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Frithjof Schuon

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A Resource On Frithjof Schuon's Life & Teachings

Extract from a letter from Frithjof Schuon dated 28 January 1956

What distinguishes us above all from Muslim-born or converted individuals—“psychologically”, one could say—is that our mind is a priori centered on universal metaphysics (Advaita Vedānta, Shahādah, Risālat al-Ahadiyah) and the universal path of the divine Name (japa-yoga, nembutsu, dhikr, prayer of the heart); it is because of these two factors that we are in a traditional form, which in fact—though not in principle—is Islam. The universal orthodoxy emanating from these two sources of authority determines our interpretation of the sharī'ah and Islam in general, somewhat as the moon influences the oceans without being located on the terrestrial globe; in the absence of the moon, the motions of the sea would be inconceivable and “illegitimate”, so to speak. What universal metaphysics says has decisive authority for us, as does the “onomatological” science connected to it, a fact that once earned us the reproach of “de-Islamicizing Islam”; it is not so much a matter of the conscious application of principles formulated outside of Islamism by metaphysical traditions from Asia as of inspirations in conformity with these principles; in a situation such as ours, the spiritual authority—or the soul that is its vehicle—becomes like a point of intersection for all the rays of truth, whatever their origin.

One must always take account of the following: in principle the universal authority of the metaphysical and initiatic traditions of Asia, whose point of view reflects the nature of things more or less directly, takes precedence—when such an alternative exists—over the generally more “theological” authority of the monotheistic religions; I say “when such an alternative exists”, for obviously it sometimes happens, in esoterism as in essential symbolism, that there is no such alternative; no one can deny, however, that in Semitic doctrines the formulations and rules are usually determined by considerations of dogmatic, moral, and social opportuneness. But this cannot apply to pure Islam, that is, to the authority of its essential doctrine and fundamental symbolism; the Shahādah cannot but mean that “the world is false and Brahma is true” and that “you are That” (tat tvam asi), or that “I am Brahma” (aham Brahmāsmi); it is a pure expression of both the unreality of the world and the supreme identity; in the same way, the other “pillars of Islam” (arqān al-Dīn), as well as such fundamental rules as dietary and artistic prohibitions, obviously constitute supports of intellection and realization, which universal metaphysics—or the “Unanimous Tradition”—can illuminate but not abolish, as far as we are concerned. When universal wisdom states that the invocation contains and replaces all other rites, this is of decisive authority against those who would make the sharī'ah or sunnah into a kind of exclusive karma-yoga, and it even allows us to draw conclusions by analogy (qiyās, ijtihād) that most Shariites would find illicit; or again, should a given Muslim master require us to introduce every dhikr with an ablution and two raka'āt, the universal—and “antiformalist”—authority of japa-yoga would take precedence over the authority of this master, at least in our case. On the other hand, should a Hindu or Buddhist master give the order to practice japa before an image, it goes without saying that it is the authority of Islamic symbolism that would take precedence for us quite apart from any question of universality, because forms are forms, and some of them are essential and thereby rejoin the universality of the spirit.

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