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  • 7/9/2003

1-In the face of Absolute

Frithjof Schuon

This book is, indeed, a serious challenge to the ‘modern spirit’ whose ‘ideas no longer bite.’ Highly recommended for all who seek an understanding of the ‘traditional spirit."

 Choice Magazine

“The content of religions and their reason for being is the relationship between God and man... The diversity of religions results from the diversity of the possibilities comprised in the relationship between God and man; and this relationship is both unique and innumerable.” The leit-motif of Schuon’s corpus has been described as the religio perennis — the permanent link (religio) that is both natural and supernatural between God and man, the Necessary and the possible. This book presents and illustrates many concepts and distinctions essential to metaphysics, anthropology and religious phenomenology, such as intellect-reason, metaphysics-theology, esoterism-exoterism and the concept of religious archetypes. The chapter entitled آtmâ-Mâyâ is a succinct masterpiece on the degrees of Being as well as the relationship of metaphysics to cosmology.
"In the Face of the Absolute is prime Schuon."The modern spirit proceeds along the surface, hence a continual toying with mental images without awareness of the part these really play; the traditional spirit, on the other hand, proceeds in depth, whence arise doctrines that may be apparently "dogmatic" but which nonetheless remain fully satisfying and effective." Schuon has given a centrality to the intellect and to the expression of that intellect that is positively spiritual. In the French style, eloquence is synonymous with transformation... His knowledge of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, is holy."

The Book Reader

Author"s Preface:

Assuredly there are no such things as "problems of our time" in the philosophers" sense of the expression; that is to say, there is no thought that one could describe as "new" in its very foundations; there are however some questions that arose when "science" and" faith" began to part company, and which "belong to our time" because they have never ceased to engage people"s attention. Faith is the acceptance of that which we do not see, or rather, of that which transcends the experience of the average man; science is the experience of that which we do see, or at least of that whereof we can have an empirical knowledge. Traditional faith has been shaken or lost for reasons both subjective and objective; the "intellectual worldliness" inaugurated during the Renaissance and voiced by Descartes brought as its consequence a general diminishing of contemplative intelligence and of the religious instinct, while new facts, all manner of discoveries and inventions, took advantage of this weakening and seemed to inflict a more or less flagrant contradiction upon the propositions of faith. In other words, modern man was not--and is not-- "intelligent" enough to offer intellectual resistance to such specious suggestions as are liable to follow from contact with facts which, though natural, normally lie beyond the range of common experience; in order to combine, in one and the same consciousness, both the religious symbolism of the sky and the astronomical fact of the Milky Way, a more than just rational intelligence is required, and this brings us back toothed crucial matter of intellection and, as a further consequence, to the topics of gnosis and esoterism.
However, modern scepticism, in order to take root, does not always require the prior misdeeds of Cartesianism; every sort of "worldliness," when aided by circumstances is an opening for the spirit of doubt and the denial of the supernatural. Experience goes to prove that no people, however contemplative, is able in the long run to withstand the psychological effects of the modern discoveries, a fact that clearly demonstrates their" abnormality" in relation to human nature generally; in Europe, the hostility of the medieval Church towards the new astronomical theses does not appear, in the light of subsequent events, to have been altogether unreasonable, to say the least. It is evident that no kind of knowledge is bad in principle or in itself; but many forms of knowledge can be harmful in practice as soon as they cease to correspond to the hereditary experience of man and are imposed on him without his being spiritually prepared to receive them; the human soul finds difficulty in coping with facts that are not offered to its experience in the ordinary course of nature. The same holds true of art: it has need of limits imposed by nature, at least insofar as it is the prerogative of a collectivity, which by definitions "passive" and "unconscious"; one has but to put at the disposition of a people or a caste the resources of machinery and the chemical industry, and their art, regarded in the broadest sense, will be corrupted, not in its every manifestation of course, but insofar as it belongs to all. This does not mean to say that the majority of an artistic people are totally lacking in discernment, but rather that the seductive attraction of novel possibilities proves in the long run more powerful than hereditary taste; fineness of soul yields to the clamor of what is easy and offered in quantity, just as happens on the intellectual plane and other planes besides. Human nature is weak and prone to corruption; it is not possible for a whole people to be holy or even simply clear-sighted.
Howbeit, the tragic dilemma of the modern mind results from the fact that the majority of men are not capable of grasping a priori the compatibility of the symbolic expressions of tradition with the material observations of science; these observations incite modern man to want to understand the "why and wherefore" of all things, but he wishes this "wherefore" to remain as external and easy as scientific phenomena themselves, or in other words, he wants all the answers to be on the level of his own experiences; and as these are purely material, his consciousness closes itself in advance against all that might transcend them. One of the great errors of our time is to speak of the "failure" of religion or the religions; this amounts to imputing to the truth our own refusal to accept it and at the same time to denying man both his liberty and his intelligence. The latter depends, in large measure, on his will, therefore on free will, in the sense that the will can contribute towards rendering intelligence effective or else towards paralyzing it; it is therefore not without good reason that medieval theologians situated heresy in the will. Intelligence can in fact slip into error, but its own nature does not allow it to resist truth indefinitely; for this to happen the intervention of a volitional factor is required or, to be more precise, of a passional factor, namely prejudice, a sentimental interest, individualism under its many forms. Every error contains an element of irrational "mysticism," a tendency that has nothing to do with concepts but which uses concepts or invents them. Behind every philosophical opinion is to be found some particular "savor" or "color"; errors are born of psychic" hardenings," "dissipations," "explosions" or "heavinesses" and these are, each in its own way, obstacles to the shining forth of the Intellect and to the vision of the "Eye of the Heart." The darkening of our world--whether of the West properly speaking or of its extensions into the East or elsewhere--is apparent also in the fact that mental nimbleness for the most part goes hand in hand with intellectual shallowness: people are in the habit of treating concepts like mental playthings that commit one to nothing; ideas no longer "bite" into the intelligence and the latter glides over concepts without giving itself time to grasp them. The modern spirit proceeds "along the surface," hence a continual toying with mental images without awareness of the part these really play; the traditional spirit, on the other hand, proceeds in depth, whence arise doctrines that may be apparently "dogmatic" but which nonetheless remain fully satisfying and effective. In reading the essays contained in this collection, it will be noted that we have in view, not traditional information pure and simple so much as intrinsic doctrinal explanations; that is to say, the expression of truths of which the traditional dialectics are the vestitures; hence it is not as a historian of ideas, but as a spokesman of the philosophia perennis that we expound diverse formulations of the truth that is everywhere and always the same.
One point that always seems to escape philosophical rationalists is that there is of necessity a gap between the expression and the thing expressed, hence between doctrine and reality. It is always possible to reproach a sufficient doctrine for being insufficient, since no doctrine can be identical to what it intends to express; no formulation can altogether take into account all that could be demanded, rightly or wrongly, by innumerable different needs for causal explanations. If an expression could be absolutely or in every respect adequate and exhaustive--as critical philosophy would have it--there no longer would be any difference between an image and its prototype and there no longer would be any point in speaking, or in thinking or even simply in language. In reality, doctrinal thought exists in order to furnish a coherent scheme of points of reference more or less elliptical by definition but in any case sufficient to lead mental perception towards given aspects of the real. This is all that one has the right to demand of a doctrine; the rest is a matter of intellectual capacity, good will and grace. Everything has already been said, and even well said; but it is always necessary to recall it anew, and in so doing, to do what has always been done: to actualize in thought the certitudes contained, not in the thinking ego, but in the transpersonal substance of the human intelligence. Inasmuch as it is human, intelligence is total, hence essentially capable of the sense of the Absolute and, correspondingly, of the sense of the relative; to conceive the Absolute is also to conceive the relative as such, and consequently to perceive in the Absolute the roots of the relative and, within the relative, the reflections of the Absolute. Every metaphysic and every cosmology transcribes, in the final analysis, this play of complementarily pertaining to the universal Maya, and thus inherent in the very substance of the intelligence. To return to our book, we would say that its dialectic is necessarily bound up with its message; it could not take into account the exorbitant pretensions of a certain psychology--let alone a biology--which tends to substitute itself absurdly for philosophy and for thought it. We cannot in good logic be reproached for using a naive and obsolete language, since our dialectic is essentially justified by its content, which pertains to the Immutable. There is no spiritual extraterritoriality; since man exists, he is linked to all that implies Existence; since we know, we are called upon to know all that is intelligible; intelligible not in accordance with our comfort but in accordance with human capacity and with the nature of things.

2- windowtext">The Road to Mecca

Muhammad Asad

"A very rare and powerful book, raised completely above the ordinary by its candor and intelligence.... should permanently affect our view of the world." New York Post
"As revelatory a human document as ever has been put together, persuasive and thoughtful, altogether fascinating." -- St. Louis Globe-Democrat

An excerpt from the book:

One day -- it was in September 1926 -- Elsa and I found ourselves travelling in the Berlin subway. It was an upper class compartment. My eye fell casually on a well-dressed man opposite me, apparently a well-to-do businessman, with a beautiful briefcase on his knees and a large diamond ring on his hand. I thought idly how well the portly figure of this man fitted into the picture of prosperity which one encountered everywhere in Central Europe in those days: a prosperity the more prominent as it has come after years of inflation, when all economic life had been topsy-turvy and shabbiness of appearance the rule. Most of the people were now well dressed and well fed, and the man opposite me was therefore no exception. But when I looked at his face, I did not seem to be looking at a happy face. He appeared to be worried: and ;not merely worried but acutely unhappy, with eyes staring vacantly ahead and the corners of his mouth drawn in as if in pain -- but not in bodily pain. Not wanting to be rude, I turned my eyes away and saw next to him a lady of some elegance. She also had a strangely unhappy expression on her face, as if contemplating or experiencing something that caused her pain; nevertheless, her mouth was fixed in the stiff semblance of a smile which, I was certain, must have been habitual. And then I began to look around at all the other faces in the compartment -- faces belonging without exception to well-dressed, well-fed people; and in almost every one of them I could discern an expression of hidden suffering, so hidden that the owner of the face seemed to be quite unaware of it.
This was indeed strange. I had never before seen so many unhappy faces around me; or was it perhaps that I had never before looked for what was now so loudly speaking in them? The impression was so strong that I mentioned it to Elsa; and she too began to look around her with the careful eyes of a painter accustomed to study human features. Then she turned to me, astonished, and said: "You are right. They all look as though they were suffering torments of hell... I wonder, do they know themselves what is going on in them?"
I knew that they did not -- for otherwise they could not go on wasting their lives as they did, without any faith in binding truths, without any goal beyond the desire to raise their own "standard of living," without any hopes other than having more material amenities, more gadgets, and perhaps more power...
When we returned home, I happened to glance at my desk on which lay open a copy of the Koran I had been reading earlier. Mechanically, I picked the book up to put it away, but just as I was about to close it, my eye fell on the open page before me, and I read:
You are obsessed by greed for more and more
Until you go down to your graves.
Nay, but you will come to know!
Nay, but you will come to know!
Nay, if you but knew it with the knowledge of certainty,
You would indeed see the hell you are in.
In time, indeed, you shall see it with the eye of certainty:
And on that day you will be asked what you have done with the boon of life.

For a moment I was speechless. I think the book shook in my hands. Then I handed it to Elsa. "Read this. Is it not an answer to what we say in the subway?"
It was an answer: an answer so decisive that all doubt was suddenly at an end. I knew now, beyond any doubt, that it was a God-inspired book I was holding in my hand: for although it had been placed before man over thirteen centuries ago, it clearly anticipated something that could have become true only in this complicated, mechanized, phantom-ridden age of ours.
At all times people had known greed: but at no time before this had greed outgrown a mere eagerness to acquire things and become an obsession that blurred the sight of everything else: an irresistible craving to get, to do, to contrive more and more -- more today than yesterday, and more tomorrow than today: a demon riding on the necks of men and whipping their hearts forward toward goals that tauntingly glitter in the distance but dissolve into contemptible nothingness as soon as they are reached, always holding out the promise of new goals ahead -- goals still more brilliant, more tempting as long as they lie on the horizon, and bound to wither into further nothingness as soon as they come within grasp: and that hunger, that insatiable hunger for ever new goals gnawing at man"s soul: Nay, if you but knew it you would see the hell you are in...
This, I saw, was not the mere human wisdom of a man of a distant past in distant Arabia. However wise he may have been, such a man could not by himself have foreseen the torment so peculiar to this twentieth century. Out of the Koran spoke a voice greater than the voice of Muhammad...

3-Seeing God Everywhere:

Essays on Nature and the Sacred


Comparative Religion


Edited by Barry McDonald


How do people sense God"s presence in created?

How do people sense God"s presence in created things? Seeing God Everywhere is an anthology of essays on nature and the sacred which address that question. Written by an impressive list of spiritual leaders and thinkers, these essays explore the question from many different perspectives. Reading these essays enriches our inner lives and enlivens our contemplative imaginations. Surely, this is the "deepest" ecology possible! As a special bonus, at the end of each essay is a short poem on nature and the sacred, taken from various traditions.

