Four Powers of Intuition

Many of us have at times felt those influences and inspirations which express themselves through us as scientific breakthroughs, poetic verses, stirring musical compositions or great works of art. According to Sri Aurobindo, these moments of inspiration are actually the secret workings of the four powers called Revelation, Inspiration, Intuition and Discrimination. These powers can be consciously cultivated through the practice of Integral Yoga. This post describes these four powers.

Background

In the cosmology of Sri Aurobindo, derived from ancient scriptures and his spiritual experience, the Universe has seven planes of consciousness. At the level of the Mind, there is a division into four planes based on the nature of the illumination that the plane provides to the mind of Man. As human beings, we embody the planes of Mind, Vital and Matter. The higher planes of the Superconscient open up to us when we practice Yoga. See Cosmology and Constitution of Man.

Normally, we function mostly at the level of the Thinking Mind – we reason, we question and we imagine. At times, we have flashes of brilliance where we suddenly solve a problem and/or invent new ideas. All this is, however, a haphazard and error-prone process. A Yogi goes beyond this rudimentary mental action by consciously cultivating a new way of thinking – a wider consciousness illuminated by Light; he/she first silences the normal functioning of the mind and ascends to these higher planes of mental consciousness where the mind becomes naturally endowed with the faculties which we describe below.

Four powers of Intuitive Mind

The four powers we mentioned above belong to the plane of the Intuitive Mind. They can be described as follows:

Revelation: It is as when one sees an object and knows what it is, even if sometimes one cannot put a name on it. This is the direct vision of the truth without the need of observation of the object, reasoning, evidence, imagination, memory or any other of the faculties of the intellect.

Inspiration: It is as when a one hears the name of a thing and by the name itself, without seeing the thing, comes to know its nature.

Intuition: This is the faculty by which true knowledge hidden in the mind reveals itself to the judgment and is recognised at once as the truth. It is as when one has forgotten something one knew to be the fact, but remembers it the moment it is mentioned again.

Discernment: The power which distinguishes the truth and suggests at once the right reasons for its being the truth; it makes at once the necessary limitations and distinctions and prevents intellectual errors from creeping in or an imperfect truth from being taken for the whole truth.

These four powers are reflected in the ordinary mind as the powers of perception, imagination, reason and judgement as seen in the table below.

Power Reflected in thinking mind as
Vedic term Explanation
Revelation (Drishti) Perception Ila Analogy of a vision seen by the inner eye.
Inspiration (Sruti) Imagination Saraswati Analogy of a voice which speaks in you
Intuition (Smriti) Reason Sarama You feel as if you knew it all along.It is as if a latent memory rose to the surface.
Discernment (Viveka) Judgement Dakshina You instantly know the reason for something to be true.

Vedic description of these powers

The table above also shows the corresponding Vedic symbols for these four powers. What do the Vedas have to do with these faculties or powers? The Vedas, according to Sri Aurobindo, describe the spiritual journey of a Yogi and all symbols and verses within the text can be interpreted in this light.

In the context of these four powers of Intuitive Mind, we read in the Vedas about the coming of Usha(Dawn), which is the illumination which descends on a Yogi after spiritual practice. With the coming of this Dawn, there also comes Dakshina (power of discernment) or Sarama (power of intuition). Sarama is the power which breaks open the subconscient within us and releases the illumination concealed by the improper action of our senses. With further progress, we also gain the powers of Ila (revelation) and Saraswati (inspiration).

Further reading

For further perusal, here are passages from various texts which discuss these four powers:

In the Synthesis of Yoga, chapter on the four powers/gradations

The thought of the intuitive mind proceeds wholly by four powers that shape the form of the truth, an intuition that suggests its idea, an intuition that discriminates, an inspiration that brings in its word and something of its greater substance and a revelation that shapes to the sight its very face and body of reality. These things are not the same as certain movements of the ordinary mental intelligence that look analogous and are easily mistaken for the true intuition in our first inexperience. The suggestive intuition is not the same thing as the intellectual insight of a quick intelligence or the intuitive discrimination as the rapid judgment of the reasoning intellect; the intuitive inspiration is not the same as the inspired action of the imaginative intelligence, nor the intuitive revelation as the strong light of a purely mental close seizing and experience.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – II: The Gradations of the Supermind

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Notes made by Sri Aurobindo in his Record of Yoga

