Choosing your Religion

It is rather common these days to see earnest questions about “choosing a religion” or “choosing a tradition”. It is propitious to see so many people admit publicly that they are estranged and seek to be reunited with Tradition. Such a confession takes courage, and we hope more will make it. We must also acknowledge that much good can be gained, in general, from consciously seeking out established traditions over whimsy or modernism. But there is much that must be considered about why this question is asked, and in the end, only a vague and ambiguous answer can be provided.

The false equivalence of Tradition with Religion

To answer this question, we must determine what course of action we are actually trying to commit ourselves to. A Japanese born in Japan, for example, should not be concerned with this issue. But a Japanese born in Brazil should. Many Japanese-Brazilians return to their home country these days, where special schools do their best to repair their Japaneseness by instructing them in proper behavior and language. This suggests that knowing Tradition might not involve attending church as much as attending a finishing school. We must therefore examine why Tradition and Religion are equated here, and why people are asking what “world religion” to join instead of, say, what university or political sect.

The highest pursuit according to René Guénon is not the preservation of specific traditions, which are manifestations of deeper principles, but the recovery of metaphysics, which allows us to discern the truth and falsehood of principles in the limited sensory world, and separate real traditions from three different modes of behavior which he labels “pseudo-tradition”, “counter-tradition”, and “anti-tradition”, although a less polite age knew them all as heresy. Metaphysics relates the world of Becoming to the world of Being, and Guénon claims that it actually permits a level of intellectual activity superior to religious writing:

Whereas the metaphysical point of view is purely intellectual, the religious point of view implies as a fundamental characteristic the presence of a sentimental element affecting the doctrine itself, which does not allow of its preserving an attitude of entirely disinterested speculation; this is indeed what occurs in theology, though to a degree which is more or less strongly marked according to the particular branch under consideration.

Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines (emphasis added)

Obviously, one can only speak so much about the unspeakable without reference to the world of Becoming, and traditional authority must respond to worldly emotion and suffering with dignity. Religion arises as the central part of this traditional response, and proves to be one of the toughest manifestations of Tradition for modernity to defeat. In the West’s very late stage of degradation, it is often (but not always) the sphere of Religion where the final barricade can be found. Guénon found innumerable trustworthy allies and intellectual equals embracing the concept of Religion as the last bulwark against modernity, just as you, the stray wanderer, might befriend such allies and feel tempted to join their fight. For example, he once gave Frithjof Schuon an imprimatur on the casual equivocation of traditional forms with “religions”:

As regards the new title for your book [De l’unité transcendente des religions], it seems to me to be preferable to the earlier one [De l’unité ésoterique des formes tradtionnelles], because it is shorter, and because it will perhaps also be clearer to readers who are not accustomed to our terminology.

— Guénon to Schuon, April 16, 1946

Guénon essentially recommended to Schuon that the concept of “religions” be used as a marketing device for the book, since it is the popular terminology. But if Guénon thought “world religions” by itself was so great he would have had no need for terms like Tradition. While he recognized the comfort of the idea for Western readers, he considered Eastern metaphysics to lack the nature of a “religious system” in the modern sense, and he thought “religiousness” was an inaccurate label for any traditional statement directed primarily towards the East. This annoyed Schuon who was apparently a big fan of the idea of “world religions”, and complained in René Guénon: Some Observations that “Hinduism is quite obviously a religion”, etc. “World religions” is a modern phrase, which is why it must stay inside the quotation marks, and there is no non-sentimental basis for Schuon’s attachment to it.

In conclusion, Schuon’s insistence on present-day, popular relevance might lead us to confuse Tradition with Religion, which is something like mixing up Eden and the Kingdom of Israel. This should not be construed as an attack on Schuon, since Guénon was so intent on resurrecting the superhuman that his geometry threatens to lose the human, and this is where Schuon, chrysostomos, may serve as a guide. However, if we allow ourselves to be guided by Schuon alone, Guénon’s careful metaphysics might be reduced in the sentimental imagination to someone’s choice of religions that “sounded nice” to him, or even to a syncretic “religious movement”, so-called “Traditionalism”. Those who have read Julius Evola will not make sentimental mistakes, but these people, if they are not similarly careful, can sometimes make far worse mistakes, like confusing Tradition with National Socialism. For Evola, it is the military, not Religion, that is the final bastion of Tradition, but obviously nobody wanting to “choose a tradition” is asking whether he should join the military or not. An examination of the traditional aspects of the military, which are real but not preserved in the same manner as Religion, is outside the purview of this essay.

A traditional outlook — not “traditionalism”, but acting as a well-behaved person would have done in the past — does not compel membership in any political group, religious group, or “movement” in the present day. With an “initiation” or in any case a true understanding, “every occupation is a priesthood” and all activities are sacred. On this all the doctors of Tradition should agree. Certainly, as humans with limited understanding, we all need others in our lives! But modernity, it must be remembered, attempts to render all activities profane (although it will never really be able to do so), meaning that trying to revive Tradition through sole means of modern pastimes like “a religious movement” or “a political movement” will only limit your possibilities and hinder your perspective.

Having established that there are many different methods of engagement, we now consider the situation that makes “choosing a tradition” a meaningful question. With this we arrive at the more complex problem of the “diversity” or confusion of traditions in modernity. Behind this there are much more sinister forces at work.

