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Thread: Frithjof Schuon: Gnosis Is Not Just Anything

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    Frithjof Schuon: Gnosis Is Not Just Anything

    Gnosis Is Not Just Anything
    Frithjof Schuon
    (In To Have a Center, World Wisdom Books, 1990, page 67)

    It is a fact that too many authors — we would almost say: general opinion — attribute to gnosis what is proper to Gnosticism and to other counterfeits of the sophia perennis, and moreover make no distinction between the latter and the most freakish movements, such as spiritualism, theosophism and the pseudo-esoterisms that saw the light of day in the twentieth century. It is particularly regrettable that these confusions are taken seriously by most theologians, who obviously have an interest in entertaining the worst opinion possible concerning gnosis; now the fact that an imposture necessarily imitates a good, since otherwise it could not even exist, does not authorize charging this good with all the sins of the imitation.

    In reality, gnosis is essentially the path of the intellect and hence of intellection; the driving force of this path is above all intelligence, and not will and sentiment as is the case in the Semitic monotheistic mysticisms, including average Sufism. Gnosis is characterized by its recourse to pure metaphysics: the distinction between Atma and Maya and the consciousness of the potential identity between the human subject, jivatma, and the Divine Subject, Paramatma. The path comprises on the one hand "comprehension," and on the other "concentration"; hence doctrine and method. The modalities of the latter are quite diverse: in particular, there is on the one hand the mantra, the evocative and transforming formula, and on the other hand, the yantra, the visual symbol. The path is the passage from potentiality to virtuality, and from virtuality to actuality, its summit being the state of the one "delivered in this life," the jivan-mukta.

    As for Gnosticism, whether it arises in a Christian, Moslem or other climate, it is a fabric of more or less disordered speculations, often of Manichean origin; and it is a mythomania characterizd by a dangerous mixture of exoteric and esoteric concepts. Doubtless it contains symbolisms that are not without interest — the contrary would be astonishing — but it is said that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions"; it could just as well be said that it is paved with symbolisms.

    It may be remarked, perhaps, that in gnosis as well as in Gnosticism, "illumination" plays a preponderant role; but this is to confuse "illumination" with intellection, or the latter with the former; whereas in reality intellection is active, and illumination, passive, whatever the level of experiences involved. This is not to say that the phenomenon of illumination does not arise in the climate of gnosis; it does so necessarily, but not by way of method or as a point of reference. An analogous remark could be made regarding hermeneutics, that is, the interpretation of sacred scriptures; no doubt commentary on the scriptures is practiced in the climate of gnosis — for example, it goes without saying that the Upanishads have been explicated — but this is quite different from the far-removed and unverifiable interpretation of scriptural formulas whose literal meanings do not at all indicate what the mystical exegetes try to draw from them — with the aid of "illumination," precisely.(1)

    It is true that the word "illumination" can have a superior meaning, in which case it no longer designates a passive phenomenon; unitive and liberating illumination is beyond the distinction between passivity and activity. Or more exactly, illumination is the Divine Activity in us, but for that very reason it also possesses an aspect of supreme Passivity in the sense that it coincides with the "extinction" of the passional and dark elements separating man from his immanent Divine Essence; this extinction constitutes receptivity to the Influx of Heaven — without losing sight of the fact that the Divine Order comprises a "Passive Perfection" as well as an "Active Perfection," and that the human spirit must in the final analysis participate in both mysteries.

    In gnosis, there is first of all the intellective knowledge of the Absolute — not merely of the "personal God" — and then self-knowledge; for one cannot know the Divine Order without knowing oneself. "Know thyself," says the inscription over the portal of the initiatory temple at Delphi; and "the Kingdom of God is within you."

