Chapter Three: The Rediscovery of the Sacred: The Revival of Tradition
The words of wisdom are the lost objects of the faithful; he must claim them wherever he finds them.
Ḥadīth of the Prophet of Islam
Remembering is for those who have forgotten.
The overall harmony and equilibrium of the cosmos required a movement within the heart and soul of at least a number of contemporary men to rediscover the sacred at the very moment when the process of secularization seemed to be reaching its logical conclusion in removing the presence of the sacred altogether from all aspects of human life and thought. The principle of cosmic compensation has brought to the fore the quest for the rediscovery of the sacred during the very period which the heralds of modernism had predicted to be the final phase of the depletion of human culture of its sacred content, the period whose dawn Nietzsche had declared a century ago when he spoke of the “death of God.”1
But many a contemporary man, having faced the terror of nihilism and the death of that which is human as a result of the effacing of the imprint of the Divinity upon the human face, has been confronted with the impelling attraction of the sacred which is both beyond and other than the secularized world that he calls “normal life.” Such a person has felt the inner pull of the sacred at the center of his own being, the center which he carries with him wherever he may be. The quest for the rediscovery of the sacred, whether carried out consciously or in the form of groping in the dark, has become an element of the life of that humanity which has already experienced the loneliness of a world from which the Spirit has been banished. Needless to say, this quest has not always been successful but it has not always failed either, having reached its goal in a full and complete sense in those circles which have carried out the revival of tradition. The rediscovery of the sacred is ultimately and inextricably related to the revival of tradition, and the resuscitation of tradition and the possibility of living according to its tenets in the West during this century is the complete and final fulfillment of the quest of contemporary man for the rediscovery of the sacred.
The sapiential dimension which lies at the heart of tradition had become too weakened in the West to enable tradition to become revived during this century without authentic contact with the Oriental traditions which had preserved their inner teachings intact in both their doctrinal and operative aspects. Truncated and fragmented teachings of an originally esoteric nature issuing from the salons of Paris and other European cities were themselves too depleted of the presence of the sacred to enable modern Western man to rekindle the fire of the metaphysically penetrating intelligence and to enable the phoenix of sapience to arise from the ashes of a debilitating rationalism through recourse to what these circles offered. Already in the nineteenth century, what remained of knowledge of an originally sacred character had become more or less reduced to either occultism or a purely theoretical philosophy divorced from the possibility of realization, while even as theory it remained incomplete. That is why those who sought to rediscover sacred knowledge were attracted to the Orient despite the impossibility in most cases of gaining authentic knowledge of the Oriental traditions, especially as far as their inner dimensions were concerned.
The “lure” of the Orient is to be seen already in the eighteenth-century fascination in many European circles with China and also Egypt which, as far as the sources of traditional teachings are concerned, must be considered as an integral part of the Orient and the home of one of the most remarkable of traditional civilizations. Supposedly esoteric knowledge derived from Egypt, China, and other Eastern sources became a subject of discussion of occultist circles especially in France and such “restitutions” as the Egyptian Rite of Cagliostro were carried out within Freemasonary.2
Egyptology, as well as Orientalism in general, were closely associated at this time with the quest for a kind of knowledge which seemed to have been already lost in the mainstream of European thought. These disciplines, which in the nineteenth century became nearly completely “scientific” and rationalistic, were more in search of tradition and esoteric knowledge in the eighteenth century than is usually believed, although this search was rarely satisfied in a complete manner and certainly did not succeed in resuscitating the traditional point of view in such a way as to affect in any perceptible way the process of the desacralization of knowledge which was taking place at that time. Nor was this extensive transformation which was expected to happen in the West as a result of the dissemination of Oriental teachings and which was called a “second Renaissance” by Schopenhauer ever to take place during the nineteenth century when so many important works of Oriental wisdom were translated into European languages.3
Paradoxically enough, the nineteenth century, which from the metaphysical point of view marks the peak of the eclipse of tradition in the West, was also witness to the widespread interest in the study of the Orient and the translation of the sacred scriptures and works of a sapiential nature into various European languages by such master linguists as A. H. Anquetil Duperron, J. Hammer-Purgstall, and Sir William Jones. This was the period of intense activity in Orientalism which, despite its horrendous misdeeds, misinterpretations—both intentional and otherwise—condescending attitude toward natives, and servility to various political causes of European colonial powers, made available those hymns of gnosis and theophanies of pure metaphysics as the Upanishads,4
the Tao-Te-Ching, and much of Sufi poetry. The history of Orientalism during this period is not our concern here for most of this activity was not related to either the rediscovery of the sacred or the revival of tradition but, in fact, served in many instances to destroy both the traditions it was studying and what remained of the Christian tradition which was often relativized by those who tried to make use of the presence of other religions to destroy the claim of Christians to the possession of truth in an absolute sense.5
What concerns us here, therefore, is the case of the few philosophers and poets in the West who, being in quest of the sacred, sought to rediscover tradition in Oriental sources in an age which stood totally opposed to the traditional ideal.
Of all European countries, it was perhaps Germany where the influence of Oriental teachings was greatest partly because the Romantic movement possessed a greater intellectual content there than elsewhere and also because, as already mentioned, something of the Boehmian heritage still survived in his native land. To take one example, the translation into German of such masterpieces of Sufi poetry as the Rose-Garden of Divine Mysteries
) by Hammer-Purgstall had a profound effect upon notable German poets and created an avid interest in Oriental poetry and wisdom in a wide circle. Rückert was himself a translator of Persian and Arabic poetry as well as a poet of great quality who was influenced in his own works by Persian poetic symbols and images.6
The most notable figure of this period in Germany who was touched seriously on both the artistic and the intellectual planes by Oriental traditions, particularly Islam, was Goethe. He was intimately familiar with both the Quran and Islamic poetry, especially the works of Ḥāfiẓ, and even wrote a tragedy whose hero was the Prophet of Islam.7
Goethe's grand response to that perfect wedding between metaphysical truth and poetic beauty which is the Divan of Ḥāfiẓ is the West—östlicher Divan
which is unique in the annals of nineteenth-century European literature.8
The opening verses,
North and South and West are crumbling,
Thrones are falling, kingdoms trembling:
Come, flee away to purer East,
There on patriarch's air to feast,
There with love and drink and song
Khiser's spring shall make thee young.
There, pure and right where still they find,
Will I drive all mortal kind
To the great depths whence all things rise,
There still to gain, in godly wise,
Heaven's lore in earthly speech,
Heads might break ere they could reach
have been often interpreted as Goethe's reaction to Napoleon's conquest of Europe. But his call is more fundamental than the response to a passing phenomenon of European history. It is a nostalgia for that immemorial tranquility of an Orient which is also the Origin and from which flows the fountain of eternal life guarded by Khiḍr,10
an Orient still embedded in the peace and harmony of the traditional universe, before the shocking earthquakes of a world rebellious against Heaven and its imprint upon the human plane also reached the mountains and valleys of the East.
