The Use and the Limitations of the Intellect For the Yoga of Knowledge

Each human being starts from the basic instruments of body, life and mind, and, utilizing these instruments, begins to collect sense impressions, organize them and try to make sense of the world within which he lives and acts. At a certain stage, the mature and developed intellectual capacity may see that it cannot find its way out of the framework within which it works, and that there must be answers outside that realm. Thus begins the quest through the Yoga of knowledge. The primary role of the intellect at this point is to assist the seeker in divesting himself of the illusions that fixate the attention in the outer world. The “negative aspect” of the acquisition if knowledge is highlighted at this stage. “Not this, not that” helps the seeker distinguish the solidity of what he knows, and explore the boundaries to determine where the mind reaches its limits.

Sri Aurobindo observes: It is true that intellectual deliberation and right discrimination are an important part of the Yoga of knowledge; but their object is rather to remove a difficulty than to arrive at the final and positive result of this path. Our ordinary intellectual notions are a stumbling-block in the way of knowledge; for they are governed by the error of the senses and they found themselves on the notion that matter and body are the reality, that life and force are the reality, that passion and emotion, thought and sense are the reality; and with these things we identify ourselves, and because we identify ourselves with these things we cannot get back to the real self. Therefore, it is necessary for the seeker of knowledge to remove this stumbling-block and to get right notions about himself and the world; for how shall we pursue by knowledge the real self if we have no notion of what it is and are on the contrary burdened with ideas quite opposite to the truth?”

The refinement of the intellect, the honing of the powers of perception and incisive reasoning based on close examination of the facts brought to the seeker by the sense-organs, is therefore a powerful starting point for the Yoga of knowledge. It is important to recognize however that the knowledge acquired in this manner cannot embrace the totality of the Absolute, of the Eternal and thus, must open the way for new powers of knowledge to develop and come into action:

“Therefore right thought is a necessary preliminary, and once the habit of reight thought is established, free from sense error and desire and old association and intellectual prejudgement, the understanding becomes purified and offers no serious obstacle to the farther process of knowledge. Still, right thought only becomes effective when in the purified understanding it is followed by other operations, by vision, by experience, by realization.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 2, The Status of Knowledge, pp. 288-289