December 09, 2007

Sri Aurobindo wrote a thoughtful and sympathetic critique of Theosophy

Why do I feel that the Traditionalist critique of the New Age is very much the pot calling the kettle black? The perennialist approach seems to be: if your spiritual experiences are not exactly in line with some so-called homogeneous Tradition, then they are from the devil or the Antichrist. Seriously, when I read their criticisms of the New Age I get the feeling that they have paranoid personality disorders. The New Age is irrational at worst, but it’s basically harmless...
Why exactly are Schuon, Guenon, etc., so opposed to Theosophy? It seems the central idea — of common metaphysical themes running through the world’s religions — is the same in both Traditionalism and Theosophy...
I got interested in Traditionalism because I was looking at the evolution of gender, and the Traditionalist perspective, because it sees the universe as static, sees man and woman as forever irreconcilable. I’ve also noticed a fairly consistent pattern that theologies that perceive an irreconcilable duality between Creator and creation, or matter/Nature as irredeemable, also always see man and woman as two totally opposite polarities. Interestingly Harry Oldmeadow’s book The Betrayal of Tradition has a chapter on the subject.
It’s just that perennialism is easily deconstructed anyway. I mean the whole notion of a totally homogeneous “Tradition” is imaginary. For instance, when it comes to gender it’s easy to find archaeological evidence of a “third sex” being recognized in ancient India.
Schuon is definitely my favorite too, though. Second to him, Huston Smith — and he’s a very nice guy. And Nasr is a brilliant writer but his Islamic biases can be really annoying, e.g. he openly defends the verse in the Quran that condones wife-beating, and says that hitting one’s wife is allowed in order to maintain the sanctity of the family and society. So yeah, I agree with you that most Traditionalists are just more sophisticated fundamentalists, though I do get a very good vibe from Schuon.
Addendum: Sri Aurobindo wrote a thoughtful and sympathetic critique of Theosophy that was not marred by Traditionalist bias entitled The Claims of Theosophy. It’s definitely worth a read!

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