In England the quest for the Orient and the rediscovery of the sacred in various forms of archaic traditions included the revival of Platonism through the extensive translations of Floyer Sydenham and especially the remarkable scholar and Platonic philosopher Thomas Taylor. With the advent of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding
, the view of those who considered reason as a faculty which was developed in man “through the rationality displayed in the creation” triumphed over the older view that reason was “imparted from God directly to the mind of man” and therefore was wed to the Intellect and possessed a divine creative power.11
The result was either the skepticism of a Hume concerning the power of reason or the religious activism of a John Wesley. The eighteenth century in England and Scotland was therefore one in which the Platonic concept of knowledge and of the process of knowing was nearly completely eclipsed. But a reaction soon set in against the prevalent philosophical tendencies, the reaction taking several different forms, of which the most important was the revival of Platonism.12
Thomas Taylor, who was the major factor in the revival of Platonism and in making the writings of Plato, the Neoplatonists, and Aristotle accessible in the English language, was not just a scholar of Greek. Rather, he belonged philosophically to the Platonic school and saw knowledge as the primary means of reaching the sacred. The premises of his world view stood opposed to the secularizing and rationalistic tendencies of his day. He still conceived of knowledge in a principial manner, as a way of attaining deliverance. The problem was that he stood outside the Christianity of his day and sought consciously to revive Greek paganism as if it were possible to resuscitate through a purely human agency a tradition whose animating spirit had already departed from the earthly plane.13
Be that as it may, his edition of the complete works of Plato in 1804, along with so many other basic texts of Neoplatonism, played an important role in making accessible a traditional metaphysics, one of the most complete in the West, for those seeking an alternative to the secularizing philosophies and sciences of the time.14
His work, in a sense, complemented the translation and introduction of Oriental doctrines into the English-speaking world, and many who were drawn to Taylor's works were likewise attracted to Oriental teachings. Taylor also influenced greatly such Romantic figures as Carlyle and Coleridge, but the most important personality whom he influenced was William Blake who was at the forefront of the movement seeking to reestablish the primacy of the sacred against all the prevalent tendencies of that day.
In recent years, Blake has appeared as a hero of those who seek to return to a more wholistic view of man and nature against the mechanistic and rationalistic conceptions of the world and of man represented by Bacon, Newton, and Locke, whom Blake opposed so strongly. The avid interest in Blake today is related closely to the intense search of those in the modern world who, tired and wary of the suffocating landscape of their secularized ambience, are seeking alternative philosophies and views of the cosmos. Moreover, rather than an eccentric poet of genius, as his contemporaries saw him, Blake appears today to many who are attracted to the traditional point of view as being more of a harbinger of certain aspects of tradition than just an individualistic rebel, and as a poet who was essentially traditional but who appeared as a rebel at a time when the established order and world view were themselves so antitraditional. The celebrated contemporary British poetess, Kathleen Raine, in fact believes that Blake possessed a secret and esoteric knowledge of an authentic traditional character.15
There is no doubt that he had knowledge of Western traditional sources and possibly some Oriental ones through translation. Also it is certain that he possessed visionary powers and combined a sense for the rediscovery of the sacred with poetic genius. Although his traditional knowledge was not complete and there are elements of an excessively individualistic nature in his artistic work which prevent his art from being characterized as traditional, there is no doubt that Blake represents one of the most powerful and effective attempts of the last century to convey the sense of the quest for the sacred and to criticize a world from which the gods and the angels seemed to have been banished. In his works, there is a strong sense, unique in its intensity in nineteenth-century English literature, of the struggle of the soul in its mortal combat against forces which would deprive it of the nourishment of the world of the Spirit and a revolt against limiting the scope of knowledge to that externalized reason which is the parody of the sanctifying intellect.16
Blake is also the gate to the positive reappraisal of myth which was to be followed by his most important commentator, Yeats, and others during this century, and which is so closely allied to the quest for the rediscovery of the sacred. In America also, amidst a strongly active and in many ways anti-traditional climate, the influence of the Orient was to be seen among those philosophers and poets most in quest of a sacred vision of life, such figures as Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the New England Transcendentalists in general. But it is especially in the works of Emerson that the attraction toward the Orient is to be seen most clearly, in the poet-philosopher for whom Asia was “a wonderland of literature and philosophy.”17
Emerson was especially inebriated by the message of the Upanishads, whose nondualistic doctrine contained so lucidly in the Kaṭha-Upanishad
, is reflected in his well-known poem “Brahma”:
If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.
Emerson also concluded his essay on immortality with the story of Nachiketas drawn again from the Kaṭha-Upanishad
In addition to Hindu sources, Emerson was greatly attracted to Persian poets, especially Sa‘dī, and wrote an introduction for the first American edition of the translation of his Gulistān
which appeared in 1865.19
Moreover, he read other Oriental sources extensively and quotes Zoroaster often, although most of what he considered to be by Zoroaster were works of Oriental inspiration of the Hellenistic period attributed to the Persian prophet. The love of Emerson for these works of Oriental origin marks an important phase in America, paralleling what was occurring in Europe, a phase in which aid was sought from the surviving traditions of the East to resuscitate that sapientia
which had become nearly completely lost in the West.
But neither such great poets as Goethe, Blake, or Emerson, nor for stronger reasons the prevalent occultism of nineteenth-century France associated with such names as Eliphas Lévi and Papus, could bring tradition back to the soil of the West in a total and complete way nor revive that scientia sacra which lies at the heart of all tradition. It remained for the Orient itself to bring about the revival of tradition in the West through the pen and words of those who lived in Europe or wrote in Western languages but who had been transformed intellectually and existentially by the traditional world view. The study of the quest of nineteenth-century figures, some of whom have been mentioned, for the rediscovery of the sacred in Oriental teachings and the attempt to regain knowledge of a traditional character in occultist and pseudoesoteric circles at that time, as well as the combination of these endeavours in such movements as the Theosophical Society and “spiritualism” with an Eastern coloring, provides a valuable background for the understanding of the significance of the appearance of authentic traditional teachings in the West during the early decades of this century. Such a study reveals in fact why a fresh restatement from the Orient was necessary at that time.
