I don't know about you, but whenever I want to get back to basics, I turn to... Actually, I do know about you, because I'm sure you don't do what I am about to say I do, which is have a little chitchat, or vertical summit meeting, with Schuon. This is not to say I am any kind of formal disciple, and I don't want to pretend I am. It's just that I find him so provocative, that virtually every paragraph sends me flying into four or five different dimension.
I think this is because he is essential, by which I mean he cuts through appearances like so much smoke, and gets right to the essence, to the beating heart of reality. In fact, this is precisely what Nasr says in his introduction to The Essential Frithjof Schuon. In describing the virtues of his writings, he begins with their essentiality, their universality, and their comprehensiveness.
Or, one might say their depth, their height, and their breadth, respectively. I would love to be able to accomplish the same sort of effect, because to do this would be to write things that will always be true, because they touch the eternal. And when you think about it, what would be the point of writing anything less than this? Seriously. There are not only WAY too many books, there are too many blogs, too many magazines, too many paragraphs, too many sentences. Will someone please shut-up already?!
As to Schuon's essentiality, Nasr notes that his writings "always go to the heart and are concerned with the essence of whatever they deal with." Which is to say, he "possesses the gift of reaching the very core of the subject he is treating, of going beyond forms to the essential formless Center of forms whether they be religious, artistic or related to certain features and traits of the cosmic or human orders."
The question I have is, why isn't everyone hungry for this type of intellectual -- or pneuma-cognitive -- nourishment? I think Schuon would say they are, by virtue of being human. To paraphrase the man himsoph, human beings are condemned to transcendence, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.
That is, the intellect is ordered to the absolute, which is its proper, or ultimate, object. In fact, to know any truth is to be ordered to this object, otherwise it wouldn't be truth. It wouldn't even be false, just nothing, since falsehood is the shadow of truth. You can't be wrong if you can't be right. Right?
Nasr describes exactly how it is for me: "To read [Schuon's] works is to be transplanted from the shell to the kernel, to be carried on a journey that is at once intellectual and spiritual from the circumference to the Center."
The Center would have to be the place -- the only possible place -- where essence, universality, and comprehensiveness collide. And when they do collide, one sees stars. Or sparks. At least I do.
You know the old crack about how Christianity is not a religion, but the cure for religion? I think it is the same with Schuon's intellectuality, i.e., a cure for secular or rationalistic intellectualism.
And we are in need of a cure for the latter, because when reason becomes the master instead of the slave, it is as if a corrosive mind parasite has hijacked the soul. It doesn't so much metabolize truth as it does erode the foundation, as do termites to a house. And once you've destroyed the foundation, you can't build anything on it. Logic wins, but the soul perishes. Or, the operation is a success, although the patient is dead.
I had a free-wheeling discussion about this with our vertically attuned contractor yesterday. He mentioned a distressing conversation with his hyper-rationalistic ophthalmologist, a man who can deploy reason to disprove anything, but which leaves him in a cold and barren world deprived of spiritual light and cosmic meaning.
He sounds like a reasonably intelligent person, which I'm sure he is. One generally can't be an idiot and get through medical school. However, in the Darwinian sense, the environment of medical school "selects" people with certain personality traits, and then aggravates those traits over the subsequent six or seven or more years. Is it any wonder that reason can become hypertrophied while the spiritual imagination withers? And when the latter shrivels up, the realm to which it gives access naturally "disappears." It's like me and my pancreas. Ask it about insulin, and it will say insawhut?
A brilliant physician has access to other tacit worlds that the layman cannot perceive. And these worlds can certainly be essential to physical wellbeing, but an exclusive focus on them can occlude other realities. One reason I like to blog first thing in the morning is that it helps ground me in the essential before I must venture forth and make my way in that other annoying world. It helps me be in it but not of it.
A person whose (lower case r) reason is running amuck needs to get back to the Essence, the Universal, the Comprehensive, and away from the surface, the particular, and the local. The rub, of course, is that I don't really want my surgeon living in the latter world, any more than I want my accountant to be floating in a happy rainbow land of tangerine taxes, marmalade math, and marshmallow IRS agents.
Anyway, for the eye doctor with the hypertrophied rationalism, Dr. Bob might prescribe a little Schuon to break through the layers of ice and rock that have formed above his mind. I know what it's like to be encrapsulated in an omniscient little ego, and it is not a pleasant feeling. There are ways out, of course, but many of them involve bypassing the intellect, which is precisely what the intellectual will have difficulty doing.
Therefore, he is in need of some intellectual keys that dwarf his puny reason, restore his epistemological humility, and show logic for what it is: a limited tool for exploring certain realities, but certainly not a key to the truth that necessarily transcends it.
It's a little like martial arts, whereby the power of the mind is used against itself. When properly used, the intellect should arrive at the mystery which it cannot solve, because it is a reflection of it. This is where the intellect can finally find its rest, and stop thrashing about, looking for, or pretending to have, answers that surpass it.
Speaking of eyes and physicians, we all know about the "three eyes" of the soul. There is the physical eye that discloses the empirical world, just as there is the rational eye with which we perceive invisible mathematical and logical truths.
But there is also the spiritual eye with which we "see" spiritual truths and realities that precede us -- just as the physical world obviously must precede the physical eye. The world doesn't proceed from the eye, any more than God proceeds from the human spirit.
We can take the analogy further, in the sense that even perception is never just perception. Take the example of two people watching a baseball game, one who played the game and knows all its subtle rules and strategies, the other attending his first game. Although they will "see" the exact same thing, they will perceive very different realities. The more one understands the game, the more one sees, to the point of inexhaustibility.
Now, if we transpose this idea to the spiritual realm, the same truth applies. Religion, you might say, provides the rules of the game: common landmarks, points of reference, warnings, tips, hints, etc. And as one immerses oneself in this world and gazes into the clear-view mirror, sure enough, it begins coming into view. One starts to perceive the contours of this world, to which all the points of reference are referring.
And then one can describe this world in a more direct way, without necessarily having to use the existing points of reference -- although it is generally best to use them, for the same reason it is best to speak truth in an existing language instead of inventing a new one that no one understands.
It is as if one touches the substance, but the substance still needs a form in order to be both intelligible and communicable. For example, Christianity obviously provides such forms. But if they are only understood dogmatically as forms, then I think one has missed half a loaf on the boat to nowhere.
Rather, I think the whole point must be to embody the form, which is to say, prolong the vertical into the horizontal -- which, if I am not mistaken, is kind of the whole point of the Incarnation. It is what the Word is trying to tell us, if only we know how to listen with the third ear, or correct for our cardiomyopia.