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.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Confusing Case of Frithjof Schuon (Complete)


 
[Original Photo Removed by Personal Request: A depiction of Frithjof Schuon naked standing with arms outstretched, his body draped in misbahah, and his face turned toward the sun with eyes closed in a posture of dilation and adoration.]

Greetings of Peace. I believe that the Ringgenberg article (La tariqa de Schuon : un ordre soufi universaliste) is a fair and impartial, albeit limited presentation. A common problem in exchanges such as that which has transpired in the comments following this post is the reduction of the topic to a few points of poorly explained polemics.

For example, nudism and Native American syncretism are often presented as the characteristic practices of the Maryamiyyah Tariqah. In reality, the Maryamiyyah began as a branch of the Alawiyyah Tariqah of the Shadhili-Darqawi Lineage. From the beginning, the Maryamiyyah has transmitted this heritage including a doctrine and method consistent with the normative practices of classical Sufism. I believe that it is a mistake and disservice to confuse Frithjof Schuon's personal proclivities and eccentricities, institutionalized by a small group of his disciples at the end of his life, with the traditional Islamic legacy that he inherited and transmitted but which he did not create.

As far as the scandalous activities themselves are concerned, they are somewhat banal when considered objectively and within the grand scheme of things. The new age community is rife with non-Native Americans hosting pow-wows, sweat lodges, and vision quests while the fringe of American society contains numerous socially accepted (if not entirely acceptable) nudist and polyamorous communities.

In my opinion, the real scandal lies not in the behaviors themselves but in the elaborate rationalizations created to justify them, explanations crafted by a masterful metaphysician of the highest calibre which are assimilated by many unknowingly and perpetuated by others deliberately. To the person who is scandalized and confused by the revelation of Schuon's private life following a cursory examination of and sentimental attachment to his writings, we might reply that such a person has simply not read closely enough or taken account of the subtle changes made in Schuon's perspective over time.

To the charge of heresy by virtue of divergence from the Islamic tradition, Schuon has clearly stated that he gradually moved away from the psychic atmosphere of exoteric Islam and came to situate himself within the Religio Perennis creating the concept of a Quintessential Sunnah and Quintessential Esoterism in contradistinction to the phenomenon of "average Sufism." Against the charge of heterodoxy by virtue of engaging in syncretic Native American rites he crafts a second "intrinsic" orthodoxy, fidelity to Truth and "the nature of things", i.e. the primordial norm, in contradistinction to the norm established by the revealed religions. To explain the semblance of immorality by virtue of engaging in nudism and polyamory he appeals to the Hindu tradition of Tantra, identifies instances of deviant behavior among various holy persons throughout history, and ultimately claims moral and intellectual infallibility by virtue of his status as a pneumatic.

Schuon's work and legacy present a confusing case when examined in depth. On the one hand, there are moral, religious, and metaphysical teachings of the highest calibre while on the other hand there are many questionable activities and perspectives. It is up to the reader to determine what to accept and reject as there is ultimately nothing which compels us to accept everything. As for myself, I am a simple Muslim first and foremost. I take from Schuon what is acceptable to me within the context of my tradition and leave the rest in God's hands.

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Greetings of Peace. It would seem that you possess a great deal of impassioned interest in these matters far beyond that of a socio-historical curiosity. I would be curious to hear more about your motivations for sharing these various bits of information. Are you, for example, a disillusioned former disciple?

As for myself, I have found that his writings have been very instrumental in guiding me (and many others) to tradition and orthodoxy. Part of my own shock at probing deeper into these same teachings and his personal life over the years has been to discover how much he departed later in life from the very principles which made him most appealing to me. Likewise, my own discussion of what are oftentimes viewed as sensitive topics is motivated by an interest in the truth, not the intention to malign or condemn.

Again, I am interested to learn about your personal motivations.

***

Greetings of Peace. I wonder if some of the effects of a language barrier are at work, as I meant no harm in my inquiry. I am simply curious where you are coming from in terms of your perspective and why you seem so angry. You have indicated that not only do you find no redeeming value in Frithjof Schuon's writings but you do not even find them interesting. This would seem to indicate that your primary interest in this matter is an attraction to the scandalous and the sensational.

As far as my own motivations are concerned, they are deeply personal and rooted in many years of application to the study of Frithjof Schuon's teachings, a corpus of instruction of remarkable quality and practicality. My intention in discussing these matters is not to spread scandals, but rather to address the enormous contradiction and seeming disparity between the teaching and aspects of the personality of the man behind the teaching, and ultimately come to terms with my own disillusionment.

***

Greetings of Peace. Thank you for clarifying your position. I too have an interest in cults as someone who has belonged to and turned away from several in the past. It would seem that one of the primary differences in our perspective is that I believe that the vast majority of Schuon's teachings are salutary and worthwhile, and it is not possible to reduce his life's work, or the elements of Shadhili tradition that he transmitted to a few collections of impressions by disillusioned disciples and a few questionable documents concerning his self-identified personal proclivities that he shared with a restricted group of disciples. This is in contrast to the life and work of someone like L. Ron Hubbard, who I believe is universally and patently absurd. I am in possession of all of the suppressed documents in question in addition to his public and private teachings, correspondence, and autobiography and I am not adverse to the critical appraisal of any of this material. In fact, I am one of the few people that I know of who appreciates transparency and open and honest discussion concerning the controversial elements if his private life.

