The Transcendent Unity of Religions and the Orthodoxy of the Revelations

By Charles Upton

According to my understanding of Traditionalist doctrine, the Revelations must be understood in their own terms because each is “quasi-absolute”; Traditionalism in and of itself is not at meta-doctrine standing above and outside the Revelations by which they can be criticized and evaluated, since such a doctrine could only be based on a new Revelation, and Traditionalism does not claim to be such a Revelation. Certainly the Traditionalist approach will be profoundly esoteric, informed by the doctrines of the most esoteric exemplars of a given Revelation, confirmed and deepened by direct Intellection—but this sort of esoteric understanding cannot deny any orthodox dogma, whether esoteric or exoteric, though it may provide an exegesis of such a dogma that will not satisfy those whose mentality is basically exoteric and literalistic, and will consequently often be considered heterodox by such people. This is due to the fact that both the exoterism and the esoterism of a particular revelation—given that the revelation in question is polarized in this manner, which not every one is—are equally integral aspects of the Revelation in question.

Consequently the out-and-out denial of an orthodox dogma in the name of esoterism indicates not only a departure from religious piety but a failure of Intellection itself. Esoterism is not heterodoxy, but too often heterodoxy uses esoterism as an excuse for its unorthodox speculations, thus producing a pseudo-esoterism which in the last analysis is nothing but an alternative, and therefore heterodox, “exoterism”.  A so-called esoterism is valid only when it deepens our understanding of the orthodox dogmas while leaving their “outer” sense entirely intact and authoritative. Esoterism is not doctrinal “wiggle-room” but an ever-deepening insight into the orthodox doctrinal formulations which, whatever religious literalists may believe, does not deny orthodoxy but rather confirms and defends it. It does so by showing how orthodox dogma is not simply extrinsically commanded, but also intrinsically necessary: “I come not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.” As for the doctrine of the Transcendent Unity of Religions, the only point at which it denies the exoteric sense of the Revelations—or appears to—is where a given Revelation claims absolute exclusivity, and consequently denies the God-given nature and the spiritual efficacy of other Revelations. It does so by providing an esoteric exegesis of the scriptures and/or the traditions that are drawn upon to assert this kind of absolute exclusivity. Thus the Christian dogma “none come to the Father but through Me”, drawn from the words of Christ in scripture, may be esoterically understood as referring to the Logos which is the operative Source of every Revelation, though necessarily in differing modes, and exoterically as the truth that, for baptized Christians, Jesus Christ alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

My authority for this position is drawn from the following pronouncements by Frithjof Schuon:

….orthodoxy is the principle of formal homogeneity proper to any authentically spiritual perspective; it is therefore an indispensable aspect of all genuine intellectuality….To be orthodox means to participate by way of a doctrine that can properly be called “traditional,” in the immutability of the principles which govern the Universe and fashion our intelligence [from “Orthodoxy and Intellectuality” appearing in Stations of Wisdom: World Wisdom Books, 1995; p. 1].

….religious oppositions cannot but be, not only because forms exclude one another….but because, in the case of religions, each form vehicles an element of absoluteness that constitutes the justification for its existence; now the absolute does not tolerate otherness nor, with all the more reason, plurality….To say form is to say exclusion of possibilities, whence the necessity for those excluded to become realized in other forms….  [Frithjof Schuon, from Christianity/Islam: Essays in Esoteric Ecumenism:World Wisdom Books, 1985; p. 151]

If every man possessed intellect, not merely in a fragmentary or virtual state, but as a fully developed faculty, there would be no Revelations, since total intellection would be a natural thing; but as it has not been like this since the end of the Golden Age. Revelation is not only necessary but even normative in respect to individual intellection, or rather in respect to its formal expression. No intellectuality is possible outside the language of Revelation, a scriptural or oral tradition, although intellection can occur, as an isolated miracle, wherever the intellective faculty exists; but an intellection outside tradition will have neither authority nor efficacy [from “The Nature and Arguments of Faith”, ibid., p. 48].

