Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 7: The Intellect > Chapter 1: The Place of Intellect
The Place of Intellect
Let us honour intelligence, and not insult it, for it is as much from God as piety.
The intellect cannot lead us to infallible truth, yes, but it can keep us from straying into roads that would lead us to utter falsehood.
What was called "Reason" in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and what was honoured as "Reason" by the Cambridge Platonists is a mystical plus intellectual faculty and not merely an intellectual one. It is not merely a coexistence but a fusion of the two capacities.
If we reverse the words of Descartes, whose thought helped usher in the age of science, and proclaim, "I am, therefore I think" we come nearer to the truth.
True intelligence is the working union of three active faculties: concrete thinking, abstract thinking, and mystical intuition.
The intellect can only speak for the Overself after the Glimpse has vanished and turned to a mere memory. That is to say, it is really speaking for itself, for what it thinks about the Overself. It has no really valid authority to speak.
The wisdom of God cannot be found by the intellect of man.
The fragment of knowledge which the finite mind can absorb and hold is so little that we must remain humble always.
He may recognize the truth with his intellect and yet be unable to realize it with his consciousness.
The intellect ought to work only as a servant, obeying intuition's orders in practical life or filling in details for intuition's discoveries in the truth-seeking quest.
These competing tendencies of intuition and reason may, however, be harmonized in a balanced personality. All mystics have not advocated the paralysis of intellect--even Jacob Boehme wrote: "Human reason, by being kept within its true bounds and regulated by a superior light, is only made useful. Both the divine and natural life may in the soul subsist together and be of mutual service each to the other."
We should not rightly expect such a deliberately evoked intuition to act always as a substitute for reason. Its help is to be sought only when reason is baffled. We must not on the plea of the superiority of intuition desert our parallel duty of evolving reasoning power. We are endowed with intelligence, with the faculty to reason things out, with the ability to box the compass of our own life, and it is our task to use this most common of all potential qualities a little more frequently than we appear to do at the present time.
The greatest intellect is as nothing when compared with the intelligence, the so-called subconscious mind, which directs the involuntary functions of the body.
Intellect, reason, and intelligence are not convertible terms in this teaching. The first is the lowest faculty of the trio, the third is the highest, the second is the medial one. Intellect is logical thinking based on a partial and prejudiced collection of facts. Reason is logical thinking based on all available and impartially collected facts. Intelligence is the fruit of a union between reason and intuition.
The truth is not against intellect but above it, not opposed to thought but beyond it.
None of these ultimate problems can be solved by the intellect: those who imagine they do so, deceive themselves. And if they communicate their specific solutions to disciples or followers they, unintentionally perhaps, mislead them. Human thought can go so far but no farther.
Cerebral thought is an activity which, if it dominates a person as it does with most people, prevents intuitions from deeper levels of consciousness gaining entry. It also prevents other minds from entering, thus barring hypnotic suggestion and telepathic transfer.
The "truth" which intellect can attain is a perpetually moving one. Thinking can never arrive at a final conclusion that is completely final, or at an absolutely true "truth."
Ordinary thinking is wholly related to experience connected with the five senses. It entirely misses the higher dimension which is the content of such insight.
The same power which caused man to fashion a crude wooden plough eventually enabled him to fashion a motor-driven plough. That power was and is intelligence.
The power to discriminate between the false and the true, to decide between the right and the wrong, to judge all the varied factors which present themselves to the senses, is the power of intelligence.
Intuition is often the explosive climax of a long slow process of hard thinking but whether it comes swiftly or slowly it must always be ready to justify itself at the bar of reason, for the latter is our only reliable guide to truth. Man may lay reason aside only when its fullest use has led him to the point of transcending it. To ignore it before that moment is to fall prey to extravagant fancies which are likely to lead the mind completely astray.
He accepts all that mystical intuition can tell him about his own and the universal being. But he sees that it will not be weakened, it will only be supported checked and balanced if he listens also to what the rational intellect can tell him.
Unless every question is seen in relation to the Overself it is not seen rightly. Therefore, whatever answer is gained cannot be the final one.
If man's intellect is subject to error and illusion, how can it distinguish correctly the final Truth which is not subject to error, and the absolute Reality which is not subject to illusion?
The intellect, by its criticism and research, can serve and supplement the intuition's work, can round and balance it; the service need not nullify it. Such a collaboration ought to be encouraged, not excluded as the more religious devotee in the past often excluded it.
Life is an enigma to those who think, who have felt the intellectual urge to probe its meaning and the emotional urge to find a conscious relationship with it. Yet, if they pursue the attempt to satisfy these yearnings, they do not get far. The theories and beliefs offered from different sources too often contradict one another. Life continues to evade the deeper questions.
Thinking about the Overself is inferior to experiencing the Overself but in its own way and on its own level it is helpful.
Reason with a small "r" is the logical use of thoughts: which is a mediate process; but with a capital "R" it is the intelligent use of the understanding, which is a direct immediate thing: intuition. Kant used it somewhat in this sense--but went only part of the way into a semi-agnosticism, semi-knowledge of the truth. So the term got fixed into its lesser meaning alone: the Kantian use of it is somewhat obsolete and best not used by laymen.
The intelligence, as something more than intellect alone, can be used to carry his thinking to the verge of an intuition which will light up some of his understanding. But such a success requires certain preconditions: a measure of equilibrium in his personality, a measure of self-discipline in his character, intensive pondering on the truth.
