The Guenonian Conceptual Trinity

Metaphysics, Symbolism, Initiation.  Symbolism is the form of Initiation and the language of Metaphysics.  Initiation actualizes Symbolism and and realizes Metaphysics.  Metaphysics vivifies Symbolism and immortalizes Initiation.

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Unfinished thoughts on Christianity, Perennialism, and History

(1) One of Guenon’s stated reasons for rejecting reincarnation is that the human state is merely one state among an indefinite multitude of states (hence to reincarnate into the human state repeatedly would be inadmissibly arbitrary).  It is not the question of reincarnation that interests me here, but this idea of the unprivileged status of humanity.  This follows inescapably from Guenon’s insistence on impartiality, the supremacy of the impersonal over the personal, and his detached manner of contemplation.  One adopting a detached, impersonal, and impartial view of necessity cannot give preference to one thing over another, or at least not to one contingent state of affairs over another contingent state of affairs, hence cannot declare the human state to be one of privilege, a state to be preferencedinnately desirable.  This may be problematic for Guenon on at least two fronts.  Firstly, it clashes with certain of his remarks in the “Reign of Quantity“, perhaps not directly, but indirectly and by implication, namely, that the ascension of the quantitative and disappearance of qualitative distinctions represents a regression of the modern view.  For, after all, preferability is a qualitative distinction, and if Guenon can allow that the directions of space and periods of time can be imbued with real qualitative features, then, though nothing necessitates this, nothing a priori excludes the possibility that a qualitative distinction such as preferability could apply in the case of states of being, or elsewhere, for that matter.  Secondly, this premise, namely, that the human state is merely one among an indefinite multitude, contradicts the data furnished by numerous traditions regarding the significance of the human state, many of whom consider the human state to be a unique state, often the apex of the cosmic order, the crown of creation, and a privileged position from which to pursue liberation or salvation or whatever other lofty spiritual goal.  In the Hindu tradition, a human birth is declared to be a very desirable and difficult birth to attain, and even the devas themselves can be bound by the power of the human rishis.  In the Old Testament, Adam is the pinnacle of Creation, and in the New Testament God chooses to incarnate as a man.  In the Quran, God demands that all the jinn and angels bow before Adam.  One might claim that preferability is a mere psychological disposition, but critics of religion say the same thing about everything denoted by the term “spiritual”, and so it behooves us to at least consider the possibility that preferability itself is perhaps also something more than psychological, if psychological is taken in a pejorative sense.

(2) I find it difficult to accept that all existence is the result of an impersonal emanation from some Supreme Reality.  What impetus could there be to emanate in the first place?  Why emanate this rather than that?  Any impetus to do so would seem to indicate an intention and hence a “personality” of sorts.  This is not to deny that there are, in fact, impersonal aspects to what you might term the “Supreme Reality” and to its manifold operations.  This impersonality is the “deep magic” of C.S. Lewis, but there is also a “deeper magic”.  This “deeper magic” is the unique personhood of God, Christ, in the Christian tradition, who wields these impersonal forces like a carpenter wields his tools.  This impersonal “deep magic” consists of the totality of powers and laws evident in the actions of the Supreme Person.  In the construction of this universe one can see both indications of personality and impersonality.  Just as an architect obeys many rules in the construction of a palace, so this universe is subject to many laws, both in its corporeal and subtle prolongations, but nevertheless, one inevitably encounters a “personal touch” in the finished product, a decided preference to construct this sort of universe rather than another,  the will to construct at all rather than leave off from all manner of work.  Somehow the sages of history seem to have given a definite preference to the impersonal aspects of the Supreme, considering them to be superior and anterior to the personal aspects which are envisaged as derivative, contingent, and, hence, ultimately illusory.  But can the vivified, volitional, and personal really be contingent on the impassive and impersonal?  It’s a sort of traditionalist maxim that the greater does not emerge from the lesser.  So which of the two sets is really the lesser?  I suppose that if any should be considered superior, the personal makes a decent case for itself.  After all, man, the microcosm, is himself a person and the pinnacle of creation, and we find that the lower down the chain of living forms we descend the more impersonal they become until we end with inert matter.  If the sages of the world failed to recognize the Supreme Reality as Supreme Person, this may be for the simple reason that they never met him, and how could they unless he had introduced Himself to us in his Personhood? For one does not come to know a person by contemplation but through living encounter.

(3) Only Christianity affirms the real value of the world and of the body.  For the Muslim, the world is a temporary zone of transfer, for the Pagan a beautiful dream,  for the gnostic a prison from which one must escape (hence, only the spirit has value), and for the hedonist the world only possesses value insofar as it offers one pleasure, and hence it is really only pleasure which has value for him.  In Christianity God sanctifies the world at creation when He declares it “good”, deifies it when He assumes a body of flesh and blood, and at the resurrection He immortalizes it.