Agreements? Disagreements? Comments?

                      Appendix: An Open Letter to Patrick Laude

Dear Prof. Laude:

In your article “The Metaphysics of the Feminine and its Indian Roots” in Crossing Religious Frontiers (where an article of mine also appeared) you present a metaphysics of the feminine based on the writings of both Bede Griffiths and Frithjof Schuon, emphasizing the consonance of their ideas. However, as you undoubtedly know, they were as opposed as they could possibly be in their basic outlook on the nature of religion and revelation. Rama Coomaraswamy in his article “The Desacralization of Hinduism for Western Consumption” points to Sri Aurobindo as the primary source of Bede Griffiths’ ideas. He summarizes Aurobindo’s evolutionary doctrines as follows:

“Man has come to the present stage of evolution through a process of evolutionary growth which is as yet incomplete. Man has to grow in consciousness until he reaches complete and perfect consciousness, not only in his individual, but in his collective and social life. There is at the heart of things a conscious force that is evolving to ever higher forms of being, and indeed, there is also evolution of the Divine. In fact, growth of consciousness is the supreme secret of life and the master key to earthly evolution.”

In the same piece Rama has this to say about Bede Griffiths:

“Father Bede Griffiths, the Benedictine Monk…lived near Auroville in South India. He lived like a Hindu sadhu, supposedly achieving a blend of Eastern and Catholic mysticism. His guru and source of inspiration was….Aurobindo. In his book, A New Vision of Reality, he informs us that the world “is on the verge of a new age and a new culture.” The advertisement tells us he is a “spokesman of the New Age, speaking for it from his Christian-Hindu Ashram … He concludes [with] his radical vision of a new society and a universal religion [sic!] in which the essential values of Christianity will be preserved in living relationship with the other religious traditions of the world.”  Here….we have the export of evolutionary and Marxist thought to India, its adoption by a supposed Swami, and its reintroduction to the West…. by Father Griffiths within the Catholic Church.”

Frithjof Schuon, however, in his paper “No Activity without Truth” which was published in The Sword of Gnosis, asserted that

“No new religion can see the light of day in our time….the ideas of “evolution” and “progress” and of a single “civilization” are in effect the most pernicious pseudodogmas the world has ever produced….”

Any uninformed reader of your article, however, will necessarily come away with the idea that Schuon’s and Griffiths’ worldviews are fundamentally similar. Was it your intent to conceal Schuon’s basic disagreement with Griffiths, or was that merely an oversight? Do you still accept Schuon’s rejection of evolution, a single world civilization, and the possibility of a new religious revelation in our time, or have your views on these matters changed? And do you still hold to the principle (presuming you once did) that no one can validly practice two different revealed religions at the same time, as Bede Griffiths apparently did, because (in Schuon’s words) “forms exclude one another”?

There is no question in my mind but that radical changes have taken place in the doctrines of the Traditionalist School in recent years, or at least in the worldviews of a number of writers associated with that School. Everyone has the human right to change his or her ideas; there is no “magisterium” in the Traditionalist School. All that I ask is that we honestly point out the great lack of unanimity in what passes for the Traditionalist School these days, and do our best to clearly articulate the differences, so that our readers can just as clearly choose the path they wish to take. 

Sincerely,

Charles Upton

                                             Patrick Laude Replies:

Although Prof. Laude asked me not to pose his email, I feel comfortable about simply saying that he remains flatly opposed both to the idea of a single universal religion and to the spiritual evolutionism of Bede Griffiths.

3 Responses to “The Transcendent Unity of Religions and the Orthodoxy of the Revelations”

  1. A few thoughts crossed my mind. It is very possible that I am misunderstanding some matters, and indeed God knows best. In writing this it dawned on me that I might flesh this out at a latter date.. I have many questions on this matter.

