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, February 26, 2017

The Traditional View of Initiation and the Guru According to Rene Guenon

Consisting of excerpts from the texts, “Perspectives on Initiation” and “Initiation and Spiritual Realization”

Initiatic Affiliation

Initiation consists essentially in the transmission of a certain spiritual influence, and this transmission can only be operated by means of a rite, which is precisely what effectuates the affiliation of one to an organization that as its chief function conserves and communicates this influence ...

… [the 'ego'] can only be liberated by dissipating the illusion that makes it seem separate from the 'Self.' ... For the manifested being, it is effective consciousness of [the link with the Principle] that must be realized; and, in view of the present conditions of humanity, there is are no other possible means for this than those provided by initiation.

... In the present state of our world, the earth is unable to produce a plant of itself spontaneously, except from a seed deriving necessarily from a pre-existing plant ... the seed that must be planted in our being in order to make possible our subsequent spiritual development is precisely the influence which, in a state of virtuality and 'envelopment' exactly comparable to that of a plant seed, is communicated to us by initiation.

Initiatic Transmission

... the role of the individual who confers initiation on another is veritably one of 'transmitter' in the most exact sense of the word. Such a person does not act as an individual, but as the support of an influence not belonging to the individual order; he is only a link in the 'chain' of which the starting-point lies outside and beyond humanity. This is why he acts not in his own name but in the name of the organization to which he is attached and from which he holds his powers; or, more exactly still, he acts in the name of the principle that the organization represents. This also explains how the efficacy of the rite accomplished by an individual can be independent of the merit of the individual as such ... that rite will nonetheless be fully effective if the individual is properly invested with the function of 'transmitter' and accomplishes it while observing all the prescribed rules and with an intention that suffices to determine his consciousness of attachment to the traditional organization.

... in the exercise of his proper function the guru must not be considered as an individuality but only as the representative of the tradition itself, which he incarnates as it were with respect to his disciple, this being exactly the role of 'transmitter' referred to above.

Initiatic Rites

Initiation of any degree represents for the being who receives it a permanent acquisition, a state that virtually or effectively it has reached once and for all and that nothing can ever take away ... From this the consequence immediately follows that rites of initiation confer a definitive and ineffaceable character ...

... Once received, the initiatic quality is in no way bound to the fact of the recipient's active membership in this or that organization; once the attachment to a traditional organization has been effected, it cannot be broken by anything at all, and it continues even when the individual no longer has any apparent relationship with that organization, which then has only a wholly secondary importance in this regard ... the link established by the initiatic character ... does not in any way depend on contingencies such as resignation or expulsion, which are of a merely 'administrative' order, as we have already said, and affect only outward relationships ... They are an accessory and nowise necessary means in relation to the inward realities that are alone of real importance.

Effective and Virtual Initiation

Entering upon the path is virtual initiation; following the path is effective initiation; but unfortunately many in fact remain on the threshold, not always because they are incapable of going further but also ... because of the degeneration of organizations which, having become solely 'speculative' as we have just explained, cannot on this account help them in any way with the 'operative' work, even in the most elementary stages, and furnish nothing that could lead them to suspect the existence of any sort of 'realization'. Nevertheless, even in these organizations there is still talk of the initiatic 'work', or at least of something that is considered to be such; but one can legitimately ask the question: in what sense and in what measure does this correspond to any reality?

Initiatic teaching cannot be anything other than an outward aid brought to the inner work of realization in order to support and guide it as much as possible.

Mere 'speculation' even when it remains at the initiatic point of view and does not deviate from it ... leads as it were to a dead end, for by its means one can never go beyond virtual initiation ... The effect of the rite by which this transformation is carried out is 'deferred', as we said above, and remains in a latent and 'shrouded' state so long as it has not passed from the 'speculative' to the 'operative', which is to say that theoretical considerations have no real value as properly initiatic work except as preparation for 'realization'.

Initiatic Teaching

Initiatic teaching, outward and transmissible by forms, in reality is and can only be ... a preparation of the individual for acquiring true initiatic knowledge by personal effort. Thus the way to be followed and the plan to be realized can be pointed out to him, and he can be encouraged to cultivate the mental and intellectual attitude necessary to acquire an effective and not merely theoretical comprehension; he can also be helped and guided by a constant monitoring of his effort; but this is all, for no one else, were he even a 'Master' in the most complete meaning of the word, can do the work for him. What the initiate must necessarily acquire for himself, because no one can do the work for him, is effective possession of the initiatic secret properly speaking; to realize this possession in all its extent and with all that this implies requires that the teaching that serves in a way as foundation and support of his personal work be constituted in such a way that it open him to truly unlimited possibilities, and thus enable him to expand his conceptions indefinitely, both in breadth and depth, instead of enclosing them, as does every profane point of view, in the more of less narrow limits of some sort of systematic theory or verbal formula.