You must first of all get the Intuition and Discrimination to take up the ordinary work of mind, because they alone among the Vijnana faculties can give all the circumstances about the Truth. Otherwise Drishti and Sruti [will be distorted], because the reason will try to interpret them in the light of the circumstances as they are understood rightly or wrongly by the human mind. Even the Intuition and Discrimination will be at first distorted by the action of the reason, imagination, wrong judgment, wrong memory etc. Intuition and Discrimination have to go on working and getting stronger and surer until they are able to clear out from the mind the other activities and themselves take up the whole work. As they increase in Force and Light, the other two will begin to act of themselves. When these four faculties or any of them are applied to the things of thought, ideas and knowledge generally it may be called Jnanam or Divine Thought. When these four faculties are applied to the facts and events of the material world the result is Trikaladrishti, which means the direct knowledge of the past, the intuitive knowledge of the present and the prophetic knowledge of the future. To have it properly, it is necessary that there should be no desire or personal interest in the result or any trusting to reasoning, inferences, speculation etc.

Sri Aurobindo, Record of Yoga – II: Sapta Chatusthaya – Scribal Version

Description in Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual program – Sapta Chatusthaya

Vijnana Chatusthaya

supp368b

Satyasya dŗştih śrutih smrtih pratibodha iti jñānam.

Vrtte tu karmalni ca satyadharma eva jñānam

Jnana is of three kinds, jñāna of thought, jñāna of experience (realisation or pratibodha) and jñāna of action or satyadharma.

Jnana of thought consists of three powers:

1. Drsti, revelation or svayamprakāsa.

2. Śruti, inspiration.

3. Smrti, consisting of: (a) Intuition. (b) Discernment.

Sri Aurobindo, Record of Yoga – I: Sapta Chatusthaya

Vedic Description

Ila is also the word of the truth; her name has become identical in a later confusion with the idea of speech. As Saraswati is an awakener of the consciousness to right thinkings or right states of mind, cetantī sumatīnām, so also Ila comes to the sacrifice awakening the consciousness to knowledge, cetayantī.

As Saraswati represents the truth-audition, śruti, which gives the inspired word, so Ila represents dṛṣṭi, the truth-vision. If so, since dṛṣṭi and śruti are the two powers of the Rishi, the Kavi, the Seer of the Truth, we can understand the close connection of Ila and Saraswati.

Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda: Saraswati and Her Consorts

In the wide-shinings of the Dawn they rise; for Dawn is the illumination of the Truth rising upon the mentality to bring the day of full consciousness into the darkness or half-lit night of our being. She comes as Dakshina, the pure intuitive discernment on which Agni the God-force in us feeds when he aspires towards the Truth or as Sarama, the discovering intuition, who penetrates into the cave of the subconscient where the niggard lords of sense-action have hidden the radiant herds of the Sun and gives information to Indra. Then comes the lord of luminous Mind and breaks open the cave and drives upward the herds, udājat, upwards towards the vast Truth-Consciousness, the own home of the gods. Our conscious existence is a hill (adri) with many successive levels and elevations, sānūni; the cave of the subconscient is below; we climb upwards towards the godhead of the Truth and Bliss where are the seats of Immortality, yatrāmṛtāsa āsate.

Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda: The Ashwins, Lords of Bliss

More light on Cosmology – how faculties of the Intuitive Mind correspond to Supermind

There are three layers of the Supermind corres­ponding to the three activities of the Intuitive mind.

  • Intuition: First is what I call the Interpretative Supermind. I call it interpretative because what is a possibility on the mental plane becomes a potentiality on the Supramental plane. The Interpretative Supermind puts all the potentialities before you. It shows the root cause of events that may come true on the physical plane. When intuition is changed into its Supramental value, it becomes Interpretative Supermind.
  • Inspiration: Next comes what I call the Representative Super­mind. It represents the actual movements of the potentialities and shows what is in operation. When inspiration is changed into its Supramental value then it becomes this Representative Supermind. This is not the highest Supermind. You know certain potentialities working and in many cases you can say what would happen, or how a certain thing happened or can happen. But there may be no certainty.
  • Revelation: Finally there is the Imperative Supermind which corresponds to Revelation. It is always true as nothing can stand against it. It is Knowledge fulfilling itself by its own inherent power.

[A.B. Purani, Evening Talks With Sri Aurobindo, 15th Aug, 1923]

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