A suggestion has been made elsewhere in these columns that “Vedanta differentiates between what is called ‘sharp’ intellect (tIkShNa buddhi) and ‘subtle’ intellect (sUkShma buddhi).”
Experienced Vedantins may differentiate ‘sharp intellect’ from ‘subtle intellect’ in trying to make a point in order to explain contextually some specific concept they would like to amplify on. But it is doubtful if Advaita Vedanta itself has anywhere highlighted the difference between ” ‘sharp’ intellect (tIkShNa buddhi) and ‘subtle’ intellect (sUkShma buddhi).” If we ask whether there is a vedAnta vAkya or shruti mantra to support a claim of difference between the two types of buddhi, the answer is perhaps a resounding “No.”
Vedanta does, of course, contrast ‘sUkshma‘ in relation to ‘sthUla‘ form of many entities (e.g. sharIra, buddhi, loka-s). Bhagavad-Gita too talks of a stratified order from gross to finer when referring to objects to sensory organs to mind to buddhi &c.
There is also an idea promoted in some quarters that ‘sharp’ intellect (tIkShNa buddhi) is useful more often in Science whereas ‘subtle’ intellect (sUkShma buddhi) is utilized in Vedantic study. The reason given is that “The former is the analytical mind characteristic of the scientist [whereas] the latter [i.e.] the ability to integrate rather than divide [is the requirement of Vedanta], to see the unity in diversity.”
Though on the face of it the idea seems appealing, there is a blatant conceptual mistake in it doubly committed. It is difficult to assert that the scientific method adopts exclusively a deductive and analytical reasoning or to claim that Vedanta is always inductive and synthetic in approach. In fact Science, more often and more easily, reaches the universal or common factor by its method — whether it is the oneness of DNA of a varied form of life or the basic oneness of all materials at atomic and subatomic levels.
On the other hand, whether it is in explaining the process of the origination of pancha bhUta-s (five fundamental elements), panchakOsha prakriya or avastha traya analysis, Vednata too proceeds from gross to finer and finer levels using deductive logic. Characteristically in the Vedanta approach, the permeation or ‘spread’ of the substance increases as we move from coarse to fine textures, very much akin to what we find in scientific analysis.
Further, ‘shruti‘ also resorts to ‘breaking’ down the gross things into its components (reductionist approach like in Science) when explaining Quitnuplication (panchIkaraNa) or even when the mahAvAkya drives home the central theme of Vedanta. Let us recall, for example, how Aruni teaches the core message of Vedanta, ‘That thou art,’ to his son in the Chandogyopanishad.
After referring to the entirety of the tree and its parts etc. in the preceding mantras, Aruni (A) asks his son (S) to bring the fruit of the tree (leading from the whole to a part). The conversation then goes on like this in the mantra at VI-ii-1, Chandogya:
A: Break it.
S: It is broken, Sir.
A: What do you see?
S: Seeds, small particles, Revered Sir.
A: Break one of the seeds, my Son.
S: It is broken, Sir.
A: What do you see in it?
S: Nothing, Sir.
A: What you do not perceive is the subtle essence.
Thus it is by asking his son to gradually decompose the aggregate by ‘breaking and examining the reduced part’ that Aruni points to the imperceptible. Is this not a reductionist approach like any Scientist would do? Can we say it is an integration?
I shall postpone for the present citing example where scientific reasoning follows a totally integrative approach in arriving at stupendous and out of the ordinary conclusions.
I would like to conclude for now with my submission to you that both Science and Advaita Vedanta are similar in approach in their inquiry into the ultimate Truth and both equally follow analytic and integrative methodology as per the demand of the occasion. After all, maybe there is not much to choose between subtle vs. sharp intellect.