- René Guénon
region = Western & Eastern philosophies &
20th century philosophy
color = lightsteelblue
image_size = 250px
image_caption = A 1925 studio photo portrait (age age|1886|11|15|1925|7|1).
name = René Jean Marie Joseph Guénon (Abd al-Wahid Yahya)
birth = Birth date|1886|11|15
Blois, Loir-et-Cher, France
death = Death date and age|1951|1|7|1886|11|15
Advaita Vedanta, Sufism, Nondualism, Platonism
Metaphysics, Esotericism, Symbolism, Mythology, Gnosis, Religious texts, Freemasonry, Mathematics, History, Society, Social criticism, Comparative religion
Critique of modernityfrom the perspective of ancient wisdom traditions; refounding of western esotericismbased on the still living eastern ones
Adi Shankara, Ibn Arabi, Ivan Aguéli, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Lao Tse, Plato, Plotinus, Meister Eckhart
Frithjof Schuon, Michel Valsan, Titus Burckhardt, Julius Evola, Marco Pallis, Huston Smith, Ananda Coomaraswamyand many others
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René Guénon (
November 15 1886– January 7 1951) was a French author and intellectual who remains an influential figure in the domain of metaphysics, having written on topics ranging from metaphysics, sacred science [René Guénon's works dealing with various aspects of sacred science are collected in the book which appeared in its first English translation as "Fundamental Symbols: the Universal Language of Sacred Science", Quinta Essentia, 1995, ISBN 0 900588 77 2, then, in another translation, as "Symbols of Sacred Science", translated by Henry D. Fohr, Sophia Perennis, 2001, ISBN 0 900588 78 0. There were two original French editions, both under the title "Symboles fondamentaux de la Science sacrée", Editions Gallimard, Paris. The first contained a foreword followed by notes and comments by Michel Valsan, the second did not contain these additions.] and traditional studies ["Traditional studies" is a translation of the French "Les Etudes Traditionnelles": the title of the journal in which many of René Guénon's articles were published] to symbolismand initiation.
In his writings, he proposes either "to expose directly some aspects of Eastern metaphysical doctrines", [René Guénon, "The Symbolism of the Cross", foreword.] these doctrines being defined by him as of "universal character" [René Guénon, "Man and his Becoming according to Vêdânta", foreword.] or "to adapt these same doctrines [for western readers] [c.f. for instance the "Introduction to the study of the hindu doctrines".] while keeping strictly faithful to their spirit"; [René Guénon, "The Symbolism of the Cross", foreword.] he only endorsed the function of "handing down" those Eastern doctrines, while stating their "non-individual character". [c.f., among others, the foreword of "Man and his Becoming according to Vêdânta" (Sophia Perennis, translation by Richard C. Nicholson), the review by René Guénon of an article by Paul Le Cour which appeared in the Journal "Atlantis", February 1936, and reproduced in René Guénon's "Reviews": "'our doctrines' do not exist, for the very reason that we haven't done anything else than exposing the best we can traditional doctrines, which should not be the ownership of anyone".]
His works, written and first published in French, have been translated into more than twenty languages. He also wrote two articles in
Arabicfor "El Maarifâ" ("knowledge").
René Guénonwas born in Blois, France, on November 15, 1886, into a French Catholic family. His father was an architect. In 1904 he lived in Paris, where he studied mathematicsand philosophy. He was a brilliant student, notably in mathematics, in spite of his poor health.
As a young student in Paris, he observed and entered some occultist Parisian milieux (which were, at that time, under the supervision of
Papus). Under the name "Tau Palingenius" he became the main contributor of a review he founded, "La Gnose" (" Gnosis"), henceforth writing articles for "La Gnose" until 1922. From his incursions into the French occultist and pseudo-masonic orders, he drew a conclusion about the impossibility of gathering these ill-assorted doctrines to shape a "stable edifice". [c.f. P. Paul Chacornac, The Simple Life of René Guénon, chapter II] In his book "The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times" he also pointed out the intellectual vacuity of the French occultist movement, which, he wrote, was utterly insignificant, and most importantly, was terminally infiltrated by some individuals of a different, darker nature. [c.f. "The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times", chapter "The pseudo-initiation".]
At this time, according to indications coming from André Préau reproduced by his editor and biographer P. Chacornac, [c.f. P. Chacornac, op. cit.] it is very likely that René Guénon was initiated into
Hinduism(in an initiatic lineage of Shankarâchârya) and Taoism. He was also initiated in 1911 [c.f. Charles-André Gilis, Introduction à l’enseignement et au mystère de René Guénon (Introduction to the teaching and mystery of René Guénon), chapter VII, Editions Traditionnelles, Paris, ISBN 2-7138-0179-6, and also P. Chacornac op. cit. chapter III : Ex oriente lux.] into Islamic esoterism (Taçawuff) and his name in Islambecame "Sheikh 'Abd al-Wahid Yahya". His initiation into Islamic esoterism was effected by Ivan Aguéli (Abdul Hadi) and performed in accordance with Sheikh Abder Rahman Elish El-Kebir, a quite important representative of Islam in Egypt at that time, in both its "exoteric" and "esoteric" aspects. In particular, from the exoteric point of view, Sheikh Abder Rahman Elish El-Kebir was the head of "mâleki madhab" at Al-Azhar University. René Guénon later dedicated his book "The Symbolism of the Cross" to him.
In 1917, he made a one-year stay at
Setif, Algeria, teaching philosophy to college students. After World War I, he left teaching to dedicate his time to his writings, with his first book "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines" being published in 1921. From 1925 René Guénon became a contributor to the review edited by P. Chacornac "Le Voile d’Isis" ("The Veil of Isis") which became known, after 1935 and under his influence, under the name "Les Etudes Traditionnelles" ("Traditional Studies").
