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.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Path of Philosophy

It is my understanding that Platonic Philosophy is a form of theoretical gnosis, which is to say that it is a contemplative vision of reality expressed doctrinally - in Plato's case through the use of drama, symbol, and syllogism.

According to Plato, philosophy as such did not consist solely of its doctrinal expressions as represented by his writings. It was instead a comprehensive spiritual way consisting of contemplative disciplines, austerities, a religious foundation, and a form of initiation, all administered under the tutelage and companionship of a guide.

In his famous Seventh Letter, Plato wrote that none of his contemporaries would ever encounter a complete exposition of the doctrine committed to writing because a full understanding was only possible through a spiritual transmission made accessible through long association with a qualified guide and furthermore because the contemplative vision or intellectual intuition from which the doctrine arises is not capable of being reduced to exposition.

"Thus much at least, I can say about all writers, past or future, who say they know the things to which I devote myself, whether by hearing the teaching of me or of others, or by their own discoveries-that according to my view it is not possible for them to have any real skill in the matter. There neither is nor ever will be a treatise of mine on the subject. For it does not admit of exposition like other branches of knowledge; but after much converse about the matter itself and a life lived together, suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself."

It is possible to reconstruct something of what this comprehensive way consisted of through recourse to the original writings and commentaries of Plato's successors, commonly referred to as the Neoplatonists and the fellowship behind Prometheus Trust has done a very remarkable job of piecing these fragments together - see especially The Unfolding Wings by Tim Addey.

Despite modern attempts to reconstruct the disciplines, including the practice of Theurgy, to the best of my knowledge, the spiritual transmission which Plato identifies as the key to the whole affair has not survived in its original context but rather seems to have been perpetuated within other traditional forms up to the present day, especially in the Islamic philosophical tradition in Persia.

To answer the question of the relevance of platonic philosophy today in the absence of a living form, I would say quite simply that it benefits those who are drawn to it as theory in the original meaning of the term. According to Frithjof Schuon in Tracing the Notion of Philosophy, "Theory, by definition, is not an end in itself; it is only — and seeks only — to be a key for becoming conscious through the 'heart.'" As an ancient expression of the perennial philosophy, it has the capability of informing our capacity for heart knowledge. I once obtained great benefit from the study of Plato's Dialogs which enabled me to discern the errors and inadequacies of modern pretenders to ancient wisdom by comparing them to the very fountainhead of wisdom in the West. Nevertheless the question then arose of whether I should devote my life to unravelling these ancient expositions, or more profitably spend my time investigating their contemporary counterparts which have the benefit of being attached to living and accessible traditional forms and spiritual ways. I believe that it is ultimately a matter of personal inclination and vocation but perhaps Plato's Philosophy, despite the undeniable benefits arising from its diligent study, is no longer capable of providing you with all that you are seeking to obtain from it.

Quotes on Discerning Orthodoxy

Greetings of Peace. The following are a few pertinent extracts from traditional writings. I include them, not as some sort of dogmatic pronouncement, but rather to aid you in becoming oriented to the traditional perspective as it concerns the consideration of orthodoxy. I hope that you may find them helpful.

"It may be said that religion essentially entails the conjunction of three elements belonging to different orders, a dogma, a moral law and a cult or form of worship ; wherever one or other of these elements happens to be wanting, there can no longer be any question of religion in the proper sense of the word. We will add forthwith that the first element forms the intellectual part of religion, the second its social portion, while the third, which is the ritual element, participates in both these functions …"

(Rene Guenon - Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines)

"For a religion to be considered intrinsically orthodox … it must be founded on a doctrine of the Absolute which, taken as a whole, is adequate; this religion must then advocate and achieve a spirituality that is proportioned to this doctrine, which is to say that it must comprise sanctity both in notion and in fact. Therefore, the religion must be of divine and not of philosophical origin, and consequently it must be the vessel for a sacramental or theurgic presence made manifest notably in miracles and also—though this may be surprising to some—in sacred art. Specific formal elements, such as apostolic personages and sacred events, are subordinated inasmuch as they are forms to the principial elements just mentioned; their meaning or value can therefore change from one religion to another—human diversity making such fluctuations inevitable—without this constituting any contradiction with regard to the essential criteriology that concerns both metaphysical truth and salvific efficacy, and secondarily—and on that basis—human stability …"

(Frithjof Schuon - Form and Substance in the Religions)

"Every complete tradition implies three elements, utilizable by all concerned and at all degrees of knowledge though in differing proportions. These elements are: (a) a form of doctrine, expressed in the appropriate “spiritual dialect” (which, to some extent at least, will exclude other dialects), the vehicle of that doctrine being not only the spoken or written word, but also arts, manners and indeed everything great or small forming part of the tradition in question: and (b) certain “means of Grace”, whether transmitted from the origins or else revealed at some subsequent time, these being the specific supports of the spiritual influences animating that tradition: and (c) a traditional law regulating the scope of action, positively and negatively, in various ways."

(Marco Pallis - On Soliciting and Imparting Spiritual Counsel)

"Tradition as used in its technical sense … means truths or principles of a divine origin revealed or unveiled to mankind and, in fact, a whole cosmic sector through various figures envisaged as messengers, prophets, avatāras, the Logos or other transmitting agencies, along with all the ramifications and applications of these principles in different realms including law and social structure, art, symbolism, the sciences, and embracing of course Supreme Knowledge along with the means for its attainment."

(Seyyed Hossein Nasr - What is Tradition?)