    In reading Frithjof Schuon, Shaykh ‘Isa’s, quote the example of Honey, strangely, popped into my mind.

    With respect to him, I believe that man, even with a fully developed faculty of intellect, such as what would be the case in Prophetic individuals or, one imagines, the general state of “golden age humanity” would still always have need for revelation.

    On reading the quote over a couple of times, I came to realize that my objections are dealt with by him. Because there is the individual case, and the universal, and a subtle point I missed was his point regarding authority and efficacy of intellection outside of tradition.

    My initial objection lay in man’s being finite, even at the utmost perfection of man as man, in the earthly state. Human language, even when over-driven by revelation’s demands, remains human language as a carrier.

    If Revelation represents an influx of knowledge – information both in a metaphysical sense but also a physical sense itself, in that the structure of the world, it’s physics, is altered by a revelation and it’s unfolding in a tradition – and this influx is not just from a qualitatively higher level of being, but from the very source of being itself, then revelation must carry a superlative plenitude that would not be reachable by the greatest extent of man’s intellect.

    Though intellectual intuition would knock on the doors of revelation’s source, and crack them somewhat, or rather they would be opened to a degree.

    Like honey is an amalgam, more substance, more solute dissolved in a solution than the carrier is normally capable of bearing. Thus honey, a symbol of knowledge itself in many traditions, and like Gold in the mineral world, with a solar lustre and a certain relative imperishablity, as a super solution is an imperfect similitude.

    Revelation is an addition of knowledge to a world. A world is, on it’s own level, a closed system though it is open to intervention from above, as well as below it’s level.

    The perfection of the intellect’s awareness and faculties on the level of the world, in allowing comprehensive intellection.

    That intellection essentially being the cognition of the spirit itself, is still illuminated by the increase granted by revelation. In a sense intellection, intuition, and other modes taste of revelation but revelation itself remains sui generis.

    There is something else weighing on my mind, I may be misunderstanding Schuon further on points.

    It was suggested by my buddy Najib Budukhan, that human language itself is a revelation in the most comprehensive sense, that intrinsic to the paradisaical language that our father Adam bequeathed to us – that which all languages today are genetic derivations, and to some extent fallings away from.

    That in language on the very level of its structure itself is an operative logic and matrix of meaning that not only allows truth and knowledge of reality to be conveyed, the results of intellection to be articulated, and revelation itself to be embodied and expressed, but in itself carries, on the most fundamental levels, meaning even on the level of articulated individual phonemes, and grammar.

    So language itself, is in a sense the initial revelation to Adam, for of his miracles was correctly naming the myriad things – his intellection of the true names of all things around him, and then articulating them in speech, perhaps was the first act of human intellection, and the first articulation of revelation.

    Perhaps for the one whose intellect is able to comprehend it in totality, and specific individual revelations being embodied in language, and man’s intellection being articulated and conveyed to others by necessity in language, each of one’s intellections in some way partakes in revelation, that and that the intellect itself is of the spirit, and thus it’s perceptions and knowings being superior to simple ratiocination.

    I could be incorrect, and God knows best, I will consider these matters further

  2. Dear Charles,
    A few comments about Rene Guenon: First of all, I have read, with a great deal of interest but also with some skepticism,the writings of the Traditionalist school over the the past 26 years. Rene Guenon’s sources for his knowledge of the Tradition( and please note that I wrote the Tradition and not tradition- came from three sources: 1.The teachings of Ibn Arabi as mediated by the Shadhli school 2. the Hindu Tradition 3. The occult and magical world Guenon was involved in before he became in involved in “tradition”. When Guenon published his book The King of the World, according to a book titled ” the short life of Rene Guenon” one of Guenon’s friends said that some of his correspondents in India refused to communicate with him any further. The implication that Guenon’s friend made was that Guenon had revealed too much in his book. Given the fact, his book was written in response to a book written by Ossendowskis in which a character known as “Lord of the World” takes center stage, you have to wonder if maybe Ossendowski and Mairitain- who broke with Guenon over this issue- had a point. Is it possible that Guenon himself was used for perhaps that were far more sophisticated that he was willing to admit. His later life in Egypt- and the “paranoia” (Martin Lings’ words) that he showed may be traced to this episode, As far as I am concerned he was not paranoid, but I don’t believe his analysis was as good as acolytes suggest. For my money, you book on the anitchrist is a major improvement on Guenon