The dissemination of traditional teachings commenced in the West during the first two decades of this century when a small number of Europeans were given direct instruction and initiation into the esoteric schools of various Oriental traditions by authentic representatives of these traditions.20
To be sure, such contacts had also existed occasionally during the nineteenth century, as for example in the case of H. Wilberforce Clarke who was received into Sufism and whose translations of Ḥāfiẓ and ‘Umar Suhrawardī are based on oral tradition as well as written sources. But what distinguished what occurred in the early part of this century from these already mentioned isolated cases was that, in contrast to the nineteenth century, the twentieth-century representatives of the traditional perspective possessed full knowledge of traditional teachings and were intellectually prepared to implant the tree of tradition upon the soil of the Western world with effects far beyond the rare contact with various Oriental traditions during the preceding decades.
The central figure who was most responsible for the presentation of the traditional doctrines of the Orient in their fullness in the modern West was René Guénon, a man who was chosen for this task by Tradition itself and who fulfilled an intellectual function of a supra-individual nature.21
Guénon (1886–1951) was born and educated in France where he studied philosophy and mathematics before turning to various occult circles which were active in his youth when he was in quest of authentic knowledge which he could not discover in either the official university circles or in religious sources available to him at that time. But he could not discover what he was seeking in these occult groups any more than he could in the then accessible academic or religious organizations. In fact, he discovered within the so-called “esoteric” groups which he frequented all kinds of aberrations and outlandish pretensions which he was to study and to expose with such detail in later life. Sometime during the first few years of this century, when he was still a young man, he was initiated into Sufism and also received esoteric knowledge from authentic Hindu sources. Henceforth, he began to write on various traditional themes for the journal Le Voile d'Isis
which under its later title Études Traditionnelles
was to become the main vehicle for the exposition of the traditional perspective in Europe, containing articles not only by him and his students and associates but also by other outstanding masters of traditional doctrines such as Coomaraswamy and Schuon. The first book of Guénon, Introduction générale à l'étude des doctrines hindoues
, published in Paris in 1921, was also the first full exposition of the main aspects of traditional doctrines. It was like a sudden burst of lightning, an abrupt intrusion into the modern world of a body of knowledge and a perspective utterly alien to the prevalent climate and world view and completely opposed to all that characterizes the modern mentality. During the next thirty years, Guénon was to produce a vast number of books, articles, and reviews which form an integral whole as if he had written them all at one sitting and then published them over the next few decades. This lack of a historical development, due also in part to the fact that his function was to express metaphysical and cosmological doctrines and not the operative and existential aspects of tradition nor scholarly research, appears all the more remarkable in that his personal life was transformed completely during this period. He openly embraced Islam, migrated to Cairo, married an Egyptian, lived in a traditional house near the Pyramids both physically and architecturally far away from his Paris residence, and was buried in a cemetery near Cairo which, even in the present semimodernized crowded climate of that city, is as far removed from the cultural ambience of his native France as one can imagine. Guénon, as he is reflected in his writings, seemed to be more of an intellectual function than a “man.” His lucid mind and style and great metaphysical acumen seemed to have been chosen by traditional Sophia itself to formulate and express once again that truth from whose loss the modern world was suffering so grieviously.
To accomplish such a task, Guénon had to be in a sense an extremist; he had to clear the ground completely in order to remove all possibility of error. He therefore adopted a polemical and uncompromising tone which has hindered many people from appreciating his exposition of traditional wisdom. To build the edifice of traditional knowledge he had to break down and remove the rubble of all that pretended to provide ultimate knowledge for modern man. He thereby began a systematic criticism of all that stood in the way of the understanding of tradition; playing a thankless iconoclastic role, Guénon devoted several studies to a detailed study and rejection of the various occultist, pseudoesoteric, and modernistic groups which pretended to possess sacred knowledge of either the Oriental or Western traditions. He was particularly critical of theosophy in the sense of the Theosophical Society of Mme. Blavatsky and Annie Besant, spiritualism of various kinds, and the modernistic movements in India affected by the West such as the Arya Samaj and Brahma Samaj, and discussed in detail the dangers of “initiation” into such pseudotraditional bodies from which he had suffered himself and which he knew well through personal experience.22
Guénon then set about to criticize the modern world itself, attacking not its accidental faults and shortcomings but the very premises upon which it stands. His Crisis of the Modern World
, written in 1927, contains pages which seem “prophetic” today in retrospect, while his The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times
records in a masterly fashion the unfolding of the human cycle according to traditional principles relating much that has occurred and is occurring in the world today to perfectly intelligible principles.23
We are not concerned here with Guénon's criticism of the modern world as far as the social and political aspects of life are concerned. What is of particular interest for our study of the quest for the sacred in its sapiential aspect is his severe criticism of various modes of knowing prevalent in the modern world. As mentioned already, Guénon, who had studied European philosophy, was severely critical of all that is called modern philosophy, and in fact of “philosophy” as such, which he tried to refute completely as a legitimate manner of knowing principles. His criticism was extreme and uncompromising because he wanted to prevent any confusion between what modern man understands as philosophy and traditional metaphysics. His excess in this domain was due to the fact that he wanted at all costs to prevent metaphysics from being reduced to the category of profane thought. In his exaggeration, he overlooked the positive aspects of traditional philosophy, and even the term philosophy, to which Schuon was to point later.
Guénon was also thoroughly critical of modern science not because of what it has accomplished but because of the reductionism and also pretensions which have been associated with science in the modern world. His greatest criticism of modern science was its lack of metaphysical principles and its pretension, or rather the pretension of those who claim to speak from the “scientific point of view,” to be the
science or the
way of knowing, whereas it is a
science or a
way of knowing concerned with a very limited domain of reality. This theme runs throughout Guénon's writings and he never tired of pointing out that the science of any domain would be legitimate provided it were not cut off from principles of a higher order and the traditional world view.24
His criticism of modern science was a logical and intellectual one, based on neither sentiments nor even theological concerns derived from a particular form of revealed truth. Guénon in fact sought to demonstrate how it was possible to develop a science which was exact and “scientific” even in the contemporary sense but not divorced from metaphysical principles, choosing for this purpose the field of mathematics which he knew well.25
Moreover, Guénon sought to expound the principles of some of the traditional sciences such as geometry and alchemy,26
demonstrating that these sciences, far from being early stages of development of modern sciences which had now been outgrown, were sciences of another order providing a veritable knowledge of various aspects of cosmic reality, sciences which remained as valid today as in the days gone by if only one were to understand their symbolic language, sciences which were not in any way invalidated by other sciences developed later and dealing with the same subject matters.
Since Guénon was seeking to revive tradition through the presentation of Oriental doctrines, he also had to clear the ground of other misleading sources which also dealt with Oriental teachings, namely, works of orientalism. Here also, his criticism was massive and total and not based on discrimination between works of various degrees of value. To be sure, as already mentioned, most works of orientalism, although providing material for the study of the Orient, have been written from a point of view which is, to put it mildly, a hindrance to the understanding of the very subject the orientalists were, and in fact are still, trying in many cases to study. But there have also been works of both a scholarly and intellectual value produced by those who have been officially called orientalists.27
Guénon rejected the whole enterprise of orientalism, neglecting worthwhile works, in order to avoid once again any error which might creep into the mind of the reader and prevent him from understanding traditional doctrines from their own point of view.
