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Treacherous Translations

We can ask anyone walking the street what intelligence is, and he will probably equate it to the result of an IQ test which is measured in various college undergraduate and postgraduate aptitude test examinations. Women do quite well in these tests. Most women do better than men in examinations and in school or college courses. But is that really intelligence? Is the mastery of vocabulary, arithmetic, and aptitude a sign of intelligence?

Prabhupāda often said that women are less intelligent. It is true. But to know what he was saying, we have to know what intelligence is and how it is different from the mind.

In this post, I will analyze the differences between Manas and Buddhi, which are translated as mind and intellect in English. However, the English connotations of mind and intellect are quite different from those of Manas and Buddhi. The translation of Manas as mind and Buddhi as intellect is deeply flawed, like many other Sanskrit-English translations. As we will see, the Manas has sensing capacity but the mind has never been a sense in Western thinking. The Buddhi is described as having five functions, of which doubt is the most important. But doubt and self-doubt have always been looked down upon in Western thinking. Finally, we will discuss why IQ doesn’t measure Buddhi. It measures the working of the mind. Hence, when people think about intellect, they think about IQ, but that is actually the working of the mind.

In this way, the entire discussion about intellect, specifically the differences between men and women vis-à-vis mind and intellect, is polluted by bad dictionaries drawing false equivalences, near total absence of understanding of what Manas and Buddhi are, equating intellect to IQ which is actually the working of Manas, and culturally looking down upon doubt as the hallmark of a person’s weakness when it is the real measure of intellect. When everything is so topsy-turvy, it is no surprise that so much ink has been spilled on this subject. But spilling some more electronic ink might help in putting this issue to rest.

Two Definitions of Intellect

BG 3.42 states: The senses are beyond the sense objects, the mind is beyond the senses, the intellect is beyond the mind, and the soul is beyond the intellect. SB 3.26.30 states: Doubt, correct apprehension, incorrect apprehension, sleep, and memory are the distinct characteristics of intelligence.

I will use the first statement to distinguish the mind from the intellect and then discuss the nature of the intellect through the next statement. In the following discussion, the term niścayaḥ, which is translated as “correct apprehension”, and Buddhi, which is translated as “intellect” will reappear a few times, but no other Sanskrit terms will be used. I will clarify their meanings as and when I use them again.

The Nature of the Mind

The mind is the sense for perceiving meaning in another mind. For example, when someone who has behaved adversely in the past talks nicely to you, you want to know the true intentions behind the change in behavior. When you talk to a person who is saying something you don’t presently understand, you want to figure out what they are really thinking. On some occasions, when someone is talking about their feelings, you want to understand what they are feeling or have felt in the past. Due to these three reasons, the mind-sense performs three main activities, namely, thinking, feeling, and willing.

  • The thinking faculty of the mind tries to understand the meaning in someone’s mind.
  • The feeling faculty of the mind tries to understand the feelings in someone’s mind.
  • The willing faculty of the mind tries to understand the intentions in someone’s mind.

Once we know the thoughts, feelings, and intentions, then we try to judge if the thoughts are true or false, the feelings are good or bad, and the intentions are right or wrong. The person talking nicely to you may have the intention to cheat you—which is wrong. The person saying something that you don’t understand may be thinking something inconsistent—which is false. The person talking about their emotions may be feeling miserable—which is bad. The job of the mind is to collect thoughts, feelings, and intentions and the job of the intellect is to judge if they are true, good, and right respectively.

The Nature of the Intellect

To judge if something is true, right, and good we have to have a system of beliefs about the nature of truth, right, and good—which are stored in our memory. Generally, if something matches those beliefs, we judge it to be true, right, and good—which is niścayaḥ, translated as “correct apprehension”.

By comparing something with our beliefs, we are not apprehending the objective truth, right, and good. We are apprehending that it is true, right, and good according to my belief system. If my belief system is incorrect, then I will apprehend something as true, right, and good, even as it is false, wrong, and bad. Therefore, niścayaḥ or “correct apprehension” is about me thinking that it is true, right, and good, rather than knowing that it is indeed true, right, and good. After all, it is my intelligence, so it is my judgment.

