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A Resource On Frithjof Schuon's Life & Teachings
From a letter from Frithjof Schuon dated 5 October 1977

Difficulties resulting from contacts between whites and Indians are easy to understand. In the first place the white man does not have a sense of the sacred to the extent he is a modern man, and almost all whites are modern men; if he asks an Indian questions he usually does so out of curiosity, without realizing that the Indian has no motive for responding to an interrogation he considers indiscreet and pointless.

To say that modern man does not have a sense of the sacred amounts to recognizing that he is full of false ideas; intellectually and morally he is unaware of the axioms of the traditional spirit—in other words of spirituality as such; he does not know about metaphysics, cosmology, mysticism. Metaphysically modern man is unaware that everything is a manifestation of the Self, which is at once transcendent and immanent; he knows nothing of the doctrine of Ātmā and Māyā even if he has read some Hindu books, for in this case he thinks it is merely a question of concepts having a historical, psychological, or phenomenological interest—in short, things that can be put aside. Cosmologically he does not realize that the world is made of a hierarchical series of regions—beginning with the Self and extending to matter—and that the evolutionist error is simply a “horizontal” substitute for “vertical” emanation, which begins unfolding with the archetypes and passes through the animic or subtle world. This being the case, modern man also knows nothing of the sacred and its laws or of the psychology that is derived from it and bears witness to it.

Question: how can one study the metaphysics, cosmology, and spirituality of a people without having any idea what it means? This is the whole problem. And this is why people go around in circles indefinitely while developing by way of compensation finely drawn or charitable considerations that are beside the point. I repeat: the white man does not offer the Indian a sufficient, satisfying, or acceptable motivation for answering the questions he asks, nor in the eyes of the Indian does he exhibit a state of spiritual readiness meriting the answers he seeks. From the point of view of any traditional discipline, one does not have the right to speak of sacred things without a sufficient reason or outside the relationship between a master and his disciple; besides, there are things that lose their “power” if discussed without a plausible motive.

But there is more: beyond the fact that the Indian has no motive for answering questions whose justification he does not perceive, he cannot see the value of the white man’s need for logical explanations; and if in spite of this the Indian answers, he is unable to do so by means of the abstract categories of classic, European dialectic. He therefore responds in a symbolic language that the white man in turn cannot comprehend, for the modern mind does not understand symbolism, its principles, and its methods. If the Indian has gone to a university, there is a very good chance he will have accepted uncritically the errors and mental habits of white people and that the abstract and differentiated language he avails himself of will therefore be of no use to him when explaining the Indian mysteries. In a similar way there are Orientals who think with two separate brains, a traditional one and a modern one, so that their thinking is either impeccable or absurd depending on the brain they are using.

One might object that academics who study the Indians are no longer so ignorant because of the work of Eliade and others; I reply that they remain ignorant and incompetent enough to meet the description I gave above, if only because they draw no serious conclusions from whatever real knowledge they may possess.

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