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Smith-Bush - Transcendent Unity Con

Smith-Bush - Transcendent Unity Con

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01/15/2013

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JAAR
44/4 (1976) 715-719
Frithjof
Schuon's
The Transcendent Unity
of
Religions:
Con
RICHARD
C.
BUSH
Y
now this book by Frithjof Schuon is well known, certainly to those whoare interested in relationships among religions and who welcome anyeffort in the direction of religious unity. The new Harper Torchbooksrevision of the 1953 English translation by Peter Townsend (Pantheon) wasdistributed at a reduced price at the 1975 AAR Annual Meeting and has beenreviewed in several journals. During a session of the Philosophy of Religion andTheology section of the AAR in 1973, Schuon's thesis was the basis of radicaldisagreement between Huston Smith and
myself.
Professor Smith was convincedthat I had misunderstood Schuon at several points, so we agreed a few monthsafterward to write reviews from our respective points of view, to be published atthe time of the publication of the revised edition (1975). I have delayed thisundertaking for an unpardonable length of time and apologize for it.Professor Smith has edited and provided an introduction to the revised editionof
The Transcendent Unity of Religions.
Certain sections have been omitted in therevision, notably for me the section which I seem to have grossly misunderstood.The substance of the book remains in an attractive, small volume. A briefbiographical sketch of the author would be helpful, even if only a few sentences onthe back cover.Schuon asserts that the unity of religions can be realized and known only on aneternal, metaphysical level, that knowledge of the divine reality can only beintuited by man's intellect, which Schuon, like Meister Eckhardt, identifies withwhat is uncreated and uncreatable in the soul. All religions are one insofar
as
theyproceed from and manifest that transcendent essence which is ultimately real andtrue.At various points the author identifies this esoteric realm of unity with Godor the Word or with love, knowledge of which is only by direct intuition which isbased neither on belief nor reason and needs no proof or
belief,
but abides in"metaphysical certitude, [which] is absolute because of the identity between theknower and the known in the Intellect" (xxviii-xxix)*. Metaphysics is differentfrom and superior to philosophy for Schuon, since philosophy employs reasonand therefore involves the pretension to autonomy, and
is
also superior to religionwhich is based on
belief.
'Since
all quotations are from the volume under review, I have dispensed with footnotes and
placed
all page references in parentheses following a quote or reference The above paragraphs at
various
points follow very closely certain statements made in my paper in the
Philosophy ofReligion and Theology 1973 Proceedings,
for the AAR edited by David Gnffin.
RICHARD
C
BUSH
(Ph D , Chicago) is Professor and Acting Director, School of Fine Arts
and
Humanistic Studies, Oklahoma State University, where he teaches courses dealing with
Asian
religions, philosophies, and humanities. He is the author of
Religion in Communist China
and
of
a
short work on religion in China to be published as part
of a
high school textbook
series
in
7,5
 
716 RICHARD C. BUSH
In contrast to the esoteric realm discussed above, the exoteric side of religion isto be found in its various expressions and forms (not the Platonic forms), whichare the doctrines, practices and organizations of various religious groups. Mostpeople confuse these expressions with reality and do not look beyond their owncircles for
the
truth, so the unity of religion cannot
be
grasped at the exoteric level.Thus we begin with an ultimate metaphysical unity which may be described as
absolute, categorical, undifferentiated Unity Anthropologically this Unityprecludes final distinction between human and divine, epistemologically betweenknower and known It bespeaks a knowing that becomes its object, or rather is itsobject, for temporal distinctions are likewise inapposite at this point, (xni)
We must remember that this ultimate unity "defies visualization or even consistentdescription." It is not known by revelation or reason but through the Intellectintuitively. Glimpses of this esoteric Unity appear in unspecified "revealedreligions" but as Smith goes on to say:
it is hidden and secret not because those who know will not tell, but because thetruth to which they are privy is buried so deep in the human composite that theycannot communicate it, not in any way the majority will find convincing (xv)
Those who do "realize that they have their roots in the Absolute" constitute anesoteric minority, whereas an exoteric majority does not know or regards as sterilewhat the esoterics are talking about. Esoterics, to whom alone certainty about theultimate is accessible, are "a spiritual elite which becomes ever more restricted innumber." (xxx)There are two closely related problems in this thesis. I have no problem withthe assumption of the Reality or Mind or God who is complete and utter unity,that He or It transcends our efforts to know Him, that His ways are not our ways,
etc.,
but the conviction
is
fairly widespread in the major religious traditions, with ameasure of philosophical support, that this reality is much more closely related tothe world in which
we
live,
even to the exoteric realm, than Schuon allows. If this isthe case, then whatever knowledge is possible of the ultimate must extend beyondesoteric circles. In the world of religions, gods make themselves known in part atleast, and people claim to know and be known by such gods. We are presentedwith some evidence, such
as
the "spirit-filled life," the change that takes place in anindividual or a community, the test of
time.
Even the Tao Te Ching, which tells usthat "the Tao which can be named is not the Tao," goes on to say that the Tao islike water, an infant, woman, a valley, or an uncarved block. Even that mostenigmatic of philosophical concepts is not as esoteric as claimed.Reason cannot be used to support or oppose the transcendent unity whichSchuon posits. Scientific investigation is out. Every observable facet of religiouslife in the world belongs to the exoteric realm and cannot be cited to support anycontention about the esoteric. All we can do is accept the word of Schuon and hisfellow esoterics that they have intuited this transcendent unity, which is to say weexercise our faith which in turn is exoteric.My second problem at this point
is
the resulting deep division between esotericand exoteric. Professor Smith, disturbed as I am at the differences which havedivided religious traditions and communities from each other, finds in Schuon'sscheme a basis for the unity of religions. I am impressed neither by the unityenvisaged nor with the possibilities for communication of it, and, moreover, amdeeply troubled because of the further division between an elite few, howevermuch they know and can share in their esoteric circles, and the masses of human
 
