scholarship, search for universal truth and justice, and desire for the spiritual enlightenment of all. In the words of the Buddhist scholar Shantideva:
“May I be a guard for those who are protectorless
A guide for those who journey on the road
For those who wish to go across the water
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge…
When all these actions I have performed
And their virtue I have thus amassed
May the pain of every living being
Be thereby scattered and destroyed.”
The NT Spiritual Path: Intuitive Thinkers seek organizing principals throughout life and nature. They want universal justice and truths that are global, honest, and clear. Their milestone of spiritual progress is deep and lucid thinking.
A goal of Intuitive Thinkers is social justice, achieved through education. Intuitive Thinkers may be spiritual writers and often attempt interfaith peacemaking. They may practice intellectual mysticism, often in quiet places or in silence.
To determine your personality type, take one of these online tests. You will receive an answer with four letters, but for the purposes of this article we are interested in only the two middle letters:
Humanometrics (Take “Jung Typology Test”)
Similar Minds. ( Click on “16-Type Jung Personality Tests”, then take “Jung Tests IESNFTJP”.)
Abbreviated version (Click on “What is my Myers-Briggs personality type?”)
CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2.
Images: 1. St. Francis of Assisi, courtesy of 1.bp.blogspot.com 2. Confucius, artist unknown 3. Painting of Mother Theresa, courtesy of divinesoul.jp 4.Thomas Merton by Joseph Malham.