The Role of The Intellect

The Role of The Intellect

Think by Marco Nurnberger
Think by Marco Nurnberger

I’ve been working on a translation of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Ran into a point I thought worth expanding on.

First, let’s review Samkhya. This is a dualistic philosophy from the Vedas that enumerates the parts of our experience: the elements, the senses, and so forth.

At its basis, all arises from purusha and prakriti, consciousness (Self) and nature.

This is the essential experience of Self Realization (Cosmic Consciousness). The Self within wakes up to itself and experiences a separate world outside of itself. This is Dwaita, dualism.

To wake up, it’s important to recognize this distinction of Self and world. Not as a mental concept, but in deep, direct experience. As Yoga Sutra verse 3:35 tells us, we enjoy experiences without distinguishing between the content and the experiencer. Our senses are grasping the qualities of the objects around us, overshadowing who we are.

The noise of the mind and emotions adds to that binding influence of the senses. Together, this acts like a veil over who we are. Like the song of a bird drowned out by all the traffic.

The key in Yoga is samadhi, transcendence. By settling outside the field of content, we’re left with only the experiencer, the Self, purusha, consciousness. With repeated experience of pure consciousness, it becomes familiar and distinct from our world experience. in time, we carry that inner wakefulness out into daily activity. Some value is with us all the time. We may even develop a witness, a detached observer.

This sets the stage for the Self to recognize itself, to wake up, to become Self Realized.

Trouble is, the intellect creates our sense of personal ego. In discriminating what is self and what is other, what is mother and what is self, what is foot and what is floor, we learn to function in the world.

This makes the intellect intimate to our day-to-day experience. Tied to the ego, we confuse it with who we are. While mind is busy processing the senses, intellect is riding along-side, categorizing what’s valuable to notice, what’s good and bad, right or wrong, and so forth. All of this by comparison to the past, to similar prior experiences.

Clearly, mistakes of the intellect can have a big impact. Mistaking who we are is a whopper. But do we have experiences of something different? Again, this is the role of transcending. It has to be experienced. A concept of Self is just an idea in the mind. Study alone won’t do it.

When we settle the mind in meditation, the Self rises into experience and deeper recognition. Then the intellect can recognize the difference between the content and what is having the experiences. And the experiencer can recognize it’s observing what is doing the distinguishing. It’s different from the intellect.

That helps set the stage for awakening.

After the shift, the intellect associates with being rather than mind and becomes resolute. It becomes much more reliable and clear. Then it has a key role in the Unity shift, in recognizing the world is the Self as well. But that’s another story…

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  1. Harrison Snow

    Thanks David for the clarity of your discourse on the role of the intellect. My big challenge seems to be old stress/traumas that I’ve been working on releasing for a long time yet are persistent on the somatic level. I can see how I’ve been identified with aspects of my young, wounded self. There is a certain hold or grip the impressions of the past can have on the subconscious mind. I am anticipating the more I can hold space in the place of non-identification or the silence of Being the more these old mind/body contractions will dissolve into nothingness or Enzo. Basically, the use of Being for integration instead of just Intellect and feeling based therapies. Both approaches for the more persistent contractions are needed, at least for this Western householder.

    1. Hi Harrison

      Right. The clearer we get, the deeper we go and the more we find. Some of that early stuff can be quiet entrenched. But as you say, being able to come to that with simple observation, the more we can heal. Gradually, all that backlog resolves, major weights lift, and all the energy that’s been needed to keep a lid on it is freed up. Life gets more and more simple and pleasant.

      But yes, no matter how deep we go, we can have grooves (samskaras) or habit patterns that we fall back into that are less than helpful. But through life, these come to the surface and are seen. And it’s in that seeing they can be resolved. The fact that it’s becoming conscious is an important first step. It’s much more difficult to clear unconscious nuts. Samadhi will help soften them but direct attention is a powerful solvent.

  2. AB

    Hi David,
    Thanks for this, perfect timing. Last few days have been wondering about this seems that Samkhya is like jnana. Only just looked up the meaning:
    prefix: Sam – with, together
    verbal root: khya – to relate, to tell

    On the intellect, I have been wondering if there was a way to turn it down. What you say seems better way. Sometimes I wonder if because of it I need to have lots of life experiences before letting go.

    1. Hi AB
      Samkhya is often considered to be about quantity where Vaisheshika is about qualities of the components that make up the world.

      (laughs) I can relate. Used to think of it as an impediment, something to get rid of. But it’s simply the way what is here is built. As consciousness became more present, the intellect became more of a benefit. Then it becomes key in the process, especially for Unity stage. (By associating with consciousness rather than the mind.)

      Karma can definitely play a role. As we wind down the backlog through life experiences, we’re also converting and purifying to prepare the way.

      Waking isn’t something that happens to a person. It’s the Self that wakes up to itself here. And it will do so when it’s the best time for the Self, for everyone, for the whole. We just have to be patient and do what we can to prepare the ground so the shift is clearer and fuller when its time.

      It’s quite remarkable the opportunity is even there for those that seek it. When I as young, it was still pretty rare.

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