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Buddhi is a feminine Sanskrit noun derived from the same root as the more familiar masculine form Buddha (< budh- to be awake, to understand, to know). Buddhi denotes an aspect of mind that is higher than the rational mind and that is attracted to Brahman (i.e., to "Truth" (sat) or "Reality" (dharma)). Unlike manas, which is a composite of mind and ego deriving from an aggrandized "I-sense" that takes pleasure in pursuing worldly aims and sense pleasures, buddhi is that faculty that makes wisdom possible.
In Samkhya and yogic philosophy both the mind and the ego are forms in the realm of nature (prakriti) that have emerged into materiality as a function of the three gunas through a misapprehension of purusha (the consciousness-essence of the jivatman). Discriminative in nature (बुद्धि निश्चयात्मिका चित्त-वृत्ति), buddhi is that which is able to discern truth (satya) from falsehood and thereby to make wisdom possible. It corresponds to the Platonic conception of nous. Just as nous plays a critical role in salvation in orthodox Christianity, so too does buddhi play an important role in liberation (i.e., enlightenment) within Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga.
Buddhi makes its first scriptural appearance in the Katha Upanishad (I,3), where it is compared in a famous simile to the driver of a horse and carriage. The reins held by the driver represent the lower mind (manas), the horses represent the five senses (indriya), and the carriage represents the body. Ontologically buddhi is equivalent to hiranyagarbha: it is to individual living souls (jivas) what hiranyagarbha is to the insentient phenomena of the universe. Buddhi is that dimension (or pole) of the heart/mind (chitta) that is attracted to Brahman. The other pole of chitta, manas, is characterised by ego-construction (or ahamkara) and by an attraction to form. Through identification with matter and desire for sensual pleasures (kama), manas causes the incarnation of Brahman into material existence as an individual soul. Through wisdom (prajña) and discernment (vitarka), buddhi leads the incarnate soul in the opposite direction, dissolving its identification with material phenomena, causing the cessation of corresponding worldly desires (vairagya), and eventually enabling it to attain liberation (moksha).
- See the writings of the Philokalia
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