(4) A: I cannot accept that all this depends on a historical event, a contingency rooted in a particular place and a particular time, that the Truth became flesh there and only there, then and only then, and that everything depends on one’s attachment to this historical Church.  This would mean that no greater privilege existed than to belong to this Church, and granting even that salvation were not withheld to the righteous outside the Church, those living outside its jurisdiction in time and place, and those to whom the truth of its doctrines was not made evident, so that they are with some excuse, nevertheless, the privilege, and in such a scheme it must be the only privilege really worth having, a privilege hanging upon so many contingencies, was withheld from them.

B: On the contrary, nothing is withheld.  Christianity affirms a bodily resurrection.  Christ’s mission extends unto all eternity.  All, by and by, will come to participate in one way or another—some to condemnation, others to victory and salvation, but in the end none will remain distant or aloof or indifferent.  The “world to come” is not a terminus or a resolution, not a conclusion, but a beginning, the real beginning which was deferred when Adam sinned.  All since then has been nothing but a preparation, the moments before the curtain lifts and the play begins in earnest.  We have not even begun yet.  Christians are the stage hands preparing the greatest spectacle eye has ever seen.

(5) Speculations which seek to find beginnings and ends in history are fundamentally flawed.  History is a preparation.  The beginning has not appeared yet.

(6) Cyclical view of history: the world has been here forever, but nothing has happened yet, and nothing will happen evermore.

(7) In constructing an argument or worldview, an error at the beginning, one flawed premise, spoils everything that comes afterward.  Adam’s sin was also at the beginning of all things, hence the magnitude of its consequences.

(8) Other religions makes much sense in theory but do not fit reality.  Christianity, the religion which is the most difficult to make sense of on theoretical grounds, also fits reality best.

(9) Christianity is beyond morals and ethics.  Morals and ethics enjoin kindness, honesty, fairness, and charity in one’s dealings with fellow men.  Christianity demands self-sacrifice, a demand which mere ethics could never make.  Morality minus Christianity is always lukewarm.

(10) A: The perennialists still seem to have the teleological argument in their favor.  Namely, that what differentiates man from all other created beings is his capacity for rational inquiry and intellectual contemplation, and that therefore his most characteristic and exalted pursuit is the contemplation of metaphysical truth.

B: Contemplation is a function.  Man is not reducible to his functions, no matter how exalted this or that function might be.  Man is always something more than his functions, he includes all of them within himself.  The proper exercise of his functions is what truly renders him a man, perhaps, but his real telos consists in that which raises him toward the more-than-man.  Only God can so raise him, not by the exercise of some human faculty, but by supernatural grace bestowed from above.  The intellect can at most grant one anthroposis, man’s real final term is theosis.

(11) A purely contemplative tradition saves only a man’s intellect―the rest of him languishes.  To save the whole man one needs prayer, sacrament, obedience.

(12) A: All the traditions have symbolic and intellectual elements in common, demonstrating a body of universal truths.

B: And why should we infer that this universal is therefore the superior element in religion?  Religion is for the living man, not the skeleton.  Religion is food for the whole man, not only his intellect.

Miscellaneous II

(11) Mastery means doing something very well, not impressing people very well.

(12) A: “But don’t you care for the eternal salvation of your soul?  Don’t you tremble in fear before the gates of death?  Do you not feel the urgency of your task?  Life is a fleeting shadow, vanity of vanities.  Serve the Lord and expire.”

 B:”Perhaps I will be damned.  Perhaps I won’t.  Others will be saved.  What do I matter?  The cosmic order prevails whether or not I perish.  Truth is eternal and abiding.  Nothing I can do, nothing that happens to me, can change the Truth one iota.  For me, this is sufficient.

(13) A: “Only Man asks ‘why’, nature asks ‘how'”.

 B: “Why do you arbitrarily cordon man off from nature?  Insofar as mans asks ‘why’, nature does also”.

(14) Equality is Unquality.

(15) Achilles—the Christ who inflicts cruelty.  Jesus—the Christ who bears it.

(16) Confidence is the ability to act decisively on what we already know, to exercise the powers we already possess.  Confidence does not raise us up higher than ourselves, it brings us back up to our original level.

(17) The disease of our age is frivolity.

(18) Which is preferable, to act authentically or to act correctly?  This is a false, and typically modern, dichotomy.  No, rather acting correctly is acting authentically.  The faculty in us which distinguishes between proper and improper conduct is also a part of our authentic being.  Modernity mistakes caprice for authenticity.

(19) Sexuality and sacrality are practically synonyms—in bhakti they are almost indistinguishable.  This is not a spiritual carte blanche for sexual licentiousness, but on the contrary an injunction to reverence and propriety when poised before the sexual act.  For perversity in sexual matters is the analogue of sacrilege and blasphemy in spiritual  matters.

From The Hikmah of al-Khidr Grün

*The real analogy existing between symbol and symbolized is the ladder by which we climb to God.  Without it the Word would be of no avail.

