Sunday, December 21, 2014

Traditionalism as a Western adaptation of Hinduism that negates claims of Truth?

D.A. has drawn my attention to a review essay prompted by Against the Modern World that raises an interesting question: the review essay's author, Mohamed Ghilan, writes: "Traditionalism is a Western adaptation of Hinduism that negates claims of Truth by any religion through relativizing all of them."

I think Mohamed Ghilan is right in some ways and wrong in others. He is right in the sense that early Traditionalism drew very heavily on Hinduism (as did other religious currents in the West at the time). He is also right in that in general relativizing multiple religions inevitably negates the truth claims of any of them, since if all claims are true in some sense, none can be true literally. And he is right that in the case of Traditionalism, a focus on the esoteric may trivialise the exoteric, not exactly negating the truth claims of a given exoteric religion, but reducing their importance.

Mohamed Ghilan is wrong, though, in the sense that although early Traditionalism drew heavily on Hinduism, Hinduism was not its most important ingredient. I am not now quite sure what the most important ingredient was, but I am beginning to suspect that it was a development of Neoplatonic philosophy. Neoplatonism is of course found in classic Islamic philosophy (and thus also in Sufism) as well as in Western thought. Our understanding of the esoteric, both in Islam and in Western thought, owes much to Neoplatonism.  Mohamed Ghilan may thus actually be joining the ancient dispute about the relationship between philosophy and religion, between the esoteric and the exoteric.

My own feeling is that philosophy and religion, the esoteric and the exoteric, are not necessarily incompatible. One can find a philosophical proposition convincing and still follow a religion, just as one can find a natural-scientific proposition convincing and still follow a religion. But one can also do the opposite, and focus on the esoteric to the full or partial exclusion of the exoteric. It depends on the person and on circumstances.


Anonymous said...

Yes, but Mohamed Ghilan is right also if his argument is referred to Neoplatonism, which as hermeneutics and exegetical methodology is relativistic: because it is rationalist-idealist, it dispenses with historically determined meaning. This epistemic debate cuts across all religion and all philosophical hermeneutics.


Bob said...

You are right to point to Neoplatonism as the source of modern Traditionalism. The heritage of the Greco-Roman world is the real Tradition of the West. Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and the various mystery religions are what Traditionalists are striving for, even when they don't realize it.

Abrahamic monotheism is not religion. It is counter-religion. The tension between Semetic counter-religion and "paganism" is the real problem in Traditionalist circles.

Finding esoteric unity among the multiplicity of outer forms was largely accomplished in Late Antiquity. Christianity and Islam destroyed it.

Gregory said...

Astute analysis, Bob. The irony is that most Traditionalists hold onto the dogma of maintaining an orthodox religious form, primarily the monotheistic forms, as essential to attaining esoteric truth. It is this Guenonian dogma that prevents them from actuating the true philosophia perrenis of antiquity (and of the Hermetic Renaissance) in their own lives as a transformative force. Schuon's life and practice is a sad display of this underlying tension: a weird insistence on orthodox religious form (a form that by orthodox standards became unrecognizable) vs. the actualization of the "esoteric unity" that most religious forms try to squelch, regulate, and appropriate. If the Traditionalists could let go of Guenon's damaging insistence on (mostly monotheistic) religion they would be a much happier lot. The authentic silsila/lineage/initiation is ultimately self-actualized because the One is All and unlimited. It is not confined to a formal transmission which, especially these days, is symbolic at best and more often than not a dubious, historical hollow shell simply feeding the power of the over-riding egregore.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Gregory! Your very clear and penetrating perspectives helped me much in understanding some of the very serious problems I have with a family member in Schuon's group.