The modern trials of heresy and blood

The larger question of “choosing a tradition” lends itself to strange notions, which are also inherent (if less obviously) in the concept of “choosing a religion”. Should a born American traditionalist move to China because he feels an affinity with the pace of life and culture of that nation? Should he abandon his American friends and wander aimlessly through Chinatown to prepare for the trip? Such a question is not outright absurd, since great discoveries might be made abroad. But abandoning your home out of purely ideological considerations is simply abandoning the devil you know for the devil you don’t know. The ability to do so is the result of significant cultural and material shifts made possible by modernity, and the probability is high that the American will find as much to dislike in China as he does in America. G.K. Chesterton has it memorably, if perhaps cryptically:

There are two ways of getting home, and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.

Guénon wound up in Egypt eventually, but he never complained about being born in France. He tried his best to be a good man of tradition wherever the fates took him, making Church connections in France, and fitting in with the Sufis in Egypt. It is impossible to see him as an “expatriate”, in the sense of an extended tourist seeking the company of his countrymen in European colonial clubs, or full of nostalgia for home. He had no interest in such things, as his spiritual home was above the world. Ideally, “every land is equally suitable as a residence for the wise man; the worthy soul’s fatherland is the whole world.” (Sextii sent. 162, in Uždavinys’ The Golden Chain)

But we are not saints and some options will be better for us than others. We were raised by specific people in specific places, and these circumstances do not prepare us equally for everything. Tradition is quite literally a transmission from our ancestors, and our interest lies with them. Modernity has made the receipt of that transmission very difficult for a great number of us in two specific ways.

First, it dethrones the traditional family, allowing families to be formed without a concrete idea of the higher virtues to be imitated, or even disposing of marriage and parenting altogether. The emotions generated by bad parenting, which of course never derives solely from the parents but is also a product of disturbed social conditions, are exploited by modernity to turn children against the very idea of respect for the family and ancestors. Evola’s concept of “spiritual race” is derived from the truth that generations of shared tradition build a feeling of ancestral unity. The products of broken households, or of families where no tradition was shared between the parents, or of families alienated from a different traditional society around them (by no fault of their own), are subject to a trial of blood.

Secondly, the secular State trains persons to be consumer-units with no higher pursuit than sentiment, and forces the inheritors of tradition to act as competitors in a marketplace of truths, the inviolable rules of which are set by the State, which must logically claim access to some “metatruth” that allows it to define how truth is determined. The State defines legal and illegal behavior for these “religions” which are “chosen” by sentimental “seekers”, rather than the traditional sources of authority defining legal or righteous behavior for the State to follow, in one of modernity’s earliest inversions. In such a topsy-turvy model it is easy to dispose of “religions” as an “outdated” way of providing “services” to “consumers” who can be better served by the State or even corporations–as if all metaphysics and principles are equal!! This insane inversion may or may not be the central cause of the proliferation of heresies, but it has a good explanatory power that allows us to identify traditional and non-traditional “religions”.

It seems that a modern state may allow traditions to survive by essentially being told to get out of the way by a committed public. Examples of states that legally “make room” for tradition include Japan, Iran, Tibet (recently converted from theocracy to diaspora), and Israel (recently converted from diaspora to nation-state). Much could be said about this dangerous game, but for now, we suffice to conclude that those who are born into these nations by and large should not worry over “choice of tradition”, but only how much they are willing to devote themselves. In other nations, the state may institute counter-tradition by placing a mimicry in the religious core that once preserved Tradition, such as the “state churches” of England and Norway. Those who know the gory details of such institutions probably already understand that these organizations are responsible not to God but to “the people”, and the traditionally minded in these groups are already drifting away.

Some groups stretch the truth more than others to increase their appeal to moderns. Guénon defines some religious groups as pseudo-traditions: Mormons, Bahá’ís, and Theosophers, to name a few. Pseudo-tradition twists the sacred geometry so that divinity and truth is thought to be constantly progressing and evolving (towards nothing in particular; the geometry makes no sense), and traditions, when acknowledged, are considered anachronistic. Unlike counter-tradition, it does try to place the will of the Divine foremost in the thoughts of men, and often manifests as a calling, a joy, and a rigorous spiritual life. We may even add Protestantism to this category. Pseudo-tradition is not a blight on society, and indeed its theology may allow families to make temporary peace with modern demands, but its logic is far from perennial. This may be why converts to atheism from pseudo-traditions are often the harshest critics of religion as an “impediment to progress”, and usually lack any knowledge of Tradition.

Practical advice on choosing a religion

The situation is dim for those who live in a secular State, which in our century controls the public sphere so completely that “religions” jump and bark on command. People who have been dumped by pseudo-traditions or trials of blood into a state of estrangement and alienation have every right to leave their failing community behind and seek out a group which raises the banner of the sophia perennis. Doing so will enable them to stop pontificating on the Internet and become part of the reactionary force repairing Tradition as expressed by their adopted “community”.

There is just one problem: the filial adoptee, the grateful orphan, does not argue with his adoptive parents over the meaning of his parents’ tradition. A traditionally inclined intellectual will at best accomplish nothing (outside of self-gratification, which is not a virtue) by forcing his way into a group with no doctrinal commitment to universalism, such as an ethnic group or initiatory Hinduism. At worst, he will advance modernity by supporting the arguments of liberals trying to debase the group of its qualities. Even if your principles are completely solid, even if you have absolutely no argument to make with the locals, merely existing as a foreign member of a local community will make you fodder for the newspapers.

As a reminder, the lives of Guénon, Schuon, and Evola show that the desire to repair tradition is not based directly on a confession of faith in any group. Truth seen as an observer is still truth. But not all spirits can be as pure as Guénon, and truth known as a participant can act on you and complete your life. Living in society means augmenting your own knowledge with the wisdom of both individuals and groups. To some extent, ethnic and religious groups may let you observe their traditions as an outsider. But with a confession of faith, placing trust in a larger community and being given full approval to carry out its traditions, immense intellectual and personal gains can be made, with the only trade-off being that you limit yourself to the sources of authority accepted by your peers, which really just means placing a deep trust in them.

