Spiritual Philosophy As a Bridge Between Spirit and Intellect

In order to implement the role for the thinking mind which has been proposed, the field of philosophy has arisen. “The means by which this need can be satisfied and with which our nature of mind has provided us is philosophy, and in this field it must be a spiritual philosophy.” Spiritual philosophy has in fact flourished in the East, with its basically unitive orientation, while philosophy has tended, over time, to be more intellectualised and dry as it has evolved in the West, founded primarily on the analytical tendency of the Western mind. This is not to say that there have not been times and places where the unitive force of spiritual philosophy has arisen in the context of the West (or vice versa).

Spiritual philosophy initially arises out of the spiritual experience, and tends to be more intuitive in both its vision and expression. The Upanishads represent one such expression, and they have been recognised as providing a deep and rich insight into existence, our man’s role in existence for many centuries.

Another vein of spiritual philosophy seeks to organise the steps toward the spiritual realisation and experience, and we see here arise practical guidebooks or manuals of spiritual practice, pre-eminent among these could be the yoga sutras of Patanjali.

A third vein would be the intellectual organisation and presentation of the spiritual Truths that have been experienced, such as was seen in the Bhagavad Gita.

Each of these has its role and value in bridging the perceived gap between the spiritual impact of an experience of Reality, and the need to formulate and implement it here in Mind, Life and Body.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 24, “The Evolution of the Spiritual Man”

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The Role of the Thinking Mind in the Spiritual Pursuit

The intellect can play several important roles in the spiritual quest, although clearly it cannot be the sole judge or arbiter of the truth or reality of experiences that originate outside its sphere of activity. Sri Aurobindo’s review of the thinking mind’s action: “Our thinking mind is concerned mainly with the statement of general spiritual truth, the logic of its absolute and the logic of its relativities, how they stand to each other or lead to each other, and what are the mental consequences of the spiritual theorem of existence.”

And while the intellect or the thinking mind cannot be the final judge of the validity of spiritual experience, it is important to note that it can provide a sobering tendency on what might otherwise be a wild exuberance of the vital being in terms of simply accepting “anything that comes” without any process or method of scrutiny, which can easily lead the seeker astray.

To the extent that the reason interacts with the field of occultism, Sri Aurobindo also finds a role for it: “If reason finds itself obliged to admit the dynamics of occultism, there too it will be most concerned with the truth and right system and real significance of the forces that it sees brought into play; it must inquire whether the significance is that which the occultist attaches to it or something other and perhaps deeper which has been misinterpreted in its essential relations and values or not given its true place in the whole of experience. For the action of our intellect is primarily the function of understanding, but secondarily critical and finally organising, controlling and formative.”

As the seeker gains more access to the inner being and the various vital worlds, it is in fact all too easy for the power and the overwhelming nature of the experiences to drive the seeker into false interpretations leading to dead ends or even destruction. Many are those who find themselves slaves to the forces of desire, lust, greed, or seeking after the acquisition of occult powers because they could not discriminate or distinguish what forces were acting upon them, because they withheld any role for the critical thinking mind.

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