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BUDDHI (from Sanskrit budhto wake up, to awaken, to perceive, learn) is the intellectual aspect of mind (antahkarana) whose other aspects maan and humai are intertwined with it in close interrelationship. Its nearest English equivalent may be "intellect".

Maan (Sanskrit manas) as the receptacle of sense - impressions from sense-organs, organizes them into precepts, yet it has doubt of indetermination about them. Buddhi defines and ascertains them and brings about definite and determinate cognition. Maan simply assimilates sense-impressions; haumai (or ahankara) self-appropriates the apperceived impressions, while buddhi determines their nature, categorizes them and welds them into concepts. Its function, then, is to bring about certainty and definitiveness in knowledge. Definitive apprehension might spur action. Thus it is buddhi which resolves to act and then guides the ensuing action.

A fundamental categorization of precepts as also of ensuing actions concerns their moral import. The deftness with which buddhi does that is variable. If it can exercise acute ethical discrimination, it is known as bibek buddhi (discriminative intellect). That can happen only if it has become God-centred. On the contrary, if it remains self-centred (aham buddhi), then it remains morally confounded and unable to discriminate.

Bibek buddhi in Gurbani, Guru’s utterance, has also been called sar-buddhi (the essential intellect), tat buddhi (the real intellect), bimal or nirmal buddhi (unclouded, clear intellect), bal buddhi (powerful intellect), mati buddhi (the counselling intellect) and sudh buddhi (pure intellect).

Aham buddhi has also been called chapal buddhi (the unstable intellect), buddhi bikar (foul intellect), malin buddhi (turbid intellect), nibal buddhi (weak intellect), durmat buddhi (perverse intellect), and phanin buddhi (the deluding intellect).

This moral bipolarity of the functioning of intellect stands out in relief in gurbani. In its decadent form, buddhi wastes itself in vain, egoistic pursuits: kaunu karam mera kari kari marai—for what reason does it die proclaiming mine! Mine!? (GG, 1159). However, when through evolution it ascends up the ethical scale (buddhi-pragas), it flowers into bibek buddhi which is a divine attribute: tu samrathu tu sarab mai tu hai buddhi bibek jiu—You are omnipotent, you are all-pervasive, you are the discriminating intellect (GG, 761). However, if it begins to undergo the process of devolution (visarjan) down the moral scale, buddhi becomes delusional intellect (phanin buddhi).

Buddhi, also called akal (Arabic ‘aql) in gurbani is considered to be an instrument for serving the Divine purpose and acquiring merit: akali sahibu seviai akali paiai manu—by wisdom is the Lord served; by intellect is honour attained (GG, 1245). By contrast, buddhi in its decadent form is not only infirm but also arrogant, which makes it despicable:

Some are devoid of intellect, or sense, or comprehension

And understand not a syllable.

Such folk, saith Nanak, as fill themselves with pride.

Without merit are asses pedigreed.

(GG, 1246)


1. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

2. Avtar Singh, Ethics of the Sikhs. Patiala 1970

3. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990

4. Jodh Singh, Gurmat Mirnaya.Lahore, 1932

Above adapted from article By J. S. Neki