The mental intellect receives impulses through the senses, organises them, and trues to determine what is true based on that. It then builds hypotheses, theories and ideation around its assortment of perceptions, memory, and experience based on various principles of symbolic logic that it has developed. The mind is a dealer in symbols, and its knowledge is therefore indirect.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes various forms of ‘knowing’, with that of the mind being a ‘separative knowledge’. True knowledge is ‘knowledge by identity’ a direct knowing that is the basis of the seeking undertaken by those who practice yoga. These practitioners recognise that anything based on separation, fragmentation and symbolic manipulation is truly a lower formation and not a knowledge of the Divine in its full effulgence.

It is important for the mind to become aware of its limitations, to see the framework within which it operates, and to organise its actions effectively within that framework. This is a basis for ensuring that the mental consciousness knows that it cannot either fully appreciate nor judge that which falls outside its normal scope. This provides a process of receptivity for higher forms of knowledge to come into the consciousness and be accepted, without the mind interfering or diluting this knowledge through its process of fragmentation and analysis, which, while having their own proper role and place in the actions of the being in the world, are ill-suited to undertaking the spiritual quest.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Its [the intellect’s] function is to reason from the perceptions of the mind and senses, to form conclusions and to put things in logical relation with each other. A well-trained intellect is a good preparation of the mind for greater knowledge, but it cannot itself give the yogic knowledge or know the Divine — it can only have ideas about the Divine, but having ideas is not knowledge. In the course of the sadhana intellect has to be transformed into the higher mind which is itself a passage towards the true knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Mind, pp. 240-245

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.