21 avril 2005

Biography of Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998)

Frithjof Schuon, also known as Shaykh `Isa Nur ed-Din Ahmad al-Shadhili al-Darquwi al-`Alawi al-Maryami, was a leading exponent of the philosophia perennis and traditional metaphysics. A spiritual master, metaphysician, poet and painter, he wrote major works on traditional doctrines and themes. He wrote in German, French, Arabic and English. His corpus of published works is vast. He published two long lyrical poems in German in his early years, and in his later years wrote almost one hundred poems in English.

As a young man in Paris, Schuon became interested in Islam, and he embarked on a rigorous study of Arabic, first with a Syrian Jew and later at the Paris mosque. He visited North Africa several times in the 1930’s and became a disciple of the Algerian Sufi Shaikh Ahmad Al’Alawi.

He married in Lausanne in 1949. He and his wife were given a plot of land with an orchard and vineyard in Pully, a suburb east of Lausanne, where they constructed their home. They traveled widely in Europe, making trips to France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, England, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and Morocco, and visited the United States several times.

During the 1950’s, the Schuons had contact with North American natives who visited Paris and Brussels, and they traveled to the Lakota tribe of the Sioux nation in 1959, where they were officially adopted into the Red Cloud family. Later he was also adopted into the Crow tribe. The Feathered Sun: Plains Indians in Art and Philosophy (1990) are a collection of his writings and paintings which poignantly present the pathos and spirituality of the Plains Indians.

In his last years he lived in Indiana, and he died of a protracted illness in Bloomington in 1998.

Schuon said that his role was to bring back the concept of the Absolute in a world become relativized. His had a deep abiding sense of the sacred, manifested outwardly by his serious mien and highly dignified manner. [Whithall Perry, Perspectives] “Imagine a radiant summer sky and imagine simple folk who gaze at it, projecting into it their dream of the hereafter; now suppose that it were possible to transport these simple folk into the dark and freezing abyss of the galaxies and nebulae with its overwhelming silence. In this abyss all too many of them would lose their faith, and this is precisely what happens as a result of modern science, both to the learned and to the victims of popularization. What most men do not know – and if they could know it, why should we have to ask them to believe it? is that this blue sky, though illusory as an optical error and belied by the vision of interplanetary space, is nonetheless an adequate e reflection of the Heaven of Angels and the Blessed and that therefore, despite everything, it is this blue mirage, flecked with silver clouds, which is right and will have the final say; to be astonished at this amounts to admitting that it is by chance that we are here on earth and see the sky as we do.” [Understanding Islam, p. 137]

All of Schuon’s work re-affirms the traditional metaphysical principles, explicating the esoteric dimensions of religion, penetrating mythological and religious forms, and critiquing modernism. He clarified the distinctions between exoteric and esoteric dimensions of religious tradition and uncovered the metaphysical convergence of all orthodox religions. The essential theme of Schuon’s writing, as summarized by Martin Lings, is this: the Sole Ultimate Reality of Absolute, Infinite Perfection and the predicament of man, made in the image of that Perfection, an image from which he has fallen, and to which he must return on his way to the final reintegration into his Divine Source.

“Intelligence, by which we comprehend the Doctrine, is either the intellect or reason; reason is the instrument of the intellect, it is through reason that man comprehends the natural phenomena around him and within himself, and it is through it that he is able to describe supernatural things – parallel to the means of expression offered by symbolism – by transposing intuitive knowledge into the order of language. Then function of the rational faculty can be to provoke – by means of a given concept – a spiritual intuition; reason is then the flint which makes the spark spring forth. The limit of the Inexpressible varies according to mental structure: what is beyond all expression for some, may be easily expressible for others.” [“Norms and Paradoxes in Spiritual Alchemy” in Sophia, vol. 1, no. 1 1995]

On the nature of sacred Books, he says, “that is sacred which in the first place is attached to the transcendent order, secondly possesses the character of absolute certainty and, thirdly, eludes the comprehension and power of investigation of the ordinary human mind…. The sacred is the presence of the centre in the periphery, of the motionless in the moving; dignity is essentially an expression of it, for in dignity too the centre manifests at the exterior; the heart is revealed in gestures. The sacred introduces an quality of the absolute into relativities and confers on perishable things a textures of eternity.” [Understanding Islam, p. 48]

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