Mind and Intellect

Mind and Intellect

Wing by AJC1
Wing by AJC1

A reader asked me to speak more on the distinction between our mind and our intellect.

Basically, mind is a field that processes sensory input, gives meaning and words to experiences via memory, and contains thoughts and ideas. It is the associator. This experience means this.

Intellect is the discriminator. Right and wrong, good and bad, etc. It works behind the mind, discriminating what is valuable to notice, what has meaning, and what we can ignore (most of it). Some experience the intellect as intuition or fine feelings. When it’s clear, it can bring knowingness.

Ego, ahamkara or I-sense is an effect of the intellect distinguishing self from other. Mind then loads stories it associates with self. Like “I am Fred the barber from Brooklyn.” “I am not my shoes or the desk.”

Without a deeper sense of self, ego-mind feels it has to be in charge and tries to control. It builds up a plethora of self-stories into an edifice of “me” and “mine.”

This possessive sense of “mine” (asmita) builds another shell on the self-sense. To our personal sense of self we add what we control and possess. Our sense of self becomes entwined with our (aptly named) possessions. Who possesses whom?

Ego tries to defend its self-sense and feels threatened by anything that calls it into question. It can surprise us when we more clearly see the content in the mind’s constant narrative. Losing our home in a fire is a very difficult experience, but it’s much worse if our home is part of who we experience ourselves as being.

For most people, the intellect is entwined with the mind and led around as the attention drifts from interest to interest. Some people like philosophers and academics train the intellect. However, it’s usually still very tied into world-view and self-sense. Materialism dominates science, for example, in a way that many scientists don’t recognize. They don’t distinguish scientific method from world-view and how the latter influences their objectivity.

With Self Realization, the my-sense (asmita) ends, the identification with ahamkara as the I-sense lets go, and we settle into a much more universal Self-sense as Consciousness (Atman).

As this becomes established, the intellect becomes associated with this silent sense of inner being. The intellect becomes “resolute.” It is much more stable and learns to distinguish very fine details and the mechanics of the world around us. Knowingness can expand dramatically.

However, how that develops depends on refinement and our interests and what we put our attention on. We may tap into bigger memes in the collective for artistic expression. Or design systems rooted in natural principles. Or guide large purification projects.

As the old self-stories arise in daily life, we see through them and let them go. That and rising inner peace and fulfilment winds down much of the chatter of the mind. Mind becomes much clearer and a more useful tool. It was never a good master.

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  1. Mary

    Thank you David, your explanations make sense to mind and heart and often prompt a shift in understanding or in some other way. I have been reading for a while and always feel well guided, supported and inspired – very grateful 🙂

  2. Gina L Westbrook

    That’s interesting, you say intellect is behind the mind. But I’ve heard it put another way that mind is made up of Manas and the Bodhisattva, intellect. Manas, the finite self, uses the senses to collect data and feed it to the intellect which is the discriminator, puts the data into a coherent whole and then feeds this to Purusha, which feeds consciousness to the intellect. This consciousness that Purusha gives to the intellect is responsible for the intellect’s discriminating ability. But, because Purusha is all-pervasive, the intellect misses Purusha and thinks that it itself is responsible for consciousness. Kind of like the fish which doesn’t notice the water. This is the mistake of the intellect. Perhaps you could clarify this a bit more for me. I seem to have gotten the wrong end of the stick, or the person who explained all this to me a few years ago made a mistake.

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Gina
      Yeah, that understanding needs a bit of work. 🙂 What you’re referring to is Samkhya, one of the 6 systems of Indian philosophy that enumerates the steps of becoming.
      Maharishi described this as waking state philosophy. It has a dualistic foundation of purusha-prakriti, which are actually 2 aspects of one consciousness- the observer and observed. (although prakriti also contains the intelligence in between them.)
      A few points. For intellect, the word you want is Buddhi. Bodisattva is a Buddhist term for an embodiment of sattva (very enlightened).
      Manas is another word for mind. Ahamkara is the I-sense created by the intellect and mind as described in the article.
      You describe intellect as being between mind and purusha (witnessing consciousness or observer) so it is “behind” or more subtle than the mind. The intellect is also the level of relationship, what some describe as sacred geometry. The distinguishing leads to subtle structure.
      (mind is driven mainly by the 3rd chakra, intellect by the 4th. Fire and air.)
      I wouldn’t say intellect feeds purusha. More that purusha observes mind and intellect creating an image of the world.
      Because of identification with the mind, intellect doesn’t recognize purusha as distinct. The I-sense considers itself as aware without recognizing the source of that awareness (until we have a few experiences of clear transcending).
      The intellect makes a few mistakes. (laughs)

    1. Hi Guru
      To be clear, Satchitananda is the experience of established Self Realization. In this stage, Atman plays the role of the observer. We could say it is the absolute consciousness part. If it is flat, the bliss is not yet alive.
      It’s not accurate to say these are the chakras. The chakras don’t exist more deeply than the causal. They are energy centers that relate to the corresponding koshas.
      We could say they’re associated. Here’s a chart:
      And one with the elements:
      But again associations.
      Mind is associated with fire, but also has air (movement) and space. It can use those styles of energy. Mind surrounds the whole body. We only relate to it being “in the head” because that’s where most senses are concentrated and mind processes the senses.
      Mind exists without a physical body but the chakra helps ground that here, in this form.

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