The Intellect Is Not the Sovereign Power of Human Knowledge and Action

Because the intellect is the highest general power we can see developed in the world, and because it has acted so effectively in many areas of the material and vital world within which we live, we believe it is meant to be the eventual ruling power over human development, and we therefore try to use it to impose order, system and regularity on the life we lead in society.  However, we see a consistent theme of failure when we try to impose supposedly rational solutions on life and social organization.  This failure is due to a misconception about the role of the reasoning intellect and the nature of our existence.  The intellect works within limits and fixed frameworks; while life, and existence develop outside such a framework, as they far exceed the highest intellectual power we can bring to bear on our situation.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The root of the difficulty is this that at the very basis of all our life and existence, internal and external, there is something on which the intellect can never lay a controlling hold, the Absolute, the Infinite.  Behind everything in life there is an Absolute, which that thing is seeking after in its own way; everything finite is striving to express an infinite which it feels to be its real truth.  Moreover, it is not only each class, each type, each tendency in Nature that is thus impelled to strive after its own secret truth in its own way, but each individual brings in his own variations.  Thus there is not only an Absolute, an Infinite in itself which governs its own expression in many forms and tendencies, but there is also a principle of infinite potentiality and variation quite baffling to the reasoning intelligence; for the reason deals successfully only with the settled and the finite.  In man this difficulty reaches its acme.  For not only is mankind unlimited in potentiality; not only is each of its powers and tendencies seeking after its own absolute in its own way and therefore naturally restless under any rigid control by the reason; but in each man their degrees, methods, combinations vary, each man belongs not only to the common humanity, but to the Infinite in himself and is therefore unique.  It is because this is the reality of our existence that the intellectual reason and the intelligent will cannot deal with life as its sovereign, even though they may be at present our supreme instruments and may have been in our evolution supremely important and helpful.  The reason can govern, but only as a minister, imperfectly, or as a general arbiter and giver of suggestions which are not really supreme commands, or as one channel of the sovereign authority, because that hidden Power acts at present not directly but through many agents and messengers.  The real sovereign is another than the reasoning intelligence.  Man’s impulse to be free, master of Nature in himself and his environment cannot be really fulfilled until his self-consciousness has grown beyond the rational mentality, become aware of the true sovereign and either identified itself with him or entered into constant communion with his supreme will and knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 11,  The Reason as Governor of Life, pp. 112-113