Parallel with this clearing of the ground, Guénon set about to expound metaphysics and cosmology from the traditional point of view and in relation to and as contained in the sapiential teachings of various traditions. His point of departure was Hinduism and his first purely metaphysical exposition was the Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta
. But he also dealt extensively with Islam and Taoism, the Kabbala, certain medieval esoteric currents in Christianity, and Hermetirism.28
Moreover, Guénon wrote a number of works on general metaphysical and cosmological subjects such as Oriental Metaphysics, Les États multiples de l'être, Symboles fondamentaux de la science sacré
, and La Grande triade
. All in all, he was able to produce a vast corpus based on the primacy of knowledge and intelligence as their powers and possibilities are actualized by various objective modes of revelation which lie at the heart of the traditions that have governed the life of humanity over the ages. In his works is to be found one of the most important restatements of the doctrinal aspect of the knowledge of the sacred in modern times and they mark a major step in the rediscovery of sacred knowledge and the revival of tradition. Guénon did not establish another ism or one school of thought among others. There is no such thing as Guénonianism despite the misunderstanding of certain groups in Europe who call themselves Guénonians. What Guénon did emphasize is the necessity of following fully a living tradition and accepting the traditional perspective. But precisely because the modern world is what it is, one can refer to the reestablishment of the traditional perspective by him and others amidst a world alien to such a world view as the founding of a “school” or perspective, one which is both very much alive and pertinent to the contemporary world and distinct from different forms of modernism which, despite differences among themselves, stand opposed to it.
The work of Guénon in reviving the traditional point of view was complemented by another metaphysician of remarkable acumen and amplitude, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877–1947), who was born of a Singalese father and an English mother. Like Guénon, Coomaraswamy began with the study of science but while the “abstract” bent of mind of Guénon had attracted him to mathematics, Coomaraswamy, who was always sensitive to the meaning of forms, was drawn to geology, a descriptive science in which he became an established authority. His temperament complemented that of Guénon in more than one way. While Guénon was a metaphysician not drawn greatly to artistic forms, Coomaraswamy was profoundly moved by forms of art and was in fact drawn to tradition when working as a geologist in the hills and mountains of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and India he became witness to the rapid destruction of the traditional art and civilization of his homeland. Also Coomaraswamy was a meticulous scholar concerned with details while Guénon was essentially a metaphysician and mathematician concerned with principles.29
Even in personal traits and styles of writing, the two men complemented each other, yet they were in perfect agreement about the validity of the traditional perspective and the metaphysical principles which lie at the heart of all traditional teachings.
Coomaraswamy was a man of immense energy who left a vast body of writings behind.30
With the many works which introduced Oriental art, especially that of India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, to the West we are not concerned here. Suffice it to say that his years of maturity in England and especially the last thirty years of his life in America, where he was curator of Oriental art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, played a major role in bringing a vital aspect of Oriental civilizations, namely, their art, to the attention of the Western public. But Coomaraswamy was not a historian of art; his interest in the study of traditional art was in the truth which it conveyed. His studies were of an intellectual order, and in such works as the Transformation of Nature in Art
and The Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art
he expounded a metaphysics of art which presents traditional art as a vehicle for the exposition of knowledge of a sacred order.
Like Guénon, Coomaraswamy also wrote in an unrelenting manner against modernism, emphasizing more than Guénon the devastations brought about by industrialization upon the traditional crafts and patterns of life in the West as well as in the Orient itself. But Coomaraswamy also addressed himself to the intellectual issues involved; in fact, he undertook a series of works called the “Bugbear Series” at the end of his life, of which only the Bugbear of Literacy was published before his death and which sought to destroy the various false gods of modernism through recourse to intellectual principles.
As for metaphysics and cosmology, Coomaraswamy produced numerous articles and books in which he drew freely from Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic sources as well as from Plato, Plotinus, Dionysius, Dante, Erigena, Eckhart, Boehme, Blake, and other representatives of the Western sapiential tradition. Like Guénon, he emphasized the unity of the truth which lies at the heart of all traditions, the unity to which Coomaraswamy devoted his well-known essay “Paths That Lead to the Same Summit.”31
Besides his several works on the Hindu and Buddhist traditions of which Hinduism and Buddhism
is an intellectual synthesis, Coomaraswamy also wrote such purely metaphysical works as Recollection, Indian and Platonic, On the One and Only Transmigrant
, and Time and Eternity
Coomaraswamy was deeply concerned with myth and symbol, with the so-called primitive mentality and traditional anthropology. His studies of religious symbolism and the traditional significance of myth played a major role in the resuscitation of interest in myth and symbol among many scholars of religion despite the so-called demythologizing tendency so evident in certain schools of Protestant and even Catholic theology. Coomaraswamy also devoted many studies to the traditional sciences ranging from his essay on the symbolism of zero in Indian mathematics to his treatise on the distinction between the traditional doctrine of graduation and modern evolution. Altogether, his works presented traditional teachings in the language of contemporary scholarship and with such immense learning and clarity of expression that, despite the nearly total opposition of modern milieus against his ideas when he first began to expound them, he wielded a great deal of influence among a vast spectrum of scholars and thinkers ranging from art historians to physicists, an influence which continues to this day. At the heart of this remarkable intellectual edifice lay the concept of knowledge of the sacred and sacred knowledge; in fact his works, as those of Guénon, were themselves the product of an intellect which breathed and functioned in a world of sacred character, a world which reflects the very substance of intelligence itself.
The task of the completion of the revival and exposition of traditional teachings in the contemporary world was to be carried out by Frithjof Schuon (b. 1907) whose works crown the body of contemporary traditional writings. If Guénon was the master expositor of metaphysical doctrines and Coomaraswamy the peerless scholar and connoisseur of Oriental art who began his exposition of metaphysics through recourse to the language of artistic forms, Schuon seems like the cosmic intellect itself impregnated by the energy of divine grace surveying the whole of the reality surrounding man and elucidating all the concerns of human existence in the light of sacred knowledge. He seems to be endowed with the intellectual power to penetrate into the heart and essence of all things, and especially religious universes of form and meaning, which he has clarified in an unparalleled fashion as if he were bestowed with that divine gift to which the Quranic revelation refers as the “language of the birds.” No wonder that one of the leading American historians of religion, Huston Smith, says concerning him, “The man is a living wonder; intellectually à propos
religion, equally in depth and breadth, the paragon of our time. I know of no living thinker who begins to rival him.”32
Schuon has written of not only traditional doctrines but also the practical and operative aspects of the spiritual life. He has written of rites, prayer, love, faith, the spiritual virtues, and the moral life from the sapiential point of view. Moreover, he has expanded the horizon of traditional expositions to include certain aspects of the Christian tradition, especially Orthodoxy which was passed over by Guénon, as well as the American Indian tradition and Shintoism, He has expounded in all its grandeur the metaphysics of virgin nature and, being himself an outstanding poet and painter in addition to a metaphysician, has written some of the most remarkable pages on the metaphysics of traditional art and the spiritual significance of beauty.
