The Three Temperaments

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Written by Sir John Woodroffe, Book: Introduction to Tantra Sastra 


THE Tantras speak of three temperaments, dispositions, characters (bhāva), or classes of men—namely, the paśu-bhāva (animal), vīra-bhāva (heroic), and divyabhāva (deva-like or divine). These divisions are based on various modifications of the guṇ as (v. ante) as they manifest in man (jīva). It has been pointed out1 that the analogous Gnostic classification of men as material, psychical and spiritual, correspond to the three guṇ as of the Sāmkhya-darśana. In the paśu the rajo-guna operates chiefly on tamas, producing such dark characteristics as error (bhrānti), drowsiness (tandrā), and sloth (ālasya). It is however, an error to suppose that the paśu is as such a bad man; on the contrary, a jīva of this class may prove superior to a jiva of the next. If the former, who is greatly bound by matter, lacks enlightenment, the latter may abuse the greater freedom he has
won. There are also numerous kinds of paśu, some more, some less tamasik than others. Some there are at the lowest end of the scale, which marks the first advance upon the higher forms of animal life. Others approach and gradually merge into the vīra class. The term paśu comes from the root paś, “to bind.” The paśu is in fact the man who is bound by the bonds (paśa), of which the
Kulārṇ ava-Tantra enumerates eight—namely, pity (dayā), ignorance and delusion (mohā), fear (bhaya), shame (lajja), disgust (ghṛ ṇ a), family (kula), custom

1 Richard Garbe, “Philosophy of Ancient India,” p. 48, as also before him, Baur.

(śila), and caste (varṇ a). Other enumerations are given of the afflictions which, according to some, are sixty-two, but all such larger divisions are merely elaborations of the simpler enumerations. The paśu is also the worldly man, in ignorance and bondage, as opposed to the yogī, and the tattva-jnāni. Three divisions of paśu are also spoken of—namely, sakala, who are bound by the three pāśas, called aṇ u (want of knowledge or erroneous knowledge of the self), bheda (the division also induced by māyā of the one self into many), and karma (action and
its product). These are the three impurities (mala) called āṇ ava-mala, māyā-mala, and Karma-mala. Pratayakalā are those bound by the first and last, and Vijnāna-kevala are those bound by āṇ ava-mala only. He who frees himself of the remaining impurity of aṇu  becomes Śiva Himself. The Devī bears the pāśa, and is the cause of them, but She too, is paśupāśa-vimocinī,1 Liberatrix of the paśu from his bondage.

What has been stated gives the root notion of the term paśu. Men of this class are also described in Tantra by exterior traits, which are manifestations of the interior disposition. So the Kubjika-Tantra2 says: “Those who belong to paśu-bhāva are simply paśus. A paśu does not touch a yantra, nor make japa of mantra at night. He entertains doubt about sacrifices and Tantra;
regards a mantra as being merely letters only.3 He lacks faith in the guru, and thinks that the image is but a block of stone. He distinguishes one deva from ano-

1 Lalitā-sahasra-nāma (verse 78).
2 Chapter VII.
3 Instead of being Devatā. Similarly the Nityā-Tantrā (see Prāna-toṣiṇi, 547 et seq.).


ther,1 and worships without flesh and fish. He is always bathing, owing to his ignorance,2 and talks ill of others.3 Such an one is called paśu and he is the worst kind of man.”4 Similarly the Nitya-Tantra5 describes the paśu as—“He who doe not worship at night nor in the evening, nor in the latter part of the day,6 who avoids sexual intercourse, except on the fifth day after the
appearance of the courses 7 (ṛ tukālam vinā devī vamanaṃ parivarjayet); who does not eat meat etc., even on the five auspicious days (pārvana)”; in short, those who, following Vedācāra, Vaiṣ ṇ avācāra, and Śaivācāra, are bound by the Vaidik rules which govern all paśus.