Similarly, if something contravenes my beliefs, then it is going against my belief system, and therefore, I will judge it as false, wrong, and bad. Again, it is my judgment, not the objective true, right, and good.

Sleep is that state when my intellect is not working. It may be because I have in my memory the idea that such and such person is a cheat, but at the moment I forget his cheating tendencies and just trust what he is saying. Or, I may know the counterarguments to someone’s claim but at the moment I cannot recall them so instead of realizing that he is lying I just accept his claims. Or, even if I know that a person has done bad deeds, and he is suffering due to those bad deeds, at the moment I forget about those deeds and just feel compassion for him. These are marks of a dysfunctional intellect, which is sleeping.

Finally, since my correct and incorrect apprehensions are just my judgments and not the objective truth, I might occasionally question my own beliefs—i.e., if they are indeed true, right, and good. That is doubt. When doubt arises, then there is a potential for changing the beliefs, which will then be stored in the memory, and which will then be used for subsequent judgments of truth, right, and good. Doubt is the best marker of intelligence as it leads to rapid evolution in beliefs based on questioning our beliefs.

What Women Are Good At

The things that are normally tested by an IQ test—the capacity for recalling vocabulary, doing arithmetic, or solving puzzles—are neither part of the sensing capacity of the mind, nor the judging function of the intellect. They are the creative capacities of the mind. The mind is both a perceiver and a creator.

The mind has a memory shallower than the intellect which is used for creative functions. For example, when I memorize arithmetic multiplication tables, the spellings of words, word-meaning dictionaries, the rules of grammar, historical dates and events, the names and faces of people, formulas used in physics, the pending tasks I have to finish, the phone numbers of family members, the names of plant and animal species, the rules of the road to be followed before a car driving test, the birthdays and days of key events, etc., then I use the mental memory. This memory is not the memory used by the intellect.

IQ tests check mental memory and the creative function of the mind. All day-to-day professional jobs depend on mental memory and the creative functions of the mind. IQ tests check a person’s ability to memorize information and use it to perform a job function effectively and efficiently. That has nothing to do with the sensing function of the mind, nor is it related to the functioning of the intellect.

Women have highly developed minds, often much better than men. I have earlier written about how men are from the Sun and women are from the Moon (to contrast it to the sexualized idea of men are from Mars while women are from Venus). Women have excellent mental memories, creative functions of the mind, and sensing mental capacity. Women can read people’s thoughts, intentions, and feelings much better than most men. But that is not intellect. Recall that the intellect is beyond the mind. Recall that the primary symptom of intellect is doubt because it leads to the revision of one’s belief system.

What Women Are Bad At

Women are poor in questioning, doubting, and suspecting their beliefs. A woman is always right. She cannot be wrong. Men, on the other hand, have a lot of self-doubt. In an argument between a man and a woman, the man will generally doubt himself and give the benefit of the doubt to the woman. A woman, on the other hand, will generally never doubt herself and will never give the benefit of the doubt to the man. Of course, I’m generalizing and stereotyping. The point is to overstate the difference between men and women so that we can talk about the general tendencies rather than exceptions to those rules.

Women perceive a man’s tendency toward self-doubt as a lack of self-confidence. Hence, they seek men that have no self-doubt. Women think that a man who has no self-doubt is the best man. Of course, those are generally the worst kinds of men. But women fall for men who are self-assured even if they have really bad beliefs. A woman’s attraction toward a man without self-doubt is a woman’s attraction toward bad men who have no qualms because those men’s intellects have stopped working. Their absence of self-doubt, their sense of self-assuredness, and their absence of questioning their beliefs are markers of dysfunctional intelligence. And yet, women are attracted to precisely these qualities.

An intelligent person is one who doubts himself or herself, seeks answers to those doubts, and changes his or her beliefs to those that are actually true, right, and good before he or she arrives at niścayaḥ or the apprehension of correctness. Simply believing that one is correct without previously correcting one’s belief system through doubt, critical self-examination, seeking and questioning, and analyzing every issue from numerous angles to arrive at a conclusion that is indeed correct, is just stupidity. But women are attracted to men who always have niścayaḥ or the belief that their judgment is indeed right.

What is Less Intelligent?

