Wednesday, June 18, 2008
René Guénon (November 15, 1886 – January 7, 1951) was a French author and intellectual who remains an influential figure in the domain of metaphysics, having written on topics ranging from metaphysics, sacred science and traditional studies to symbolism and initiation. He gave his agreement to the creation in France of a Masonic lodge of traditional nature, whose name La Grande triade ("The Great Triad"). He died on January 7, 1951, in Cairo, Egypt, after having said his last words "El nafass khalass!" ("the soul is going away") and "Allah! Allah!"
Some fundamental terms and notions
It may now be stated that metaphysics [...] is essentially the knowledge of the Universal, or, if preferred, the knowledge of the principles belonging to the universal order, which moreover alone can validly lay claim to the name of principles; but in making this statement, we are not really trying to propose a definition of metaphysics, for such a thing is a sheer impossibility by reason of that very universality which we look upon as the foremost of its characteristics, the one from which all the over are derived. In reality, only something that is limited is capable of definition, wheras by definition metaphysics is on the contrary by its very nature absolutely unlimited, and this plainly does not allow our enclosing it in a more or less narrow formula [...]
Identity of the knowing and being
Metaphysics affirms the fundamental identity of knowing and being [...] and since this identity is essentially implied of the very nature of intellectual intuition, it not merely affirms it but realizes it as well.
Initiation and mysticism
Today the esoteric or initiatic domain and the mystical domain, - or, if one prefers, their respective points of view - are often confused [...]. it is currently the fashion so to speak among those with limited horizons to construe all Eastern doctrines as 'mystical', including those that lack even a semblance of the outward aspects that could justify such an attribution [...]. [...] in everything pertaining to initiation there is really nothing vague or nebulous, for on the contrary it is as precise and 'positive' as can be, so that initiation by its very nature is in fact incompatible with mysticism.
The 'Self' is the transcendant and permanent principle of which the manifested being, the human being, for example, is only a transient and contingent modification, a modification which, moreover, can in no way affect the principle [...] The 'Self', as such, is never individualized and cannot become so, for since it must always be considered under the aspect of the eternity and immutability which are the necessary attributes of pure Being, it is obviously not susceptible of any particularization, which would cause it to be 'other that itself'. Immutable in its own nature, it develops the indefinite possibilities which it contains within itself, by a relative passing from potency to act through an indefinite series of degrees. Its essential permanence is not thereby affected, precisely because this process is only relative, and because this development is, strictly speaking, not a development at all, except from the point of view of manifestation, outside of which there is no question of succession, but only of perfect simultaneity, so that even what is virtual under one aspect, is found nevertheless to be realized in the 'eternal present'.
Paramâtmâ, individuality, personality
[...] Previously, on the contrary [i.e. prior to the theosphists], even in the West, whenever any distinction has been made between these two terms ['individuality' or 'ego' and 'personality'] the personality has always been regarded as superior to individuality [...] The 'Self' [...] considered in relation to a being, is properly speaking the personnality; it is true that one might restrict the use of this latter word to the 'Self' as principle of the manifested states, just as the 'Divine Personality', Ishwara, is the Principle of universal Manifestation; but one can also extend it analogically to the 'Self' as principle of all states of the being, both manifested and unmanifested. The personality is an immediate determination, primordial and non-particularized, of the principle which in Sanskrit is called Atmâ or Paramâtmâ, and which, in default of a better term, we may call the 'Universal Spirit', on the clear understanding, however, that in this use of the word 'spirit', nothing is implied that might recall Western philosophical conceptions, and, in particular, that is not turned into a correlative of 'matter', as the modern mind is inclined to do, being subject in this respect, even though unconsciously, to the influence of Cartesian dualism.
Universal and individual
The 'Self', in relation to any being whatsoever, is in reality identical with Atmâ, since it is essentially beyond all distinction and all particularization; and that is why, in Sanskrit, the same word âtman, in cases other than the nominative, replaces the reflexive pronoun 'itself'. The 'Self is not therefore really distinct from Atmâ, except when one considers it [...] in relation to a certain definite state of being, such as the human state [...]. In this case, moreover, the 'Self' does not really become distinct from Atmâ in any way, since [...] it [...} cannot be affected by the point of view from which we regard it [...]. What should be noted is that to the extent that we make this distinction, we are departing from the direct consideration of the 'Self' in order to consider its reflection in human individuality [...]. The reflection in question determines what may be called the center of this individuality; but if isolated from its principle, that is, from the 'Self', it can only enjoy a purely illusory existence, for it is from that principle that it derives all its reality, and it effectually possesses this reality only through participation in the nature of the 'Self', that is, insofar as it is identified therewith by universalization.
The personality [...] belongs essentially to the order of principles in the strictest sense of the word, that is, to the universal order [...]. [The] following table [...] sets forth the essential distinctions in this connection [...]:
Samâdhi and ecstasy
[...] let us also point out the impropriety of translating samâdhi as "ecstasy", this latter being all the more irksome as it is normally used in Western languages to designate mystical states, that is to say something of an altogether different order, with which it must not be confused; its etymological signification moreover is "to go out of oneself" (which suits very well the case of mystical states), wheras what the term samâdhi designates is quite to the contrary a "return" of the being into its own Self.