The Secondary Role and the Limitations of the Reasoning Intelligence in the Realm of Religion and Spiritual Seeking

It is not the function of the intellect to experience directly the truths of the spirit.  As the Taittiriya Upanishad proclaims “The mind turns back without attaining”.  Yet, the reason has a role in the scope of translating something of the experience back into a form that the intellect can grapple with and thereby help to guide the mind to a balanced approach that allows the spiritual inspiration to operate in the being, without too much distortion caused by the mental activity.  The language and organization of thought used by the mind cannot encompass the wideness or height of the spiritual experience or the higher truths, and it is a limitation that should be recognized so that the mind does not try to regulate the experience through creation of mental straitjackets.  Those who experience the spiritual realms and get an inspiration of spiritual truth find it difficult to communicate the experience through words.  Thus we see frequently a resort to ecstatic speech and poetic utterance to try to carry through some sense of what is behind the words.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  Reason “…cannot lay down the law for the religious life, it cannot determine in its own right the system of divine knowledge; it cannot school and lesson the divine love and delight; it cannot set bounds to spiritual experience or lay its yoke upon the action of the spiritual man.  Its sole legitimate sphere is to explain as best it can, in its own language and to the rational and intellectual parts of man, the truths, the experiences, the laws of our suprarational and spiritual existence.”

“Reason is safest when it is content to take the profound truths and experiences of the spiritual being and the spiritual life, just as they are given to it, and throw them into such form, order and language as will make them the most intelligible or the least unintelligible to the reasoning mind.  Even then it is not quite safe, for it is apt to harden the order into an intellectual system and to present the form as if it were the essence.  And, at best, it has to use a language which is not the very tongue of the suprarational truth but its inadequate translation and, since it is not the ordinary tongue either of the rational intelligence, it is open to non-understanding or misunderstanding by the ordinary reason of mankind.  It is well-known to the experience of the spiritual seeker that even the highest philosophising cannot give a true inner knowledge, is not the spiritual light, does not open the gates of experience.  All it can do is to address the consciousness of man through his intellect and, when it has done, to say, ‘I have tried to give you the truth in a form and system which will make it intelligible and possible to you; if you are intellectually convinced or attracted, you can now seek the real knowledge, but you must seek it by other means which are beyond my province.’ ”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 13,  Reason and Religion, pp. 132-133

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