  3. Dear Bdou,

    Thank you. Here’s something along the same general lines from ATLANTIS AND HYPERBOREA, which appears in my book WHO IS THE EARTH/ HOW TO SEE GOD IN THE NATURAL WORLD:

    Perhaps René Guénon’s most controversial book is Le Roi de Monde or The King of the World. Though just as rich in metaphysical insight and symbolic hermeneutics as the rest of his books, some have felt that Guénon had allowed himself in
    this work to be dazzled by a romantic exoticism of the Shangri-la variety, under the
    dubious influence of Ferdinand Ossendowski, whose stories of Agarttha, the mysterious and supreme spiritual powerhouse in Central Asia where the hidden King of the World reigns over the destinies of men, had seriously diverted him from his high calling of
    expositor of pure metaphysics. (Marco Pallis took pains to convincingly debunk Ossendowski’s Asian travel tales in an article in Studies in Comparative Religion, Winter/Spring 1983.) It is clear, however, that Guénon was interested more in the cosmological symbolism of the King of the World and his hidden kingdom of Agarttha than he was in its literal reality—though he did not absolutely deny the possibility of a geographical Agarttha and a flesh-and-blood King of the World.

    What are we to make of the myth of le Roi du Monde? And how real might this myth turn out to be in material, historical terms?

    As myth, Guénon identifies the King of the World with the Hindu Manu—first lawgiver and archetypal human being—of the present cycle-of-manifestation, from whose name derives the very word “man.” In one aspect, Manu is the representative in cosmic manifestation of God as the Primordial Ancestor—which is why it is in no way erroneous to identify him with the figure of Adam in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, especially since both Jews and Muslims recognize Adam as the First Prophet, and therefore—at least implicitly—as the Primordial Lawgiver. (In much the same sense, the Zoroastrian Gayomard is both First Man and First Prophet.)

    In terms of the Hierarchy of Being, the meaning of The King of the World is as follows: Every material form simultaneously exists, in different modes, on every plane of being. A material stone, or plant, or animal, or human body is a truncated symbol, or partial reflection, of a form inhabiting the psychic or intermediate plane, which in turn
    symbolizes an entity residing on the angelic plane, which is symbolic of an essence occupying the archangelic or intelligible plane, which itself is an emanation of the Logos,
    the transformal Origin of all form, which is also God’s eternal act of self-understanding in terms of cosmic creation viewed sub specie aeternitatis. If that stone did not simultaneously exist on all planes of being, if it were not in continuous, vital connection
    to the Logos, it could not appear in material reality: the Hierarchy of Being is the living “stem” of every object in universal manifestation.

    And what is true of stones is true of men. If the Human Archetype did not exist on all levels of being simultaneously, if he were not in fact the secret essence of the Logos itself, which the esoteric teachings of many traditions—Sufism within Islam, Kabbalah within Judaism, as well as various forms of Christian esoterism—identify with the
    Primordial Man, then there would be no men on earth. Therefore, no matter how far
    humanity has fallen, our Archetype, our fitra or primordial human nature, remains in its original integrity; this is “The King of the World.” If every fall is, in one sense, a fall into
    illusion, then it must be true—in one sense—that the fall was illusory, that man never fell. (The consequences of this illusory fall are, unfortunately, all too real.) Just as the
    Zoroastrian fravashi or fravarti is the aspect of my soul which never descended into
    material manifestation, so the aspect of Adam that never ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is, precisely, le Roi du Monde. And those archaic religions, including many of the religions of Africa, certain aspects of Siberian Shamanism, and the Chinese/Taoist worship of the Yellow Emperor, which are oriented not to the Savior, the lawgiving Prophet or the redeeming Avatar—who comes later in the cycle in order to redress its corruption—but to the Original Ancestor, are worshipping the King of the World. Among these we may class the Mandaeans of Iraq, who worship not Christ, the Second Adam, but rather the Secret Adam, the First Man.