Discerning Orthodoxy

In my opinion, the first thing to take into consideration is that Guenon and others of the traditional school are not dealing first and foremost with texts and the dispute concerning their authenticity or the veracity of their contents, but rather with living traditions and the consideration of orthodoxy in light of an understanding of traditional metaphysics. There are a variety of internal and external factors that can be used in the application of sound judgement in these matters and you will find many discussions on these in the present section of our forums to which I have moved your post. Of course, the easiest way to make such an assessment is to engage oneself in the fullest manner possible with a living orthodox tradition as this will give one access to God and thereby to the implicit capability of discerning the diverse manifestations of His influence. Participation in one of God's revelations brings with it the possibility of bearing witness to others. The excessive rationality that characterizes modern thought can serve as an obstacle to the humility required of such participation. One of the functions of many of the books written by these sagacious teachers is to meet the rational man at his own level by the application of superior arguments, in reality very ancient teachings couched in a new discursive form, and ultimately to delineate a path leading from ratiocinative apprehension to intellectual intuition. It may be helpful to you to read one or two of these books that are concerned with exposing the psuedo-intellectual foundations of modernity such as Rene Guenon's The Crisis of the Modern World and The Reign of Quantity of the Signs of the Times in addition to a good summa of the traditional perspective of which I consider Nasr's Knowledge and the Sacred to be the best ...

Guenon's early assertion of the heterodoxy of Buddhism was based upon his predisposition toward the Vedanta and assimilation of its early conflict with the Madhyamika school of Buddhism. He later rescinded this assertion largely due to the influence of two of his prominent correspondents, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Marco Pallis. Concerning reincarnation, he rejected the popular notion of the soul continuing a cyclic return to the habitation of the physical body and instead understood it as posthumously inhabiting different states or levels of being which are mythologically represented in Hinduism and Buddhism as the various heavens and hells. Although I am somewhat skeptical of most contemporary writers who refer to themselves as traditionalists, especially those who have been "riding the tiger", my own interviews with the followers of Bahá'u'lláh have led me to the understanding that their doctrine is erected quite self-consciously upon the twin pillars of modernity, evolution and progress, couched within an eschatological framework and crowned by a universalist sentimentalism.

I hope that you are able to find something useful among these thoughts, and I look forward to further discussions with you on our forums.

Homosexuality and Human Dignity

Too often the homosexual is reduced to a sex act rather than acknowledged as a human being created to love God and compelled by nature to love other human beings. A discourse informed solely by heterosexual and predominantly Christian men is reasonably inefficient in empathizing with the plight of the homosexual male and especially the homosexual female toward whom the prevailing condemnation of sodomy does not apply. From the perspective of the homosexual as I understand it, their tendency to love was bestowed upon them by the same God worshiped by heterosexuals. Again, from this perspective, to arrogantly attempt to deny them their innate disposition is not only to condemn them to a loveless life but also an affront to He who is their creator. In my personal life I have encountered some homosexuals of admirable faith who, while accepting the conditions and tendencies that God has given them, struggle with their ability to nurture their faith within religious communities that ostracize and condemn them in violation of the principles of the same faith that they seek to uphold, a faith which teaches to love your neighbor as yourself.

Perhaps a valuable lesson can be learned from the Divine Plato, not from the fact that he privileged homosexuality, but rather from his ability to convey through parable the power and universality of love as it is experienced by all human being


I was being deliberately provocative in my response. As there are no outwardly homosexual participants in the discussion, I thought it was necessary to introduce something of the perspective of the homosexual that I have gathered from my own discussions to more fully portray the dimensions of the subject under consideration. It is very common for those of various religions to band together in united and active condemnation of a perceived "other" in order to assert their own piety and privileged standing before God. In the sphere of religion, it is common for Muslims, for instance, to persecute Jews, and for Christians to persecute Muslims. All however tend to stand united in the active condemnation of homosexuals. Although this type of condemnation seldom escalates to acts of physical violence, the hate within the heart of the perpetrator is already an act of violence, both toward object of his anger and to the perpetrator himself. Needless to say, this type of violence stands in direct opposition to the tenets of the religions which these various collectivities claim to represent, all of which call to love your neighbor as yourself. As I strongly discourage the perpetuation of these tendencies in our forums, I felt it necessary to write in the deliberately provocative terms that I used.

Concerning the need to discern true principles within our discourse, I thought it pertinent to consider the nature of the human being and his irreducibility to a particular act. According to tradition, the human being is often represented as a complex of body, soul, and spirit. Although there are degrees of severity among sinful acts, the fact remains that any given human being is not reducible to that particular act. In the Islamic Tradition in particular we are taught that the weight of our virtuous acts far outweighs the impact of our vices. In the language of the Hadith it is said that on the Day of Judgement each virtuous act will be counted ten times, and each vice only once. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, while the act of sodomy among men and women is (with few exceptions) universally condemned within religions, there is no tradition to my knowledge which portrays God as placing sanctions upon the love of the human heart, and it is precisely this love which is the defining characteristic of all human beings regardless of sexual orientation, or at least moreso than any particular act. At its highest levels, religion calls us to extend this love not only to other human beings, but also to all of creation - plant, animal, and mineral, and first and foremost to God himself.

My own perspective on this subject, in accordance with the Islamic Tradition, is that we are called upon to be agents of God's love and compassion, not of His anger and wrath. Reza Shah-Kazemi provided a profound reflection on this important practical element of the Islamic Faith in his book "My Mercy Encompasses All." The Christian poet Wendell Berry gave some insightful reflections on the same in his preface to the book which are particularly relevant to our discussion, so I share some of them here as a conclusion. He wrote,

"As I read, I thought with some dismay, and some amusement, that the adherents of the Koran and the Bible might be divided into two groups: those who appoint themselves as agents of divine anger, and those who understand themselves as called to be agents of divine mercy. As never before, I thought of the unimaginable distance between God's anger and God's love - and of the speed with which Christians sometimes move from God's presumed anger at other people to his presumptive love for themselves.

