Buddhi (Sanskrit, «intellect») in Sanskrit (Hindu) literature is the higher mental faculty, the instrument of knowledge, discerment, and decision. Buddhi is comprehended slightly different in different philosophical systems.

On the whole, it contrasts with manas, mind, whose province is ordinary consciousness and the connection of atman with the senses.

Buddhi, however, is a higher faculty that acts in sense percepts organized by manas and furnishes intellectual discrimination, determination, reason, and will. As such buddhi is at the very core of one’s being, as sentient creatures, and the closest mental faculty to the atman, real Self or spirit.

In Samkhya-yoga philosophy, buddhi (or mahat, «the great one») plays a key role. Buddhi is the first principle derived from unmanifest, prakrti (and predominant in sattva guna, («intellectual stuff»), virtually transparent reflector for pure consciousness (purusa), with which buddhi mistakenly identifies. With this mistaken identification with the conscious principle, a fall into ignorance, buddhi produces the next principle, ahamkara, which in turn produces manas.

The three together make up the «internal instrument,» or antahkarana. For salvation, buddhi must attain the discriminative discernment between itself as unconscious matter, prahrti, and the independent and transcendent principle of pure consciousness, purusa


Definition and Meanings

Buddhi in Sanskrit literature, particularly within Hindu philosophy, holds a central position as a facet of the mind closely related to intellect and discernment. Its interpretation varies slightly across different philosophical systems, but it consistently represents a higher mental faculty than ordinary consciousness. Here’s a deeper look into the concept of Buddhi:

  • Definition and Role: Buddhi is understood as the instrument of knowledge, discernment, and decision-making. It is the faculty responsible for intellectual discrimination, determination, reason, and will. Unlike manas, which is associated with the ordinary mind and sensory experiences, Buddhi operates at a higher level.
  • Contrast with Manas: Manas (mind) deals with everyday consciousness and links the atman (self or spirit) with the sensory world. In contrast, Buddhi acts on the perceptions organized by manas and provides a deeper, more insightful understanding and judgment.
  • Relation to Atman: Buddhi is considered very close to the atman, the real Self or spirit. It is seen as the core of one’s being, particularly as it pertains to sentient experience and higher cognitive functions.
  • Samkhya-Yoga Philosophy: In the Samkhya and Yoga philosophical systems, Buddhi (also referred to as Mahat or «the great one») is of paramount importance. It is the first principle that emanates from Prakriti (unmanifest matter) and is predominant in Sattva Guna, which is associated with qualities of intellect and clarity.
  • Relation with Purusa: Buddhi is viewed as a virtually transparent reflector of pure consciousness (Purusa). However, its mistaken identification with Purusa leads to ignorance. This misidentification is a critical aspect of the human experience in Samkhya philosophy.
  • Production of Ahamkara and Manas: Through its misidentification with Purusa, Buddhi gives rise to Ahamkara (ego principle), which in turn produces Manas. These three – Buddhi, Ahamkara, and Manas – together comprise the Antahkarana, or the «internal instrument.»
  • Path to Salvation: In the pursuit of spiritual liberation or salvation, Buddhi must attain discernment to differentiate between itself (as unconscious matter, Prakriti) and the transcendent principle of pure consciousness (Purusa). This realization is key in overcoming ignorance and achieving spiritual enlightenment.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 171