24 décembre 2020

Frithjof Schuon, Light on the Ancient Worlds (note de lectură)


World Wisdom 2006


Editor’s Preface


Light on the Ancient Worlds

Two key-ideas, the idea of Center (in space) and the idea of Origin (in time). The Center is the place where Heaven has touched the earth. The Origin is the quasi-timeless moment when Heaven was near and terrestrial things were still half-celestial.

Each ancient civilization live on a remembrance of the lost Paradise.

The purpose of ancient imperialism was to spread an “order”, a state of equilibrium and stability which conforms to a divine model.

“Civilization” is merely an urban refinement within the framework of a worldly and mercantile outlook, and this explains its hostility to virgin nature as well as to religion.

In Western Christianity, the emperor incarnates temporal power; but more than that he also represents, by virtue of his pre-Christian but nonetheless celestial origin, an aspect of universality. The Pope is identified by his function with the Christian religion alone.

The Muslims in Spain were not persecuted until the clergy had become too powerful in comparison with the temporal power.

“the traditional disequilibrium of Christianity” (p. 3)

For traditional worlds, to be situated in space and time is to be situated respectively in a cosmology and an eschatology.

Symbolism – “is as rigorous as the laws of nature and no less diverse” (p. 5)

Creative genius – “in itself is free as the wind, but is nothing without the language of Truth” (p. 5)

Absoluteness is “the sufficient reason of every tradition” (p. 6)

An art that does not express the unchanging and does not want to be unchanging itself is not a sacred art.

“A question that might arise here is the following: why did these old religions deviate into paganism and then become extinct, whereas a similar destiny seems to be excluded in the case of the great traditions that are alive today in both the West and the East? The answer is that traditions having a prehistoric origin are, symbolically speaking, made for “space” and not for “time”; that is, they saw the light in a primordial epoch when time was still but a rhythm in a spatial and static beatitude and when space or simultaneity still predominated over the experience of duration and change; historical traditions on the contrary must take the experience of “time” into account and must foresee instability and decadence, since they were born at periods when time had become like a fast-flowing and ever more devouring river and when the spiritual outlook had to be centered on the end of the world. The position of Hinduism is intermediate in the sense that it has a capacity, exceptional in a tradition of the primordial type, for rejuvenation and adaptation; it is thus at once prehistoric and historic and realizes in its own way the miracle of a synthesis between the gods of Egypt and the God of Israel.” (p.  8)

The goal of religion is to transmit to man a symbolic, yet adequate, image of the reality that concerns him, according to his real needs and ultimate interests, and to provide him with the means of surpassing himself and realizing his highest destiny.

The secondary goal of religion is to make possible a sufficient equilibrium in the life of the collectivity or to safeguard within the framework of the natural malice of men a maximum of spiritual opportunities; if society must be protected against the individual, the individual for his part must be protected against society.

Modern civilization gives in order to take: it gives the world but takes away God; and it is this that compromises even its gift of the world.

Since we cannot humanize the machine, we are obliged, by a certain logic at least, to mechanize man.

To live nobly is to live in company with death, whether physical or spiritual.

Without the fear of God no one has the right to demand respect and obedience.

The monk or hermit lives as if in an antechamber of Heaven.

True happiness is attributed to pious poverty, not impious wealth.

A society as such, or by virtue of the  mere fact of its existence, represents nothing of value. This implies that social virtues are nothing in themselves and apart from the spiritual context that orients them toward our final goal.

No world is perfect, but every human world should possess the means to perfection.


Fall and Forfeiture

In antiquity and the Middle Ages man was “objective” in the sense that his attitude was still largely determined by the element “object”, on the plane of ideas as well as on that of the senses. He was very far from the relativism of modern man, who compromises objective reality by reducing it to natural accidents lacking any higher significance and symbolic quality, and also from a “psychologism”, which calls into question the value of the knowing subject and in effect destroys the very idea of intelligence.

The man of the Renaissance began to analyze mental reflections and psychic reactions and thus became interested in the “subject” pole to the detriment of the “object” pole. In becoming “subjective” in this sense, he ceased to be symbolist and became rationalist, for reason is the thinking ego.

This transition from objectivism to subjectivism reflects and renews in its own way the fall of Adam and the loss of Paradise: in losing a symbolist and contemplative perspective, founded both on impersonal intelligence and on the metaphysical transparency of things, man has gained the fallacious riches of the ego; the world of divine images has become a world of words.

The Reformation had as an overall result the relegation of God to Heaven – a Heaven henceforth distant and more and more neutralized – on the pretext that God keeps close to us “through Christ” in a sort of Biblical atmosphere and that He resembles us as we resemble Him.

For the French Revolution, the earth had become definitively and exclusively the goal of man; the “Supreme Being” was merely a ridiculed nostrum.

