THE ROUND TABLE - PERENNIAL WISDOM

Where We Stand – Self Annihilation – From the Sacred to the Profane

The world of nature is being destroyed with unprecedented ferocity. No civilisation in the history of the world, with the exception of the modern age, has created a secularised science and the application of a technology capable of destroying nature on an unimaginable scale, disturbing the order of nature and potentially annihilating both the human and natural order. The advent of the environmental crisis is an undisputable fact, the root cause of which is the activity of promethean man and the prevailing ‘scientistic’ worldview. The destruction of the world’s forests, the rising pollution of air and water worldwide, the extinction of species at unprecedented rates, climate change, the immense waste and by product of consumerism, over exploitation of food resources, excessive mineral and resource extraction, agricultural desertification; all bear witness to this tragic state of affairs. The environmental crisis now encompasses the entire globe. The modern world is a veritable anomaly from the universally held view, in all the great traditions and past civilisations, of the sacredness of nature. It has alienated man from nature, depriving nature of any ontological reality above the quantitative domain; completely bereft of meaning, and considers the order of nature as a lifeless mass, a machine to be dominated, manipulated and exploited by a purely horizontal and earthly man for purely economic gain and power. The modern worldview has divorced, in a manner not to be seen in any other civilization, the laws of nature from a unified and intact traditional cosmology, moral laws and human ethics.

The source of the environmental crisis has its roots in the gradual desacralization of knowledge and by extension nature starting in the seventeenth century, the loss of the symbolic and cosmological worldview that had prevailed for millenia, the mechanisation of the cosmos, and the rise of scientism which presents modern science, not as a particular way of knowing nature, but as a complete and totalitarian philosophy which reduces all reality to the physical domain, and refuses to accept an alternative non-scientific or a scientia sacra worldview. The loss of the sapiential, gnostic and metaphysical dimension of tradition, understood in the rightful and universal sense, of that which joins all that is human to the Truth, is the major contributing factor to the environmental crisis.

PERENNIAL WISDOM

In the beginning of the twentieth century, a school of thought arose which has focused on the enunciation and explanation of the Perennial Philosophy. Deeply rooted in the sense of the sacred, the writings of its leading exponents establish an indispensable foundation for shedding light on the modern age and understanding the timeless Truth and spiritual practices which live in the heart of all the great religions.

 

RENÉ GUÉNON was born in Blois, France in 1886 and was to become the forerunner-cum-originator of the perennialist school of thought. Frithjof Schuon said of him that he had “the central function of restoring the great principles of traditional metaphysics to Western awareness,” and he added that Guénon “gave proof of a universality of understanding that for centuries had no parallel in the Western world.” Guenon’s powerful indictment of the modern world is to be found in his works of civilizational criticism, Crisis of the Modern World and The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, wherein he criticizes the prevailing ideologies of materialism, occultism, evolutionism, progressivism, individualism, and relativism. His major expositions of traditional symbolism are contained in The Symbolism of the Cross and Fundamental Symbols: The Universal Language of Sacred Science, while his exposition of pure metaphysics is most notably presented in The Multiple States of the Being and Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta. René Guénon died in Cairo in 1951.

FRITHJOF SCHUON was born in Basle, Switzerland in 1907, and was the twentieth century’s preeminent spokesman for the perennialist school of comparative religious thought. Until his later years Schuon traveled widely, from India and the Middle East to America, experiencing traditional cultures and establishing lifelong friendships with Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, and American Indian spiritual leaders. A philosopher in the tradition of Plato, Shankara, and Eckhart, Schuon was a gifted artist and poet as well as the author of over twenty books on religion, metaphysics, sacred art, and the spiritual path. Of his first book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, T. S. Eliot wrote, “I have met with no more impressive work in the comparative study of Oriental and Occidental religion,” and world-renowned religion scholar Huston Smith has said of Schuon that “the man is a . . . wonder; intellectually apropos religion, equally in depth and breadth, the paragon of our time.” Schuon’s books have been translated into over a dozen languages and are respected by academic and religious authorities alike. More than a scholar and writer, Schuon was a spiritual guide for seekers from a wide variety of religions and backgrounds throughout the world. He died in 1998.

