Sufism and Traditionalism
From the Rickross forum
On Traditionalism. Note the links to this blog. (We are ‘eccentric’, could be worse)
Sufis have had severe travails. As if distortions from Gurdjieff and Shah were not enough, yet another ideology, traditionalism, has used Sufism as a means to an end. Native American spirituality, throughout the Americas, found itself misrepresented and commercially distorted by opportunists such as Carlos Castaneda.
A similar set of misfortunes befell Sufism. Genuine Sufis are modest much as Quakers are and dont usually speak up to defend themselves. This has left them dreadfully vulnerable to misrepresentation and exploitation by ambitious characters.
One source of confusion, in addition to Gurdjieff (who will be discussed below) has been yet another ideology that has mixed matters up in Sufism, a European ideology termed ‘Traditionalism.’
Traditionalism, in its current form, was refined by Rene Guenon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and Julius Evola. It was Guenon who came to the conclusion that Islam and Sufism met Traditionalist criteria. It should be noted that other Traditionalists have reached different conclusions. But..many have become converts, on thier own Traditionalist terms, to Islam via Guenon.
Traditionalism holds the view that the modern world is in decline, that what we see is progress is actually regression and the only hope is to find an authentic, uncorrupted religious tradition that will give us an authentic intiation. But there are many, many ‘counter-intiatic’ counterfeits so one must beware. Guenon came to belief that Sufism and Islam represented a valid initation—but he interpreted Islam through the framework of his own personal biases, seeing it as a means to fulfill the Traditionalist agenda. Guenon died in 1951 but his ideas remain influential to this day.
One bookseller at a European mosque told Mark Sedwick that the two factors that were most important in causing a European to convert to Islam were, in this order, marrying a Muslim….and having read Guenon.
Mark Sedwick writes:
“Many seem to become Sufis and even convert to Islam, not because of primary commitment to Islam, but in order to derive an ‘initiation’ that meets Traditionalist criteria for authenticity—using Islam and Sufism as a means to an end.
.” Being Muslim and Guénonian potentially gives rise to the same difficulties as does being Muslim and, say, Marxist: to what extent can a Muslim legitimately defer to an authority which derives its bases from outside Islam? Being Muslim because one is Guénonian is even more difficult: who comes first, the Prophet Muhammad or Guénon? That Pallavicini, for example, parted with Schuon because Schuon disagreed with Guénon – not with the Prophet or with Islam – would make most Muslims uncomfortable, as would Pallavicini’s habit of taking Guénon (rather than God or the Prophet) as his standard authority in his speeches and articles. This question of motivation may be the final irreducible difference between Guénonian Sufis and all others.”
( C comments here: Worse, in my opinion, many Sufi scholars, such as Lings and Nasr, have been covertly Traditioanlist, and don’t always make that clear in their writings, which meant that trustful readers imbibed unexamined and covert Traditionalist biases in the course of reading these books. The ones who were worst were those associated with Frijof Schuon. These adherants tended to recruit and cultivate well placed people. One such person who nearly fell into the net was none other than Thomas Merton, author of Seeds of Contemplation and the Seven Storey Mountain. Merton died before matters went any further. In 1980 Schuon, head of a “”Sufi”” order called the Maryamiyaa got into a scandal and left the US. He died in Switzerland in the 1990s. Two other Traditionalists whose writing have been highly influential have been Huston Smith–and
Professor Sedwick has written a survey of Traditionalism entitled Against the Modern World. It received reviews on Amazon that were either glowing or utterly derogatory–IMO, a sign that something is worth reading. What is interesting is that some seemed angry that anyone had dared write publicly about traditionalism and blown the cover on it…a sign that it was indeed high time to write publicly about Traditionalism and give it some long over due scrutiny–and assist others to scrutinize it. .C)
(It should be noted that this traditionalist Sufism is quite a different strand from the faux Sufism connected with the enneagram C)
Some discussions of Gurdjieff and sources for researching him. The website is rather eccentric but these articles may offer some leads.