Most of Schuon's numerous works have been translated into English although some are available still only in their original French and German.33
These works include a series on comparative religion from the point of view of the sophia perennis
, including his first work to be translated into English The Transcendent Unity of Religions
and books devoted somewhat more particularly, although not exclusively, to specific traditions, such works as Language of the Self
, concemed mostly with Hinduism; In the Tracks of Buddhism
, which also includes a section on Shintoism; Understanding Islam, Dimensions of Islam
, and Islam and the Perennial Philosophy
, dealing with different facets of Islam including both Shī‘ism and Sufism; Le Soufisme, voile et quintessence
, devoted nearly completely to Sufism, as well as Gnosis: Divine Wisdom
which contains sections on the Christian tradition. In Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts
and Light on the Ancient World
he has dealt with the crisis of modern civilization and surveyed many facets of human history from the traditional point of view, while in such works as L'Oeil du coeur
and Stations of Wisdom
he has elucidated some of the most complex metaphysical and cosmological questions as well as elements of the practical aspect of the realization of knowledge. As for most of his recent works such as Logic and Transcendence, Formes et substance dans les religions, Esoterism as Principle and as Way
, and Du Divin à l'humain
(which is the synopsis of all his metaphysical teachings), they deal more than anything else with sacred knowledge and the ultimately sacred character of the faculty which knows. They are the final testament of pure gnosis reflecting both upon the object of knowledge and the subject or consciousness whose root is the Sacred as such.
The concern of Schuon in these works has been to elaborate the meaning of all that is human in the light of the Divine and with the aim of making possible the return to the Divine through a mode which is primarily sapiential but which is always wed to love and faith. Schuon speaks from the point of view of realized knowledge not theory, and his writings bear an “existential” impact that can only come from realization. No one can understand the message of these words and remain “existentially” the same. No wonder that upon the appearance of his first three books, an English Catholic could write,
The Transcendent Unity of Religions, L'Oeil du coeur
and Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts
not only show an understanding of Christian truth, precisely as truth,… but also exhibit an interior dimension in that understanding which no mere scholarship could produce. If in the Transcendent Unity
he speaks of the way of Grace as one who understands that Divine economy in relation to the esoteric and exoteric paths of Islam, and in principle, in relation to exotericism and esotericism as such, in Spiritual Perspectives
he speaks of Grace as one in whom it is operative and as it were in virtue of that operation. The book has a fulness of light which we have no right to find in the twentieth century, or perhaps in any other century.35
With Schuon's writings the full-fledged revival of tradition as related to the rediscovery of the sacred in the heart of all traditions and by virtue and through the aid of tradition in the heart of virgin nature, sacred art, and the very substance of the human being has taken place, making it possible amidst a world suffocating from the poisonous atmosphere of nihilism and doubt for those who “are called” to gain access to knowledge of the highest order rooted in the sacred and therefore inseparable from the joy and light of certitude.
The traditional point of view expanded with such rigor, depth, and grandeur by Guénon, Commaraswamy, and Schuon has been singularly neglected in academic circles and limited in diffusion as far as its “horizontal” and quantitative dissemination is concerned. But its appeal in depth and quality has been immeasurable. Being the total truth, it has penetrated into the hearts, minds, and souls of certain individuals in such a way as to transform their total existence. Moreover, ideas emanating from this quarter have had an appeal to an even larger circle than that of those who have adopted totally and completely the traditional point of view, and many scholars and thinkers of note have espoused certain basic traditional theses. As far as those who must be considered as belonging to the small circle of traditional authors are concerned, one should mention first of all Titus Burckhardt, residing in Switzerland, who has presented several basic works of Islamic esoterism in European languages with a lucidity and transparency of mind that is incredible and has also enriched the field of art with numerous studies of sacred art, accomplishing especially for Islamic art what Coomaraswamy had done for Hindu and Buddhist art.36
In France Leo Schaya has applied traditional principles to produce one of the most penetrating studies on the Kabbala to appear in this century. In Italy G. Evola, who collaborated with Guénon, wrote several major studies on Hinduism, Hermeticism, and other traditions in a spirit akin to that of Guénon, while in recent years such figures as E. Zolla have continued to present a series of works of a traditional character especially on traditional literature and certain of the traditional sciences.
Outside of continental Europe it has been primarily England which has been the site of activity of traditional authors of significance. Here Marco Pallis, of Greek origin but living in Great Britain, who had traveled to the Himalayas in search of botanical specimens but returned with flowers of Buddhist wisdom, was the first person to present Tibetan Buddhism in an authentic manner to the West and is the author of the famous Peaks and Lamas
, which was one of the very few serious works on the Oriental traditions available in European languages before the Second World War.38
Also in this same land, for years Martin Lings has been making available treasures of Islamic esoterism from the traditional point of view and applying his intimate knowledge of spirituality combined with a gift for poetry to shed new light upon such figures of English literature as Shakespeare.39
Here also such Catholic scholars and artists as Eric Gill and Bernard Kelly fell under the sway of the teachings of Guénon, Coomaraswamy, and Schuon, as have a number of orthodox figures. The activity of traditional authors has gradually gravitated around the journal Studies in Comparative Religion
, which has now become perhaps the leading traditional journal in the Western world,40
but the circle of those concerned with tradition has also widened steadily over the past few decades.41
As for America, the number of those who belonged fully to the traditional perspective had been very limited until recent years, despite the long presence in that land of Coomaraswamy whose writings influenced numerous scholars of whom few embraced the traditional point of view fully. But in America such scholars as J. E. Brown have sought to study the American Indian tradition from the traditional point of view,42
while a number of scholars of religion such as H. Smith and V. Danner have produced important works of traditional character in recent years43
and an ever greater number of figures covering a wide spectrum continue to be drawn to different elements of tradition, without their adopting the traditional point of view as such.44
The presence of the works and the emanation of ideas of those who revived tradition in the West have had an influence in one way or another upon many well-known figures in different fields of intellectual endeavor and scholarship, including the eminent historian of religion M. Eliade (at least in his earlier works), the foremost French authority of Islamic philosophy H. Corbin, the German scholar and critic L. Ziegler, the Indologist H. Zimmer, the mythologist J. Campbell, the art historian M. Schneider, the French philosopher G. Durand, the celebrated English poetess and scholar Kathleen Raine, and the remarkable economist turned traditional philosopher and theologian E. C. Schumacher.45
The revival of tradition in the West based upon the exposition of authentic Oriental doctrines and teachings has also had an echo in the Orient, itself faced with the destruction of its own millennial traditions as a result of the onslaught of modernism.46
Some of the works of traditional authors have been translated into Oriental languages ranging from Tibetan to Arabic and have provided intellectual arguments against certain tenets of modernism, arguments whose formulation had been for the most part impossible for most Orientals themselves, usually unaware of the deeper forces which have brought about modernism and often suffering from an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the modern West.47
Needless to say, however, those among the modernized Orientals who have grasped the meaning of these traditional works have been limited in number, as can be seen by the intellectual quality of the response to the modern world which usually issues from those in the East who have become affected by modernism to any appreciable degree or from those still traditional but addressing the modern world of whose nature they are ignorant.
