This article appeared in Sacred Web 10. To order this issue of Sacred Web and other back issues, click here.
An Open Question for Traditionalism
by Lucian W. Stone, Jr.
Those who look with the skilled eyes of an expert do not see the same things [as the uninitiate] when they look at paintings; rather they recognize a sensible image of what was in the mind [sc. of the artist], and they are as if disturbed, and come to a recollection of the truth. It is from this experience that erotic desires are set in motion. One viewer, when he sees the beauty in a well-portrayed face, is transported above. Another will have such a lazy mind that he is not moved towards anything else, but when he sees all the beauties of the sensible world, all its symmetry and great orderliness, and the form manifested in the stars, even though they are so far away, he is not seized by a feeling of awe, and he does not immediately think: “What wonders, and from what a source!”1
While, like everyone else, I was trying to come to terms with the events of September 11th, 2001, I received an email message from a friend with a link to the amazom.com web page listing the information for the latest “Library of Living Philosophers” volume dedicated to the life, thought, and career of Seyyed Hossein Nasr.2 Given that I had the privilege and honor of co-editing this volume as well as contributing a chapter, he thought I would be interested in reading the book reviews it had received thus far in this free forum. Thankful for a distraction in coping with recent events, I clicked on the link and scanned the web page for the book reviews. It was then that I came upon this emotional response dated September 13, 2001:
With the recent horrific events in New York, there are many who are asking just what it is about Islam that causes it, wherever it is actually put into political practice (e.g., Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Palestine, Libya, Syria, etc, etc [sic]) to be associated with such sub-human barbarism. Again and again we are told that these represent “aberrations” from the true spirit [of] Islam, and that the vast majority of Muslims in the world have somehow gotten their own religion all wrong.
Well, here is a book by and about probably the greatest Islamic scholar in the world, Seyyed [Hossein] Nasr. On page 260, he emphasizes that “the modern world (meaning the West) is essentially evil and accidentally good,” whereas the traditional world (to which Islamic fundamentalists wish us to return) is “essentially good and accidentally evil.”
Now, I have no doubt whatsoever that Nasr himself is not an evil or violent man. However, what he fails to understand is that this type of disgusting rhetoric is embraced by other Muslims as a warrant for genocide. In other words, if something is “essentially evil,” for example, Naziism, we are not only permitted to destroy it, but morally compelled to do so. Bin Laden is in full agreement with compunction in slaughtering thousands of innocents, but is utterly convinced that he has advanced the cause of good (and God) in the world. How could it be otherwise?
Professor Nasr ought to have the courage of his convictions, and leave the “evil” civilization, the United States, that has warmly embraced him since he fled Iran some twenty-three years ago. Better yet, he ought to get on his knees every day and thank Allah that he is not condemned to live in a Muslim theocracy where his foolish ideas are put into evil practice.3
Obviously my reprieve was short lived as this exclamation cast me back into serious reflection upon the conditions leading to the terrorist attacks and the heavy air of the aftermath.
Though I hardly agree with a single utterance expressed by the author in his/her rant, it nevertheless did provoke penetrating questions of my own, particularly with respect to Traditionalism. At the heart of these questions, admittedly, is my own self doubt about my personal interaction with Traditionalist texts and lived Traditionalism. That is, from the outset let me make clear that I personally—though baptized and brought up in a traditional Roman Catholic home—like many American (Western) youth of my generation, broke away from tradition and embarked upon my private “intellectual” journey. (Little did I suspect, then, that it was in fact a spiritual journey that I was undertaking!) Along the way I embraced radical individualism (and its bedfellow, relativism), endured a stint wavering between atheism and agnosticism, have and still do intensely study the history of Western philosophy, found “comfort” in nihilism, and due to my intellectual curiosity bringing me upon certain traditional texts (first in the texts of Buddhist, Taoist, and Hindu philosophies, and lastly in those of the three Abrahamic traditions, especially Islam), have come full circle, some might say, in exploring Traditionalism once again. However, this journey is not complete in that I remain at a distance from Traditionalism and thus far have merely academically tried to come to terms with it.
