What Is Traditionalism? The Sophia Perennis Mission Statement
By Marty Glass
Around the middle of the twentieth century there surfaced in a few obscure journals and determined independent presses a school of writers on religion so lucid, authoritative and persuasive, so deadly serious in their mission, so formidable in their intelligence, thorough in their erudition, unassailable in their integrity and unwavering in their commitment to the sacred, and so threatening and even incomprehensible to organized religion, the academic community, the intellectuals of modernity—and above all to the claims and style of the dominant culture, of the modern experience as a whole—that their work, if known at all, was dismissed by establishment reviewers and publishers as arcane and unmarketable, and awareness of it relegated over the decades to a relatively small group of several thousand people in America and Europe fortunate enough to have discovered it and been transformed forever by the encounter. Sophia Perennis believes that the one great Truth underlying the axial religions and ancient philosophies—Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, North American Indian Religion, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—is the sole basis, in this age as in earlier ages, of inward peace and outward equilibrium, and for this reason we emphasize the work of the main authors in this priceless archive.
First of all, we offer you their work and the work of writers whose lives and thought were inspired by them. But it’s not simply a matter of adding Guenon, Schuon, Coomaraswamy, Pallis, Nasr, Huston Smith and other fine important inspiring writers to our fine libraries. It’s what reading these authors can donate to our lives, how these books can address the challenges we face as spiritual seekers or troubled citizens every day and dwell upon as we lie awake at night.
Reflecting upon the traditionalist archive (the label attached to this list of titles, “Traditionalist,” is one we employ with a certain reluctance for reasons which will be given at a later date) suggests and tends to generate an exhilarating new sensibility, a dazzling new sense of immersion in an infinite love, a feeling of emerging into light and perceiving new alternatives of thought and approach, a modified life style informed by a balanced mixture of engagement and dispassion, and above all a subtly and profoundly transforming identity. A new attitude toward our friends and family, toward people in general—great compassion, ‘the essence of the dharma’ —toward planetary history, even a political orientation.
We view our children’s futures with a kind of hardheaded ironic optimism, despite what we know they confront in the world they inherit. We realize the necessity of entering upon a spiritual Path, or of taking the Path we already follow more seriously, as an acknowledgement of our new understanding—not only of our understanding of the Traditionalist message and its exposure of the causes of our present malaise, but our new understanding of what or who we are and what the world is. And above all, what a religion is, what (a crude formulation imposes itself here) God is: that God is. God: or Heaven, or the Absolute, or Nirvana, or Buddha-Nature, or the Tao, or Illumination, or Salvation, or Enlightenment, or Wisdom. Or Truth. Sophia Perennis. The authors whose work we offer explicate all this with a compelling and convincing authority that is unparallelled, that has been, for many, even thrilling. A comforting light is shed, things fall into place—rather than “apart,” as they did for Yeats—we look up from the page with a faint smile at once thoughtful, serene and amazed.
Let’s start out again with a blunt pungent pithy pregnant epitome: We live in a culture that does not reflect human intention nor address human promise. It reflects the insatiable need of capital to accumulate wedded to the autonomous unfolding of technological innovations. As Jacques Ellul pointed out half a century ago, each constellation of technologies generates the next; the scientists and technicians who choreograph our lives and relations with each other merely discern and implement the new potentials. This is our habitat, described in a single word as McWorld by Benjamin Barber (Jihad vs. McWorld, Ballantine, 2001). Humanity, as here addressed, is a market. It has been understood for decades, by astute social analysts, and even those not so astute at all, that what we are being “sold,” in both senses, is not products but identities: lifestyle images whose adoption we are to pursue through shopping, a pursuit now heavily greased and ferociously inflamed, “facilitated,” by the Internet. Capitalism addresses us, and creates in us, the administered social identity of the consumer: whenever new economic formations and the technologies wedded to them are produced in history they will in turn produce the people who use those technologies and their relationships to each other. Residents in this scenario will tend to identify their use of the technology with their success, prestige, fruition and self-worth. The transformation of identity and social relations in the information age is unprecedented in scale, truly shattering of previous forms: it wrenches us from living a physical life in a particular place and community to a virtual life in cyberspace. DVDs announce: Cyberhome! Sherry Turkle, who identifies herself as an “anthropologist of cyberspace,” has titled her latest book Life on the Screen. We must ask ourselves: Is the Internet replacing something? If so, what is it replacing? These questions will be addressed in future essays on this website, in full consciousness of the paradox. This sociological analysis may seem out of place, even jarring, in a dialogue among spiritual seekers, but a failure to understand the context in which we would pursue spiritual fulfillment is a serious oversight. It weakens us, makes us vulnerable to contamination. Sophia Perennis is conversant in disciplines and areas of study whose relevance to our aspirations is acknowledged and whose insights we ignore at our peril. We are in hostile territory. Sophia Perennis, in other words, offers a desperately needed “companionship to spiritual practice,” a phrase that defines our mission.
In our misinformed adoptions of self-destructive identities, we inhabit what has been shrewdly identified as a media-scape. Baudrillard’s hyper-reality. What one of our authors, in YUGA: Anatomy of Our Fate, calls “the Prison of Unreality.” Self-destructive identities are induced by our enforced residence in the transnational corporations’ McWorld. We are the targets of a truly colossal, literally consciousness-altering mind-fuck, floundering in administered identities, immersed in an electronic pandemonium, the “infotainment telesector” (Barber) of entertainment, infomercials and advertorials, a bombardment of distractions manipulated by button-pushers, masters and mistresses of the poignant cliché, in a Culture of the Ulterior Motive. We are markets. Hostile territory.
