Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Ancient and Modern Thought

... it was an encounter with the ancient philosophy of Plato and his disciples that convinced me of the incommensurable gulf between ancient and modern thought. This experience of the superiority of ancient teaching makes it difficult for me to justify the time and effort that it takes to delve into most contemporary writing of a non-traditional nature, especially that presented by the occult, new-age, and (Blavatskian) theosophical schools, when this time and effort could be better spent studying the orthodox teachings and commentaries of the prophets and saints of the world’s great religious traditions. Perhaps the only thing that I can suggest to the reader enamored with occult teachings is a similar course of study and the hope that the exposure to principles will overcome established prejudices. In his article on “Orthodoxy and Intellectuality” Schuon provides some thought provoking comments on this very issue that I will reproduce at length. He wrote:

“When we say that a doctrine is providential, we mean by this that it is contained in its own way in the Revelation itself and that it cannot fail to be "crystallized" at the cyclic moment assigned to it by its nature … Every cycle has qualitative aspects: what is possible at a certain moment is not possible at another, so that the birth of a particular perspective cannot occur at some arbitrary moment. And this provides us with yet another criterion of orthodoxy — or of heterodoxy — for it is certain that in our times, that is for the last few centuries, the cyclic moment for the manifestation of the great perspectives (darshanas) is past; readaptations — in the sense of a legitimate and therefore adequate and efficacious synthesis — are always possible, but not the manifestations of perspectives that are fundamental and "new" as to their form.

The least that can be said is that no present formulation could surpass the ancient formulations; commentaries can be made on the traditional perspectives, they can be summed up from a particular point of view or expressed according to a particular inspiration, but they cannot be contradicted or replaced …The spuriousness of such attempts always shows itself — apart from intrinsic errors — in the belittling and falsifying spirit which is so characteristic of the modern world; in fact it requires a prodigious lack of spiritual sensibility and of a sense of proportion to take any contemporary thinking, even the best possible, for one of the great providential "crystallizations" of the philosophia perennis.

… In reality, the philosophia perennis, actualized in the West, though on different levels, by Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, the Fathers and the Scholastics, constitutes a definitive intellectual heritage, and the great problem of our times is not to replace them with something better — for this something could not exist according to the point of view in question here — but to return to the sources, both around us and within us, and to examine all the data of contemporary life in the light of the one, timeless truth.

One of the things that men of today seem to fear most is to appear naive, whereas there is really nothing more naive than to attribute naivety to the ancient sages of the East and the West, whose teachings embrace implicitly, and broadly, everything of value to be found among the precautions and subtleties of modern thought; a man has to have very little imagination to believe, with the satisfaction of a schoolboy who is promoted, that he has at last discovered what hundreds and thousands of years of wisdom did not know, and that on the level of pure intelligence. Before seeking to "surpass" any "scholasticism," one should at least understand it! And if one understood it, one would hardly any longer try to surpass it ..."

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