"To think of oneself as an agent of God's anger is exceedingly attractive; perhaps this is the temptation that the Lord's Prayer appeals to God not to lead us into. There are certain intense pleasures in anger, especially if one's own anger can be presumed to coincide with God's, and also in the use of an angry self-righteousness as a standard by which to condemn other people. This is a pleasure necessarily founded on the shallowest sort of self-knowledge. There is much comedy in this (as Shakespeare, for one, knew well), and also great tragedy. It is evidently possible to indulge one's anger, justifying it as God's, and relying on God's mercy hereafter - but that seems to bet against great odds, and with hell to pay here and now for a lot of people. For those who appoint themselves agents of God's anger, there can be only diversion and strife until the end of time.

"To take up, by contrast, the agency of God's mercy seems to involve one in a labor of self-knowledge and then knowledge of others that is endlessly humbling. This perhaps is a comedy of another kind: We ourselves are in need of those things we are called upon to give to others: compassion, forgiveness, mercy. And unless we give them, we cannot receive them. God's mercy is of interest to us only in the light of our recognition of our need for it. Those who accept the agency of God's mercy, understanding their own need for it as the index of the need for others, must forbear their anger and talk together ("hold discourse" in the language of Dr. Shah-Kazemi's translation) until the end of time, for God's mercy is a mystery never to be fully known or enacted by humans."

It is by encouraging a composite view of the human being in accordance with traditional principles as well as the Islamic practice of being an agent of God's mercy rather than his anger that I hoped to elevate the present discussion beyond the prevailing politicized discourse and hate-filled condemnation of the masses.

Guenon and Initiation

Greetings of Peace. Scott's definition is precise and complete so it will suffice simply to unpack it, employing concrete examples to render its meaning more transparent. It is necessary to consider, for example, precisely what are the spiritual influences being referred to and also what is the manner in which they are transmitted.

In the traditional worldview, the spiritual influences consist of a supernatural power or grace issuing from God, transmitted to humanity by divine agents, and passed down through the generations from person to person to the present day. To give a concrete example from my own tradition, Islamic Sufism, this spiritual influence or initiatic power is referred to alternately as wilayah or walayah. In the words of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, writing in The Garden of Truth,

"Fallen human beings are cut off from the higher or more inward dimensions of their own being and confined to the prison of the ego. Furthermore, the gates to the higher states are locked for the ordinary person. The Sufis believe that in addition to the function of prophecy (al-nubuwwah), bestowed upon the Prophet by God, he was also given the initiatic power or walayah/wilayah ... when a person wishes to embark upon a path to the garden, he or she must find an authentic spiritual master in whom this power is present and receive, through a rite that goes back to the Prophet, the initiation transmitting the power of walaya/wilayah to him or her. Through this rite the locks on the door that leads to the path of ascent or inwardness are removed."

The rite of initiation itself, by which spiritual influences are transmitted can take many forms, in each instance a physical act such as touching, vestiture, breathing, or even looking, by itself or accompanied by traditional formulae, serves as the physical and outward medium of the interior spiritual transmission. To use just a few examples in Sufism, the rite may take the form of bayah, a grip, or khirqah, vestiture of a cloak, or even by means of tasbih, the prayer cord, accompanied by the recitation of traditional formulae.

In certain dimensions of Hinduism, initiation can take the form of Upanayana which consists of the investiture with a sacred cord and transmission of a traditional formula or mantra. In the same manner that Sufis trace the lineage of the transmission of the initiatic power back to God through the Prophet Muhammad -May Peace and Blessings be upon Him - so does the Shaivite Tradition trace the lineage of transmission back to Dakshinamurti, or Shiva in the form of the first Guru ...

According to the traditional perspective, although the formal aspects of a rite possess a certain power of their own, the effectiveness of initiation lies in the transmission of the spiritual influence, rather than ritual integrity alone.

Because so much discussion has been devoted to Freemasonry recently, it may be advantageous to use it as an illustration. The central initiatory rite contained within the multi-layered ceremonies of the Freemasons consists in that moment when the Master Mason, identified with the slain Hiram Abiff, is raised from the dead with the grip of the lion's paw and transmitted the Lost Word upon the five points of fellowship. Although the rite itself has been preserved more or less intact, the spiritual influences rendering it effective have been lost as evidenced by the lack of an operative support for interior work.

Thoughts on the Traditional Studies Forum

Greetings of Peace. Thank you for sharing something of your initial experience and the difficulties attendant to it. Perhaps a few more words are necessary about the nature of our forum. The foundation of our discussions consists of the teachings of the traditional school. What this means is that the majority of the participants here are people who are either conversant with or actively engaged in the study of these teachings. It is immaterial whether or nor one fully agrees with all of it, and we frequently have our disagreements, but the fact of the matter is that these teachings serve as both a point of reference and a point of departure for the investigation and evaluation of tradition, religion, and modernity.

This is, in essence, the nature of the 'audience' that you are writing to and the community that we are participating in. Part of the challenge that we are faced with, both through our religious convictions and through our pursuit of sacred knowledge is to take it and ourselves seriously.

