The Phenomenon of Intelligence

Holistic Health Series

Resource Note # 10

In modern psychology, intelligence is a general descriptive term that describes a hierarchy of mental abilities – from simple perceptual processes and information processing to higher forms of problem solving, reasoning, abstract thinking, comprehension of ideas, and use of language. 

The basic and discrete mental abilities are placed at the lowest level of this hierarchy. These include the ability to recognize words and their meanings in the verbal realm, or to see how puzzle pieces fit together in the perceptual realm, or to understand how objects are rotated in space. At the middle level of the intelligence pyramid are the broader, cohesive groups of abilities that include verbal-comprehension intelligence (a group of abilities that is focused on understanding and reasoning about verbal information), and perceptual-organizational intelligence (a set of abilities focused upon recognizing, comparing, and understanding perceptual patterns). At the highest level, general intelligence (g) involves abstract reasoning.

The Sanskrit term for intelligence is Buddhi, which derives from the root “bud” that means “to perceive” or “to become awake.” Buddhiis the power of intelligence that enables people to discriminate the actual nature of things from mere appearances or speculations. Its main function is to help people to understand/discern the true & the real from the false & unreal.

Intelligence serves as the door that links the outer and sensory world of the mind-body complex with the inner world of consciousness. It is the commander that is responsible for determining the line of action. Intelligence is the executive part of the personality that decides what the individual must do or pursue, and also provides the requisite knowledge to be able to do so. The mind and body are mere instruments of intelligence; they simply execute its orders.

Intelligence is a part of the mind, and is “above” mental events at the same time. As it develops and evolves its capacity to make decisions that disregard the impulses and impressions flowing through the lower mind, buddhiincreasingly separates itself from the activities of the manas. As a result, the person may witness mental events without being involved in them.

Eventually, there emerges a kind of vantage point that exists above and beyond the hectic activity of the train of thoughts is often referred to as “thinking.” This provides a point of observation from which the verbal activity of the mental plane may be seen. This supra-mental level of pure reason, intuition and wisdom functions unimpaired by the distractions of sense impressions or the preoccupations of a narrow, personal ego. The “mind” is then transcended.

In its superior form, intelligence thus represents the will & intent of the individual to seek the truth and to realize his/her objectives & ideals. It also provides ethical standards for behavior. 

Intelligence = Intellect + Intuition

Intelligence has a dual capacity, depending upon whether it is directed outwardly or inwardly. Functioning externally through the senses, intelligence manifests in the form of the intellect. On the other hand, when intelligence functions internally through the deeper consciousness, it is expressed as intuition

Intellect is the concrete or objective side of intelligence that is based upon the senses, and uses reason to determine the truth. Through the process of detached observation, it is able to derive accurate conclusions about what is trueor realand thereby solve problemseffectively. 

Intellect emphasizes outer distinctions, rules and identities. It constructs the idea of the external world as reality, notes the various names and forms, and places these into categories and hierarchies. The mechanistic view of the universe as well as the materialistic view of life both emanate from the intellect.

The concrete side of intellect allows people to grasp external objects, while its abstract side enables them to comprehend ideas. The concrete side tells the individual that the particular object that we see is a man, a horse, a house, or whatever it may be. Through its abstract side, the person recognizes the qualities and values of the object as well as its truth or worth. The concrete side of intellect produces science, while its abstract side creates philosophy.

On the other hand, intuition represents the power of inner perception. It refers to the person’s capacity to obtain direct knowledge or immediate insight, without the mediation of observation or reasoning. Intuition takes the internal to be the real, and perceives the transient world of names and forms as comparatively unreal. By means of intuition, the person can go beyond random beliefs and preconceptions in order to discern things and situations as they truly are.

Intuition brings keen insight into the impermanent nature of all external reality, and does not attach the individual to fixed names and forms. By transcending the sensory apparatus, it helps to reveal the true essence of phenomenon. Through intuition, people learn to perceive the consciousness that lies at the base of all the shifting movements of matter and energy in the external world. Intuition liberates the person from outer belief structures, authorities and institutions. It provides the person with a glimpse into the reality of his or her true nature, which transcends time and space.

The heart is the seat of intuition, while the intellect operates through the brain. Through the intellect, people understand the functioning of the external world and deal with the practical realities of everyday existence whereas the intuition helps to generate self-knowledge & greater understanding of oneself. Intelligence functions best when these two work in tandem.

The Functions of Intelligence

The main function of intelligence is to determine the truth. It does so in three ways: a) perception; b) reason; and c) testimony


Direct perception is the main way that people determine the nature of objects. It allows the individual to identify the enduring reality behind variety of shifting sensory impressions. The capacity of the sense organs to perceive comes from the working of intelligence. Right functioning of the senses depends upon their alignment with intelligence, which frees them from emotional distortion and brings into them the clarity of awareness.

Intelligence allows the person to differentiate what the objects actually are (reality), from what he or she would like them to be (imagination). Just as objects in the external world are perceived through the senses, so can the individual perceive sensations, thoughts and emotions through the buddhi. However, when the intelligence functions inadequately, it results into distorted or erroneous perception. One thing is mistaken for another, just as a rope in the dark is confused with a snake. This creates errors, misconceptions and wrong judgments.