There are no final conclusions in these matters. It is better to accept the truth and let life remain inconclusive than delude oneself. But this is not to support those who claim that the only truth is that there is no Truth, or those who assent that all is mere opinion.
Intuition speaks with its own authority but what does it lose if it has the support of argument?
When intellect comes to understand that its own existence implies a superior existence which is its origin, it has served its highest function. When it accepts the fact of intuition and serves it by laying itself down in stilled prostration, there is born Intelligence. Then alone does truth appear and peace bless us.
Intellect obstructs the light of the Overself.
The intellect, which so usefully serves the purpose of analysis or exposition, discussion or explanation, is useless for the purposes of acquaintance with, or comprehension of, the essence of things, creatures, life, or mind. It is not capable of "touching the Untouchable," to use an expression borrowed from the most ancient and, at one time, the most secret Asiatic philosophy.
Human thinking can only lead to, and produce, another thought, or series of thoughts. It cannot get beyond itself, cannot rise to any object that is not of the nature of a thought.
The intellect is incompetent to solve the mystery of man by itself. But in the absence of a properly developed intuition it can render certain useful services to protect and guide the seeker. If it is not to be relied on altogether, it is nevertheless not to be abandoned altogether.
Colin Wilson: "All thought chases its own tail" seems to be Lao Tzu's meaning in his line "going far means returning."
To evoke thoughts, make mental images, or gather words about the Overself is to remain just as much outside it and inside the ego as ever.
Commentaries upon truth and expositions of it are not identical with truth.
It must never be forgotten that such intellectual conceptions of Reality are mere photographs taken by the camera of imagination or diagrams drawn by the reason. They are not the object itself.
What the intellect is unable to grasp is truer than what it can. That part of man--the intuition--which operates in this sphere brings the truth-seeker to a satisfaction that is more intense. Why? Because it withdraws him from the illusions and errors to which the intellect, however sharply formed, is necessarily subject. However, the intellect can help by submitting, and serve by formulating into suitable words what the intuition reveals to it.
The dangers of developed intellect are pride and complacency, over-analysis and over-criticism.
The untrained and uneducated mind necessarily has shallow views. But the academically trained and educated mind may still have distorted prejudiced or narrow views, even though they are deeper and better informed. Only a free philosophy, based on insight, uninfluenced by social pressures, can produce truly reasonable minds.
He must develop and nurture all the powers of intellect, but without its pride, arrogance, or conceit.
The intellect can quite expertly give its support to any position the ego desires it to take up. It can become instrumental in the search for truth only as it becomes freed from egoism.
The danger that intellect will rule over mankind is as catastrophic in the end as has been the danger of emotion and passion ruling over mankind.
There is a dead intellectuality which, although quite unable to penetrate to the mystical heart of things, yet carries itself with an arrogant air of supercilious self-assurance!
He must know that so long as various complexes sway the mind it is not possible to take a detached impartial view of any situation to which those complexes have reference. Therefore, one aspect of such a situation will be seen, but not another, and any decision taken, any action called for, will be unbalanced and unwise.
The gluttony of the intellect is as hard to curb as the gluttony of the stomach, and often much harder because less recognized for what it is.
The ordinary intellect submits to the rule of passion, self-interest, desire, appetite, custom, and appearances; hence the knowledge it obtains may easily be illusory and is always undermined by doubt. The purified reflective intellect disregards the pull of these forces and tries to see things as they really are. Hence its knowledge is stamped with greater certainty.
Every man who is capable of thinking in a disinterested manner--and therefore capable of thinking truthfully--must come to this realization. It is a most unfortunate fact, however, that such disinterested thought is extremely rare, that men are prone to wishful thinking, to mental outlooks more or less strongly coloured by their personal desires, prejudices, and social positions.
The pompous public figure who mounts the highest stilts of oratorical eloquence is not necessarily one whit wiser than the humble adept who seldom brushes the air with words and who prefers depth of thought to dissipations in speech.
When the intellect has produced its sharp pointed criticisms and the voice or pen has formulated its logical emphatic sentences, in the end, in old age, or after many a lifetime, the man will have to drop his arrogance and submit humbly to the higher power within.
If there is a string of mistaken judgements running through a man's life, even though he believed them to be accurately reasoned when he passed them, be sure that one end of it is being pulled by his own faults and deficiencies.
We have seen in certain lands the results of intellectual activity when placed at the service of materialism greed and sensuality. Its worst phases are then made manifest, especially its craftiness and lack of conscience, its trickery and dishonesty.
Men who are unable to create, criticize. Thus the work they do hangs upon the work of other men.
The possession of half a dozen imposing university degrees may just as easily hinder a man's approach to philosophy as help it. It will do so if it generates emotional pride and intellectual self-conceit, if it makes him sceptical of intuitions and antithetic to prayer, if it prevents him from approaching the Overself with humility and love so that he cannot weep at his estrangement from it.
A smug and conceited mind may become spiritually inert.
The pontifical self-important formality of such statements is intended to create an impression. It does. But we must penetrate their surface. Then we find there is some hollowness beneath them.
When malice and egotism get into a mental picture, reliability goes out of it.
Cleverness may be admired but cunning is reprehensible.
When the mind is hazed and feeling glamoured, reason and judgement are at their feeblest.
But with stronger thinking power there comes also intellectual pride and egoistic conceit. He must offset them by humbling himself deliberately before the higher self. He must not hesitate to pray daily to it, on bended knees and with clasped hands, begging for its grace, offering the little ego as a willing sacrifice and asking for guidance in his darkness.
