The New Age view of the various traditions run along the lines that “all religions teach the same thing”, “all paths are valid”, “great teachers adapted religion for specific people”, and similar platitudes along the same lines of thought. From that, they seem to arrive at the illogical conclusion that if all paths lead to the summit, then there is no point in following a path. Even if we concede their assumptions, to get to the peak clearly requires following one of the traditional paths.
Rene Guenon himself makes this clear. Nevertheless, his fundamental assumption differs not much from the new age view, when he claims all traditions are the same; the same, too, for Schuon’s Transcendental Unity of Religions. As anti-egalitarians, we cannot suddenly consider all traditions as somehow equal or equivalent. Rather, we need to grasp the inner essence of each tradition, i.e., what exact insight each one brings. Beyond platitudes, there is specificity, and it is that quality that separates the players from the patzers.
The Two Worlds
From the Vedas to Plato to Augustine, we see the constant teaching of two worlds. Yet, to a great extent, those who claim a tie to Tradition as such seem to forget this teaching. This seems to me to be the case (readers can provide counterexamples) among neo-reactionaries and those who try to wed Tradition to various political movements. The focus is solely on the world of becoming, Even those—and these are legion relatively speaking—whose only exposure to Tradition is through Julius Evola cannot evade this. In the first paragraph of the first chapter of Revolt Against the Modern World, he writes:
In order to understand both the spirit of Tradition and its antithesis, modern civilization, it is necessary to begin with the fundamental doctrine of the two natures. According to this doctrine there is a physical order of things and a metaphysical one; there is a mortal nature and an immortal one; there is the superior realm of “being” and the inferior realm of “becoming.” Generally speaking, there is a visible and tangible dimension and, prior to and beyond it, an invisible and intangible dimension that is the support, the source, and true life of the former.
Anywhere in the world of Tradition, both East and West and in one form or another, this knowledge (not just a mere theory) has always been present as an unshakeable axis around which everything revolved. Let me emphasize the fact that it was knowledge and not theory. As difficult as it may be for our contemporaries to understand this, we must start from the idea that the man of Tradition was aware of the existence of a dimension of being much wider than what our contemporaries experience and call “reality”.
Hence, the man of Tradition must strive to gain true knowledge of that realm of being, even to the point of obsession. Of course, that realm is not obvious, whence the need for Tradition and true spiritual teachings. The natural man is aware only of the inferior world of becoming. That world appears to be governed by evolution and the will to power, and man’s only purpose is the pursuit and fulfilment of sensory pleasures. We don’t deny those appearances, rather we deny their ultimacy as an explanation of the world process.
To get back to the point, we can find the essence of the various traditions in how they understand and teach the higher world. Valentin Tomberg, in the Covenant of the Heart, scatters interesting insights about the role of the various traditions in salvation history. I will draw on some of them. First, this is Tomberg’s definition of salvation:
Salvation is the helping hand offered to idealistically minded human beings who, though no longer identifying themselves with natural evolution, still lack sufficient strength of themselves to alter its course.
To rephrase it in Guenon’s terms, the actualization of man’s possibilities as salvation is not possible within the material world process, but must arise from a transcendent source. So there is a salvation history as that “helping hand” revealed itself in various ways. Tomberg writes:
The hand of God stretched down form on high to human beings mired in evolution’s stream so that they may be raised up and helped to return to the divine archetypal world … which came in the form of successive stages of revelation, descending like tumbling cascades of a waterfall, awakening, the consciousness of mankind to its divine archetype. This process of revelation took place through seers and prophets and was subsequently recorded and preserved in holy scriptures. Thus, for instance, the revelation vouchsafed to the seven Holy Rishis forms the basis of the Vedas, the Holy Writ of India. The Zend-Avest of ancient Iran records the revelation communicated to Zarathustra when, on a high mountain fastness, he confronted the God of Light—Ahura Mazda—face to face. The Bible tells of the revelation received by Moses on Mount Sinai, where he encountered, also face to face, the God who bore the ineffable name of YHWH.
Note that these are all revelations of the superior world of Being. Regarding Brahmanism, Tomberg writes:
The primordial revelation of India announces the good news that the divine-archetypal Man, the true self of mankind, is not the empirical self, and likewise that the world—the real world that is, the divine-archetypal world—is not the empirical world of natural evolution.
I was speaking to two Hindus today about spiritual matters and, to my surprise, they could not see this as good news. India is not as spiritual as Guenon believed, but it full of charlatans charging money for quack cures and instant enlightenment; it should be no surprise that many Westerners are drawn to such nonsense. For example, on such guru says your karma will be burned off by walking X times around a certain temple which reciting a mantra he gives you. I told them that salvation cannot be achieved by such mechanical means.
Unfortunately, the doctrines of karma and reincarnation seem to be traps and the opposite of good news. The two were obsessed about how to burn up karma and achieve a better life, or actually a better next life.
It reminded me more of the medieval buying of indulgences than any free movement of the spirit. Their idea is that a good life would be free of the many trials we undergo. Yes, I would agree if understood properly. The trials are the results of man’s fall and are part of the world of becoming, not of being. Christian salvation promises to restore man to the state before the fall, even in an instant.
One of them told me he was depressed at the thought of the number of future lives that are necessary for him to achieve deliverance. That surprised me because the spiritual life should be one of joy. If one is still obsessed only with improving one’s material circumstances in the world of becoming, then, yes, depression will result unless one sinks into in full and unconsciously.
I told him that one’s true self transcends the empirical self and that the solution is vertical, not horizontal. As one learns to detach and observe life, emotions, and thoughts dispassionately, there will be increasingly long states of bliss.
To move on, Tomberg then writes:
The good news of Zarathustra was that the world and Man represented an admixture of two distinct world orders—that of the principle of light and that of the principle of darkness, or the divine–archetypal world order and that of natural evolution—and that the latter would in the end be vanquished by Soshyans “who through will overcomes death”, to be followed by the resurrection of the dead.
Note how different this is from “academic” and “learned” explanations of Zoroastrianism. They have no clue that Zarathustra was talking about the worlds of being and becoming. Moving on to the next revelation, Tomberg continues:
Finally, the good news revealed to Moses and the prophets proclaims that mankind, having fallen into the serpent’s domain through the Fall, can yet be redeemed, for the very essence and epitome of the divine-archetypal world order Himself was to become Man so that mankind might thereby triumph over the domain of the serpent and the dead might resurrect.
This has set the stage, finally, for our ultimate purpose, to wit, the self-understanding of the medieval Tradition, how it relates to other traditions, the source of its metaphysical teachings, and how it developed organically from the Roman religion that preceded it. God willing, this will appear this weekend.