Ascending the Ladder of Consciousness Beyond the Mind: Intuitive Mind, Part 1

Many different experiences of awareness are generally called “intuition”.  Sri Aurobindo has clarified what he calls the “intuitive mind” to avoid the confusion engendered by the loose use of the term intuition.  For many people, intuition is really a form of what we may call “gut instinct”, which is itself, a subliminal perception that distills itself as a sense or feeling that prods one into action.  People talk about an intuition of discomfort when they are in an environment that raises their sense of concern or fear.

Sri Aurobindo’s definition is that of a higher awareness that yields a clarity and a spontaneous knowledge and certainty that does not require the slow, step-by-step process of the logical intellect.  He clarifies further that it is this action of the intuition that guides the logical intellect in its steps and conclusions to begin with, although the intellect will inevitably truncate and distort the intuitive wisdom.

Sri Aurobindo notes in The Life Divine:  “But these two stages of the ascent enjoy their authority and can get their own united completeness only by a reference to a third level; for it is from the higher summits where dwells the intuitional being that they derive the knowledge which they turn into thought or sight and bring down to us for the mind’s transmutation.  Intuition is a power of consciousness nearer and more intimate to the original knowledge by identity; for it is always something that leaps out direct from a concealed identity…. This close perception is more than sight, more than conception: it is the result of a penetrating and revealing touch which carries in it sight and conception as part of itself or as its natural consequence.  A concealed or slumbering identity, not yet recovering itself, still remembers or conveys by the intuition its own contents and the intimacy of its self-feeling and self-vision of things, its light of truth, its overwhelming and automatic certitude.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Seven, The Ascent Towards Supermind, pg. 88

Steps in the Process of Integrating the Powers of the Intuitive Mind in the Transformation of Consciousness

There can be no invariable, step-by-step development of the intuitive consciousness. Each individual’s preparation and readiness is somewhat different, and the action of the force, working from the higher levels of the knowledge-consciousness, adapts the action to meet the needs of the individual nature. There may be instances where one of the higher powers illumines the being for a specific time or purpose, and then withdraws to allow the assimilation and purification processes to develop and further prepare the ground for a more constant action. Even if there is a somewhat systematic development of the 4 primary powers of the intuitive mind, there will be the inevitable withdrawals, setbacks, dilutions, and confusions resulting from the interaction of these powers with the mental consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo describes this process: “A regular development would at first, allowing for some simultaneous manifestation of the four powers, yet create on a sufficiently extensive scale the lower suggestive and critical intuitive mind and then develop above it the inspired and the revelatory intuitive mentality. Next it would take up the two lower powers into the power and field of the inspiration and make all act as one harmony doing simultaneously the united–or, at a higher intensity, indistinguishably as one light the unified–action of the three. And last it would execute a similar movement of taking up into a fusion with the revelatory power of the intuitive gnosis.”

“As a matter of fact, in the human mind the clear process of the development is likely always to be more or less disturbed, confused and rendered irregular in its course, subjected to relapses, incomplete advances, returns upon things unaccomplished or imperfectly accomplished, owing to the constant mixture and intervention of the existing movements of the mental half-knowledge and the obstruction of the stuff of the mental ignorance.”

“In the end however a time can come when the process, so far as it is possible in the mind itself, is complete and a clear formation of a modified supramental light is possible composed of all these powers, the highest leading or absorbing into its own body the others. It is at this point, when the intuitive mind has been fully formed in the mental being and is strong enough to dominate if not yet wholly to occupy the various mental activities, that a farther step becomes possible, the lifting of the centre and level of action above the mind and the predominance of the supramental action.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 21, The Gradations of the Supermind, pg. 787

The Need for the Coordinated Action of the Suggestive Intuition and the Intuitive Discrimination

When they begin their interaction with the human mentality, the first two active powers of the intuitive consciousness labour under certain limitations due to that interaction. The suggestive intuition can be seized upon by the mind, and all kinds of concepts, ideas, thoughts, opinions and definitions can be attached to it, until it is covered up and distorted beyond recognition. The intuitive discrimination, on the other hand, may be able to separate the intuitive from the mental substance, but it does not, on its own, have the power to bring forth new and unexpected insights or powers of understanding from the intuitive realm. Sri Aurobindo notes that it is only through the combined action of the two that serious progress and development can take place.

“If the intuitive discrimination works by itself, it creates a sort of critical illumination that acts on the ideas and perceptions of the intellect and turns them on themselves in such a way that the mind can separate their truth from their error. It creates in the end in place of the intellectual judgment a luminous intuitive judgment, a sort of critical gnosis: but it is likely to be deficient in fresh illuminative knowledge or to create only so much extension of truth as is the natural consequence of the separation of error.”

