Maybe I'm a little slow, but yesterday it occurred to me just how radically opposed are Schuon's and Thomas's approaches to metaphysics. I mean, I've noticed it before, but only now do I have sufficient familiarity with Thomas to raise my hand and venture an opinion.
I'm not saying that one is right and the other wrong; it may even be that the two approaches are complementary, which is always our default position in these ultimate questions, where the One necessarily bifurcates into two, with the result that Philosophical Man generally tries to reduce one to the other.
For example, the One is presumably beyond our categories of subject and object, but bifurcates into them on contact with existence and finitude, so to speak.
Thus, it can appear as if ultimate reality is pure subject, but this approach congeals into the cosmic heresy of idealism; alternatively, we can equate the One with the cosmos, a la Spinoza, and thereby commit the intrinsic heresy of pantheism.
There is of course truth in each, and in general we can say that such ultimately partial crocktrines are true in what they affirm but false in what they deny: pure transcendence denies immanence, and vice versa. We need a doctrine that affirms both without reducing one to the other, nor compromising the essential unicity of God.
Anyway, if metaphysics is literally what comes after physics (in the classic Aristotelian scheme), then it seems to me that Schuon very much approaches it from the other end, in that metaphysics comes first, not last. Call it antephysics, or something.
In the Aristotelian framework, metaphysics concerns those things after the ones about the natural world. Prof. Wiki adds that it is the doctrine that he refers to sometimes as Wisdom, sometimes as First Philosophy, and sometimes as Theology. One only ventures into it once one has explained the visible and tangible world, and wishes to proceed over its horizon to their ultimate cause(s), i.e., the perennial questions of
What is existence, and what sorts of things exist in the world? How can things continue to exist, and yet undergo the change we see about us in the natural world? And how can this world be understood?
This seems like a lot of work for a lazy man such as myself. Indeed, such a man wishes to believe he has access to ultimate reality without having to deal with the hassle of leaving the slackatoream and mastering real subjects. Our exemplars are folks such as, oh, Lao-tzu, who was able to capture the whole existentialada in an immortal pneumagraph consisting of a mere 81 stanzas (the Tao Te Ching).
Of the actual man Lao-tzu we know next to nothing -- or about as much as will be known about the mysterious Gagdad Bob (GB to his imaginary friends) in 2500 years. Neither left any traces of what was going on behind that beatific and/or idiotic smile. As for LT,
Like an Iroquois woodsman, he left no traces. All he left us was his book: the classic manual on the art of living, written in a style of gemlike lucidity, radiant with human and grace and largeheartedness and deep wisdom: one of the wonders of the world (Stephen Mitchell).
Of GB, it was said that he spent 12 years happily toiling as a retail clerk (apocryphally on the "graveyard" shift) before "they" (the conspiracy) put him on the dayshift, and he spent nearly three decades pretending to be a "psychologist" before disappearing entirely into the night and fog of primordial slack.
GB left us two books, the first one an essentially frivolous monument to perpetual juvenilia, the second an unfinished symphony of truth, so to speak, which one can read from either end and which culminates in the middle (or "top"), where there is a page that says ?! and nothing more.
It is difficult to say whether this primordial questiomation point -- ?! -- is a cry for help, a plea to be left alone, or perhaps even a medical emergency. We just don't know.
Of the two halves of this mysterious artifact, one side proceeds from the material/objective/empirical world "up to" this (?!), while the other half proceeds in the opposite direction, from the (?!) back down to our familiar world of time and space.
Thus, like the first book it is not so much circular as spiroidal. What other form could possibly be adequate to the subject? Obviously linearity wouldn't cut it, nor did GB pretend to be a poet, nor even gay.
A few more features are known of GB's manual, or at least can be pieced together from hurriedly scribbled notes in books from his vast library. At times these notes appear contradictory, but whatever. Here is one example, and don't be surprised if you have no idea what he's driving at, since he probably didn't know either. Did his reach exceed his grasp? Or was it the other way around? I suppose it depended on the day.
Before the first --> view from inside cosmos --> ascent
First part of the first part --> reality of appearances
Second part of the first part (limits of science)
Middle Earth (Incarnation / new Word Order / Resurrection)
First part of the last part --> descent --> science of the limitless
Last part of the last part --> reality of appearances
Beyond the last --> view from outside cosmos
So, yeah, this is the type of nonsense we're dealing with.
Let's get back to our main subject, which is Schuon's infra- or pre- or antephysics; the foyer of the Creation, as it were. I'm going to have to leave in a few minutes, so we'll get as far as we can. Perhaps the time constraint will spur us to make it less wooly.
God's waiting room. That's where we are. How long before we see God? Is he overbooked? Never mind. Please fill out these forms, and one of his nurses will be with you shortly.
I would like to write a sentence this simple, this lucid, this universal, and this effingcacious:
The first thing that should strike man when he reflects on the nature of the Universe is the primacy of the miracle of intelligence -- or consciousness or subjectivity -- whence the incommensurability between it and material objects, whether a grain of sand or the sun, or any creature whatever as an object of the senses (Schuon).
Reminds us of an aphorism:
The sentence should have the stone’s hardness and the branch’s trembling.
Schuon further describes "the primacy of thought -- hence of consciousness or of intelligence -- in relation to the material world surrounding us" (emphases mine).
So again, while a Thomist would say that all knowledge begins in the senses, for Schuon it begins with the bare phenomenon of thought itself, a position with which I would tend to agree, since there can be nothing weirder or more unexpected -- literally miraculous, really, -- than its appearance in a not only merely dead but really most sincerely dead universe:
Nothing is more absurd than to have intelligence derive from matter, hence the greater from the lesser; the evolutionary leap from matter to intelligence, is from every point of view the most inconceivable thing that could be (ibid.).