And behind all this, making it possible, is the Great Absence: the absence of that transcendence, that true Reality, that One which is the All, that supernal Light once worshipped on this land—we employ here the Native American term—as the Great Spirit. The “central character” of humanity’s supreme gift of Grace, the Religions. Scientism, the secularization of life, materialism, technological rationality, that “loss of the intuition of the Absolute” (Schuon) which is our supreme tragedy (see Huston Smith’s Why Religion Matters for his excellent breakdown, the two walls, floor and ceiling defining the four barriers of the tunnel in which we are imprisoned) have dispensed with “the Unseen” as a pathetic delusion of humanity’s childhood. What once was, and still is among millions, unimaginable in traditional societies was the absence of God; what is unimaginable now is the Presence. Thus we are deprived of Joy, for “There is no joy in the finite.” And ultimately we are deprived of our birthright, of our own Reality, our own Truth, the Truth of what we are and the world is. Our situation is urgent, critical. In simple terms, what is required of all of us is to fight back. It’s a matter of life and death.
Our suspicion that our troubles—our troubled lives, our gnawing malaise, our fervent, often bewildered and nearly always frustrated pursuits, our inexplicable shadow of mournfulness and incompleteness, our subterranean sorrow where there’s no apparent reason for it, the emptiness that stubbornly haunts us despite our effortless access to information—are not personal but are generated by the neglect, even suppression, of human promise in the society where we pursue happiness, generated by the very institutions that shape our lives and work and define our concerns—that suspicion is justified, valid, easily demonstrated, and must be demonstrated by any movement of spiritual defiance. And if that suspicion is yours, you’re visiting the right website. This insight into our plight, into the challenge we face as spiritual seekers, is the heart of the matter, the core of the traditionalist legacy, and the basic identification of the audience we seek.
So: three interlocking moments in this confrontation: identity, habitat, and the Sacred. The Sacred which is Holiness, Divinity, Heaven, God: the one changeless eternal infinite Reality.
“The question of what is genuinely human is, in fact, the crux of the matter.” So writes Graham Ward, Professor of Contextual Theology at the University of Manchester, in his illuminating and remorseless essay, “The Commodification of Religion or the Consummation of Capitalism” (Hedgehog Review, Summer 2003). And coming from a completely different archive, Bill McKibben, examining bio-engineering in his passionate and unflinching book, Enough, asks the same shattering question. We’ve reached that point.
Our genuine identity is imago dei. Humanity is the theomorphic being, deiform, the miracle. The central consciousness of a divine manifestation whose destiny is to realize in direct experience, through spiritual practice, beneath the false identities the true one, the Self. Eternal Joy, infinite Peace, Immortality. We are where the world appears: the one I AM. Our inheri-tance is Heaven, Nirvana, oneness with God. The affirmation of our true identity, and the explication of its modes of attainment in the various spiritual traditions, is a constant theme in the traditionalist archive; realizing that immortal identity we know our suffering has a meaning and function, we know that ultimately and eternally we are beyond the reach of the world’s illusions, deceptions, invasions and blandishment, its incorrigible inflamation of the illusory ego, that we are inviolable and the world a sublime cosmic dream to be both loved with all our hearts and simultaneously be disengaged from through discovery of our true identity, an invitation to know and love and become one with the Immortal Dreamer.
Our true habitat is explained in these very famous words: “I was a hidden treasure and I wanted to be known, so I created the world.” (Hadith Qudsi) Or, “Adoration to the One Who has veiled Himself in His Own Glory.” It is said that it is only for the sake of the saints and the sages, the realized beings, that there is a world at all, because only they know what it is. Walt Whitman, Pearl Bailey and Jerry Garcia agree:
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face
In the glass…
People see God every day, they just don’t recognize Him…
Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest places if you look at it right…
And behind both, within both, containing both, one with both, behind and within the human person, troubled or not, behind and within the world, screwed up or not, is God. By whatever Name designated. In the Sanskrit we discover Atma-Jagat Jiva: the Self, or immortal Atman, the divine Universe (“His signature is the beauty of things”: Robinson Jeffers), and the human person, imago dei. And they are One. They are the divine Oneness we can know in direct experience, as unmistakable, in the Hindu expression, as a fruit in the palm of one’s hand: know as infinite Bliss, eternal Peace, our very Self.
Sophia Perennis expounds and bears witness to this response to the darkness of these times, to McWorld in all its awesome ubiquity and relentless assault, to the spiritual suicide of modernity. That is our purpose, our mission. That is who we are, what you have found whatever may have motivated you to visit this website. If this Introduction, this Invitation, speaks to you, if you feel a faint or resounding thrill in your heart, or a cautious curiosity, as if you might have stumbled across something you have been waiting for without quite knowing it, even longing for, all your adult life, join us!
Or, again in the words of the good grey poet, as old Walt called himself, in his ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’, “What I promised without mentioning it, have you not accepted?” Accepted even before reading these words? Accepted because you are yourself the promise, for all eternity, time out of mind, being human? Hearing all this, are you not, in C.S. Lewis’ words, “surprised by joy”?
Sophia Perennis, eternal wisdom, your divine legacy.
Oh let’s say it again another way! There’s no end to this!
If you believe, for whatever reasons of which you are most assuredly well aware, that Rilke was speaking directly to your secret self when he wrote in the Duino Elegies [or the Sonnets to Orpheus? I can’t remember],
Du must dein leben endern:
You must change your life,
how will you make that change you’ve almost despaired of defining? Where will you seek guidance, insight, inspiration?
Try the Sophia Perennis. It’s been proving itself forever.