A turning-point in Evola’s spiritual life was his intellectual acquaintance with Guénon, as he stressed in his autobiography : « I owe to my contacts with Reghini (and immediately after that with Guénon, to whom he introduced me) in the first place my definitive liberation from some scoria derived from these circles [occult and Theosophical ones], and, in the second place, my definitive acknowledgment of the absolute heterogeneity and transcendence of initiatic knowledge with respect to the whole profane (in the case in point modern) culture, including philosophy ». Later in the same work, Evola speaks of the « mutation, almost in a genetic sense » of his views, from the very moment he became familiar with those of Guénon.
Acknowledgement of his debt to Guénon never prevented the aristarchic Evola, right from the start, from stating his reservations with regard to Guénon’s conception of ‘Tradition’, and from discriminating between what he considered as being the positive aspects and the negative aspects of Guénon’s work.
Thanks to the publication, under the title of ‘René Guénon : A Teacher for Modern Times’, of an English translation of the 19th volume (in the Italian edition simply called ‘René Guénon’) of the Evolian texts published by Fondazione Julius Evola, Anglo-Saxon circles interested in the work of both writers have the opportunity to find out, in Evola’s own words, more about some of the obvious differences existing between the conceptions of the two writers, as they found expression in their correspondence. If, in one of the texts in this anthology of writings by Julius Evola about René Guénon, ‘My correspondence with René Guénon’, it is their divergence on the origin and nature of Freemasonry which is stressed, the reader familiar with the work of both writers will also be able to observe, from reading their respective books, their clashes on the questions of the primacy of action or contemplation ; of the primacy of ‘temporal power’ or ‘spiritual authority’ ; of the modalities of initiation ; and of the agent which is responsible for the transformation it produces in man : divergences which are obviously all linked to each other and have the same root, to a certain extent located in their relationship and in their respective natures.
Although Evola does not even allude to them in the aforementioned article, it is safe to assume that these issues were also comprehensively discussed throughout their correspondence, which lasted from 1925, the year Evola wrote his first review of a work by the French author (‘L’Homme et son devenir selon le Vedânta’, which we present here) to the death of Guénon in 1951, of which only a dozen or so letters have been published so far. The two authors were also able to discuss and confront each other’s ideas in the papers to which they both contributed, through reviews of one another’s books ; Guénon reviewed, for instance, ‘La Tradizione ermetica’ (in ‘Le Voile d’Isis’), ‘L’Uomo come Potenza’, ‘Rivolto contro il Mondo moderno’ (whose « merit and interest » he acknowledges « as it should be » – and indeed it should be, since Guénon proof-read this book himself throughout 1933), and ‘Il Mistero del Graal’. Evola’s most famous review of a work by Guénon is that of ‘La Crise du monde moderne’, which is actually the preface of Evola’s own translation of this book into Italian.
In the first of these, that of ‘L’Homme et son devenir selon le Vedânta’, which was published in the November-December issue of L’Idealismo Realistico, Evola praises Guénon for clearing « the field from all the deformations, incomprehensions and parodies to which Eastern wisdom was subjected by Western currents » and for criticising « to its roots the whole of Western civilisation and [showing] the crisis and the ruin which threatens it if it does not turn to a very different order of values ». However, Evola expresses reservations about its systematic exposition of « the Eastern traditional wisdom, which he identifies in principle as containing such an order of values », an exposition which, as he will put it in ‘Il Cammino del Cinabro’ 40 years later, because of a « personal equation », has « excessively formal and intellectual features ». Even more precisely, Evola speaks of a « rationalism » in the attitude of Guénon towards metaphysics, « of rationalism as a philosophical system, that is, and not in its vulgar sense », and criticises him for conceiving of Eastern wisdom too abstractly in equating the metaphysical and the intellectual and in dogmatically reducing the diversity of the various conceptions within Vedantic monism to his own, and, beyond this, in regarding the Vedânta as the unsurpassable heights of ‘Eastern’ metaphysics. At this stage, let us bear in mind here that reality, to Evola, is power, as it is in Tantrism, while it is ‘illusion’ to Guénon and to Shankara, whose views he refers to in this connection ; that, to Guénon, metaphysics is « essentially knowledge of the universal, that is, of the principles of universal order », while to Evola, metaphysics is « an order of absolute concreteness » (to be understood as the most concrete reality), firmly wanted and assumed by man. Subsequently Evola proceeds to a critical examination of the Vedantic concept of manifestation as put forward by Guénon, underlining what he sees as being its inner contradictions. To this, Guénon, unsurprisingly, felt like making a ‘necessary rectification’, which was published in 1926, in the May issue of the same paper. A reply by Evola was to follow, in which, asserting that Guénon had not answered his questions or tackled the problematic points he had raised, he further developed the same criticisms, but in an even more synthetic manner.
The paper L’Idealismo Realistico, founded at the end of 1924 by Vittore Marchi, a scholar and the former director of a nationalist paper, was published until the early 1950’s. Initially, it was inspired by a rejection of Christian civilisation and of its values, which it thought of as ‘outdated’, as well as by a dismissal of all humanitarian and egalitarian ideas, and it did not hide its Masonic sympathies, its affinities with the philosophical school of Mazzini, or its criticism of ‘Gentilian actualism’. Evola’s collaboration, which lasted until 1931, started in the second issue, with an article in which he criticised ‘actualist’ idealism, whose substance, as summed up by Gian Franco Lami, we shall mention here, not only in order to show that Evola was very critical about the philosophy of his time, even its ‘idealism’, but also because some of these criticisms resemble those he made of some aspects of Guénon’s conception of the Vedânta : it « is not totally faithful to its own assertions, but loses itself finally in a determinist ‘escape’ (camouflaged under a ‘dialectical’ veil) ; it has assumed a heavily theoretical habit (‘gnoseological’ being the term here used to mean ‘conceptual’) which denies any function to the practical and individual aspect of existence, condemned (even) to become the material scoria of a transcendentalism-pessimism … »
It should be pointed out that it is during this period that ‘Teoria dell’Individuo assoluto’ (‘Theory of the Absolute Individual’) , ‘Fenomenologia dell’Individuo assoluto’ (‘Phenomenology of the Absolute Individual’) and ‘Saggi sull’Idealismo magico’ (‘Essays on Magical Idealism’) were published, as well as ‘L’Uomo come Potenza’ (‘Man as Power’), an essay on the Tantras which will later develop into ‘Lo Yoga della Potenza’ (‘The Yoga of Power’).
MAN AND HIS BECOMING ACCORDING TO THE VEDÂNTA,
reviewed by Julius EVOLA
The increasing interest shown today by our culture in all that is oriental is an incontestable fact, and cannot be explained as the simple effect of a fashion for exoticism, but must be connected to something much deeper. As far as the significance of this fact is concerned, however, it still remains a problem and, to tell the truth, a problem which deserves to be studied more deeply than it has been up to now.
At first, it was our habit to dismiss the East with a simple shrug, from the heights of a ‘smugness’ essentially based on the conquests of our civilisation in the fields of material science and abstract analysis. But, once aroused from this carefree presumption, the suspicion that such fields were not of ultimate importance flashed on some people, and considering the Orient with a new eyes, they began to understand its spiritual truth ; and, beyond recognising the East, they noted at the same time towards what critical points the whole of the much vaunted European civilisation was basically heading if pushed to its extreme consequences, and they began to wonder if, by any chance, they could offer something to integrate the European civilisation itself, in order to carry it, beyond that crisis, towards a higher positivity.
However, some of them fell into the opposite excess, into the idea that the East is like the anchor of salvation or the word from on high, that all which has been made by us, from the Greeks until today, is a non-value, a corruption, a degeneration, regarding which all that matters is to save ourselves by recognising it as such and returning to the eastern and traditional conception of life – more or less, as prodigal sons. Curiously enough, for the majority of these people, incomprehension of the West was accompanied by an analogous incomprehension of the East. That is : of this East they only saw the more external and second-rate, if not indeed quite counterfeited, side – the side which dismisses all which scientific seriousness, discipline, will, and knowledge, and they threw themselves into unbridled rambling and dissolution in feelings, dreams and empty reveries. Now, just as materialistic ‘smugness’ towards the East must be stigmatised, we believe that such an attitude, which only reflects the decline of some elements of our own civilisation, must be equally stigmatised, if not more so.
