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René Guénon
By Mircea A. Tamas

Our modern world, and mainly the Western world, is now the abode of emotional and rational human beings, more emotional than rational, with no place for intellectual people. The same way the true Rosy-Cross disappeared and found retreat in Asia, in the Seventeenth-Century, so the intellectual individuals disappeared from our Western public life. One of the last intellectuals, born in the Western world, took refuge in Egypt, where he died fifty years ago; his name: René Guénon.

For a long time, Guénon’s work was under suspicion, and the official pundits and scholars tried hard to suppress it. A heavy silence reigned over his “subversive” books, maybe one day they would be forgotten. Yet René Guénon was not forgotten. His influence remained so powerful that “the law of silence,” which proved to be fruitless, was changed with “the law of logorrhea.” Everybody started to use frequently Guénon’s name and his writings, including on the Internet, his work being misinterpreted, his intellectual stature being downplayed; the purpose was to reduce Guénon to a common writer or philosopher, and so, to annihilate his spiritual function. For example, the street in Blois, France, where his native house was, is called today “René Guénon, French Orientalist,” an insulting definition.

Many are more interested today in Guénon’s individuality than in his intellectual works. Others, wearing the mask of appreciation and understanding, have labeled Guénon as an “outsider,” suggesting that he knew only superficially the Christian esotericism, the Taoism, Hebrew Kabbalah, the Hindu tradition and even the Islamic doctrines.

We may ask ourselves: is or not Guénon an orthodox exponent of the One-and-only Tradition? The answer, for the honest and qualified people, is an easy one: René Guénon was the providential interpreter of the everlasting Tradition. He is the one who, in Occident, brought the metaphysics to its real and deserved brightness, who clearly stated the universal principles of the traditional doctrines, who presented the true face of the initiation, and described the cosmic cycles.[1] The Hebrew Kabbalah identifies three main and symbolic elements that constitute the sacred significance of traditional rites and writings: the Cosmos, the Year and the Man (Sepher Ietsirah III.2). Guénon’s work was built on studies about cosmogony (the Cosmos), about the theory of the cosmic cycles (the Year) and about the spiritual realization and initiation (the Man), yet always as applications of the metaphysics, which is the domain of the supreme Principle.

Guénon spent an immense effort to modify the Western mentality, to open the modern mind and thinking towards the metaphysical and initiatory truths, to recover the spiritual and primeval meanings of the traditional symbols, to facilitate the sacred writings to be not only read but also comprehended.[2]

That was only a part of his mission. More important is that Guénon succeeded to unify the various particular traditions, to pacify the apparent oppositions, to restore the “ideal model” of what would have been the primordial Tradition; in a conciliatory way, and not at all bias or narrow minded, Guénon assimilated synthetically the fundamental data of the diverse traditional forms, and tried to recompose the primeval form.[3] Taking into account that the present moment of our cosmic cycle is favorable to the sentimental and emotional elements, especially in the Western world, and that the domain of metaphysics goes far beyond the individuality, René Guénon raised the traditional data at the level of the pure intellect; only there, at the highest level – the order of pure metaphysics, the particular traditions are united in the Unique.[4] Voluntarily, he left aside the bhakti and karma aspects of the doctrine, and even more, he rejected all the heterodox branches of the Tradition, careful not to permit any confusion or pseudo-knowledge to develop.

The rigorousness of his writings had as main purpose to modify the superficiality of the Western thinking; even now some sentimental scholars are profoundly unhappy with Guenon’s tough discipline imposed to the style and the form of his work. Guénon’s “super-intellectual” approach is, though, the only valid way when a theoretical transmission is involved.[5] Using mathematical symbols and language, even if disagreeable to some scholars and literate individuals, facilitated a precise and exact style, very different from all the inflated and tortuous phrases of the modern rationalists.

Nicholas of Cusa, who reminds us of René Guénon, writes: “the mathematics represent the scientific domain that offers the most numerous similarities with metaphysics”, and adds: Nihil certi habemus in nostra scientia, nisi nostram mathematicam, stressing that from Pythagoras and Plato to Saint Augustine and Boethius, the philosophers stated that nobody can reach the knowledge of the divine order without learning mathematics. “On this path,” concluded Cusa, “we will follow them, and, because there is no other way to lead to the divine order but that of the symbols, we affirm that we may select the mathematical signs, which contain an incorruptible certitude.”[6]

There are some people who are upset that Guénon did not develop some specific doctrinal subjects, or, that he did not insist on the Greek-Orthodox tradition, for example, proving that he did not study the Fathers of the Church. Sure, we can be sorry forever that some authors did not write about this or that. Yet in Guénon’s case, we have to stress that he transmitted everything what really counts, offering to the qualified ones an infallible guide in the spiritual domain. His work, even without quoting all the Fathers of the Church, is the best guide to decipher the Christian mystery. And we have to keep in mind that Guénon was not an ordinary scholar or a philosopher or a thinker, or even a spiritual master.