The quest for the sacred and the revival of tradition have also taken place in a more partial and limited but sometimes profound manner outside the major movement for the revival of tradition already outlined, although it was without doubt the sinking of the roots of authentic traditional teachings on the soil of Europe that transformed the cosmic ambience and created an opening in this cosmic sector which is the West to enable traditional teachings to spread to the West from other sources. The craving for the Orient has drawn many people in quest, not of wealth or worldly glory, but of the Land of Light to various countries of the East ranging from Japan to Morocco, which from the traditional point of view is part of the Orient. Not all these quests have resulted in serious contacts or the transmission of traditional knowledge, even when the possibility has arisen to encounter authentic representatives of the Oriental traditions.
There were, however, exceptions. Such Japanese masters as Roshi Tachibana and Hindus as Śri Ramana Maharshi and Anandamoyi Ma have emanated a presence, as well as spiritual instruction, which has crossed the ocean and the land to reach certain circles in the West. Likewise, the emanation of the teachings of certain Sufi masters from many different parts of the Islamic world has reached the West during the last few decades. Moreover, many representatives of these traditions, some authentic and others modernized, have traveled in ever greater numbers to Europe and America, ranging from a Vivekananda, who had a missionary zeal to present a modernized version of the Vedanta to the West but who nevertheless remained related to the teachings of the great Indian saint Ramakrishna,48
to the prolific Japanese expositor of Zen, D. T. Suzuki, to the remarkable lamas forced out of Tibet after the Chinese invasion and the Sufi masters who have visited the West with increasing frequency during the past few years. This fresh, direct contact with the Orient has of course been of significance in the revival of tradition in the West, despite the role played by the army of pseudogurus and yogis in creating the confusion which characterizes the modern world. It also remains a fact that for many people it is difficult, without access to the traditional teachings connected with those who revived tradition in the West, to grasp the significance of what they do encounter in Oriental teachings, although there are exceptions and there is of course the question of different temperaments which require different types of instruction. The traditional circle, as described above, is like the Intellect or Buddhi
of the domain of tradition in the modern world, casting its light and presence as the faculty which discriminates the true from the false, and elucidates, clarifies, and integrates the world in which different spiritual modes and ways, including those of work or service and love, function along with the way of knowledge which is the concern par excellence of the Intellect.
The revival of tradition has also involved to some degree, besides Oriental doctrines, the reappraisal of the classical Greek tradition, although the need still remains in the present day for the full reevaluation of the Greek intellectual heritage in the light of tradition. Already, however, there have been several studies of the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition based not upon the Renaissance and post-Renaissance humanism which has colored the study of Greek philosophy in the West ever since, but upon the perspective which sees the Pythagorean-Platonic school as being related to the universal Tradition. The discovery of the Pythagorean scale by von Thimus during the last century, followed by the studies on harmonics of H. Keyser and in recent years the appreciation of Plato as a Pythagorean philosopher49
by E. McClain and others, represents the rediscovery of an important element of the Greek tradition. Also the extensive works of R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz on Egypt, as well as on Hermeticism, based on traditional principles and sources, seem astounding, especially when one speaks to those who knew him personally.50
These and other studies in different arts and sciences represent another facet of the rediscovery of the sacred and the revival of tradition with which we are concerned here. There have existed amidst this most antitraditional period of art attempts to practice once again the traditional art of both Eastern and Western origin, ranging from the revival of calligraphy to architecture, and to rediscover the intellectual principles of the arts in both East and West.51
Important elements of traditional mathematics, especially geometry, have been reconstituted.52
Much interest is to be seen in many circles in the meaning of traditional science itself and the significance of these sciences as at least alternative modes of knowledge of cosmic reality.
Another contemporary phenomenon related to the quest for the rediscovery of the sacred is the increase of interest in the study of myth and symbols. One can detect much change from the days when men like Frazer, whom Coomaraswamy called “hewers of wood,” were collecting myths without the least interest in their inner significance to the contemporary interest shown by a significant number of scholars of religion and art, as well as philosophers and psychologists, in myths and symbols as keys for the understanding of both traditional man and the way he envisaged the cosmic environment. The identification of myth with the unreal is hardly as automatic in disciplined intellectual discourse today as a century ago. Yet, although some have now realized the significance of myth and symbol as distinct from facts, in the same way that a geologist would distinguish a crystal from opaque rock, in most cases there is still no light in which the crystal of myth could display its real qualities. That light can only come from a living tradition without which the study of myths and symbols, even if appreciated, usually dwindles to psychological interpretations or, at best, a science emptied of spiritual significance. The revival of the study of myths and symbols in modern times certainly signifies the quest of contemporary man for a universe of meaning and the sacred, but this quest cannot achieve its goal without the help of and through recourse to tradition itself. The study of myth and symbol cannot result in the knowledge of the sacred but is the means to this knowledge, provided the mind which studies myths and symbols is already transformed by the light and grace of tradition.