Although the exposition of Hindu doctrines had already been tackled at that time by many
orientalists, René Guénon’s "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines" contemplates its subject in a completely different manner, [c.f. P. Chacornac, "The Simple Life of René Guénon", chapter VI, Calls of the East.] by referring to the concepts of metaphysics and Tradition in their most general sense, which are precisely defined in the first part of the book, along with the necessary distinctions and definitions of words such as religion, tradition, exoterism, esoterismand theology. René Guénon explained that his purpose was not to describe all aspects of Hinduism, but to give the necessary intellectual foundation for a proper understanding of its spirit. [c.f. "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines", part III, chapter VII, Shivaïsm and Vishnuïsm: " […] our goal is not to expose the doctrines themselves, but only to point the proper spirit necessary to study them…"] The book is also a severe condemnation of the works presented by the orientalists about Hinduism and Tradition in general (according to René Guénon, they had presented neither any deep understanding of the subject, nor any of its implications), along with a precise analysis of the political intrusions of the British Empirethrough Madame Blavatsky’s theosophism. [c.f. René Guénon "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines", part IV, chapters III and IV.]
During that same year, 1921, he debuted a series of articles in the French "Revue de Philosophie", which, along with some supplements, led to the book "Theosophism: History of a Pseudo-Religion". During the decade 1920-1930, René Guénon was remarked by numerous intellectual and artistics in the Parisian milieux, and at that time were published some of his books explaining the "intellectual divide" between the East and West, and the peculiar nature, according to him, of the modern civilization: "Crisis of the Modern World", "East and West". In 1927 was published the second major doctrinal book of his works: "Man and His Becoming according to the Vedânta", and in 1929, "Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power", which delivers a general explanation of the fundamental differences between "sacerdotal" and "royal" powers, along with the consequences of the usurpation of the prerogatives of the latter with regard to the former. From these considerations, René Guénon traces to its source the origin of the modern deviation, which, according to him, is to be found in the destruction of the Templar order in 1314.
In 1930, he left Paris for
Cairo, Egypt, with the project of gathering and translating written documents in taçawuff. The project was abruptly abandoned after a decision of his editor. Left alone in Cairo, he declined any propositions of coming back to France from his western friends; despite his declining material condition, he relentlessly kept on writing and corresponding with his counterparts from many countries in the world, sometimes at his own cost. The reasons for his refusal to come back to the West, even at the cost of his comfort and daily life, remain unknown. He met Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim whose daughter he married in 1934. From this marriage, he had four children, the last (Abdel Wahed) being born in 1951. In Egypt, René Guénon carried on an austere and simple life, entirely dedicated to his writings and spiritual life. [ cf. X. Accart, "L'Ermite de Duqqi", Archè, Milano, 2001, chapter: "René Guénon "diaphane" au Caire".] In 1949, he obtained Egyptian nationality.
Urged by some of his collaborators, he gave his agreement to the creation in France of a
Masonic lodgeof traditional nature, whose name "La Grande triade" ("The Great Triad") comes from the title of one of his books. The first founders of the lodge, however, separated a few years after its inception. [ cf. J.-B. Aymard, "La naissance de la loge "La Grande Triade" dans la correspondance de René Guénon à Frithjof Schuon" in "Connaissance des religions", special issue on René Guénon, n° 65-66, pp. 17-35. The integral version of this text can be [http://www.frithjof-schuon.com/GrandeTriade.htm found here] (in French).] This lodge, belonging to the Grande Loge de France, is still active.
He died on January 7, 1951, after having said "
Allah" as his last word.
Introduction to René Guénon’s works
René Guénon's writings contemplate quite an important number of metaphysical themes, and his works, as whole, display a unity and an almost organic coherence, making each topic integrally related to many others. For that reason, we subdivide this presentation into two parts: an overview, made of the ongoing subsection below, followed by a detailed exposition.
His writings make use of words and terms, of fundamental signification, which will receive a precise definition throughout his books. These terms and words, although receiving a usual meaning and being used in many branches of human sciences, have, according to René Guénon, lost substantially their original signification (e.g. words such as "metaphysics", "initiation", "mysticism", "personality", "form", "matter"). [ c.f. for instance "The Eastern Metaphysics" and "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines" w.r.t. the meaning of the word "metaphysics", the first chapter of "The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times" on the meanings of the words "form" and "matter", the chapter "Kundalini-Yoga" in his "Studies on Hinduism" about the translation of Sanskrit word "samâdhi" as "ecstasy", "Man and his Becoming according to Vedânta" on the word "personality", "Theosophism: History of a Pseudo-Religion" on the word "theosophy" etc.] He insisted notably on the danger represented by the perversion of the signification of words seen by him as essential for the study of metaphysics; for that reason, we will recall, in the "detailed exposition" section, the definition given by René Guénon to some of the words used extensively in his works.
In 1921, René Guénon published an "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines". His goal, as he writes it, is an attempt at presenting to westerners eastern metaphysics and spirituality as they are understood and thought by easterners themselves, while pointing at what René Guénon describes as all the erroneous interpretations and misunderstandings of western orientalism and "neospiritualism" (for the latter, notably the proponents of Madame Blavatsky’s theosophism). Right from that time, he presents a rigorous understanding, not only of Hindu doctrines, but also of eastern metaphysics in general. ["For all his intellectuals skills might be, it seems unlikely that he succeeded just by himself or with the help of a few books in getting the profound and enlightening understanding of the Vêdânta he seems to have acquired by the age of 23 [...] " in P. Feuga, "René Guénon et l’Hindouisme", "Connaissance des Religions", n. 65-66, 2002.] He managed to expose these doctrines to a western public viewed by him as quite unprepared and unreceptive as a whole. [c.f. "The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times", foreword.] He departed from standard scholarship (Orientalist) terminology and methods and preferred to expose the doctrines as a simple "easterner", devoid of what he called "western prejudices". [c.f. "An Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines", part I, chapter 3: "The classical prejudice".] For one of the most famous aspects of René Guénon's work is the irreducible difference he describes between the East and the West. [" East and West" is the title of one of his books.] René Guénon defines eastern metaphysics and intellectuality as of "universal nature", that "opens possibilities of conception which are truly beyond any limitation". His work comprises :
#An exposition of fundamental metaphysical principles: "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines" which contains the general definition of the term "tradition" as René Guénon defines it, "Man and His Becoming according to the Vedânta", "The Symbolism of the Cross", "The Multiple States of Being", "The Metaphysical Principles of the Infinitesimal Calculus", "Oriental Metaphysics".