It is true that no man can arrive at the truth about God through his own thinking, which is merely the ego thinking. But it is also true that through keen, close, and sustained reflection he can arrive at the truth which perceives the ego's limitations, the intellect's limitations, and thereby know the time has come to suspend such efforts to stop and to surrender in mystical meditation to the non-thought side of his being.
Idea is not the ultimate reality, it is only a manifestation of something which is its ultimate reality. The latter seems to be an abstraction. Intellectually it must be so because it is beyond the power of finite, human mentality to conceive it. But it may not be beyond the power of a higher faculty lying latent within us to have the experience of this reality--at least for a time. It is not known how to verify whether this is so or not unless the intellect humbly realizes its own limitations and voluntarily abnegates itself at a certain stage. In most cases this is done prematurely, hence the self-deceptions and hallucinations which are rife in mystical circles, but in the philosophical mystic's case it would come only after the fullest use of critical thought and analytic reasoning. This is the proper moment for such a suicidal act. For in the end he will be brought to such an abrupt turn. Perhaps Jesus' statement, "Except ye become as little children ye shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven," is appropriate here, if understood as an invitation not to foolishness but to surrender of all human pride.
If you are trying to grasp the great Mystery do not make the mistake of unwittingly holding on to the intellect while doing so.
When he has climbed to the peak of a series of abstract thoughts, they may end abruptly and the higher faculty of intuition may then become active.
The philosophic mystic seeks to stimulate thinking to its highest degree until finally it turns round on itself and examines the very nature of the ego--of the personal mind. Both practices lead in the end to the same result, the stoppage of thinking.
Is it not strange that the most intense, the most active pursuit of thought leads to human knowledge, whereas the complete cessation of thought leads to divine knowledge!
Thinking achieves its highest object when it leads to its own rest and the mind transcends all thoughts.
Where intellectual knowledge puffs up a man, insight humbles him, has indeed the very opposite effect.
For the intellectual type, the essence of his need is to see that he is not his thoughts, that they are but projections thrown up out of consciousness. He is that consciousness, the very knowing principle itself.
A time comes when the searching intellect humbly recognizes at last that it can never recognize pure Spirit, but only its ideas, opinions, fancies, and imaginations about Spirit. If it follows this up to the fullest consequence and ceases all its theological or metaphysical or occult studies, it lays itself open to be penetrated by the intuition.
The work done by original deeply penetrative thinking can go far, can uncover much not yet known; but it cannot solve the mystery of the thinker himself, unless it renounces its right to do so and lets the diviner Self take over in utter silence.
The same intellectual quality which obstructs the inner path or blinds the inner eyes of so many sceptical people actually helps the path of less egocentric persons. The intellect is not to be condemned. But its presumptuousness in arrogating supreme, unchecked, and unbalanced control of a man, is to be condemned.
The mind will go on having doubts and asking questions, making problems for itself and creating illusions, as it has always done in the past. That is, it will do so until it attains Truth, or abides in the Stillness.
He need not abandon rigorously logical thinking because he is cultivating mystically intuitive feeling. But he should know its limitations.
He must not depend on lesser faculties alone--good though they are in their place--when a higher faculty exists, when the intuition shines out of its certitude. Not the impure, ego-warped, narrowed, emotion-swayed and intellect-dried thing which serves so many; not man dictating to God but more humbled before God. A seeker must become free from fanaticism before the eyes can see. Let no one impose suggestion's power nor authoritarian rule; rather should the mind empty itself until Pure Consciousness is there.
Weak minds which perceive the defects of logic, instead of rising above it into reason, fall below it into instinct or impulse.
The silent mind receives spiritual guidance and allows grace to approach; the thinking mind deals with the world and attends to its activities.
Only when the intellect, after admiring its own massive historical achievement, will turn upon itself and perceive how puny is that by contrast with the still-awaited answer to the question, What am I?--only then will the possibility of higher forces coming to its aid be realizable.
Krishnamurti: "Into crowded minds no revelation is possible. In the stillness of the mind, that admits, `I do not know,' illumination is more apt to be achieved."
In telling us where knowledge must end and mystery must begin, in being forced to describe the Absolute by telling us what it is not and then confessing that it can go no farther, the intellect surrenders to its limitations and acquires that quality of humility which is an essential condition for receiving grace.
Correctly used, its limitations understood, its emotional and egotistic biases discounted, intellect may enable a man to think properly. It can then have a liberating effect; otherwise it is likely to have a corrupting one.
The limitations of intellect must be recognized, for then only will a man be ready to try the philosophic techniques whereby words are used to rise above words, thoughts directed so that he may extract himself from all thoughts.
To develop intellect and then to know when to drop it, is to become its master. It then fulfils its proper purpose and serves man instead of dominating--and therefore unbalancing--him.
The last act of human intellect, when it reaches its highest level, is to recognize its own limitations and surrender its own authority. But the surrender is not to be made to another human intellect! It is to be made to the intuition.
It is not that he is called upon to reject all his own knowledge and refuse the offerings of his intelligence. But since he is striving to enter a state where the stillness precludes all questions and all answers, all mental concepts and mental images, he must make a beginning where the way to it is possible.
If you try to make Mind a topic for analysis, worship, or discussion, it is no longer the unseen uncomprehended Mystery but a projection, whereupon it is at once objectified and becomes an idea-structure. Such an act falsifies it. You honour it more truly if you stay silent in voice, still in thought.
With so much education and information, so many particular pieces and fragments to keep together and carry in his mind, how is it possible for anybody to keep it really peaceful?
