Bhakti Yoga Meditation

Hindu Philosophy of Intellect

In Hindu philosophy, the Upanishads use the metaphor of a chariot to explain the importance of the human intellect.

chariot metaphor

On a chariot there is a driver and a passenger. The passenger has no knowledge or control of the chariot's journey, nor does he interact directly with the driver. In the driver's hands are reins attached to the bridles of several horses. With the reins, the driver is guiding the direction of the chariot, which is continuously moving on a path.

The chariot is a metaphor for the human body. On the chariot (body) is a passenger, who represents the the soul. The driver is the intellect. The soul doesn't have knowledge or control over the decisions the intellect is making, but due to the presence of the soul, the intellect has life energy and is active. The reins and bridles represent the mind. The horses represent the senses, which are constantly gathering sense impressions in the world. The path represents our human life.

This metaphor is a recurrent theme in Hindu philosophy. Our senses are constantly gathering impressions of the external environment. These are transferred to the mind. The mind then transfers them to the intellect for analysis. A decision is made if something serves our self-interest or not, if it is desirable or detrimental, good or bad. Accordingly the intellect decides to move in a particular direction. Like the charioteer, the intellect controls the direction of our life through its understanding and decisions.

What role does the soul play? In Hindu philosophy, we learn that apart from enlivening all our material "machinery" (body, sense, mind and intellect), the soul is also giving a message to the driver (intellect). The soul has a natural and continuous desire for divine unity. It expresses this longing every moment. A reflection of this enters the intellect in a distorted form. The intellect simply feels: "Something is missing." This subtle discontent and need for something more, combined with its current understanding, causes the intellect to direct the chariot of our existence in a particular direction to find happiness.

On its own, the intellect doesn't understand the source of this inner discontentment. This is one of the greatest unsolvable riddles of human existence. Knowledge of the source of and also the solution to our inner discontentment has to be explained to us. The answer lies in spiritual knowledge found in Hindu philosophy -- because the origin of our longing is spiritual and divine. The source of and the remedy for this longing is described by true Saints who have realized divine happiness. Three factors have to come into alignment for true spiritual progress:

  1. The soul's longing
  2. A true Saint's knowledge
  3. Your intellect's understanding
When we join our intellect with the intellect of a true Guru, we can properly guide the chariot of our life on a path to divine happiness.