“On the other hand, if the suggestive intuition works by itself without this discrimination, there is indeed a constant accession of new truths and new lights, but they are easily surrounded and embarrassed by the mental accretions and their connections and relation or harmonious development out of each other are clouded and broken by the interference. A normalised power of active intuitive perception is created, but not any complete and coherent mind of intuitive gnosis.”

“The two together supply the deficiencies of each other’s single action and build up a mind of intuitive perception and discrimination which can do the work and more than the work of the stumbling mental intelligence and do it with the greater light, surety and power of a more direct and unfaltering ideation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 21, The Gradations of the Supermind, pp. 785-786

Two Initial Powers of the Intuitive Mind

There are a number of distinct powers of action that come with the full operation of the intuitive mind. Early in the process, the action tends to be dominated by two of them. The first of these is what Sri Aurobindo terms the “suggestive intuition” while the second is called “intuitive discrimination”. He explains the action of each of these two as follows:

“The suggestive intuition acting on the mental level suggests a direct and illumining inner idea of the truth, an idea that is its true image and index, not as yet the entirely present and whole sight, but rather of the nature of a bright memory of some truth, a recognition of a secret of the self’s knowledge. It is a representation, but a living representation, not an ideative symbol, a reflection, but a reflection that is lit up with something of the truth’s real substance.”

Whereas the symbolism used by the mind tends to be abstract and disassociated from specific real experience, the suggestive intuition is actually anchored in a real experience and carries some of the energy of that experience into the representation it provides.

“The intuitive discrimination is a secondary action setting this idea of the truth in its right place and its relation to other ideas. And so long as there is the habit of mental interference and accretion it works also to separate the mental from the higher seeing, to discrete the inferior mental stuff that embarrasses with its alloy the pure truth substance, and labours to unravel the mingled skein of ignorance and knowledge, falsehood and error.”

“As the intuition is of the nature of a memory, a luminous remembering of the self-existent truth, so the inspiration is of the nature of truth hearing: it is an immediate reception of the very voice of the truth, it readily brings the word that perfectly embodies it and it carries something more than the light of its idea; there is seized some stream of its inner reality and vivid arriving movement of its substance. The revelation is of the nature of direct sight…, and makes evident to a present vision the thing in itself of which the idea is the representation. It brings out the very spirit and being and reality of the truth and makes it part of the consciousness and the experience.”

When an individual experiences the action of these powers of the intuition, there is an inner certitude that arises based on the presence and power of the experience and energy that accompanies it. This is not a matter of philosophical symbolism, but of ideation, speech and hearing being seized by a force of knowing that goes beyond the normal mental framework within which the human being tends to operate.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 21, The Gradations of the Supermind, pg. 785

The Characteristics of the Intuitive Knowledge

If we see the mental acquisition of knowledge as a seeking, as a development from ignorance and darkness that gropes for facts and tries to organize them and thereby to gain understanding, we may recognize the difference with regard to the intuitive knowledge. The mind starts from darkness, fragmentation and separation while the intuition starts from light, unity and wholeness. The intuition may trigger an insight based on some mental focus or sense impression, but by its nature, it is independent of these things and may arise spontaneously from its own native ranges.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “…there is always an element of self-existent truth and a sense of absoluteness of origination suggestive of its proceeding from the spirit’s knowledge by identity. It is the disclosing of a knowledge that is secret but already existent in the being: it is not an acquisition, but something that was always there and revealable. It sees the truth from within and illumines with that inner vision the outsides and it harmonises, too, readily–provided we keep intuitively awake–with whatever fresh truth has yet to arrive. These characteristics become more pronounced and intense in the higher, the proper supramental ranges: in the intuitive mind they may not be always recognisable in their purity and completeness because of the mixture of mental stuff and its accretion, but in the divine reason and greater supramental action they become free and absolute.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 21, The Gradations of the Supermind, pp. 784-785

The Position of the Intuitive Mind Between Mind and Supermind

The mental consciousness starts from a standpoint of ignorance, what one may call darkness, and attempts to cast about, gather impressions, organize them and shed some light on them. Because it starts from a position of darkness, its action is always something like attempting to explore a darkened room with a candle or flashlight. The individual sees partial and shadowed forms and attempts to draw conclusions about the facts and the truth of what is being observed.

The supramental consciousness starts from a standpoint of knowledge, what one may call light, and is able to see and understand both the individual details being observed and their relation to one another and the whole of which they make up the components or parts.

