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.

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