Distinguishing the Two Types of Intelligence

The Gita focuses first on the “yoga of the intelligent will” in order to provide a foundation of understanding to the steps that will follow afterwards. Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “To act with right intelligence and, therefore, a right will, fixed in the One, aware of the one self in all and acting out of its equal serenity, not running about in different directions under the thousand impulses of our superficial mental self, is the Yoga of the intelligent will.”

According to the Gita, there are two types of intelligence. The first is one that is concentrated, focused and poised and remains directed towards its object. The second is one that jumps from subject to subject based on the varying impulses of the senses or the response of the mind. If we take some time to observe the state of our own minds, we can appreciate the Gita’s teaching regarding these two. In a state of concentration, where we have blocked out all the normal impulses and thoughts, we approach or enter the first type of intelligence, which is highly productive and capable of achieving great things. Such a state comes every once in a while either through a state of natural focusing of our attention on something, or through a cultivated state such as can be achieved by those who practice meditation. The second type is more or less a normal state with sense impressions entering and leading our thoughts, feelings and impressions off in multiple different directions all the time with no apparent unifying factor. This second type has very little power of effectuation as the energy gets dispersed in multiple directions.

“Buddhi, the word used, means, properly speaking, the mental power of understanding but it is evidently used by the Gita in a large philosophic sense for the whole action of the discriminating and deciding mind which determines both the direction and use of our thoughts and the direction and use of our acts; thought, intelligence, judgment, perceptive choice and aim are all included in its functioning: for the characteristic of the unified intelligence is not only concentration of the mind that knows, but especially concentration of the mind that decides and persists in the decision…., while the sign of the dissipated intelligence is not so much even discursiveness of the ideas and perceptions as discursiveness of the aims and desires, therefore of the will. Will, then, and knowledge are the two functions of the Buddhi. The unified intelligent will is fixed in the enlightened soul, it is concentrated in inner self-knowledge; the many-branching and multifarious, busied with many things, careless of the one thing needful is, on the contrary, subject to the restless and discursive action of the mind, dispersed in outward life and works and their fruits.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 10, The Yoga of the Intelligent Will, pp. 88-89,

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