We assert that if the East represents a spiritual truth, so does the West ; that, therefore, we are dealing with distinct terms which are both positive, and which may form a synthesis, but not a flat reduction of one to the other. From this synthesis not only we, but also the East, would gain – in fact, possibly the East would gain more ; since we think that such a synthesis, in order to be fertile, must take its tone from the spirit of Western culture, that is : power, and the impulse to celebrate and exercise the spirit which does not deny the ‘world’ – the system of determinations and individuations which far from denying the world, affirms it, desires it, dominates it, and thus brings it to its own realisation as world.
This is the simple declaration of a thesis ; as for its demonstration, we refer the reader to the whole of our writings, which can be said to be based on it, and specifically to the ‘Saggi di Idealismo magico’ (Rome,1925) and to the first section of the ‘L’Uomo come Potenza’, which is to be published very soon, and has already appeared in issues 2, 3, and 4 of the review Ultra. Here we only want to consider the work of a French author, René Guénon, and to find out, by means of a critical analysis of his theses, what one of the greatest Indian systems, the Vedânta, may mean for us.
Guénon has published a series of books which can be divided into two groups. The first comprises ‘Theosophy’, ‘General Introduction to the Doctrines of Hinduism’, and ‘East and West’ ; the second, ‘Man and his Becoming according to the Vedânta’ (Ed. Bossard, Paris, 1925, pp. 271), which forms the prelude to the rest. The first group can be said to be negative, the second, positive, in a sense that the scope of the first group is : (a) To clear the field from all the deformations, incomprehensions and parodies to which Eastern wisdom was subjected by Western currents ; and (b) To criticise to its roots the whole of Western civilisation and to show the crisis and the ruin which threatens it if it does not turn to a very different order of values.
In the second group, Guénon sets out instead to describe systematically the Eastern traditional wisdom, which he identifies in principle as containing such an order of values.
In reference to the first point, we cannot but endorse the purifying and unmasking work of Guénon. Compromises, incomprehensions and ramblings such as those of a certain English ‘spiritualism’ and of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, together with all the smaller, neo-mystical, Rabindranath Tagore or Gandhi-like shades and so on cannot be treated with enough severity, and are indeed the worst obstacles to an understanding and an integration of East and West. However, we have reservations regarding the means chosen by Guénon to this end, means which are more ad hominem than demonstrative (especially in his book, ‘Theosophy’), since, instead of examining the doctrines and making us see their intrinsic absurdities, he is much more interested in revealing the backstage of persons and of associations, whose possible insufficient transparency regarding matters of real importance, however, is not in itself very informative.
All this notwithstanding, we still agree with Guénon about the necessity for a meta-physical knowledge, of the level peculiar to the initiatic traditions. This is a point which we could never emphasise enough. Among ourselves, we have become accustomed to regarding the ‘spiritual’ as a simple contour or accessory to a physical state of existence. It must be understood that what matters is only the real, concrete relationship with things and beings, a relationship which for men is limited to that extrinsic and contingent one peculiar to physical perception and to the spatial-temporal categories which govern it.
As for discursive knowledge, the feelings of the heart, the mental, moral, devotional worlds, etc. – all these are related to this very physical state, and all its ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’, ‘higher’ and ‘lower’, ‘divine’ and ‘human’, ‘good’ and ‘evil’, etc. aspects do not lead a step beyond it, and do not transform in any way that which, metaphysically, in the order of an absolute concreteness, man is (or better : what the Self is as man). The spiritual must not be an empty dream ; so it is necessary that man have the force to understand this, to take therefore as a whole all that he is, feels and thinks, to put it aside, and to go ahead ; to go ahead into a radical transformation of the relationship he has with things and with himself. Such is metaphysical realisation, which has constantly interested a whole esoteric tradition, whose roots merge with those of our history itself.
Guénon reasserts such requirements, and this is greatly to his credit – so long as he remains in the realm of negative statements, i.e., discussing his idea of what the metaphysical is not rather than his idea of what the metaphysical is. Surely, we are here on rather shaky ground, since language, coined for the material and discursive life, offers insufficient means to adequately express what is peculiar to such a metaphysicity. We therefore think we are able to give an approximate indication by saying that the attitude of Guénon towards what is metaphysical shows the effects of a mentality that we could call rationalistic – let us put it this way : the premise of rationalism (of rationalism as a philosophical system, that is, and not in its vulgar sense, which cannot be attributed to Guénon in any way) is ‘ideal objectivity’, that is the belief in existing laws in themselves and by themselves, in principles which are what they are, without any possibility of convertibility, irresistible and universal ; this is a world in which contingency, darkness, will, and indeterminacy have no place, in which everything is already made and a higher order resumes all the elements. Of this cosmos the principle is not will and power, but knowledge and contemplation, not dominion but identity. Here the individual is like an illusory and contradictory shadow, who vanishes in the whole. It is thus by this deep root that laws and things – be they sentient or non-sentient – are governed and are as they are and not something else ; this root is made of pure contingency, which becomes abstraction here or, better, dies out in something purely ideal : the spiritual self is realised according to its ‘Apollonian’ or intellectual, form, within which the principle of the Self, rather than being reasserted in a ‘body of power’, comes to be abolished. Of course, these are philosophical expressions, which must only be considered as suggestions ; suggestions by which therefore a particular mode of getting in contact with things is affected also by an order which ultimately is beyond all that is philosophical or intellectual.
This having been said, we can see that the mistake of Guénon is the following : to think that such an attitude must represent the ultimate one, that the ‘metaphysical’ and the ‘intellectual’ (this word is used by Guénon, not in its modern, but, to some extent, in its scholastic and neo-Platonic meaning) are convertible terms – which is debatable. Guénon knows – and so do we – that his conception is connected with a whole tradition of initiatic wisdom ; but what he seems not to know or pretends not to know is that such a tradition is not the only one, that, just as far beyond all mundane experience and ‘profane’ knowledge, as against the tradition of knowledge, of contemplation, and of union, there is the great tradition of the magical and hermetic sciences, which, contrarily to the former, is one of strengthening, individuation and domination. Hence, before attributing to himself the monopoly of initiatic wisdom, as he seems to have done, it would have been good if Guénon had thought a bit more ; since, beyond both the profane and the ingenues, there are people who could ask for documentation for his views, and could invite him back to the drawing board for a redrafting session which might not go very well.
This is an important point, because from the particular attitude of Guénon regarding the spiritual cannot but follow a complete disavowal of all that the West has accomplished regarding the spiritual itself – be it only as requirements and tendencies – and, therefore, follows the aforementioned submission to the East as to an anchor of salvation of one who has nothing and asks for everything. In fact the western spirit is specifically characterised by free initiative, assertion, the value of individuality, a tragic conception of life, and a will to power and action – these are the very elements which, if they could reflect the higher magical value on the human, outer plane, would thus clash against those who want instead the universalistic, impersonal and immovable world of ‘metaphysical intellectualism’. Something else must also be noticed : that, in his reference to the East itself, Guénon, consciously or not, is, for sake of his cause, one-sided. As a matter of fact, he limits himself to the Vedic tradition as developed up to the Upanishads and the Vedânta, neglecting several other schools which, though not reducible to this alone, are still no less ‘metaphysical’. We will only point to the systems of the Tantras and to the magical and alchemical currents within Mahâyâna Buddhism and Taoism, in which the emphasis is precisely on power and which hence could offer the West some material for a higher reassertion, rather than contradict it. Guénon, in fact, does not ignore such schools, but he considers them as ‘heterodox’, which to him is an explicit condemnation ; to us, on the contrary – may Guénon allow us to say – these are mere words : we would have to determine for ourselves whether any given doctrine was described as true and high because it was traditional, or as traditional because true and high. Also Guénon presupposes as factual accounts which remain on the contrary perfectly open – this dogmatic and authoritarian tendency is reflected somewhat everywhere in his works, which, nevertheless, are valuable for their clarity and erudition.
Let us now consider how much the Vedânta – which, to Guénon, must be more or less the ideal metaphysical system – may mean to a Westerner who is not a degenerate ; that is to say, who does not neglect what the civilisation to which he belongs has accomplished in terms of critical consciousness and spirit of affirmation, who does not abandon its positions in order to regress, but seeks to develop them further. First, however, a warning is necessary. We have just pointed out the transcendent character of metaphysical realisation and the difficulty of giving an account of it according to the usual categories. But this point, which we explicitly concede, must not become a pretext for unbridled, arbitrary, dogmatic, subjective rambling. It is precisely that which some beautiful spirits, amateurs in ‘occultism’, indulge in : they are not silent in the pure ineffable, but they speak ; however, when they are asked to define with precision the meaning of the terms they use and to obviate the difficulties which these terms create, they retreat and vanish once more into the rarified atmosphere of pure inner intuition, which thus remains a hard fact which does not give any account of itself, whose positions mean as little as the taste of someone who likes cheese as against another who prefers strawberries. Therefore there are two possibilities : either one remain enclosed in the initiatic frame, whose self-checking and communicative systems, however, cannot, except in exceptional circumstances, have any meaning for the ‘profane’ ; or one speaks. But if one speaks, one has to speak correctly, that is, to give an account of what one says, to comply with logical requirements, which here are as inoffensive as grammatical ones, to make us see the object of the metaphysical realisation, even if only in the form of its accidents (its ‘own form’ remaining in the pure interiority of the Self) and to give real satisfaction to all those requirements and those problems which reside in the purely human and discursive context, and are doomed to remain there. It is too easy, in fact, to resolve the problems by not posing them, almost imitating the ostrich that obliterates the danger by hiding its head under its wing. One should instead retain a firm grip on the topic, face the enemy and keep him well in sight, and bring him down by using his own weapons.