The question of “choosing a tradition” is thereby limited to “choosing a religion”, a metaphysical core which should shed light onto one’s inherited traditions. “Traditions” in the broader sense cannot be chosen; furthermore, even “choosing a religion”, for all its heady theological weight, will merely cause you to enter a local community. You leave the false universal of modernity behind and return to something that is close to your heart. What is essential is not that you make the “right choice” — although you may feel later on that you did make the right choice — but that your act is one of returning home (rather than adventuring, or worse, “evolving”), that you are welcomed as a brother or sister (rather than a powerless observer or adopted child), that the inclination you have makes the right impact on others, and that they in turn make an impact on you. In this, we might be able to fulfill the purpose of religion and do the will of God.

The list of religions inheriting the sophia perennis that can be “chosen” by a lost soul is actually quite short. Eliminating all heresies and impossibilities, they are:

  1. The living traditional religion practiced by members of your ethnicity — this is akin to learning from your parents, as represented by your extended family, so we place it first even though this may not be an option for everyone.
  2. Catholic or Orthodox Christianity

This is not quite all, but the Westerner must take these first two options much more seriously than the form in which modernity has presented them to him. The image seen in the newspapers is not the real community. Two other options are available, but if you are not careful these may serve as an excuse to oppose the Western tradition outright, which is one of the insidious goals of late modernity. What’s more, a lot of work may be spent trying to throw off one’s native traditions for the sake of these foreign religions, only to find that the foreign groups remain foreign, and are just as flawed. The reader is referred again to the Chesterton quote above. Nevertheless these options are possible and some people are inclined to them.

  1. Sunni or Shia Islam
  2. Theravada or Mahayana Buddhism — there is a book online which captures the difficulties of being a Western convert to Buddhism.

There is one other path which we will not number. Guénon professed that he had been initiated by the Freemasons, but this was deeply worrying to his peers. The road of any modern group is fraught with danger, and we must again recognize that not everyone can be Guénon, and he never expected anyone to imitate him. By the way, Julius Evola professed to be a pagan, but he merely meant that he gave Religion little thought, just as the Romans did. “Neopaganism” is a post-Christian and ultra-modern phenomenon. We have outlined some of the benefits of Religion above.

You therefore have four options. “But which of these truths is true?” You were brought to the point of reading this essay by a combination of intellect and intuition; it is these forces which should guide you towards an answer. The doctrinal differences between these four groups are so great that it seems difficult to accidentally mistake one for the other. It may be silly to proselytize for two to four religions at once, but all the talk about “traditional society” in the end should influence our decisions in the modern day and help us grow in wisdom and save what is worth saving, or else it is just the idle fantasies of lost boys.

48 thoughts on “Choosing your Religion

  1. Fabulous article. Very well thought out. I live in Canada, and have found that three of the four traditions you claim as sound possibilities are indeed the same ones that I determined to be possibilities for a perennialist in North America (being a European hybrid, I never gave much thought to ethnic tradition).

  2. Quite the contrary, I do not find sacrifice to ‘what is above’ distasteful, in and of itself. I made it quite clear that I would be more than willing to take the path of Achilles, if the opportunity were to present itself. But in a world of atomic bombs, drones, and computer guided missiles, is there really any place, any slither of an opportunity for a swift, noble, triumphant death?

    What I was referring to is the sentimental character that inevitably poisons, obfuscates this relationship to what is above, especially today, ‘among the ruins’. And this aspect in particular is so intoxicatingly widespread in the “western” tradition, glorifying saints instead of real heroes, unhealthy obsession with Jesus, and so on … anyway, I digress. Thank you for the recommendations, I am actually Orthodox “by birth” (from E. Europe), and I was planning to search for some relevant authors to get a better grasp of Orthodoxy until I return.

  3. Cavalcare,
    This sacrafice to that which is above that you find distasteful can only appear so to one who mistakes illusion for reality and sees reality as illusion. Recall that even Evola disdains those who cannot recognize any principle higher than themselves, for this is the hallmark of the modern man. One sacrafices one’s lower Personality to one’s higher nature…seen from without, from the perspective of the modern world, this may appear reprehensible or meek, as you say, but only because they believe that this is the only world and there is nothing higher.

    I find much inspiration in the myths and stories of our pagan (for lack of a better word) ancestors, but i’ve never discovered any clear or coherent path there. I’m certainly not saying that it doesn’t exist, but that you’ll spend much of your time discovering (or re-creating, which poses it’s own risks) some kind of initiatic path to follow, all the while each day you are one day closer to death.

    I would recommend reading Tomberg and Mouravieff and see what you think. There is a wealth of information on these two authors here at Gornahoor. As I said, the way is difficult enough, and you are running out of time.

  4. Scardanelli, just to clarify: I have no problem with sympathizing with the more esoteric currents that have been “continued” in what can generally be named ‘Christianity’. I plan to study them in greater depth in the future. What I do have a problem with, and have become thoroughly jaded about, is the “exoteric” in the broader sense; when I see these people praying, I can’t help but see and imagine the meekness, the almost animal-like sacrifice towards what is above, and the “other-ness” that thoroughly permeates their spirit. This type of thing, generally speaking, comes off as something passive, almost self-castrating in a sense. Again, these are mostly personal biases and instinctive observations; I’m sure there are certain places where things are more “positive”, “active” and such. Christianity is nothing without Feudalism. Overall, I refuse to take a part in it, in part because I doubt it has a future. I would dare say it has zero capability to end the historical era, and whirl the world back into mythology. Or, more precisely, the vast majority of its elite has almost zero potential, there is simply an enormous amount of baggage, a massive cleansing would need to happen. It remains to be seen what the horizon offers; meanwhile, I will do as my name says.