MARTIN LINGS was born in Burnage, Lancashire, in 1909. After a classical education he read English at Oxford where he was a pupil and later a close friend of C. S. Lewis. In 1935 he went to Lithuania where he lectured on Anglo-Saxon and Middle English at the University of Kaunus. After four years he went to Egypt and was given a lectureship in English Literature at Cairo University where he lectured mainly on Shakespeare. He later returned to England and took a degree in Arabic at London University and subsequently joined the staff of the British Museum where he was Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts until his retirement in 1973. He is the author of The Sacred Art of Shakespeare: To Take Upon Us the Mystery of Things (with a Foreword by H.R.H the Prince of Wales), Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions, The Eleventh Hour: The Spiritual Crisis of the Modern World in the Light of Tradition and Prophecy, and Symbol & Archetype: A Study of the Meaning of Existence. Among his works on Islamic mysticism are: The Book of Certainty: The Sufi Doctrine of Faith Vision and GnosisA Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century, What is Sufism?, and Sufi Poems: A Mediaeval Anthology. His acclaimed biography of the Prophet, entitled Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, has been translated into a dozen languages and is internationally recognized as a masterpiece. His most recent publications are Mecca: From Before Genesis Until Now, Splendors of Islamic Calligraphy and Illumination, and A Return to the Spirit: Questions and Answers. Martin Lings died in May 2005.

TITUS BURCKHARDT, a German Swiss, was born in Florence in 1908 and died in Lausanne in 1984. An eminent member of the perennialist school, he is perhaps best known to the general public as an art historian. He won much acclaim for producing and publishing the first successful full-scale facsimiles of the Book of Kells, a copy of which he presented to Pope Pius XII at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. He later acted as a specialist advisor to UNESCO, with particular reference to the preservation of the unique architectural heritage of Fez. Besides his studies in Islamic art, mysticism, and culture, such as Introduction to Sufi Doctrine, Fez: City of Islam, and Moorish Culture in Spain, his best known works are: Sacred Art in East and West, Siena: City of the Virgin, Chartres and the Birth of the Cathedral, and Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul.

SEYYED HOSSEIN NASR was born in Tehran, Iran in 1933. He received his advanced education at M.I.T. and Harvard University in the USA, before he returned to teach at Tehran University from 1958-1979. He founded the Iranian Imperial Academy of Philosophy and served as its first president, and was also president of Aryamehr University for several years. Since 1984 he has been University Professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University and president of the Foundation for Traditional Studies, publisher of the journal Sophia. He is a world-renowned scholar on Islam and the Perennial Philosophy and is the author of over fifty books and five hundred articles on topics ranging from comparative religion to traditional Islamic philosophy, cosmology, art, ecology, politics, and mysticism. Among his most notable works are Ideals and Realities of Islam, Knowledge and the Sacred (the 1981 Gifford Lectures), Traditional Islam in the Modern World, Sufi Essays, and Religion and the Order of Nature (the 1994 Cadbury Lectures). Professor Nasr was the first to predict the advent of the environmental crisis in the early 1960 attributing it to the prevailing ‘scientistic’ worldview, the absolutisation of the human state, and the loss of the metaphysical dimension of tradition.

ANANDA K. COOMARASWAMY was born in 1877, of Anglo-Ceylonese parents. After completing studies in Geology he soon became interested in the arts and crafts of his native Ceylon and India. In 1917 he relocated to the USA where he became Keeper of Indian and Islamic Art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, establishing a large collection of Oriental artifacts and presenting lectures on their symbolic and metaphysical meaning. An encounter with the seminal writings of perennialist author René Guénon served to confirm and strengthen his view of the Perennial Philosophy. From this period onwards Dr. Coomaraswamy began to compose his mature—and undoubtedly most profound—works, adeptly expounding the philosophia perennis by drawing on his unparalleled knowledge of the arts, crafts, mythologies, cultures, folklores, symbolisms, and religions of the Orient and the Occident. In 1947 his plans to retire to India and take on sannyasa (renunciation of the world) were cut short by his sudden and untimely death.

PHILIP SHERRARD was co-founder, with Keith Critchlow, Brian Keeble, and Kathleen Raine, of Temenos, a review dedicated to the traditional exposition of the arts and imagination. He taught at both Oxford and London Universities where he lectured on the History of the Orthodox Church, of which he was a member since 1956. He was co-translator, with G.E.H. Palmer and Bishop Kallistos Ware, of the Philokalia, the influential compendium of mystical writings by the spiritual fathers of the Orthodox Church. Of his many writings, two notable works are dedicated to a critique of modern scientism and its dehumanization of man: The Rape of Man and Nature and Human Image World Image: The Death and Resurrection of Sacred Cosmology. A wide-ranging collection of articles called Christianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition presents a summation of his life’s work, and includes a final chapter on the revival of contemplative Hesychast spirituality in the modern world. Philip Sherrard died in London in 1995.