Form and Substance in the Religions (The Writings of Frithjof Schuon)

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9780941532259: Form and Substance in the Religions (The Writings of Frithjof Schuon)

Restores a true sense of proportion in affirming the transcendent real.

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About the Author:

Philosopher and metaphysician, poet and artist, Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) is world-renowned in the field of Comparative Religion and is known as the pre-eminent exponent of the Perennial Philosophy. He was born in Basel, Switzerland, of German parents. He went to Paris as a young man, where he studied for a few years before undertaking a number of trips to North Africa, the Near East, and India in order to contact spiritual authorities and witness traditional cultures. Following WWII, he accepted an invitation to travel to the American West, where he lived for several months among the Plains Indians, in whom he had always had a deep interest. He spent his mature life writing more than twenty books of essays comprising a spiritual message of solar magnitude. The dominant theme, or principle, of Schuon's writings was foreshadowed in his early encounter with a marabout who had accompanied some members of his Senegalese village to Basel for the purpose of demonstrating their African culture. When the young Schuon talked with him, the venerable old man drew a circle with radii on the ground and explained: "God is in the center, all paths lead to Him." This metaphysical truth is the leitmotif of all Schuon's writings, beginning with his first book, the title of which: The Transcendent Unity of Religions is very indicative in this respect.

Schuon has written more than 20 books, as well as having been a regular contributor to leading journals on comparative religion in both Europe and America for over 50 years. His writings have been translated into over a dozen languages, and have been consistently featured and reviewed in a wide range of scholarly and philosophical publications around the world, respected by both scholars and spiritual authorities.

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The following excerpt is taken from the first chapter of Form and Substance in the Religions .

Truth and Presence

The saving manifestation of the Absolute is either Truth or Presence, but it is not one or the other in an exclusive fashion, for as Truth It comprises Presence, and as Presence It comprises Truth. Such is the twofold nature of all theophanies; thus Christ is essentially a manifestation of Divine Presence, but he is thereby also Truth: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." No one enters into the saving proximity of the Absolute except through a manifestation of the Absolute, be it a priori Presence or Truth.

In Christianity, the element Presence takes precedence over the element Truth: the first element absorbs, as it were, the second, in the sense that Truth is identified with the phenomenon of Christ; Christian Truth is the idea that Christ is God. From this arises the doctrine of the Trinity, which would not make sense if the point of departure in Christianity were the element Truth, that is, a doctrine of the Absolute, as is the case in Islam where God presents Himself in paramount fashion as the One Real, or in the measure allowed by a Semitic exoterism.(1)

Islam is thus founded on the axiom that absolute Truth is what saves, together of course with the consequences this entails for the will; the exoteric limitation of this perspective is the axiom that Truth alone saves, not Presence. Christianity, on the contrary, is founded on the axiom that the Divine Presence saves; the exoteric limitation here is the axiom on the one hand that only this Presence, not another, saves, and on the other hand that only the element Presence can save, not the element Truth in Itself.(2)

To say with Islam that it is Truth that saves—since it is the Truth of the Absolute—means that all the consequences of Truth must be drawn and that It must be accepted totally, namely, with the will and the sentiments as well as with the intelligence. And to say with Christianity that it is Presence that saves—since it is the presence of Divine Love—means that one is to enter into the mold of this Presence, sacramentally and sacrificially—and let oneself be carried towards Divine Love. It is necessary first to love, then to will, and then in due course to know—to know in relation to the love of God; whereas in Islam first one must know, then will, and in due course one must love—to love in relation to this knowledge of God, if such a schematic way of presenting these matters is allowed.

A priori or exoterically, the element Truth in Christianity is, as we have said, the axiom that Christ is God, and that Christ alone is God; but a posteriori or esoterically, the Christic Truth means, on the one hand, that every manifestation of the Absolute is identical with the Absolute and, on the other, that this manifestation is at once transcendent and immanent. Transcendent, it is Christ above us; immanent, it is Christ within us; it is the Heart, which is both Intellect and Love. To enter the Heart is to enter into Christ, and conversely; Christ is the Heart of the macrocosm as the Intellect is the Christ of the microcosm. "God became man that man might become God": the Self became Heart that the Heart might become the Self; and this is why "the kingdom of God is within you".

It is in this gnosis that Islam and Christianity meet, for the Heart is the immanent Koran or the immanent Prophet, if the emphasis is placed on the active and inspiring function of the Intellect. This amounts to saying that in Islam the element Presence is represented by the Koran on the one hand and by the Prophet on the other; to give full value to this element Presence—with respect to the element Truth, which is the point of departure in Islam—is to become identified sacramentally and eucharistically with the Koran,(3) and it is also to be identified with the Prophet by entering the Muhammadan mold, which is none other than the "primordial norm", the Fitrah. One enters into this mold by enclosing oneself in the Sunnah, the body of rules of conduct prescribed by the Prophet, and personified by him; now these rules are "horizontal" as well as "vertical": they concern material and social as well as spiritual life.

The Koran itself, too, is both Truth and Presence: it is Truth by its doctrine, which teaches that there is but one Absolute, and it is Presence owing to its theophanic or sacramental quality, which is the origin of Dhikr, the quintessential prayer.

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1. This reservation means that the theological point of view, by the very fact of its devotional and voluntarist perspective, cannot avoid a certain dualism.

2. The saving Truth of Islam is "Truth"—not "such and such" a Truth—for it concerns the Absolute and not a phenomenon.

3. There are Muslims who spend their life reciting the Koran, and there are non-Arab Muslims who chant the Koran even if they do not understand it.

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