Frithjof Schuon wrote that, "When metaphysical knowledge is effective it produces love and destroys presumption. It produces love, that is to say the spontaneous directing of the will towards God and the perception of "myself" - and of God - in one's neighbor. It destroys presumption, for knowledge does not allow a man to overestimate himself or to underestimate others. By reducing to ashes all that is not God it orders all things."

I believe that in communicating with others both through correspondence of this nature and in our personal relations we are afforded the opportunity to learn to put these teachings into practice in our lives and eventually carry them into that situation which is most important, when we have no audience and only God is watching. As you can see from our communications, there is a learning curve for everyone involved.

If this is the type of community you are interested in participating in, I again extend to you my welcome, and hope that you are able to make the most of it.

Finding a Tradition

Greetings of Peace. This inquiry is certainly not new to our forums, but each time it is made the unique qualities of each person bring to it something different such that it always seems to bear more fruit. There is certainly no harm in revisiting it.

I would like to preface my response by reiterating the fact that I am not a spiritual teacher nor an authority of any kind. If I have anything of value to offer you in your dilemma, it stems from my experience of having once been in your situation as well as conversing with many others who have shared similar experiences.

It is also pertinent to note that the peculiar situation that you find yourself in, presented with the decision to choose tradition or rather a particular tradition amongst many is one of the unique symptoms of the spiritual malaise of our age. It is likewise an expression of the heart's natural inclination to turn toward God when placed within the throes of this malaise ...

In principle it is possible for anyone to follow any tradition. However, the conditions of heredity, disposition, and circumstance eliminate many of these possibilities. In the modern west we are effectively left with three primary options, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, each of which is a living vibrant tradition uniquely suited to the conditions of the Kali Yuga as they stem from the most recent revelations, and furthermore each is a religion of conversion. This is not to say that these are the only possibilities, but rather that others are simply more remote. If I was to add one more to this list it would be Sikhism, which is also a religion of conversion, but one to which little consideration is generally given in the west.

To answer your question, yes, your Lutheran upbringing subsists as an aspect of your heredity and will impact your entrance into another church or tradition. Whether this influence is positive or negative will largely be determined by the nature of your experience within the Church and any attitudes that you may have developed toward religion in general and Christianity in particular.

In short, I do not believe that it is possible to fully divest ourselves of our heredity, be it positive or negative. We continue to carry with us the effects of the circumstances into which God has placed us. Does this mean that you will be worse off than the person who was not raised in a tradition? I don't think so, but this consideration is highly dependent upon the individual in question. The exponents of the traditional school generally seem to think that by virtue of being born into the west, we are profoundly impacted by Christianity, even if we do not consciously acknowledge the fact ...

In Islam we have a traditional teaching regarding the primordial covenant or fitrah, which states that on the Day of Reckoning, God gathered together all of the souls that would ever be born upon the face of the earth and proposed to them the question "Am I not your Lord?" to which they replied in unison "Indeed, we have testified." According to this teaching, knowledge of God and the aspiration to return to him are woven into the very fabric of our being such that it is not a question of obtaining the necessary determination or faith but rather of removing the impediments that obscure this innate disposition.

Concerning what you should do, although I am not qualified to give spiritual counsel, I do feel comfortable relating a piece of advice given by a respected Shaykh to someone in your situation. Quite simply it is to petition God for guidance and direction while maintaining a humble attitude of prayerful expectancy. This does not mean that you should expect a profound realization or celestial apparition to guide your way but rather that you should maintain the confidence that God in his wisdom and mercy will enable you to make the best decision for yourself when the time is right.

The "Perennial" in Perennial Philosophy

Greetings of Peace. I am certain that we all have our own unique perspective concerning the value and significance (or lack thereof) of the teachings of the traditional school. What interests me the most are what the representatives themselves say of their work and motives. Implicit within your original assumption is a shadow of the ideology of progress inasmuch as it implies that these teachers had discovered and put forward something new. They would have us believe a contrary view, however. In reflecting upon his work, Understanding Islam, Schuon communicates the following conviction:

"What we really have in mind in this as in previous works is the scientia sacra or philosophia perennis, that universal gnosis which always has existed and always will exist. Few topics are so unrewarding as conventional laments about the "researches of the human mind" never being satisfied; in fact everything has been said already, though it is far from being the case that everyone has always understood it. There can therefore be no question of presenting "new truths"; what is needed in our time, and indeed in every age remote from the origins of Revelation, is to provide some people with keys fashioned afresh — keys no better than the old ones but merely more elaborated — in order to help them rediscover the truths written in an eternal script in the very substance of man's spirit."

One of the facts that is frequently reiterated in their works is that the wisdom or Sophia that they speak of is an ever-present reality, or Sophia Perennis, that is accessed individually from the center of ones own being and consciousness which is identical in a mysterious way with the source from which Revelation issues. Gnosis, or the experience of this reality, followed by its theoretical explication, is demonstrably present in all traditions. If there is anything unique about the teachings of the traditional school, it lies in the presentation rather than in the origin or content of the teaching, as well as in the timing or historical conditions in which it has been brought forth. This leads into your questions as follows ...

Although I don't agree with your choice of words, I think that your intuition is pointing you in the right direction.

The first book of the traditional school that I read was Rene Guenon's Crisis of the Modern World. I found it in a bookstall while I was traveling throughout India and was so captivated that I picked up more of his books there wherever I encountered them. My background in religious studies and occultism, combined with the setting, wherein I was able to witness firsthand the encroachment of western modernism upon an eastern traditional civilization, were particularly suited to facilitating my appreciation of the book and enhancing its impact.

