Understanding Universal Intelligence

Deepa Padhi – India


Deepa Padhi, International Vice President and Tim Boyd, International President of the TS-Adyar

The very concept of universal intelligence suggests that the universe is created by intelligent design. There is an intelligent principle working behind the universe and it exists for a purpose. The creation is teleological, not mechanical or coincidental.

 In order to understand universal intelligence, we need to know its source — the Universal Consciousness. It is not Absolute Reality. Pure Consciousness is the Absolute Reality which is eternal and unmanifested, whereas Universal Consciousness is manifested through matter. In Advaita Vedanta, Pure Consciousness is termed as brahman. When Pure Consciousness gets manifested as the underlying essence of all “being and becoming”, it is called Universal Consciousness. It is also named as avara, or God, and many other names in different religions. It is the real perceiver of all things and beings.

Universal Consciousness is the prerequisite of universal intelligence. Intelligence can work only through Consciousness. Universal intelligence is sometimes confused with human intelligence. If we go back in history, we find Aristotle defining intelligence as a means for executing power. In the 17th century René Descartes, a French philosopher perceived it in a different way. He believed that only human beings possess consciousness and therefore, can reason on their own selves and the world around. His famous statement is “cogito ergo sum”, meaning “I think, therefore I am”, or “My existence is dependent on my thinking”. Man is a thinking being, therefore he is superior to all the other creatures. In the 18th century Immanuel Kant had made the statement, “Some people are rulers and some people are slaves. Intelligence is the difference between them.”

In the 19th century it was thought that an artificial model can be made to hold intelligence like in mechanized instruments and engines. In the 20th century, it was amazing to see how intelligence could be stored in machines and utilized in the future. In the 21st century, we have found Artificial Intelligence, the applications of which we find in cars without drivers, and machines doing all sorts of work done in every sphere of human activity.

Now, we talk of different types of intelligence like intellectual, emotional, spiritual, artificial, and innate intelligence. Intellectual intelligence is used in measuring analytical skills, cognitive abilities, and for many scientific projects. Emotional intelligence is said to be expressed through our ability to manage, and also understand our emotions and that of others as well. Spiritual intelligence is a much higher dimension of intelligence beyond the “I”ness in the form of various virtues like love, wisdom, compassion, empathy, happiness, and peace. Through spiritual intelligence, one realizes the true meaning and purpose of life. In fact, the aim of spiritual intelligence is to strengthen interpersonal relationships and to bring about transformation of the individual from fragmentation to integration, from diversity to unity.

Artificial intelligence is the most talked about topic of the year. After the recent invention of “Google cars” or cars without drivers, robots are much talked about. When a human being drives a car, he has conscious feelings. But the car without a driver does not have a consciousness of its own. It is run by human intelligence, therefore it will be subject to error as human minds are. In the Bhagavadgitâ, it is said: “Intelligence is said to be the mind’s instructor, not its instrument.” Artificial intelligence can be considered as an instrument of human intellect, not intelligence. Innate intelligence is understood as the inherent power of matter which is a piece of universal intelligence. In the words of R. W. Stephenson, “The force which Universal Intelligence gives to organic matter as a higher order of its manifestations is called Innate Intelligence.”

All the types of intelligence except innate intelligence come under human intelligence. Even human intelligence is not the same as universal intelligence. It is limited though it is a dimension of universal intelligence. The Gitâ says: “Oh mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of mine which comprises all the living entities interacting with material Nature and are sustaining the universe.” (VII.5) This means universal intelligence is in all matter and constantly gives to it all its qualities and actions. In short, whatever is existent possesses universal intelligence in the form of innate intelligence.

According to Theosophy, there is nothing inorganic or without consciousness and intelligence in the universe. One finds in the Universal prayer: “O hidden life, vibrant in every atom, O hidden light, shining in every creature . . .” Here, life is consciousness possessed by every atom, and light is referred to as intelligence possessed by every creature. Now scientists have demonstrated that plants perceive the world in their own way. Quoting a scientist: “A plant may not have eyes, but it perceives light through photoreceptor proteins that cover its entire body and are nearly identical to the ones in our own retinas. It is as if the plant had tiny eyes all over its body. A plant knows when you are standing next to it and the colour of your dress. Even a blade of grass sees the world around it, takes decisions, and acts accordingly. Because of this reason, some philosophers have granted personhood to plants.” Recent scientific research has proved that small invertebrates like bees think and handle abstract concepts.

Therefore, intelligence is not restricted only to human beings and animals. Universal intelligence exists in every organic as well as inorganic matter. But the degree of intelligence varies from one form to another form of existence. As Arthur Young says, “God (Consciousness) sleeps in minerals, wakes up in plants, walks in animals, and thinks in human beings.” It is true of the universal intelligence also. Therefore, it is not that intelligence is possessed only by human beings because they are supposed to be the highest form of creation and having self-consciousness. And again, intelligence is not possessed equally by all human beings.