Initiation and 'Passivity'

... the true aim of initiation, which is properly speaking to 'deliver' the being from all contingencies, and not to impose new bonds over and above those naturally conditioning the existence of ordinary man ... every tendency toward passivity can only be an obstacle to initiation, and where it predominates it constitutes an 'irremedial' disqualification ... Strictly speaking, from the initiatic point of view passivity is only conceivable and admissible exclusively in face of the Supreme Principle.

We are well aware that it might be objected that certain initiatic paths include more or less complete submission to a guru; but this objection is by no means valid ... this submission is no more than a simple 'pedagogical' method ... of entirely transitory necessity; not only would a true spiritual teacher never abuse it, but he would use it only to enable his disciple to free himself from it as soon as possible, for if there is any unvarying affirmation to be made in such a case, it is that the true guru is purely inward, that he is no other than the being's very 'Self', which the outward guru does no more than represent for as long as the being remains unable to enter into conscious communication with this 'Self'. Initiation ought precisely to lead to the fully realized and effective consciousness of the 'Self', which can obviously be the case neither with children in the nursery nor with psychic automata. The initiatic 'chain' is not meant to bind the being, but on the contrary to furnish a support that allows it to raise itself indefinitely and to go beyond its limits as an individual and conditioned being. Even when there are contingent applications that can coexist secondarily with its essential goal, an initiatic organization has no use for blind and passive instruments, whose normal place could in any case only be in the profane world, since they lack all qualification. What must exist among all its members at all levels and in all functions is a conscious and voluntary collaboration that implies all the effective understanding of which each is capable; and no true hierarchy can be realized or maintained on any other basis than this.

The Initiatic Hierarchy

Another important point is that an initiatic organization includes not only a hierarchy of degrees but also a hierarchy of functions, and that these are two entirely distinct things that must never be confused, for the function with which someone may be invested at a given level does not confer upon him a new degree and does not modify in any way the one he already possess. The function has so to speak an 'accidental' character with respect to the degree ... what is more, the function may be only temporary and thus can come to an end for a variety of reasons, whereas the degree always constitutes a permanent acquisition, one that is obtained once and for all and which can never be lost by any means ...

Traditional Infallibility

... it is the doctrine, and it alone that is infallible, and not any individual human being as such; and if the doctrine is infallible, this is because it is an expression of the truth, which in itself is absolutely independent of the individuals who receive and understand it.

From this point of view, infallibility does not appear to be anything extraordinary or exceptional, or as some sort of ‘privilege’, for in fact everyone possesses it to the degree that he is ‘competent’, that is, insofar was he ‘knows’ in the true sense of the word; the difficulty, of course, is to determine the real limits of this competence in each particular case.

... The efficacy of rites … essentially inheres in the rites themselves insofar as they are the means of action of a spiritual influence; the rite thus acts in every respect independently of the worth of the individual who accomplishes it ... If the rite is reserved for a specialized function, it is only necessary that the individual should have received from the traditional organization to which he belongs the power to accomplish it validly, no other condition is required ... Such a one, then, truly becomes a 'carrier' or a 'transmitter' of the spiritual influence, and it is this alone that is important, for while under this influence of an essentially supra-individual order accomplishing the function with which he is invested, his individuality no longer counts and even disappears entirely.

… in the final analysis, it is always the spiritual influence that acts through individuals, whether in the accomplishment of rites or in the teaching of doctrine, and it is this influence that ensures that these individuals can effectively exercise the functions with which they have been charged, no matter what they may be in themselves. In these conditions, of course, the authorized interpreter of the doctrine, insofar as he exercises his proper function, can never speak in his own name but solely in the name of the tradition that he represents and that he so to speak ‘incarnates’, and which alone is really infallible … If in some other respect this individual should happen to speak in his own name, he would by that very fact no longer be exercising his function but merely expressing individual opinions, in which he is no more infallible than anyone else. In himself therefore he enjoys no special ‘privilege’, for once his individuality reappears and asserts itself, he immediately ceases to be the representative of the tradition and becomes no more than an ordinary man who, like any other, has worth in respect of the doctrine only in the measure of the knowledge he himself really possesses, and who cannot in any case claim to impose his authority on anyone.