One of the most striking characteristics of Guenon's perspective for me at that time was how seriously he took religious teachings. They were not so many theories to be catalogued or analyzed in a historical or socio-political manner. Instead they were teachings of a divine origin that provide guidance in understanding the world and our role in it. Crisis is a book about the Kali Yuga, and this teaching (as Schuon indicates above) is elaborated in such a manner that it is then capable of providing insight into the conditions of our present civilization.

As I became more familiar with the traditional school, I came to realize even more just how serious these teachings were taken and they reiterated my impression that the doctrine of the Yugas (among other things) was neither a mythology nor some type of historical hermeneutic, but a fact that describes in a symbolical way a reality that we are experiencing right now and which may become apprehensible as we are divested of the ideologies wherein our minds are enchained.

One of the common perspectives put forth in these works pertains to the eschatological significance of the restatement of the Sophia Perennis at this stage of the cosmic cycle. The emergence of a Summa of traditional wisdom capable of revivifying the faithful of all traditions without destroying the uniqueness of those traditions, following the completion of the cycles of prophetic revelation, and occurring near the end of the Kali Yuga , is a phenomenon of cosmic significance. The general attitude is that this specific body of teaching, the promulgation of esoteric knowledge previously reserved for for an elect, and the accessibility of multiple religious pathways, are all providential occurrences that represent a kind of cosmic compensation for the present conditions of our age.

In response to your second question, it should be remembered that the traditional school is concerned with the promulgation of traditional doctrines whether derived from intellection or revelation. It is not the case that people of previous eras did not need or have access to them for they are the same doctrines describing a reality that it ever-present. The difference lies solely in the presentation, in other words in the nature of its elaboration or emphasis. In an interview Schuon spoke of the imperious logical needs of modern man. Such a man has become entrenched in his ideologies in such a way that new keys must be fashioned in order reach him and guide him out of the quagmire. Thus the pseudo-intellectual atheist may require recourse to an application of superior arguments, which only metaphysics may provide, to reach him at his own level. Similarly, an occultist or pseudo-esoterist in many cases can only be drawn out of the pit of his satanic seduction by exposure to authentic esoterism rooted in the revelations. The list continues indefinitely as does the influence of the impulse of tradition radiating from the school into different domains.

Although it is certainly not an orthodox interpretation of the scripture, I cannot help but recall the words of Krisha in the Bhagavad Gita if he is considered in this context as the personification of universal and perennial wisdom.

"Whenever there is a decline of dharma, O Bharata, and a rise of adharma, I incarnate Myself. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of dharma, I am born in every age." (4:7-8)

Denominational Exclusivity

Greetings of Peace. I generally avoid the designations traditionalist and perennialist because they create the false impression of an ideology, but I understand your question so I will not belabor the point. As Schuon is widely considered one of the central figures of the traditional school, an appeal to his teachings is pertinent in illustrating the general view of this topic. He has two primary considerations that you can read about in detail in the first and third chapters of Gnosis: Divine Wisdom. The first is as follows:

"Religions are separated from each other by barriers of mutual incomprehension, and one of the principal reasons for this seems to be that the sense of the absolute is situated in each case on a different plane, so that points of comparison often prove illusory. Elements resembling one another in form appear in such diverse contexts that their function changes from one case to another, and as a result their nature changes as well ..."

Examples of the sense of the absolute situated on different planes can be seen within the categories of The Paths to the Summit section of our forum and their supporting quotations. Suffice to say that unless a person has a propensity for understanding metaphysical doctrines, it is not possible to reconcile these perspectives except in an inadequate and ultimately illusory manner. An often overlooked point that is emphasized by both Guenon and Schuon is that the goal of religion is not to communicate such doctrines, but rather to save souls, essentially by establishing a divinely ordained system of beliefs, worship, and ethics. Metaphysical doctrine, including its corollaries such as the transcendent unity of religions, is quite exceptional in this context as most people do not have a propensity for it. Nevertheless, the challenges to religion proposed by modernism and secularism necessitate a recourse to metaphysics in order to preserve and defend the integrity of the faithful. This is in essence the public program of the traditional school carried out through its various writings.

To return to Schuon's second point, he also wrote that, "If Revelations more or less exclude one another, this is so of necessity since God, when He speaks, expresses Himself in an absolute mode; but this absoluteness concerns the universal content rather than the form, to which it applies only in a relative and symbolical sense, for the form is a symbol of the content and so too of humanity as a whole, to which precisely this content is addressed. It cannot be that God would compare the diverse Revelations from the outside as might a scholar; He keeps Himself as it were at the center of each Revelation as if it were the only one. Revelation speaks an absolute language because God is absolute, not because the form is absolute; in other words the absoluteness of the Revelation is absolute in itself, but relative in its form."

This is basically saying that each revelation is uniquely a manifestation of the absolute, the quality of which is reflected in its totality and comprehensiveness. Each tradition is a self-contained locus of the manifestation of the Divine which does not require any other revelation to complete or explain it. Concerning the denominations, these are a reflection of God's Infinitude, and constitute so many actualizations of the possibilities inherent in a Revelation. From the perspective of their adherents, each exalts the denomination itself to the status of the tradition as a whole and sees within it the absoluteness of the Revelation. One may easily find fault with this perspective from a metaphysical point of view, but it does not necessarily preclude genuine participation in the Revelation ...

One of the functions of this type of criticism is to demarcate boundaries that establish a unique identity for one's position. The Brahma Sutras proposed to reconcile the teachings of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita and establish an indentity for the Vedanta perspective by separating it from other prevalent perspectives. The latter task it accomplished through the foundational subject of causality, proposing that Brahman is the sufficient cause of all things. In the second chapter, it focuses solely on this subject in its criticism of the different schools, but does not propose a systematic refutation of the various perspectives as a whole. One may even go so far as to say that the diversity of the perspectives considered may indirectly testify to the universality of the Vedanta or at least of the author, but this is not the generally accepted view.