Given this personal aside, a fundamental question has arisen with respect to Traditionalism in general and in regard to the esoteric dimensions in particular. In short, I am perplexed by the act and purpose of Traditionalist publications (such as the journal for which I am writing this article, Sacred Web). Several direct questions stem from this general concern: 1) Granting our current historical context in which there are relatively few people who are able to read and interpret Traditionalist texts, why do Traditionalists publish them, thereby granting the inept access to the texts?; 2) Branching out from the last clause in the prior question, in full knowledge that either these texts will be misinterpreted by some within the Traditions themselves—by those who have distorted or unlearned opinions thereof (which can frequently be accounted for by tracing the influence of Western, non-Traditional sources) and who oftentimes have ulterior motives (e.g., political aims)—or by those outside of a given tradition, or Traditionalism in general, who will exploit the texts for their own desired end, why do Traditionalists publish?; 3) In light of the emphasis of the esoteric or interior dimension of Traditionalism emphasized therein, which necessarily requires intense discipline and study, why make available these sacred texts for an otherwise ill-suited mass audience?; and 4) Should not the Traditionalists insist on the initiatory rites and practices required of Traditionalism before exposing these potentially unintelligible, and therefore dangerous, teachings to the individual pupil, yet alone a mass audience? In sum, what could possibly be the purpose or desired end for the Traditionalist in making public these texts which require rigorous guided study and practice in order to be fully comprehended?
This essay, which I undertake in earnest humility, is both an effort to examine my own personal interaction with Traditionalist teachings and to weigh this out in respect of what I hope to be an otherwise objective, yet empathetic, academic inquiry. In the end, I do not have the answer to these questions. I already laid bare my guilt of not being a Traditionalist personally, thereby disavowing myself the ability to definitively answer these questions. Rather, it is my hope that by way of this initial inquiry I will spark further dialogue concerning these matters—and other related ones which I may not even be aware of yet—pertaining to the nature of transmitting Traditional texts (as well as exegetical works and commentaries thereof) in a fundamentally distorted modern world, for an ill-equipped modern audience.
The Root of the Problem?
In her book, The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong undertakes the daunting task of defining and explicating the phenomenon of “religious fundamentalism.”4 She broaches this sensitive topic via the examination of this trend within the three Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. At the outset she clearly and explicitly puts forward the separate, but not independent, modes of grounding meaning in the world: mythos and logos. “We tend to assume that the people of the past were (more or less) like us, but in fact their spiritual lives were rather different. In particular, they evolved two ways of thinking, speaking, and acquiring knowledge, which scholars have called mythos and logos. Both were essential; they were regarded as complementary ways of arriving at truth, and each had its special area of competence.”5 She goes on to explicate mythos as:
…primary; it was concerned with what was thought to be timeless and constant in our existence. Myth looked back to the origins of life, to the foundations of culture, and to the deepest levels of the human mind. Myth was not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning. Unless we find some significance in our lives, we mortal men and women fall very easily into despair. The mythos of a society provided people with a context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their attention to the eternal and the universal. It was also rooted in what we would call the unconscious mind. The various mythological stories, which were not intended to be taken literally, were an ancient form of psychology…. Because of the dearth of myth in our modern society, we have had to evolve the science of psychoanalysis to help us to deal with our inner world.6
The domain of mythos, to recap, is primary and in the deepest sense grounds even logos. To use Rudolph Otto and Mircea Eliade’s terminology, it is in the myth that the “heirophany” is revealed.7 Thus, necessarily all other modes of obtaining knowledge, grounding meaning and so on, must be aligned in light of mythos, including logos—though, as we will shortly see, it has its particular place and purpose as well. Furthermore, it is within the mythic mode which the esoteric realm of a given tradition is experienced.
Logos, as Armstrong outlines it is:
…equally important. Logos was the rational, pragmatic, and scientific thought that enabled men and women to function well in the world. We may have lost the sense of mythos in the West today, but we are very familiar with logos, which is the basis of our society. Unlike myth, logos must relate exactly to facts and correspond to external realities if it is to be effective. It must work efficiently in the mundane world. We use this logical, discursive reasoning when we have to make things happen, get something done, or persuade other people to adopt a particular course of action. Logos is practical. Unlike myth, which looks back to the beginnings and to the foundations, logos forges ahead and tries to find something new: to elaborate on old insights, achieve a greater control over our environment, discover something fresh, and invent something novel.8
It cannot be stressed enough that this, for the Traditionalist, is not a strict bifurcation. Instead, this distinction is descriptive of two necessary modes of interaction with our world and the deeper, hidden meanings of life. That is to say, they both play an essential role in the life of the individual and society. It is when one or the other supercedes and dismisses the other that trouble arises. This is precisely the case, as described by Armstrong in her study, in the contemporary religious landscape driven by the excessive emphasis on logos to the detriment of all mythoi. Nowhere is this more evident than in the politicization of esoteric doctrines via a logos-centric interpretation.