True and False Spiritual Teachers

What is most difficult, especially in our time, is certainly not obtaining an initiatic affiliation … but finding an instructor who is truly qualified, that is, as we have just said, one really capable of discharging the function of a spiritual guide by applying all the suitable means to the disciple’s particular possibilities, apart from which it is clearly impossible even for the most perfect master, to obtain any effective result. Without such an instructor, as we have already explained, the initiation remains merely virtual save for rare exceptions, although it is certainly valid in itself from the time that the spiritual influence has really been transmitted by means of the appropriate rite.

As for true spiritual teachers … it is not always necessary that, in order to fulfill this role within certain limits, someone must himself have arrived at a complete spiritual realization; indeed, it should be quite evident that much less than this is required to be capable of guiding a disciple validly through the first stages of his initiatic journey. Of course, once the disciple has reached the point beyond which the former cannot guide him, the teacher worthy of the name will never hesitate to let him know that henceforth he can do no more for him, and in order that he may continue his work in the most favorable conditions, direct him either to his own master, if this is possible, or to another teacher whom he recognizes as more completely qualified than himself; and when this is the case, there is really nothing astonishing or even abnormal in that disciple’s finally surpassing the spiritual level of his first teacher, who, if he is truly what he ought to be, will be satisfied to have contributed his part, however modest it may be, in leading his former disciple to this result. Indeed, individual jealousies and rivalries can find no place in the true initiatic domain, whereas on the contrary, they almost always play a very great part in the actions of false teachers; and it is solely these latter who should be fought and denounced whenever circumstances require, not only by authentic spiritual masters, but also by all who are to any degree conscious of what initiation really is.

The Role of the Guru

… the human guru is in reality only an outer representative and a ‘substitute’, as it were, for the true inner guru, and that he is necessary only due to the fact that the initiate has not yet reached a certain degree of spiritual development and so is still incapable of entering directly into conscious communication with the latter. That, in any case, is what limits the necessity for a human guru to the first stages, and we say ‘first stages’ because the communication in question obviously becomes possible for a being well before the point of attaining Deliverance.

… in order to fulfill the role of guru effectively at the beginning, it is in fact enough to be able to lead the disciple to a certain degree of effective initiation, which is possible even if the one fulfilling this role has not himself gone beyond that degree. This is why the ambition of a true guru, if one may put it so, must be above all to bring his disciple as soon as possible to a position where he can do without him, whether by sending the disciple, when he can no longer lead him any further, to another guru whose competence exceeds his own or, if he is able, be leading him to the point where a direct and conscious communication with the inner guru will be established; and in the latter case, this will be equally true whether the human guru is truly a jivan-mukta or possesses only  a lesser degree of spiritual realization.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Case of Mr. Levy

"What do you think of the Case of Mr. Levy?"

~ Private Schuon to S. Husayn (1939)

Some Fragments of Research Concerning John Levy and Frithjof Schuon

I have now given some idea of the final position, and there is little purpose in my speaking at length of the several years during which, still in search of genuine guidance, and having adopted the religion of Mohammed, I lived as a Muslim, practised the rites of orthodox Islam and performed the disciplines, the ritual dances and the meditations of an Order of Sufis, under the direction of a Sheikh. I should explain that what Cabbala is to Judaism, Sufism is to Islam. Now, the characteristic of all religions on the level at which they serve the needs of ordinary men is the acceptance of the duality of God and man, though usually there is in their scriptures something that points to a higher truth. In the Old Testament, for example, we repeatedly find the expression, ‘I am the Lord Thy God’; and in the New, there is the statement of Jesus, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you’. Similar pointers are not wholly lacking in the Quran and are to be found especially in the recorded sayings of the Prophet. Great Sufis like Muhyuddin Ibn Arabi have rightly given them a metaphysical interpretation, although they seldom if ever give arguments to show why the reality is necessarily subjective, a thing Vedantins invariably do, the better to help aspirants to overcome the individualistic habits of thought of which I have previously spoken. But the unseeking Muslim, like the unseeking Jew or Christian, unfortunately has always been firmly wedded to dualism and has often sought to destroy anyone who, having transcended it, has been so bold as to proclaim the fact. The example of Mansur, who was beheaded for declaring, ‘Ana’l-Haqq—I am the truth’, is evidence enough. Al-Haqq, which means literally the truth, is one of the ninety-nine names of Allah, so to a Muslim, ‘Ana’l-Haqq’ means ‘I am Allah’: this is considered to be the most dreadful blasphemy a man can utter. One may suppose that the possibility of its being true was almost totally ignored. Of course, a man as such cannot be God as such, but the essential reality of God, as distinct from what mankind ascribes to him, cannot be different from the essential reality of a man who has realized his self as that which is beyond all human attributes.