Intelligence governs the inductive, deductive and retroductive methods of reasoning. It allows people to compare their impressions, and arrive at a greater truth – such as deducing fire from the presence of smoke. All the principles, ideals and systems of measurement that shape the perceptions and guide the actions of the people also come from intelligence. In its wrong function, intelligence causes false reasoning or rationalization – through which people sometimes try to justify what is false or illusory. In its vitiated form, intelligence turns the instrument of truth into one of self-justification – and shuts off the process of real learning.


Intelligence governs the ability of the individual to listen and heed to the advice of others. The ability to learn comes from right listening. Wrongly functioning, intelligence makes peoples deaf to advice or words of good counsel. True intelligence is the friend, philosopher and guide that authentically declares the truth as he or she knows it to be.

Sound has the ability to convey knowledge of the invisible and transcendent. On the ordinary level, it can convey knowledge of other times and places. On a higher level, it reminds individuals of the knowledge that is inherent in their being. While the Higher Reality is not known to the outer mind, its knowledge resides in the heart and may be awakened.

The Development of Intelligence

Intelligence, or buddhi, is the cognizant aspect of consciousness that serves to articulate and clarify it at the same time. It allows people to become aware of the contents of consciousness, which otherwise lie hidden and unperceived. Buddhimay be said to evolve in three basic stages. 

The first stage of development is that of a crude perceptive discrimination, which simply reacts to the impressions coming onto the screen of the lower mind (manas). This represents a primitive kind of judgment, which only decides whether something is good and pleasurable or bad and distasteful. This preliminary discriminative capacity is subject to the influence of non-reasoning powers like strong memories, emotions or instincts, which actually govern its response. In this primary stage, the functioning of intelligence thus remains subservient to internal urges and impulses as well as the circumstances in the external environment.

Beyond this elementary understanding which influences most of the lives of most of the people, the second and more sophisticated stage of the development of buddhiis associated with the power of reasoning in order to arrive at a plausible and stable concept of reality as well as a coherent philosophy of life. It is basically pragmatic, and involves an intellectual framework that permits purposeful & rational organization of activities.

This second stage of buddhihas the capacity to select or assemble a set of ethical standards for morality. It also provides a “will” that is based upon what is expedient and serviceable for functioning in the external world, and at the same time is compatible with acceptable standards of conduct and behavior. It can decide on a set of aesthetic values (ideas of beauty and ugliness), and is able to construct a coherent network of opinions as well as a reasonable notion of what one’s purpose should be. It is found in genuinely cultured and educated people.

The third and the highest stage of the development of buddhiis concerned with the dispassionate pursuit of pure truth. The decisions of buddhiat this highly mature stage are uncompromising and cut through all illusion – even that which is considered socially acceptable and ethically admirable. It increasingly reflects the immutable and transcendent laws of nature and the universe, which are those simple and unifying principles that bring meaning to life and coherence to understanding. Very few people are found to be able to actually use this highest capacity of the intelligent instrument with any degree of purity.

While buddhiappears to move through a process of evolution, it is equally true that this “crown jewel” of discrimination always lies within the persona & waits to be uncovered, cut & polished before it reveals itself in all its brilliance. Either way, pure buddhimakes a gradual appearance – much like the statue that is slowly unveiled as the sculptor chips away at the marble block.

Transcending the Mind

Numerous images appear on the screen of manasall the time. Some of these reflect past experiences that were pleasant, which generate an urge for repetition. Others images represent unpleasant experiences, the memory of which leads to an urge to avoid similar situations. 

In this situation, the intelligence orbuddhimay choose one of two possible courses. The first course is to yield to the pressure and influence of strong impulsive urges, habits or emotions. The Buddhi forfeits its decision-making function, while the memories or sensory impressions on the screen of the lower mind themselves dictate the course of action The faculty of reason is overwhelmed, and the concern for the overall welfare is thereby abandoned. Habit and instinct are allowed to predominate, and the mind gains an upper hand.

When past impressions are thus allowed to determine one’s response to a given situation, it leads to the creation of new memories or impressions that are essentially identical with the old. In fact, these weigh heavier and get more deeply imbedded in the unconscious memory bank. These impressions then return at a later time with an increased valence and a more powerful influence. In this way, preferences become desires – which in turn become addictions.

The other option is for Buddhito step outside the chain of cause and effect. By maintaining a detached and objective attitude towards these stimuli or memory traces, Buddhican allow them to simply pass away and dissipate. Or it may acknowledge the existence of these lower motivations, but nevertheless decide not to remain caught up in that cycle of action and reaction determined by previous programming. By thus choosing a relatively independent course of action, Buddhiasserts its authority over the realm of impulse, instinct, and habit. 

By using its full potential in this manner, intelligence acquires the property of “will.” Every time that the buddhichooses to step free of prior programming, it becomes stronger.  A sharpened buddhithat decides not to fall in with the cause and effect of previous programming provides the most direct tool for disentangling oneself from psychological problems.

Western psychology postulates an inevitable and uncomfortable struggle between the interests of the individual and the interests of society. The implication is that the individual cannot grow and expand his/her identity to the point that the interests of the individual coincide with those of society. It is assumed that they must remain in opposition to one another to some extent.

However, the development and use of Buddhieventually lead to a point of view where one’s own interests are not in conflict with the interests of others. As consciousness approaches a unity, the concerns and needs of all people actually become identical. What is good for the individual is a part of an overall evolutionary process that includes all those around him or her.

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