In the case of vira-bhāva, rajas more largely works on sattva, yet also largely (though in lessening degrees, until the highest stage of divya-bhava is reached) works independently towards the production of acts in which sorrow inheres. There are several classess of vira.

The third, or highest, class of man is he of the divyabhāva (of which, again, there are several degrees—some

1 Not recognising that all are but plural manifestations of the One.
2 That is, he only thinks of external and ceremonial purity, not of internal purity of mind, etc,
3 That is, decrying as sectarian-minded Vaiṣ ṇ avas do, all other forms of worship than their own, a common fault of the paśu the world over. In fact, the Picchilā-Tantra (chap. XX) says that the Vaiṣ ṇ ava must worship Parameśvara like a paśu.
4 All the Tantras describe the paśu as the lowest form of the three temperaments. Nityā-Tantra, and chap. X. of Picchilā Tantra, where paśubhāva is described.
5 See Prāna-toṣ inī, p. 547.
6 As Tantrika vīra do.
7 Taking their usual duration to be four days. This is a Vaidik injunction, as to which see post. The Vīra and Divya are not so bound to maithuna on the fifth day only; that is as to maithuna as a part of virācāra.


but a stage in advance of the highest form of vira-bhāva, others completely realizing the deva-nature), in which rajas operates on sattva-guṇ a to the confirmed preponderance
of the latter.

The Nityā-Tantra1 says that of the bhāva the divya is the best, the vīra the next best, and the paśu the lowest; and that devatā-bhāva must be awakened through vira-bhava. The Picchilā-Tantra 2 says that the only differenee between the vira and divya men is that the former are very uddhata, by which is probably meant excitable, through the greater prevalence of the independent
working of the rajoguṇ a in them than in the calmer sattvik temperament. It is obvious that such
statements must not be read with legal accuracy. There may be, in fact, a considerable difference between a low type of vīra and the highest type of divya, though it seems to be true that this quality of uddhata which is referred to is the cause of such differences, whether great or small.

The Kubjikā-Tantra 3 describes the marks of the divya as he “who daily does ablutions, saṃ dhyā; and wearing clean cloth, the tṛ puṇ ḍ ara mark in ashes or red sandal, and ornaments of rudrākṣ a-beads, performs japa and arcanā. He gives charity daily also. His faith is strong in Veda, Śāstra, Guru, and Deva. He worships the Pitṛi and Deva, performs all the daily rites. He has a great knowledge of mantra. He avoids all food, except that which his guru offers him, and all cruelty and other

1 Loc. cit.
2 Chapter X, and so also Utpatti-Tantra (chap. lxiv). See Prāna-toṣ inī, p. 570, where also bhāva is described as the dharma of the manas.
3 Chapter VII.


bad actions, regarding both friend and foe as one and the same. He himself ever speaks the truth, and avoids the company of those who decry the Devatā. He worships thrice daily, and meditates upon his guru daily, and, as a Bhairava, worships Parameśvari with divya-bhāva.
All Devas he regards as beneficial.1 He bows down at the feet of women regarding them as his guru2 (strinām pāda-talam dṛ ṣ ṭ va guru-vad bhāvayet sadā). He worships the Devī at night,3 and makes japa at night with his mouth full of pān,4 and makes obeisance to the kula vṛ kṣ a.5 He offers everything to the Supreme Devī. He regards this universe as pervaded by strī (Śakti),
and as Devatā. Śiva is in all men, and the whole brahmanda is pervaded by Śiva-Śakti. He ever strives for the attainment and maintenance of devatā-bhāva, and is himself of the nature of a Devatā.