Duality colours the mind of all who are brought up with the Quran as their scripture, and the result of this limitation is that Sufism,  which has lost its force and is moribund, at present can offer only a path based on devotion and not upon knowledge, which, if the ultimate reality is to be found, is the necessary complement to the other. It is in many ways parallel to the dualists of India who say they only want to taste the sugar, which stands for the truth, and not to become it. Whereas the very basis of Non-Dualistic Vedanta is that it is impossible to become something you are not already: you have only to become aware of what you actually are, that is to say, absolute consciousness or knowledge when self is viewed from the standpoint of thought, absolute bliss or peace from the standpoint of feelings, and absolute existence from the standpoint of life. Even so, this awareness is not considered by Vedantins to be enough: it is one thing to have recognized your essential being, but what of the world? In Islam, just as there is no real analysis of the self, there is practically none of the world in terms of sensory perception, which in reality constitutes it, as already indicated when I spoke of Berkeley and in the lines of Shankaracharya. In Non-Dualistic Vedanta, this analysis is considered to be quite essential: without it, your experience of the world remains unexplained and complete knowledge is then impossible. Let it not be thought that I wish to disparage the admirable religion of Islam, for what I have said about its limitations applies equally to all other religions as such. In spite of these deficiencies at the highest level, Islam gave me the most invaluable help and brought me to the state of heart and mind in which I could receive the pure truth from a great Vedantin. That was in India, several years ago, and my life really began at that moment. Needless to say, because I have passed through so many phases to arrive at a solution, it does not follow that others have to do the same. Perhaps, from one angle, it was necessary that I should have had to pursue such a roundabout path in order the better to assure my fellow seekers that the truth, in the end, is utterly simple and self-evident. As Shankaracharya says:

‘The self that is ever-present in all beings appears, through a misconception, to be unattained. But when this wrong knowledge has been destroyed by true knowledge, it is seen always to have been attained, just as after searching everywhere for a necklace, the seeker finds it around his neck.’

~ John Levy, The Nature of Man According to the Vedanta, pp. 12-15


"Since we have seen how Coomaraswamy and Guénon diverged on the matter of what India could offer a Western aspirant, it is of interest to know Schuon’s own views here. He himself was on a trip to India with two Englishmen and had just arrived in Bombay when the War broke out, obliging him to return shortly to Europe. But the others remained and eventually attached themselves to a guru named Krishna Menon. We were in Lausanne when letters, at once euphoric and insulting, arrived from these men, indicating that something in their inner development had gone drastically askew in the way of self-delusion.

Now Schuon had good evidence that this guru was in reality a false master possessing dangerous psychic powers. He nevertheless in a long letter addressed to Krishna Menon gave the man the benefit of the doubt, writing that he was quite ready to believe his venerable addressee understood the structure and needs of the Hindu mind and soul; what he very much doubted, however, was if Krishna Menon or any other Hindu master as such was or ever could be adequately informed of and sufficiently prepared for the individualistic and cerebral complications that the typical Westerner bears in his heritage. Needless to say there was no reply, but the material in this letter has been expanded into the magnificent chapter in Language of the Self entitled ‘Self-Knowledge and the Western Seeker.’ This episode illustrates how Schuon was frequently motivated to write: a vast amount of what came from his pen was provoked by an error crying for rectification or a truth needing clarification, where no one else had appeared on the scene to do the job.

~ Whithall Perry, Perspectives


At the beginning of the following year Schuon gave up his professional activity, which was taking up too much of his time, and started to think seriously of returning to live in Switzerland. However, in August 1939, he undertook a journey to India in the company of two English disciples. One of them, John Levy, was very wealthy and took on the expenses of the journey. On the way they stopped in Cairo and Schuon was thus able to see Guénon for a longer period, as the latter had wished. Guénon was ill at the time, and lay on a mat on the floor. He had temporarily let his beard grow. Schuon wrote that “he radiated a sort of benevolence,” and that in his presence one felt a “spiritual greatness.” During his stay, John Levy gave Guénon a large sum of money so that he could buy a bigger house, for he was then only a tenant, and Adrian Paterson, a young Englishman who had become a close friend of Guénon’s, made up the difference. After a stop at Aden, the travelers arrived in Bombay on September 2, where they learned that the Second World War had just broken out. As a French citizen, Schuon had to join his regiment without delay. As for the two Britons, they were able to stay in India.


