Spiritual Intelligence, by Gerald Epstein

Intelligence is a quality available to choose, as a function of mind that can live itself through us. In this article, I will focus on spiritual intelligence as understood within the Western Monotheistic traditions. Here we will explore five forms of intelligence:  1) moral, 2) analogical, 3) intuitive, 4) imaginal, 5) esoteric. Before proceeding, a little background information is necessary.

Essence to Existence

The Western Spiritual tradition posits that physical matter is birthed from an invisible (spiritual) matrix or dimension. In the Western Spiritual tradition, there are four worlds, levels, or dimensional realities that co-exist. These worlds reflect one another and also are birthed from one to another as we go from the un-manifest to the manifest (see Four Worlds diagram). Thus, what we conceive of in the invisible world manifests in the visible material world.

Epstein 4 Worlds Chart

Each quality of being springs from the invisible matrix to birth the quantifiable three-dimensional physical reality. The ancient Egyptian Pharaonic tradition called this the “neter” principle: where the function births the form, where quality births quantity.  For example, we don’t see because we have eyes. Rather, the function of seeing finds its fulfillment through birthing the existence of eyes. Put in other ways, invisibility births visibility. Consciousness is prior to matter – so what we conceive we birth. But this birth is not determined by antecedent material conditions – it is a-causal. The Platonic concept of Ideas and the Kabbalistic concept of the Four Worlds present similar understandings of consciousness and manifestation. Cultivated over millennia, such thought is more deeply embedded in both European and Chinese culture. It’s gaining more prominence in American consciousness in the oft used phrase “belief creates experience.”

Moral Intelligence

Moral intelligence is lived out through the presence of the moral laws of conscience, namely the 10 Cosmic Laws or Commandments (along with the Three Vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity existing in all traditions, emphasized in Christianity). These laws link us directly with Divine Consciousness or God. The moral laws and vows allow us to live sane, sober, loving, and truthful relationships with each other and our source of Origin.  They incorporate the intelligence of the Absolute One Mind, living Its presence on Earth through us as servants of this Divine function. If we so choose, God fulfills itself through us as the time-space physical expression of this sublime force.

Of course there are conscious, intelligent souls who don’t choose to make morally intelligent decisions. No judgments of them are required here.  Whether one lives by these laws is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, as these are not man-made standards.  Every choice brings its own consequences that can serve constructive or destructive ends for oneself or for others.  In spiritual life, sin means to miss the mark, or error. All of us make errors, and we all have the opportunity to correct these errors in this moment.

While the first five Laws deal mainly with our relationship to the Divine, the second five refer to our relationships with each other:

#6 – Don’t murder/preserve life.

#7 – Don’t commit adultery/ maintain a purity of life, e.g., physically, emotionally, mentally and socially; maintain a pure spiritual path and practice. Avoid polluting, contaminating, and mixing (e.g., taking chemotherapy and herbs at the same time) so as not to weaken the original substance (“watering the wine”), or putting two different operating systems into the computer at the same time.

#8 – Don’t steal/be honest. Stealing includes taking goods, time or freedom from others or ourselves.

#9 – Don’t bear false witness/be truthful.

#10 – Don’t covet/preserve the freedom of the other, i.e., don’t claim, possess, or trespass over what doesn’t belong to us so as to preserve the freedom of others. When the 10th is violated through avarice, greed, envy (the precipitant of war), or jealousy (the stimulus for murder), it will naturally follow that the 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th will be breached as well.

The first two Laws define the alliance between the Divine and ourselves.   Specifically:

#1 – Don’t put anything between you and God; keep the path between you and God clear.  Keep it free from other people, goods, or concepts, personal or otherwise, from coming in the way.

#2 – Don’t create or bow down before idols, nor make graven images/physical or fixed mental images.  This includes thoughts about the future, as no person can know, control, or take charge of the future. Refrain from “futurizing.” To do so is to trespass into a realm belonging to God. Our task on Earth is to be our own authority and rely on our inner source of guidance, rather than on outside external authorities. Otherwise, we commit idolatry by simply making others more important than we, putting them above us.

