The word buddhi is an important term of Indian philosophical discourse, but some aspects of its use have caused confusion and continue to occasion difficulties. This paper undertakes a survey of the usage of the word buddhi (“intellect”) in general Sanskrit literature from its earliest late Vedic occurrences up to the middle of the first millennium CE. Signifying fundamentally “awareness (of something),” the word “buddhi” is shown to refer often to a being’s persisting capacity or faculty of awareness (“attentiveness, mind, intelligence,” etc.) and also, often, to the content of a being’s awareness (“idea, notion, thought, disposition, resolution,” etc.). There are also instances where it is hard to determine which of these two kinds of reference are intended in our written sources, and there are other instances where both senses seem present simultaneously. Various examples attest to the use of the word to refer to an affective and volitional capacity in a being—and to affective and volitional content—as well as to a cognitive faculty and cognitive content. One feature that occurs frequently in the word’s use is that this faculty and, or, its content, regularly describe alterations of a subject’s knowledge of the surrounding situation, the transformation of surrounding complexity or multiplicity into a simpler and more manageable mental construct—an understanding, an interpretation, a decision, a plan, etc. As the word buddhi is related to the primary Sanskrit word-family used to describe the concrete experience of awakening—moving from no (or little, or muddled) awareness to clear awareness—it is not surprising that its more abstract usage would often incorporate a similar dynamic, a transition from less clear to more clear knowledge, a rendering of early knowledge to better and more useful knowledge, in short, a faculty of “intellect” that produces refined decisions, resolutions, and determinations. It is suggested that this element of its semantic profile contributed to the word’s eventually becoming the preferred word for the most important of the mental functions of beings in one of the most widespread philosophical psychologies of ancient India, that which ultimately became formally enshrined in the philosophical system “Sāṃkhya.”
Journal of Indian Philosophy – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 6, 2017
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