The intuitive mind, standing between the two, has its advantage based on its ability to receive and reflect the light of the supramental consciousness, thus, getting flashes of light, while it still has its roots in the mind and thus, is still subject to the darkness and the fragmentation that is the basic characteristic of the mental consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The intuitive mind appears at first a lightening up of the mind’s half-lights, its probabilities and possibilities, its aspects, its uncertain certitudes, its representations, and a revealing of the truth concealed or half concealed and half manifested by these things, and in its higher action it is a first bringing of the supramental truth by a nearer directness of seeing, a luminous indication or memory of the spirit’s knowledge, an intuition or looking in through the gates of the being’s secret universal self-vision and knowledge. It is a first imperfect organisation of that greater light and power, imperfect because done in the mind, not based on its own native substance of consciousness, a constant communication, but not a quite immediate and constant presence. The perfect perfection lies beyond on the supramental levels and must be based on a more decisive and complete transformation of the mentality and of our whole nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 20, The Intuitive Mind, pp. 779-780

The Oscillations of the Intuitive Mind Between the Mental and Supramental Ranges

Progress in Yoga, and in the development of consciousness, as in the general evolutionary movement, does not occur in a straight, undeviating, unbroken upward line. There may in fact be times when fast and effective progress is being made, and then a period of consolidation when the being feels like the inspiration or energy has disappeared or slackened, or even, periods of apparent retrogression where old habits and modes of being reassert themselves for a time. These periods may be quite lengthy, as evidenced by the numerous descriptions by spiritual seekers throughout the ages of “the dark night of the soul”.

The progress in terms of development of the intuitive mind follows this same general pattern. Sri Aurobindo observes: “This is indeed its nature that it is a link and transition between present mind and the supermind and, so long as the transition is not complete, there is sometimes a gravitation downward, sometimes a tendency upward, an oscillation, an invasion and attraction from below, an invasion and attraction from above, and at best an uncertain and limited status between the two poles. As the higher intelligence of man is situated between his animal and customary human mind below and his evolving spiritual mind above, so this first spiritual mind is situated between the intellectualised human mentality and the greater supramental knowledge.”

One must also reckon with the long established patterns and habits and limitations at work within each individual being. The spiritual development starts for each individual from the level at which he starts. However well developed the various parts of the being are, they create both obstacles and opportunities for the spiritual growth; but they also represent such strong habitual actions that the old nature will tend to reassert itself at times by resurrecting the habits embedded in the mentality, or the vital and physical tendencies of the specific individual involved.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 20, The Intuitive Mind, pg. 779

The Limitations of the Intuitive Mind

The development of the intuition, with its access to higher light and power that is provided through its ability to receive from the supramental consciousness, is both a necessary transitional phase in the transformation from mind to supermind, and a powerful increase in the power of the mental consciousness. It is not, in and of itself, supramental in nature and still partakes of the mental consciousness, with the limitations and deficiencies attendant thereto. It is also very much subject to the normal action of the mental consciousness which will always try to absorb and modify the inspirations that come through the intuitive mind.

Sri Aurobindo describes the limitations of this stage: “The intuitive mentality is still mind and not gnosis. It is indeed a light from the supermind, but modified and diminished by the stuff of mind in which it works, and stuff of mind means always a basis of ignorance. The intuitive mind is not yet the wide sunlight of truth, but a constant play of flashes of it keeping lighted up a basic state of ignorance or of half-knowledge and indirect knowledge. As long as it is imperfect, it is invaded by a mixture of ignorant mentality which crosses its truth with a strain of error. After it has acquired a larger native action more free from this intermixture, even then so long as the stuff of mind in which it works is capable of the old intellectual or lower mental habit, it is subject to accretion of error, to clouding, to many kinds of relapse. Moreover, the individual mind does not live alone and to itself but in the general mind and all that it has rejected is discharged into the general mind atmosphere around it and tends to return upon and invade it with the old suggestions and many promptings of the old mental character. The intuitive mind, growing or grown, has therefore to be constantly on guard against invasion and accretion, on the watch to reject and eliminate immixtures, busy intuitivising more and still more the whole stuff of mind, and this can only end by itself being enlightened, transformed, lifted up into the full light of the supramental being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 20, The Intuitive Mind, pp. 778-779

Opening to the Action of the 1000-Petal Lotus Above the Physical Mind

Sri Aurobindo identifies yet another methodology for supporting the effort of transition from a mental to a supramental standpoint for the consciousness and the action of the nature. The ancient Indian system describing the “chakras” or energy centers in the subtle body that act as nexus points for receiving and expressing the various forms of energy, physical, vital, emotional or mental, set forth 7 primary chakras or “lotuses” with the lowest one expressing the base physical energy and the highest, situated at the top of the head, representing the purest and most powerful forms of mental energy for the human being.

