The direct or immediate perception or awareness, without rational thought, of a truth or situation. But more commonly it denotes an integrative capacity to see things in their larger totalities. It also plays a central role in spiritual development and is, in fact, often identified as a spiritual faculty itself and must not be confused with various forms of extra-sensory perception.
Intuition as a valued faculty has been known since ancient times. PLOTINUS, for example, identified three ascending types of knowledge: opinion, science (scientia), and illumination. Quoting him, Helena P. BLAVATSKY writes that he explained this by saying that “the means or instrument of opinion is sense, or perception; of science, dialectics; of illumination, intuition (or divine instinct). To the last, reason is subordinate; it is absolute knowledge founded on the identification of the mind with the object known” (IU I:434). IAMBLICHUS similarly spoke in his treatise De mysteriis of “‘a faculty of the human mind,’ . . . ‘which is superior to all which is born or begotten. Through it we are enabled to attain union with the superior intelligences, to being transported beyond the scenes of this world, and to partaking the higher life and peculiar powers of the heavenly ones’” (ibid., p. 435; also quoted in CW XI:253).
In Buddhism, the faculty of intuition is termed prajña, usually translated “wisdom,” but literally suggesting “insight,” a word often used as a synonym for “intuition.” PRAJNA is considered to be a form of consciousness that sees things as they are, transcending mental processes. It is the sixth of the “perfections of wisdom” (prajñaparamitas) in MAHAYANA BUDDHISM. Of it, D. T. SUZUKI states in his Essays on Zen Buddhism, “Without Prajña, there could be no enlightenment, which is the highest spiritual power in our possession.”
Although the term “intuition” is commonly used to refer to a hunch or “gut-feeling,” it is used in theosophical literature in a very different sense. The former could be due to extra-sensory perception (ESP), which belongs to the personal level of consciousness (physical brain, emotions, lower mind) and may have survival value (such as sensing danger); it is a faculty human beings share with many animals, such as cats, dogs, and horses. Researches on earthquake prediction, for instance, have shown that animals can sense the coming of major earthquakes even prior to detectable tremors. J. B. Rhine in collaboration with his wife, Louisa, once did ESP experiments with a horse named Lady (pub. in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1929). Of such phenomena, Gottfried de PURUCKER wrote, “An intimation of the sixth sense is what we call hunches that such and such a thing is right or wrong, or the thing to do or not to do. This is not intuition, however, for it is lower than intuition: it is a hunch of a feeling of things that are coming. It might in one sense be spoken of as a form of clairvoyance” (Fountain Source of Occultism, TUP, 1974, p. 241). Actually, the way ESP terms are now defined, it could be either telepathy, clairvoyance, or precognition, depending on the situation involved. But it would not be intuition in the theosophical sense of that term.
In theosophical literature, intuition (or prajña) is a faculty found in buddhic consciousness, BUDDHI being the sixth principle (counting “upwards” from the physical body) in the classification of the human septenary nature (see Human Constitution). One of the purposes of meditation is to bring about a silence of the outer levels of consciousness, including the tendency of the mind to “chatter,” so that one’s awareness is focused in the intuitive or buddhic consciousness, termed prajña. In the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, this awakening of prajña is achieved in samadhi, often mistranslated “trance,” the eighth stage in the practice of YOGA.
The obstacles to intuitive perception (whether the term is used in the common or in the theosophical sense) are mental distractions and biases (e.g., preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, prejudices against people, ideas, or things) and conditioned emotional reactions (e.g., fear or resentment). They either interfere with intuitive perception or color it to such an extent that it is not reliable. Practices, therefore, that make one aware of such reaction patterns — such as non-attachment, mindfulness, or recollectedness in daily life — help one in arriving at a state of inward calm and clarity, conducive to intuitive perception.
Theosophical writers strongly advocate the awakening of intuition. Helena P. BLAVATSKY wrote in the Key to Theosophy, “Our duty is to keep alive in man his spiritual intuitions.” The deeper teachings of the Mahatmas are said to be accessible only through this faculty. For example, the Master KOOT HOOMI wrote to Alfred P. SINNETT that “it was never the intention of the Occultists really to conceal what they had been writing from the earnest determined students, but rather to lock up their information for safety-sake, in a secure safe-box, the key to which is — intuition” (ML, p. 141). Blavatsky also wrote:
It is . . . the only faculty by means of which men and things are seen in their true colours. It is an instinct of the soul, which grows in us in proportion to the use we make of it, and which helps us to perceive and understand real and absolute facts with far more certainty than can the simple use of our senses and the exercise of our reason. What are called good sense and logic enable us to see the appearance of things, that which is evident to everyone. The instinct of which I speak, being a projection of our perceptive consciousness, a projection which acts from the subjective to the objective, and not vice versa, awakens the spiritual senses in us and the power to act; these senses assimilate to themselves the essence of the object or of the action under examination, and represent them to us as they really are, not as they appear to our physical senses and to our cold reason. (CW XI:253)
In a series of articles that appeared on The Path regarding replies of unidentified Sage, the following were suggestions regarding the awakening of intuition:
First of all by giving it exercise, and second by not using it for purely personal ends. Exercise means that it must be followed through mistakes and bruises until from sincere attempts at use it comes to its own strength. This does not mean that we can do wrong and leave the results, but that after establishing conscience on a right basis by following the golden rule, we give play to the intuition and add to its strength. Inevitably in this at first we will make errors, but soon if we are sincere it will grow brighter and make no mistake. We should add the study of the works of those who in the past have trodden this path and found out what is the real and what is not. (CW IX:400-H)
George ARUNDALE, the third International President of the Theosophical Society (Adyar), suggested in his book You that it would be helpful for one to enter into a moment of inner silence before making any decision, whether minor or major, and seek inward clarity about the situation before acting. Repeated experiments with this, he said, will enable a person to distinguish better between a whim (or emotion) and intuition.
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