Strangely enough, the quest for the sacred is to be seen even in certain sectors of modern science which epitomizes secular knowledge and has been the primary force for the secularization of the world since the seventeenth century. Needless to say, that type of reason which has surrendered itself to the results of an empirical science refuses to see the metaphysical implications of modern science. In fact, scientistic philosophers are much more dogmatic than many scientists in denying any metaphysical significance to the discoveries of science. But the physicists themselves, or at least many of the outstanding figures among them, have often been the first to deny scientism and even the so-called scientific method. Much of the most serious theological discussions of the past decades have issued from the quarter of scientists rather than philosophers, and especially theologians, who seem, paradoxically enough, just about the last group to grasp the significance of the work of many scientists seeking to go beyond the scientific reductionism which has played such a role in the desacralization of nature and of knowledge itself.53
Let us take a look at contemporary physics with an independent mind and without becoming either mesmerized by the unscientific extrapolations of science into fantastic views of the cosmos, which seem to change with about the same rapidity as dress fashions, or hypnotized by the lure of the microscope.54
Most of the major discoveries of physics since Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity was announced have been the result not of induction or empirical observation but the consideration of aesthetic factors, search for unity, symmetry, and harmony. How often have well-known physicists proposed a theory which they have supported because it was mathematically speaking more “elegant”? Why is there this search for unity in the study of the laws of nature and, in fact, the attainment of ever greater or higher stages of unity? What about the appeal of Einstein in 1905 and Dirac in 1929 to symmetry, leading respectively to the special theory of relativity and antimatter, long before experimental evidence could be provided? Finally, how can one evaluate the so-called Pythagorean period of modern physics covering the era from Bohr to de Broglie, when very important contributions based on Pythagorean harmony and with full knowledge of musical harmony were made to modern physics? One could interpret these episodes as confirmations within the domain of modern physics of principles of a metaphysical and cosmological order not belonging to the physical sciences themselves. Such an interpretation would do no injustice to physics. It is, in fact, today of greater attraction to many physicists than the type of so-called philosophical interpretation which would claim that all is relative because of the theory of relativity or that free will is proven because of Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle. To be sure, traditional principles cannot be proven through modern physics but this physics, to the extent that it corresponds to an aspect of reality, can be a legitimate science whose ultimate significance can be grasped only through traditional metaphysics. In fact, this science could in principle be integrated into a higher form of knowledge if only this knowledge were available in such a manner as to transform the intellectual climate of the contemporary world and if modern science were to accept the limitations inherent in its premises and assumptions.55
Another aspect of modern physics brings us back to the meaning of intelligence and consciousness themselves. To study a particle like the electron means to relate, in a much more direct manner than in classical physics, the intelligence of the agent which knows to that which is known. In fact, by its behavior the electron seems to possess a kind of intelligence itself. No matter how deeply the heart of matter is pierced there is seen order and intelligibility which demonstrate the penetration of intelligence into the very heart of what is called material manifestation, until the stage bordering on chaos is reached where that which is called material simply ceases to exist.56
Man's consciousness must be seen even in physics as an integral part of that reality which the physicist seeks to study, to the extent that Eugene Wigner, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, calls consciousness the first absolute reality and outward reality secondary reality.57
The consciousness which is the direct reflection and ray of the Intellect and the substance of sacred knowledge is seen as an element with which the physicist has no choice but to be concerned, whether the mystery of human subjectivity and the divine origin of consciousness is understood and accepted by him or not.
Likewise, the idea of the world standing out there comprised of mutually exclusive objects whose motions and relations are studied by the physicist in an order which is ultimately mechanical has been questioned by such physicists as David Bohm, who now speaks of an “implicate order” resembling certain Oriental cosmological doctrines.58
The birth and death of symmetrical particles from “nothing” and to “nothing” have also challenged the idea of the presence of the vacuum in modern science. What appears physically as emptiness is actually an ocean of virtual objects even from the physical point of view. What appears as empty in the cosmos is much more akin to the Far Eastern void and also the ether of traditional Western cosmologies than the vacuum of Newtonian physics. No wonder that during recent years there have appeared a score of works seeking to relate modern physics to Oriental esoteric doctrines, some comparing the no-thingness of modern physics to the Buddhist doctrine of the impermanence of things,59
others the constant motion of particles to the cosmic dance of Siva, and yet others the idea of emptiness and the vacuum of modern physics to the Taoist void and similar conceptions.60
Not all of these studies have displayed a full grasp of the Oriental doctrines involved and many deal with traditional teachings from a profane point of view. But the fact that there is and has been much interest even among such leading physicists as Erwin Schrödinger, Carl Friedrich von Weizäcker, Wigner, and Bohm, as well as many others, in Oriental cosmological and metaphysical teachings points to a groping, even within physics, which is the heart of modern science, for the sacred and a world view not bound by the reductionism of a quantitative science imposed upon the nature of reality as such.61
For there is no doubt that since nature is not man-made but comes from the source of the sacred or the Sacred as such, if limitations placed upon it by a desacralized mode of knowing were to be removed, the sacred would manifest itself of its own accord. The light has not ceased to exist in itself. The cosmos seems to have become dark, spiritually speaking, only because of the veil of opacity surrounding that particular humanity called modern. Actually, any attempt to go beyond reductionist science and to introduce a nonmaterialistic world view is a quest, albeit unconsciously, for the rediscovery of the sacred even if the quest does not succeed as a result of its being cut off from tradition, that veritable source of the sacred that resides at the heart of each religion by virtue of which the message of that other grand revelation that is the cosmos becomes comprehensible and meaningful in an operative manner.
The concern for the sacred is observed in an even more open manner in the contemporary interest in ecology and the conservation of nature. Although because of the neglect of the spiritual element, which is an essential factor in the economy of the cosmos, many ecological concerns have failed to bear fruit, still the recent awareness of the interrelation among all living beings now emphasized even by agnostic scientists carries within it once again the urge for the rediscovery of the sacred, even if the necessary metaphysics of nature is not usually available or is neglected.62
For example, the Gaia hypothesis, which sees the earth not as a complex of dead, material components accidentally supporting life and somehow keeping the right temperature to make life possible for “hundreds of millions” of years but as a living being which itself controls the condition of various elements such as air, associated with life, is impregnated with metaphysical significance.63
It is not only the name of the Greek goddess for earth which this theory resuscitates but the traditional doctrine that the earth is a great animal already stated by Plato in the Timaeus
and repeated by numerous medieval philosophers and scientists in the Islamic world as well as among Jews and Christians. It is also an echo of the traditional doctrine of the sacrifice of the primordial man at the beginning of the cosmogonic process whether those who devised the Gaia hypothesis on purely scientific grounds were aware of it or not.
There are numerous serious scientists working with ecological questions who realize that the whole is greater than its parts and that the quest for wholeness is inseparable from the quest for holiness. The founder of the New Alchemy Institute at Cape Cod, one of the most important institutions of this kind in America, who is himself a reputable scientist once told us that somehow through the study of ecology the sacred has reentered into the world view of contemporary science.64
There are many scientists engaged in various kinds of ecological studies who would confirm his point of view65
while others accept the reality of this thesis even if they shun the usage of the word sacred.
