Recently someone, claiming to be a Hindu priest despite looking European, informed me vaguely that Westerners misunderstand the Sanatana Dharma. Since my understanding is heavily colored by the writings of Rene Guenon, we shall rely on his essay on that topic included in the collection Studies in Hinduism. We shall use the traditional method in debate of using sentences, so it will be possible to refute, rectify, enhance, or embellish any one of them. We do realize that there is a “politically correct” movement afoot to use the term Sanatana Dharma as a synonym or replacement for “Hinduism”, but since the Hindus themselves cannot agree on that, it merits no further discussion.
On the surface, Guenon agrees with the claim in question since he asserts that the West has no exact equivalent. Although Ananda Coomaraswamy says that its best approximation is the Philosophia Perennis of the Middle Ages, Guenon sets out to show there are some significant differences. However, this is pointless in itself, because our real aim is to use the Sanatana Dharma as the key to bring out the full meaning and implications of the Philosophia Perennis.
In his essay, The Spirit of India, Guenon again asserts that true wisdom remains solely in the East. He describes the end of the Kali Yuga and the proper attitude of the new elite:
The world of disorder and error will be destroyed, and by the purifying and regenerative power of Agni all things will be reestablished and restored in the wholeness of their original state, the end of the present cycle being also the beginning of the future cycle. Those who know that it must be so cannot, even at the heart of the worst confusion, lose their immutable serenity. However irksome it be to live in an epoch of trouble and almost general obscurity, they cannot be affected by it deep in themselves, and it is here that we find the strength of the true elite. Undoubtedly, if the darkness should continue to spread more and more, this elite could, even in the East, become reduced to a very small number. But it is enough that some preserve integrally the true knowledge to be ready, when the ages are completed, to save all that can still be saved from the present world and become the seed of the future world.
There is a little paradox here that Guenon ignores. If the West is furthest along the Kali Yuga, then it will be the first to commence the next cycle, i.e., the West is the “seed of the future world”. Since the owl of Minerva flies at dusk, the West may well be in possession of the Eternal Wisdom, even if virtually, and Guenon has his own prejudices. Hence, we will have to revisit some ideas of Julius Evola, particularly those that put him at odds with Guenon.
Now, Guenon had the opinion that the West would have to count on aid from the East to restore its traditional spirit. This aid would need a “point of support in the Western world”; however, he admitted that these possibilities are “presently difficult to define.” Perhaps 80 years later we can define them. There have been a series of Indian gurus who have embraced the West, starting with Vivekenanda, then the Self-Realization Fellowship, Transcendental Meditation, and so on. Guenon did not much approve of Vivekenanda, and probably not the others. More recently we know that Sting practices Tantric sex and many women are doing Hatha Yoga exercises. I doubt that they will be restoring the traditional spirit. On the contrary, India is now exporting engineers and managers, the graduates of their prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, who are all too willing to leave the traditional spirit behind if they are able.
The other choice is Islam, since it has become a daily presence in much of Europe. Although it may be preserving the eternal wisdom, circumcision and the prohibition of alcohol and sausage are obstacles to Europeans. Nevertheless, Islam shows in a vivid way how a traditional society is organized. In Islam, there is no distinct secular and religious spheres since every aspect of daily life is regulated by sharia law. This includes the proper way to eat and pray, down to how to urinate, even how to clean one’s private areas. Throughout the day, the Muslim needs to avoid unclean things and perform duties and tasks correctly. That is not so for the contemporary westerner, who is quite pleased with unclean things. It wasn’t always the case, since there was a time when a European man sought to avoid temptations and occasions of sin while doing good deeds. The main difference was that the European was not as concerned about corporeal laws, since he tended to spiritualize ideas about cleanliness.
So it seems that Guenon was wrong about the East rushing to set the West spiritually aright, at least willingly. Hence, it behooves us to start defining the possibilities that Guenon was unable to do. One of those possibilities is to use the Sanatana Dharma to clarify aspects of the Philosophia Perennis that have become incomprehensible to modern man. After that, we shall reexamine the differences in spirituality and mentality between East and West as Guenon understands them. Finally, we will turn to Julius Evola and Valentin Tomberg to make that distinction even sharper. Since we here do not suffer from an inferiority complex in regards to the West, nor do we feel alienated from the most recent spiritual tradition of the West, we shall make the case that the Western view is correct and is the seed of the future world despite its current state of disorder. We are convinced that once you think about it a bit, you will also see that it is true. However, that will need to wait until tomorrow.