October 20, 2007

What The Mother and Sri Aurobindo teach flies in the face of both modernity and premodernity, materialism and Traditionalism

Recently I have been reading a lot more of Traditionalist literature, i.e. Frithjof Schuon, Rene Guenon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and others of the perennial philosophy school of thought. My favourite is Schuon, a brilliant metaphysician, but who nevertheless does not seem to understand science at all. Mark Sedgwick’s book Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century talks about the Traditionalist involvement in various political movements during the 20th century, including various fascist movements. However, although some Traditionalists were certainly neo-fascists — Julius Evola, for instance — not all of them were, and it seems to me, really, that Schuon and Guenon were largely apolitical. Moreover, to be fair, reactionaries like Evola would be considered an embarrassment to people like Schuon because he tried to subordinate contemplation to action, thereby allowing for impulsive action rather than detached action which is the dictum of such scriptures as the Bhagavad-Gita.
Traditionalism is largely premised on the duality between Creator and creation which cannot be overcome within the manifest universe itself. Spirit is generally considered “good” and matter is considered “fallen” or “evil”, and is irredeemable. The manifest universe therefore has a divinely-ordained hierarchy built into it. Traditionalists are romantics, and are anti-modernity, anti-science, anti-evolution, and at times it seems to me, also anti-woman (which may have something to do with the fact that “nature” or the material world, is seen as “feminine”). The duality between Creator and creation is seen as a permanent fixture of the manifest universe, and so too, therefore, is the duality between man and woman. Traditionalism is largely patriarchal, and justifies patriarchy through a cosmology that sees the marriage between man and woman as reflective of that between Creator and creation...
Anyhow, in my view Traditionalism, while correct in its affirmation of metaphysics and its emphasis on finding man’s spiritual nature through contemplative practices, does itself no favours by rejecting modernity and its insights, especially evolution. It is moreover totally incompatible with the modern concept of the individual. Traditionalism also seems to me to be as much a creation of modernity as anything else — a “living tradition” would always avoid any “-ism” or fixed ideology. See my post, Why I am not (Just) a Traditionalist. Mark Koslow, a former member of Schuon’s spiritual order, has a website critiquing spirituality, but on closer reading it is actually mainly critiquing the Traditionalist conception of spirituality, which seekers of nonduality and integralism would actually appreciate.
The way I sum it up is to say that Traditionalism seems to want to resign to the dualistic nature of the manifest universe and just accept it the way it is, whereas modernity wants to pretend that no dualities exist in the first place and to remain in drastic denial of them. However, there is a perspective that neither denies dualities nor says we have to resign ourselves to them, and that is the integral perspective of Mother and Sri Aurobindo (and others also, but they put it forth most fully).
What Mother and Sri Aurobindo teach flies in the face of both modernity and premodernity, materialism and Traditionalism — or, at any rate, includes and transcends both. What they teach is that the Divine is hidden in matter itself, but that matter’s inconscience veils this from us. Therein lies the secret to transcending the dualities of the manifest universe. (For this reason Traditionalists openly disdain Sri Aurobindo, e.g. Seyyed Hossein Nasr relegates Sri Aurobindo’s brilliant synthesis to a mere footnote in his book Knowledge and the Sacred.)

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