Practically, we can apply the 10 Laws to our day-to-day relationships. For example, are we stealing time from another by staying in a relationship with someone we know we don’t love?; paradoxically, we steal time from ourselves as well. Are we speaking the truth when asked, and holding our tongue when not asked for advice? When we don’t tell the truth, are we misleading or misdirecting others, or lying to ourselves? Are we coveting what isn’t ours – be it another person, a material good, or resources of another country? Are we jealous of another? Are we idolizing and idealizing someone, at our own expense? Are we putting someone on a pedestal, or under a pedestal? Are we holding a grudge against someone (as anger is a violation of the 6th, 10th, and 2nd laws)? Are we mixing or adulterating our relationships by mixing business with pleasure or introducing a third-party relationship into a dyad? Are we murdering someone’s reputation by not giving credit or by gossiping about them? Are we creating mental idols of how things ought to be? Are we looking backwards, filled with regrets about the past (another realm that does not exist)? Are we anxious about the future (all future talk is illusory)? Are we usurping God’s place by judging ourselves and others? All these errors of living impact our health, wellbeing, and our connection to others and to the Invisible Reality.

Analogical Intelligence

We’re all familiar with logical intelligence. Logical or materialistic scientific intelligence denotes a form of thinking that helps us make sense of the vast array of measurable facts making up our shared world of communication in the material time-space reality in which we live most of the time.  It is the precise way we “figure out” our relationship to the causal, mechanical world of things and how to operate with them.  Logic deals with the quantitative, things with measurable boundaries and limits. It functions to help us carry out actions relative to everyday living: getting about, preparing food, taking transportation, knowing how to consume food, taking care of other biological needs, balancing a checkbook, paying bills, figuring out income tax — we can go on and on. Drawing logical conclusions are helpful in fulfilling objective measures – but these singular conclusions fail us in the sphere of human relationships. Logic cannot grasp the essential experience of living together in a socially shared world, the foundation upon which we exist.

For human relationships, we seek the services of another form of intelligence called analogical, a central practice within Western spirituality. Analogy is based not on “horizontal,” linear causal inferences of materialistic science and logic, but on “vertical causality” of the invisible birthing the visible, as shown in the Four Worlds diagram earlier.

Analogy is the function of thinking in wholes, seeing the whole of something. For instance, hold your right hand up to the mirror (analogy also means reflectivity or mirroring) and what do you see? . . . Your left hand! What you are observing is analogy. These two hands are alike, but they are not the same. At the same time, they represent the totality of handedness. We can see the front, back, left, and right of the hands at the same instant. You have now understood handedness, the quality that displays itself in this experiential world as a physical hand. No inference is required here. We immediately know the relationship between the function, quality, and its birthed form.  Thus in analogy, we think in a relational manner even as we recognize points of similarity and dissimilarity amongst things. Through this practice we make “sense” out of the disparate pieces of our lives that we have been trained to focus upon in rational, linear thought. Concurrently, through this form of intelligence we experience oneness or wholeness within ourselves, the world and with Divine Consciousness.

In the materialistic worldview, mind and body are split and are inherently different. In spiritual science, mind and body are considered to be analogous functions of each other. They don’t cause each other; rather they are mirror reflections of one another – both expressions of human being-ness, of being human, sharing points of similarity and points of differences.  Extending our thinking by analogy further, we can now perceive that human beings express their wholeness simultaneously in the physical, mental, emotional, social and moral spheres, which are all sourced by Spirit.  These different dimensions reflect one another – each speaking to us in its own language.  For example, the heart and love are striking examples of such analogical understanding.

Analogical intelligence allows us to see the relationship between a physical heart attack and an emotional heartache over a love gone sour.  In my medical practice, if a person comes in complaining of a wryneck or headache, I inquire as to “who is the pain in your neck” or “who is your headache,” respectively. The physical here mirrors our social relationships. A tear in the tapestry of our moral/social relationship is reflected in our mental, emotional and physical spheres.  These tears are outgrowths of spiritual errors that are made primarily in violation of the 10 Laws (and the Three Vows).

Similarly, our subjective inner experiences of dreams and mental imagery are just as authentic and real as our waking-life events. They mirror our waking-life events, just as bodily symptoms correspond to emotional, mental, social, and moral issues we face.  For example, night dreams are our “book of life” – we peer into the inner mirror of life and see ourselves reflected back to us. Thus, dreams disclose what possibilities are available for us to fulfill, our state of health, answers to questions, etc.

By attending to the reflections of the invisible that have these physical counterparts, we gain knowledge of that invisible reality. That knowledge expands and enlarges our consciousness, can help us heal ourselves of illnesses and other life problems and eventually lead us to evolve into consciousness of one with One. I met a woman on the street whose car was stalled due to a dead battery. I asked her “how’s your own inner battery?” Surprised by the question, she replied that she had been feeling unusually fatigued. She was experiencing a recurrence of asthma and was on her way to an M.D.’s appointment for the problem when her car went dead. Had I delved further we might have uncovered the relational issue that was nagging at her in her life that was reflected in both her car battery needing a recharge and her own inner “battery” needing a boost.