  5. This essay is simply entitled “Conversions”. It appears in Initiation & Spiritual Realization, which is not an altogether evenly edited book (a posthumous publication), but has some great moments of insight.

    I am reading “On Being a Pagan” this evening and it is the most irritating book I have made myself read in a long time. Cologero briefly reviewed it here. In a word, this is a work of self-contradictory, deceptive sophistry. I hope Greer’s book will be better.

    I think the term “neo-pagan” is best to describe modern paganism because it segregates the attempt at reconstruction from, say, Japanese paganism which inherits an unbroken tradition. Guenon warns against invented traditions, but that is just an appeal to authority. Regardless of Benoist’s intellectual dishonesty, I think Evola’s subtler, more metaphysically solid work should make it clear that there is no place for a historical, “you lost” argument. But history happened for a reason, and I think it is worth a shot to try to explain that as well.

  6. Interesting thoughts. What is this essay by Guenon named? But, again, why call it “neo-paganism” ? is it simply because it is not a “living” tradition (e.g. in the context of Europe, that it ended with the Roman Empire) ? I’m genuinely curios. It almost seems like some are ever so subtly making appeals to historicism when the Greco-Roman tradition is discussed (e.g. the ‘triumph’ of Christianity, “get over it, “you” lost”), in certain discussions bordering on dogmatic sentimental fanaticism. Is pagan doctrine not Tradition, dare I say in its purest form?

  7. P.S. In the interest of complete honesty, I will add that I hold no rank in any traditional religion, but I am an Archdruid in the “Reformed Druids of North America”, a counter-Traditional initiatory organization. Like Guenon’s excursions into spiritualism and Theosophy, this was an obnoxious but necessary endeavor of my youth.

  8. It is easy to make a list of Traditionalist pagans. It is the same as the list of Traditionalists who are inclined to politics: Julius Evola, Alain de Benoist, Koenraad Logghe (Flemish spiritual racist), and Nikolaos Michaloliakos (Golden Dawn founder). Furthermore, the excellent quasi-Traditional thinker John Michael Greer is a neo-pagan leader. This is not a coincidence. In the world of Tradition, especially, there are no coincidences. Nor is this a matter of an obvious and stupid error being made; no one here would dream of calling Evola an imprecise or foolish thinker. Yet we have seen on this blog that Evola does have some troublesome inclinations. Neo-paganism is attempting to access Tradition in a way that might not work.

    I believe I have identified the subtle nature of the error, and I have written several pages on the subject already, but there are a number of things I need to do before I have something I’m willing to display to the public. I need to read Benoist’s “On Being a Pagan” and Greer’s “A World Full of Gods” as well as the posts that will appear on Greer’s immensely popular Archdruid Report blog in the weeks to come, because while I have an inkling, attacking what you do not understand is sheer rudeness. I need to continue my research into Japanese paganism, and I feel that whatever I write will gain immensely from expert knowledge of Indian and Chinese tradition, which I will not begin studying until this fall. So, please don’t expect anything immediately.

    BTW, since writing the above post I discovered an interesting essay of Guenon’s where he says that anyone with Traditional knowledge — not even “initiates”, but anyone who has read one of his books and gets what he is talking about — should feel free to “convert” to any religion, because he already understands what any “religious group” will achieve for him, so the concept of “conversion” as abandoning one’s heritage is already below him. Based on that essay, I would not write this same post today; this is one of several new bits of information that are making me think a lot deeper about this issue.

  9. I don’t know my friend… I appreciate your ‘goodwill’ and such. But for me the boat has sailed, due to various personal circumstances.

    I can’t take it even remotely seriously. What I find even more insidious is the hubris and prejudice of those commenters here who would supposably identify with the priestly caste; I won’t even bother detailing the incidents. To put it bluntly: I’d rather take the path of the Kamikaze pilots.

  10. Ah… to clarify: I meant to say that have you made a blog post, or something similar, of what this book will contain in general (besides this chapter)? at least vaguely speaking. My perception was that said book was beyond the planning stages… at least, from the tone of previous comments on other posts.

  11. I seem to remember Evola criticizing the use of the term pagan while often using the term neopagan, though I can’t remember the source… Perhaps in Against the Neopagans. They both seem to be overly general terms which denote very little when it comes down to it, other than a rejection of Christianity and a yearning for the past (I have been guilty of both in the past). This pagan vs Christian debate is a major stumbling block to ones advancement along the spiritual path. There is a reason why most of the animosity seems to come from “(neo)pagans” towards christianity while for the most part traditional Christians embrace the wisdom of our pagan ancestors (the ones here at gornahoor anyway). I say this to you in goodwill because I have been where you are. Make peace with the decisions of your ancestors and a new world of wisdom and growth will open up for you. The way is difficult enough…

  12. I’ve started writing a full reply to your comment above, which, as I said, is a book chapter in length. I can answer the question of “gnosticism” rather easily though. Gnosticism is a complete rejection of the reality of manifestation and the basis of the goodness of this world in God. Like Gurdjieff, even if any part of it is true, it has unlimited potential to corrupt the Tradition. The early Christians stamped it out for a reason.

