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