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I was told that intuition is not to be cultivated in Buddhism. Intuition is blind and not to be followed. Following something blind can be quite dangerous.

At the same time, there is a book called 'Intuitive Awareness' by Ajahn Sumedho. So I'm confused now which one is the correct one. The more mindful you are, more things are opening up, you understand more things, some answers just come without any reasonable explanation.

Can someone explain Buddhism's view on intuition? Thanks.

  • Hi Steve and welcome to Buddhism SE. You are asking a good question. There is just one thing. Asking about one's experience tends to be opinion-based which this format is not suited for. I changed the last sentence in your question to better reflect the stack exchange format. Feel free to correct it if it can be improved. – Lanka Aug 7 '15 at 10:58
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This is probably just a case of a word having many (conflicting) uses.

Intuition is an elusive word. It seems we often associate it to a kind of feeling about something. Because that "kind of feeling" is also elusive and could be pretty much anything, it may be regarded as unreliable. Perhaps this explain why you were told it is not something to be valued.

However, intuition can be used to describe not-so-elusive kinds of knowledges, like tacit/implicit/non-verbal knowledge we all use daily (e.g. intuitively knowing where the north is, or how to solve a puzzling problem).

Finally intuition can also mean some kind of immediate knowledge of reality. I found the following dictionary descriptions interesting:

  1. direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.
  2. a fact, truth, etc., perceived in this way.
  3. a keen and quick insight.
  4. the quality or ability of having such direct perception or quick insight.
  5. pure, untaught, noninferential knowledge.

This description is close to wisdom (but in Buddhism, it's a little more specific than that: see paññā/vipassanā, yoniso manasikāra and yathā bhūta ñāna dassana). And wisdom is something that has been systematized in Buddhism: there is both a large body of practice and evaluation. One can speak of attainments, higher and lower wisdom. One can identify when one's wisdom is lacking, and when it improved. Finally, one can practice to develop it.

"Mere intuition", on the other hand, as just "some feeling", has a high risk of being just this: a mere feeling. And mere feelings are often wrong. And once wrong or right, we are lost as to why. To explain it, one ends up creating some sort of (creative) theory or borrowing from some religious tradition or superstition ("the channeling with spirits was not clear", "I ate meat at an inappropriate time", etc.), which further tax one's beliefs, and might bring one closer to the blindness referred to.

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Buddhism likes reason and origin, pratityasamutpadaPratītyasamutpāda which tells that nothing happens without a reason. I do not think any sutta contains the term intuition, what Buddhism is interested in is pratityasamutpada when arriving at conclusions. The scientific method also has reason, but is more rigid than pratityasamutpada. More open and more realistic framework of pratityasamutpada can discover more than what scientific method discovers. If your current scenario fits with this frame pratityasamutpada, you can agree with it.

Simply I agree with Ajahn Sumedho, even without reading the book, that is via intuition. First of all we have six senses, not five senses. We cannot forget the mind. People should agree with the mind, the correct mind. You are more successful when using the mind because you cover a wider range, you are using your all six senses. I think you should continue according to the book. Some sources tell the sixth sense is intuition, but I am not sure whether mind in Buddhism and intuition in psychology, both being the sixth sense in respective fields refer to the same. I have read a lot of psychological stuff; books, articles and quotes etc. And I have a fair knowledge in basic Buddhism also. From what I have read, in a psychological or cognitive sense, there is no clear definition or agreed upon definition on intuition. I have read so many bad things on intuition in an organizational behavior textbook while Albert Einstein, Immanuel Kant and other great men have praised intuition a lot. If you go to mbti classification, most of those so called great men are intuitive types.
I have not met intuition in a Buddhist source so far, but it is a good thing when backed up with some reasoning and experience of the individual. In a psychological sense, some men are gifted with intuition, they already know things, so they can read between lines, avoid choosing a tree over the forest and learn faster and move ahead faster. When you mediatate, when you read stuff, when you practice stuff, your intuition develops. You know more things and you have it in practice. Such a developed intuition can be believed and it should be chosen over a few ordinary tangible things we see at the moment, because intuition covers an wider range of experiences and knowledge. But yeah the people who don't have a developed intuition should not trust it, but when it is developed, should trust it. Intuition is not blind but very powerful when it is backed up with experience and knowledge which are mostly acquired via the other five senses. In fact, if you do not trust the intuition, you will stagnate. So move ahead reading and practicing the book. Hope you got some clarification.