Paradox transcends ordinary familiar experience and baffles ordinary logical thinking. Its leap can be made only by intuition, if he lets it function, or by faith if he can trust the sages' teaching.
Even the intellectual theory is worth studying despite the intellect's limitations. It acts as a set of red signals pointing out both dangers and deceptions, wrong ways and pitfalls.
The intellect which changes hour by hour has no existence in the absolute sense. And it surely does not represent the ultimate possibility of experience. Thus, one can stop its movement for a time through profound meditation and be then aware of a deeper level of mind whence all these intellectual changes spring up but which is itself relatively unchanging. How to know whether this deeper level is worthy to be called enduring reality is a question that is beyond most mystics.
Humanity is discovering that it cannot solve its old problems in the old way--the logical thing to do is to try a new way. In an age of materialistic intellect and materialistic religion such as ours, that new way must consist of turning towards a spiritualized intellect and a spiritualized religion. The first step for the intellect to take is humility; the first step for the religious feeling to take is obedience. The intellect must sink down in the self-abasement of constant prayer to the Higher Power; the religious feeling must obey sincerely and honestly the admonitions given it by the great prophets. The intellect must no longer go on deceiving itself and the religious feeling must no longer go on deceiving God.
The intellect has to become baffled and exhausted by its own activity in search of the Overself, must despairingly know that it has no possible chance of ever knowing the truth by its own self-defeating procedures, must realize that it is running round and round in a circle, and must finally abandon the effort altogether. At this very point a great opportunity awaits the seeker, but it is also here that so many go off at a tangent and miss their chance. Either they label the quest futile and illusory, losing further interest, or they take shelter in a hierarchical religious organization which imposes dogmas and demands complete submission to its authoritarian rule.
The intellect can never stop asking questions. It has millions always in reserve. But in the end there is only one important question. So why not ask it in the beginning and save this long circular detour?
When logic fails, men often betake themselves to occult, mystic, and even primitive paths.
If the end is to sublimate thinking altogether, why go on collecting more and more thoughts from teachers and traditions--all outside one's self?
How haughty the intellect may become! It does not understand that there is an invisible circle around it labelled "Pass Not!"
Some intellectuals have too many questions, give up in the end and turn agnostic or join the Catholic Church or, like Hume, spend the rest of their years shallowly.
The same man at different times of his life may hold different views. It is unrealistic to demand that everyone should be consistent throughout the course of a lifetime.
Unless intellectual thinking understands its own limitations and therefore knows when to stop its own activity, it will not lead man to truth but mislead him. But if and when it is willing to deny itself at the correct time, it will allow intuitive thinking to be born and that will lead him still nearer to the goal.
The intellect is only the totality of transient thoughts; it is not a separate and self-existent thinker.
The telephone operator in a business who attempted to manage all the departments of that business independently of the chief executive would be a usurper. The intellect is the telephone operator of our psyche and undertakes more than it is really capable of when it undertakes to decry the Soul.
The intellect's desire for total explanations of the universe is impossible to satisfy, save with self-deception.
The intellect produces thoughts without weariness. It looks for change instead of looking inside itself for its originator.
To start with the data and come to the conclusions, joining the two by a series of logical steps, is the way of ratiocinating intellect. But we need to guard against inaccuracy of thought and speech as well as against narrowness of mind and feeling.
Kant saw how the mind forms its ideas under definitely limited conditions, and how it cannot help but do so, and that these ideas are merely the best it can produce under those conditions, not at all the truest ones.
We make the mistake of looking for a philosophical system that will confirm our preconceived beliefs and views.
How few are really and sincerely seeking to establish truth; how many seek rather to establish victory. They can point out the errors in other people's conclusions, opinions, and beliefs, but are blind to the errors in their own.
"Against stupidity the gods themselves strive unvictorious." --Schiller.
There is a simplicity which is too much like stupidity to be worth cultivating,
Neither tries to take in the other party's case but each presents only his own. Neither is willing to listen or believe the other side has any case at all. So reason never really gets a chance, only ego-centered self-interest. Each is far removed from any real wish to find the truth as it really is, objectively.
To limit one's ideas to those of the environment in which he happens to be born is a common fault.
Many aspirants fail to realize that they move mostly in the realm of their own personal ideas, and not necessarily in the realm of utter truth.
The intellect is endlessly curious, ever wanting to know; this is why its activity is hard to still.
Intellectual acumen is useful on this quest, but alone it is quite insufficient.
If thoughts and ideas are removed, what is left of the intellect? What is it if not the aggregate of all these mental activities?
A doctrine comes into being through theorizing by intellect or activity by feeling, that is, it is an opinion or a belief. An item of knowledge, for example scientific knowledge, is neither.
The intellect has to receive truth before it can be satisfied. And it requires that truth to be presented by giving reasons and using logic, if it is to be acceptable.
The work of the intellect in tracing causes to effects, in analysing situations and substances, in forming theories and making studies, and even in synthesizing the results of all these operations is still a limited one.
Its inward vision
Let no one mistake intellectual understanding for the wholeness of knowing, rather let it be to him a spur and a help to reach deeper within himself to the Overself in full surrender.
The situation may be summed up thus: If the activity of thinking is directed towards external objects and inspired by the desire to attain or retain them, it binds a man to his spiritual ignorance. If however it is directed towards God or his divine soul and is inspired by the desire to attain it, then it leads him to spiritual intuitions.
To understand intellectually is good but to glimpse intuitively is better. Best of all is not merely to look at truth but to enter into it.