A year or two after his arrival, John Levy met a guru called Krishna Menon whose disciple he became with the name of Premânanda Nath, rejecting Guénon, Schuon, and Islam. A few years later, Levy came to see Schuon in Lausanne and brought him the book by his master Âtmâ-Darshan which contradicted Guénon’s views on Hinduism. After reading it, Schuon wrote Krishna Menon a long letter of doctrinal clarification in which he said, “René Guénon was the first European who dared to affirm in the West the superiority of the Hindu spirit over the modern Western spirit, and, in the name of Eastern spirituality and that of the ancient West, dared mercilessly to criticize modern civilization as it has developed for about the last four centuries. It is absurd to claim that an author of European and Christian origin, who has studied, in Sanskrit, the sacred Scriptures of India and the commentaries of Shri Shankara and other sages, and who alone in the West places Hindu wisdom above all philosophies, has understood nothing of this wisdom. Guénon wrote much in his life. He expounded all the fundamental data that it is necessary to know in the West in order to understand India” (undated data). For Schuon, the expression of the truth took precedence over any divergence. Moreover, he would not tolerate a cavalier attitude toward Guénon’s memory because, beyond all criticisms, he sincerely revered the person of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wâhid (René Guénon)—something that some of his detractors never understood. John Levy returned to England and wrote a book on the teachings of his master. In the early 1950s, a few of Schuon’s disciples approached the same guru, whose “so-called Hinduism” Guénon had criticized, and then left him. Several of Guénon’s articles at the time implicitly criticized the attitude or blindness of those who followed Krishna Menon. His letters also make frequent reference to this. A few years after his return to Europe, John Levy was the victim of a serious accident that left him paralyzed. He died a few years later.

~ Laude and Aymard, Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings,  pp. 25, 141-142


Excerpt from a Letter of Frithjof Schuon to Martin Lings regarding J.L. (John Levy), May 1945:

I am thinking of all of those who are far away, also J.L. and Mc. Iv. whom I may perhaps see one day; in the meantime, I see them in spirit, just as I have kept them in my memory: I still see them waiting sadly, at the dock in Bombay, the departure of my ship.... Our friends from Switzerland have not forgotten them, and, like me, hope to be able to speak to them directly in not too distant a future.

The letter of Ch. Town. has the merit of getting to the heart of the matter with clarity and precision, and constitutes a quasi definitive answer to J.L.’s thesis. In one of J.L.’s letters, I was surprised to find the following affirmation: “ a Moslem, I had incurred no responsibility towards anyone, and I was thus, and still am, entirely free to do whatever seems in my best interest.” The author of this sentence does not seem to know that there is no traditional form that allows its members to leave it; for example, it is impossible for a Hindu to become a Moslem without being expulsed from his caste, which signifies civic death; and is it necessary to recall that no religion allows the passage into another religion? Islamic Law reserves capital punishment for apostasy (irtidâd); therefore I do not see how one can think oneself to be independent with respect to Islam by virtue of one’s quality “as a Moslem”. As for esoterism (Islamic or other), there can be exceptional cases where a change of traditional form cannot be excluded, which amounts to saying that only esoterism can see in such a change something other than “apostasy”; however, it is clear on the other hand that in esoterism one depends on one’s Master, and that nothing can be done without him. J. L. became a Moslem to be a faqîr, he did not become a faqîr to be a Moslem; therefore, it is all the more illogical to claim, as a faqîr, one’s “freedom” as a “Muslim”. Not least, it must be added to all this that the first condition for a change of traditional form to be legitimate is that this change must be motivated for reasons of a “technical” opportunity and not for a conversion purely and simply as is the case for J.L. and Mc. Iv.; in other words, this change must really be considered to be a passage from one form into another, and not as a passage from error to truth.

What seems to hold particular importance for J.L. is the expression “theory as such” which, according to him, I did not properly understand; now this expression cannot logically mean anything other than the theory considered outside of such or such possible contents, and uniquely in relation to that for which it is for us the necessary complement; there is no other meaning in the expression “theory as such”. If I am told that “theory as such” means theory understood as a simple “mental content” or “mental act” (“mentalization”), I would answer that this is an improper designation since there are mental contents or acts that are not theories and that on the other hand any mental content or act, be it a theory or something else, is an obstacle before the formless Essence; moreover, I do not know of any faqîr who would think that theory is a goal in itself and not a means, and, at that, a strictly indispensable one for a being gifted with reason.

