The Role of the Intellect in Spiritual Evolution

When we enter upon the spiritual path, we begin to understand that the reasoning intellect cannot provide the experience of the Truths of our existence. We begin to search for ways to abandon the intellect, to rely more on intuition, inspiration, or various ecstatic emotional states that provide substantially more internal satisfaction than the apparently dry effort of the intellect. Yet the intellect is a signature capacity of the human being, and, eventually, to deny it is to deny who and what we are, and thereby to limit what we can become. Sri Aurobindo therefore points out that the intellect, in fact, has a real and substantial role to play in our spiritual evolutionary journey in life.

“in any total advance or evolution of the Spirit, not only the intuition, insight, inner sense, the heart’s devotion, a deep and direct life-experience of the things of the Spirit have to be developed, but the intellect also must be enlightened and satisfied; our thinking and reflecting mind must be helped to understand, to form a reasoned and systematised idea of the goal, the method, the principles of this highest development and activity of our nature and the truth of all that lies behind it. Spiritual realisation and experience, an intuitive and direct knowledge, a growth of inner consciousness, a growth of the soul and of an intimate soul-perception, soul-vision and a soul-sense, are indeed the proper means of this evolution: but the support of the reflective and critical reason is also of great importance; if many can dispense with it, because they have a vivid and direct contact with inner realities and are satisfied with experience and insight, yet in the whole movement it is indispensable. If the supreme truth is a spiritual Reality, then the intellect of man needs to know what is the nature of that original Truth and the principle of its relations to the rest of existence, to ourselves and the universe. The intellect is not capable by itself of bringing us into touch with the concrete spiritual reality, but it can help by a mental formulation of the truth of the Spirit which explains it to the mind and can be applied even in the more direct seeking: this help is of a capital importance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 24, “The Evolution of the Spiritual Man”

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