René Guénon, as an individual, did not count, as he himself insisted many times. It is difficult for the modern mentality, totally attached to the order of the ego and of the individuality, to accept such a statement. Guénon was invested by, let’s say without elaborating, by the Superiores Incogniti[7] with the function of restoring the primordial Tradition, a function comprising as main objective the modification and regeneration of the Western mentality. His writings do not have other purpose. As a transmitter of the absolute Truth, Guénon’s only “errors” could appear because of the difficulty to dress in human words a Knowledge that surpasses the human and individual domain. Those who call themselves “guénonists,” referring to Guénon as individual, make a terrible mistake. Those who call themselves “guénonists,” referring to Guénon’s work, they are not less mistaking. Guénon’s work is just the porch of the Temple; his work allows a theoretical knowledge of metaphysical order, indispensable (as Guénon himself stated), yet the theoretical learning is just a preparation for the actual spiritual realization. Moreover, his work is “Guénon’s work” only because he wrote it in a book format; his work has universal origins, that is, super-human.

It is totally useless – Gilis stresses – to try to find out the exact circumstances regarding the beginning of Guenon’s initiatory career (Gilis 27). We can assume that between 1908 and 1912 “something” happened to Guénon and he aquired a “universal initiation” that came directly from the spiritual invisible center, let’s call it Agarttha. After that, Guénon followed a more “human” path and was introduced to all the important particular traditions (Islamism, Taoism, Hinduism, Masonry), which seems normal considering his overall initiation. “The spiritual influences, which converge towards him, coming from particular initiatory centers, and having as intermediaries individuals representing the major metaphysical traditions of the East, appear as a consequence of a major event caused by Guénon’s investiture” (Gilis 30).

Guénon “has confirmed himself to André Préau that he received from oral Oriental teaching his knowledge of Hindu doctrines, Islamic esotericism and of Taoism. Michel Vâlsan, on his part, considering Hinduism, Taoism and Islamism in an analog perspective, regarded ‘the three main forms of the present traditional world, representing the Middle-East, the Far-East, and the Near-East, as reflections of the three aspects of the Lord of the World.’[8] The mention of the mysterious Lord of the World here is a confirmation of Guénon’s ‘mission’ that came from the Supreme Center, which was acting this time using external forms and traditional institutions” (Gilis 31).

As we already said, the period 1908-1912 is very enigmatical. That is the period when Superiores Incogniti empowered Guénon with the function of messenger, transmitter and translator of absolute truths, primarily to the Western world. This function Guénon will fulfill consistently until his corporeal disappearance; he was not allowed to be a spiritual master, and that is why he didn’t accept  to have disciples.

In 1908, René Guénon is already involved with the Occultist “schools” of that epoch, trying to find an opportunity to start the renovation of the Occidental mentality. He soon realizes that, unfortunately for the Western world, there is not much hope. In the same year, Guénon tries to provoke a breach in the profane mental wall. Members of the Martinist Order received an “astral message” to bring René Guénon at Hotel des Cannettes, and, after more meetings, the Renovated Order of the Temple was founded having Guénon as leader; yet the activity of the Order had no effects upon Western mentality and Guénon is forced to dismantle the organization. This experience proved to Guénon “the necessity, because the impossibility to follow his mission inside the Order of the Temple, to turn to ‘ordinary’ traditional organizations” (Gilis 48), like Masonry and Islam.[9]

Guénon’s attachment to Islam is not a “conversion,” but an application of his “universal initiation” in order to fulfill his function, after the attempt to generate an “extraordinary” organization failed. “Guénon declared more than one time that he was never ‘converted’ to anything, and, in 1938, in a letter to Pierre Collard, that he even did not ‘embrace the Muslim religion,’ more or less recently, as some try to make people believe for some obscure reasons. And he added: ‘the fact of the matter is that I am attached to the Islamic initiatic organizations for  thirty years, which, of course, is completely different’” (Gilis 57).

As we said, Guénon’s function was not that of being a spiritual master for a specific path. There are some people who are upset that Guénon presented so little about specific methods of the spiritual realization and Liberation, which means that they completely misunderstood Guénon and his function.