When you are going through the intellectual analysis you must think as sharply as possible. You have to hack your way through these woods by the sharpness of your thinking. This is where the clarity of thoughts and their formulation into exact phraseology is so necessary. You must not be vague and hazy about ideas; you must penetrate them with clear understanding. It is only later when you have reached the meditation stage that this activity is put into abeyance, because then the effort is to still thought.
Thus we see how reason, so far from being despised as "anti-spiritual," has actually led us, when allowed to complete its work and not stopped by materialist intolerance, to the profound spiritual truth of our being. What we have next to do is to realize this truth through ultramystic exercises.
Nevertheless, the endeavour to grasp what is beyond its reach is not a wasted one, for it carries the intellect to the very limits of its own being and then invokes its higher counterpart to come to the rescue.
First there must be intellectual understanding of the truth of his real being, then he can advance to the practices which lead to its realization.
He should always try to distinguish between knowledge which is acquired by the intellect and spiritual intuition which is bestowed by spirit.
Where ordinary thinking cannot penetrate, holy thinking can.
There are certain deep questions which a developed intellect will have to ask but which cannot be answered in the intellect's own language.
The intellect's finest function is to point the way to this actual living awareness of the Overself that is beyond itself. This it does on the upward path. But it has a further function to perform after that awareness has been successfully gained. That is to translate that experience into its own terms, and hence into ordinarily comprehensible ones, both for its own and other people's benefit.
Reasoned thinking may contribute in two ways to the service of mystical intuition and mystical experience. First and commonest is a negative way. It can provide safeguards and checks against their errors, exaggerations, vagaries, and extravagances. Second and rarest is a positive and creative way. It can lead the aspirant to its highest pitch of abstract working and then invite its own displacement by a higher power.
Like the two sides of the same coin, so it is that a thing thought of is thought of always by comparison with something not itself, that all our thinking is therefore always and necessarily dualistic, and that it cannot hope to grasp Oneness correctly. Hence the logical completion of these thoughts demands that it must give up the struggle, commit voluntary suicide, and let Oneness itself speak to it out of the Silence. But this must not be done prematurely or the voice which shall come will be the voice of our own personal feelings, not of That out of which feeling itself arises. Thinking must first fulfil, and fulfil to the utmost, its own special office of bringing man to reflective self-awareness, before it may rightly vacate its seat. And this means that it must first put itself on the widest possible stretch of abstract consideration about its own self. That is, it must attempt a metaphysical job and then be done with it. This is what the average mystic rarely comprehends. He is rightly eager to slay his refractory thoughts, but he is wrongly eager to slay them before they have served him effectively on his quest.
These studies do indeed open up the loftier faculties of human intelligence, faculties which bring us to the very borderland of insight.
To learn that Reality is beyond the intellect's capacity to know it is to learn something about it. To learn what it is not may seem useless to some people but that does prepare the mind, as well as the way, for the positive knowledge of it through insight.
A reality which is not conceivable by human thought because it transcends thought itself, therefore it is also not describable. But what thought can do is to establish what IT is not, and even more important that IT is.
Because critical, rational thinking has to be transcended during certain phases of this quest, we should not overvalue it. But let us not therefore fall into the opposite error and undervalue it. Even if it could no nothing more than keep us from stumbling, it would be worthwhile. But it can do much more than that.
Why must we always try to arrive at formal conclusions. Why not let ideas work of themselves in the subconscious?
This philosophy does not come within the range of any recognized system. This is because it refutes all standpoints including those which it adopts itself temporarily as a means of leading the student higher. And when no other view is left for examination and attack it says, "Truth itself is beyond thought and speech, but the way to it embraces them." Reality itself is beyond touch and ideation but the way to it can be pointed out. You must eliminate from the definitions of both truth and reality everything which might mislead you to regard concepts as the final goal. Just as a man may use one thorn to pick another from his flesh and then throw both away, so you must use right concepts to remove erroneous ones. Finally you must discard them all.
It is by its pondering over these very contradictions paradoxes and puzzles of an intellectually scientific view of the world that the intellect itself is unconsciously led first to engender and ultimately to accept a mystically intuitive view of the world.
When intuition quietly confirms what intellect argues, when it gives a deeper sanction to reasoned conclusions, we come closer to the truth of the matter.
The intellect has its own limitations but it can lead a man--if properly guided by correct thinking or by hearing and reflecting upon words of those who have already written them--to the very verge of the limitations where a single leap into passivity will dispel darkness and bring light.
Among those masters who taught the tenet of three levels of understanding was the brilliant intellectual and mystic thirteenth-century medieval Ibn al-Arabi, of Spain, who was honoured by the title "Teacher of the Age." He described them as (1) ordinary intellectual acquisition of information; (2) temporary emotional conditions, mental glimpses, and mystical experiences of unusual uplift; (3) permanent perception of the Real.
We must beware of falling into unreason at any point on this path. For it is reason that leads up to insight even though it is incapable of reaching beyond itself.
It is not that reason must be abandoned and all its values thrown aside, but that reason itself now points to the intuition which transcends it. "My work was good, and it was well done," says reason, "but to take you farther, into a sphere that is not properly mine, where an entirely different faculty must bear you, would be imposture."
The intellect cannot know its source but it can explain why it cannot know. More, it can go farther and tell us that there is a source and that it is transcendent, wrapped in eternal stillness.
Man's self is not his thoughts but the consciousness which makes those thoughts possible. He stands in somewhat the same relation to them that they stand to the body: he uses them and partially expresses himself through them.