symbolism(comprising many articles he wrote for the journal "Le Voile d’Isis" which became later known under the name "Etudes Traditionnelles"). These studies in symbolism were later compiled by Michel Valsanin the posthumous book "Symbols of Sacred Science". The studies "The Great Triad", "Traditional Forms & Cosmic Cycles", "Insights into Islamic Esoterism & Taoism" and "The King of the World" are also mostly about symbolism.
#Fundamental studies related to
Initiation, a subject completely re-exposited by Guenon from the traditional perspective: "Perspectives on Initiation", "Initiation and Spiritual Realization", "The Esoterism of Dante".
#Criticism of the modern world and of "neospiritualism": "East and West", "The Crisis of the Modern World", "Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power", "Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion", "The Spiritist Fallacy" and "The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of the Times", the latter book being often considered as his masterpiece as an explanation of the modern world from the traditional perspective.
#Various studies in
esoterism: "Saint Bernard", "Insights into Christian Esoterism", "Studies in Freemasonry and Compagnonnage", "Studies in Hinduism" etc.
This partition is not strict and, as we noted earlier, René Guénon's works display a coherence and unity making each book integrally related to the others. [c.f. "East and West", foreword.] From that perspective, and according to René Guénon's own words, [ "...in the metaphysics order, which is referring to the domain of the Universal, there can be no place for such a thing as 'specialisation'" in "Man and his Becoming according to Vêdânta", foreword.] his work is completely unrelated to any particular philosophical system [ c.f. "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines, part II, chapter VIII.] . He identifies the main difference between profane and sacred knowledge: the former ignores the notion of "realization" ("moksha" or "delivrance" in the Hindu doctrines), while the latter provides effective means for realizing the Supreme Principle (through
initiation, mantraor dhikrrecitation, orthodox spiritual lineages).
René Guénon defines the modern world as being a degeneration of what he calls "the traditional world". According to him, the real separation between the East and West comes from this degeneration; in other words, it comes from an intellectual standpoint, and is not related to any geographical distinction, but to a doctrinal divergence. [c.f. "East and West"] Amidst the global period of intellectual confusion and disorder that characterizes modernity according to René Guénon, the East has maintained alive, through uninterrupted spiritual lineages, an intellectual (possibly hidden) elite fully conscious of the original wisdom transmitted to humanity from time immemorial. In some of his books, he states that the present condition of humanity can be explained by the traditional doctrine of "cosmic cycles", as it is described in Hinduism.
He produced a series of articles and books aimed at explaining the modern civilization according to traditional data and, more generally, to the "traditional standpoint". ["Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion"; "The Spiritist Fallacy"; "The Crisis of the Modern World"; "Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power"; "The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of the Times".] He therein denounces what he calls the "pseudo-initiation", which was, according to him, spreading since the end of the XIX century. He intends to denounce, through a careful examination of the historical origin, the ideological evolution taken by what he calls their "pseudo-doctrines", some "pseudo-spiritual" organisations which, according to him, expose to the West false eastern doctrines or which are counterfeits of regular initiatic traditions (among these "pseudo-spiritual associations" he makes a particular mention of the
Theosophical Societyfounded by Madame Blavatskyin the wake of the modern pseudo-Rosicrucian organisations of the late XIXth century). [See "Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion", "The Spiritist Fallacy", and the article "True and False Spiritual Instructors" in "Initiation and Spiritual Realisation"]
René Guénon exposits a view of Metaphysics which can, according to him "by no means be reduced to scientific or philosophical conceptions" [c.f. "Oriental Metaphysics", p.11] but which is instead "the knowledge (…) of the principles of universal order" ; being "absolutely illimited", Metaphysics "cannot be defined". [c.f. "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines", p. 96. ] Metaphysics is seen, according to him, in its etymological sense, ["I think what is best to be done, for words that can give rise to some misunderstanding, is to restore as much as possible their primitive and etymological meaning", in "Oriental Metaphysics", 1939.] while recalling that sense in his books. [see below for a review of some of his terms, and also "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines", op. cit. and "Oriental Metaphysics".] Such a metaphysics, being by essence beyond any contingency, is necessarily at the source of all orthodox traditions, these latter being considered as direct derivations of the great "primordial tradition" (corresponding to the Hindu notion of Sanātana Dharma, or Manu law).
Metaphysics is not introduced by René Guénon as a branch of philosophy, as it is in western studies. Traditional metaphysics, which is, according to Guénon, beyond any contingency ("knowledge of universal principles" [c.f. "Introduction to the study of", chapitre: "Essential characters of metaphysics".] ), lies at the very source of all orthodox and legitimate traditions, making a connection between the heart of these traditions and a unique spiritual origin, the "Primordial Tradition" [cf. "The idea of the centre in ancient traditions", Regnabit, 1926, reproduced in "Symbols of Sacred Science", chapitre VIII; cf. also "The King of the World", chapters II, VII, VIII, IX et X.] . The study of traditional metaphysics and its relationship with our state of existence, i.e. our world, clears the path inwardly towards the center common and shared by each authentic religion: exoterism bounds an "outside" accessible to everyone, its purpose is to maintain the link with Supreme Principle [cf. among others, René Guénon, « "Insights into Islamic Esoterism & Taoism" » (first chapter), « "Insights into Christian Esoterism" » and « "The King of the World" ».] .