We say this in order to forestall those who would accuse our criticism – or even our work as a whole – of having a solely philosophical significance. This, first of all, is not accurate, because for us what comes first is a certain ‘realisation’ and, only afterwards, as a garment, a certain logically intelligible system. But, even if it were accurate, every expression as such has to go through the ordeal of fire of the logos ; and if it starts from the suprarational so much the better, it will certainly triumph over this test since that which is superior implies and contains eminently that which is inferior. And we hope that the author of this volume on the Vedânta is aware that his is only a philosophical exposition. He thus speaks of something that is not just philosophical, but nevertheless he speaks of it (and this is not his fault, since there he has no other choice, unless he resorts to symbols) philosophically, that is, he endeavours to present us with something intelligible and justified. If therefore, looking at this aspect of his work, we showed the relativity of this intelligibility and justification, he cannot move back and change his game by referring to the superior traditional and metaphysical validity of the teaching he describes – in response to which and at the same level, we would know how to reassert our attitude, of which our philosophical critics are only obedient slaves.
So, what does the Vedânta say about the world, about Man and his Becoming? First of all, there is the optimistic presupposition that a god exists, that is to say that the contingent and phenomenal set of things is not what it seemed before, but is only the accidental aspect of a whole which, in fact, is already perfect and is comprised in a superior principle. That this is a mere presupposition, and that here Guénon pays little attention to the theory of knowledge of the Indians, everyone can see for himself as soon as he knows that to the Indian something is true only if it is really experienced. In this case : no certainty of God, outside this experience of the Self which has it as its content. Now, since this experience is not immediate and general but, in order to reach it, a certain process is necessary, there are no demonstrative arguments to assert that God does exist (and, therefore, that the process is simply an acknowledgment of proven fact), rather than that God arises as a result of this process which has made divine something which was not such previously.
Let us continue. The world would be the manifestation of this presupposition – God or Brahman. Now, the concept of manifestation according to the Vedânta is extraordinarily ambiguous. It is said in fact that Brahman in manifestation remains what it is – immutable, motionless – and also that manifestation itself (and, therefore, all that is particularity, individuality and Becoming) are, in comparison with it, something ‘rigorously null’. They are a ‘modifying’ of it, which does not alter it in any way. Within it, in an eternal, current presence, are all possibilities : manifestation is only an accidental mode which invests some of them. How such propositions can be made intelligible, it would be difficult to show. Let us pay attention to the fact that, here, there is not the Catholic loop-hole of the ex nihilo, in which the nihil becomes a distinct and, in its way, a positive principle, from which the created things could be materialised so that they would be and, at the same time (in that they are made of ‘nothing’, of ‘privation’), would not be. Brahman, instead, does not have anything outside itself : not even ‘nothing’. Things are its modifications: so how can it be said that they are non-existent?
To follow this train of thought further, if Brahman is the absolute synthesis of all, how much scope is there for considering it in a contingent mode? How is it possible that such a mode, such an obscuration in Brahman, could arise? How can one fail to realise that the sentence makes sense only on the basis of the presupposition of the existence of a principle distinct from Brahman, actually able to comprise it in a relative and accidental manner – which goes against the original premise? Guénon says (pp. 30-31) : « Metaphysically manifestation can be considered only in its dependency upon the supreme principle and as a mere support from which to rise to the knowledge of transcendence ». Now, we ask : who is the one who rises to this knowledge? Either it is Brahman itself, and then it must mean, with Eckhart, Duns Scotus Erigenus, Hegel, Schelling and many others, that the world is the very self-cognitive process of the absolute – but then it has a value and a reality, rather than being a ghost outside the pre-existing eternal synthesis, it is the act itself through which this synthesis gives itself to itself. Or there is something ‘else’ over against Brahman, which means to make of Brahman something relative, ‘one of the two’, a view which is against the original hypothesis. Again : « Immutable in its own nature, Brahman develops only the indefinite possibilities which are contained in itself, by means of the change from potentiality to actuality… and this without its essential permanence being affected thereby, precisely because this change is only relative and this development is a development only when it is considered from the side of the manifestation, outside of which one cannot speak of temporal succession, but only of a perfect simultaneity » (p. 36). The difficulty is the same one : this would work very well if we were able to explain how a point of view different from the absolute’s can exist and coexist with it. But if this is not possible, the succession, the development and the rest cannot be said to be accidental and illusory, but must be regarded as absolutely real. The only refuge from this dilemma would be the creationism as projectio per iatum of the Catholic theologians, that is the divine capacity to detach from itself distinct centres of consciousness, which can then see from outside what It comprises inwardly in an eternal mode. But even leaving aside the logical inconsistency of such a view, the fact is that it is completely unknown to the Indian wisdom.
Guénon multiplies the points of view in order to explain the antinomies, and he does not realise that this is a pseudo-solution, and even a vicious circle, unless he starts from an original dualism, that is, just from the opposite of that which he wants to reach. Transposed to those points of view, the oppositions not only remain, but they become exasperated. When Guénon says (p. 44) that the manifestation cannot be separated from its principle without its being cancelled – hence the profound sense of the Vedânta and Mahâyâna doctrines, that things are at the same time real (in reference to their principle) and illusory (if taken in themselves) – he is right. It is not this separation for which we reproach him, but that of the principle from manifestation. From saying that if the world cannot distinguish itself from Brahman, Brahman instead can be distinguished from the world (as its free cause), to saying that « the whole world-wide manifestation is rigorously nothing in comparison with its infinity », is a beautiful jump, that is, the surreptitious introduction of an extremely questionable concept of infinity itself.
This questionable concept is, infinity conceived of as indetermination, as that which in every determined thing can only suffer its own death. To us this is not the true infinity, but rather its abstract hypostasis, almost of a character peculiar to the unaware and impotent being. True infinity is potestas, that is, the energy of being unconditionally what one wants. The absolute cannot have, as a pebble or a plant has, a nature (and infinity itself would be such if conceived of as something fatal, immutable, and, therefore, passive towards itself). It is what it wants to be, what it certainly wants to be, the absolute, the infinite. Its manifesting of itself and, in consequence, of the finite, the individual, etc. should no longer then be regarded as the death and the contradiction of the infinite, and therefore as a form of non-being, a nothingness which darkens the pleroma (omnis determinatio negatio est), but instead as its action, its glory, that in which it testifies and asserts to itself its powerful freedom. The best part of this is that this point of view is found also in an Eastern school (which, naturally, Guénon will call ‘heterodox’) – that of the shakti-tantra, which levels against the Vedânta a criticism whose significance is unquestionable.