  13. Also, forgot to add, wouldn’t the more correct term be ‘gnosticism’? or some sort of realization/acknowledgment of the divine, the Logos, hierarchy and so on (a counter-revolutionary)? I would guess that some of these notions are requirements, conscious or not, of potential readers of Gornahoor. I find it hard to believe that those who profess to be ‘counter-revolutionary’ could be atheist in the strict sense.

  14. Well.. your article says that “Julius Evola professed to be a pagan”, so why the ‘neo’ bit? in other words, if one adheres to certain principles of a particular flavor of “pagan” doctrine (in this case the Roman), wouldn’t one implicitly be considered a “full-blown” pagan (at least, as a person would view/consider himself, given modern circumstances)? I would speculate that this would also be the point where initiation would come in for proper recognition, and the ‘atmosphere’, the ‘Mannerbund’ and so on of better epochs. Where could I found out more about your future book? I’ve read some comments made by you before, in regards to those of “Evola’s persuasion”, and I’d be highly interested to hear your ‘full thoughts’ on the matter. It is highly critical for me, and others I’m sure. Thank you and all the best to your efforts.

  15. I intend to make my full thoughts on that matter a chapter in a future book.

    Most simply: Philosophical agnosticism or atheism is common among the type of man who reads Gornahoor, but it fails to actually imbed someone in a tradition. Evola was a neo-pagan because he had no interest in supporting any existing tradition, “Italian man” being a sort of mythical idea he toyed with and merged recklessly with the Indo-Aryans. His “Pagan Imperialism” was an extremely interesting defense of the Roman Empire but is absurd for modern Europe for a very long list of reasons. Other, more practical European traditionalists have been neo-pagans but have been forced to acknowledge Christianity to meet the political needs of the masses.

  16. “…but he merely meant that he gave Religion little thought, just as the Romans did.” More elaboration should be made on this point, for those of us who wish to adopt a similar attitude. Why isn’t this also listed as a choice ? Please expound more.

  17. Thank you for your kind words. I’m currently struggling through Schuon to try to get a grasp on that corner of perennialism, and it’s encouraging to know that what I glean from that might be helpful to someone. As for Catholicism, I read a lot about it, but it’s clear that I am out of my league as someone raised liberal Protestant. I can only tell people to look into it and take it seriously.

  18. We’ve discussed the eastern orthodox interpreation of western history on Gornahoor already, see the posts on Romanides.

    The main problem people have, I think, is that we need to separate the dogma and ritual of Catholicism from the opinions of the modernist present day Vatican.

  19. By the way excellent, excellent, excellent essay. Avery, you are very gifted, and I congratulate you on your work. I noticed you were rather unspecific regarding Catholicism. This may or may not have been intentional. In any case, I found home in the Liberal Catholic Church (which started with the Old Catholics). They follow a very traditional liturgy, but require no doctrinal commitment, so this makes it (somewhat) friendly to a perennial view, and even a traditional one, depending on the parish (mine is friendly). It is naturally not without its downside, however, I think for some, the Old Catholics (the real ones, not fake ones who ordain women) may be a possible alternative if they wish to avoid some of the negative history or partisan aspects of Eastern and Western Roman Churches.

  20. I stopped searching a long time ago, except perhaps for fun. I realised when I sat down with my eyes open, Tradition always found me, and indeed had sought me out. When people ask why a I live a traditional life, I reply that it is the natural way, a simple way, and that it is truly the modern frenetic life that is confusing, difficult, and burdensome. “For my yoke is sweet, and my burden light.” (St. Matthew 11:30) Continue to see, but stop looking, and if you quiet long enough, the way will come to you.

  21. Interesting that you say this, because I was having these exact thoughts last night as I thought more about this subject. The problem with both Islam and, though to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodoxy for a Westerner is that there tends to be a strong anti-Western (in the historical sense) strain to both traditions.

    For Orthodox, as you mentioned, pro-Byzantine and anti-Charlemagne. Yet also other important events in Western history, like being anti-Crusader, anti-Teutonic Knight, anti-Holy Roman Empire (post Henry the Fowler), and so forth due to their anti-Catholic stance. In that sense, it isn’t much different than the historical struggle between Islam and the West, which has always been one of the primary reasons I couldn’t get behind the idea of becoming a Sufi (though I do admire them.)

    It seems that is yet another benefit of so-called Eastern traditions like Buddhism in that they avoid any sort of historical struggle with the West, especially the traditional pre-modern West, besides the fact that we can make the connection of a common Indo-European tradition of deep antiquity as I mentioned previously.

    One a large scale I can’t say which traditions the West should adopt, I don’t think there is a clear cut answer. On the individual level, I suppose it is more up to one’s own intuition to guide him to where he belongs.

  22. I didn’t realize Eastern Orthodoxy had an official position on Charlemagne.

  23. The question I have with Orthodoxy is that in adopting it the Westerner must take an anti-Western historical and geopolitical point of view which at the end of the day means nothing different from becoming Muslim. For example, a Frenchman following the SSPX is still pro-French but anti-modern but a French convert to orthodoxy has to become anti-Charlemagne and pro-Byzantine.

  24. It’s a question I consider too. Strictly speaking, traditional (in our sense) Catholicism appears to be little present in the west. Even in the traditionalist (in the SSPX sense) Catholic parishes, there seems to be a hardline attitude toward doctrine which, while justified, is not exactly friendly to perennialism. This is not unknown among the Orthodox (just look at the “toll house” arguments), but is there vastly counterbalanced by the mystical and hesychastic traditions. Honestly, it might be most worth it to simply go to the different churches (or mosques, come to that) and see where a good spiritual teacher might be found, then follow his path, whichever it is. To which sign the next “In hoc signo vinces” will refer is unknown.