“The highest organised centre of our embodied being and of its action in the body is the supreme mental centre figured by the yogic symbol of the thousand-petalled lotus, sahasradala, and it is at its top and summit that there is the direct communication with the supramental levels.”

Because of this link, it becomes potentially feasible to access the supramental levels. “It is then possible to adopt a different and a more direct method, not to refer all our thought and action to the Lord secret in the heart-lotus but to the veiled truth of the Divinity above the mind and to receive all by a sort of descent from above, a descent of which we become not only spiritually but physically conscious. The Siddhi or full accomplishment of this movement can only come when we are able to lift the centre of thought and conscious action above the physical brain and feel it going on in the subtle body. If we can feel ourselves thinking no longer with the brain but from above and outside the head in the subtle body, that is a sure physical sign of a release from the limitations of the physical mind, and though this will not be complete at once nor of itself bring the supramental action, for the subtle body is mental and not supramental, still it is a subtle and pure mentality and makes an easier communication with the supramental centres.”

“It will be easier to discern rapidly the higher planes of the true supramental being and call down their power to effect the desired transformation and to refer all the lower action to the superior power and light that it may reject and eliminate, purify and transform and select among them its right material for the Truth that has to be organised within us. This opening up of a higher level and of higher and higher planes of it and the consequent re-formation of our whole consciousness and its action into their mould and into the substance of their power and luminous capacity is found in practice to be the greater part of the natural method used by the divine Shakti.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 20, The Intuitive Mind, pp. 774-775

Advantages and Limitations of the Way of Bhakti for the Supramental Transformation of Consciousness

Each major path of Yoga relies on a different capacity within the human being and thus, is based on some truth of the nature and can achieve very powerful results when followed consistently. The way of the devotee relies on referring all that happens, all reactions and all actions to the Divine within, in the deepest spiritual center in the heart, and acting from the inspiration that eventuates. The Bhakta does not work to achieve a silence of the mind as we see in the Yoga of knowledge, nor unity with the unmoving Absolute with its advantages and disadvantages for the transformative effort envisioned by the integral Yoga. Yet this method has a much closer relation to the active nature and thus, can lead to types of progress that are missing from the path of the spiritual renunciate focused on the silencing of the mental process.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It is natural to them to reject the intellect and its action and to listen for the voice, wait for the impulsion or the command, the adesa, obey only the idea and will and power of the Lord within them, the divine Self and Purusha in the heart of the creature…. This is a movement which must tend more and more to intuitivise the whole nature, for the ideas, the will, the impulsions, the feelings which come from the secret Purusha in the heart are of the direct intuitive character…. The secret Self within us is an intuitive self and this intuitive self is seated in every centre of our being, the physical, the nervous, the emotional, the volitional, the conceptual or cognitive and the higher more directly spiritual centres. And in each part of our being it exercises a secret intuitive initiation of our activities which is received and represented imperfectly by our outer mind and converted into the movements of the ignorance in the external action of these parts of our nature. The heart o emotional centre of the thinking desire-mind is the strongest in the ordinary man, gathers up or at least affects the presentation of things to the consciousness and is the capital of the system. It is from there that the Lord seated in the heart of all creatures turns them mounted on the machine of Nature by the Maya of the mental ignorance. It is possible then by referring back all the initiation of our action to this secret intuitive Self and Spirit, the ever-present Godhead within us, and replacing by its influences the initiations of our personal and mental nature to get back from the inferior external thought and action to another, internal and intuitive, of a highly spiritualised chacacter.”

The downside comes from a potential for narrowness and limitation in terms of the capacity for higher action beyond the mind, as this approach deepens, but does not necessarily lift up the higher powers of the mind to exceed themselves. “Nevertheless the result of this movement cannot be complete, because the heart is not the highest centre of our being, is not supramental nor directly moved from the supramental sources. An intuitive thought and action directed from it may be very luminous and intense but is likely to be limited, even narrow in its intensity, mixed with a lower emotional action and at the best excited and troubled, rendered unbalanced or exaggerated by a miraculous or abnormal character in its action or at least in many of its accomplishments which is injurious to the harmonised perfection of the being. The aim of our effort at perfection must be to make the spiritual and supramental action no longer a miracle, even if a frequent or constant miracle, or only a luminous intervention of a greater than our natural power, but normal to the being and the very nature and law of all its process.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 20, The Intuitive Mind, pp. 773-774