Enhancing Our Powers of Understanding – M.S. Srinivasan

The power of understanding or the cognitive intelligence is the highest available faculty in us in our present condition of evolution. This article examines the content and significance of this faculty and how to enhance its effectiveness in a power–point form.

The Higher Intelligence: Its Content and Significance

  • We define the power of understanding as that faculty in us which can discriminate, judge, analyse, discern the hidden patterns behind facts, arrive at concepts, generalization, conclusion or hypothesis.
  • This faculty of understanding exists in us at two levels. First is the intellectual understanding or pure reason which works though logic, scientific or philosophical, and analysis; other one is the intuitive understanding which can by pass logic and reasoning and arrives at a direct insight into the truth of things.
  • The importance of this faculty in our present world of the knowledge-worker and knowledge-society is obvious and need no elaboration. For it is the primary instrument of knowledge in us. Knowledge can also be received through the heart or vital intuition. But since we are in our present evolutionary status, predominantly mental being, understanding will in the mind is our primary instrument of knowledge.
  • This faculty of understanding when it functions in its purity and according to its own intrinsic nature can discover the idea which reflects the deeper and universal truth and law of things. The main characteristics or qualities of this faculty of understanding are:
  1. The path-breaking and paradigm-shifting idea like that of Socrates or Plato in philosophy, Newton or Einstein in science, Adam Smith in economics, concept of quality conceived by management thinkers like Juran and Deming.
  1. Visionary thinking which can discern an unmanifest or future possibility by a swift and intuitive assessment of the present condition like for example, comprehension of the future of software by Bill Gates.
  1. Holistic or ecological comprehension which can see the connectedness or interdependence of things and each thing as part of a larger whole. When this perception enters into the more pragmatic part of our understanding it gives the ability to perceive the long-term consequences of our decisions or actions for the well-being and progress of the larger whole of the community, environment or other stakeholders like the customer, employees and suppliers.
  1. Balanced judgment which leads to the right or effective decision-making. This involves the ability to process a large amount of information and discern the underlying patterns of looking at things from multiple point of view and arrive at a balanced judgment or decision.
  1. Sensitivity to higher values like truth, beauty and goodness and enlightened inner guidance for right living which will lead to a balanced, stress-free and harmonious life.
  1. Can become a channel and instrument for receiving the intuitions and inspirations of the spiritual consciousness beyond mind.

The Purification of Intelligence

  • In our ordinary status of ignorance this faculty of understanding is not functioning according to its dharma but involved in the action of the lower faculties like that of our physical, emotional and vital consciousness of the surface ego-personality. These lower faculties are supposed to obey the dictates of the intelligent will like a servant obeys his Master’s commands. But in our present status of ego-based desire-driven ignorance, master very frequently or most of the times forget his dharma and becomes an accomplice of his servants, who use him as a tool to provide rational justification to indulge in their desires. So the first step in the purification of understanding is to disentangle the faculty from its involvement in the surface play of the physical and vital consciousness.
  • The main reason for this entanglement is the very nature of our human terrestrial evolution which has progressed from matter and life to mind through a process of progressive emergence and integration. Life or vital consciousness has emerged from physical matter and was integrated into it and transformed it to become a living matter and mind has emerged from living mater and transformed it into a living and thinking matter. Thus our mental consciousness pervades our whole being. There is a physical mind, vital mind and a thinking, willing mind. The characteristic action of the physical mind is an obsessive repetition of habitual mental notions acquired from physical sense-perception. The vision of this physical mind is confined to a life bounded within the sensory perception of the brain. The vital mind brings an eager, restless and anxious pursuit of desire and emotional attachment into all our mental functioning. This vital mind is always ever ready to provide convenient justifications for the desires of our vital ego.
  • Beyond this physical and vital mind is the thinking mind. Here also there are two elements in this part of mind. There is an element of pure reason, which is capable of a disinterested pursuit of truth or knowledge and can range freely in the realm of pure abstract ideas. But there is a pragmatic element in this mind, which is oriented towards life and is always interested in utilizing knowledge for application, enlargement, utility and progress in life.
  • Though this higher part of the mind is capable of a relative freedom from desire, it is still subject to ego-sense. In the pure reason this ego-sense creates a strong intellectual attachment to certain ideas or ideals, pre-conceived notions, and an attraction towards particular forms of intellectual, aesthetic, ethical or aesthetic ideals or pleasures. Sometimes an inordinate desire of this part of the mind for a vast accumulation of knowledge for the personal pleasure or satisfaction of the intellectual ego is mistaken as a “disinterested” pursuit of truth.
  • In the pragmatic part of the intelligence, this ego-sense creates a strong inclination to use knowledge as a tool for personal enlargement, benefit and progress of the ego.
  • Intelligent Will, Buddhi has to be purified of all these gross and subtle traces of ego and desire¾this dark twins of ignorance are the source of all impurity¾and released from its entanglement in the functioning of other, lower forms of energies¾physical, sensuous, vital, emotional.