No thought can assume a clear and distinct form in the mind of a man until he has pinned it to a picture if it be concrete, or to words if it be abstract.
During the time that anyone is engaged in the activity of thinking, he is not in himself but in the thoughts.
No idea can give us full and lasting support, for after all it is only a thought; but a true idea can give us much help over many years. But only being established in Being can support us in every way and all the time.
We cannot underestimate the importance of the leading ideas which direct and control a man's thinking. Man possesses creative power. He may pour his molten imagination into new molds, then solidify it, and through sheer intensity of will give birth to his own brain-child.
The mind can be put to a high or a base purpose. It can be a friend or a devil at your side.
If intellect were an undesirable faculty to use and thinking were part of the evil in us, then this assertion should not itself be supported by any argument for that would be illogical and inconsistent--since it involves the use of thinking!
Most of us move from one standpoint to another, whether it be a lower or a higher one, because our feelings have moved there. The intellect merely records and justifies such a movement and does not originate it.
When you utter the words "I know" you inevitably imply a duality of a thinker and his thought, of subject and object.
Only those thoughts are true for such a man as can lodge comfortably with the other thoughts already reposing in his mind!
We ordinarily know any object while we are both separate and distant from it.
Dynamite reposes in moral neutrality. The use that is made of it determines its goodness or badness. In the same way, reason and thought are spiritually neutral. They hinder or help the inner life only according to the way they are used, the roads which they take, and the aims which they set for themselves.
Reason, intuition, and insight
My criticism in earlier books of intellect as an unsatisfactory guide to truth, and of intellectualism as yielding a lot of contradictory opinions, was misunderstood. It was directed against intellect, not reason: I differentiate between both. Intellect uses logical method, reason uses a higher one. Theological philosophy is based on logic. Scientific philosophy is based on reason. I uphold rationalism against intellectualism, the thinking power in man against the classifying power, the mind which evaluates thoughts against the mind which merely collects and describes them.
So long as these two faculties of human mind--reason and imagination--are surrendered to its animal side, so long will they prevent the real human being from being born.
The victories of reason are the only enduring ones.
When we abdicate reason for unquestioning belief, when we sign away our birthright of private judgement to another man, we part with a precious possession.
Reason is active in the developed man. He cannot stop it from demanding a cause for an effect.
I took this use of the term "Reason" from Aristotle, who made it higher than ordinary intellect, as well as creative, spiritual, eternal, and undying.
The faculty of discrimination which we are to use in the pursuit of truth is not the intellect but the true Reason, which itself judges the intellect and rejects or confirms what it says. The Indian sages call it Buddhi and have even assigned to Buddhiyoga a status not a bit lower than that given to the other yoga paths.
The conclusions to which reason comes can only have obligatory force upon the reason itself, not necessarily upon the whole integral being of man. We are finally to decide the problems of life by the integration of all our human nature and not merely by the judgement of a particular part of it. To make life a matter only of rational concepts about it is to reduce it, is to make a cold abstraction from it, and thus to fall into the fallacy of taking the part for the whole. Metaphysical concepts may fully satisfy the demands of reason but this does not mean that they will therefore satisfy the demands of the totality of our being. They satisfy reason because they are the products of reason itself. But man is more than a reasoning being. His integral structure demands the feeling and the fact as well as the thought. Hence it demands the experience of nonduality as well as the concept of it, the feeling as well as the idea of it. So long as he knows it only with a limited part of his being, only as empty of emotional content and divorced from physical experience, so long will it remain incompletely known, half-seized as it were. It is at this crucial point that the seeker must realize the limitations of metaphysics and be ready to put aside as having fulfilled its particular purpose that which he has hitherto valued as a truth-path.
It is impossible for the modern mind to encounter such experiences without seeking their explanation. And therefore it is of little practical use for a master to tell his followers not to trouble their heads about the reason why such things happen or not to ask questions about the meanings and purposes of the world.
My use of the term "reason," although with a capital "R" in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, seems to have been misunderstood by several persons. This forced me to add an appendix to the chapters in order to clear the matter in their mind. Reasoning, in its highest sense, transcends mere logic and welcomes the alliance of meditation; out of their union comes wisdom, peace, balance, and so, blessing. There is a translation from the Sanskrit of the Katha Upanishad made by Professor Mishra of the University of Barcelona, published with a preface by Suresh Radhakrishnan, President to India, who was then lecturing at Oxford University. In this translation there are two verses which use the term. Here is the first:
The man whose chariot is driven by reason holding well
the reins of his mind, reaches the end of his journey,
the Supreme Pervading Spirit.
And the other verse is:
Beyond the senses is the mind, and beyond mind is
reason (lost) . Beyond reason is the great
We may reject reason's ideas about Divinity but in the end it is reason we have to rely on to support the ideas which authority, tradition, emotion, or faith put forward.
The agnostic, even the atheist, is a believer, too. Only he has more faith in the validity of reason than in the validity of intuition. Yet it is only the reason's own vanity that asserts that its validity is a higher one.
Just as we ought not misuse emotion, so we ought not misuse reason. We may use reason to justify an intuition, provided we use it faithfully and not to flatter our prejudices or prepossessions. We shall then be as ready to examine critically searchingly and impartially our own conclusions as those of an opponent.
Reason properly used will critically examine an emotion which is leading one astray, whereas improperly used it will uncritically defend such an emotion. It will not hesitate to puncture the ego's inflated complacency in the first case whereas it will support this complacency in the second one.