  25. I feel Eastern Orthodoxy is a completely valid option for the vaguely defined “Westerner”, because it means to the average American on the street that you are a Christian. I put “Westerner” in quotes because the grandchild of Iranian or Chinese immigrants who finds themselves completely Americanized and secularized might also want to consider this route. The remnant of Christian tradition in the West needs serious intellectual and spiritual stimulation, and the Eastern Orthodox have always welcomed outsiders willing to provide that.

    If there were ever enough people trying to practice genuine reconstructionist paganism, I would happily write a tract explaining how paganism works in Japan. I purposefully overlooked it here because it would be an attempt to engineer the religious aspect of a culture, which is clearly not how Religion traditionally works, and furthermore operating on a polytheistic principle which was great for the Romans but proved unstable in medieval times. The Kali Yuga goes on.

  26. A lot of people here recommend choosing Christianity instead of an Eastern tradition because it is “our” tradition. What about those of us that were not born into any tradition, rootless, and raised apathetic to religion? My father is basically an atheist and my mother a Catholic who is only Catholic in that she prays every day, but who has no real understanding of Catholicism.

    I grew up essentially a secular-materialist-atheist until at the age of 18 I was lucky to have been graced with a transcendent mystical experience that forever changed my life. From that point on metaphysics and tradition became the primary area of focus in my life. However, the initial tradition I was introduced to was Vedanta. I read the Upanishads and guys like Nisargadatta Maharaj. It wasn’t until years later that I began to explore Christianity.

    Now, beyond my problems with Christian theology, the Christian tradition that most interests me is Eastern Orthodoxy with its hesychastic, theosis-oriented tradition. However, as a Westerner, isn’t Eastern Orthodoxy foreign to my culture and tradition as well? It may be less so than Buddhism, Vedanta, Tantra, or other Eastern doctrines, but none of my ancestors were Greeks or Slavs.

    Also, what of the connection of the now long dead Germanic and Celtic paganism with the Santana Dharma? Of course neo-paganism is a joke, but is it not possible that our deep ancestry has been practicing Eastern metaphysics since prehistory? Just look at the so-called Oseberg Buddha in full lotus posture or the Gundestrup Cauldron or the equivalence of the Druids to the Brahmins or Julius Caesar describing how the Gauls believed in the “Pythagorean” doctrine.

    Just some food for thought. Perhaps a perfect tradition or the prefect guru isn’t out there, but does that mean we should simply settle for a modern degenerated Christianity because it is “our” tradition? The East may be degenerated too, but I find it highly likely that you will learn more about metaphysical truths and esoteric practices from a Tibetan Buddhist or Hindu yogi than a modern Catholic priest.

  27. Moreover, the liberty found in the traditional state does not exist there. The few liberties that are had are not protected by their ”king”, but at his mercy. Even if some principles of juche are similar to traditional ones, their source differs and their implementation is questionable at best.

  28. A while back, in college, and quickly becoming thoroughly disappointed by philosophy and “everyone is a gifted writer” creative writing classes, I began yearning for something more. I soon realized that I needed to get away and fantasized that there was some other utopia out there that would offer up everything I was lacking. My days were spent imagining what this place might be and browsing the many possibilities. I soon decided that I would find what I was seeking in the Pacific Northwest while working on an organic farm just outside of Portland. It seemed perfect…this was the quintessential meaningful experience. This was where enlightenment was supposed to happen for a twenty year old hipster pseudo intellectual. I quit my job, withdrew from school, and made the 2500 mile journey up to Oregon that summer. But when I arrived I quickly learned that this was not a utopia. It was, well, dirty and unorganized. It seemed like a lot of work, and where were all of the loose hippy chicks that would fawn at my commentary on anarcho primitivism? After several sleepless nights and a spiritual breakdown, I got back in my car and headed home feeling deflated and lost.

    By which I mean to say… Whenever I find myself pining for the perfect spiritual tradition, for the guru that will unlock the secrets of the world for me, I take a cold shower and sit down to meditate. Yearn vertically, not horizontally.

  29. I’m trying my best to phrase this nicely: Power in North Korea is stated to derive from “the people”. Kim Jong Il is no different from Stalin or Mao, and both of those Bonapartes were around in Guenon’s day, so if he wanted to praise them he could have.

  30. I have read all 3 of the authors you mentioned very well, am I right to suppose you believe Juche is akin to Caesarism/Bonapratism ?

    I asked the question because a few neo-traditionalists I’ve spoken with consider north Korea to be a traditional state ruled by a priest-king. Let me know if you’d like to read a link I can provide on that.

  31. Very well thought article, sir.

  32. thanks for those links Avery

  33. Well said sir!

  34. I’m going to overlook most of the absurdities in that question, and focus on just one: anything that starts off with a commitment to equality is wrong. Unity and uniformity are opposites. I can’t force you to read Guenon, but I recommend a deeper understanding of Evola’s Bonapartism or Spengler’s Caesarism at the very least.

  35. Cologero, Avery,

    What are your thoughts on Juche, the tradition of north Korea ?

    Obviously it is not open to Westerners (except the rare few who have lived amongst Koreans perhaps) but I still think it is worthy of study.

  36. I wholeheartedly agree with Cologero.

    Initiation or a spiritual guru is not going to suddenly appear in your bedroom while sitting in front of the computer. And I wouldn’t suggest waiting for a miraculous “dream contact” or something, which would be very difficult to delineate from pure self-suggestion or some diabolical mirage.

    An oriental path is very hard to enter. Keep also in mind that much that goes on there is at the same level of degeneration that can be found in the West.
    There is plenty in Orthodox (especially) and Catholicism to work with.

