September 21, 2008

Sufism: Veil and Quintessence

Completed an interesting if rather wordy exposition of Sufi doctrine. The author, Frithjof Schuon, was a mystic and famous author of many works on world religion. He was initiated into the Shadhili tariqa in North Africa by Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi. I cannot do justice to the book here, but following in the critiques of rationalism and materialism I have advanced in earlier posts, I find many useful points in Schuon, not the least of which is below:

"When Plato maintains that the philosophos should think independently of common opinions, he is referring to intellection and not logic alone; whereas Descartes, who did everything to restrict and compromise the notion of philosophy, maintains this while starting from systematic doubt, to such an extent that for him philosophy is synonymous not only with rationalism but also with skepticism. This is a major suicide of the intelligence, inaugurated moreover by Pyrrho and others as a reaction against what was believed to be "metaphysical dogmatism." The "Greek miracle" is in fact the substitution of reason for intellect, of the fact for the principle, of the phenomenon for the idea, of the accident for the substance, of the form for the essence, of man for God; and this applies to art as well as thought. The true Greek miracle, if miracle there be--and in this case it would be related to the "Hindu miracle"--is doctrinal metaphysics and methodic logic, providentially utilized by the monotheistic Semites."

In other words, there is a distinction to be made between rationalism and intellect; intellect necessarily includes a sense which is beyond rationalism. This idea is expressed in the book's title, which expresses how the most profound inner truths can be 'veiled' as it where, by hyperbole, ellipsis, and apparent contradiction. Schuon offers numerous Quranic examples of this technique.
The book also has the great virtue of expounding Sufism in the context of other mystical doctrines, showing points of agreement and departure and bringing out the mystical uniqueness of tasawwuf. Good to read in companion with Seyyed Hossein Nasr's The Garden of Truth.


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