Guenon identifies what are now popularly considered to be the six darshanas or orthodox points of view. He actually references the above chapter of the Brahma Sutras and is careful to demonstrate the manner in which each of these darshanas is reconciled within the metaphysical outlook of the Vedanta. A useful way to understand the intricacies of Guenon's perspective concerning the different points of view emerging from a single underlying body of doctrine, is to consider the difference between the teachings of Plato and Aristotle and the manner in which they were both accepted to integrated into the philosophy of the post-Plotinian Platonic Philosophers. Although, like the author of the Brahma Sutras, Aristotle was critical of Plato on certain points , the later philosophers viewed them both as explicating a single doctrine albeit through different methods and starting points. Aristotle proceeded inductively from the analysis of the many and Plato proceeded deductively from the contemplation of the One. A direct parallel can be seen within the comparison of Sankhya and Vaisheshika. Guenon writes that "Universal manifestation can be looked at in two different ways; either synthetically, starting from the principles out of which it proceeds and which determine it in its every mode - this is the point of view of Sankhya ... or else analytically, in the distinguishing of its manifold constituent elements, and this is the line of approach of Vaisheshika."

Guenon's acknowledgement of the authenticity of different perspectives of the Hindu Doctrine is also shared by Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi, the revered 68th Jagadguru of Kanchi, as evidenced by his writing Many Paths to the Same Goal.

Hinduism and Craft Initiation

Greetings of Peace and congratulations upon your participation in ISKCON. From what little I know of the society, it does appear to be a legitimate branch of Gaudiya Vaishnava Hinduism (though this latter term is avoided by the society as a foreign appellation) albeit one that was transplanted to America in 1966 at the height of the counter-cultural revolution, a fact that undoubtedly influenced the temperament and proliferation of its congregation. The tradition appears to have been faithfully perpetuated by Swami Prabhupada without the concessions to modern ideology that may be witnessed in other attempts to transmit Hinduism to the west as one may find for instance in a Swami Vivekananda of the previous generation. Most of the problems that arose within the society and which are strong factors marring its reputation did so after the death of Swami Prabhupada, clearly the result of both human weakness and corruption in the case of the guru scandals and the inability to cope with the loss of a unifying spiritual and administrative leader in the case of the various schisms. Although the shortcomings of men and institutions cannot serve as the criterion of judging the integrity of a tradition which is ultimately revealed by God, the perpetuation of this particular tradition is largely dependent upon fidelity to the principle of parampara, the direct transmission of spiritual instruction and influence from guru to disciple. It is this factor that I would encourage you to be mindful of in the course of your own affiliation.

Others here have drawn attention to the common view that westerners may not practice Hinduism due to caste restrictions. This is a complicated subject owing to the disparity of the classical and contemporary implementations of the caste system. For the time being, I will simply remark that the Hindu religion is incorporated into the social structure of the civilization which determines the nature of one's religious participation therein with respect to both dimension and magnitude. Suffice to say that there are no appropriate proscriptions for those not integrated into this structure. The idea of conversion is simply not given consideration.

Nevertheless, there are certain branches of Hinduism, in the minority but nonetheless existent, which are not influenced by the consideration of caste, instead proscribing the same teachings and practices for all of their adherents and in some instances non-Hindus as well. It is perhaps with these exceptions in mind that, in at least one instance that I am aware of, Frithjof Schuon did not deny the possibility of a European practicing Hinduism in some form, although he did emphasize that in general the nature and qualities of western civilization and the prevailing mentality present certain significant obstacles. In Self-Knowledge and the Western Seeker, he wrote,

"We do not say that a Jew or a Christian [i.e. a westerner] can never follow a Hindu sadhana; we say that, if they follow it, they must ... take account of their own mental make-up."

You also made the comment that you are somewhat unsatisfied with certain exoteric aspects of your Hindu temple implying that you also possess an interest in or an inclination toward esoterism. This is likewise a complex subject, many of the facets of which have been illuminated in Schuon's Understanding Esoterism. In it's simplest and most direct consideration, the difference between exoterism and esoterism is illustrated through the distinction of bhakti and jnana or devotion and knowledge, without ignoring of course the realms within which these dimensions coincide.

In this context, it seems that with your interest in Freemasonry, you may be looking for a gnostic complement to the bhaktic orientation of your present practice. Craft Masonry, or the Blue Lodge of the modern order of Freemasonry contains the vestiges of the medieval initiatory procedure for inducting craftsmen into an operative trade guild. It culminates with participation in a dramatic re-enactment of the sacred origin of masonry, which, in the European tradition consists of the biblical account of the construction of King Solomon's Temple augmented with details of Masonic folklore pertaining to the Grand Master Hiram Abiff.

Other Masonic traditions, such as those of Hinduism and Islam, ascribe different origins to the craft. In Hinduism, there is actually a god of craftsmen or rather the craftsman of the Gods, Vishvakarman, who revealed the arts to humanity. In Islamic civilization, the origination of the craft guilds is credited to Imam Ali as part of a silsila similar to and in some instances allied with that of a tariqah.