However, the current state of the West, characterized by its voluntary and gradual detachment from his own tradition,
Christianity, and the degeneration of major branches of one of his last initiatic organization, freemasonry, makes a restoration somewhat unlikely feasible given that this situation is the result of a long evolution through Western history, which according Guénon, follows even a predetermined plan [cf. « The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of the Times ».] . Incidentally, in the esoteric domain, René Guénon says that two dates mark historically the fundamental spiritual degeneration of the West: first, the destruction of the Order of the Knight Templars in 1314, which defines precisely what René Guénon called "modern deviation" ["Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power", chapter 7: "The ursurpations of Royalty and their consequences".] , and the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 which severed, in the historical and "outer realm", the link between West and what René Guénon defined as the "Supreme Centre" [cf. "Perspectives on Initiation", chapter XXXVIII: "Rose-Cross and rosicrucians" and Michel Valsan"L'Islam et la fonction de René Guénon", chapter IX: "L'Investiture du Cheikh al-Akbar au Centre Suprême", p.177.] .
At multiple occasions in his books, René Guénon insisted that the most important, in metaphysics, was properly inexpressible [c.f. "The multiple states of the being", Foreword.] :
[...] "it should be agreed, for not altering the truth by a partial, restrictive or systematized exposition, to keep always the part of the inexpressible, ie the part which cannot be emprisonned in any form, and which, metaphysically, is really what matters most, we can even say that represents the most essential part" [...]
According to the doctrine exposed by René Guénon, the "spiritual realisation" leads to the effective identification with the states of being that are superior to our transitory human state, and ultimately to the "Supreme Identity" with the Supreme Principle or Absolute Reality. He firmly states the necessity of being fastened to an authentic and living tradition which has kept alive and made available the initiations that were existing in that tradition since its inception. Such living traditions (such as Hinduism, Islam, or Taoism) are characterized by an inspiration (ex. the the Vedas), or a revelation (ex. the Qur'an). He insists on the notion of "intellectual intuition" (supra-rational or spiritual), "awakened" by concentration and meditation on symbols, either in visual form (
yantras) or auditive ( mantrasor, in Islam, dhikr).
René Guénon's works: detailed exposition
In paragraphs of this section are presented, from one part, the books devoted to the exposition of the core metaphysical doctrines in the work of René Guénon, and, secondly, an overview of the other thematics also exposed.
For reasons mentionned earlier in this article, it is useful to begin with some terms and notions used throughout his books.
Some key terms and notions
The metaphysical core
The exposition of metaphysical doctrines, which forms the cornerstone of René Guénon's work, is consisting of the following books [c.f. Luc Benoist, "L'oeuvre de René Guénon", in "La nouvelle revue française", 1943 ("in French").] :
*"Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines",
*"Man and His Becoming according to the Vedânta",
*"The Multiple States of the Being",
*"Symbolism of the Cross",
"Introduction to the Study of the Hindu doctrines"
The book, published in 1921, some topics of which will be included in the lecture he will give at "the Sorbonne", December 17, 1925 ( 'The Eastern metaphysics'), consists of four parts.
*The first part (« preliminary questions ») exposes the hurdles that prevented classical
orientalismfrom a deep understanding of eastern doctrines (without forgetting that René Guénon had of course in view the orientalism of his time): the « classical prejudice » which « consists essentially in a predisposition to attribute the origin of all civilization to the Greeks and Romans », the ignorance of certain types of relationships between the ancient peoples, linguistic difficulties, and the confusions arising about certain questions related to chonology, these confusions being made possible through the ignorance of the importance of oral transmission which can precede, to a considerable and indeterminate extent, the written formulation. A fundamental example of that latter mistake being found in the orientalist's attempts at providing a precise birth date to the Vedassacred scriptures.
*The « general characters of eastern thought » part focuses on the principles of unity of the eastern civilizations, on the definition of the notions of "tradition" and "metaphysics". René Guénon also proposes a rigorous definition of the term "religion", and states the proper differences between "tradition", "religion", "metaphysics" and "philosophical system". The relations between "metaphysics" and "theology" are also explored, and the fundamental terms of "esoterism" and "exoterism" are introduced. A chapter is devoted to the idea of « metaphysical realization ». The first two parts state, according to René Guénon, the necessary doctrinal foundations for a correct understanding of Hindu doctrines.
*The third part: "the Hindu doctrines" introduces some of the most fundamental ideas in Hindu doctrines: the traditional signification of the word "
hindu", the notions of orthodoxy and heterodoxy contemplated from the metaphysical perspective (in comparison with their religious or theological counterparts), an exposition of the main sacred texts in Hinduism, the notions of "darshana", Manu law, Sanâtana Dharma [ Michel Valsan, in "Tradition primordiale et culte axial", Études traditionnelles, Jan.-Feb. and March-Apr. issues 1965 (in French), will propose a relation between the notion of Sanâtana Dharma and the Islamic idea of "dîn al fitra" which, in Islam, denotes the human being's conformity with the Divine.] , the Vêdantâ, the Upanishads etc.
*The fourth and last part exposes what René Guénon calls the erroneous western interpretations. He describes some currents born in India under the conjugated influence of the
British Empire, Anglo-Saxon missionary protestantismand H. P. Blavatsky's theosophism: the Arya Samâj, the doctrines of Dayânanda Saraswatî and Vivekanandaetc.
"Man and his Becoming according to the
The "Introduction to the study of the Hindu doctrines" had, among its objectives, the purpose of giving the proper intellectual basis to promote openness to the study of eastern intellectuality. The study of Hindu doctrines is continued in his book "Man and his Becoming according to the
Vedanta" by taking the specific viewpoint of the human being's constitution according to the Vêdantâ: René Guénon states that his goal is not to present a synthetic exposition of all vedic doctrines "which would be quite an impossible task", but to consider "a particular point of that doctrine", in that case the definition of the human being, in order to contemplate afterwards other aspects of metaphysics.