Through analogical intelligence, we achieve the unity of all that exists preceding every act of knowledge on the material plane in our time-space world. Analogy takes us to the essence, the heart of spiritual science. Logical or rational education bases itself on crafting intelligence as a brain function to act only as and on unorganized solids reducing them to discreet particles in a discontinuous way, as Henri Bergson pointed out in Creativity and Evolution.  It is thinking in fixed ideas, fixed thoughts: opinions, conjecture, explanation, conclusions, assumptions, and the like; always analyzing, meaning here to break down things into independent elements and stopping the flow of thought. Logic, dependent on inferences, then tries to mend the dissection into some sort of mosaic of wholeness over time based on a specious idea of proving something. The endpoint error of the logician is the belief that logic and truth are the same. Analogical intelligence allows us to experience wholeness immediately absent the need for inferential piecing together. It gives us witness directly to truth.

Intuitive Intelligence

In the Western tradition – including the Monotheistic, Pharaonic, and Hermetic lineages – intuition is considered one of, if not the highest spiritual attainments possible in our quest to evolve into conscious oneness with the Absolute One Mind. Intuition, or unconditional intelligence, is the communication network between ourselves and the infinite world of invisible reality.  In this zone of awareness, we receive direct communication of truth that pierces through the incessant noise of the world around us.

Intuitive intelligence consists of three components:

detached intellect

disinterested instinct

imaginal thinking

The first two are sympathetically connected with each other, while the imaginal acts as a bridge between them, creating sym (together) pathy (affinity) or correspondence between intellective thought and instinctual physical behavior. As noted above, we have been trained to use our logical, cause-and-effect intellect to look for outcomes, endpoints, or conclusions.  By its very nature, this type of thinking puts a stop to open-mindedness and freedom, as endpoints, by their very nature, are always discontinuous and movement stops.  In contrast, with detached intellect, we actively withdraw and divest from the excess of thought we engage in habitually, wherein we jump from one inference or conclusion to the next. Likewise, we divest from projecting our thoughts into a time, place, or circumstance that doesn’t exist called “the future.”  Just stop and listen to your (and others’) speech and count the number of times we are speaking about the future – what may come to pass, what should come to pass, what we fear will come to pass.  These thoughts aren’t detached, they are conclusionary!  In disinterested instinct, we divest from our habitual instinctual drives to acquire, claim, or possess material goods/resources, power, or other human beings. In the Western Spiritual tradition, we call these the Five Dark Currents of Will: to take, to keep, to hold on to at the expense of others, to advance at the expense of others, or to desire to be great. By practicing the Five Light Currents of Will, to give, to share, to renounce, and to mentor, we act to counter these instinctual urges.

The third component of intuition, imaginal thinking, allows for the transcendence of habitual, discursive, intellectual thought and feeling. It speaks in a pictorial language of image, like the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. These images pour down through the vertical realm to us through the world of formation and into the material reality. These images are the inspirational messages for artistic creation, similar to God’s creation of this world as a work of art.  In partnership with Divine consciousness, we access creative intelligence via the imagination and mental imagery in order to inspire us and access knowledge on a plane of awareness more profound than that plumbed by logical intelligence.

As with analogical intelligence, all three aspects of intuition have no definitive spatial or temporal references. Intuition happens nowhere — the no-time zone and no-geographical space zone of invisible reality.

When we hold back our mental perturbations and actional machinations and detach from our attitude toward and desire to acquire material goods, a stream of revelations and messages can reach us from invisible reality without interference from our own ongoing inner static and noise that clutter our consciousness. We simply renounce our own needs to be “smart” and instead receive (kabbalah = to receive) and fulfill whatever comes as an intuitive hit via the gut, heartfelt response, neuro-optical light, visionary experience, or spontaneous insight.  In this realm, there are only denotative distinctions and discernments without recourse to connotative opinions, explanations, conjectures, rationalizations, interpretations, or analysis.

Imaginative Intelligence

I touched upon this form of intelligence as integral to intuitive intelligence in the proceeding section, but there is more to say about a subject of which I’ve made my life’s work for over these past 40-plus years — with many books, audios, articles, published research, and a New York State Regents chartered postgraduate training center for health professionals in mental imagery and imagination, as well as an adult education program for the general public.