In quite another realm of science, namely neurology and the study of the brain, there are again those among leading scientists who refuse to reduce man to a complicated machine or a behaviorally determined mechanism as do certain psychologists and who confirm the reality of the mind against the view of certain positivist philosophers like Ryle and Ayer who question even the meaning of the term mind.66
The confirmation of the mind or consciousness independent of its material instrument which is the brain is yet another aspect of this search for the sacred and the evasion of that reductionism which closes the door to the perfume of the sacred within the breathing space of contemporary man. That is why all kinds of research carried out in the fields of parapsychology to show the independence of the mind from matter or even Kirlian photography developed particularly in Russia where direct study of spiritual questions is, to put it mildly, problematic, all indicate a religious urge toward the rediscovery of the sacred in a world dominated by the emphasis upon phenomena and despite the common error of failing to distinguish between the Spirit and the psyche.
The search for wholeness has manifested itself also in medicine and all the other sciences which are concerned with the human body including the rediscovery of the spiritual significance of the body.67
Concern with wholistic medicine, natural foods, natural bodily rhythms, and the like, despite all the fads and commercial exploitations, represent a desire to return to that primordial harmony of man with the natural environment, which being created by God is the theater of His Wisdom and Power and contains a sacred presence. That is why for so many people this type of concern has become practically a “religion” engaging their whole being as if it could satisfy even their need for the Sacred as such.68
Although modern psychoanalysis is a veritable parody of traditional psychology and psychotherapy connected with the spiritual transformation of the soul, one observes increasingly in recent years attempts to break away from the mold Freud and also Jung have cast upon this discipline and to rediscover traditional techniques of curing the ills of the soul.69
This is of course a very dangerous ground for ultimately only God has the right to treat the soul of man which belongs to Him alone. Without the protection of tradition the application of traditional techniques is a most dangerous one. Nevertheless, the attempt is now being made to break at least the tyranny of this agnostic and atheistic type of psychoanalysis that has been prevalent in the West during this century and to study those traditional sciences of the soul which are anchored in sacred knowledge and see the well-being of the soul in its wedding to the Spirit.70
Again in these attempts one can detect the quest for the rediscovery of the Sacred even if here as in so many other domains the quest has not always been successful and has not been able to discover a science which could safely treat the deeper problems of the soul in such a way that the soul would be protected from the darkening influences of the lower psyche.
As far as philosophy is concerned, the mainstream of European and American thought has been completely dominated by that desacralization of knowledge discussed earlier and become reduced to either logic or an irrationalism based on anxiety, despair, and the like. Yet, besides the main schools of Anglo-Saxon and American positivism and continental existentialism and Existenz
philosophy, there have appeared in recent years a number of Western philosophers whose concern has been essentially the revival of traditional philosophy and even metaphysics. Such figures as G. Durand in France and F. Brunner in Switzerland represent such a tendency as do many of the younger French philosophers now called “les nouveaux philosophes.” After years of opposition to classical proofs for the existence of God as being meaningless, there have appeared once again, during the past decade or two, certain thinkers who are reexamining these classical proofs and seeking to revive what would amount to natural theology.71
In as much as the destruction of natural theology was the final phase and end result of the destruction of the sacred character of knowledge and the divorce between Intellect and reason, such a resuscitation of the, properly speaking, intellectual faculties of the mind, even if it be in a partial manner, is in its own way another indication of the current movement in certain quarters towards the rediscovery of the sacred.
Parallel with these and many other contemporary movements in the arts, the sciences, and philosophy, which are too extensive to enumerate here, there has also taken place, in many parts of the Western world and particularly in America, the spread of Oriental religions and especially their mysticisms ranging from authentic transmission of a tradition to demonic counterfeits which only remind one of Christ's prophecy about many false prophets arising at the end of time. There have also appeared such phenomena as drug-induced mysticism, natural and even black magic, appropriation of techniques of meditation outside of their traditional context, and all kinds of bewildering experiments and experiences offered to a world hungering for anything which would enable it to break the confines of a stifling materialistic ambience and searching for an experience of the not-ordinary.72
Finally, a word must be said about the quest to revive certain lost or forgotten dimensions of the Christian tradition itself and to rediscover the presence of the sacred within the life and thought of those who, although nominally Christian, have relegated religion to a peripheral role in their lives. Christianity, being a living tradition, has certainly the possibility for such a restitution, although during the past few decades what in fact has taken place in the main body of the Church in the West is the intrusion of modernism into the heart of the religion itself. Nevertheless, despite all the antitraditional ideas which have gained acceptance even within religious circles that were orthodox until yesterday, there have been attempts to make use of techniques of meditation and metaphysical doctrines drawn from Oriental traditions and to resuscitate certain dimensions of the Christian tradition in conformity with universes of religious meaning discovered elsewhere. There are those who consider themselves “American Indian or Buddhist Christians” without at all meaning a crass eclecticism.73
There are also those who have sought recourse to Orthodox spirituality whose sapiential doctrines and methods of realization have been kept more intact while, at the very moment when many Western theologians are introducing secularism into the citadel of religion itself, there is an amazing rise of interest in the sapiential and mystical dimension of the Christian tradition. In America, at least, the quest for the sacred in the Oriental traditions which marked the postwar decades, especially the 1960s, has now turned to a large extent to the attempt to rediscover the Christian tradition itself, especially those aspects of it which were lost or eclipsed after the Middle Ages.74
To a certain extent also the same tendency can be observed among many secularized Jews. Of course, in these instances, as in the case of the new cults and sects, there have also been, from the traditional point of view, all kinds of exaggerations, false pretensions, and attempts at synthesis which are no more than amalgamations which cannot but harm the integrity of the tradition in question.
When one gazes over this complex pattern which constitutes the religious life of contemporary man in quest of the rediscovery of the saaed, the revival of tradition in the West becomes even more of paramount significance, for this resuscitated knowledge of a principial order provides the criterion for distinguishing the wheat from the chaff, the true from the false, and especially the counterfeit. Not everything that is nontraditional is antitraditional. There is the third category of the counterfeit of tradition or countertradition which begins to play an ever greater role in the modern world.75
The revival of interest in the rediscovery of the sacred can become meaningful and operative only in the bosom of tradition which is “what attaches all things human to the Divine Truth.”76
Otherwise, this fragmented delving into the residues of traditional teachings, the search for the sacred and even the playing with symbols and doctrines of a sacred origin without full dedication to the sacred can become an aberration rather than a means of integration, leading even to chaos and dissolution. But, if carried out in the matrix of tradition, the quest for the sacred observable in so many domains of contemporary life and thought can lead to the reestablishment of the Truth and the rehabilitation of man in the light of that Truth which also resides at the center of his being. Such a rehabilitation which is a veritable resurrection can take place at least for that type of man whose inner being still resonates to the call of the sacred. And at the heart of this call is to be found that scientia sacra
which is inseparable from the very substance and root of intelligence and which constitutes the foundation of tradition, the “sacred science” whose attainment is the raison d'être of human existence.