    If you feel that modern Christians are understanding Christianity at the lowest possible level, then what keeps you from practicing it at a higher level, especially when you have the understanding.

    If you feel that the priest in your local church is not good enough for you aspirations, then you really have to start to wonder if you are good enough for your own aspirations on the other hand. If not, then work on that, develop lucidity, calm your impulses, dismantle your passions and things will begin to clear up more.

  37. Knowing what I know now, I would have started a family much sooner. Isn’t that how traditional cultures operate–you get married, start a family…? Instead, moderns linger on with the search. Real flesh and blood commitments and responsibilities–a family–is the real first step through the doorway in to a life of the higher states. For 999 men out of 1000 I will wager, the select company included. It is also the one most moderns, especially seekers after spirit and tradition, revolt against.

    Not only is it in harmony with a traditional life, and good for the soul; a person serious about Theosis, or whatever it is one is after, is forced to face the management of Time, for if one isn’t careful, there will never be enough hours in the day; and at the end you will have gotten nowhere. Most Westerners ought probably to get over themselves and choose Christianity and adopt some spiritual practices. It is all there. So the seeker decides, acts and moves on to deeper, more important things of life. Such as, work. Something that directs his mind and energy outwardly and that participates in, or invites participation of, others/the world. This is how one learns to juggle the worlds. Within these constraints, the soul matures, grows in strength and understanding to be used for further growth, including material challenges/adventures/projects/schemes; fuller love for one’s partner, one’s family, one’s Creator etc.

    Faithfulness through time is what gets one the prize.

    We create our own roadblocks and walls, and strange, imaginary things. That’s something else that gets cleared up. The strange, peculiar fantasies and notions one used to have…”What is that to thee? Follow thou me” is the instruction/command/the call to heed.

  38. Spot on as usual, Cologero, and quite illuminating. I get swept up with the current sometimes. There are plenty of staircases in Japan for sages to hide under, and I have myself had penetrating conversations about Buddhism with strangers who refused to give me their names or business cards.

  39. Of course it came from the janitor under the stairs … that is the whole point. The Vajrayana writings are replete with such stories, not to mention Christian legends. Gurus appear when unexpected, not when they are sought. One never knows where the spiritual center has withdrawn.

    Hasn’t it dawned on anyone yet that this approach may be a dead end? Really, 60 years after Guenon’s death, the same arguments are going on, about valid traditions or real initiations, presumably without resolution, and no agreement on how to achieve resolution. The first task is to delineate the criteria to be used to determine the “correct” or “good” tradition. Please let me know how you arrive at your judgments.

    Guenon says the normal course is to follow one’s own tradition; a precious few, including him apparently, choose a traditional form based upon their personal needs. That is wonderful provided you understand your own needs and are capable of recognizing the organization that can service them.

    No, the modern mind wants the perfect guru, the perfect wife, the perfect job, and a 401k plan that always increases. There is no such world, you only attain what your state of being is compatible with. How would anyone recognize his guru? The gurus don’t advertise because they don’t need you. If they accept you, you would have to spend quite some time in preparation. It seems that people are disappointed by rites, prayers, and meditations and want to go straight to the good “philosophical” part. Without the rites, prayers, and meditations, Tradition just becomes another philosophical system among others, and degenerates to unresolvable sterile discussions that remind me of a college Objectivist society.

    Guenon’s metaphysical system is not that difficult to understand on s rational basis. However, these “higher states” are difficult to grasp and cannot be known from verbal discussions. Yet, before even considering these higher states, a man needs to know his own state of being, inside and out. That is the beginning of gnosis and the place to start: “know thyself”.

  40. True, I am sure there can be found both Orthodox and Catholic Christians who better understand the sophia perennis and live that wisdom more fully within their own lives than practitioners of various Eastern religions. Japan especially has Westernized (in the negative, anti-traditional sense) so it would come as no surprise to me to find true vitality lacking there today. Thanks for the blog links btw.

    Interesting that you mentioned the book about the American who went to study at the Shaolin temple in China to become a spiritual warrior. I too have such aspirations (though not necessarily Shaolin) as the sage/ascetic and the warrior are the archetypes of men I’ve always most admired and wished to emulate in my own life. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Evola’s works resonated with me so greatly. I imagine it isn’t so easy to accomplish today, especially with the perception Easterners may have of Westerners interested in their traditions, who unfortunately often come from a pseudo-spiritualist New Agey disposition with the corresponding modernist outlook. It seems the existence of these sorts of New Agers would make it all the more difficult for sincere and serious individuals to be taken seriously from the get go, to say nothing of the lack of true authenticity among the Easterners themselves. Though I suppose where there is a will there is a way…or so I hope.

  41. You have named some very great issues with Catholic Christianity, which some within the Church are also concerned by. I do wonder about Eastern Orthodoxy. I have only ever encountered one Eastern Orthodox believer in person. She struck me as someone with deep traditional understanding and the product of a higher and more wonderful plane than anything I saw in Zen Buddhism when I lived in that order. These are entirely personal remarks, of course. What I’m trying to say is that I was fooled as a teenager into an instinctive, thoughtless disgust for the Tradition under my own feet, and lively Orthodox and Catholic blogs that speak constantly of perennial Tradition, like or or , are only a click away if you know where to find them.