Thus, a woman is called less intelligent and subordinated to a man. This is for two primary reasons. First, she is attracted to a man who has no self-doubt and always acts self-assured, which is self-destructive for a woman because men without self-doubt and with self-assuredness are generally the worst kinds of men. Second, she misjudges the presence of self-doubt and the absence of self-assuredness as the lack of self-confidence within a man and abandons the good man and seeks a reckless self-assured man.

Therefore, when Prabhupāda said that women are less intelligent, he was correct. Women are less intelligent because intelligence is not the mental capacity for memory, sensing, and creating measured by the IQ test. Intelligence is very specifically the capacity for self-doubt, self-examination, and self-correction resulting from self-questioning and self-analysis, which women are generally poor at.

Now, we have to also understand that most men at present are poor at these traits too. The traits of self-questioning and self-analysis are the result of sattva-guna but in this age, both men and women are in tamo-guna. Neither men nor women have well-developed capacities for self-doubt and self-correction. They abhor any kind of criticism. If their flaws are pointed out, they retaliate violently. Both genders at present are corrected mostly by external forces, circumstantial compulsions, and inescapable suffering. Therefore, men with artificially inflated chests can relax and breathe out. They are not much better than women. At present, there is very little difference, if any at all.

BG 9.32 calls Vaisya, Sudra, and women pāpa-yonayaḥ or life forms where numerous sins are done, and people destined to live in these stages of life are the results of sinful activities. Then again, everyone is considered a Sudra in this age. Therefore, because most men are at most Sudras, therefore, they are also in the same category as women. The fact that women are called less intelligent doesn’t necessarily mean that men at present are much better. Both men and women can be less intelligent, can’t they? Any objective analysis based on the presence of self-doubt and inquiry driven by self-analysis of our beliefs will establish that fact without a doubt.

Utterly Hopeless Situation

The misunderstanding of the issue of intelligence in men and women is due to:

  • People don’t analyze the Manas-Buddhi divide as they are expected to.
  • They assume that mind-intellect is exactly equivalent to Manas-Buddhi.
  • The mind is not known to have sensing capacity in Western thinking.
  • The three types of sensing capacities are simply out of the question.
  • The five divisions of the intellect are neither known nor ever discussed.
  • The distinction between mental and intellectual memories is unknown.
  • The highest importance given to doubt is culturally looked down upon.
  • The working of the mind is measured as IQ and equated to intellect.
  • Buddhi is called intellect in English, but the two are not the same.

The biggest culprit in this debacle is the Sanskrit-English dictionary created during the colonial period by people in a rush to debunk the Vedic civilization and establish the superiority of the Christian civilization. Whatever they vomited on paper as a dictionary has become the absolute truth for generations to come.

People in a rush don’t have the patience to ask: What is Manas? What is Buddhi? Why is Manas called the sixth sense? What are the different kinds of things being sensed by the Manas? Why does Buddhi have five divisions? How are the five divisions of Buddhi working cooperatively? Why is the Buddhi called superior to Manas? Why is there even a distinction between the Manas, Buddhi, and Atma?

As we have noted, the hallmark of a less intelligent man is the absence of self-doubt and the presence of self-assuredness without critical examination of his beliefs, assumptions, axioms, and claims. The colonial study of the Vedic system, including its byproducts as dictionaries, perfectly fit the bill of less intelligent men trying to establish the superiority of Christianity without even studying the alternative. How dull a man has to be to create word-meaning equivalences across languages without figuring out what each word means in a language? Such dullness is the hallmark of colonial studies.

Here is my advice to people studying Prabhupāda’s books. Don’t assume that because Prabhupāda translated Manas as mind, and mind means so-and-so in the West, therefore, Prabhupāda meant the same thing. Prabhupāda has used the same bad dictionaries he was given. When he says “mind”, he is talking about Manas, not what “mind” means in the West. When he says “intellect”, he is talking about Buddhi, not what “intellect” means in the West. When he talks about “sense” he is talking about Indriya which are subtle and not the organs which is what everyone assumes is meant by “sense” in the West. If you can do it, then there is some hope. Otherwise, the situation was already hopeless and it will remain hopeless.