It is said in the Gitâ that though the all pervading power or intelligence is manifested in multifarious things, it is found to be more powerful in some than others, be it living or non-living. Lord Krishna, the symbol of Universal Consciousness and intelligence is said to be identified as Bhrigu among all rishis; among immovable things, the Himalaya; among warriors, Rama; and among rivers, the Ganga; and the list goes on in the Gitâ. (X 19–41)

Human intelligence is but one manifestation of universal intelligence. When we intensely become aware of universal intelligence and get connected to it, wisdom will unfold for working in this world. Examples can be found in the cases of scientists who come out with new inventions for the benefit of the world. Universal intelligence is the energy, executing power manifested in various forms such as love, compassion, generosity, happiness, empathy, understanding towards others, environmental stewardship, and other positive qualities. It guides the human intellect to work selflessly for the welfare of all, not only for human society but for all creation, as, again, in the words of the Gitâ, “sarva-bhuta-hite ratâh” — “for the well-being of all creation”. (V. 25)

In fact, in order to be clearer about universal intelligence, one needs to refer to the Sânkhya theory of evolution in Indian philosophy. Purusha is equated with Pure Consciousness and mulaprakriti is Primordial Matter. It is a state in which sattva, rajas, and tamas, the three gunas are in a homogeneous state. When the state of homogeneity gets disturbed by the presence of the Pure Consciousness, or purusha, evolution takes place. Purusha is the witnessing consciousness which illuminates all individual consciousness but is unaffected by the changes in gunas of prakriti and the material world. Self- realization is attained when this distinction is realized, and one gets detached from the shackles of prakriti, or the material world.

The first evolute is called mahat meaning “great”. Sattva guna (spiritual/ positive quality) predominates in this evolute. Being the evolute of Pure Consciousness, mahat is Universal Consciousness and also being the evolute of prakriti, or Matter, it is the Universal Intelligence, as it contains the essence of all manifestations. It can be said to be the tangential point between the Unmanifest and the Manifest. It is sâttvic and also called buddhi. Universal Consciousness by its very presence illumines Universal Intelligence to plan, project, execute, act, and achieve.

From mahat evolves ahankâra, or the ego, which means self-identity. From ahankâra comes out manas, or the Mind, the five jñânendriyas, or the sense organs, the five karmendriyas, or the organs of action, the five tanmâtras, or subtle senses, and the five mahâbhutas, or Great Elements. In all these evolutes, one finds the trace of Universal Intelligence, though in different degrees. Each and every creation, however small it may be, has some inherent power or potentiality, because of which a thing or being is what it is. That potentiality is the Universal Intelligence. However small a creation may be, it has some significance, it has some utility in the universe.

In Theosophy, mahat is called the “Universal Mind”, or the “Cosmic Ideation”. It is the Universal Intelligence which is not eternal as it ceased to exist in the manvantara, whereas Universal Consciousness is eternal. The mahat is used in various theosophical contexts. It refers to the Cosmic Principle of Intelligence, the Third Logos, and the Universal Mind which transforms Chaos into Order and through which the material world comes into being. It is also known as Cosmic Ideation. Everything that exists in the visible world has first existed as a state in the cosmic field of potentiality and everything emerges out of cosmic potentiality. Some consider it as an a priori principle. Universal Intelligence encompasses the wisdom beyond our individual minds and Nature itself.

In The Secret Doctrine, Madame Blavatsky expressed the idea that the Cosmic Mind is mahat, Divine Ideation in active, creative operation. Cosmic Ideation is equated with mahâ-buddhi and mahat. It is also the Third Manifested Logos. According to J. Krishnamurti, people of religious feelings, instead of using the word “intelligence”, have used the word “god”. Even David Bohm, the quantum physicist, was of the opinion that “It is a sort of metaphor, . . . god is intelligence . . . god means that which is immeasurable, beyond thought.” (J. Krishnamurti and David Bohm, Brockwood Park 1972, Dialogue — “On Intelligence”)

“The desire for this intelligence through time has created this image of god, Jesus, Krishna, or whatever it is, by having faith in that — which is still the movement of thought — one hopes that there will be harmony in one’s life.” (Ibid) The Aitareya Upanishad maintains that “Everything in the universe is guided by this Universal Intelligence, supported by this Intelligence, and established in this Intelligence.” This is because the universe has a purpose.

Human beings are highly intelligent. Only human beings can understand, explore, and experience the Universal Intelligence, as they have a developed consciousness which no other creations have. Therefore, only they can understand the purpose of the universe. All creations are connected with each other and with the universe as a whole. The universe sends us information but because of our restless, adulterated mind and the limited capacity of our brain, most of us are not able to understand its meaning. Within each one of us is the spark of Universal Intelligence in the form of innate intelligence of which we are ignorant. Each and every one of us has the potential to access the Universal Intelligence. One needs to go within to be in constant touch with the Universal Intelligence by focusing the mind, or through meditation. This helps in our individual spiritual practices and growth. We do not have to depend on the outer world.

It is through Universal Intelligence that one is able to achieve the purpose of life — to understand that “I am Universal Consciousness.” Here “I”, the individual being, or person, is the evolute of prakriti (Matter), or Universal Intelligence. Therefore, we can come to the conclusion that I, Universal Intelligence, is ultimately nothing but the Universal Consciousness. Universal Intelligence is not eternal, as it has its end with the end of the manvantara, but Universal Consciousness is eternal.


This article was also published in The Theosophist, VOL. 145 NO. 7 APRIL 2024

The Theosophist is the official organ of the International President, founded by H. P. Blavatsky on 1 Oct. 1879.

To read the APRIL 2024 issue click HERE

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