The proliferation of further degrees in allied bodies of instruction and chivalry in European Freemasonry are for the most part foreign accretions while the majority of the quasi-Masonic orders are of dubious origin. Although I would not necessarily account the modern institution of European Freemasonry among the perpetrators of the counter-initiation (unlike Co-Masonry and quasi-Masonic Orders such as the Golden Dawn), it is something of a lifeless shell without either the practice of the craft or a religious framework within which to serve as as an alchemical support. One can expect no more from the modern institution than is claimed in its monitors, that of "a system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols."

Craft initiation in general, however, is a compelling subject for those interested in the spiritual dimensions of the plastic arts. I would particularly recommend to your attention The Indian Craftsman by Ananda Coomaraswamy, the UNESCO anthology entitled The Islamic City, and Who's Afraid of Freemasons? By Piatigorsky, which despite its rather unglamorous title is an excellent phenomenological study.

Here is what Schuon has to say on the subject in the aforementioned article: [I have added a few clarifications]

"Secondly, it [Chistian Esoterism] can be something completely different, namely the Greco-Latin — or Near Eastern — esoterism incorporated into Christianity: here we are thinking above all of Hermeticism [Alchemy] and the craft initiations [Freemasonry]. In this case the esoterism is more or less limited or even fragmentary, it resides more in the sapiential character of the method [the spiritual dimensions of metallurgy or architecture] — now lost — than in the doctrine and the objective; the doctrine was principally cosmological, and consequently the objective did not transcend the “lesser mysteries” or horizontal perfection, or “primordial” perfection, if one is referring to the ideal conditions of the “Golden Age”. Be that as it may, this Christianized cosmological or alchemical esoterism — “humanist~~ in a still legitimate sense, since it was a question of restoring to the microcosm the perfection of a macrocosm still in conformity with God — was essentially vocational, given that neither a science nor an art can be imposed on everyone; man chooses a science or an art for reasons of affinity and qualification, and not a priori to save his soul. Salvation, being guaranteed by religion, man may, a posteriori, and on this very basis, exploit his gifts and professional occupations, and it is even normal or necessary that he should do so when an occupation linked with an alchemical or craft esoterism imposes itself on him for any reason.


Here we must explain two paradoxes, that of the craft initiations and that of the emperor. The craft initiations pertain to jnana, but have been reduced to a cosmology and an alchemy, as we remarked above: it is a question of bringing man back to the primordial norm, not by sentimental heroism but simply by basing oneself on the nature of things and with the help of a craft symbolism; it seems likely that, in the case of masonry, this perspective has surrendered the field to a humanistic universalism [an areligious moral code] which is merely the caricature of the intellective point of view; the distant cause of this being the Renaissance, and the proximate cause being the “Enlightenment. "" [In light of these last remarks, it is pertinent to note that European Freemasonry began its transition from operative to speculative masonry in the 16th century having completely lost its craft by the time of the emergence of the United Grand Lodge of England in the 18th century. The sapiential dimensions of craftwork have very nearly been obliterated in the wake of the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.]

I hope that you are able to find something useful among these ruminations.

Why is Manifestation Necessary?

Greetings of Peace. This subject is given ample treatment in Schuon's article "Creation as a Divine Quality" published in Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism. To identify just a few salient points as they pertain to your question we might say that the necessity of manifestation is explained through a tautology metaphysically considered, which is to say that it rests upon the certitude of Divine qualities apprehended through intellection as opposed to ratiocination.

Specifically, manifestation is a necessary corollary to the quality of Divine Goodness whereby it is in the nature of the Good to radiate itself. The hierarchy of the multiple states of being extend in the direction of the negation of the Principle through its quality of Infinitude. As Zachary once eloquently stated - if I remember correctly, the Absolute being without limitations and restrictions is also beyond the state of being without limitations and restrictions.

The preceding discussion has been limited to the consideration of manifestation only. In his article, Schuon makes the distinction between manifestation as such and creation. The former pertains to total manifestation which proceeds of necessity from the Divine nature, while the latter pertains to partial manifestation or a single cycle of total manifestation which proceeds freely though not of necessity from the Divine Will. In his own words,

"As we have just indicated, cosmic and coeternal manifestation is necessary, because God is necessary, whereas "creation" is free because it is, not "the manifestation," but "a manifestation"; God is in fact free in His "modes of expression," but not in His "ways of being," so to speak, and this is necessarily the case since the perfection of freedom and the perfection of necessity must both be found in the divine Nature; despite the anthropomorphist theologians who see a constraint in necessity, and who unconsciously confuse freedom with arbitrariness, hence with the absence of principles.
Indeed, God was not obliged to create "this" world, that is to say, these minerals, these plants, these animals; but by His very Nature He was obliged to create "the world as such": by His very Nature, that is, by virtue of the Radiation demanded by His being the "Good.""

I realize that I have not answered your first question regarding the details of evolution which is beyond the scope of my competence and interest. Undoubtedly, there are other participants here much more learned than myself in this domain who may be able to provide you with adequate feedback.

Interdenominational Participation and Synceticism

Greetings of Peace. Although your question is one that would be most appropriately directed toward a spiritual guide, the prevailing attitude here is that we may benefit from each other's experiences and considerations in a spirit of charity and humility without such perspectives holding a pretense of absolute authority or finality, such being the province proper to the shaykh, spiritual father, or guru alone.

The main consideration that you have expressed concerns the phenomenon of interdenominational participation. In Islam this phenomenon presents less of an obstacle due to the orthodox acceptance of different codifications of Islamic jurisprudence and theology which determine the corporate body of Islam. Although a significant tension, both doctrinally and politically, exists between Sunni and Shi'ite Islam, even this is oftentimes assuaged within the context of congregational worship. For instance, Sunnis may sometimes pray alongside Shi'ites at a Shi'ite mosque (as was once frequently my custom) and Shi'ites, who in America are a comparative minority, may sometimes find only a Sunni mosque in the vicinity with which to fulfill this obligation in which case dissimulation may have a role to play. In either instance, the Muslim in question rests assured that his activity is unquestionably legitimate, the diversity of the ummah having received the sanction of the Quranic revelation.