Space symbolizes origin and immutability; time is decadence, which carries us away from the origin while at the same time leading us toward the Messiah and toward the meeting with God.

The mentality of today seeks to reduce everything to temporal categories.

In the Middle Ages there were still only two or three types of greatness: the saint and the hero as well as the sage, and then on a lesser scale and as it were by reflection the pontiff and prince.

The foundations of the modern science are false because, from the “subject” point of view, it replaces Intellect and Revelation, by reason and experience, and because from the “object” point of view, it replaces Substance by matter alone while denying the universal Principle or reducing it to matter or some kind of pseudo-absolute deprived of all transcendence.

About the modern science: “One of the effects, among others, of modern science has been that of mortally wounding religion by posing in concrete terms problems which esoterism alone can resolve and which remain unresolved because esoterism is not heeded and is heeded less now than ever. Faced by these new problems, religion is disarmed, and it borrows clumsily and gropingly the arguments

of the enemy, and this obliges it to falsify imperceptibly its own perspective and more and more to disavow itself; its doctrine is certainly not affected, but false opinions borrowed from its repudiators corrode it insidiously “from within”, as witnessed by modernist exegesis, the demagogic leveling of the liturgy, Teilhardian Darwinism, “worker-priests”, and a “sacred art” of surrealist and “abstract” persuasion. Scientific discoveries prove nothing to contradict the traditional positions of

religion, of course, but there is no one at hand to point this out; too many “believers” assume on the contrary that it is up to religion to “shake off the dust of centuries”, that is, to “liberate” itself from

everything that makes up—or manifests—its essence; the absence of metaphysical or esoteric knowledge, on the one hand, and the suggestive force emanating from scientific discoveries as well as

from collective psychoses, on the other, make religion an almost defenseless victim, a victim that in large measure refuses even to make use of the arguments at its disposal. It would nevertheless be easy, instead of slipping into the errors of others, to demonstrate that a world fabricated by scientism tends everywhere to turn ends into means and means into ends and that it results either in a mystique of envy, bitterness, and hatred or in a fatuous materialism destructive of qualitative distinctions; that science, though neutral in itself—for facts are facts—is nonetheless a seed of corruption and  annihilation in the hands of man, who on average does not have a sufficient knowledge of the profound nature of Existence to be able to integrate—and thereby neutralize—the facts of science within a total view of the world; that the philosophical consequences of science imply fundamental contradictions; and that man has never been so ill-known and so misinterpreted as from the moment he was subjected to the “x-rays” of a psychology founded on postulates that are radically false and contrary to his nature.” (p. 27-28)

The great traditions are aware that a Promethean knowledge must lead to the loss of the essential and saving truth.

What is outrageous in those who assert that “God is dead” or even “buried” is that in doing  so they inevitably put themselves in place of what they deny.

The sin of Adam was a sin of curiosity. He wanted to see the other side of contingency: the link with the divine Source was broken and became invisible.

Adam had become poor after having acquired knowledge of contingency as such or contingency insofar as it limits.

The problem of the fall evokes the problem of the universal theophany which is the world.

The prototype of the fall is none other than the process of universal manifestation itself.

The whole cosmogonic process is found again in static mode in man: we are made of matter, that is, of sensible density and “solidification”, but at the center of our being is supra-sensible and transcendent Reality , at once infinitely fulgurant and infinitely peaceful.

In man stamped by the fall, action not only has priority over contemplation, but even abolishes it.

Fallen man is man led on by action and imprisoned by it.

Ego, act and thing are in effect three idols, three screens hiding the Absolute; the sage is he who puts the Absolute in place of these three terms.

Fallen man is a fragmentary being, and therein lies for him a danger of deviation.

The transcendence of the Intellect can act on condition of being framed by two supplementary elements: one human (virtue) an the other divine (grace).

Virtue – a conscious and permanent effort toward perfection, which is essentially effacement, generosity and love of truth.

Grace – a divine aid which man must implore and without which he can do nothing, whatever his gifts.

What matters to the man who is virtually liberated from the fall is to remain in holy infancy.


The Dialogue between Hellenists and Christians

Like most inter-traditional polemics, the dialogue which opposed Hellenism to Christianity was to a great extent unreal.

From the point of view of the Hellenists, the divine Principle is at the same time one and multiple; the gods personify the divine qualities and functions and the angelic prolongations of these qualities and functions.

The Hellenistic conception of the “divinity of the world” has nothing to do with the error of pantheism, for the cosmic manifestation of God in no way detracts from the absolute transcendence appertaining to the Principle in itself, and in no way contradicts what is metaphysically acceptable in the Semitic and Christian conception of a creation ex nihilo.

If the Christian polemists did not understand that the outlook of the Greek sages was no more than the esoteric complement of the Biblical notion of creation, the Greek polemicists did not understand the compatibility between the two outlooks any better.

