Intellectual Understanding and Understanding in the Consciousness

Those who find their basis primarily in the mind tend to believe that their intellectual understanding of something represents something real and definitive and that their “knowing” means they “know” something. This is however, not quite accurate. For instance, one can read books and “know” about a particular activity or process but nevertheless be unable to fully comprehend all the subtlety or complexity that only becomes clear through experience and inner review. There is also the famous statement that reading about swimming does not mean one can swim when one enters the water.

Yoga is not dependent on an intellectual understanding of the processes or steps along the way. It is a matter of inner experiential understanding that may not correspond to the mental formations that develop as one studies books or hears lectures on the subject. It is one of the great distinguishing factors between academic learning and real life experience.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “… There are two kinds of understanding — understanding by the intellect and understanding in the consciousness. It is good to have the former if it is accurate, but it is not indispensable. Understanding by the consciousness comes if there is faith and openness, though it may come only gradually and through steps of experience. But I have seen people without education or intellectuality understand in this way perfectly well the course of the yoga in themselves, while intellectual men make big mistakes, e.g. take a neutral mental quietude for the spiritual peace and refuse to come out of it in order to go farther.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Mental Development, Reading and Study, pp. 361-365

3 thoughts on “Intellectual Understanding and Understanding in the Consciousness

  1. Would you explain this to me:

    “…make big mistakes, e.g. take a neutral mental quietude for the spiritual peace and refuse to come out of it in order to go farther.”

  2. Sri Aurobindo makes a distinction between various states of “calm” of “quiet” in the being. There is a quiet in the physical which is a type of “lassitude”, a feeling of torpor and just “not feeling like doing anything. There is a state of “quiet” in the vital which may be a form of disinterest, or exhaustion of the vital after a state of excitement. In the mind, there can be a quiet mental state that is not “active”, more or less a passive quiet space of the mind. This is the mental state that some mistake, in Sri Aurobindo’s explanation above, for the true spiritual peace. Spiritual experiences have a reality and solidness of validity to them that cannot be mistaken when they occur. Sometimes the peace that descends from above is felt as a solid block of peace, it is palpable, it is unshakable, it goes beyond the feeling experienced in the mind of this mental quietude or passivity, in some cases it fills the entire surrounding atmosphere and people who enter the space may feel suddenly at peace.

    • Thank you. So, spiritual peace as in ‘resting as consciousness’, perhaps?

      Experiencing the boundless… even beyond ‘witnessing’. Other than any condition of the thinking mind.

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