THEOSOPHY, Vol. 92, Winter 2003-2004
(Pages 5-11; Size: 15K)


[Article number (25) in this Department]

How does the intellect affect spirituality?

Like naturalists who have known that all the beauty of life can be seen in a single blade of grass, philosophers and mystics have long claimed that we do not need to travel far to discover inner spirituality. In Chapter 47 of the Tao Te Ching (an ancient Chinese text ascribed to Lao-Tzu, translated here by Stan Rosenthal): "The Tao may be known and observed without the need of travel; the way of the heavens might be well seen without looking through a window. The further one travels, the less one knows." Similarly, Tolstoy is reputed to say, "The more we live by the intellect, the less we know the meaning of life."

The question of how intellect affects spirituality is many faceted. Mind, or the thinking principle, is at work, but who or what thinks? The reincarnating being, the immortal part of us, follows the path of discovery. In The Key to Theosophy (pp. 183-84), H. P. Blavatsky calls the real Ego "individualized thought," that which informs the mind. What is the nature of the intellect in this formula? Tension in the intellectual pursuit of spiritual development is not easily resolved in theosophical discussions, which in themselves can appear highly intellectual, particularly to newcomers. In theosophical study groups world round, conversation about spiritual endeavor strains under the weight of logic and analysis. Yet, at heart, we are simply learning about who we really are. Along these facets of inquiry, several theosophical students weigh the question of intellect and its effect on spirituality:


The teachings of theosophy posit a dual universe, with a spiritual component and a material component. Because the universe itself is dual, everything in it is dual as well -- including man, including mind, and including that aspect of mind known as intellect. (The dictionary defines intellect as the faculty of mind by which one knows or understands, as distinguished from that by which one feels or wills. It is the capacity for thinking and acquiring knowledge.) The dual facets of intellect correspond to the two aspects of mind or, in Sanskrit, manas -- lower and higher.

In The Ocean of Theosophy (p. 54), William Q. Judge explains the difference: Lower manas uses the human brain to reason from premises to conclusions. Higher manas uses intuition, which "knows and does not depend on reason." The lower intellect is nearest to the principle of kama (desire) and, if not guided by the higher intellect, tends downward and becomes cold, heartless and selfish. The higher intellect is closest to the two highest principles in our nature -- buddhi (spiritual insight) and atma (spirit itself, the deity within).

The purpose of life is to fulfill the will of the divine spark that shines at the center of our being. All our powers and faculties are intended to be used for that end. The divine will is eternally emitting the message of love and compassion. Ideally, the higher intellect receives its bidding from the spirit within and smoothly and efficiently conveys it to the lower intellect, which promptly and accurately passes the message on to the rest of the lower nature where it is translated into tender feelings, gentle speech, and kindly acts. When this happens, the intellect enhances the flow of spirituality onto the plane of action.

Unfortunately, in most people today that spiritual pathway is disrupted. The higher intellect cannot convey the promptings of the inner divinity to the lower intellect, because that intellect is so thoroughly engrossed in the pursuit of sense gratification, ego aggrandizement, wealth accumulation, and all the other countless selfish desires. Exquisitely sensitive to every noise of the material world, the lower intellect is utterly deaf to the voice of the silence within. Without the beneficent influence of its higher guide, it transmits its fiery, tumultuous but oh-so-paltry message of selfishness to the rest of the lower nature where it takes the form of anger, greed, envy, harsh words and hurtful acts. In this case, the intellect blocks the flow of spirituality onto this plane of action.

To restore the human condition to one of harmony and balance, a two-fold mutually supportive effort must be undertaken. The higher intellect must once again become dominant and assume its proper role as guardian of the lower intellect. The lower intellect must surrender its selfish will and allow itself to become subservient to the higher intellect. This is what has been fully accomplished by the great masters of wisdom, in whom the powers of the higher and the lower intellect have been entirely developed and, in concert, made the happy and efficient transmitters of the divine will of the deity that shines in their own hearts and in the hearts of all creatures.


It has been said that anyone who can produce a work such as The Secret Doctrine must have an enormous intellect. What do we mean when we refer to a work as an intellectual treatise? There seems to be an underlying or implied quality that is somewhat incomplete as well as nebulous in this reference. The course of evolution has placed humanity at the stage where manas, or mind, is incarnating but has not fully done so at this time. The principle of mind manifests a quality or power that is not yet complete. How then are we to understand the seeming contradictions that are expressed through the various ramifications of intellect?

In occultism, the mind is dual, with reason at the low end and illuminated expression at the highest level. This suggests different degrees of conscious awareness. We have the power of reason because of the incarnation of mind through evolution. The mind has the power of choice but the quality of these choices depends on the degree of influence the moral or Buddhic nature is allowed to exercise in the process. Ignorance is better than head learning without soul wisdom to illuminate and guide it (Voice of the Silence, p. 28). This duality of mind is expressed further in The Secret Doctrine (Stanza VII, ii 163):

Great intellect and too much knowledge is a two-edged weapon in life, and instruments for evil as well as for good. When combined with Selfishness, they will make of the whole of Humanity a footstool for the elevation of him who possesses them, and a means for the attainment of his objects; while, applied to altruistic humanitarian purposes, they may become the means of the salvation of many. At all events, the absence of self-consciousness and intellect will make of man an idiot, a brute in human form.
Every soul therefore must mount the ladder of being and journey with discrimination, from testimony to hypothetical opinion; then by dialectic to first principles and by self-visive energy or divine reason to direct perception, which Patanjali describes as looking directly upon ideas (Book ii, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali). When direct perceptions are brought back consciously and shared with humanity, they contribute to the realization of truth by all and a harmonious head and heart motivated by compassion is the way to this realization.