For the Greeks truth is that which is in conformity with the nature of things; for the Christians truth is that which leads to God.

The Hellenists were predominantly right in principle and the Christians in fact.

The Christian gnostics remained in a quasi-organic connection with the spiritual experience of gnosis-love: to know God is to love Him, or to love God perfectly is to know Him.

The “avataric” marvel of Christ retraces, or humanizes, the cosmic marvel of creation or of “emanation”.

From the point of vue of the Platonists, the return to God is inherent in the fact of existence: our being itself offers the way of return, for that being is divine in its nature, otherwise it would be nothing.

While the Platonists propound liberation to Knowledge because man is an intelligence, the Christians envisage in their general doctrine a salvation by Grace because man is an existence.

All the triad Socrates-Plato-Aristotle did was to crystallize rather imperfectly a primordial and intrinsically timeless wisdom, actually of Aryan origin and typologically close to the Celtic, Germanic, Mazdean, and Brahmanic esoterisms.

The Sophists inaugurate the era of individualistic rationalism and unlimited pretensions; thus they open the door to all arbitrary totalitarianisms.

Aristotle opens the era of a rationalism still anchored in metaphysical certitude, but nonetheless fragile and ambiguous in its very principle.

There are two sources of certitude: on the one hand the innateness of the Absolute in pure intelligence, and the supernatural phenomenon of grace.

The Christian argument is the historicity of the Christ-Savior, whereas the Platonic or Aryan argument is the nature of things or the Immutable.

Hellenism, like all sapiential doctrines, is founded on the axiom man-intelligence rather than man-will.


American Indian Shamanism

By “Shamanism” we mean traditions of “prehistoric” origin that are characteristic of Mongoloid peoples, including the American Indians. It is characterized by a complementary opposition between Earth and Heaven as well as by a worship of Nature, which is envisaged in relation to its essential causality and not its existential accidentality.

The Indian idea that everything is “animated”: in principle and metaphysically it means that there springs forth from each thing an ontological ray that is made of “being”, a ray which connects the object through its subtle or animistic root to its luminous and celestial prototype. It follows that it is possible for us to attain to the heavenly Essences by taking anything whatever as starting point.

The fundamental idea: that of an almost pantheistic force or power which incarnates itself in the phenomena of the actual world and of which this world is but an image or illusion.

The East is Light and Knowledge as well as Peace.

The South is Warmth and Life, hence Growth and Happiness.

The West is fertilizing Water as well as Revelation speaking in lightning and thunder.

The North is Cold and Purity, or Strength.

Cosmic magic  operates by virtue of the analogies between symbols and their prototypes.


Tracing Mâyâ

Mâyâ is not only “universal illusion”, but also “divine play”.

The nature of Mâyâ is half-cosmic, half-divine.

The world is a dimension of the infinity of God.

What the world is to Being, Being is to supreme Non-Being.

Relativity has its sufficient reason in the Absolute and is therefore evident by reference to the Absolute, while remaining problematic in itself.

Things are obscure inasmuch as they belong to relativity, and if there could be such a thing as pure relativity, it would be pure obscurity and unintelligibility.

Mâyâ is none other than relativity, which in certain respect is more “mysterious” than the Absolute. But “mystery” then signifies something indirect, negative, and chaotic.

To speak of an absolute  adequation of our thought to the Real is a contradiction in terms since our thought is not the Real and since the meaning of this equation is precisely this separation or difference.

To speak of “manifestation” is to speak of “reintegration”.

Man is like a reduced image of the cosmogonic unfolding: we are made of matter, but in the center of our being is the supra-sensible and transcendent, the “kingdom of Heaven”, the “eye of the heart”, the passageway to the Infinite.

The mission of man is to introduce the Absolute into the relative. “The meaning of human life – to paraphrase a Christian formula expressing the reciprocity between man and God – is to realize that Atma became Maya that Maya might become Atma.” (p. 82)



Attributing a naive outlook to everyone who lived in the past is the simplest way of exalting oneself, and it is all the easier and more tempting because it is founded in part on accurate though fragmentary observations.

The acme of naiveté is to believe that man can escape from naiveté on every plane and that it is possible for him to be integrally intelligent by his own efforts.

The most flagrant form of naiveté is to fail to see naiveté where it exists.

It is fashionable to regard not only the people of the Middle Ages but even those of fairly recent generations as having been duped in every possible way, so that to resemble them would be a matter for shame.

A fact that can lead to error is the analogy between the childhood of individuals and that of peoples; the analogy is only partial and in a certain respect it is even inverse, the collectivity being in this respect the opposite of the individual.

An extrinsic naiveté exists only accidentally and in relation to a world that is the product of certain experiences, but it is full of hypocrisy, useless cleverness, and dissimulation.