One of the fascinating and, frankly, perplexing themes highlighted throughout Karen Armstrong’s detailed survey of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions in a historical fashion, with constant reminder of the distinction between mythos and logos, is the assimilation of mystical doctrines and symbolism in the exoteric or external religious realm—especially with respect to political aims and/or propaganda. All three traditions’ mystical orders warn that they should take heed of the imminent dangers in exposing their ideals and practices to an uninitiated audience. For example, “Other Muslims were able to explore fresh religious ideas and practices in the esoteric movements,” Armstrong writes, “which were kept secret from the masses because their practitioners believed that they could be misunderstood.”9 These potential misunderstandings are a direct effect of the domineering logos-centric view adopted largely in the modern era.
Of course, the rise of this rationalistic movement without regard for the mythic has grave consequences for Traditionalism (especially where the esoteric is concerned). Thus, in discussing this specific phenomenon in the Christian tradition, Armstrong explicates:
The reformers claimed to be returning, conservative-wise, to the primary source, the Bible, but they were reading Scripture in a modern way. The reformed Christian was to stand before God, relying simply on his Bible, but this would not have been possible before the invention of printing had made it feasible for all Christians to have a Bible of their own and before the developing literacy of the period enabled them to read it. Increasingly, Scripture was read literally for the information it imparted, in much the same way as modernizing Protestants were learning to read other texts. Silent, solitary reading would help to free Christians from traditional ways of interpretation and from the supervision of religious experts. The stress on individual faith would also help to make truth seem increasingly subjective—a characteristic of the modern Western mentality.10
We see then that this literalistic mode of interpreting the exoteric doctrines of sacred texts resulted in the further separation from the sacred origin of Tradition in favor of a more subjective, individualistic appropriation. In other words, instead of recognizing the non-human, eternal, and infinite nature and source of mythos, the hubris of mankind extended itself to analyzing and “reforming” the various traditions under the rubric of logos, reason.
In Essays and Reviews, the British clerics argued that the Bible must not have special treatment, but should be subjected to the same critical rigor as any other text. The new ‘Higher Criticism’ represented the triumph of the rational discourse of logos over myth. Rational science had subjected the mythoi of the Bible to radical scrutiny and found that some of its claims were ‘false.’ The biblical tales were simply ‘myths,’ which, in popular parlance, now meant that they were not true.11
If this is historically true for the less symbolically rich external dimension, then one can only quiver at the thought of what might come about as a result of a similar rational “exegesis” of the mystical or esoteric teachings.
Mysticism was not for the masses. At its best, it was a one-to-one process, in which the adept was carefully supervised to make sure he or she did not fall into unhealthy psychic states. The descent into the unconscious was an enterprise demanding great skill, intelligence, and discipline. When expert guidance was not available, the results could be deplorable. The crazed and neurotic behavior of some of the medieval Christian saints, which was often due to inadequate spiritual direction, showed dangers of an undisciplined cultivation of alternate states of mind. The reforms of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross had been designed precisely to correct such abuses. When mystical journeys were undertaken en masse,12 they could degenerate into crowd hysteria, the nihilism of the Sabbatarians, or the mental imbalance of some of the Puritans.13
I now turn to the topic of initiation as it is of utmost importance at this juncture and in the overall theme of this essay. For these purposes I seek wisdom from the writings of renowned Traditionalist, René Guénon. According to him:
Religion [exoterically speaking] considers the human being exclusively in his state of individuality and does not aim to bring him beyond it but rather to assure him of the most favorable conditions in this state, whereas the essential aim of initiation is to go beyond possibilities of this state and to effect a passage to the superior states, and even finally to lead the being beyond every conditioned state of whatever kind.14
Therefore, from the outset let there be no mistake, the esoteric, or initiatic domain never has external—especially political—aims in mind. As Guénon writes, “All initiatic realization is therefore essentially and purely ‘interior’…”15 It focuses on the inward (or vertical) movement toward the divine origin, whereas the exoteric functions on the horizontal plane.