To begin with, some definition is in order.  The realm of imagination, or the “imaginal” (a term coined by Prof. Henri Corbin of France) is a real living presence of existence, as real as waking reality, populated by beings of these invisible worlds comprised of forms (absolute matter) not having volume or mass, as exists here in the time-space world.  Nonetheless, these worlds and beings are accessible to us, given such credence in past writings by such notables as William Blake, Emanuel Swedenborg, and profoundly described in the book of Ezekiel 1:1–28.  This chain of being has been perceived as angels, archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominions, thrones, cherubim, seraphim.

Image is the true and natural language of inner life. It is a shared social sacred language of the world, bypassing the discursive verbal languages and dialects that have been noted in Genesis in the description of the Tower of Babel. This inner hieroglyphic language connects invisible reality with this visible one.  It brings together these two worlds in the form of symbols, images that connect this visible world with the invisible existence. The two worlds of reality are thrown together (sym = together; bol = throw);  Divinity is sending its communication to us in divine language, our task is to learn how to read these messages. They provide us with constant information and revelations about the macro-world of the universe and beyond, which mirrors the micro-world of this planet and its inhabitants, especially of us. This information is at once a cosmology, astronomy/astrology, and geo-human science.  It is the Absolute One Mind (AOM) keeping in touch, helping us to direct our lives via universal, sacred, holy intelligence.  Along with intuitive intelligence, imaginal reigns at a level of the highest openness that consciousness can take us to reach the unitary experience we are searching for.

The Christian and Islamic offshoots of the Monotheistic tradition have pursued the imaginative dimension.  In Christianity we find the work of St. Ignatius, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Bernard of Clairvaux as primary examples.  In Islam, the work of Ibn ‘Arabi, Najmoddin Kubra, and Shihab al-Din Yahya al-Suhrawardi stand out like gigantic stars in the firmament of imaginal experience – they term imaginal work “active intelligence.” But it is in the Hebraic wisdom tradition where we find this visionary intelligence expressed in full regalia. Imaginative, visionary intelligence began with the patriarchs and matriarchs Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca and Jacob, prominently.  It advances through the prophet Moses in his vision of the burning bush from which he hears the word of God [sic] “I AM the Present and the Future” (“I AM the I AM, I WILL BE the I WILL BE”).  The Israelite prophets such as Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel, and Hosea continue to receive sacred messages revealed through visionary experiences. Ezekiel’s vision of worlds within worlds, the creature with the four faces and the throne of God, stands out as the most vivid example.

The Bible is replete with the messages of the prophets, usually unattended to by the populace they are intended for.  The prophet or navi acted as a mouthpiece or spokesperson bringing the presence of the Divine Consciousness here: bringing spiritual intelligence into the mass consciousness in order to raise human awareness so that we may understand our mission and purpose(s) for being here on Earth. Today, we can each still learn prophetic practices to access and receive the messages of invisible reality by engaging in imaginal experiences such as mental imagery[1] and waking dream practices[2].

Esoteric Intelligence

The most profound exploration of intelligence takes us to two lineages of the Western wisdom tradition:  1) Kabbalah, 2) Hermeticism. With reference to these two traditions, we can explore some of the concepts introduced earlier more deeply.

The Monotheistic lineage brings us to the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, known as the Sephirotic Tree. While this version of the Tree of Life is not original to the Hebraic tradition, this vision can supply us with bountiful wisdom needed in the contemporary world.  Here is a diagram of that tree:

Tree of life with the 10 Sephiroth and the 22 Hebrew characters as they are presented in the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation). The different colors of the lines represent the three groups of characters: red the 3 "mother" letters blue the 7 "double" letters green the 12 "simple" letters
Tree of life with the 10 Sephiroth and the 22 Hebrew characters as they are presented in the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation). The different colors of the lines represent the three groups of characters: red the 3 “mother” letters blue the 7 “double” letters green the 12 “simple” letters


Our focus is at the top of the tree, where we note three sephirot:

Binah                                                          Da’ath                                  Chochmah

Understanding/                                      Intuition                              Wisdom
Spontaneous intelligence

I substitute the term “spontaneous intelligence” for that of understanding. It is here that intelligence changes its plane of direction from a focus on the horizontal, logical plane of ordinary daily life – what helps us to navigate the world of facts – to an upward plane of direction that comprehends the vertical spiritual reality and its various relational manifestations.  In doing so, we draw in a different sort of reasoning, following out the primary dictum of Western sacred science, “as above, so below,” or as is so eloquently stated in the Emerald Tablet of the Hermetic tradition:

That which is above is like that which is below,
And that which is below is like that which is above,
To accomplish the miracles of one thing.

