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Sayyed Hossein Nasr on Henry Corbin

Sayyed Hossein Nasr on Henry Corbin

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Seyyed Hossein Nasr on Henry Corbin from "In Search of the Sacred - A Conversation with Seyyed Hossein Nasr on His Life and Thought"
Seyyed Hossein Nasr on Henry Corbin from "In Search of the Sacred - A Conversation with Seyyed Hossein Nasr on His Life and Thought"

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at Harvard?’’ They did not understand my situation and needs. Even my own family did not understand why I spent so much time studying afterfinishing my formal education. But I wanted to be able to becomecompetent in the
lecture 
of traditional texts.
Lecture 
means ‘‘reading’’ inLatin, and for me it meant the reading of a text in the original sense of the word. In order to be a good teacher in our philosophical tradition,you have to have a master. You have to have a continuity of the master-disciple relationship and be able to master the oral tradition that accom-panies the written text. That experience of real masters helped me agreat deal. I am still a student of Islamic philosophy, but at least I havehad this experience and training.
R.J.:
And you were transmitting this to your students at the same time.
S.H.N.:
That is right. I have taught my students on several levels overthese fifty years. One is the formal classes in the university and one isprivate lessons, or what is called
dars-e kha 
rej 
(outside lessons), which Igave in Iran, usually Sufi texts such as L 
ah
 ıj
 ı‘s
Sharh 
:
-i gulshan-i ra 
85
andalso in the United States, where I have had a number of choice students who have become quite advanced. Here I have taught among other works
al-H 
:
ikmat al-‘arshiyyah 
and
Kita 
b al-masha 
‘ir 
86
of Mull 
a S
:
adr
a tothem using the original Arabic text with my own commentaries given inEnglish.
H
ENRY 
C
ORBIN
R.J.:
Now, among the other great philosophical figures whom you met in the late fifties and sixties in Iran was Henry Corbin, who was at that time the director of the French Institute for Iranian Studies in Tehran. What was the contribution of Corbin to your Islamic thought and yourphilosophical thought in general?
S.H.N.:
I would not say that he made a contribution to my philosophi-cal thought, but I learned a lot from him as far as the subjects of hisscholarship were concerned. He wrote on certain philosophers, as Ialready mentioned, such as on Ibn S
 ın
a (especially on his Oriental Philosophy,
87
 which I think is one of the most ingenious studies inIslamic philosophy), and of course there are both his edited texts andanalyses of Suhraward
 ı and several other philosophers; I benefited fromall these scholarly works. But as far as my philosophical position is con-cerned, I was not influenced by Corbin. In fact, we complemented eachother rather than agreeing totally on everything. I had already come to
PART THREE 91
 
know very well the writings of Corbin while I was in the United Statesbefore returning to Iran. As I told you, when I was writing my Ph.D.thesis in 1957 and 1958, I made extensive use of the writings of Corbinas far as Ibn S
 ın
a was concerned. When I came to Iran in 1958, very early that fall I met Corbin, and of course he realized my interests. Webecame good friends, and he asked to see my Ph.D. thesis, which wasthen in manuscript form, and I gave him a copy of it. He was elated by it and wanted to get it published immediately in the Bollingen Series at the Princeton University Press, but the Harvard University Press foundout and said, ‘‘No, we would like to do it ourselves,’’ and finally pub-lished it 
88
although it took them a few years to bring it out. Anyway, Corbin and I began immediately to discuss matters of mutual interest. At first, there was a certain friction between us, becausehe was opposed to the position of Gu
enon and the traditionalist perspective in general, which was mine. At the same time, however, hehimself was really the reviver of many aspects of traditional philosophy.Once he made a few harsh criticisms including personal attacks and Ibecame angry. His attack during a meeting we had at the Institut Franco-Iranien was not against Gu
enon but against Burckhardt,
89
 who was a very close personal friend of mine. So I got up and left the Insti-tute. Then Stella Corbin, his wife, called me up and apologized that Corbin had said these things. She said, ‘‘No, please, come. He wants tosee you.’’ In any case, after that episode, I always took great care not todiscuss such matters with him and so did he. I understood his idiosyn-crasies and avoided matters that he disliked.From the doctrinal point of view, we continued to disagree on many matters as things went on. I must add that over the years he becamemore and more aware of the significance of traditional writings. I shall never forget that in the sixties Teilhard de Chardin
90
had become very popular, and Corbin was very angry with his whole approach towardstheology and philosophy. At that time, Frithjof Schuon had written inthe footnote of one of his books,
Comprendere l’Islam 
,
91
that this kind of theology proposed by Teilhard de Chardin is the surrender of theology to the microscope, and he made a very severe criticism of him, whichelated Corbin. He said, ‘‘I am going to quote this footnote in one of my  writings, but that is going to cost me membership in the Acad
emie deBelles Lettres in France,’’ and that is exactly what happened. This showsyou what kind of prejudice existed against traditionalists in academiccircles in France at that time. Corbin also added, ‘‘
la vie est trop court 
,’’meaning ‘‘life is too short’’ to care about the consequences of his action.
92 IN SEARCH OF THE SACRED
 
He definitely had sympathy for Schuon’s writings. I also presented someof his books to Frithjof Schuon
92
and Titus Burckhardt, and they boththought that Corbin had discovered many important aspects of thetraditional universe. The main point of difference that I had with Corbin concerned thequestion of orthodoxy, which I interpret to mean not only formal andexterior orthodoxy, but also intellectual, metaphysical, and esotericorthodoxy. Of course
ortho-docta 
means to have the correct doctrine orknowledge of things. It means to possess the truth. In his youth, Corbinhad had certain negative experiences
vis- 
a-vis 
Catholic authorities, whichhad caused him to convert to Protestantism and to call himself hetero-dox, although what Corbin was talking about was at the heart of theorthodoxy of Shi‘ism. We never came to an agreement over this issue. I was, however, in agreement with Corbin’s criticism of the point of view of not only Western orientalism but also of modern Western philosophy in its disregard for the higher levels of reality and especially the imaginal  world, about which he wrote so much, especially in his very important book written in 1956,
L’Imagination cr 
eatrice dans le soufisme d’Ibn ‘Arabı 
.
93
I was, of course, in accord with him on this subject.
Teaching with Corbin
Corbin and I formed a kind of team, practically speaking, and I‘‘made use’’ of his presence in the following way: Corbin was a Frenchman, and the modernized circles in Iran were not interested in what ‘All 
amah T
:
ab
at 
:
ab
a’
 ı with a turban on his head was saying in Qom, but they would listen if somebody from France spoke of traditional teach-ings. I ‘‘made use’’ of him as much as possible in this context. Corbinhimself also wanted to be used in that way to further the cause of thestudy of traditional philosophy in contemporary modern circles in Iranamong people who had been educated in the West or influenced b Western thought. Needless to say, I also had the same goal in mind.Corbin was not only interested in making Islamic philosophy well knownin the West, but was also very much interested in the restoration of Islamic philosophy in Iran. He always talked about bringing back to lifeIslamic philosophy in Iran itself and met often with traditional Persianscholars. Often we attended these meetings together, and so we formed,as I said, a kind of team. We also taught together for some fifteen yearsa seminar in Islamic philosophy at Tehran University to achieve the goal  we both had in mind.
PART THREE 93

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