It is only if hazy, intellectualistic notions of knowledge (âtman) and the infinite (brahman) are replaced by this activist and concrete idea of power (shakti) – they say – that it is possible to resolve, from a non-dualistic point of view, the various difficulties inherent in the concept of manifestation. The absolute, they say, is the manifestation of power, the world is its action : therefore it is real, of a supreme reality. If, instead of this, the absolute is understood as a current infinity existing ab aeterno, what room is there left for a manifestation? Does not Guénon realise the nonsensicality of the idea that manifestation is the ‘development’ of some ‘possibilities’ inherent in a supreme beginning? In fact, either a meaning is given to the word ‘development’, or it is not given. If it is, then here would be something which, at the same time and in the same respect, is potentiality and actuality, which is a contradiction in terms. Such is the ‘possibility’ in question, since, in so far as it is related to the possible manifestation, it would have to be potentially present, but, on the other hand, even while it is a possibility within the supreme principle, it is no longer possibility but actuality, which has already ‘developed’, nothing being within Brahman that is not actual (1). It can be noticed how Guénon, in his enthusiasm (we almost said fanaticism) for the East, sees the mote in his neighbour’s eye, but not the beam in his own : as a matter of fact, it is precisely this criticism that he levels against the conception of Leibniz (which, naturally, to him, is mere « profane philosophy ») and he does not realise that it comes to invest the very roots of the Vedânta. The contradiction ceases if Brahman is no longer the eternal intellectual light, but pure potentiality, which, in manifested things, does not find its negation but its affirmation. And the necessity of such a conception often leaks into the expressions of Guénon himself – where he refers to a « divine creative will », or to a « supreme causing principle ». It thus gets nearer to coherence – but, at the same time, he goes away from the Vedânta as it truly is. In fact the Vedânta explicitly asserts that the absolute is neither cause nor activity, that cause and activity do not lie in it but in the unconscious ‘Mâyâ’, and that anyone who attributed them to the absolute by imputing to it the saying : « I cause, I act, I create » would be the victim of ignorance and illusion. For the Vedânta causality, creation, and everything that is Becoming and determination do not fall in the absolute, which it regards as pure, indeterminate existence devoid of any attribute whatsoever (nirguna-Brahman), but in the absolute which is darkened by Mâyâ (saguna-Brahman), Mâyâ remaining an inexplicable and indefinable principle, a ‘given’ before which we are brought up short. And between saguna-Brahman and nirguna-Brahman there is an unfillable abyss (2) : one is, the other is not. Guénon, on the other hand, sticks rigorously to his own concept, reaffirming thus the Vedânta’s originally abstract conception of the absolute and the universal.
The originality and, at the same time, the original error of the Vedânta lies precisely in the separation of the principle of a synthesis from what is synthetised, a separation which makes of the two terms something contradictory. While, in a consistent non-dualism, the universal is an ‘actuality’ which includes the particular as well as the ‘actuality’ of which the particular is the act and through which the universal becomes actual, in the Vedânta the universal does not include but excludes the particular, since it can include it only by denying it in the indeterminate identity’, in the mere ‘ether of knowledge’ (cid-âkâsha), the night – to put it as Hegel did – in which all cows are black.
Now, according to such a view, the meaning of man and his Becoming must be dissolved ; this can already be foreseen. The individual, as such, belongs to manifestation and, therefore, he is nothing, a mere appearance – this is the only rigorous consequence of the premise. It is useless to assert the legitimacy of the individual’s assumption of his own selfhood and to say therefore that the distinction between the Self and Brahman is an illusion peculiar to the Self (p. 210) – because it is precisely here that the problem lies : this illusion is real, and we would have to explain how it arises and how it is possible for it to exist at all, given that the illusory consciousness and the Brahmanic consciousness are mutually exclusive. It is also useless to double the unity of consciousness to give a ‘me’ (personality, metaphysical self), and a ‘self’ (individuality, empirical self) since the same contradictions as those we have mentioned above, proceeding from the presupposition of the absolute heterogeneity between the universal and the particular, between the metaphysical and the empirical, simply reappear. Between this ‘me’ and this ‘self’ there cannot be a real union (as there can be in a doctrine of power, in which ‘me’ would be the power of which the ‘self’ is the act, or, from another point of view, vice versa), but an extrinsic, incomprehensible composition (reinforced, additionally, by the doctrine of ‘subtle bodies’ espoused by Guénon), analogous to that between ‘essence’ and ‘existence’ devised by the Scholastics ; and we have another confirmation of this when Guénon says that the change from the manifested state to that of Brahman (corresponding to the two principles of man) implies a radical jump (p. 200).
The inconsistency of such view (which, among other things, with respect to ‘salvation’ or ‘liberation’, would have coherently to end up in the Christian mystery of ‘grace’) the Tantras have shown cleverly to the Vedânta. The Tantras present the Vedantists with this reasoning : you say that only the motionless Brahman without attributes is really real and the rest – the whole of the conditioned beings – is illusion and falsity. Now, tell us : are you, who assert this, Brahman or a conditioned being? For if you are a conditioned being (and, honestly, you cannot say you are something else), you are illusion and falseness and, therefore, all that you say will be, a fortiori, illusory and false, and, thus, so will your affirmation according to which only Brahman is, and the rest is illusion.
Besides, the same concept of ‘conditioned being’, with which Guénon defines man and other « similar manifestations », leads once again to the famous dilemma. Basically, either a distinct principle is admitted, able to persist within conditionality as over against a conditioning power – but this goes radically against the whole spirit of the Vedânta. Or the distinction is denied, and then the conditioned and the conditioning become the same thing : it is Brahman itself which in the various beings wants to exist and to be determined in this way, without conditions – so then there is nothing relative and dependent, everything is instead absolute, everything is freedom. And here, once again, there is no room for the expedient of the ‘points of view’. It does not make sense to speak about a point of view of the creature, which experiences as conditions and dependency that which for Brahman is not such : the point of view can only be unique : that of Brahman. It is Brahman itself which in various beings rejoices and suffers and which in the yogin turns to giving itself its own ‘liberation’. Such is the point of view of the Tantras (and, with them, of the whole of Western immanentism), which, however, cannot be that of the Vedânta, precisely because, for the Vedânta, the absolute as immanent cause is illusion and, between it and the relative and the ‘manifested’, there is a discontinuity, a radical jump.
Therefore : the world is a nothing. Man, a nothing. The Becoming of man, that of a nothing which comes to nothing. What is basically the sense of such a development according to the Vedânta? A reabsorption of the state of concrete existence in that of the ‘subtle’ existence and, then, of this state in that of the non-manifested, in which the individual conditions (to be read : the determinations) are finally entirely cancelled. Therefore, it is not, as claimed by Guénon himself (p. 175), a matter of an ‘evolution’ of the individual, since, the aim being the ‘reabsorption of the individual’ in the non-manifested state, from the point of view of the individual it should rather be described as an ‘involution’. We go even further : ourselves conceiving manifestation as the ‘act’ of the absolute, we would say (let us always recall this : it is impossible for both of these points of view to coexist simultaneously within one and the same consciousness) that this Becoming of the Vedantists in truth is less the coming of the absolute itself to its action, but cause for its repentance – regression, degeneration, not progression.
Besides, whether the ideas of Guénon and the Vedânta on this point are clear is doubtful. In fact, near to the ‘reabsorption’, he tells us of an identification of the Self with Brahman in which, therefore, it does not get lost in any way (p. 233) and of a ‘resolution’ which, rather than annihilating, is transformative, which brings an expansion beyond every limit, and achieves the fullness of possibilities (pp. 196-7). This is an ambiguity in which reflects a certain inner, spiritual experience, valid in itself, but which has not found, in order to express itself, an adapted logical body, and which is deformed by a limited and static conception, namely that which is peculiar to the abstract universalism of the Vedânta. In any case, the main difficulty remains : whichever its direction, has the Becoming of man a value, a cosmic value, or not? In short : why must I become, why transform myself? Once again, we are offered only the loop-hole of the points of view. Towards the infinite presupposed as existing actualiter and tota simul ab aeterno, as rigorously identical to itself in whichever state or forms, all that is Becoming of ‘conditioned being’ cannot have any real meaning, it cannot realise for Brahman anything more, in the same way that its not occurring could not realise for Brahman anything less. Brahman is and cannot but be indifferent : the state of a brute (pâsha) as well as that of a hero (vîra) or of a God (deva) must be perfectly the same thing for it, and, therefore, the progress from one of these states to another, from its point of view, cannot but be devoid of meaning and justification. On the contrary, strictly speaking, one cannot speak about progress and regression, but only about change ; or not even of that, since Becoming itself is an illusion, which refers to a point of view which is different from that of Brahman.
Everyone will be able to see what practical consequences derive from this. There are two possibilities : either a passive and dumbfounded contemplation of the incomprehensible succession of the states, or an utilitarian morality – utilitarian because the guiding reason of the possible development and transformation of man cannot be connected to a cosmic value (in the sense, that is, that the world, that God itself, asks me to do something which is not done at all if I do not do it), but can be justified only according to the personal profit or the greater convenience that particular states of existence can offer to the individual.