    Just as the ether is present in each of the sensible elements, such as fire and water, and just as intelligence is present in each of the mental faculties, such as imagination and memory, so gnosis is necessarily present in each of the great religions, whether we grasp its traces or not.
    We have said that the driving force of the path of gnosis is intelligence; now it is far from being the case that this principle is applicable in a spiritual society — unless it is not very numerous — for in general, intelligence is largely inoperative once it is called upon to hold a collectivity in balance; in all justice, one cannot deny in sentimental and humilitarian moralism a certain realism and hence a corresponding efficacy. It follows from all this, not that gnosis has to repudiate socially its principle of the primacy of intelligence, but that it must put each thing in its place and take men as they are; that is precisely why the perspective of gnosis will be the first to insist, not upon a simplifying moralism, but upon intrinsic virtue, which — like beauty — is "the splendor of the true." Intelligence must be not only objective and conceptual, but also subjective and existential; the unicity of the object demands the totality of the subject.

    *


    * *

    When one has experienced the usual pious sophistries of voluntaristic and moralistic doctrines, it becomes quite clear that gnosis is not a luxury, and that it alone can extricate us from the impasses of the alternativism that is part and parcel of the confessional spirit. There is, for instance, the stupefying thesis of the Asharites, according to which there are no natural causes: fire burns, not because it is in its nature to burn, but because, each time something burns, it is God who intervenes directly and who "creates" the burning.(2) Ibn Rushd pertinently objects — against Ghazali, who made this holy absurdity his own — that "if something did not have its specific nature, it would have no name proper to it . . . Intelligence is nothing else than the perception of causes . . . and whoever denies causes must also deny the intellect."

    What the Asharites have not understood — and this is characteristic of the alternativism of exoteric thought — is that natural causes, such as the function of fire to burn, in no way exclude immanent supernatural causality,(3) any more than the limited subjectivity of the creature excludes the immanence of the absolute Subject. Immanent divine causality is "vertical" and supernatural, whereas cosmic causality is "horizontal" and natural, or in other words: the first is comparable to centrifugal radii, and the second to concentric circles. It is this combination of two relationships or of two perspectives that characterizes integrally metaphysical thought, hence gnosis.(4)

    There is intelligence and there is intelligence; there is knowledge and there is knowledge; there is on the one hand a fallible mind that registers and elaborates, and on the other hand a heart-intellect that perceives and projects its infallible vision onto thought. Here lies the entire difference between a logical certitude that can replace another logical certitude, and a quasi-ontological certitude that nothing can replace because it is what we are, or because we are what it is.




    1. We do not contest that a word or an image in a sacred text may have a meaning that cannot be divined at a first reading; but in such cases this meaning cannot be contrary to the literal meaning nor incompatible with the context.
    2. Equally antimetaphysical is the Christian opinion that the hypostases are neither substances nor modes, that they are merely "relations" and yet that they are persons. It is appropriate to distinguish between the Trinity and Trinitarian theology, and no less so between Unity and unitarian theology.
    3. According to the Koran, God ordered the fire that was to burn Abraham: "Be coolness ..!" which would be meaningless if the nature of fire were not to burn, and which therefore refutes a priori and divinely the Asharite opinion.
    4. Let it be noted that, just as there is a "relatively absolute" — the logical absurdity of this formulation does not preclude its ontologically plausible meaning — so too is there a "naturally supernatural," and this is precisely the permanent divine intervention, in virtue of immanence, in cosmic causality.

    http://www.frithjof-schuon.com/Gnosi...stAnything.htm



    adaequatio rei et intellectus

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    Re: Schuon on Gnosis

    Jung

    “Modern man does not understand how much his ‘rationalism’ (which has destroyed his capacity to respond to numinous symbols and ideas) has put him at the mercy of the psychic ‘underworld’. He has freed himself from ‘superstition’ (or so he believes), but in the process he has lost his spiritual values to a positively dangerous degree. His moral and spiritual tradition has disintegrated, and he is now paying the price for this break-up in worldwide disorientation and dissociation.”
    "...The moral man is a lower species than the immoral, a weaker species; indeed - he is a type in regard to morality, but not a type in himself; a copy...the measure of his value lies outside him. ... I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage; I do not account the evil and painful character of existence a reproach to it, but hope rather that it will one day be more evil and painful than hitherto..." (Nietzsche)

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    Re: Schuon on Gnosis

    Schuon on the Psychological Imposture

    What we term "psychological imposture" is the tendency to reduce everything to psychological factors and to call in question not only what is intellectual or spiritual -- the first being related to truth and the second to life in and by truth -- but also the human spirit as such, and therewith its capacity of adequation and, still more evidently, its inward illimitation and transcendence. The same belittling and truly subversive tendency rages in all the domains that 'scientism' claims to embrace, but its most acute expression is beyond all doubt to be found in psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is at once an endpoint and a cause, as is always the case with profane ideologies, like materialism and evolutionism, of which it is really a logical and fatal ramification and a natural ally. (Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism, p. 195 Chapter: The psychological Imposture).