  • Thanks all for your reply. I too think intuition is pretty illusive word. When someone encounters a situation, his normal reaction is like this. But in other occasion, one pauses for a moment instead of responding immediately. In this moment of quiet mind, he knows how to respond appropriately for that particular situation. This extends to other human being, instead the habit of judging someone immediately, he pauses for a while and look inward. – Steve Aug 7 '15 at 9:36
  • The moment of pause makes him perceive the reality more ‘as it is’, more balance view instead of negative judgemental attitude during a conversation toward a stranger he just met, for example. With silence, understanding over a situation or a person is more, preconceived notion is less but also accompany with a ‘hint’ as to how to appropriately respond to that situation or person. I don’t know how to call this experiences, is this an intuition or something else? Does anyone know if this kind of experience explained in the Sutta? – Steve Aug 7 '15 at 9:37
  • I do not know whether intuition is found in any sutta. But generally, intuition corresponds to the big picture and interrelationships. It can be correct or incorrect, the thing is people have good, bad or neutral attitudes on things. But an optimistic or greedy mind tends to see only the good as the first hint or picture, a pessimistic or a mind with too much aversion will first see a hint of bad things only. An ignorant mind will notice nothing. So I think intuition differs from person to person in various degrees, but it does not show the right picture, but may give a part of the picture. – seeker Aug 8 '15 at 13:09
  • I like how you say that intuition develops as we develop. I would say this is like cognitive development from Concrete Operations to Formal Operations to Post-Formal. Larger and larger part of the mind all working in unison. "Recruiting". – user2341 Aug 8 '15 at 16:25
  • Thank you and I can agree with all you said. I think intuition corresponds more to Post-Formal operations. – seeker Aug 9 '15 at 9:15
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As I see it, Awareness consists of Conscious awareness and Unconscious awareness. Countless things are going on in our minds all the time that we are not conscious of, yet they can come to consciousness when needed. A visual model would be an Iceberg: most of it is below the waterline, like most of our sensing and cognition is not conscious to ourselves. (The 'unconscious' is conscious of itself and knows what it is doing. Animals, for example, have barely any 'consciousness', yet they function just fine.)

As people develop, they grow in consciousness, such that more and more of their awareness is known to their conscious mind, as if the Iceberg was to slowly rise from the water until it was mostly or entirely in the air. Realized people do this.

Intuition, then, is simply that your 'unconscious' (the bulk of your mind) is doing its job of sensing, filtering and assessing below decks and sometimes it sends an alert to your conscious mind, which you are free to ignore (at your peril). It is not infallible but it is the best thing we have for staying safe and happy, until we become more fully Realized. Make sense?

This is related to the idea of Recruiting, where as we develop, we can use larger and larger proportions of the mind / brain / consciousness / whatever and awareness deepens, widens and becomes more full and less about sequentially processing ideas. See the movie LUCY. There is a nice post about: Recruiting "points of view in the mind" out there.

A simple example: I was walking in the woods with someone when I suddenly stopped and stooped down to peer at a spider that was about 3 mm across (1/8 inch). My friend asked how on earth I had noticed it while walking on a sandy, rocky, leaf-strewn path without looking down, and that most people could not have seen the blessed thing even if they were looking right at it! (I am over 6 feet tall). I said, "it was moving and it caught my eye." Since I try not to step on things in my walks but I don't wish to spend all my thoughtpower on that, I have developed a "process" that looks for things throughout my visual range (spiderwebs?) and notifies me. You could call it Intuition as much as anything else.

What has this to do with Buddhism? "I have no idea" (from the movie LUCY). See my profile also.

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