The book begins in precising the nature of the Vêdantâ, its profound signification as the "end of the Vedas", and the traditional signification of Shruti and Smriti scriptures:
" [...] the distinction between shruti and smriti is, fundamentally, equivalent to that between immediate intellectual intuition and reflective consciousness; if the first is described by a word bearing the primitive meaning of 'hearing', this is precisely in order to indicate its intuitive character, and because according to the Hindu cosmological doctrine, sound holds the primordial rank among sensible qualities."The fundamental texts called "Mimânsa" ("Pûrva-Mimânsa", "Uttara-Mimânsa"), the "Upanishads", the "Brahmâ-Sûtras", along with Hindu cosmological texts are listed, and the notion of "intellectual function" associated to their origin is proposed, as opposed to the profane notion of "author".
The general considerations of the Self, the Unmanifested and the universal Manifestation are then introduced: the universal Manifestation is all that exists and its development is constantly being in progress, towards destiny. The Unmanifested is all that is beyond universal Manifestation, so that it can only be designated by negation. The second chapter also establishes the fundamental distinctions between the Self and the ego, or "personality" and "individuality", the first being the only One that is "absolutely real". These ideas are declined in different denominations depending, for a first part, on the different degrees of reality considered, and also from the "transcendent" and "immanent" point of views that can be contemplated: Ishwara is the "Divine personality" or the Principle of universal Manifestation. It is unmanifested, for the Principle of Manifestation cannot be Itself manifested (this is in relation to the symbolism of "black heads": Ishwara has Its head in "darkness"). Atmâ, Paramâtmâ, Brahmâ: the realization that the Self, "in relation to any being whatsoever, is in reality identical to Atmâ", constitutes the heart of the Hindu doctrine of "delivrance" or "moksha", and that doctrine is absolutely identical to what islamic esoterism calls the Supreme Identity (that is to say, expressed in Hindu terms, the identity of Atmâ and Brahmâ):
" [...] the 'Supreme Identity', according to an expression borrowed from Islamic esoterism, where the doctrine on this and on many other points is fundamentally the same as in the Hindu tradition, in spite of great differences in form."If the "Supreme Identity" (or "moksha" or "delivrance"), is made possible, through realization, it is because at the very heart of the human being (not to be confused with the heart organ of the corporeal envelope) is found what is called Brahmâ 's journey, or Brahmâ-pura.
What resides at the center of the human state is
Purusha, or Brahmâ considered "inside" (or "at the center" of) the human being. Purusha, in order that manifestation may be produced, must enter into correlation with another principle, although such a correlation is really non-existent in relation to the highest (uttama) aspect of Purusha, for there cannot in truth be any other principle than the Supreme Principle, except in a relative sense. The correlative of Purusha is then Prakriti, the undifferentiated primordial substance, a passive principle represented as feminine, while Purusha, also called "Pumas", is the active principle, represented as masculine; and these two are the poles of all manifestation, though remaining unmanifested themselves. It is the union of these complementary principles which produces the integral development of the human individual state, and that applies relatively to each individual. From there, all different degrees of individual manifestation can be described and named, and in particular the "tanmatras", the mind or "manas" in its role of coordinator of internal and external faculties, the five "vayus", the different "prânas", and the distinctions between the "waking state", the "dream state", and the "deep sleep" state.
The book ends with a description of the reabsorption of the individual faculties, either in the posthumous conditions, or in the spiritual process of realization, up to the "final delivrance" or "Supreme Identity", which is the ultimate goal of any true spiritual path.
"The Symbolism of the Cross"
"The Symbolism of the Cross" is a book "dedicated to the venerated memory of Esh-Sheikh Abder-Rahman Elish El-Kebir". Its goal, as Guénon states it, "is to explain a symbol that is common to almost all traditions, a fact that would seem to indicate its direct attachment to the great primordial tradition". To alleviate the hurdles bound to the interpretations of a symbol belonging to different traditions, Guénon distinguishes "synthesis" from "
syncretism": syncretism consists in assembling from the outside a number of more or less incongruous elements which, when so regarded, can never be truly unified. Syncretism is something outward: the elements taken from any of its quarters and put together in this way can never amount to anything more than borrowings that are effectively incapable of being integrated into a doctrine "worthy of that name". To apply these criteria to the present context of the symbolism of the cross:
" [...] syncretism can be recognized wherever one finds elements borrowed from different traditional forms and assembled together without any awareness that there is only one single doctrine of which these forms are so many different expressions or so many adaptations related to particular conditions related to given circumstances of time and place. "A notable example of syncretism can be found, according to Guénon, in the "doctrines" and symbols of the Theosophical society. Synthesis on the other hand is carried essentially from within, by which it properly consists in envisaging things in the unity of their principle. Synthesis will exist when one starts from unity itself and never loses sight of it throughout the multiplicity of its manifestations; this moreover implies the ability to see beyond forms and a awareness of the principal truth. Given such awareness, one is at liberty to make use of one or another of those forms, something that certain traditions symbolically denote as "the gift of tongues". The concordance between all traditional forms may be said to represent genuine "synonymies". In particular, René Guénon writes that the cross is a symbol that in its various forms is met with almost everywhere, and from the most remotes times. It is therefore far from belonging peculiarly to the Christian tradition, and the cross, like any other traditional symbol, can be regarded according to manifold senses.
Far from being an absolute and complete unity in himself, the individual in reality constitutes but a relative and fragmentary unity. The multiplicity of the states of the being, "which is a fundamental metaphysical truth", implies the effective realization of the being's multiple states and is related to the conception that various traditional doctrines, including Islamic esoterism, denote by the term 'Universal Man': in Arabic "al-Insân-al-kâmil" is at the same time 'Primordial man' (al-Insân-al-qâdim); it is the Adam Qadmon of the Hebrew
Kabbalah; it is also the 'King' (Wang) of the Far-Eastern tradition (Tao Te King chap. 25). The conception of the 'Universal Man' establishes a constitutive analogy between universal manifestation and its individual human modality, or, to use the language of Western Hermeticism, between the 'macrocosm' and the 'microcosm'.