Initiation, however, does involve a communicative aspect.
We have previously stated that initiation is essentially the transmission of a spiritual influence, a transmission that can only take place through a regular, traditional organization, so that one cannot speak of initiation outside of an affiliation with an organization of this kind.16
But can/do publications (making open to the public in the literal sense) regulate or account for this necessary contingent? In other words, indeed initiation is the continual, uninterrupted preservation of sacred teachings; but, there are a great many other necessary conditions that must me met in order for this transmission to maintain its status as Tradition. Guénon continues:
…we could divide traditional organizations into the ‘exoteric’ and the ‘esoteric,’ although these two terms understood in their most precise sense cannot perhaps be applied with equal exactitude;…it will suffice to understand by ‘exoteric’ those organizations that in certain forms of civilization are open to all without distinction, and by ‘esoteric’ those organizations reserved for an elite that admits only those possessing a particular ‘qualification.’ Only the last are initiatic organizations…17
Who is to say that Jane or John Doe who purchases a copy of a given Traditional esoteric text is indeed “qualified” to receive the transmission? There are no means inherent in the process of publishing to ensure that these conditions are met by those who will be engaging Traditionalist publications.
Again Guénon stresses that if this is true of the exoteric, then when it comes to the esoteric, it is even more forcefully true:
In light of the above we can say that all religion in the true sense of the word has a ‘non-human’ origin and is organized so as to preserve the deposit of an equally ‘non-human’ element which it retains from this origin. This element, which belongs to the order of spiritual influences and exerts its effective action by means of the appropriate rites, of which the valid accomplishment furnishes a real support to the influences involved, requires a direct and uninterrupted transmission at the core of the religious organization. If this is true of the merely exoteric order…it must be even more true of the higher order, that is, of the esoteric order.18
So, one might ponder, what then is the desired aim, or rather, what good can come about through making public the interior dimensions of Traditionalism to an unequipped general audience? Given that the “initiatic chain” necessitates first that the student be an adherent of a Tradition and that this person also possess the proper abilities to be initiated, then what role do printed materials in the vein of Traditionalism play in propagating these teachings?
To further speculate as to the nature and effectiveness of Traditionalist publications, web sites, and so on, let me once again reference Guénon in his proclamation that in its strictest sense, initiation requires direct (in the sense of actually being in the immediate presence of a spiritual authority), guided, and, yes, oral transmission.
[E]ven the complete knowledge of a rite is entirely devoid of any effective value if it has been obtained outside of regular conditions. It is for this reason—to take a simple example where the rite is reduced essentially to the pronunciation of a word or formula—that in the Hindu tradition a mantra learned otherwise than from the mouth of an authorized guru is without effect because it is not ‘vivified’ by the presence of the spiritual vehicle it is uniquely destined to be. This applies in some degree to everything to which a spiritual influence is attached; thus study of the sacred texts of a tradition can never substitute for their direct communication; and this is why, even where traditional teachings are more or less completely available in written form, they still continue to be transmitted orally, for this is indispensable for their full effect… and also guarantees the perpetuation of the ‘chain’ to which the very life of the tradition is linked. Otherwise, one would be facing a dead tradition to which effective attachment is no longer possible; and although knowledge of what remains of a tradition can still have a certain theoretical interest (beyond merely profane erudition of course, which latter has no value here except insofar as it is capable of aiding the comprehension of certain doctrinal truths), it can in no way promote ‘realization’ of any kind whatsoever.19
What is most mind boggling from the starting point of the phenomenon of politicizing the esoteric teachings is precisely this fundamental error of externalizing the interior. It is so obvious, especially as one might presume from within a Traditionalist perspective, that laying bare the esoteric teachings/writings and/or offering “exegetical” accounts thereof to the public arena, in which the sincerity and preparation of the pupil cannot be guarded, is begging for problems.