SCHUON'S
THE TRANSCENDENT UNITY OF RELIGIONS
CON 717beings who cannot participate in the transcendent unity. A metaphysical dualismhas been avoided at the expense of an epistemological and anthropologicaldualism, both of which are grounds for a subtle arrogance which is hardlybecoming in those who desire religious unity.A strong Neo-Platonic flavor permeates Schuon's thinking, notably theconcept of grades of being, with the consequent notion that lower and inferiorlevels are absorbed into higher levels, leading to the ultimate esoteric levelcontaining both good and evil, the latter being regarded as an imperfection or"dissipation." Also Neo-Platonic is the view of
divine
reality as an impersonality,which is supra-personal, essential, and universal, opposed to God as he
is
revealedthrough the particular or personal, which is a "privation."In connection with his discussion of such matters, Schuon turns to a pricelessgem of biblical interpretation with the stories of Solomon and his parents.Exoteric in building the Temple of Yahweh, but esoteric in his recognition of thedivine in non-Hebraic religious forms, Solomon suffered blame in the Bible,because the Bible affirms essentially only Judaic monotheism, but was stillrecognized for his wisdom and "the person of the Sage himself
was
unaffected bythe infraction" (40). Judaic particularism gives way to universalism in such aninterpretation, which may be an advance, but does the interpretation, Koranicincidentally, really do justice to the story and its setting
7
This is nothing compared to the handling of the story of David and Bathsheba,for David's appropriation of Bathsheba is a "transgression" only from a legal,moral, exoteric perspective which characterizes the Bible. The "Impeccability ofthe Prophets," and David is classed as a prophet, — is attuned to "a deeperreality than can be attained by the moral point of view."Esotencally,
David's desire to
marry Bathsheba
could
not
be a
transgression, sincethe quality of Prophet can only attach to men who are free from passions,whatever
may be
the appearances in certain cases. What must
be
discerned aboveall in the relationship between David and Bathsheba
is
an affinity or
cosmic
andprovidential complementansm, of
which
the fruit
and
justification was Solomon,he whom "Yahweh loved" (42).Moreover, let us not be concerned with Uriah the Hittite, for "a heroic deathwith face turned toward the enemy" in a Holy War is a soldier's goal, which issurely the motive of David's "Prophetic intuition."However, the choice of Bathsheba and the
sending
of
Uriah to his
death,
althoughcosmologically and providentially justified, nonetheless clashed with
the
exotencLaw, and David, while benefiting, by Solomon's birth, from the intrinsiclegitimacy of
his
action, had to bear the consequences of
this
clash; but the veryfact that
an echo
of
the clash appears in the
Psalms,
which is a
sacred
Book
becauseDivinely inspired
its existence proving, moreover, that David was aProphet
shows once again that David's actions, though having a negativeaspect on an outward plane, nevertheless do not constitute "sins" in themselvesOne might even say that God inspired these actions with
a view
to the Revelationof
the
Psalms, of which the purpose
was
to record, in
Divine
and immortal song,not only the sufferings and glory of the soul in search of God, but also thesufferings and glory of the Messiah (43).Eat thy heart out, WayneHays!Thou shouldst
be
able in this hour to call uponso clever a defender as this. Forgotten is the "prophetic intuition" ofNathan: "Thou art the man." Overlooked is David's confession: "I have sinnedagainst the Lord." These are but further exoteric data which fade from view as

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