Insights into Islamic Esoterism and Taoism

René Guénon

Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2003.
112 pages
ISBN: 0-900588-43-8
Price: $18.95 US
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ISBN: 0-900588-25-X
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This small volume brings together a number of Guénon’s early articles relating to Sufism (tasawwuf), or Islamic esoterism. A later article, ‘Islamic Esoterism’, has also been included, since it articulates so well the particularities of initiation in Islam by defining the fundamental elements of tasawwufshari’ahtariqahhaqiqah. The first constitutes the necessary fundamental exoteric basis; the second, the Way and its means; the third, the goal or final result. In the other chapters, Guénon expresses with his usual synthetic clarity what tawhid and faqr are, and gives examples of traditional sciences, relating angelology to the Arabic alphabet, and chirology to the science of letters (‘ilm al-huruf). A number of book and article reviews give further insights into Islamic cosmology. Some may feel that the essay ‘Taoism and Confucianism’ here included has little relevance to Sufism and Islam. However, such writers as Toshihiko Izutsu and Sachiko Murata have drawn many parallels between the two traditions. Confucianism, concentrating on social and interpersonal norms, functions as a kind of shari’ah in the context of Chinese religion, while Taoism, like Sufism, is precisely the esoteric Way.

Table of Contents

Islamic Esoterism—The Shell and The Kernel:Al Qishr wa al-LobbAt-TawhidAl-FaqrAr-Ruh—Notes on Angelic Number Symbolism in the Arabic Alphabet—The Science of Hand-Reading in Sufism—The Influence of Islamic Civilization in the West—Creation and Manifestation—Taoism and Confucianism—Reviews


René Guénon is without doubt one of the colossal figures of the century, whose fame only increases with the passing of days.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, author of Islamic Art and Spirituality

If during the last century or so there has been even some slight revival of awareness in the Western world of what is meant by metaphysics and metaphysical tradition, the credit for it must go above all to Guénon. At a time when the confusion into which modern Western thought had fallen was such that it threatened to obliterate the few remaining traces of genuine spiritual knowledge from the minds and hearts of his contemporaries, Guénon, virtually single-handed, took it upon himself to reaffirm the values and principles which, he recognized, constitute the only sound basis for the living of a human life with dignity and purpose or for the formation of a civilization worthy of the name.
Philip SherrardChristianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition

About the Author

René Guénon (1886–1951) was one of the great luminaries of the twentieth century, whose critique of the modern world has stood fast against the shifting sands of intellectual fashion. His extensive writings, now finally available in English, are a providential treasure-trove for the modern seeker: while pointing ceaselessly to the perennial wisdom found in past cultures ranging from the Shamanistic to the Indian and Chinese, the Hellenic and Judaic, the Christian and Islamic, and including also Alchemy, Hermeticism, and other esoteric currents, they direct the reader also to the deepest level of religious praxis, emphasizing the need for affiliation with a revealed tradition even while acknowledging the final identity of all spiritual paths as they approach the summit of spiritual realization. His greatest contributions are a blindingly lucid exposition of the principles of orthodoxy and traditional metaphysics, an uncompromising critique of the deviation of modernism, and a breath-taking view of the polyvalence of traditional symbols. Implicit in these three genres, as in all Guénon's writing, is the need for personal affiliation with an orthodox tradition as a precondition for a bona fide spiritual practice that might lead, at least in principle, to the intellectual intuition of which he speaks. Little known in the English-speaking world till the recent appearance of his Collected Works in translation, Guénon has nevertheless long been recognized as a veritable criterion of truth by a vanguard of remarkable writers who evince that rare combination: intellectuality and spirituality. Regarded by leading scholars as the first truly authentic interpreter of many Eastern doctrines in the West, Guénon never tired, in face of the seemingly inexorable process of dissolution in the twentieth century, of pointing to the transcendent unity of all religious faiths and the abiding Truth that contains them all.