For example, it should be evident now that literal interpretations of symbolically imbued Traditionalist texts, most specifically those pertaining to esoteric teachings, are absurd. Furthermore, it is precisely here where logos must be put aside and mythos must steer the course. This basic understanding almost jests (not fully because of the seriousness of the implications of such abuses) at those rationalistic attempts to “understand” mystical texts. For example, how could one possibly take seriously a literal interpretation of the Ishraqi (Illuminationist Philosopher) Suhrawardi’s “The Tale of the Occidental Exile”! When Suhrawardi exclaims, “Then cause your family to perish and kill your wife, for she shall be one of those who remain behind,”20 the Traditionalist cringes at what the uninitiate will “understand” of this passage. Despite the fact that the translator responsibly provides explanative footnotes reading in this case, “The wife is [symbolically] concupiscence,”21 true understanding of this passage requires learned guidance, long periods of meditation and contemplation, education of the symbolic language, a firm grounding in the overarching tradition(s)—which in the instance of Suhrawardi’s teachings involves a plethora of traditions ranging from Zoroastrianism, Neoplatonism, ancient Iranian lore, and Islam to name a few—and, one might say, initiation. Even the title of Suhrawardi’s allegory could easily be misappropriated into political rhetoric in the form of the declarations that the “Occident/West” literally/geographically speaking is evil, while the “Orient/East” is good.22 All of which, of course, are far from Suhrawardi’s intent and would be flawed interpretations.23
Similar types of hermeneutic appropriations of mystical/esoteric texts have lead to both “fundamentalist” movements within these traditions as well as complete misunderstandings and dismissals from those working outside of Traditionalism per se. They hold in common a language for analysis founded upon logos. Though I made mention in a few instances above regarding the use of publications to transmit Traditionalist ideas in the shadow of such blatant abuses, let me move now to my conclusion during which I hope to sum everything up and refocus my question.
Conclusion: Externalizing the Interior?
I begin this concluding section, which in the end analysis will not proffer a strict conclusion as such but rather open questions for future dialogue, speculating upon a possible answer to my own question. In other words, what may indeed be the impetus for the Traditionalists in making public their esoteric texts and commentaries to the free press? My first, and perhaps most correct, assumption is that it is a direct response to the attempts by non-Traditionalists to translate and explicate these texts which they “discovered” during their academic or scholarly pursuits. That is, it would seem reasonable enough for Traditionalists to offer their own internally consistent account of Traditionalism in the face of outside expositors—which have been called and criticized as “Orientalists.”24 If, however, Traditionalists publish in order to circumvent or combat the rampant foibles of both/either the so-called expositors of esoteric doctrine and/or the modern mindset because this is the battlefield drawn by these foes, then I am concerned whether or not they themselves have become cogs in this machine—participants in the race to bombard the public with conflicting and too frequently skewed ideals.
Here an aside reference to the work of Jalal Al-e Ahmad may be of use. In his influential text Gharbzadegi (Weststruckness), in which he outlines the relative conditions and underlying perspectives of the “East” and “West,”25 Al-e Ahmad declares, “It’s obvious that as long as we only use machines and don’t make them, we’re Westruck. Ironically, as soon as we start building machines we’ll be afflicted by them, like the West, which is now suffering from the effects of runaway technology.”26 Admittedly, Al-e Ahmad’s viewpoint is not primarily derived from Traditionalism per se (in fact he was mostly influenced by Marxism and his involvement with the Tudeh party), however, this paradoxical conundrum is applicable to the topic at hand. That is to say, according to Al-e Ahmad, the West has thrust its unchecked, uncontained technology onto the world—especially within the arena of the world market.27 Despite the philosophical, ethical, religious, cultural, underpinnings and their consequences, the East, in essence, is left without a viable choice in confronting this advance upon its own collective consciousness. If you will allow me an Americanism, “You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t!” In other words, if the East simply remains passive in the face of the West, then it is exploited for its natural resources, its cheap labor, and its marketability. If, on the other hand, it joins the race to produce, then its culture, religious values, etc., fall victim to the inherent value system within the West’s technological advance—namely, solely logos without regard (and with contempt) for mythos.
