It is typical of the mental intelligence to believe that reading and remembering something implies that we have realised the truth of what we have read. Those who have taken the time to reflect on this make it clear that ‘reading a book about swimming’ does not mean one knows how to swim! Similarly, we read all kinds of positive statements, affirmations and ideas about how to live life effectively and to the fullest and control the vital impulses that interfere with that goal, yet time and again, we either forget or find we do not know how to actually effectuate the principles and methods we have been learning. While these things are focused on the interaction of the mind with life in the physical world, it may be noted that they equally apply to spiritual seeking. Reading books about spirituality, listening to lectures about spiritual teachings, do not, in and of themselves, represent a true transformation of the mind or the life. They may help to tune the mental concentration and create an atmosphere of receptivity, but beyond that it must be recognised that realisation is not simply holding of mental conceptions, but an actual change in the way the consciousness functions in the individual.
Sri Aurobindo has elsewhere mentioned that the spiritual consciousness represents what he terms a “reversal of consciousness” from the mental process. The mind with its linear thinking, its fixed framework and rules for processing data, and its failure to look at the whole interaction as one complete system, but rather focusing on individual elements in a fragmented manner, is exactly the opposite of the way the spiritual consciousness functions. The spiritual consciousness by its nature sees the interconnections and links and the entirety of the relationships that take place in bringing about the universal manifestation. There is a sense of unity and oneness that pervades the spiritual knowledge. Knowledge in the spiritual realm comes through powers we call intuition, inspiration, the descent of Light, the receipt of a vision, etc. Thus, the spiritual consciousness, in order to act fully and effectively in the life of the seeker, needs to have a quiet and receptive intellect in place ready to subordinate its own normal process for the needs of the spiritual consciousness in its native action.
Sri Aurobindo notes: “There is no reason why one should not receive through the thinking mind, as one receives through the vital, the emotional and the body. The thinking mind is as capable of receiving as these are, and, since it has to be transformed as well as the rest, it must be trained to receive, otherwise no transformation of it could take place.”
“It is the ordinary unenlightened activity of the intellect that is an obstacle to spiritual experience, just as the ordinary unregenerated activity of the vital or the obscure stupidly obstructive consciousness of the body is an obstacle. What the sadhak has to be specially warned against in the wrong processes of the intellect is, first, any mistaking of mental ideas and impressions or intellectual conclusions for realisation; secondly, the restless activity of the mere mind which disturbs the spontaneous accuracy of psychic and spiritual experience and gives no room for the descent of the true illuminating knowledge or else deforms it as soon as it touches or even before it fully touches the human mental plane. There are also of course the usual vices of the intellect, — its leaning towards sterile doubt instead of luminous reception and calm enlightened discrimination; its arrogance claiming to judge things that are beyond it, unknown to it, too deep for it by standards drawn from its own limited experience; its attempts to explain the supraphysical by the physical or its demand for the proof of higher and occult things by the criteria proper to Matter and mind in Matter; others also too many to enumerate here. Always it is substituting its own representations and constructions and opinions for the true knowledge. But if the intellect is surrendered, open, quiet, receptive, there is no reason why it should not be a means of reception of the Light or an aid to the experience of spiritual states and to the fullness of an inner change.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Mind, pp. 240-245