Disentangling the Intelligence

  • The first step in the discipline of purification is self-observation. We have to observe carefully the movements, workings, urges and natural inclinations of our physical, vital, emotional, thinking and pragmatic mind. We have to become fully conscious how our thinking intelligence is entangled with and constantly influenced by other and lower parts of the mind. And through a process of constant stepping back, detachment and misidentification we have to slowly and patiently disentangle the thinking mind and will from the mixture and influence of the physical and vital mind. For example when we are trying to arrive at a decision, judgment or conclusion or solving a problem we must observe how our emotional and vital preferences and desires or personal self-interests enter into it and colour, distort or influence our process of thinking. Similarly, we have to observe the working of the Budhi, the pure and highest intelligence in itself. We have to see how even our higher intelligence is subtly influenced by one-sided, fixed and mental, moral and spiritual notions which prevents it from perceiving the truth in its wholeness.

The Discipline of Concentration:

  • The second discipline needed for the Buddhi is concentration. Sri Aurobindo says purity and concentration are the two inter-dependent powers, each one aiding the other, needed for the perfection of Intelligence. An increasing purity enhances the quality of concentration and concentration on the divine truth help in purification of the buddhi by illumining it with the light of truth.

The Mental Silence:

  • But the most important discipline in perfecting the instruments of knowledge is the silencing of the mind. A settled, immutable peace, silence and tranquility in the mind are an unmistakable sign that a perfect purity is established in our mental consciousness. And only in an utter silence the steps of truth can be heard without any distorting interference.
  • There is a higher intuitive understanding beyond the intellectual understanding of the thinking mind. This intuitive understanding has a direct insight into the deeper truth of things bypassing logic and reason. But to awaken this intuitional intelligence, the intellectual understanding has to be stilled and learn to receive the higher intuition in a receptive silence.
  • Many methods are suggested in integral yoga to establish this silence in our mind. One way is to allow the thoughts of the mind to raise and play and dance as it pleases while one part of the mind takes the poise of the detached, non-interfering witness. Gradually, the thought-process slows down and at a certain stage comes to a standstill.
  • The other way which can be very effective for those who has a certain capacity of inner vision in the mind is to see the incoming thoughts as they try to enter into our mind, and throw them away with our will before they can enter and settle into our mind. When this discipline is persistently put into practice mind is emptied of its contents and becomes silent.
  • Third way is to visualize the all-pervading immobile silence of the spirit penetrating everywhere the ether of space and try to relax our mind into this silence.
  • The fourth way is to allow the thinking mind itself to arrive at the understanding that thought cannot know the truth by a choiceless and unbiased self-observation of our thinking process or by intuitive thinking. If the reasoning mind can be made to understand clearly the inherent contradictions involved in logical thinking process by which human logic can trumpet arguments for and against a proposition with an equally convincing felicity then the logical thinking mind may loose confidence in itself and become silent.
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