In light of the above, could the same not be said of the Traditionalists who, when faced with the constant barrage of misinterpretation, misappropriation, and other abuses and misunderstandings of either various Traditions or Traditionalism as a whole, decide to enter the arena of publishing? Here I mean to say, is there not an insidious nature to the publishing venture, especially in regards to Traditionalist literature? Traditionalism (and this is even more true when discussing the esoteric/interior teachings) requires gradual infusion with its teachings, not immediate access to them as information. Hence, in partaking in the “dialogue” being waged in the medium of publications, media, internet, and so on, even if in hope of trying to spoil the blunderings of the misguided, cannot one say that Traditionalism itself will/has fallen into this hopeless loop?28
Recall the distinction made by Karen Armstrong in her book between mythos and logos to which I have made constant reference. In view of this, we can ascribe Al-e Ahmad’s description in terms of the West’s logos-centric view directly opposing and historically trumping, or even destroying, the East’s mythos. For religious or Traditional man, as Armstrong states:
Myth looked back to the origins of life, to the foundations of culture, and to the deepest levels of the human mind. Myth was not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning.
But in the modern world meaning is determined by production (quantity) and quality is subdued. Can, then, the Traditionalists, without compromising their insistence upon the qualitative function of mythos, truly engage the West in the forum of the printed word—which, largely, is driven by a desire to reach and appeal to the most amount of people as well as to manufacture enough financial support to have the means to perpetuate this method of exposure in infinitum? If Traditionalism meets Modernity on this playing field, then is it not also functioning on the level of logos:
We use this logical, discursive reasoning when we have to make things happen, get something done, or persuade other people to adopt a particular course of action.29
In sum, by publishing in order to combat the folly rendered to Traditionalism, it enters into a vicious cycle by being cajoled into meeting Modernity explicitly at the level of logos instead of mythos.
The book review which instigated this inquiry, as previously alluded to, can readily be dismissed on many grounds. I will not entertain all of them here. Instead it should be clear where the fundamental mistake is made—the author relying on logos took Nasr’s statement completely out of context and ciphered it through his/her rationalistic/scientistic analysis. Such an interpretation is flatly incorrect and illustrates a lack of understanding and willingness to put forth a modicum of sincere effort towards dialogue. Nevertheless, it can rightly be asked, I believe, of the Traditionalists, like Nasr, knowing full well that the majority of your readers will be approaching your texts with such prejudices and biases, why continue to use this language that so readily falls into their critiques? Moreover, if the answer rests in the inability or unwillingness to compromise the symbolic language of Traditionalism, then why open this up to the general public?
I am of two minds on this subject. On the one hand, in light of the above, I can fully see that there is indeed something essentially correct in not disseminating these teachings for precisely the reasons given. In other words, it is counterintuitive to grant a mass audience the inward/esoteric Traditionalist teachings. For certain they will be manipulated for improper aims. On the other hand, however, my own personal experience is thankful for these publications and the authors of such careful and thoughtful elaborations such as Nasr, René Guénon, and Frithjof Schuon, to name but a few. In fact, it was through their works that I was able to personally arrive at this present juncture on my journey. That is, I was not very different than the author of the book review too long ago. But, through my initial exposure to translations of primary esoteric texts, I pursued to further my understanding in these “exegetic” texts and it was only through them that I have reached the level of comprehension I now have. In sum, I am torn between what appear to be imminent, even unavoidable, dangers presented in the use of publication, and the hope for the few instances in which it works in evoking a Traditionalist response.
I finish, then, by restating my question: What is the purpose of granting the public access to Traditionalist texts, either through translations of primary sources or via secondary commentaries? Does not the participation in the printed medium circumvent the necessary conditions in initiatic transmission? Finally, should not the Traditionalists reinitiate initiation by returning to the traditional mode of transmission in the form of direct, student to teacher guidance and thus avoid the pitfalls that go hand-in-hand with the printed word?
1 Plotinus, Ennead II 9, 16, 43-55. Translated and quoted in Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or The Simplicity of Vision, trans., Michael Chase (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 35-36.
2 Lewis E. Hahn, Randall E. Auxier, and Lucian W. Stone, Jr., (Eds.), The Philosophy of Seyyed Hossein Nasr Library of Living Philosophers Volume XVIII (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Press, 2001).
