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 "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)

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