Limitations of the Reason to the Process of Knowledge

Inasmuch as the question of rebirth is not easily viewed from the surface of our lives, we need to involve the faculty of Reason to come to an understanding of this issue. We then are faced with understanding the limitations that the Reason has in terms of its ability to observe and understand what it is observing. Sri Aurobindo separates two types of Reason, the practical intelligence that is concerned primarily with results in the world, and the more abstract reasoning intelligence that attempts to understand principles, concepts and significances.

The practical Reason is essentially incapable of attaining a deeper understanding as it is willing to accept anything that allows it to succeed at its immediate task or focus. Sri Aurobindo points out that “Whether it corresponds to or is directly in touch with any real reality of things seems to be very much a matter of accident. It seems to be sufficient if we can persuade our facile and complaisant reason of its truth and find it serviceable and fruitful in consequences for thought, action and life-experience.”

The second type of Reason does seek after greater things and tries to look behind the surface appearances, but it is limited by its connection to the practical intelligence as well. “But the workings of this calmer greater reason are hampered by two tremendous difficulties. First, it seems next to impossible to disengage it entirely from the rest of ourselves, from the normal intellectuality, from the will to believe, from that instinct of the intelligence which helps the survival, by a sort of subtle principle of preference and selection, of the way of thinking that suits our personal bent or the accomplished frame of our nature. And again, what is the Truth that our reason mirrors? It is after all some indirect image of Truth, not her very self and body seen face to face; it is an image moulded from such data, symbol, process of Reality,–if any real Reality there is,–as we can gather from the very limited experience of self and existing things open to the human mind.”

The human mind is not actually suited nor capable of directly knowing and apprehending Reality. It takes other and greater faculties to move beyond the mind’s limitations. So when we rely on the mind, we are left with both our pre-determined self-selection of facts and ideas that favor our practical and ideational bent, and with a faculty that itself has strict limits to its powers.

Sri Aurobindo,