Guénon’s writings constitute the theoretical fundament, Guénon intentionally exposing the elements of different traditions in a general form, and we can notice his endeavor to stay away from specifics and details, to be at the general, or better universal level. We have to keep in mind that his writings aim the Western people in the first place; that is why Guénon presented an ideal type of Oriental being (that has real existence, but not as a quantitative majority, in Orient, the genuine spiritual masters, the initiation and the traditional doctrines being a reality, even if today a process of profanation and of “occidentalization” takes place). To obtain a “break” inside the modern mentality, Guénon used different strategies, all criticized today and considered  errors.

Today, the modern people are hypnotized by “information” and “to be informed”; many of them consider Guénon’s work just another source of information, and regard the traditional lore transmitted by him as a common “bibliography” that now is obsolete. These people look for new facts, new information, they fight to obtain Guénon’s letters, hoping to discover some spicy detail of his individual life; today, texts assigned to Guénon are published (see Psychologie).  

Some scholars consider Guénon and his writings out-of-date. Of course, if they have in mind the sacred kernel of his work, their ignorance needs no comments. We remember, to give an example, the opinion of a French “Orientalist” who wrote us many years ago that Guénon is completely obsolete, that his knowledge about Hindu tradition was very poor, which is normal for his times, and now, it is out-of-date; that he mixed three elements: an incomplete information, a so-called “esoterically tradition” of Western origins, and his imagination. At that time, we expressed our comments, but now we just wanted to illustrate the ignorance we were talking about.

Others complained that, visiting Guénon at Cairo, he did not say anything different from his writings; he talked about the same ideas and used the same words that could be found in his work. Probably these visitors expected to hear sensational phrases or to see some strange phenomena. If we read Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, it is easy to notice that he, over and over again, stated the same question: Who am I?, an essential and fundamental idea helping the spiritual realization. Who wants more?

However, Guénon did not accept “disciples.” Even though so many tried to call themselves “guénonists” or Guénon’s “pupils,” no one has the right for this appellative. René Guénon stated clearly, and many times, that his mission is not to be a “teacher” and he does not have disciples; that, what it counts, is the traditional lore he transmitted through his writings, and anything else connected to his individuality, intimate deeds or words, is his personal business. Yet any honest student of Guénon’s work cannot  avoid the question: how valid are Guénon’s followers, from Schuon to Gilis? And many years ago, we asked the late Giovanni Ponte, from Rivista di Studi Tradizionali of Turin, the same question. Here it is what he answered:


It is not the place and not our task to emit judgments regarding the individuality order, but we have to mention that, after Guénon’s death, some of his “collaborators” were very active to reduce Guénon’s work at the profane level. Marco Pallis, for example, who was encouraged and helped by Guénon in his traditional studies, wrote a curious article against Guénon’s Le Roi du Monde; Pallis tried to prove that Agarttha and the Lord of the World were just results of Guénon’s imagination, that nobody heard in India or Tibet about Agarttha and the Lord of the World. There is an extraordinary incomprehension about the symbolism of the Lord of the World, about what really Guénon transmitted in his fundamental book Le Roi du Monde.[10] Marco Pallis is one of the examples of this incomprehension

We have to keep in mind that Guénon transmitted through his writings a unitary doctrine, unaffected by contingencies, a synthesis of all particular traditions that can be find in it, but which, at the same time, inevitable, are different from it, because the unification of the particular doctrines implies to preserve the “spirit,” not the “letter.” René Guénon had as objective to establish the doctrinal essence of the universal metaphysics, opening the eyes and smoothing the way towards spiritual knowledge; he left on purpose aside the specific elements that would more confuse than clarify the modern mentality.

We can ask ourselves: is René Guénon the creator of a new doctrine? No, absolutely not! In the Foreword of his book Le Symbolisme de la Croix, Guénon confesses that he wants “soit exposer directement certains aspects des doctrines métaphysiques de l’Orient, soit adapter ces mêmes doctrines de la façon qui nous paraîtrait la plus intelligible et la plus profitable, mais en reste toujours strictement fidèle à leur esprit.”[11] Guénon dressed in essential clothes the traditional data, presenting a unitive doctrine about Unity, and here appears brightly his providential function.[12] Guénon writes: “nous n’avons jamais entendu nous renfermer exclusivement dans une forme déterminée, ce qui serait d’ailleurs bien difficile dés lors qu’on a pris conscience de l’unité essentielle qui se dissimule sous la diversité des formes plus ou moins extérieures, celle-ci n’étant en somme que comme autant de vêtements d’une seule et même vérité.”[13]
Many don’t want and cannot recognize the unitary doctrine renovated by René Guénon, and we are not surprised. Gandhi fought his entire life for the independence of India and could not conciliate the Hindu and the Muslims, and today this divergence is stronger than ever. In comparison to the acute and increasing oppositions reigning in this world, the unitary doctrine transmitted by Guénon appears as a redeeming one. René Guénon is not the exponent of a new doctrine; he is the “servant” who presented and transmitted, primary in the Western world, the fundamental unity of all traditional forms, offering a metaphysical synthesis of various orthodox doctrines, having the Truth as sacred kernel, a Truth that can be found in all the particular traditions. René Guénon was and is the “servant of the Unique.” His Islamic name, Abdel Wahed Yahia, stands witness for this.