How often is reasoned judgement pushed aside by mere physical appeal which obscures what is below the surface.
Common sense assists the triumph of reason over sentimentality.
The faculty of reason also has two phases; the lower is practical and reaches perfection in the scientist; the higher is abstract and reaches perfection in the metaphysician.
If we bury our reason alive, so much the worse for us. Its wraith will rise up one day and sneer in revenge at our silly errors and self-made troubles.
The utmost use of the reasoning faculties cannot always provide for every factor in a situation. There are some which only intuition can grasp--the karmic factor, for instance. This explains the miscalculations of men who possess the most highly developed rationality but who lack a counterbalancing development of intuition.
Expect no favourable opinion of spiritual truth from a man who looks at life through the medium of the senses alone, whose reason is enslaved by them, and whose intuition is effaced by them.
To depend on feeling as a guide to truth is to depend on a truncated method which is inadequate to the task. The only complete basis for our enquiry is feeling plus reason, the only results which possess unquestionable validity are those achieved by feeling plus reason. The power of intuition alone can enable us to discriminate between the real and the unreal and it alone can eliminate all doubts by eliminating contradictions.
There is no reason why reason itself should not be appeased.
This intellectual power is not to be allowed to crush the heaven-born intuitional sense by its sheer weight but is to be fused with it.
The intellect can present opinions--some very plausible and logical, others very weighty and fact-supported. But only the intuition can penetrate those layers after layer of spiritual experience which reveal the truth about man's link with God.
If the intellect's workings are not warmed by the heart's movements, it can only approach the reflected images of truth, not truth itself.
The disputations which follow the activity of intellect melt away in the harmonies which follow the upwelling of intuition.
The sin of the intellectual is when he allows intellect to block intuitive feeling, to serve only the animal body or to disregard the testimony of all those who, since early antiquity, have solved the problem of being and experienced the mind at its best level. Such men may have the finest brains, the greatest erudition, but themselves remain uncorrupted by these possessions.
The intellect is not competent to establish the existence of God, which only a higher faculty can know and consequently make any valid assertions about. But neither is it competent to disprove the existence of God since it can disprove only those finite matters which it can deal with: God, being infinite, is outside its reach in every way.
The intellect cannot be used to ascertain the ultimate truth without becoming involved at the end in inexplicable contradictions. Some of them are: There is an ego--there is no ego. The world is real--the world is unreal. Any idea or statement about fundamental being, whether of man or cosmos, can be countered by its opposite.
The simple education of the intellect, whether as a hoarding of information or a training in reasoning, becomes mere vanity if not accompanied by the balancing cultivation of the intuition.
What we need is a third point of view which shall fall into neither of these two extremes of emotional credulity or rational scepticism, whilst reconciling what is sound in both. This exists in the intuitive point of view.
There is always a risk that in taking a too intellectual view of the universe and in practising a too methodical system of yoga, the aspirant may get caught in the machinery of both intellect and method. If he is unable to extricate himself then whatever benefit he derives from both will always be on the lower plane. The transcendental insight which he seeks will then be as elusive as ever.
If he seeks guidance concerning the correct course to pursue, he can better get it from the still centre of his being than from the restless chopping of his intellect.
It is better to be intelligent when he is searching among ideas and doctrines than to be credulous--otherwise he may mistake human absurdity for divine mystery--but he can be so only if intuitive feeling is at work along with the reasoned thinking.
Where intuitive feeling will guide him aright to his best decisions, calculating intellect will not infrequently step in with doubts or fears and rob him of them.
His own mind acts as a medium which interprets each experience, event, object. Hence it colours necessarily if unwittingly or even reshapes what is received by consciousness. And in the case of the Real, the end result for him is a paradox. He cannot know It without transcending himself. He cannot transcend himself without rising above the knower-and-known duality.
The contribution of intellect is indispensable. But it is not enough. It leaves a most important part of the psyche--the intuition--still untouched.
The danger of slipping into this overstress on intellectual activity and not retaining the healthy balance between it and intuitional activity, is large and real.
The intellect has so dominated the modern man that his approach to these questions is first made through it. Yet the intellect cannot provide the answers to them. They come, and can only come, through the intuition.
When a difficult and important decision has to be made, the mind can impartially take in both the pros and cons, can circle all around the facts, yet in the end return baffled to where it started. Reason exerts itself in vain and only exhausts itself in such a process. The next step is to try outside advice, authority, or, if one can, intuition.
Logical thinking about a proposed course can never be equal to intuitive guidance about it. For the first is limited by the ego's capacity and experience whereas the second transcends them.
Semantic analysis and reasoned reflection help to uncover the lesser errors, the little illusions. The intellect cannot go beyond its own limitations, however; a higher faculty, insight, is needed to uncover the larger errors, the major illusions.
The intellectual knowledge of the Truth is merely its shadow and not the Truth itself. The Truth is a higher state of awareness which leads you out of the little personal and physically materialistic everyday life into a new world of being--the world of your higher self which transcends these things. It is a real experience and not a mere speculation. It brings with it the peace which passeth understanding of which Saint Paul spoke, frees you from anxieties, fears, and all other negative ideas. It reveals to you that God, in the sense of a Universal Intelligence and Universal Power, is actually the basis of all existence.
Spiritual self-realization is the main thing. Study of the teachings concerning cosmical evolution and the psychical evolution of man are but intellectual accessories--things we may or may not take on our journey, as we like. That part of man which reasons and speculates--mortal mind--is not the part which can discover and verify the existence of God. We are not necessarily helped or hindered on the divine path by taking up the lore of science or by becoming versed in the ways of sophistry. Once we live out our spiritual life in the heart, the rest sinks to second place.