One cannot deny magic without straying from faith.


Man in the Universe

Modern science, which is rationalist as to its subject and materialist as to its object, can describe our situation physically and approximately, but it can tell us nothing about our extra-spatial situation in the total and real Universe.

Profane science, in seeking to pierce to its depths the mystery of the things that contain – space, time, matter, energy – forgets the mystery of the things that are contained: it tries to explain the quintessential properties of our bodies and the intimate functioning of our souls, but it does not know what existence and intelligence are; consequently, given its principles, it cannot be otherwise than ignorant of what man is.

What proves the Absolute extrinsically? In the first place the relative, since it is meaningless without the absoluteness it restricts, and in the second place the “relatively absolute”, that is, the reflection of the Absolute in the relative.

The ego is at the same time a system of images and a cycle; it is something like a museum, and a unique and irreversible journey through that museum.

Man is as if buried under a sheet of ice (cosmic ice and ice of ignorance).

The sage looks at things in connection with their necessarily imperfect and ephemeral exteriorization, but he also looks at them in connection with their perfect and eternal context.

The sage sees causes in effects and effects in causes; he sees God în all things and all things in God.


The Universality and Timeliness of Monasticism

It is impossible to provide an account of human nature without relating it back to its divine conditions, or of the human phenomenon without connecting it either positively or negatively to God; for without God man is nothing.

Monasticism – institutional sanctity; organized eremitism.

Monasticism is not situated outside the world; it is the world that situates itself outside monasticism.

Syncretism is never something substantial: it is an assembling of heterogeneous elements into a false unity.

A world is absurd to the extent that the contemplative, the hermit, the monk appear in it as a paradox of “anachronism”.

“Purely human is only a fiction” – man is fully man only in rising above himself, and he can do so only through religion.

In our age man is defined not by reference to his specific nature but by reference to the inextricable consequences of an already secular Prometheanism: it is human works, or even the remote consequences of these works, which in the minds of our contemporaries determine and define man.

The ideas of the true and the false are intrinsically relative, hence always vacillating.

 In the temporal dimension that stretches ahead of us there are only these certainties: death, Judgment and eternal life. A fourth is our actuality, our present freedom to choose God and thus to choose our whole destiny.


Keys to the Bible

In order to understand the nature of the Bible and its meaning, it is essential to have recourse to he ideas of both symbolism and revelation. Without an exact and sufficiently profound understanding of these key ideas, the approach to the Bible remains hazardous and risks engendering grave doctrinal, psychological and historical errors.

When approaching Scripture, one should always pay the greatest attention to rabbinical and cabalistic commentaries and to the patristic and mystical commentaries.

The divine quality of the sacred text appears through the wealth of superposed meanings and in the theurgic power of the text when it is thought and pronounced and written.

The apparent incoherence in certain sacred texts results ultimately from the disproportion between divine Truth and human language: it is as if this language, under the pressure of the Infinite, were shattered into a thousand disparate pieces or as if God had at His disposal no more than a few words to express a thousand truths, thus obliging Him to use all sorts of ellipses and paraphrases.

Intellection is for man what revelation is for the collectivity.


Religio Perennis

Total Truth is inscribed in an eternal script in the very substance of our spirit; what the different Revelations do is to “crystallize” and “actualize” a nucleus of certitudes.

What makes our will human, and therefore free, is the fact that it is proportioned to God.

The essential function of human intelligence is discernment between the Real and the illusory, or between the Permanent and impermanent.

The essential function of the will is attachment to the Permanent or the Real.

Discernment is separative, and it is what “doctrine” refers to; concentration is unitive, and it is what “method” refers to.

The religio perennis is fundamentally this: the Real entered into the illusory so that the illusory might be able to return into the Real.

The two-fold definition of the religio perennis – discernment between the Real and the illusory and a unifying and permanent concentration on the Real.

Just as it is impossible for there to be only one doctrine to represent the nature of space or extension, so it is also impossible for there to be only one doctrine giving an account of the Absolute and of the relations between the contingent and the Absolute.

In Islam, the same fundamental theme (discernment between the Real and the non-real) is crystallized according to a very different perspective: the Testimony of Unity (the Shahâdah).

From the point of view of human subjectivity, man is the container, and God is the contained. From the divine point of view, the relationship is reversed, all things being contained in God and nothing being able to contain Him.

The “proofs” of God and religion are in man himself: “Knowing his own nature, he also know Heaven.” (Mencius)

Human nature in general and human intelligence in particular cannot be understood apart from the religious phenomenon, which characterizes them in the most direct and most complete way possible: grasping the transcendent nature of the human being, we thereby  grasp the nature of revelation, religion, tradition.

There is a concordance between the religio perennis and virgin nature.



Many heresies are attempts – unconsciously and in error – to rediscover the religio perennis.


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