As an older tradition that has accumulated a more pronounced diversity within its denominations as well as more openings toward modernism, Christianity seems to require a more nuanced consideration. In Catholicism, for instance, salvation occurs with and through the Church and emphasis is placed upon the rich sacramental life of Catholic Christian rites. In a typical modern independent Evangelical Church salvation occurs through faith and emphasis is placed, as the epithet implies, upon evangelizing or communicating the words of the Bible and deriving concrete moral lessons from them.

In the example of Evangelicalism given above, and in my experience with adherents of local megachurches, services are primarily a social affair virtually void of any sacramental participation with the exception of a simple immersive baptism and dedicated (rather than consecrated) communion, all emphasis being placed upon scriptural communication and fellowship. In light of this it seems plausible that you may in good conscience actively devote yourself to the sacramental life of the Catholic Church to fulfill your spiritual needs while engaging in the fellowship of the Evangelical service to support your wife and her social needs. The contrast is such that it would not involve the same tensions as simultaneously participating in the sacraments of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches for example.

In any case, interdenominational participation does not arouse the same degree of concern as does interreligious participation as the latter involves moving within dimensions circumscribed and permeated by different revelations.

In our discourse, religions are often referred to as forms, which at least in my mind refers most especially to the manner in which all of the elements of a particular tradition (see the preliminary definition on the homepage) leave their distinctive imprint upon and "shape" the contours of the soul. One of the effects of interreligious participation is a confusion, not necessarily of the mind which is capable of compartmentalization, but rather of the psychic substance which is more fluid and shifting in nature. It is specifically the impress of this shape that allows the soul to receive the spiritual influences descending from heaven to which it is uniquely suited and from which it initially emerges. In my experience, the oscillation of the soul back and forth between different religious forms prevents a single tradition from taking root and crystalizing itself such that one's engagement is superficial at best and deleterious at worst.

An excellent parallel can be drawn between the religious form impressed upon the soul and the various distinctive canons of sacred art and architecture. Inasmuch as each person's soul is a temple fashioned according to the proportions and symbolism uniquely suited to its consecrated function whether that be Hindu, Christian, Muslim or some other form of worship, so does the importation of elements selected haphazardly from foreign canons disrupt the equilibrium of the total structure in which each element contributes to the harmony of the whole. The example that you have given of being a Christian, while occasionally indulging in salat is, according to this analogy, akin to periodically trying to introduce a mihrab and courtyard into a cathedral.

Ultimately a tradition, in order to be effective, requires our total and exclusive participation and engagement at a formal level. Although our perspective involves the acknowledgement of the unity of religions, it is a transcendent unity that is envisaged and not a formal one. Possession of this perspective is tantamount to having a window in the heart whereby we may gaze out upon other worlds of beauty and sanctity. It does not necessarily involve moving freely about them as a perpetual tourist who follows his wanderlust throughout different lands without setting up roots in any given soil.

There are certain notable exceptions that are worthy of brief consideration including Sri Ramakrishna, Huston Smith, and Frithjof Schuon - I am not familiar with the teachings or circumstances of Bede Griffiths. Each of these people possessed a unique dispensation and individual vocation which made some form of interreligious participation possible. Ramakrishna was a master of nirvikalpa samadhi and under the promptings of Kali was directed to experience the realization of the fullness of possibilities of Brahman by briefly practicing other religions. Huston Smith, through his legacy, continues to teach religion to hundreds of thousands of people, and in this capacity received permission from his spiritual master to gain firsthand knowledge of multiple religious forms. Finally, Schuon was perhaps the greatest reviver of esoterism in modern times. In his capacity of spiritual master, he took his starting point in Islam, but his spiritual influence and guidance in the domain of esoterism providentially extended into other religious universes as well.

As previously stated, these individuals represent exceptions to the prevailing perspective, that of formal exclusivity. It is ultimately for you to determine with the appropriate guidance whether you do in fact possess such a vocation or whether you are simple conducting improvisations in this field.

There is one final consideration to be made here and it is that if one is not to engage in abject syncretism, how does one manifest ones love of other religious traditions and become enriched thereby. It is first important to realize that this perspective endows one with a heart that is more open to the diversity of the manifestations of the sacred in all of its forms, which may be viewed as a great compensation arising from God's mercy in an age that is more than ever permeated by secularism and profanity. Furthermore such a heart is not only more open to God but also filled with a more profound love and appreciation of the neighbor and one is bestowed with a greater capacity for kinship and mutual understanding with the followers of other traditions. It is this quality that makes it possible to have communities such as ours where like minded people can correspond in a state of mutual respect and share with each other freely and charitably without in any way compromising their integrity or fidelity to their respective traditions.

Finally, encounters with other traditions whether through sacred art and music, doctrine and symbolism , or the observation of sacred rites make us sensitive to and appreciative of the contours of our own. Also those aspects of esoterism that are more prominent in others can inspire us to fervently investigate and aspire to the fullness of the the possibilities inherent in the interior dimensions of ours. There is a well known adage that to follow one religion fully is to follow all religions or rather religion as such and it is precisely encounters as we have considered here that help us to understand and appreciate the veracity of this realization.

I hope that these thoughts may be of assistance to you in determining a suitable course of action for yourself.