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.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Critically Engaging the Legacy of Frithjof Schuon

While the Admin is free to do as he pleases with regard to the parameters of the group, I think that this message raises some very interesting points for discussion. Regarding Nima's article, while I disagree with his approach (and virtually everything he represents), I believe that his unnamed correspondents are real and that they have raised valid concerns, excesses notwithstanding. I think the wiser course of action would be to discuss the article openly and dispassionately if it pertains to matters of general interest rather than calling for a ban on dissenting views. Exposure to different perspectives is, in my experience, an important element in the advancement of learning and the frequent inspiration of fruitful discourse. There are many examples throughout history of valuable treatises on Sufism being produced in response to critics and detractors.

There are a few other issues raised that I would like to express disagreement with for the sake of discussion. These include the idea that the legitimacy of Schuon's teachings and authority are self-evident or obvious, and that to reject them for any reason amounts to a censorious moral failing. On the contrary, my own association with this legacy over the last ten years has revealed it to be fraught with ambiguities, contradictions, and occasionally duplicity. While it is certainly true that Schuon has produced some remarkable books with valuable doctrinal insights and that furthermore the eloquence of the prose may arise organically from the integrity of the message, I do not believe that this necessarily indicates ipso facto the absolute moral integrity or infallibility of the man. Nor is it to say that the books themselves are free from problems for the discerning reader.

I will provide one example in response to two of the issues raised here, that of the moral failing of the dissenter and the determination of authority.

You wrote, "To doubt the authenticity of his authority as a spiritual master and to criticize the authority of the Tariqah Maryamiyyah reveals a lack of respect for the sacred and an anti-traditional attitude."

In response to a correspondent from a letter in the 40's, Schuon suggested that one should not attribute moral deficiency to others who hold opposing views as follows:

". . . I cannot, quite logically, understand why you would attribute purely psychological motives to those who think differently from you, as if the mere fact of not sharing your ideas excluded a priori any intellectual motive for doing so; yet, to communicate one’s own point of view and to demonstrate the defectiveness of that of others, it would suffice to expose ideas objectively without worrying about individuals...Would it not be far simpler and more normal to admit, as the sufficient reason for the intellectual attitude of people you have in mind, the incompatibility of your ideas with theirs? Your psychological suppositions concerning these people are arbitrarily disrespectful, and humiliating for them; now the fact of humiliating without good reason is always a sign of pride, and nothing could be farther from spirituality than pride. By what right do you attribute to those who do not think like you motives that are more or less despicable, or in other words, by what right do you attribute their intellectual position to a quasi moral deficiency?"

In the same letter, he also stated that because a disciple is by definition a beginner, that he is patently incapable of discerning the level of realization of a given master and that an appeal must be made to the criteria of the tradition within which an individual claims mastery as well as the traditional integrity of the method that he teaches as follows:

"The disciple cannot know more than that the Guru is spiritually superior to him; and this he can know only thanks to the tradition to which he belongs, and from which the Guru is issued. Once the disciple attains to the degree of the Guru, he can then seek another Guru, and so on and so forth; but it is in any case impossible for the disciple to know the “realization” of the Guru, and moreover this would be of no use at all. Only tradition can make up for this impossibility facing the disciple, and it does so on the one hand through the silsilah, which constitutes a first guarantee, and on the other hand by the doctrinal light which allows the disciple to recognize the spiritual superiority of the Master ...

This is not at all “self-evident”, and if there is something that seems evident to me, it is the exact contrary of what you are saying, namely that the disciple could never be brought to the Goal by any means whatsoever; the means, whatever it may be, must on the contrary correspond to the Goal, and it is precisely tradition, with all the degrees it contains, that guarantees, by its very structure, this correspondence. This is why “the line followed” has to be traditional; tradition is nothing other, in its most inward aspect which is also its essential reality, than the prototype of the way. The traditional virtue of the method is everything, for without it there would be no guarantee for the disciple to be rightly guided ..."

In the successive decades since writing these passages, he eventually came to posit the opposite view with regard to himself, asserting that doubts concerning his teaching were caused by either stupidity or satanic influence and that the evidence for his authority was to be derived from the high caliber of his teachings rather than from the criteria of tradition. His legacy, personality, and teachings are at turns profound, mysterious, multifaceted, and even contradictory. I believe that it is important not to limit ourselves to laudation or allow sentimentality to eclipse the capacity for discernment even if this means encountering undesirable opinions or critically engaging dissenting views.

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