3 I suggest that anyone wishing to check this citation and see it for him/herself simply to go to amazon.com and do a book search for “Philosophy of Seyyed Hossein Nasr.” Please note that the author’s name is not given; rather it merely states “A reader from Calabasas, CA USA.” It should also be noted that the author gave only a one star rating out of a possible five stars for the volume under review. On a more positive note, only 2 of 31 people who read this review (as of 10/8/02) have found it helpful.
4 I, for one, am thankful that this research and the publication thereof were completed before the terrorist attack of Sept. 11th, 2001. Else, one could imagine the charges of “apologeticism” or even worse, given the growing polemical rhetoric infusing the media and political jargon, being a “sympathizer” with religious zealots!
5 Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), pp. xiii.
6 Ibid., pp. xiii-xiv.
7 See Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1987), p. 8ff.
8 Ibid., pp. xiv-xv.
9 Ibid., p. 41.
10 Ibid., p. 66. [Emphasis added mine.]
11 Ibid., p. 95.
12 Please bear this in mind as it pertains to the dissemination of Traditionalist texts to a mass audience via publications, etc.
13 Ibid., p. 78. [Emphasis added mine.]
14 René Guénon, Perspectives on Initiation (Ghent, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001), p.20.
15 Ibid., p. 21.
16 Ibid., p. 48. Here Guénon refers to the “Initiatic Chain” as, “a succession that ensures the uninterrupted transmission in question; outside of this succession even the observance of ritual forms is in vain, for the element essential to their efficacy is lacking.” (p. 48)
17 Ibid., p. 50.
18 Ibid., pp. 50-51.
19 Ibid., pp. 53-54. [Emphasis added mine.]
20 Suhrawardi, The Philosophical Allegories and Mystical Treatises, trans. W. M. Thackston (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1999), p. 115.
21 Ibid., p. 115, fn. V.
22 See S.H. Nasr, Three Muslim Sages (Delmar, New York: Caravan Books, 1997), Chapter 2 for a general survey of Suhrawardi’s thought; see pp. 64-66 specifically for an account of his use of geographical symbolism. “The sacred geography upon which Ishraqi doctrine is based converts the horizontal dimension of Occident-Orient to a vertical one; that is, by Orient is meant the world of pure lights or angels which is devoid of all darkness or matter and therefore invisible to mortal eyes; by the Occident, the visible heavens where light is combined with some darkness. The horizontal East and West direction is thus made vertical in the sense that the Occident is considered to be this earthly existence in which matter predominates, the middle Occident the astronomical heavens, and the true Orient above and beyond the visible sky and therefore hidden from mortal eyes.” (p. 65)
23 I implore you to carefully read Armstrong’s book already cited for a detailed account of the “fundamentalist” conflation of mythos and logos, particularly as it historically manifested in lieu of true—Traditional—mystical orders.
24 See for example Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979). For a specific example of this in René Guénon’s work, see Perspectives on Initiation, p. 7, where he criticizes R. A. Nicholson’s translation of tasawwuf as mysticism and the consequences thereof.
25 Just as Nasr (op. cit.) clarified that for Suhrawardi the geographical symbolism is not to be taken literally, Al-e Ahmad likewise states, “The only thing left to say here is that in my view, East and West are no longer two geographical concepts as such….West and East have neither a political nor a geographical meaning. Instead they are two economic concepts.” Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Gharbzadegi (Weststruckness), trans. John Green and Ahmad Alizadeh (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1997), p. 12.
26 Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Gharbzadegi (Weststruckness), trans. John Green and Ahmad Alizadeh (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1997), p. 16.
27 Ibid., p. 15.
28 It is interesting and pertinent to note that although Al-e Ahmad set up this catch-22 in such a blunt manner that only a few pages further along in his text, Weststruckness, he insists upon the need to utilize modern technology: “And they [the Iranian Shi‘i clergy, whom Al-e Ahmad lambastes for being apathetic in the face of the West’s intrusion into Iranian society] took great pains to declare radio and television, which had become so prevalent and beyond the power of a superhero to stop, to be un-Islamic, when they could have very rightfully and appropriately fought the enemy with his own weapons by resisting the Gharbzadegi [Weststruckness] of the official and semiofficial stations from special stations of their own in Qom or Mashad, as they do in the Vatican.” (Al-e Ahmad, op. cit., p. 61 [Emphasis added mine.])
29 Armstrong, op. cit.