© Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust

Ideas and Thoughts
17 June 1953

"There is a true movement of the intellect and there is a wrong movement: one helps, the other hinders."

Questions and Answers 1929 (5 May)

What is the true movement of the intellect?

What exactly do you understand by intellect? Is it a function of the mind or is it a part of the human being? How do you understand it?

A function of the mind.

A function of the mind? Then it is that part of the mind which deals with ideas; is that what you mean?

Not ideas, Mother.

Not ideas? What else, then?

Ideas, but...

There is a part of the mind which receives ideas, ideas that are formed in a higher mind. Still, I don't know, it is a question of definition and one must know what exactly you mean to say.

It is intellect that puts ideas in the form of thoughts, gathering and organising the thoughts at the same time. There are great ideas which lie beyond the ordinary human mentality, which can put on all possible forms. These great ideas tend to descend, they want to manifest themselves in precise forms. These precise forms are the thoughts; and generally it is this, I believe, that is meant by intellect: it is this that gives thought-form to the ideas.

And then, there is also the organisation of the thoughts among themselves. All that has to be put in a certain order, otherwise one becomes incoherent. And after that, there is the putting of these thoughts to use for action; that is still another movement.

To be able to say what the true movement is, one must know first of all which movement is being spoken about. You have a body, well, you don't expect your body to walk on its head or its hands nor to crawl flat on its belly nor indeed that the head should be down and the legs up in the air. You give to each limb a particular occupation which is its own. This appears to you quite natural because that is the habit; otherwise, the very little ones do not know what to do, neither with their legs nor with their hands nor with their heads; it is only little by little that they learn that. Well, it is the same thing with the mind's functions. You must know which part of the mind you are speaking about, what its own function is, and then only can you say what its true movement is and what is not its true movement. For example, for the part which has to receive the master ideas and change them into thought, its true movement is to be open to the master ideas, receive them and change them into as exact, as precise, as expressive a thought as possible. For the part of the mind which has the charge of organising all these thoughts among themselves so that they might form a coherent and classified whole, not a chaos, the true movement is just to make the classification according to a higher logic and in a thoroughly clear, precise and expressive order which may be serviceable each time a thought is referred to, so that one may know where to look for it and not put quite contradictory things together. There are people whose mind does not work like that; all the ideas that come into it, without their being even aware of what the idea is, are translated into confused thoughts which remain in a kind of inner chaos. I have known people who, from the philosophical point of view--although there is nothing philosophical in it--could put side by side the most contradictory things, like ideas of hierarchic order and at the same time ideas of the absolute independence of the individual and of anarchism, and both were accepted with equal sympathy, knocked against each other in the head in the midst of a wild disorder, and these people were not even aware of it!... You know the saying: "A question well put is three-fourths solved." So now, put your question. What do you want to speak about? I am stretching out a helping hand, you have only to catch it. What is it you are speaking about, what is it that you call intellect? Do you know the difference between an idea and a thought?

Not quite.

Ah! That is the first hurdle. Can anybody here tell me? (To a child) You, do you know the difference between an idea and a thought?

A thought is something vague, more vague than an idea.

No, it is not a question of a vague thought in a vague mind or a clear thought when the mind is clear. It is not like that.

You said just now that ideas came from above and were translated into thoughts.

Yes, but how do they come from above?

From the higher parts of the mind.

Yes, but could you give me an idea and the thoughts in which it can be expressed? That is what I am asking. Can anyone give me an example? (Looking at a disciple) He is longing to speak. Tell us something, we shall see.

The manifestation of the Divine upon earth is an idea and the transformation is a thought.

Ah, you are a monist? If I am not mistaken, this is the principle of monism.

It is a thought of God that has made the universe, but now instead of a thought, we say an idea.

Has anyone something interesting to say?

(A teacher) In logic, it is said: "Mortality" is an idea, and "man is mortal", is a thought.

Now, have you understood the difference between idea and thought? It is clear. The idea is translated into all kinds of thoughts. They may be the most contradictory thoughts and the whole thing is to organise them in a coherent way. I think I have told you many times that contradictory thoughts may be found in union if one rises high enough, climbs towards the idea.... One could perhaps play at this little game, it would be very interesting. We have a thesis, we are going to find an antithesis, and then we shall find the synthesis.

Who will propose the thesis?... Ah! I am going to propose this immediately: "Man is mortal." The antithesis is: "Man is immortal." Now find the place where the two agree: the synthesis.

It is ignorance that prevents man from uniting with immortality.

It is a rather vague way of putting the thing. One could say it more intellectually. One could say: in his reality, man is immortal; and because of ignorance or of unconsciousness, he has become mortal. That's better? And then one can go a little further: Why is he immortal? Why is he mortal? And how being mortal can he become immortal?

Whatever the part of the being, whether it be the intellect or any other part, whether it is in the mind or the vital or anywhere else, the true movement is a double movement: first, it must not intercept the divine Truth in its manifestation, and secondly, it must help in its manifestation. A negative side, consisting in not being a screen, not intercepting anything, not blocking the passage of the divine force seeking to express itself; on the other side, to be sufficiently clear and pure to be able to help this manifestation.

One can apply this everywhere, it is very convenient. Voilà.


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