The human intellect is a faculty that distinguishes us from other forms of life, making it an important component of our progress or evolution. We are thinkers and live in our thoughts to a great extent. The human intellect is that aspect of the mind, according to theosophical teaching, that is connected to and dependent on the body, more specifically the brain. It is made of "perceptive and retentive faculties yet of finite memory" (HPB article, "Genius"). It needs cultivation if not to become confused and unreliable. This is in distinction to the "higher mind," which does not need cultivation per se, but is illuminated by our immortal soul from within. We see this mind at work in the faculties we call conscience and intuition. Direct perception of a truth without the use of the usual brain intellect that demands collecting of facts, comparison, categorization, logic, etc., we see expressed in the music of a Mozart at a young age with virtually no prior training or even the ongoing testaments of many scientists whose breakthroughs in their fields first come through a flash of intuition while awake or in dream. It is after that they often spend years through the use of intellect in experimentation and observation proving to others, according to scientific method, what they already know to be true. [Note: A link to HPB's "Genius" article has been placed at the end of this one.--Compiler.]

It is through the intellect that we come into contact with the outside world via the five senses. But how we make sense or meaning out of all this has to do with the ideas that we hold about ourselves and life in general. Since all the ideas held in the intellect either come from without -- worldly views and conclusions based on logic, derived from surface experience, or from intuitive perception reflecting the universal truths of life -- we need a way to discern one from the other. This is where a philosophy like theosophy can be a real aid to us. It becomes apparent that the intellect is an amoral faculty that is dual, like fire which can burn or warm, and can be used for good or evil purposes, aiding us in our evolutionary journey toward light and understanding or eclipsing our spiritual faculties and blinding us to the deeper realities of being. A true philosophy accounting for all our inner and outer faculties is essential to our understanding of ourselves. At its best, the intellect is the tool we use to eventually bring higher insights into the realm of worldly knowledge bridging the gap between the spiritual and material life.

In less complex and less technological times, there was not such an emphasis on the intellect. People were naturally more in tune with nature; they couldn't help but be more dependent on the natural cycles to give them their cues in life. But with the highly artificial environments we have created today, we've lost the seeming necessity for this kind of knowledge and awareness. One expression of this is our preoccupation with analysis and specialization. Our intellectual development has its positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, we have filled a great data bank concerning all sorts of things. Yet with all our so-called knowledge, we find the world in moral crisis. Our intellectual evolution seems to have stunted our moral progress. And so we see our intellectual prowess being applied to how we can build more destructive weapons or how to invent more powerful chemical medicines rather than how to solve our problems without killing each other. Our out-of-control use of oil, electricity, chemicals of all sorts, has created much of the disease that plagues us. The growing cancer rate as well as dependence on mind and mood-altering drugs tells the story. Also, the attempts by the advertising industry to psychologize us into thinking we need certain products to have a happy and meaningful life is a deviant use of our powers of intellect.

The intellect is also used on behalf of a better more civilized world. It is the intellect that designs beautiful public spaces like the new Disney Center for the performing arts in Los Angeles. It is intellect that tailors human and equitable public policy and that creates almost everything that celebrates life. When we allow it to be informed in the spirit of the oneness of life through the higher impulses of the heart and the visions of the spiritualized mind (buddhi-manas) and not the conglomeration of lower impulses that clutch and claw at the earth then the intellect is truly an instrument of spiritual progress.

Note: For those who would like to read it, here's the link to HPB's article, entitled "Genius", that was quoted from in the above article by the 3rd student.--Compiler.

Next article:
(Spring 2004)
[Article number (26) in this Department]

(Compiler's note: I will scan, proofread, and post the 26th article here once it's published in the Spring 2004 issue, and I receive my hard copy in the mail. I received my Winter 2003-2004 issue on April 8th [I received it very late only because it got lost in the mail and they had to send me another one when I finally told them about it], so three months from then will be July 8th [of course it will probably be nearer to a date in the middle of May if the postal system works OK, as it usually does], using this as an approximate date of reference as to when I will receive the next issue of THEOSOPHY magazine. Meanwhile, here's the link to the location on the "Additional" articles Index page where you can see the "Nine Groupings of Articles" that I'm currently working on, little by little, which this 9th grouping is in. You will see a link to each grouping's index page, a notation of how many articles are currently finished in each one, as well as a notation showing you the particular department that I'm presently working in. When the approximate May date comes around, if you see that the next article has already been done, number 25, but you don't see it when you come here, all you have to do is click on your system's Reload or Refresh button in order to bring this page up to date. Click on the link just below this paragraph to see the full listing of all the articles in this department.)
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