Contributors include:
His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet;Frithjof Schuon;Wendell Berry;Seyyed Hossein Nasr;J. C. Cooper;Titus Burckhardt; and others.

word to Seeing God Everywhere
by: Philip Zaleski
 That the earth is in trouble few of us deny. The evidence mounts on every side, and the dread litany of our self-destruction has become a daily staple: acid rain, air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, global warming, the extinction of species. The timetable for degradation may be uncertain; the ability of the planet to renew itself may be greater than we realize; but there can be no doubt that the earth is in trouble.
  How should we respond to this crisis? Much can be learned by listening to societies more at ease with nature than our own. I am thinking of groups as diverse as the hunters of theGreat Plains, the peasant-farmers ofEastern Europe, the fishermen of the South Pacific. One learns some surprising lessons, often at odds with the credo of the contemporary environmentalist movement. None of these peoples advocate a hands-off policy toward nature; every culture since the Neolithic, and perhaps before, has transformed the environment and curtailed the wilderness. Nor do these societies support animal rights. They value and even revere animals as creatures of God, as divine messengers, as symbols of the divine attributes, but they never mistake animals as members of the polis.
Hierarchical distinctions remain intact, as does the position of the human being as nexus of heaven and earth. However, as these observations may suggest, traditional societies do hold one thing—the one thing which explains all things—in common: a metaphysics that embraces, in one glance, both heaven and earth, and that finds both radiant with the presence of God.
  Lately I have been reading in the Carmina Gadelica (1900-1954), Alexander Carmichael’s magisterial compilation of Gaelic hymns, prayers, and blessings, the fruit of sixty years of travel along the sheep-tracks and bridle-paths and trackless moors of the Scottish Highlands and islands. The crofters that Carmichael befriended, most of who were unlettered, untraveled, and, by the standards of the world, utterly destitute, exemplify the sensitivity to sacred realities that I have been describing. The presence of God, the Holy Trinity, suffuses every created realm:

The Three Who are over me,
The Three Who are below me,
The Three Who are above me here,
The Three Who are above me yonder,
The Three Who are in the earth,
The Three Who are in the air,
The Three Who are in the heaven,
The Three Who are in the pounding sea.

Every aspect of nature contains something of God. Carmichael tells us, for example, that the old men and women, in whom the ancient customs still survived, addressed daily hymns to sun and moon, often tramping several miles to the shore, winter or summer, “to join their voices with the voicing of the waves and their praises with the praises of the ceaseless sea.” There they celebrated the power of the sun and the intelligence of the moon, that warmed the soil by day and guided ships home by night, and they gave thanks to God, who created and dwells in every heavenly orb. “Is it not much meeter for me,” asked one crofter, “to bend my body to the sun and to the moon and to the stars, that the great God of life made for my good, than to the son or daughter of earth like myself?” There are traces of paganism in the Carmina Gadelica, but the presence of the one God lies behind every utterance, and in its pages all creation sings His praise. This is Christian environmentalism, and thus of particular interest to those who believe that Christianity is responsible for the current crisis and offers no way out. Here the eternal self-giving of the three Persons of the Trinity is the divine template against which all earthly relationships (including those between human beings and the other orders of being) must be measured. Here the saints, especially the Blessed Virgin and St. Bride, embody this environmentalism born of love; thus Bride—the most popular of all Gaelic saints—heals “as Christ did,” and, in turn, the crofter heals “as Bride did.” This is, then, an environmentalism whose motive is love, whose means is sanctity, whose fruit is beauty—the physical beauty of the natural world reflected in the moral beauty of its saints—and whose heart is the Eucharist, where divine and human unite, and where the fallen earth is restored to heavenly glory.
The culture portrayed in the Carmina Gadelica provides one set of clues to the resolution of the environmental crisis. There are many others, to be found in every authentic religious tradition. In Seeing God Everywhere, Barry McDonald has done us the great favor of gathering voices from many streams, ranging from Tibetan Buddhism to the Kabbalah to Orthodox Christianity to exponents of the perennial philosophy. Together, they constitute a universal chorus proclaiming some irreducible truths: that God abides above and yet within His creation; that every part of nature, even to the smallest sparrow playing in the dust, is a theophany, a “trace of God’s passing” (St. John of the Cross); that our only hope lies in repairing the world, not as an engineer repairs a machine, but as an artist restores an icon. These truths are proclaimed here with intelligence, beauty, and prophetic force. They will give rise, in thoughtful readers, to a number of disturbing speculations: about how the world has come to such a sorry state and what radical adjustments may be necessary to rectify it; about how traditionalists might best press their views in a hostile secular culture; about the relationship between environmental recklessness and various moral issues such as cloning, euthanasia, and abortion.
 How good it would be if this book were to come into the hands of everyone involved with

the natural world: environmentalists, naturalists, scientists, hunters, fishers, farmers, every mother with a baby playing in the garden, every father mowing the lawn, every human being who breathes air, drinks water, eats of the earth. That is to say, this book speaks to us all. If its lessons were heard and heeded, wonders might result. All of us long for a way out of this self-imposed crisis, and we are hungry for any message that offers hope (witness the stunning success of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, a tale at least in part about environmental degradation and its resolution through courage, love, and divine grace). This splendid collection points the way and fills us with hope. As such, it deserves our attention and our thanks.
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