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HomeExpanded ConsciousnessTrue Intelligence Does Not Derive From Thought: Adyashanti

True Intelligence Does Not Derive From Thought: Adyashanti

True intelligence does not derive from thought. True intelligence uses thought.
Thoughts are just moving through Consciousness. They have no power. Nothing has reality until you reach it, grab it, and somehow impregnate it with the power of belief.”~ Adyashanti

Intelligence and Thought: A Philosophical Conception

In the words of Adyashanti, a spiritual teacher hailing from the Zen tradition, “True intelligence does not derive from thought. True intelligence uses thought” (Adyashanti, n.d.). This statement encourages us to reconsider our understanding of intelligence and the nature of thought, separating them as distinct entities where one is not necessarily the progeny of the other. In conventional terms, intelligence is often seen as a product of thinking, reasoning, and learning. Yet, in the paradigm proposed by Adyashanti, intelligence is independent of these, employing them merely as tools.

One might argue that thought is not the progenitor of intelligence, but rather an instrument through which intelligence operates. Intelligence, in this sense, becomes a sort of meta-awareness, a capacity to direct, manipulate, and apply thought effectively. This idea is somewhat reminiscent of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which suggests that intelligence is not a single, homogenous entity, but rather a collection of distinct types (Gardner, 1983). This viewpoint opens up the possibility that intelligence may not necessarily be reducible to the mental operations we typically associate with ‘thinking’.

To understand this perspective, it’s important to contemplate the nature of thought itself. Descartes, the famous philosopher, famously asserted, “I think, therefore I am” (Descartes, 1637). This suggests the importance of thought to our sense of self, to our being. Adyashanti’s viewpoint, however, pushes beyond this conception, suggesting that thought is not the central facet of our existence, but rather something that simply moves through our conscious awareness. This idea aligns with various mindfulness and meditation traditions, which teach that we are not our thoughts but rather the observer of them (Kabat-Zinn, 1994).

Consciousness: The Grand Stage of Thought

Adyashanti further articulates that “Thoughts are just moving through Consciousness. They have no power”. Here, consciousness is portrayed as a kind of grand stage, upon which thoughts come and go. Thoughts, within this frame of understanding, are transient entities, ephemeral actors in the play of existence, contributing to the overall narrative but devoid of inherent power or control. This interpretation corresponds with Eastern philosophies like Buddhism, which encourage a mindful, non-attached relationship with one’s thoughts (Hanh, 1999).

In contrast to the Western tradition, which often identifies individuals with their thoughts, Eastern philosophy often posits an ontological difference between the self and its thoughts. This perspective treats thoughts as temporary occurrences within the field of consciousness, a notion that aligns with Adyashanti’s teaching. Adyashanti’s stance, in this regard, underscores the need to dissociate our identity from our thoughts and encourages us to view ourselves as the expansive consciousness that provides the stage for thought, rather than as the fleeting thoughts themselves.

While it’s clear that thoughts can influence our actions and our perceptions of the world, Adyashanti’s interpretation suggests that this influence is not innate but granted. In other words, thoughts become powerful when we give them power, when we allow them to shape our reality. This resonates with cognitive psychology’s view of cognitive distortions, where thoughts can skew an individual’s perception of reality, creating maladaptive beliefs and behaviours (Beck, 1979).

Belief: The Power to Materialize Thought

“Nothing has reality until you reach it, grab it, and somehow impregnate it with the power of belief.” This portion of Adyashanti’s quote underscores the significant role belief plays in shaping our reality. Our beliefs inform our actions, our reactions, and our understanding of the world around us. Importantly, these beliefs often stem from our thoughts. Herein lies the paradoxical nature of thoughts – they are powerless until assigned power, and that power comes from belief.

Beliefs, in this context, act as the catalyst that imbues thoughts with substance and reality. While a thought is a transient entity, when backed by belief, it becomes a potent force capable of impacting reality. This concept is central to many psychological frameworks such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which posits that changing maladaptive beliefs can lead to changes in behavior and emotional response (Beck, 1979).

The transformation of thought into belief, and thereby into a potent force that can shape reality, underscores the vital interplay between intelligence, consciousness, thought, and belief. True intelligence, as proposed by Adyashanti, navigates this interplay, discerning between transient thoughts and deeply held beliefs, wielding thought as a tool rather than being driven by it.

Conclusion: Towards a New Understanding of Intelligence

Adyashanti’s perspective pushes us to revisit our understanding of intelligence, consciousness, thought, and belief. It encourages us to recognize the distinction between intelligence and thought, promoting a view of intelligence as a metacognitive capacity that utilizes thought rather than a byproduct of it. His perspective positions consciousness as the expansive space within which thoughts occur, and our beliefs as the potent force that transforms ephemeral thoughts into reality.

Through this lens, the potential for personal growth becomes evident. If we are able to employ our intelligence to harness our thoughts, and through careful scrutiny, imbue only selected thoughts with the power of belief, we can shape our reality more effectively. This perspective, while challenging conventional notions of intelligence, offers a rich and complex understanding of our cognitive and conscious lives.

This understanding also supports the transformative power of mindfulness and other contemplative practices. By fostering an awareness of the transient nature of thoughts and the potential power of belief, we are better equipped to navigate the complex landscape of our inner world. Through this exploration, we can aspire to cultivate a true intelligence as suggested by Adyashanti, one that understands and utilises thought, rather than being controlled by it.


  • Adyashanti. (n.d.). Quotes.
  • Beck, A. T. (1979). Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. International Universities Press.
  • Descartes, R. (1637). Discourse on the Method.
  • Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Basic Books.
  • Hanh, T. N. (1999). The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. Beacon Press.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. Hyperion.
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