From these considerations, the geometrical symbolism of the cross, in its most universal signification, can be contemplated: most traditional doctrines symbolize the realization of 'Universal Man' by a sign that is everywhere the same because, according to Guénon, it is one of those directly attached to the primordial tradition. That sign is the sign of the cross, which very clearly represents the manner of achievement of this realization by the perfect communion of all states of the being, harmoniously and conformably ranked, in integral expansion, in the double sense of amplitude and exaltation. In fact, this double expansion of the being may be regarded as taking place horizontally on the one hand, that is, at a certain level or degree of existence, and vertically at the other, that is, in the hierarchical superimposition of all the degrees. Thus, the horizontal direction represents 'amplitude', or integral extension of the individuality taken as basis for realization, and the vertical direction represents the hierarchy, likewise and "a fortiori" indefinite, of the multiples states. Furthermore, the symbol of the cross can also be considered in two basic ways, so-called horizontal and vertical, as it appears in the double consideration of a first cross obtained, in the
eclipticplane by joining the equinoctial and solsticepoints, and a second cross, orthogonal to the first, defined by the equatorand the line going through the poles. The tridimensional cross obtained that way is linked to the six directions of space and the centre of the cross, through a symbolism that appears notably in the hebraic kabbalah in relation to the "mystery of unity", and also in Clement of Alexandria, and the Hindu doctrines as well. Then, the symbol of the cross may develop according to different points of view: union of the complements, with the vertical line representing the active principle and the horizontal line the passive principle, hence establishing an application of the general consideration of Purusha-Prakriti; resolution of the opposites, symbolized by the central point which corresponds to what Islamic esoterism calls the 'Divine station', namely 'that which combines contrasts and antinomies' (al-mâqam lillahi huwa mâqam ijtima 'al-diddâin): this station (mâqam), or degree of the being's effective realization, is attained by al-fanâ', that is, by the 'extinction' of the ego in the return to the 'primordial state'; such 'extinction', writes René Guénon, even as regards the literal meaning of the term denoting it, is not without analogy to the Nirvâna of the Buddhist doctrine. Beyond al-fanâ', there is still fanâ al-fanâ', the 'extinction of the extinction', which similarly corresponds to Parinirvâna. In the Far-Eastern tradition, the central point is called the "Invariable Middle" (Ching-Yin) which is the place of perfect equilibrium, represented as the center of the 'cosmic wheel', and is also, at the same time, the point where the 'Activity of Heaven' is directly manifested. This center directs all things by its 'actionless activity' ("wei wu-wei"), which although unmanifested, or rather because it is unmanifested, is in reality the plenitude of activity, since it is the activity of the Principle whence all activities are derived; Guénon notes that this has been expressed by Lao Tzu as follows: "The Principle is always actionless, yet everything is done by It". This "Invariable Middle" is also the locus of "Peace in the void", corresponding to what Islamic esoterism calls the "Great Peace".
That 'peace' that dwells at the central point, brings to another symbolism, namely that of war, and a well-known example of that symbolism, writes René Guénon, is found in the Bhagavad-Gitâ. The same conception, writes René Guénon, is not specific to the Hindu doctrine, but is also found in the Islamic, for this is the real meaning of the 'holy war' (jihâd): " [...] war represents a cosmic process whereby what is manifested is reintegrated into the principal unity; that is why, from the viewpoint of manifestation itself, this reintegration appears as a destruction, and this emerges very clearly from certain aspects of the symbolism of
Shivain the Hindu doctrine" [c.f. The Symbolism of the Cross, chapter 8, 'War and peace', p. 50.] . Another aspect of the symbolism of the cross identifies it with what various traditions identifies as "The tree in the Midst", one of the numerous symbols of the "World Axis". This tree stands at the center of the world, or rather of a world, that is a domain in which a state of exsitence, such as the human state, is developed. In the biblical symbolim, for example, the 'Tree of life', planted in the midst of the terrestrial paradise, represents the center of our world, and René Guénon studies its relationships with another biblical tree, the 'Tree of Knowledge of good and evil'. Besides, the horizontal cross is directly in relation with the polar symbolism of the swastika, "a truly universal symbol" which represents, particularly in India, the action of the Principle on the manifestation (see figure), and which is in no way related to "the artificial and even anti-traditional use of the swastika by the German `racialists` who have given it the fantastic and somewhat ridiculous title of hakenkreuz or `hanked cross` and quite arbitrarily made it a symbol of antisemitism" [c.f. "The symbolism of the cross", chapter 10, note 2. Note that these lines were written in 1931.] . Then René Guénon goes " "as deeply as possible into the geometrical symbolism which applies equally both to the degrees of universal Existence and to the states of each being, that is, both from the `macrocosmic` and the `microcosmic`standpoint" ".
These considerations lead to an interpretation of the symbolism of the weaving: in
sanskritsûtra means "thread" and it is" "a least curious to note that the Arabic word `sûrat`, which denotes the chapters of the Koran, is composed of exactly the same elements as the Sanskrit `sûtra`; this word has in addition the kindred sense of `row` or `line` and its derivation is unknown" " [ibid., chapter 14, note 1.] . René Guénon then contemplates many aspects related to the geometrical representation of the states of the Being: the representation of the continuity of the modalities of one and the same state of the being, the relationship between point and space (a question related to the infinitesimals), the ontology of the burning bush in the old testament, the universal spherical vortex, the Far-Eastern symbol of the Yin-Yang, the tree and the serpent etc.
"The Multiple States of the Being"
This book expands on the multiple states of the Being, a doctrine already tackled in "The Symbolism of the Cross", leaving aside the geometrical representation exposed in that book " "to bring out the full range of this altogether fundamental theory" " [c.f. The Multiple states of the Being, Preface, p.1.] .