By way of paradox that is not without meaning, what makes J.L.’s position so fragile is precisely its theoretical insufficiency; for if it is easy to understand, for he who has the metaphysical notions required, that the goal for man is only to return to the “Absolute Subject”, Chit, it is however far from easy to know how to arrive there; to believe that it is enough to closes one’s eyes and to think of nothing, or to concentrate oneself on what one feels in one’s depths, as certain modern “Vedantists” do, is truly the height of naivety. In truth, it is the tradition of the spiritual Masters, with all the complexity and subtlety of its doctrine and method, that alone answers this “how”, for it is not a matter of grasping the Ungraspable, but of removing the obstacles that take us away from our own infinite Essence; now one cannot simply desert the “ego”, not even to arrive at that Essence, for if we were thus to attempt to leave this “self” by our own means, this “self” however would not leave us. This is why it must be transmuted; the “self” must realize the Prophet as it were, namely the purified and consecrated “place” where the “theogenesis” can take place, for: “None shall meet God who hath not first met the Prophet.” To transmute the “self” into a seat of the “Real Presence” is a science, and a science that is as complex as it is indispensable. If one does not follow the legitimate way, that is to say the way that is in conformity with realities that are individual as well as universal, one will never encounter the real Chit; the gross or “unformed” mentality of the profane could never approach It. The japa (dhikr) is the symbolic, but also “supernatural” seat of the Real Presence of Chit: the japa, along with the conditions that are indissolubly bound to it, guarantees the rectitude of the deva-yana (as-sirât al-mustaqîm); our spiritual concentration on the “Absolute Subject” is accomplished in parallel with the japa, and does not stop at the manolaya which in itself has nothing transcendent about it. Outward traditional affiliation (samskâra), then initiatic affiliation (diksha), and finally spiritual means (such as tapas, yantra, mantra, japa), and at the center of all of this permanent concentration on what “I as Self am”—such is the way. Some modern theoreticians of the “direct way” do not seem to ask themselves if it is psychologically possible to persevere a whole lifetime, by one’s own means, in the mere concentration on the “Absolute Subject”, nor if such efforts, assuming they are feasible, could end in a positive result; they forget that Christ said: “No man cometh to the Father but by me”, and: “Without me ye can do nothing”; this means that only doctrine and the grace of the Word can render possible what is humanly impossible, that is to say, only revealed and orthodox doctrine can give spiritual concentration the required “quality”, and only the initiatic means can enable this concentration to attain to its supreme Goal.

But could it not be objected that simple concentration by definition suffices to reach the Goal, and that it alone possesses the virtue of removing the obstacles separating the individual from Reality? Concentration possesses this virtue in principle, but in fact this is not how things are; otherwise all the methods of realization used for thousands of years, in India as elsewhere, would be merely complications devoid of meaning; the consecration rite of a sannyâsi, for instance, would be but a simulacrum lacking any sufficient reason.

J.L. goes on to say: “You are yourself the Reality. What more do you want?” Well, the realization of that truth, of course. For the Upanishad says: “What thou art is what thou must become.” It does not say: “What thou art, that is what thou art”—an expression suiting the Divine Principle alone, Who in effect designates Itself thus in the Thora: “I am That I am”. If the Upanishad says “thou must become”, this means that man has something to realize, namely the consciousness that “I am That I am”, precisely.

Finally, J.L. adds: “I should have said: only if Sh. A. were to discuss the matter with an Indian sage...”. Everything is there, in that simple phrase. Is it necessary to say that there is no traditional doctrine that could be formulated only by a sage? Traditional Indian doctrine is what interests us, not its formulation by this or that man, were he a yogî; this formulation, by the very fact that it pertains to human language, could not be better than that of Sacred Scriptures and their traditional and orthodox commentaries. For one of two things is true: either a truth is essential, in which case it will be formulated in the Scriptures, and any traditional authority qualified for such a teaching will be able to affirm this truth with respect to error; or else a truth is secondary, in which case whether it is formulated by a sage or not, it can in any case only be of secondary interest, and could not be used for the fundamental enunciation of a doctrine. Apart from that, if J.L. knows what he wants to say, no need to quote a Hindu sage; if he does not know what he wants to say, then it is obviously because he has nothing to say. However, if he left Islam and has adopted Hinduism, he must have had reasons for acting thus; these reasons must be sufficient to justify his initiative; if they are sufficient, then J.L. must be able to expose them; if they are not, then it is because his initiative lacked precisely a sufficient reason.

