Developing a Working Faith of the Intellect

It is the nature of the intellect to try to establish certainties and be able to rely on them as solid realities that can be counted on. In mathematics, this is known as the development of an axiom, a core or basic tenet of understanding that is always true and which then becomes the foundation for extrapolation and development. This same tendency also permeates the action of the intellect in other fields of endeavour. Thus, the idea that the sun revolves around the earth, so obvious to the sensory perception, was accepted as axiomatic truth until just a few hundred years ago in most parts of the world. Similarly, the idea that the earth is flat not spheroid was a fixed dogma until those who had a new insight, and the faith to follow that insight into action, were able to establish that the world is a globe, not a flat plane. The errors that the mind latches on to are part of the systematic developmental process of growth, and are necessary stages, as we see in the development of young children who believe certain things to be true at one age, but abandon those for new certainties as they grow and learn. The progress is from “darkness to light”, and then from “light to greater light”. This insight affects the relation of faith to the yogic process.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The motions of the mind in its progress must necessarily be mixed with a greater or lesser proportion of error, and we should not allow our faith to be disconcerted by the discovery of its errors or imagine that because the beliefs of the intellect which aided us were too hasty and positive, therefore the fundamental faith in the soul was invalid. The human intellect is too much afraid of error precisely because it is too much attached to a premature sense of certitude and a too hasty eagerness for positive finality in what it seems to seize of knowledge. As our self-experience increases, we shall find that our errors even were necessary movements, brought with them and left their element or suggestion of truth and helped towards discovery or supported a necessary effort and that the certitudes we have now to abandon had yet their temporary validity in the progress of our knowledge. The intellect cannot be a sufficient guide in the search for spiritual truth and realisation and yet it has to be utilised in the integral movement of our nature.”

Sri Aurobindo distinguishes therefore a doubt which questions everything and leads to paralysis and an open questioning intelligence which can avoid dogmatic adherence to limited concepts, ideas or beliefs which need to be expanded or left behind. “…the seeking intelligence has to be trained to admit a certain large questioning, an intellectual rectitude not satisfied with half-truths, mixtures of error or approximations and, most positive and helpful, a perfect readiness always to move forward from truths already held and accepted to the greater corrective, completing or transcending truths which at first it was unable or, it may be, disinclined to envisage. A working faith of the intellect is indispensable, not a superstitious, dogmatic or limiting credence attached to every temporary support or formula, but a large assent to the successive suggestions and steps of the Shakti, a faith fixed on realities, moving from the lesser to the completer realities and ready to throw down all scaffolding and keep only the large and growing structure.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 18, Faith and Shakti, pp. 748-749