    Do sages still walk the Earth? You will find in Japan that every man remembers fragments of some nameless sage, but that his name is given nowhere in the “culture”, and that those who angle for positions of academic and political authority frequently claim to oppose all traditional principles. Of the present-day existence of gurus in the Far East I can give no firm conclusion at this moment. There is strong evidence that metaphysical initiations existed in Japan through the late Middle Ages, and many pseudo-initiations claim to have discovered such secret teachings. Japan’s martial arts are real centers of initiation, but the metaphysical core they present is clouded, somewhat like the Freemasons. This may be something I continue to study in the future, depending on some big choices that await me in the next year. I do not know what the situation is like in Korea and China are but I am not hopeful. There is an amusing book by an American who went to the Shaolin temple in China to become a spiritual fighter, but the only real martial abilities he picked up there came from a janitor living under the stairs.

  42. Quite. I did not mean to say that Evola himself was wrong. But neither should we ignore the misreading of his work by Neo-Nazi groups, the most powerful by far being the Greek Golden Dawn. These groups remember all the lovely and invigorating stuff about the timeless virtues of the European tradition, and then conveniently forget that this tradition is dictated from above, and is not of “the people”. This is part of the path to the Great Parody.

  43. Thank you for your thoughtful response. To be honest, I am not sure what I want beyond gnosis/enlightenment. I know that is what ultimately my study of metaphysics and any practices I may do are geared toward, but I am not sure where or what tradition alive today offers the realest possibility for that sort of growth or awakening.

    My main issue with the Christian/Western Tradition is that what attracts me to it is mostly cultural and a connection to my race’s tradition and history. For example, I am really attracted to Gothic cathedrals, Gregorian chant, the liturgy, etc. I also like the more Neoplatonic influenced negative theology you see in figures like Pseudo-Dionysius, Meister Eckhart, the Cloud of Unknowing, Nicholas of Cusa, and the Hesychast tradition among the Orthodox.

    The problem is there are many political and theological sticking points that attract me to traditions like Buddhism, Daoism, Tantra, etc. over the Christian tradition, especially in its modern degenerated state (though I imagine the modern state of Eastern traditions doesn’t fare much better.) Namely and without going into too much detail, the createdness of the soul, the centrality of time to the theology, the dualism, the notions of eternal hell, etc. and the whole crisis of the modern post-Vatican II Church.

    I suppose what I really want is initiation or a guru/guide. What I ask myself is, “Do sages still walk the Earth and can I find one that can assist me on my own path?” Fully living within a tradition is also important, and I suppose of the options Buddhism may be the best of the Eastern traditions for us Westerners given its Indo-European/Aryan roots. Evola seemed to agree based upon his thoughts in the Doctrine of Awakening. Though again what I do know of the higher elements of Daoism is really attractive to me.

    Ultimately being a young Western man seeking Truth in the modern world isn’t easy. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t confused as to where to look and what to do outside of self learning and self practice. I plan on teaching English abroad in Asia in the future and hope while I’m there my intuition will guide me to where I belong. Thanks once more for your reply.

  44. Hello, and thank you for your well-considered reply, which echoes precisely the questions running through my own head at this moment. Having spent 3 years in Japan, I have already made some commitment to traditional life here, under the “when in Rome” principle. But I have not yet answered these questions sufficiently for myself:

    What is the origin of the surviving East Asian traditional forms? You mention Daoism (named by Guenon as the metaphysics of Confucianism), Zen, and Vajrayana; all of these are present in Japan, but what are we attempting to achieve by imitating any or all of them?

    What makes being an “insider” to the Far Eastern traditions attractive to Westerners? I contend that it is its metaphysical and non-sentimental order which presents itself agreeably to men, especially those of Evola’s persuasion, who are fed up with sentiment. If this is true for you, I could not recommend Zen or Vajrayana. They are spoken of in the West as “philosophical” but in reality, to those who practice them, they are very much Religion.

    This leave Daoism, which outside its completely degraded religious forms (you would really be clinging to scraps by seeking out a center of Daoist or Shinto study), is chiefly manifested in the Confucianism of present society. I contend that being an “insider” to Confucianism of the Japanese sort is in fact a racial commitment, which is why I rely on Evola despite the criticisms other would make of him. I wrote this essay to dissuade that sort of desire, although of course I cannot stop it.

    If you are willing to handle all the centuries of religious tradition that come with traditional Buddhist ordination, I would ask you to contrast it with Christian ordination.

    Here is a morning service at the chief temple of Soto Zen: (skip to 6:45 if you have no patience)
    And here is the chief temple of Orthodox Christianity: (do watch the whole thing)

    I am planning to continue this post with an article in Sacred Web to discuss these issues in much greater depth.

  45. ‘Those who have read Julius Evola will not make sentimental mistakes, but these people, if they are not similarly careful, can sometimes make far worse mistakes, like confusing Tradition with National Socialism.’

    I think anyone who truly understands what Evola so precisely wrote will know that he just supported the positive currents in NS, or of its time, which represented eternal truths.

    Obviously, many ‘read’ without truly understanding.

  46. Good article. Really strikes a chord with me as this is a question I’ve often asked myself. First and foremost I like Tradition wherever I can find it, be it in Meister Eckhart, Ibn Arabi, Lao Tzu, or Siddhartha Gautama. However I’ve as of yet been unable to discern where I should direct my energies.

    Though I wonder, what is the situation with Daoism today? I noticed that wasn’t one the possibilities you listed for a modern seeker. Overall I feel most attracted to Daoism, Zen, and Vajrayana, though I am ignorant on how alive the Tradition is in China today. I have little interest in the folk religion aspect, but more in the teachings of Lao Tzu and the various higher practices like internal alchemy and meditation.

    In any case, of those three traditions I listed, which is likely to be the “best” choice for a modern Westerner in your opinion?

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