Here, again, the Tantra only seeks to give a general picture, the details of which are not applicable to all men of the divya-bhava class. The passage shows that it, or portions of it, refer to the ritual divya, for some of the practices there referred to would not be performed by the avadhata, who is above all ritual acts, though he

1 He worships all Devas, drawing no distinctions. For instance, an orthodox, up-country Hindu who is a worshipper of Rāma cannot even bear to hear the name of Kṛ ṣ ṇ a, though both Rāma and Kṛ ṣ ṇ a are each avatārā of the same Viṣ ṇ u, who is again himself but a partial manifestation of the great Śakti.
2 He is even strī-khanda-pan ̣ ajā-rudhira-bhūṣ ītah, for he is unaffected by the pāśa of ghrnā or lajjā.
3 Vaidik worship is by day.
4 That is, after eating, pān being taken after meals.
5 An esoteric term, as to which see Tantrābhidhāna. Similarly (in Nityā- Tantra), he does obeisance to the kulastrī, who is versed in Tantra and mantra, whether she has been brought by a dūti, is pūmśchāli, or veśyā and whether youthful or old.


would also share (possibly in intenser degree) the beliefs of divya men of all classes—that he and all else are but manifestations of the universe-pervading Supreme Śakti.

According to the temperament of the sādhaka, so is the form of worship and sādhana. In fact, the specific worship and sādhana of the other classes is strictly prohibited by the Tantra to the paśu.

It is said in this Tantra1 and elsewhere2 that, in the Kali-yuga, divya and paśu dispositions can scarcely be found. It may be thought difficult at first sight to reconcile this (so far as the paśu is concerned) with other statements as to the nature of these respective classes. The term paśu, in these and similar passages, would appear to be used in a good sense3 as referring to a man
who though tamasic, yet performs his functions with that obedience to nature which is shown by the still more tamasic animal creation free from the disturbing influences of rajas, which, if it may be the source of good, may also be, when operating independently, the source of evil.4

The Commentator explains the passage cited from the Tantra as meaning that the conditions and character of the Kali-yuga are not such as to be productive of paśu-bhava (apparently in the sense stated), or to allow of it’s ācāra (that is, Vaidikācāra). No one, he says, can, fully perform the vedācāra, vaiṣ ṇ avācāra, and śaivācāra rites, without which the Vaidik, Paurānik mantra, and

1 Chapter 1, verse 24.
2 See Śyāmārcana-candrikā, cited in Hara-tattva-didhitti, p. 343.
3 So verse 54 speaks of the paśu as one who should himself procure the leaves, fruits, and water for worship, and not look at a Śūdra, or even think of a woman.
4 For this reason it is possible, in certain cases, that a paśu may attain siddhi through the Tantra quicker than a vīra can.

yaj˝a are fruitless. No one now goes through the brahmacārya āśrama, or adopts after the fiftieth year that called vānaprastha. Those whom the Veda does not control cannot expect the fruit of Vaidik observances. On the contrary, men have taken to drink, associate with the low, and are fallen; as are also those men who associate with them. There can therefore be no pure
paśu. Under these circumstances the duties prescribed by the Vedas which are appropriate for the paśu being incapable of performance, Śiva for the liberation of men of the Kali Age has proclaimed the Āgama. Now, there is no other way.” The explanation thus given, therefore,
appears to amount to this. The pure type of paśu for whom vedācāra was designed does not exist. For others who though paśu are not purely so, the Tantra is the governing Śastra. This however, does not mean that all are now competent for vīrācāra.

It is to be noted, however, that the Prāṇa-toṣinī1 cites a passage purporting to come from the Mahānirvān a-Tantra, which is apparently in direct opposition to the foregoing :

Divya-vira-mayo bhāvah kalau nāsti kadā-cana.
Kevalam paśu-bhāvena mantra-siddhirbhavenṛ ṇam.

“In the Kali Age there is no divya or vīrabhāva. It is only by the paśu-bhāva that men may obtain mantrasiddhi.”

This matter of the bhava prevalent in the Kaliyuga has been the subject of considerable discussion and difference of opinion, and is only touched upon here.2

1 Pp. 570-571.
2 The subject is a difficult one, and I have given the above-mentioned account with considerable diffidence as to complete accuracy.














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