First and foremost is asserted the necessity of the metaphysical Infinity, envisaged in its relationship with universal Possibility. " "The Infinite, according to the etymology of the term which designates it, is that which has no limits" ", so it can only be applied to what has absolutely no limit, and not to what is exempted from certain limitations while being subjected to others like space, time, quantity, in other words all countless other things that fall within the indefinite, fate and nature. There is no distinction between the Infinite and universal Possibility, simply the correlation between these terms indicates that in the case of the Infinite, it is contemplated in its active aspect, while the universal Possibility refers to its passive aspect: these are the two aspects of
Brahmaand its Shakti in the Hindu doctrines. From this results that " "the distinction between the possible and the real [...] has no metaphysical validity, for every possible is real in its way, according to the mode befitting its own nature" " [Ibid., chapter" Possibles and compossibles", p.17.] . This leads to the metaphysical consideration of the Being and Non-Being:
If we [...] define Being in the universal sense as the principle of manifestation, and at the same time as comprising in itself the totality of possibilities of all manifestation, we must say that Being is not infinite because it does not coincide with total Possibility; and all the more so because Being, as the principle of manifestation, although it does indeed comprise all the possibilities of manifestation, does so only insofar as they are actually manifested. Outside of Being, therefore, are all the rest, that is all the possibilities of non-manifestation, as well as the possibilities of manifestation themselves insofar as they are in the unmanifested state; and included among these is Being itself, which cannot belong to manifestation since it is the principle thereof, and in consequence is itself unmanifested. For want of any other term, we are obliged to designate all that is thus outside and beyond Being as `Non-Being`, but for us this negative term is in no way synonym for `nothingness` [...] [Ibid. chapter ": "Being and Non-Being".]
For instance, our present state, in its corporeal modality, is defined by five conditions: space, time, `matter` (i.e. quantity), `form`, and life, and these five conditions enter into correlation with the five corporeal elements ("bhutas" of the Hindu doctrine, see below) to create all living forms (including us in our corporeal modalities) in our world and state of existence. But the universal Manifestation is incommensurably more vast, including all the states of existence that correspond to other conditions or possibilities, yet Being Itself is the principle of universal Manifestation.
This involves the foundation of the theory of multiple states and the metaphysical notion of the "unicity of the Existence" (wahdatul-wujûd) as it is for instance developed in Islamic esoterism by Mohyddin Ibn Arabi. The relationships of unity and multiplicity lead to a more accurate "description" of the Non-Being : in it, there can be no question of a multiplicity of states, since this domain is essentially that of the undifferentiated and even of the unconditionned : "the undifferentiated cannot exist in a distinctive mode", although we still speak analogously of the states of the non-manifestation : Non-Being is Metaphysical Zero and is logically anterior to unity; that is why Hindu doctrine speaks in this regard only of 'non duality' (advaita). Analogous considerations drawn from the study of dream state help understand the relationships of unity and multiplicity : in dream state, which is one of the modalities of the manifestation of the human being corresponding to the subtle (that is, non-corporeal) part of its individuality,"the being produces a world that proceeds entirely from itself, and the objects therein consist exclusively of mental images (as opposed to the sensory perceptions of the waking state), that is to say of combinations of ideas clothed in subtle forms that depend substantially of the subtle form of the individual himself, moreover, of which the imaginal objects of a dream are nothing but accidental and secondary modifications". Then, René Guénon studies the possibilities of individual conciousness and the mental (mind) as the characteristic element of the human individuality. In chapter X ("Limits of the Indefinite"), he comes back to the notion of metaphysical realization ('moksha' or 'Suprême identity'). A superior signification of the notion of darkness is then introduced, most notably in the chapter entitled "The two chaoses", which describes what is happening during the course of spiritual realization when a disciple leaves the domain of "formal possibilities". The multiples states of the Being is essentially related to the notion of "spiritual hierarchies", which is found in all traditions. Hence is described the universal process of the "realization of the Being through Knowledge".
Hermetismand cosmological sciences
"To be updated soon"
"To be updated soon"
Eleusinian Mysteries, Hermetism and cosmological sciences
"To be updated soon"
The Hindu doctrine of cosmic cycles
"To be updated soon"
= The doctrine of the five elements =
"To be updated soon"
Atomism and the question of "continuum composition"
"To be updated soon"
"To be updated soon"
The attempts at subverting tradition in the modern world
"To be updated soon"
"To be updated soon"
Situation of the author and his work, relativization of the importance of biography
"To be updated soon"
Sources and influences
"To be updated soon"
The Order of the Renovated Temple
"To be updated soon"
The Gnostic church
"To be updated soon"
The years of the "Gnosis" journal
"To be updated soon"
The King of the World
"To be updated soon"
Books by René Guénon
(ordered by first publication date):
* "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines" ("Introduction générale à l'étude des doctrines hindoues", 1921)
* "Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion" ("Le Théosophisme - Histoire d'une pseudo-religion", 1921)
* "The Spiritist Fallacy" ("L'erreur spirite", 1923)
* "East and West" ("Orient et Occident", 1924)
* "Man and His Becoming according to the Vedânta" ("L'homme et son devenir selon le Vêdânta", 1925)