But even this is not the worst. A coherent Vedantism leads to a moral defeatism which is not able to justify utilitarian ethics either. This is because the change through a hierarchy of states culminating in the non-manifested Brahman which a particular being can realise by means of the long, strict, austere process of self-overcoming peculiar to yoga is only a sort of acceleration of something which will happen in a natural way to all beings – it is the ‘actual liberation’ instead of the ‘deferred liberation’, so that everything comes down to a question of… patience. In fact the view of the Vedânta is that the world, proceeding from non-manifested states, submerges itself again in them at the end of a certain period, and this recurrently. At the end of such period all the beings, nolens volens, will therefore be freed, ‘given back’. Hence a new negation : not only is every real, suprapersonal justification lacking to the development, but freedom itself is denied to it : the beings, ultimately, are fatally destined to a ‘perfection’ (we believe that it is permissible to give this attribute, this ‘relativity’ of the non-manifested towards the manifested, so long as we are not non-dualist enough not to distinguish the latter from the former) ; this view contrasts with many others of the same Indian wisdom – especially with Buddhism – in which, instead, a tragic sense of existence, the conviction that if man does not become the saviour of himself, nothing will ever be able to save him, that only his will can detach him from the destiny of generation and corruption (samsâra), in which, otherwise, he would remain eternally, is still very much alive.
We believe that there is no need to say any more in order for our readers to grasp what the Vedânta wants. What is sure is that it is absolutely not what we want. Indeed, we could hardly blame a ‘profane’ one who told us that, if this – this nihilism of truth, of values and individuality – is ‘metaphysics’, he does not know what to make of such metaphysics, it not being enough for him and being of no use to him. Surely, here we have neglected various positive elements contained in the Vedânta (which does not mean that the negative ones which we have already met cease to be so) ; and we have done so either because such elements are not specific to the Vedânta but are common to other esoteric traditions and especially to the one which we have called ‘magical’ ; or because we must focus on what is negative in the East, against those who, like Guénon, do not want to see anything positive in the West.
We must remark here that we have for the East the greatest consideration and that we ourselves are linked to it by ties much deeper than may appear at first sight. It is just that we cannot and do not want to proceed dogmatically : both the East and the West must be submitted to a criticism which separates the positive from the negative in both. It is only after such separation – which, to tell the truth, must be conducted in a spirit utterly devoid of any more or less feminine prejudice and longing for controversies – that we can think of a synthesis : of that synthesis which may be a question of life and death, for both cultures.
With regards to this synthesis, there seem to us to be two fundamental points. Firstly, the rational consciousness, the pure logical and discursive level – in which lies the apex of the western civilisation – must be overcome. But what lies beyond the concept is not ‘feeling’, nor morality, devotion, contemplation and ‘intellectual’ identification. What is beyond the concept is instead power. Beyond the philosopher and the scientist, what lies is not the saint, the artist, the contemplator – but the magician : the ruler, the Lord.
Secondly, the extroverted consciousness, lost in the material world and treating it as the ultimate reality, must be overcome. But this overcoming must not be ascesis, detachment, escape from truth, a faith dreaming in the skies and an intellectual submersion in the ‘supreme Identity’ : it must be instead an immanent cancellation of the world in the value of spirit itself, which strives to make of reality itself the expression of the perfection of its actuality. The world must be recognised as real, and as the place where a God can be extracted from a man, a ‘Sun’ from the ‘earth’. These two requirements find their best expression in two maxims, which, deliberately, we do not draw, as we could, from ‘profane western philosophy’, but from a metaphysical Eastern system – that of the Tantras : « Without shakti (= power) liberation is a mere hoax ». « 0 Lady of the Kula! In Kuladharma (the Tantric path of power) enjoyment becomes perfect fulfilment (yoga), the evil becomes good and the world itself becomes the place of the liberation. »
(1) We have already criticised the Vedânta’s attempts to eliminate the difficulty of these conflicting aspects present in the same thing by referring them to two different points of view.
(2) Attempts at reconciliation inherent, for instance, in conceptions of the immobility of the Absolute, similar to that of the Aristotelean ‘unmoved mover’, though they find some foundation in other Eastern schools, cannot exactly be found in the Vedânta.
REGARDING HINDU METAPHYSICS: A NECESSARY RECTIFICATION
In the article which appeared in these pages (n. 21-24 of 1925) about our book on the Vedânta, (1) J. Evola has made a certain number of rather peculiar errors ; we would not have noted them if it was only a matter of our own concerns, but, much more seriously, they deal with the interpretation of the doctrine that we have presented, and this is why it is not possible to let them pass without making some corrections to them. Already once before, in an article published by the newspaper Ultra (September 1925), Evola felt called upon to defend current Western science, whose inadequacy, notwithstanding, he recognises in some respects, against us, and he had called us, at the same time, ‘rationalist’. This blunder, made in criticising a book (‘East and West’) in which we had precisely denounced rationalism as one of the main modern errors, is truly astounding. Now, we see that the Vedânta itself is reproached by him for ‘rationalism’, though it is true that this word is perhaps removed from its true sense, and that, in any case, the definition which is given of it, in terms visibly taken from the German philosophy, is far from being clear. Nevertheless the thing is very simple : rationalism is a theory which places reason above all, which pretends to identify it, either with the entire intelligence, or at least with the higher part of intelligence, and which, consequently, denies or ignores all that exceeds reason. This conception is peculiar to profane philosophy, and, in addition, specifically modern ; Descartes is the first authentic representative of rationalism. We do not see any meaning for the term other than this, all the more so as Evola takes care to specify that he intends to speak « about rationalism as a philosophical system » ; now, the Vedânta does not have anything in common with a « philosophical system » whatsoever, and we have very often pointed out that Western labels should not in any way be applied to the metaphysical doctrines of the East.
In reality, Evola is far closer than we are to the pretensions of rationalism, because he refuses to see a difference between reason and what we have called « pure intellectuality » ; he thus simply proves that he is completely ignorant of the latter, although he asserts the contrary in a very imprudent way. If he does not like the _expression « pure intellectuality », we will allow him another instead ; but what right does he have to claim that, the way we use it, it means something very different from what we have tried to designate by it? We continue to hold that metaphysical knowledge is essentially ‘supra-rational’, whether intellective or not, and that the only logical outlet of rationalism is the negation of metaphysics.
There is also here, in another respect, regarding the character of this metaphysical knowledge, another and no less deplorable error : because, in compliance with Hindu doctrine, we speak about pure knowledge and ‘contemplation’, J. Evola thinks that we refer to a purely ‘passive’ attitude, while it is exactly the contrary. One of the fundamental differences between the metaphysical path and the mystical path indeed lies in the fact that the former is essentially active, while the latter is essentially passive ; and this difference is analogous, in the psychological order, to the difference between will and desire. It must be noticed that we say analogous and not identical, first of all because here we are concerned with knowledge and not with action (‘action’ and ‘activity’ must not be confused), and secondly because what we are speaking of is outside the domain of psychology ; but it is none the less true that will can be considered as the initial motor of metaphysical fulfilment, and desire as that of mystical fulfilment. This is, however, all that we can grant to the ‘voluntarism’ of Evola, whose attitude with regard to this certainly does not have anything metaphysical about it, nor, whatever he may think, anything initiatic. The influence exerted on him by German philosophers (2) such as Schopenhauer or Nietzsche is most striking, being much greater than that of the Tantras on the knowledge of which he prides himself, but which he does not seem to understand any better than the Vedânta and which he sees more or less as Schopenhauer saw Buddhism (3), that is to say through completely Western conceptions. Will, like everything which is human, is only a means ; knowledge alone is an end in itself ; and, of course, we speak here about knowledge par excellence, in the true and complete sense of this word, ‘supra-individual’ knowledge and therefore ‘not human’, according to the Hindu expression, which implies identification with what is known. On this, the Vedânta and the Tantras, for the one who understands them well, perfectly agree ; surely, there are between them differences, but these are about only the means of the fulfilment ; why on earth does Evola endeavour to find an incompatibility which does not exist between these various points of view? Please refer to what we have said of ‘darshanas’ and their relationships in our ‘General Introduction to the Studies of the Hindu Doctrines’. Everyone can follow the way which suits them best, that which is more adapted to their nature, because all ways lead to the same end ; and, when the domain of individual contingencies has been surpassed, differences vanish.