This dictum is, in fact, the Law of Analogy. Returning full circle to analogical intelligence, an essence of Hermetic intelligence, we see that this esoteric conception intersects with moral intelligence. In particular it conjoins with the second divine law or precept of the West, viz., not to make graven images, translated by me to include mental graven images – fixed images equivalent to an idol, a mental idol. As noted above, logical intelligence leads us to conclusions, fixed ideas, a closed system of thought; whereas analogical thinking takes us into an open system where we are understanding the relationships between things instead of drawing conclusions about them. For example, on Valentine’s Day, we are drawn to the relationship between the heart and love, a theme well documented in Western literature, plays, and poetry. We can draw this symbolic comprehension out further and become aware of many other kinds of relationships not recognized before.

Through analogy and these other Western practices outlined herein, we use our spiritual intelligence to become Self-knowing. These practices open the closed circle of a horizontal, deterministic existence – engaging an openness of freedom symbolized by the spiral. As an open system, the spiral leads us to understand the astounding spiritual scientific understanding of what an open system of freedom indicates: a system of unlimited energy, without end. Here there is no decay and decomposition as exists in all closed systems, bounded as they are by linear time and three-dimensional space, where entropy = breakdown, decay, decomposition, is a necessary governing principle.

The further implication of an unlimited, non-entropic system of freedom where there is no decay is . . . there is no death!  This is where spontaneous intelligence (binah) and wisdom (chochmah) join together with the wisdom or the intelligence of the heart (tiferet). Chochmah is actually a form of faith as well. One definition of faith is trust in the unseen world and its influences in our life. Where the two spheres of binah and chochmah link, we find a hidden region of knowing (not knowledge which is fixed and part of discontinuous brain function) called “da’ath” (Hebrew for “knowing”). Da’ath is intuition, linking us directly to the Absolute One Mind. This experience analogizes the experience of Adam and Eve in the Garden, where they listened only to the voice of One who was speaking to them.

Esoteric intelligence is direct knowing of our unitive possibility with our Source and the bridge to that unity at the same instant. It is the super-intelligence beyond ordinary intelligence. It allows us to access the truths of existence, those lying behind this veil of illusory reality called the manmade world. The manmade world of illusory reality has been created through our audacity to usurp the knowledge and power of God, to submerge the very foundational forces of the Absolute One Mind that preserve our world, nay, the entire cosmos. These foundational forces are love, faith, hope, will, intuition, imagination, and supernal light, i.e., that light beyond the sun, moon, and stars.

Thus, esoteric intelligence is the secret knowing of what was, is, and will be – the culmination of knowing. “What will be” refers to the world to come, sometimes called the messianic age, or the end of days, or as Friedrich Weinreb, in his most profound book Roots of the Bible, calls it, the “eighth day of creation.” Here, beyond time and space, this current creation will gave way to a new creation of truth and harmony, still containing vestiges of the old, where the laws of conscience, morality, and duality are no longer necessary. In this world to come we will know those other worlds and their occupants mentioned above. Here God becomes knowable, Eden is restored, and we are able to correct the error of Adam and Eve. On this eighth day, we will have answered the riddle of the two trees of life and death, where the latter no longer exists and eternal Life awaits us.♦

[1]  See for example, Gerald Epstein. Healing Visualizations: Creating Health through Imagery. New York: Bantam, 1989; Gerald Epstein. Healing Into Immortality: A New Spiritual Medicine of Healing Stories and Imagery. New York: ACMI Press, 1997; Gerald Epstein and Barbarah Fedoroff, editors, The Encyclopedia of Mental Imagery: Colette Aboulker-Muscat’s 2,100 Visualization Exercises for Personal Development, Healing, and Self-Knowledge. New York: ACMI Press, 2012. Print.  Or visit www.drjerryepstein.org for more resources.

[2] See Gerald Epstein. Waking Dream Therapy: Dream Process As Imagination. New York: Human Science Press, 1981 reprinted as Waking Dream Therapy: Unlocking the Secrets of Self Through Dreams and Imagination. New York: ACMI Press, 1992. Print.


By Gerald Epstein

Gerald Epstein is an American psychiatrist, founder and director of The American Institute for Mental Imagery, and the author of several books including Studies in Non-Deterministic Psychology, Healing Visualizations, and Kabbalah for Inner Peace. For more information please visit drjerryepstein.org.