    In a quite general way, that which calls for suspicion and for implacable vigilance is the reducing of the spiritual to the psychic, a practice which by now has become a commonplace to the point of characterizing Western interpretations of the traditional doctrines. This so-called 'psychology of spirituality' or this 'psychoanalysis of the sacred' is the breach through which the mortal poison of modern relativism infiltrates into the still living Oriental traditions. According to Jung the figurative emergence of certain contents of the 'collective unconscious' is accompanied empirically, as its psychic complement, by a noumenal sensation of eternity and infinitude. This is the way to ruin insidiously all transcendence and all intellection, for, according to this theory, it is the collective unconscious, or subconscious, which is at the origin of 'individuated' consciousness, human intelligence having two components, namely the reflection of the subconscious on the one hand and the experience of the external world on the other ; but since experience is not in itself intelligence, on this showing intelligence will have the subconscious for its substance, so that one has to try and define the subconscious on the basis of its own ramification. This is the classical contradiction of all subjectivist and relativist philosophy. [The Essentials Writings of Frithjof Schuon, p. 219]

    If everything that can rightfully be described as human rests on merely psychological causes, one can, and indeed must, explain everything through psychology -- whence the "psychology of religion" and the professedly psychological criticism of sacred texts ; in all cases of this kind, one is dealing with speculations in the void due to the absence of the indispensable objective data -- data which are beyond the reach of those methods of investigation now declared to be normal, and which are arbitrarily extended to cover every conceivable kind of knowledge. (Logic and Transcendence, p. 10).

    Psychoanalysis

    Psychoanalysis first of all eliminates those transcendent factors that make the essence of man and then replaces the complexes of inferiority or frustration by complexes of complacency and egotism ; it allows one to sin calmly and with assurance, and to damn oneself with serenity.... In fact, the mental attitude created and disseminated by psychoanalysis consists in refusing to engage in a logical or intellectual dialogue alone worthy of human beings, and in answering questions obliquely by means of insolent conjectures... (Logic and Transcendence, p. 11).
    adaequatio rei et intellectus

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    Re: Schuon on Gnosis

    Quote Originally Posted by Frithjof Schuon
    It is true that the word "illumination" can have a superior meaning, in which case it no longer designates a passive phenomenon; unitive and liberating illumination is beyond the distinction between passivity and activity. Or more exactly, illumination is the Divine Activity in us, but for that very reason it also possesses an aspect of supreme Passivity in the sense that it coincides with the "extinction" of the passional and dark elements separating man from his immanent Divine Essence; this extinction constitutes receptivity to the Influx of Heaven — without losing sight of the fact that the Divine Order comprises a "Passive Perfection" as well as an "Active Perfection," and that the human spirit must in the final analysis participate in both mysteries.

    In gnosis, there is first of all the intellective knowledge of the Absolute — not merely of the "personal God" — and then self-knowledge; for one cannot know the Divine Order without knowing oneself. "Know thyself," says the inscription over the portal of the initiatory temple at Delphi; and "the Kingdom of God is within you."
    One simplified scheme might aid understanding of the sacred which designates three “souls”, as follows:

    1. The divine, eternal, or highest intelligible soul – this is the immortal aspect purely attainable only when the primordial state is reintegrated. It is the ultimate unalterable reality.

    2. The rational soul – this is the active generative spirit. It is the higher intellect in the astral and possesses therefore the capabilities of either assimilating with the divine soul or lowering itself to

    3. The irrational, passional soul – this is the passions, the passive lunar spirit, or simply the “body.” This bodily component is the lower astral image or projection and is the mortal component that doesn’t survive death, or which is dissolved.

    Thus we have three fates that can be made out by a special understanding.
    adaequatio rei et intellectus

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