We at least know, just like Evola, that there are several initiatic traditions, which are precisely these various paths to which we have just alluded ; but they only differ in their outer forms, and their root is identically the same, because Truth is one. Naturally, saying this, we refer to the true traditions or ‘orthodox’ traditions, the only ones in which we are interested ; this notion of ‘orthodoxy’ has not been understood by our contradictor, although we have been careful to specify several times in what sense it had to be understood, and to explain why, in this field, orthodoxy and truth are one single thing. We remain dumbfounded to see that it was asserted that, for us, what is ‘heterodox’ is the Tantra, the Mahâyâna… and Taoism! Although we had declared as clearly as possible that the latter represents, in the Far East, the pure and integral metaphysics! And in « L’Homme et son devenir selon le Vedânta », we had cited a rather great number of Taoist texts, in order to show the perfect agreement of Taoism with the Hindu doctrine ; could not Evola have noticed this? It is true that Taoism is neither ‘magical’, nor ‘alchemical’, contrarily to what he supposes (4) ; we ask ourselves where he has been able to get so fanciful an idea. As far as Mahâyâna is concerned, it is a transformation of Buddhism through a reincorporation of elements borrowed from orthodox doctrines ; and this is what we have written about it, as against Buddhism per se, which is eminently heterodox and antimetaphysical. As far as Tantra is concerned, we would have to distinguish : there is a multitude of Tantric schools, of which some are in fact heterodox, at least partially, while others are strictly orthodox. Until now, we have never had the opportunity to explain ourselves on this issue of the Tantra ; but Evola, which, let us say in passing, grasps only imperfectly the meaning of the ‘Shakti’, has certainly not observed that we very often assert the superiority of the Shivaite point of view over the Vishnuite point of view ; this could have opened to him other horizons.
Naturally, we shall not linger here on minor criticisms, which all proceed from this same incomprehension of his ; since we are very little convinced by the usefulness of certain arguments, which proceed by means drawn from profane philosophy, and which are truly in their place only there (5). It has been taught for a long time that there are things which are not discussed ; one must limit oneself to presenting the doctrine as it is, for those who are able to understand it, and this is what we try to do to the extent of our capacities. To the one who truly seeks knowledge, we must never refuse to provide the clarifications for which he asks, if it is possible to supply them to him, that is to say, if they do not concern something which is absolutely inexpressible ; but if someone turns up with a critical and arguing attitude, « the doors of knowledge must be closed before him » ; besides, what would be the use of explaining something to someone who does not want to understand? We allow ourselves to invite Evola to meditate on these few principles of behaviour, which are common to all the truly initiatic schools of both East and West.
We will limit ourselves to remarking upon some examples of manifest incomprehension : Evola speaks of identification of the ‘me’ with Brahmâ, while it is a matter of the ‘Self’ and not the ‘me’, and if this fundamental distinction is not grasped from the beginning, nothing of what follows can be grasped either (6). He believes that the Vedânta considers the world as a ‘nothing’, following the erroneous interpretation of the Westerners, who think they express in this way the theory of ‘Illusion’, while it only means ‘minor reality’, that is to say relative and partial reality, in opposition to the reality which only belongs to the supreme Principle. He renders ‘subtle states’ by ‘subtle bodies’, when we have pointed out that this could not in any way be about ‘bodies’, contrarily to the fanciful conceptions of the occultists and theosophists, and that, to the contrary, in the whole of formal and individual manifestation, the ‘subtle state’ is precisely opposed to the ‘corporeal state’. He confuses also ‘salvation’ and ‘liberation’, although we have explained that these are two essentially different things and that they do not refer at all to the same state of being (pp. 187 and 218 of our work) ; and, even better, he writes that, for the Vedânta « at the end of a certain period, all beings, nolens volens, will be freed », while we have cited (p.191) the following text which says the contrary in a sufficiently explicit way : « At the dissolution (pralaya) of the manifested worlds, the being is immersed within the Supreme Brahmâ ; but, also then, it can be united to Brahma in the mode only of deep sleep (that is to say without the full and effective fulfilment of the Supreme Identity) ». And, to avoid any misunderstanding, we add an explanation about the comparison made here with deep sleep, which indicates that in such a case there is a return to another cycle of manifestation, from which it is clear that the state of the being in question is not at all ‘liberation’. Really, it must be said that Evola, in spite of his intention to speak about our book, has read it very distractedly!
To speak frankly, we will say that what Evola lacks above all is a clear consciousness of the distinction between the initiatic point of view and the profane point of view ; if he had this consciousness, he would not constantly mix them as he does, and no philosophy would have any influence on him. We know well that he could answer, as he has already done, that he uses philosophical language only as a simple means of expression ; he is most likely convinced in all sincerity that this is so, but notwithstanding, as far as we are concerned, we do not believe this to be so at all. What is more, the very fact that he chooses, from among all the possible means of expression, the one which is least appropriate, most inadequate, and least able to render the things in question, because these things belong to an order which is totally different from the one for which it is specifically made, this very fact, we feel, shows a most deplorable lack of discernment. The most extraordinary thing is that Evola asserts that our book on the Vedânta « is only a philosophical exposition », and adds that « he hopes that we are aware of this » (we ask ourselves how this could matter to him) ; quite the reverse, we formally deny it, because nothing could be more opposed to our intentions, which, after all, we must know better than others, than speaking ‘philosophically’ about things which do not have any relationship with philosophy ; and we will repeat once more, in this connection, that every expression, verbal or not, has for us only an exclusively symbolic value. We always intend to place ourselves on the purely metaphysical and initiatic plane, and nothing can dislodge us from it, not even criticisms formulated on another ground, which, for this very reason, necessarily ring false ; Evola does not deny that the issues are not posed at all in the same way for him and for us, and that certain ‘philosophical’ difficulties which he raises do not make any sense metaphysically, because the terms themselves in which they are expressed no longer correspond to anything when one tries to transpose them in a higher order.
We will only add one final observation : it is not up to Evola to say that « we would have done better to have thought a little more » about certain things, because he has not, as we have, worked and thought about these issues for more than fifteen years before we decided to publish our first book. He is a very young person, and this is undoubtedly what excuses him ; he still has many things to learn, but he has time before him and he may be able to learn them… providing, however, that he changes his attitude a little and that he does not think he already knows everything!
(1) ‘L’homme et son devenir selon the Vedânta’, Ed. Bossard. Paris. 1925.
(2) There has been much discussion regarding the relations of René Guénon with the Germanic world, some most trenchant and some quite stereotyped, among which the most famous may be Louis Pauwels’ in ‘Le Matin des magiciens’ (« In a way, Hitlerism is René Guénon with tank divisions »). However, a few details of the French metaphysician’s life and some reading of his work suffice to show that these relations were clear and devoid of any ambiguities. René Guénon, unlike Evola, was not a Germanist and was never in contact with any German circle ; in fact, in ‘Etudes sur la franc-maçonnerie et le compagnonnage’ (p. 198), he mentions that « it turns out precisely that [Germany] is one of the rare countries with which we have no relations ». The criticism made against Evola and, through him, against the German modern philosophers, can also be found in « Introduction générale à l’étude des doctrines hindoues’ (Marcel Rivière, 1921), in the second chapter, ‘L’Influence allemande’ – at least in its first edition, since this chapter was removed from the second and subsequent editions.
This does not alter the fact that René Guénon was very critical of these philosophers, as is shown by the following excerpts from other works of his : « In fact, Germany is […] one of the countries where the Western spirit is pushed to its most extreme degree » (‘Orient et Occident’, p.111), « No Easterner having had the opportunity to frequent any number of Germans will think that it is any easier to get along with them than it is with the English » (ibidem, p. 113), « Nobody has ever pushed these false assimilations further than the German orientalists, whose pretensions are the most extreme, and who have come to monopolise almost entirely the interpretation of the Eastern doctrines : with their limited, systematic cast of mind, they make of these doctrines, not merely philosophy, but something completely similar to their own philosophy, when these doctrines in reality bear no relationship to such conceptions » (ibidem, pp. 138-139), « The orientalism of the Germans, like their philosophy, has become an instrument at the service of their national ambition » (ibidem, p. 141), « It would be really comical, if it were not the sign of the most deplorable ignorance of the things of the East, to see that Germans and Russians are considered to be among the representatives of the Eastern spirit »(‘La Crise du monde moderne’, p.118), and so forth. Actually, the best has been kept for last : « While the English, if they did not understand much about the East, were at least wary of pretension in this respect, the Germans, on the contrary, denatured Eastern doctrines to produce that nebulous pseudo-metaphysics which is their greatest pride. The Germans tried, basically, to use orientalism for their national ambition, notably by taking advantage of the eccentric hypothesis of ‘Aryanism ‘, which, in fact, they had not invented » (‘Introduction générale à l’étude des doctrines hindoues’ (first edition, Marcel Rivière, 1921).
