This article appeared in Sacred Web 1. To order this issue of Sacred Web and other back issues, click here.
By M. Ali Lakhani
Tradition and modernity are two separate outlooks by which to judge the state of the contemporary world. By "Tradition" we mean sophia perennis or primordial wisdom, which is not limited to any specific cultural or religious tradition. Traditionalist writers have distinguished between the terms "contemporary" and "modern", the former designating that which is of the present age, be it traditional or modern, and that latter, in contrast to Tradition, designating "that which is cut off from the Transcendent, from the immutable principles which in reality govern all things and which are made known to man through revelation in its most universal sense" (Nasr).
To speak of the contemporary world is to evoke a certain ambivalence. On the one hand, we are the "creatures of our time" and so we celebrate its outward accomplishments, which for the most part are scientific and technological. These range from the achievements of medical science, to computer technology, to space travel and other marvels, that almost make us believe that we are gods capable of anything. And we celebrate our apparent maturity evident in our respect for basic rights and freedoms, and in our social consciences which manifest in a variety of movements ranging from multicultural to feminist to ecological and consumer-advocacy. On the other hand, despite the great privileges of our era-which, arguably, confer upon us the equally great responsibility to make use of our gifts respectfully and for the betterment of the world and ourselves-we experience a profound malaise that has been termed "the malaise of modernity".
From this perspective, wherever mankind turns its gaze, it no longer witnesses "the countenance of the Divine". Instead, it is confronted by a world of increasing fragmentation and spiritual poverty; a world accultured by the hubris of science and the materialistic creed of economic exploitation undertaken in the name of "progress", which leaves in its wake a myriad of divisions: broken families, an alienated and apathetic society, a pitting of man against nature, and a self divided from Spirit and Intellect. Veiled thus from its celestial origin, mankind in the grip of modernity is without anchor or rudder, buffeted by the storms of its passions. Decentered man, enslaved by his passions, lives in a world assaulted by the seduction of his senses, a world of promiscuity, consumerism, crime, corruption, bigotry, exploitation, disease, overpopulation, famine, environmental degradation, the arrogance of power, the poverty of declining values, a world of increasing complexity and globalization, of augmented alienation and diminished humanity, a universe characterized by the cognitive and ethical relativism of postmodernism, the sclerotic dogmatism of secular and religious fundamentalism, and-what may be termed the defining feature of modernity-a loss of the sense of the sacred.
By contrast, to speak of Tradition is to admit of the Transcendent and thereby to evoke the sacred. A central premise of Traditional metaphysics is the ultimate integrity of Reality. The goal of Traditional practices is therefore to realize Reality by discerning it and concentrating upon it. It is through the faculty of the Intellect (which alone is receptive to the "first principles" of Tradition) that we can discern (or "divine") that which is Real; it is through the submission of the lesser (human) passions to the greater (spiritual) Will that we can hope to merit ultimate peace and freedom; and it is by rediscovering our spiritual foundation and the trust of sacredness which is our primordial heritage that we can begin to properly address the malaise of modernity.
Sacred Web has been conceived as a journal whose aims will be to identify Traditional "first principles" and their application to the contingent circumstances of modernity, and to expose the false premises of modernity from the perspective of Tradition. The journal will encourage and invite legitimate debate in this area and will seek to examine the interaction between Tradition and modernity. It is hoped that the journal will be of interest to the Traditionalist and general reader alike, concerned about the issues of modernity.