I recall having read somewhere that when one hears a metaphysical truth being formulated, it is not the idea’s intrinsic truth that matters, but the question of knowing “who” formulated the idea. This question makes sense in the case of an enunciation expressing in subjective terms a state of spiritual knowledge, such as Shivoham (“I am Shiva”) or Ana ’l-Haqq (“I am the Divine Truth”), but not in the case of the enunciation of a universal principle, for in this instance it is a matter of radical indifference to know “who” enunciates this principle. This is why it is, for example, altogether illogical to reproach a lack of “bhaktic amplitude” in such or such a metaphysician, since his outward role as theoretician or commentator of sacred doctrine does not in any way imply any kind of psychic virtue; in fact, this role has nothing to do with such a virtue; it would also be illogical to reproach a priest a lack of esoteric knowledge, for just as this lack does nothing to invalidate the quality of the rite accomplished by this priest, so too the absence of a psychic perfection, however desirable this perfection may otherwise be in certain respects, does nothing to invalidate the orthodox enunciation of a metaphysical truth; indeed this enunciation requires, all told, nothing more than an intelligence capable of receiving said truths. I have met many a person gifted with a more or less “bhaktic amplitude”, but wholly lacking in intelligence; their “amplitude” has therefore no other meaning save that of being a natural fact, whereas, on the contrary, contemplative and transcendent intelligence can be term to be “supernatural”, quite apart from what the individual may happen to be. If I am told that it is nonetheless desirable that a man who possesses such an intelligence also have such or such a human virtue, I respond that this wish has absolutely nothing to do with the function corresponding to the intelligence in question; “intellectual genius”, that is to say the direct effect of the divine intellect in the human mind, is by definition free from all individual contingence. R. G. never wished to assume the role of spiritual master, and no one can say that he is his disciple; it is therefore as illogical as it is unjust to reproach him for a lack that is only a lack in the exercise of the role mentioned.

I ought to make a comment on what some refer to as the “method of the Maharshi”; now such a method does not exist, for the simple reason that the Maharshi himself never followed any method. He owes his realization to a sudden enlightenment, and not to spiritual exercises; and since he never followed a method, he cannot teach one; his teaching through the question “who am I” is much more the expression of his inner reality, or a principial and symbolic expression of all spiritual ways, than a method that can be imitated in the absence of any other support. In no wise does this mean that the Maharshi has no radiation or that he does not transmit graces, but only that, having never had to follow a way himself, he could not have the mission of forming disciples, and that is in fact the reason for which he refuses to accept any; to affirm that the mauna-diksha constitutes in itself an integral way, instead of simply representing the essential aspect of every way, amounts to saying that the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles constitutes a spiritual method. Let it not be objected that the Apostles, having had a quasi sudden realization, as did also the Companions of the Prophet, could not therefore form disciples; the case of the Apostles and the Companions is altogether different, for not only did they receive an initiation, but also a method to be transmitted; this method, “simple” and “synthetic” at the beginning, became “differentiated” and more explicit, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, as the origin and its flood of spiritual graces receded and that it became necessary to adapt to more and more precarious conditions; thus the position of a Saint John or a Sayyidna Ali is in no way comparable to that of a “later” saint, that is to say, someone who is not the direct disciple of a founder of a traditional form. As for the Maharshi, he is clearly one of those whom Shri Ramakrishna says that they obtain realization independently from their will and in a sudden and spontaneous manner; these are the men Sufism knows under the name of afrâd; the initiatic meaning of this saying of Christ applies to them: “they that be whole need not a physician”; now the existence of such men does not imply that initiatic rites, which exist in Hinduism as in any other tradition, are mere contrivances that have no meaning, namely that they would be stupidities; the fact that these rites exist, means that they must correspond to some kind of reality and necessity. There really should be no problem here: if someone is a fard, then the initiatic question does not apply to him, and discussions on this subject are pointless for him; if he is not a fard, then he has no choice but that of a normal way transmitted by tradition, which is to say that, with the help of the rectitude of his intention and of barakah, he needs to seek for an orthodox murshid, and receive from him what this murshid himself had received from his murshid. It goes moreover without saying that the fard possesses by definition the general extrinsic qualities of spirituality— to mention only what can serve as an outward criterion—although the presence of these qualities probably does not allow one to tell whether a spiritual person is a fard or not, whereas their absence proves beyond a doubt that a person is not spiritual in any way, thus neither a fard nor an “adept” in the ordinary sense of the term; in other words if an ignorant person sought to hide under the claim of being one of the afrâd, the inferiority of his psychic and mental emanations together with a kind of satanic “self-promotion”
would betray him infallibly to those who have the discernment of spirits. But returning to the Maharshi: to follow his way is to imitate what he did, or rather that which made of him what he is, that is to say to have one’s great-grandparents cursed or blessed by a sannyasin, then to be surprised, during adolescence, and unexpectedly overcome by a spiritual force, then to remain in samadhi for weeks and months on end, and finally to enjoy a spiritual realization obtained as a gift, without any inward work; to wish to emulate this “way” would be as absurd as to wish to be crucified by Pontius Pilate and to resuscitate on the third day.