Should you be interested, I invite you to an open and unrestricted discussion of these matters on my forum:

http://traditionalstudies.freeforums.org/


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On the contrary, I don't believe that this matter has been either adequately debated or openly and critically discussed. People seem to base their perspective on either the small collection of controversial documents or the much larger collection of legitimate public and private spiritual instructions while dismissing each other as sycophants or skeptics. Rarely do they openly examine both perspectives while acknowledging each other's possession of legitimate concerns.

***

Greetings of Peace. You raise a very important question. Is the spiritual master beyond reproach by virtue of his status? Frithjof Schuon addresses this issue multiple times in his teachings, especially with regard to tantrism. Effectively, he applies a kind of tautological reasoning by stating that the pneumatic is incapable of moral and intellectual error by definition. In other words, he is infallible in both of these respects. If the pneumatic presents the appearance of immorality, according to Schuon, it is illusory, and like Al-Khidr, represents a higher truth that escapes the limited understanding of the outside observer. Based upon this reasoning, he even goes so far as to say that the mere fact that the pneumatic perceives such and such an act as beautiful is sufficient proof of its salutary nature because the pneumatic is only capable of willing beautiful actions by virtue of his incorruptibility.

Rene Guenon on the other hand, while he acknowledged that the sage can possess a kind of provisional infallibility in the intellectual domain, has stated in his correspondence that this infallibility did not extend into the moral domain. In other words, the sage remained capable of moral errors.

The latter position is more consistent with the perspective of Islam and classical sufism which holds that, although certain states (ahwal) can transport us temporarily beyond the domain of moral rectitude, the servant always remains the servant, and therefore the faqir no matter what his stage on the path always seeks to abide by the Shariah, to the sphere of activity proscribed by God. This is different than Schuon's position that the Pneumatic is a law unto himself and that his actions are self-referentially justifiable.

In his unpublished treatise on Sacred Nudity, Frithjof Schuon stated that he began practicing nudism as early as 1965 in response to visionary phenomena that he had experienced. It began as a private affair and then in 1973 be began to display his nudity in a more public manner earning him the reproach of certain Guenonians on account of the Islamic transgression which this behavior represents. I do not know if the issue of infallibility was central to the Guenon/Schuon split, but it seems likely that it did play a role.

There are numerous other examples that can be given but these will suffice to circumscribe to topic. I personally adhere to the Islamic position as represented in classical Shadhili sufism. This position is very aptly illustrated by a passage from The Basic Research of Ibn Ajiba. He stated,

"Pure states must be in accord with the Shari'ah so that the faqir does not harm any one of the People. The faqir who does not have the states does not reach the Stations of the Men. Travel to the presence of the Perfectly Pure does not occur except by going against the self. It says in the Hikam, 'Were it not for the battlefield of the selves, meaning war on it, the travel of the traveller would not be realized.' In this instance, states mean breaking the habits of the self and the destruction of its outward. The faqir must practice what will diminish the self and obliterate its might. The practices must be permissible. These are the pure and pleasing states. States that are contrary to the Shari'ah, and these are the states of darkness, only increase the man who has them in darkness. In the same way that it is not proper to bury seeds in bad land, it is also not permissible to bury the self in obscurity in a displeasing manner. Pure states are those in which there is no harm for anyone and which are not contrary to the order of the Shari'ah."

***

Greetings of Peace. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the source of the quote concerning Guenon. Perhaps you can supply more of the passage in question so that we can better examine and discuss it. Concerning Schuon's comments, it is important to note that he came to privilege esoterism as an almost quasi-independent phenomenon which carries with it the relativization of religion which is reduced to a formal framework within which esoterism manifests itself. In making comments such as these he is declaring independence of the emphasis upon tradition wherein revelation is central and placing emphasis upon the religio perennis wherein intellection is central. His comments concerning syncretism are related to this. In moving away from the rigid concept of orthodoxy as applied to a given tradition, an emphasis upon a pure and formless esoterism gave rise to the concept of intrinsic orthodoxy whereby the criterion of legitimacy is no longer the revelation, but the Truth. As the Truth is not the province of a single tradition, it is possible to justify any number of formal syntheses. In his case this was originally a synthesis of Hinduism, the ritual elements of Islam, and the natural ambiance of the native Americans. Of course, his later proclivities demonstrated a variety of permutations even in respect to these.

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Greetings of Peace. I took a cursory look at Rene Guenon: Some Observations, but did not glance upon the passage in question. Do you have a page number?

I am also in agreement concerning the willful departure from the Sharia which seems to represent a discontinuity with classical Sufism in general and the Shadhili tradition in particular. I have previously posted a clear example from Ibn Ajiba illustrating this. It would seem that a temporary departure during a bout of spiritual intoxication is possible but to apply this as an Institutionalized, albeit superogatory, practice incorporating disparate formal elements from various traditions is incongruous and disagreeable to me.

It is important to note that Schuon considered his primordial practices as something of a luxury that he allowed some of his disciples to imitate and that they did not constitute an aspect of the work of the Tariqah which continued along traditional lines.

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