* "The Esoterism of Dante" ("L'ésotérisme de Dante", 1925)
* "The King of the World" ("Le Roi du Monde", 1927)
* "The Crisis of the Modern World" ("La crise du monde moderne", 1927)
* "Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power" ("Authorité Spirituelle et Pouvoir Temporel", 1929)
* "St. Bernard" ("Saint-Bernard", 1929)
* "Symbolism of the Cross" ("Le symbolisme de la croix", 1931)
* "The Multiple States of the Being" ("Les états multiples de l'Être", 1932)
* "Oriental Metaphysics" ("La metaphysique orientale", 1939)
* "The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of the Times" ("Le règne de la quantité et les signes des temps", 1945)
* "Perspectives on Initiation" ("Aperçus sur l'initiation", 1946)
* "The Metaphysical Principles of the Infinitesimal Calculus" ("Les principes du calcul infinitésimal", 1946)
* "The Great Triad" ("La Grande Triade", 1946)
* "Initiation and Spiritual Realization" ("Initiation et réalisation spirituelle", 1952)
* "Insights into Christian Esoterism" ("Aperçus sur l'ésotérisme chrétien", 1954)
* "Symbols of Sacred Science" ("Symboles de la Science Sacrée", 1962)
* "Studies in Freemasonry and Compagnonnage" ("Études sur la Franc-Maçonnerie et le Compagnonnage", 1964)
* "Studies in Hinduism" ("Études sur l'Hindouisme", 1966)
* "Traditional Forms & Cosmic Cycles" ("Formes traditionelles et cycles cosmiques", 1970)
* "Insights into Islamic Esoterism & Taoism" ("Aperçus sur l'ésotérisme islamique et le Taoïsme", 1973)
* "Reviews" ("Comptes rendus", 1973)
* "Miscellanea" ("Mélanges", 1976)
The Collected Works of René Guénon
New English translation, 23 volumes, Sophia Perennis (publisher)
* "East and West" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "The Crisis of the Modern World" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "The Esoterism of Dante" (paper, 2003; cloth, 2005)
* "The Great Triad" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "Initiation and Spiritual Realization" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "Insights into Christian Esoterism" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2005)
* "Insights into Islamic Esoterism and Taoism" (paper, 2003; cloth, 2004)
* "Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "The King of the World" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "Metaphysical Principles of the Infinitesimal Calculus" (paper, 2003; cloth, 2004)
* "Miscellanea" (paper, 2003; cloth, 2004)
* "The Multiple States of the Being" tr. Henry Fohr (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "Perspectives on Initiation" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "The Spiritist Fallacy" (paper, 2003; cloth, 2004)
* "Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage" (paper, 2005; cloth, 2005)
* "Studies in Hinduism" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "The Symbolism of the Cross" (paper, 2001; cloth, 2004)
* "Symbols of Sacred Science" (paper, 2004; cloth, 2004)
* "Theosophy, the History of a Pseudo-Religion" (paper, 2003; cloth, 2004)
* "Traditional Forms and Cosmic Cycles" (paper, 2003; cloth, 2004)
Books about René Guénon
*Frithjof Schuon, "René Guénon: Some Observations" (paper, 2004)
*Paul Chacornac, "The Simple Life of René Guénon" (paper, 2005; cloth, 2005)
*Robin Waterfield, "René Guénon and the Future of the West" (paper, 2002; cloth, 2005)
Jean Borella, "Guénonian Esoterism and Christian Mystery" (cloth, 2005)
*Xavier Accart, "René Guénon ou Le Renversement des clartés" Paris, Milanos: Edidit Arche (2005)
* [http://www.livingislam.org/trg.html Who was René Guénon - Shaykh `Abd Al Wahid Yahya?]
* [http://www.livingislam.org/o/vsrg_s.html Vìa Shâdhilita de René Guénon]
* [http://www.politicaonline.net/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=197 Metafisica e Sophia Perennis] International forum about Metaphysic, Guénon and Tradition
* [http://www.reneguenon.net/OscarFreire/OFreireGuenonObra.html René Guénon y los Estudios Tradicionales]
* [http://www.musulmanesandaluces.org/ René Guénon y el Esoterismo Islámico]
* [http://www.estudiostradicionales.com Revista de Estudios Tradicionales]
* [http://www.coreis.it/rene_guenon.htm Shaykh Abd al Wahid Yahya]
Rama P. Coomaraswamy
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Michel Valsan;Chinese Traditions
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
Advaita Vedantaand Hinduism
* [http://www.fonsvitae.com/sophia-perennis.html List of Titles by René Guénon - Fons Vitae books]
* [http://www.sophiajournal.com/Vol1Num1/Article02.html Biography from Sophia Journal]
* [http://pages.zoom.co.uk/thuban/html/guenon.htm Biography from Institute for Gnostic Studies]
* [http://www.abebooks.com/home/PERENNIS/ Sofia Perennis Universalis has many Guénon books in print]
* [http://www.hinduismtoday.com/archives/1989/10/1989-10-02.shtml Guénon and Vedanta]
* [http://www.religioperennis.org A web site on the Perennialist/Traditionalist School]
* [http://www.livingislam.org/trg.html Who was René Guénon - Shaykh `Abd Al Wahid Yahya? - text excerpts]
* [http://edituraaion.ro/index.php?action=all_books&search=Ren%E9+Gu%E9non René Guénon Books translated into Romanian]
* [http://www.laletterag.org/ La Lettera G. Italian-French review of Freemasonry inspired by the work of René Guénon]
* [http://www.politicaonline.net/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=197 Metafisica e Sophia Perennis] International forum about Metaphysic, Guénon and Tradition.
* [http://www.reneguenon.net/OscarFreire/OFreireGuenonObra.html René Guénon y los Estudios Tradicionales]
* [http://www.musulmanesandaluces.org/hemeroteca/90/Rene%20Guenon%20y%20el%20Islam.htm René Guénon y el Esoterismo Islámico]
* [http://www.estudiostradicionales.com Revista de Estudios Tradicionales]
* [http://www.ihei-asso.org/docshtml/UnsoufidOccident.html INSTITUT DES HAUTES ETUDES ISLAMIQUES]
* [http://www.ihei-asso.org/docshtml/tabledesmatieres.html I.D.A.T.I.]
* [http://www.coreis.it/rene_guenon.htm Shaykh Abd al Wahid Yahya]
Notes and references
NAME = Guénon, René Jean Marie Joseph
ALTERNATIVE NAMES = Abd al-Wahid Yahya
SHORT DESCRIPTION = French metaphysician
DATE OF BIRTH =
November 15, 1886
PLACE OF BIRTH =
Blois, Loir-et-Cher, France
DATE OF DEATH =
January 7, 1951
PLACE OF DEATH =
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