Three Types of Intelligence

image via thought sanctuary

Here in the West, Intellect is paramount. If you’re not an athlete or an artist, you’d better have Good Brain, because Good Brain will get you places, and make you Big Buck. And maybe the desire for Big Buck is the real problem here. But that is a thought for another day. Today’s thought is about Good Brain. Or rather, how we think about that. Osho has a lot to say about that. And he says a lot of it in a book called Intuition: Knowing Beyond Logic.

In the East, there is another understanding of Intellect. Intellect, in certain Eastern traditions, is not necessarily equivalent with Good Brain. In fact, in certain Eastern traditions, Good Brain is not a thing any more so than Good Heart, or Good Lung. The brain, in these traditions, is just another organ of the body, doing its job, and not such a big deal. No more pride is taken in its performance than is taken in a beating heart, or a breathing lung.

In other words, in Eastern traditions, Intellect is just one type of intelligence among others. Not equivalent with Big Brain or Small Brain. It just is.

Other types of intelligence in these certain Eastern traditions, which are equally important if not more so, include Instinct and Intuition. There are more types, but for our purposes here and now, we are going to stick with three: Instinct, Intellect, and Intuition.

Let’s take a quick look at each one of these, and try to get a bit of a handle on them.

Instinct: the Intelligence of the Body

We’ve all experienced Instinct. It’s the ability of the body to know what it needs, when it needs it. Hunger and thirst are two primary examples. As adults, we recognize a feeling in the body that tells us the body needs food. We know it as the feeling ‘I’m hungry,’ and we know that feeling doesn’t mean ‘I’m about to die’, or ‘I’m starving’, but rather that the body simply is low on resources and needs a refill. If the body were about to die of hunger or thirst, we’d be feeling something else entirely. Something most of us have never felt, but would surely recognize if we were to feel it. That’s Instinct.

And of course, as children, we don’t know any of this. As very young children, hunger and thirst cause distress, and make us cry. We cry because we don’t understand. Not intellectually, anyway. We understand on a primitive level — the level of instinct. We know we need something, something we can’t get on our own power. We are powerless, and we cry out, trusting that our cry will be answered.

Other examples of Instinct might be the compulsion to run from danger, to lie down and sleep when exhausted, and to get up and say ‘hi’ to that fine-looking specimen lighting up our attraction/repulsion receptors with green lights flashing ‘yes – attraction!’ But that, too, is a subject for another day.

Intuition: Intelligence Beyond the Body

Intuition is a bit harder to grasp than instinct, but it is graspable. It’s the feeling that we know something when we don’t necessarily know how we know it. It’s not an instinctive feeling communicated by the body. Nor is it an intellectual knowing. It’s simply known. It’s known at a base level of understanding that is not accessible via the intellect, but is sometimes describable by the intellect. Intellect looks at this feeling and articulates it (when it can). It justifies it, or denies it, but fails to perceive the source of it, because it is not connected to this source. Nor is Instinct, the intelligence of the body.

Intuition rises from a place that is not within the body or the mind. But some part of the body-mind is capable of knowing it, in some way, because there exists a connection between them/it and the source from which Intuition rises. We call it a gut feeling. A sixth sense. We label it our Conscience. We ask ourselves what our heart says. We might look at a thing logically, and disregard the logic, saying “My head says [this] but my heart says [that]. And we do ‘that’ instead of ‘this’, and feel right about the result no matter the result. That is intuition. And intuition is that, and much more than that. Intuition is much more. We just know.

Intellect: the Mediator Between

And so intellect, the place where too many of us spend too much of our time, is the place where mediation between instinct and intuition occurs, if it occurs at all. It may be that it doesn’t occur at all, and that depends almost entirely on how dug in Intellect is. Intellect is rational, logical, scientific, and doesn’t like to give ground to anyone or anything that is not provable in the laboratory. There is nothing wrong with intellect. Intellect is beautiful, profound, powerful, purposeful. It just knows very little about Instinct. And absolutely nothing about Intuition. And that’s a shame.

Intellect is not all-knowing, or perfect. It is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. And it needs to be given its rightful place. That place is not at the top of the hierarchy, but in the middle. With a role to play, not a kingdom to rule. It needs to know its limits.


I depend on ‘dana’ (generosity) to keep Discovering Nonduality alive. Dana is not a payment for goods or services, it is a gift freely given from the heart. It supports the continued teaching, and conscious company.

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