Excerpt from a Letter of Frithjof Schuon to John Levy, December 1946:

You then say: “The crucial question in his case as in my not the question of tradition, of silsilah, or of method, but the question of the Guru’s realization.” But how can you know what “the Guru’s realization” is? For, either you are not a perfect Sage, in which case you have no means of verifying whether the Guru is a “perfect Sage” or not; or else, you are yourself a “perfect Sage”, in which case you have no need of a Guru. 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. You say that “the one thing indispensable is an immediate relation with the embodied Absolute”; but what is it that proves to the disciple that he is really in presence of this “Absolute”? You go on to say: “...whether he ‘discuss’ the point or not, a serious disciple must satisfy himself as best he can, that his prospective master is fully realized.” Now, I would like to know what the disciple can do to verify whether the Master possesses a wisdom that he himself, the disciple, does not have! You say that, once one admits the difference between the Shaykhu’l-barakah and the muqaddam (or rather, in this case, the khalîfah), “the emphasis now falls on inspiration rather than experience”, to which I reply: in no way! For the experience of the Master, whatever may be his degree of realization, is always amply sufficient for the disciple. You continue: “...and inspiration is a term that is eminently vague, and something which, whatever level it may spring from, is wholly accidental to Knowledge”; to which I would say first that, if you do not know that inspiration is a perfectly precise reality and fully accounted for by any traditional form, including Hinduism, this does not oblige me to think likewise; moreover, if it is true that there is a specific category of inspirations that is more or less—but not necessarily “wholly”—“accidental to Knowledge”, there are inspirations that depend on Knowledge; this is for example the case with the Maharshi’s hymns; furthermore, the Maharshi has explained the process of this inspiration very well. Since the human mind can never be Paramâtmâ, there are inspirations even for the perfect Sage, although in this case, the process will not be the same for him as for the man not having attained to the supreme Reality; however, it is impossible to develop all these questions in a letter.

You continue: “I repeat that for a serious disciple the realization of his master is all-important, his grace or power subservient to this—and to reverse the issue as Sh. Abdul-Wahid has is pure perversity.” To which I would retort, quoting the Tibetans, that “a dog can be a Guru”, without taking this literally, anymore than the Tibetans do; if I have quoted this maxim, it is uniquely to highlight how little the integral perfection of the Guru matters for the disciple; in other words, this maxim would be utterly meaningless if your thesis were true.

Regarding Shri Ramakrishna, you inform me that the Hindus are not in agreement as to the perfection of his realization; I see in this a fine example of the nullity of your principle by which it is for the disciple to judge the spirituality of the Master and to determine its degree; for if it is possible not to be in agreement on the “perfect realization” of a Master, the disciples are the first that could be mistaken, since they are beginners, and the risk of error here will be all the greater since, according to your theory, being connected to an initiatic line—a silsilah—is nothing, anymore than traditional orthodoxy is. The choice of the Master by the disciple—made in virtue only of the principle of “perfect realization”—is therefore a highly conjectural matter ... neither Bhairavi, nor Totapuri—the two Masters of Shri Ramakrishna—had attained to the supreme Goal; ... Shri Ramakrishna had thus chosen for Masters men who had not attained perfect realization; consequently, he was not a “serious disciple”!

“Apart from this,” you say, “it seems to me self-evident that any kind of experience can be made use of by a master to take a disciple to the goal. The line followed need not be traditional at all, and its virtue as tradition, that is to say the virtue of its originator, is altogether secondary to the virtue of the Master who makes use of it.” 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; likewise, the spiritual virtue of the Avatâra or the Prophet to which the tradition refers is everything, and the virtue of the Master would be inconceivable without that of the respective Avatâra; the “greater” can never come from the “lesser”, and—for multiple reasons—tradition is never revealed by means of a man not possessing perfect Wisdom.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Absolute Truth

“As are dreams and illusions or an imaginary city in the sky, so is this universe viewed by the wise in Vedanta. There is no dissolution, no birth, no one in bondage, no aspirant for wisdom, no one seeking liberation, and no one liberated. This is the absolute truth.”

 - Sri Gaudapada’s Karika upon the Mandukyopanishad, Chapter II, vv. 31 and 32