(Published here with kind permission of the author.)


[1] “Generally speaking, Guénon’s doctrinal work regards the highest universal truths, and also the symbolical rules and the cyclic laws that regulate their traditional adaptation” (Michel Vâlsan, L’Islam et la fonction de René Guénon, Les Editions de l’Oeuvre, Paris, 1984, p. 14). Michel Vâlsan, a native Romanian, became after Guénon’s corporeal death, the director of Guénon’s journal, Études Traditionnelles.

[2] “The universal and comprehensive character of Guénon’s teachings explains why these offer the key that permits to the Western people to penetrate within any metaphysical doctrine, by understanding and assimilating its fundamental aspects” (Charles-André Gilis, Introduction a l’enseignement et au mystère de René Guénon, Les Editions de l’Oeuvre, Paris, 1985, p. 11).

[3] “Exposing truths that were unthinkable for the contemporarily people, Guénon’s metaphysical modes of expression had necessarily an independent character in comparison to the known, or used, doctrinal modes of expression in Occident. On the other hand, because Guénon didn’t attach himself exclusively to a single Oriental tradition, but he found support from everything that was opportune and could serve to express universal ideas, which he gave the synthesis, this characteristic of formal independence exists, for some extent, even in comparison to the doctrinal modes of expression of Orient; this thing was inevitable because René Guénon wrote in a language totally different from the usually languages of the regular doctrines” (Vâlsan, Islam, p. 14).

[4] “Such an identity and universality [of the Tradition] is real only for the highest aspect of the metaphysics: regarding this, the Islamic masters said: ‘the doctrine of Unity is unique’ (at-Tawhîdu wâhidun)” (Vâlsan, Islam, p. 13).

[5] “That is why if one would try to translate Guénon’s work in any Oriental language, the translation should be followed by commentaries. Guénon expressed and thought in modes belonging to what we can call a ‘sapiental spirituality,’ modes different from the regular ones that are the support of ‘religions based on revelation’” (Vâlsan, Islam, p. 15).

[6] Nicolas de Cusa, De la docte Ignorance, Guy Trédaniel, 1979, p. 58.

[7] “The mysterious character of René Guénon privileged status is connected to the intervention of a spiritual influence operating ‘outside the regular and common ways of initiation,’ that is, independently of the existent initiatory organizations, which were apt to confer a regular initiatory attachment” (Gilis 26).
[8] Études Traditionnelles, nos. 293-294-295, 1951. See Michel Vâlsan, La fonction de René Guénon et le sort de l’Occident, p. 218. Vâlsan specifies that Guénon was the first one who gave a proper definition for the Lord of the World.

[9] Gilis stresses “the remarkable coincidence between the end of the Order of the Temple and Guénon’s attachment to Islam” (Gilis 47).  Also, in 1911, Guénon is initiated in Masonry (Gilis 48).

[10] “The explicit reference to the Supreme Center of the World and its Leader marks, more than any other aspect of Guénon’s work, the incomparable and privileged character of his function in the Western world” (Gilis 16).

[11] René Guénon, Le symbolisme de la croix, Guy Trédaniel, 1989, p. 9. Guénon writes that he wants either to expose directly some aspects of the Oriental metaphysical doctrines, or to adapt these doctrines to our mentality, preserving their spirit.

[12] “The Islamic spirituality as a whole is specially sensitive to recognizing the divine Unicity, which, for it, is the fundament and the first criteria of validity for any religious form. Or, René Guénon teaches and affirms the fundamental unity of the existent traditions because he notices that the essence of all doctrines is that of Unity or Non-Duality of the Principle of the Truth” (Vâlsan, Islam, p. 27).

[13] Guénon explains that he doesn’t want to be limited by the frame of a specific doctrine, especially when someone is aware of the essential unity of all these doctrines, the various forms being just garments of the same truth.





 

 

 

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2005-04-16

 

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