*That there could be any analogy between the Word and the limitless reality standing behind it is the mystery of mysteries, the true mysterium magnum, and the pivot of all spirituality without which it would be of no effect.

*The Word is a symbol, the symbol par excellence.  The original Kitab  is the Kitab of Pure Symbols, the Preserved Tablet (“al-Lawhu ‘l-Mahfuz“) of which the Tarot is a sort of “legominism”.

*The highest worship and adoration is worship and adoration through the intellect.  The intellect is an organ of love (hence, its seat is in the heart), for to love is to seek union, and in the intellect union is already effected.

*Humility as a moral virtue is consciousness of one’s lowliness.  Humility as a metaphysical virtue is consciousness of one’s nothingness.

*It’s preferable to be arrogant in worldly things than arrogant in spiritual things.  The former is, as it were, the lesser of two evils.  Spiritual arrogance is properly “satanic”.

*It is true that nothing in this world could be divested of some meaning, especially insofar as it is tied back to its unitary principle which integrates it into the overall order and harmony of existence.  Life is meaningful, the events of our life are imbued with meaning.  However, just because something is meaningful it does not follow that it is also weighty or consequential, for “the life of this world is naught but a play”.  When a stone is dropped into a body of water it leaves behind it ripples, but all weight and force is in the stone alone and the ripples only serve to testify to this fact.

*The siratul mustaqim is a path from Allah to Allah.  In other words, it is not, strictly speaking, a straight path at all, but is referred to as one by analogy for the reason that it is not a crooked path.  The closest approximation to a path which is not crooked is a straight path.

*There is both a personal and impersonal bhakti.  The personal bhakti is devotion and longing directed at a particular being, or, rather, at the Ultimate Reality envisioned as a particular being.  Impersonal bhakti is not to embrace the love of any particular being, but  to embrace Love itself, to sink into the ocean of Love.  The former loves his beloved, the latter’s beloved is Love.

*Islam: religion of the Book.  Judaism: religion of bookishness.

*Once, the transcendent unity of the Supreme Godhead was a closely guarded secret of a hieratic elite, and the myths and forms and symbols of this doctrine, concealing it and revealing it, were taught among the masses.  Now, the doctrine of “one God” (“monotheism”) is dispensed to the masses, and the multiplicity of forms and symbols a secret of the elect.

*Fundamentalists seek “the purity of the faith” historically and textually, but purity is a metaphysical quality not a historical one.

*The man of tasawwuf is a drunkard.  Virtue and vice both seem silly to the man who is drunk.

* There is absolutely no merit in the pursuit and attainment of metaphysical knowledge—but if I had wanted merit I would have pursued merit; I wanted knowledge therefore I pursued knowledge.  For the Taoists, virtue and goodness constitute as much of a “fall from grace” as sin and corruption.

*Even adharma is in a sense dharmic.  For when we act perversely we act according to our own particular capacity for perversion, that is, we express certain malefic possibilities contained in our own nature.  Expressed theologically, we express our particular possibilities for experiencing God’s wrath.

*There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamed of in your aqidah, al-Ghazali.

Androgyny

Those with a vague, almost genderless appearance are not androgynous.  They are neither male nor female in appearance.  Androgyny is the positive possession of both male and female characteristics so that one appears both characteristically masculine and characteristically feminine in a kind of unity of opposites; a plenitude of opposites, since both are present in their fullness.  Androgyny is not a middle ground between genders but a higher synthesis.  That which is generally mistaken for androgyny is really subgenderly.  Furthermore, it is doubtful that a female could ever possess this quality.  It seems to be found exclusively in a small minority of males.  To the extent that a woman becomes more masculine, she also becomes less feminine. An “androgynous” female is really just an ugly female.  To put it in sci-fi terms: only a male child can be the Kwisatz Haderach.

Thoughts on the Plotinian Great chain of being

The moment we lose touch with our immediate ontological superiors, when we cease to reverence and worship them, we are then cut off from the great chain of being.  This great chain is existence and life itself.  What life can we have apart from it?

One generally does not worship God, one worships one’s idea of Him.  When ordinary, pious people worship God, they worship, in their mind, some kind of divine guardian watching over their lives, i.e. they really worship their own daemon and tutelary spirit.  This is right.  By instinct alone the ordinary, pious people merge into the great chain of being.  Can one with a higher, intellectual conception of the Deity really presume to worship Him directly, to worship Him alone?  I neglect that which He has placed directly above me, and so I am cut off from the great chain.  There is no contradiction whatsoever between worshiping God, the ultimate existent, and worshiping the divine intermediaries he has placed over us.  The great Jewish lie has consisted precisely in convincing of us of an opposition where none existed.  On the contrary, we have nothing from God apart from what descends to us from Him, and that which descends, descends along this great chain―this is Providence.  Who could object to this but a “spiritual atomist”, one who sees distance and discontinuity where there is only pure continuity, obstacles where there are only signposts?