Incidentally, according to Guénon, this hypothesis is unreliable because « the true resemblance which exists between the languages of India and Persia and those of Europe does not constitute in any way the proof of a community of race ; it can be explained by the fact that the ancient civilisations which we know were originally brought to Europe by some elements linked to the source from which the Hindu and Persian civilisations directly derived ». Guénon adds that it is easy for a small minority to impose its tongue to a foreign mass, as is shown by the example of the Romans imposing Latin upon the Gauls (sic). These peculiar considerations, which some structuralist linguists would not have disowned and which cannot fail to perplex us, coming as they do from a man who never ceased warning us against the dangers of the reduction of the superior to the inferior, actually match with the explanation, which positivist sociology would not have disowned either, given by Guénon of the origin of the word ‘ârya’ in an article he published under the name of ‘L’Archéomètre’ in the review he managed from 1910 to 1912, ‘La Gnose’, and which employs a terminology ‘à la Paul le Cour’ or ‘à la Saint Yves d’Alveydre’ : « This denomination is thus nothing other than a title or term for certain social categories ; this term ended up corresponding to certain ethnic characters, […] but the original existence of a so-called Aryan race is nothing but a fanciful hypothesis made by modern scholars. »
(3) Contrarily to what Guénon himself supposed a few decades later, in Chapter VI of ‘La Grande triade’, »Solve’ et ‘Coagula », in which these hermetic expressions are explicitly referred respectively to the actions of the yang and the actions of the yin, and the formula itself, ‘solve and coagula’, « is seen as containing in a way the whole secret of ‘the Great Work’, in that it repeats the process of universal manifestation ». If Guénon is certainly not wrong in criticising Marcel Granet, in Chapter VII of this work, for his « sociological interpretations » in ‘La Pensée chinoise’, describing them as : « interpretations which generally change completely the real relationship between things, since it is not the cosmic order which was conceived, as the author assumes, on the model of social institutions, but it is in reality the latter which were established on the model of the cosmic order », cannot Guénon be criticised, in his turn, for having interpreted at first, from a purely intellectual standpoint, the teachings of Taoism, whose alchemical content is brilliantly and unequivocally demonstrated by Granet himself in ‘Essais sur le taoïsme’, as well as by Evola in his translation with commentary of the ‘Tao Te King’? As for magic, Marcel Granet has shown that the brotherhoods of Chinese blacksmiths, possessors of the highest magic arts, had a direct and major influence on the first alchemical Taoist conceptions. Alchemy, as acknowledged by Guénon himself, is not in essence the art of transmuting metals in order to obtain metallic gold and to consume it, in order to attain corporeal longevity, as happened in China, but is, on the contrary, a symbolic operation meant to cause a transmutation of the human individuality. The true aim of magic in its original higher, we could even say, Vedic, form, is not, as Guénon conceived it, « to produce more or less extraordinary phenomena, especially (but not exclusively) in the sensitive order » (‘Formes traditionnelles et cycles cosmiques’, Gallimard, 1961), but to bring about, through precise techniques and rituals meant to have a compelling effect on supranatural forces, an inner transformation of the individual leading to his « dominion over the object known », as Evola puts it here.
(4) The word ‘darshana’, formed on a root meaning ‘vision, to see’, signifies ‘point of view’. The Brahmajâla-Sûtra mentions 62 different schools, of which, according to Jean Herbert (‘Spiritualité hindoue’, Albin Michel, 1972), only six still exist. « The word darshana is also used to designate philosophy as such, and not a particular ‘school’, but then it is in order to highlight that philosophy is the ‘vision’ of Truth and not a building up of hypotheses and ratiocinations ». (‘Spiritualité hindoue’, p.61)
(5) As is well known, Guénon, in his first writings, said that Buddhism was « a deviation and an anomaly » in comparison with orthodox Hindu thought : « All that Buddhism contains of value it took from Brahmanism, that is to say from Hindu tradition. » As pointed out by Paul Sérant in ‘René Guénon’, he also pretended that « India was never Buddhist ; Buddhism there merely experienced, from the III rd century before the Christian era onwards, a period of great expansion thanks to the protection of King Ashoka, the grandson of the Sûdra usurper Chandragupta, whom the Greeks knew under the name of Sandrakottos ; but this anti-traditional doctrine, really anarchic from the social point of view, could not maintain itself for a long time in a country of essentially traditional civilisation. » (‘Introduction générale à l’études des doctrines hindoues’ – first edition, p.188)
Later, following the publication of A.K. Coomaraswamy’s ‘Hinduism and Buddhism’, Guénon was led to change some of his formulations on Buddhism. In this respect, the comparison between the first and second editions of ‘Introduction générale à l’étude des doctrines hindoues’ is not devoid of interest, since the chapter dealing with Buddhism was modified. For instance, although Guénon still says that Buddhism in India merely experienced, from the III rd century before the Christian era onwards, a period of great expansion thanks to the protection of King Ashoka, his grandfather is no longer called a ‘Sûdra’, nor is Buddhism called an ‘anti-traditional and anarchic doctrine’. « Buddhism, however abnormal it is, is still Eastern nonetheless » becomes « Buddhism, whatever it is, (…) », and so forth. Furthermore, Guénon had first criticised Buddhism for its spirit of propaganda, which, he said, exists only where there are doctrines with emotional form ; and he added that Buddhism had this form « because of the intellectual deviation which gave birth to it ». In the second edition, he still asserts that « Buddhism has, like any religion, a tendency to promulgate itself, but the resemblance between Buddhism and other religions must not be exaggerated and it is maybe not very accurate to speak of Buddhist ‘missionaries’ spreading outside India in certain epochs, since […] the word makes us think inevitably of the methods of propaganda and proselytism which are peculiar to Westerners (sic). »
The reason put forward by Guénon to explain his mistakes regarding Buddhism has a certain spice : he trusted the « orientalists » too much in this respect and, as a result, he had been led to mix up original, genuine Buddhism with the Buddhism distorted by some heterodox schools. All this being said, this sentence of his has never been removed from ‘Le Théosophisme’ : « In fact, the truth is that there has never been any ‘genuine esoteric Buddhism’ ; if one wants to find esotericism, one must search elsewhere, since Buddhism was essentially in its origins a popular doctrine acting as a theoretical support for a social movement of an egalitarian tendency. »
It must be pointed out that, in fact, it was Marco Pallis who insisted on Coomaraswamy’s intervening with Guénon in order to persuade him to change his mind about Buddhism ; his correspondence shows that things did not go smoothly in this respect, that Guénon resisted making even the slight changes that we know about it in his work.
(6) The word ‘Self’ or ‘Âtmâ’ is also used in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ for the lower self (body, mind, and senses), as well as for such diverse notions as those of ego, heart, human being, intellect, individual soul, soul, subtle senses, self, psyche, God, the Absolute Truth, universal self, super-soul, supreme spirit, and the Supreme, depending on the context.
WE ASSERT A HIGHER VALUE: DOMINION OVER THE OBJECT KNOWN
To Guénon, in our turn, we point out the following (*):
1) That, before using a word, we are accustomed to defining it. Now, we have defined rationalism as the attitude that « believes in laws existing in themselves and by themselves, in principles which are what they are, inconvertibly ; which understands the world as something in which contingency, tension, obscurity, will, and indeterminability have no place ». If Guénon wishes to define it differently, in such a way that his own thought is able to remain within the context of the Vedânta, he should explain this to us – otherwise, his protest remains mere words. It seems to us that we could not have stated more clearly that « metaphysical realisation » is essentially supra-rational, in his, completely empiricist, sense of ‘reason’, than when we stated that we wrote exclusively for « the one who is strong enough to take as a whole all that he is, feels and thinks, to put it aside, and to go forward”
2) If Guénon understands ‘intellectual realisation’ (along with metaphysical realisation) as something « essentially active », reflecting, in a certain sense, the mode of the will, we certainly withdraw our reservations on this subject (advising him however to prefer the expression « pure actuality ») ; but we will have to make our reservations again, when he speaks to us about a will which does not find its area of operation in itself, but rather in a certain knowledge – and here ‘knowledge’ would mean also « identification with the object known ». Beyond this, we assert a higher value : dominion over the object known. And if it pleases Guénon to believe that our « voluntarism » does not have « anything initiatic and metaphysical » about it (as if the power about which we speak was the muscular will of men!!) – if he believes this, as he says himself in so many words, then there is nothing we can do for him : there is no way to make someone understand who does not want to understand ; and, since he threatens « to close the doors of knowledge », we also must close the doors of what we value much more than his knowledge, or that of anyone else .