What the Overself really is defies adequate statement. For reason falters and fails before its mysterious Void. It dares not claim a capacity beyond what it actually possesses. Thus the mystery of the world is the mystery of a soluble riddle hidden within an insoluble enigma. Nevertheless, we need not despair. For even if metaphysics is unable to explore this mysterious territory, it is at least able to point out its location. That is a definite gain. But that is not all. What reason cannot do can yet be done by the faculty which towers transcendentally above it--insight.
The intellect may be convinced and confess to the truth but the faculty which actually recognizes it is the intuition. It is the latter's light falling upon, and passing through, the intellect which really certifies an idea to be true.
The intellect cannot know itself; it must have an object; but that which is behind it does know it. That Overself is the only entity which can know itself, which fuses subject and object into one.
Although the intellect in us cannot grasp the Real, cannot do more than think about what it is in relation to itself, there is something else in us which can successfully do so. This is insight which, unfortunately, few have cultivated although all have it.
It can only be translated into thinkable language by a process which elaborates this instantaneous and simple experience into a lengthy and complicated metaphysic. It is only through such insight that a man may attain enduring wisdom, not through intellect.
Changes of view are inevitable so long as he has not attained insight, which is marked by its sureness of itself, thus contrasting with the intellects's doubts, hesitations, and waverings.
Only after reason matures to its fullest extent can we look to the dawning of a perfect intuition, or "insight" as I prefer to call it.
The belief that the unaided reason of man can solve all his problems is merely an expression of reason's own arrogance. Unless it co-operates with mystical insight, its best solutions of ultimate questions will either be fictitious ones or contradictory ones.
At the end of all this work what does he get? Does he touch reality? The answer is no. He simply gets one thought instead of another, replaces an old thought by a new one. There is here a danger that the replacement may be the exact opposite of the thought which it replaces--as if he were substituting a correct concept for an erroneous one. But this still does not bring him into reality, the knowledge of which is Truth. There is indeed only one way out of this impasse and that is to recognize that the plane of thoughts and concepts is not the plane which holds the real but must be transcended. This realization is a kind of crisis which enables him to admit that the way of the intellect is in the end a circular way leading from one thought to another and that it must be transcended. But the thinking has led to one useful result, though it is indeed a negative result: it has told him what reality is not, and the use of thought has enabled him to destroy the belief that thought is the way to the goal. This reminds one of Ramakrishna's illustrative metaphor about the use of one thorn to remove another which had got stuck in the finger. And so, this point reached, it is but one step further to perceive that the consciousness which holds all thoughts is what he's really seeking and not those projections from it which appear as concepts, ideas, and thoughts. There, in this consciousness, he can come to peace: the peace of the silent Mind, the transcendental Mind. Once he has become steeped deeply in this realization, he perceives with full clarity that it is not the movement from one set of beliefs or one set of ideas to a new one which is going to complete his search but the redirection of attention to THAT which is behind all thoughts--the reorientation of concentration to THAT which is in the gap between two thoughts.
If this is done with perseverance and sustained with patience, Truth dawns upon him either slowly or swiftly and then stays with him forever and cannot be broken by any form of materialism in thinking, of dualism in belief, or personality cult in practice. He looks henceforth only to the infinitude of Being which is within him, within the cosmos, and has always been so. If indeed in meditation the world disappears, he does not need to go so far as the Advaitans and assert that there is no world! If in wide activity it reappears, he knows it is still a phenomenon, an appearance made by mind, issuing forth from mind, and the Ultimate Mind was there and is there now. Whatever form thoughts and concepts may take, he knows them for what they are and does not let go of That which is their ultimate origin. This is real knowledge, for it is practice, it is life and not a concept.
No single human faculty is alone adequate to the search for truth. All must be used, including intuition, and finally crowned by a new one--insight.
Men who have daily experience of a divine presence will not waste their time arguing whether or not a divine power exists.
The absence of a universal consensus amongst philosophers certainly does indicate the inability of intellect to arrive at indisputable truth. But the only alternative which could be proposed--that of an integral development of all sides of our nature, is superior, yet still not enough. For the other sides--that is, feeling, mystical intuition, and mystical experience--will also suffer from the same deficiencies. There is the same possibility of endless contradiction here. One arrives, therefore, at the conclusion that a new faculty is really needed wherewith to ascertain ultimate Truth, one which, if it is attained, will function in precisely the same manner in all persons. Such a faculty was, it is believed, used by sages like Krishna and Buddha. It can be given the name of "insight." The purity of this insight must necessarily be a consequence of the purity of the entire character and mentality of the individual who has it. This applies not only in the moral realm, but also in the intellectual and emotional realms of his being. For the very tendencies of a virtuous nature which helped his progress in earlier stages must now be discarded as much as those of a vicious nature. The very tendencies of the intellect which brought him to his spiritual standpoint must also be discarded. Only by this ruthless self-pruning can he respond quite impersonally to reality and not falsify it. It is, presumably, the same as the divinization of the human mind.
The gulf between intellectual revelation and personal realization is greater than that between thought and action.
The depth of insight is not to be measured by the length of intellect.
Thought bedims consciousness instead of expressing it, coffins the universal Mind into the narrow ego. Man began to think when he began to forget his Overself. However, the forces of evolution will so work that one day he will learn to remember his divinity and yet use his intellect at will without losing this remembrance.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.