    But in a much more restricted sense, we have already met, in various forms, the King of the World; he was alive in the 20th century and has survived into the 21st. Who else, after all, was the Gyalwa Karmapa when he donned the Black Crown? Who else is the Dalai Lama? Who else is the master of any Sufi order? Who else is the Shi’ites’ Hidden Imam? There may or may not have been a single incarnate and universally-recognized King of the World in Central Asia, but all these well-known figures are certainly aspects, or instances, or delegates of that Kingship. The Jewish Kabbalists and Muslim Sufis both possess a lore of the Hidden Hierarchy and its Pole—that One whose degree of spiritual realization is pre-eminent in his own time, he whom the Sufis call the qutb, the Pole of the Age. In certain ages the qutb may be generally known, though his true identity as Pole of the Age will be not be realized by everyone. In other ages, he remains hidden. The master of every Sufi order is, in essence, the presence of this very qutb for his followers—if, that is, he is a true master. The Vajrayana Buddhists possess a similar lore. So in a certain sense, the King of the World is no mystery. Many today are outwardly familiar with him, though certainly not everyone who has heard of him recognizes him for who he is. So let us not wrangle too much about Guénon’s own rendition of le Roi de Monde; it is clear that he was on the right track.

    However, the lore of Vajrayana Buddhism does present us with a figure who,
    even more than the Gyalwa Karmapa or the Dalai Lama, seems to fulfill many of the criteria of Guénon’s King of the World. If we replace the mysterious Kingdom of Agarttha (a word which means “ungraspable”, and thus may have originally have been more an epithet
    than a place name) with the much better attested Kingdom of Shambhala, we may find in the lineage of the Kings of Shambhala the possible prototype of Guenon’s (and Ossendow-
    ski’s) King of the World. Shambhala is a realm where myth and history intersect. As a geographical kingdom subject to terrestrial history, Shambhala may have been located north of the Tarim Basin in Central Asia—eastern Turkestan, to be exact—which is north of Tibet; as a “pure land,” it is the “area” of the alam al-mithal associated with the tantric
    tradition known as the Kalachakra, which forms an important part of Vajrayana
    Buddhism, though it is pre-Buddhist in origin and may have affinities with the Hindu Vedanta. The first of the Kings of Shambhala was Suchandra (878-876 BC?); the last will be Raudra Chakri (2327-2427 AD). In The Wheel of Time: The Kalachakra in Context, pp. 56-57, by Geshe Lhundub Sopa, Roger Jackson and John Newman, the King of Shambhala is described as follows:

    The Kalki (the lineage king) of Shambhala binds his hairlocks on top of his
    head; he wears a sacred headdress made out of dyed lion’s hair and a crown marked with the symbols of the five Buddha families. He wears the costume of a universal emperor (chakravartiraja), and fortunate people are able to obtain the good path by simply seeing or touching him. The Kalki’s emblematic earrings and the bracelets on his arms and legs are made of the gold from the Jambu River. The light of his ornaments mixes with the light that rises from the white and red luster of his body. It shines out to the horizon; it is so bright that even the gods cannot bear it.
    The Kalki has excellent ministers, generals and a great many queens; He has a bodyguard, elephants and elephant trainers, horses, chariots and palanquins. His own wealth and the wealth of his subjects, the power of his magic spells, the nagas, demons and goblins that serve him, the wealth offered to him by the centaurs, and the quality of his food are all such that even the lord of the gods cannot compete with him.
    Since the Kalki has a great many queens, he has many sons and daughters. However, when the Kalki-to-be is born (it does not matter whether he is the oldest son or not) there is a rain of white lotus flowers, and for one week prior to his birth the crown prince’s body emits light like a radiant jewel. The queen mother, a daughter of one of the ninety-six satraps of Shambhala, is distinguished by the fact that at the time of her birth a rain of blue lotuses falls and a huge, previously unknown flower grows in front of her home. The Kalki and the queens possess the four aims of life [identical to the Hindu ashramas]; sensual pleasure, wealth, ethics and liberation. They never become sick or old, and although they always enjoy sensual pleasure, their virtue never decreases. The Kalki does not have more than one or two heirs, but he has many daughters who are given as vajra ladies during the initiations held on the full moon of Caitra each year.

    The fact that Shambhala is situated north of India, north of the Himalayas, north
    of Tibet and north of the Tarim River, and the related legend that the Kings of Shambhala counted among their servants the centaurs, emblem of the constellation of Sagittarius,
    whose month borders the Winter Solstice, mark it as a Hyperborean kingdom, the Polar King of which is the Kalki, around whom the entire universe of the Kalachakra revolves, just as the universe of China—or the entire universe seen as centered in China, identified as the “Middle Kingdom”—revolved around the Emperor when he ascended the Altar of Earth within the Temple of Heaven in Beijing on the Winter Solstice, and worshipped the Pole Star. And the Kalki’s “heraldic” colors, red and white, are shared—interestingly enough—by a more familiar Hyperborean figure: Santa Claus. Like the Kalki, Santa is
    also served by elemental spirits, the elves. And the figure of Santa Claus and his reindeer
    has shamanic affinities as well. Some scholars associate the red and white costume of Santa Claus with the scarlet, white-spotted psychedelic mushroom amanita muscaria or fly agaric, which is used by certain Siberian shamans, and which mycologist R. Gordon Wasson considers to be the sacred soma plant mentioned in the Hindu Vedas—an attribution also accepted by Huston Smith. In the words of the Rig-Veda:

    We’ve quaffed the Soma bright
    And are immortal grown:
    We’ve entered into light,
    And all the gods have known.

    Fly agaric is a favorite food of reindeer, which is why the drinking of reindeer urine as an intoxicant is (or was) practiced in Finland, and elsewhere in the far north. I hasten to add that the world-age when the use of such plant agents as aids to Enlighten-
    ment was possible without dire consequences, except in very rare instances, has obviously passed, as we can clearly see if we can view with sufficient objectivity the social and mass psychological effects of the use of “psychedelics” or “entheogens.” The “psychedelic revolution” of the 1960’s opened door of the mass psyche to everything imaginable, including the projection of traditional mystical lore of both the East and the West into the mind of the masses. This door, unfortunately, could never quite be closed again, and little has been coming through it for the past few decades but the influences of the elemental and the demonic—those “infra-psychic forces” that Guénon, in The Reign of Quantity, saw as breaking into our realm through fissures in the “Great Wall” separating the material and subtle domains, and ultimately leading to the dissolution of the present world. This is precisely the effect of psychedelics or “psychic expanders” on the human soul: the attenuation, and sometimes the actual breaching, of the natural barrier designed to separate the human body, and thus the material plane itself, from the animic and psychic planes. What was spiritually possible in, say, the Silver Age or Treta-Yuga, is in no way possible in these last days of the Age of Iron.

    So the Kalki of Shambhala would certainly seem to correspond in many ways to Guénon’s Roi du Monde—though the question of whether or not the lineage of the Kings of Shambhala still remains hidden in Central Asia on the human, historical plane, or whether it has “ascended into occultation” in the alam al-mithal, remains extremely difficult to answer.

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