3) There is no reason, on these grounds, to revise our understanding of the various Eastern schools and their ‘orthodoxy’ or lack of it ; for instance, our argument that Guénon’s judgments of heterodoxy, which we have mentioned, refer correctly not to Mahâyâna and Taoism in themselves, but rather to the magical and alchemical currents within these schools, with which Guénon, it seems, is not familiar, and to which we could, whenever he wants, introduce him, taking him by the hand. We must only remark that Guénon has not answered our fundamental question, which is, whether a doctrine should be accepted as true for the simple reason that it is traditional, or whether we should let the value of tradition be judged by the immanent truth of the doctrine. Guénon holds fast instead to a pure authoritarianism which provides itself with its own grounds for its own belief in itself, and, in order to save the unity of the entirety of the initiatic traditions as he defines them, he presents us with a piece of circular reasoning : he defines a priori as not initiatic, as profane, as philosophical, etc. all those directions that do not coincide with his own taste or preconceptions. As for our so-called incomprehension of Indian and especially Tantric wisdom, we have sufficient assurances from persons who have had direct inner relationships with it, for the insinuations on this subject made in such a carefree manner and without a shadow of proof by Guénon, to leave us, even when added to all his other insinuations, perfectly calm.
4) As for the inter-relating or mixing of philosophy and esotericism, Guénon would have to be asked (and, with him, those who are reading us) to study again what we have written on the subject of preventing this, in the essay in question. But, here again, there is nothing worse than the self-induced deafness of him who does not want to listen. We have said, for example, that the « transcendent character of the metaphysical realisation must not become a pretext for unbridled, arbitrary, dogmatic, subjective rambling » ; we have spoken about « some beautiful spirits, amateurs in ‘occultism' » (and we wonder what we shall see next from these quarters!) who « are not silent in the pure ineffable, but they speak ; however, when they are asked to define with precision the meaning of the terms they use and to obviate the difficulties which these terms create, they retreat and vanish once more into the rarified atmosphere of pure inner intuition, which thus remains a hard fact which does not give any account of itself, whose positions mean as little as the taste of someone who likes cheese as against another who prefers strawberries » ; we therefore placed the dilemma : « either one remains enclosed in the initiatic frame, whose self-checking and communicative systems, however, cannot, except in exceptional circumstances, have any meaning for the ‘profane’ ; or one speaks. But if one speaks, one has to speak correctly, that is, to give an account of what one says, to comply with logical requirements, to make us see the object of the metaphysical realisation, even if only in the form of its accidents (its ‘own form’ remaining in the pure interiority of the Self) and to give real satisfaction to all those requirements and those problems which reside in the purely human and discursive context, and are doomed to remain there ». Now, Guénon not only speaks but he writes, he addresses a whole public, a whole culture, which he criticises. Therefore, he cannot retreat, change the nature of the game he is playing, and elude the conditions which this framework implies. This is so, leaving completely aside all the facts which we can represent in our own framework, which, precisely, does not reduce itself to Guénon’s, and for which we do not feel the slightest need to express any debt to him. Now we declare that, with regard to the fundamental difficulties we noted objectively in Guénon’s account of the Vedânta, the pseudo-solution to the problem of the mutual exclusiveness of the points of view or the consciousnesses of the Self and of Brahman, the absurdity of the pure transcendent actuality, of the theory of the « minor reality » and the « conditioned being », the nihilistic dismissal of every value, of every sense, in manifestation and Becoming – Guénon has not even said a word, but he has thought he could bring the whole thing to an end with superficial, hardly more than grammatical, pseudo-rectifications, which do not prejudice the core of the argumentation ; besides taking for « manifest incomprehensions » of elements of the doctrine what is simply its critical deepening which, of course, cannot respect the ingenuous and temporary form in which they are given (and this must be said for the distinction between ‘me’ and « Self », for the illusion as ‘minor reality’, for the survival of certain unidentified beings in the pralaya, and so on).
We could, besides, note the declaration which he makes after we have explicitly said that, to us, ‘philosophical’ means something « which appears in an intelligible and justified manner ». It seems, therefore, that his own work is unintelligible and unjustified – by explicit declaration of its author. This leaves us most perplexed, in that, on one hand, the author states that « our intentions, […], after all, we must know better than others », and, on the other hand, we certainly do not feel like making such a comment on what Guénon writes (maybe because, as Guénon believes, we have not read his book carefully enough) : we have more esteem for him than he may assume and be attempting to reciprocate.
We agree upon the fact that is not very useful to argue over certain questions, especially when doing so, rather than solving some of them, may only serve to add to possible incomprehensions from one side at least as much as from the other. As for us, naturally, we still have various things to learn – yet, in the same way as others, we have various things to teach. Hence, if we thought that arguments such as this were worth an iota, we could reply to the one who would throw our age in our face (without knowing anything precise about it), that we should be envied, because we have time to learn more, which the hoary age of others, who have just as much to learn, does not afford. As for attitudes, it is perhaps up to the one who feels the need to speak ex tripode, from the pinnacle of an intolerant and dogmatic authoritarianism – which, in truth, resembles more that of a protestant pastor than that of this serious scholar of initiatic things who, with due reservations, we keep on thinking that Guénon is, to change them.
(*) In « Il Cammino del Cinabro’, 40 years or so later, Evola acknowledged that, « because of an insufficient preparation, in [his] first philosophic works, mainly in ‘Saggi sull’Idealismo magico’, there were many references which showed the influence of the aforementioned dubious sources [‘theosophical’ and ‘occultistic’ currents], therefore unconfirmed, and to be separated from the essential’. It would be a great mistake, however, to assume that these criticisms of the doctrine of Vedânta were part of a ‘philosophical’ phase in Evola’s spiritual development, which he subsequently ‘overcame’. If they are expressed in ‘philosophical’ terms, they are essentially the same as those made by the Indian shakti-tantra school itself against the Vedânta. As a matter of fact, 40 years or so later, Evola expressed these criticisms again in relation to the Tantratattva of Shiva Chandra, a Tantric treatise, in one of the essays in ‘L’Arco e la Clava’ (‘The Bow and the Bludgeon’), ‘Il Mito di Oriente e Occidente e ‘l’incontro delle religioni » (‘The Myth of East and West and the ‘Meeting between Religions ») : « This whole system shows the character of a ‘philosophy of God’, that is to say, of a vision sub specie aeternitatis, which would be plausible and without inaccuracy only from the point of view of the Principle, Brahman, and not from that of man, in that man is not purely and simply one with Brahman. Otherwise, serious contradictions appear immediately ».
Here are the main points of the argument : « On the one hand, the universe is defined as that which is derived from the development, the passage to actuality, of some of the possibilities contained in the Principle. But, on the other, it is asserted that, in the Principle, all the possibilities are already, ab aeterno, in actuality, and that, in it, the possible and the real are one, without caesura. Thus, the same given thing (that to which the universe corresponds) would be, at the same time and in the same respect, in potentia and in actuality : it would be impossible to talk in any way of a development, or even of manifestation, since these concepts imply as starting point a possibility as such, that is, a possibility which is not in actuality yet : but, according to this view, everything is already in actuality ».
« The argument according to which, from a point of view external to that of the one who as finite being is stuck in manifestation, the development, the process of manifestation, nevertheless shows a semblance of reality, does not work, given the monist premise. It would be consistent only if we admitted, as the creationist religions do, that man is a being cut off from the Principle, projected mysteriously per iatum outside of it with an existence of his own, which can then consider from the outside, from a relative and illusory point of view of its own, the process of the world, that is, the world as a real process. However, this contradicts absolutely the doctrine of non-dualism, of the ‘supreme identity’, which is essential to the whole Hindu metaphysic and especially to that of the Vedânta, according to which, between the I as âtmâ (the I in its transcendent dimension) and Brahman, there is no difference whatsoever, and there is nothing outside Brahman. If we followed this erroneous argument, we would be forced to think that the Principle itself in man, as âtmâ in man, is subject to an illusion, to mâyâ, which would amount, in a way or another, to the reintroduction of a duality, in a mysterious and absurd manner, into the Principle ».
« If the axiom of absolute non-duality were abandoned, the situation would turn out even worse. One would assert that only the Nirguna-Brahman – that is, the absolutely transcendent Principle, devoid of attributes and determinations, not to be even conceived of as ’cause’ – is real, and that all else is mere appearance, illusion, irreality, error, mâyâ ; that, therefore, the finite (that is to say, the determinate being, any living being) and the absolute stand towards one other as two contradictory terms, without there being any possible link between them. It would then have to be asked who it is, practically speaking, who makes this assertion : whether it is Brahman itself, or the finite being who finds himself in the reign of mâyâ. If the answer is the latter – that is to say, so long as one has in view an ‘I’ which cannot be purely and simply identified with the unadorned and formless One, beyond being and non-being (this is the supreme point of view of metaphysics), then not only will he himself will be mâyâ – illusion, chimaera, error -, but so will be all that he asserts, even this assertion of his, i.e. this extreme and ‘illusionistic’ doctrine of Vedânta, itself ».