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Everything is either affirmation or denial of Him. Therefore to think of anything as being entirely detached from Religion is to ignore its most essential relationships. It is not sufficient however from the point of view of the enemies of God merely to undermine religious faith by the propagation of materialism in one form or another, in order to divert attention from faith to the attractions of the world.

The attractiveness of earthly things is apt to fade; the devil knows well enough that they can never be satisfying for long, and that the bait has to be changed with growing frequency. But by then many have forgotten what Religion is. They get no help from their environment. Many no doubt turn back towards orthodoxy, but many more turn towards one of the innumerable pseudo-religious movements, sects, and cults which are increasingly taking the place of orthodox Religion. In many of these movements some of the outward characteristics of Religion are preserved.

In some cases those characteristics that would usually be regarded as interior or esoteric are more or less closely imitated. Nevertheless this may be a lesser evil than that of falsifying the nature of Religion, in circumstances such as the present, when one or the other is inevitable. The Profane Point of View from their parent Religion. Practically all of their adherents are wellmeaning and guileless—that is the tragedy of the situation—but the same cannot always be said of their originators and leaders.

These pseudo-religious movements, sects, and cults are by far the most insidious enemies of Religion. They can fill the vacuum caused by its absence without fulfilling its essential purpose. Being inventions and not traditions, whatever claim to orthodoxy or to inspiration they may make, they can never be a means of grace. On the contrary, at best they are totally ineffectual, and at worst there is no limit to the harm they can do, not so much to body or mind, though that can be great, but to the immortal soul.

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The neglect or denial of Religion is one thing; its distortion or perversion is another. The former is at least straightforward and unequivocal; it leaves the soul empty. The latter is subtle and confusing; it fills the soul with poison. There is no real defense against it other than an unswerving, wholehearted, and uncompromising attachment to an orthodox Religion. Therefore what matters most is to know at least in principle what orthodox Religion is.

It then becomes unnecessary to try to sort out the conflicting claims of the pseudo-religions. It is impossible to overstress the seriousness of the danger that pseudo-religions represent.


The world is obsessed by fear, but it is a fear of things that can destroy only the body, and it takes little or no account of things that can first distort and then destroy the soul. There is no comparison between the two objects of fear, for heaven and hell are more real than this ephemeral world of appearances and illusions. Religious people, and particularly those who practice some kind of austerity, are sometimes accused of being concerned only with saving their own souls instead of doing good to others, as if they were doing something selfish or contrary to Christian charity.

Nothing could be more absurd. Does Christianity really place terrestrial welfare above salvation? No man can save any soul but his own. How could anyone who has no experience of the way towards salvation hope to show it to anyone else, or even to avoid obstructing him? One who is good cannot help doing good.

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One who is not good cannot hope to do good whatever he does. If the intent is right, even a natural and unimportant act such as giving a cup of cold water will do good. If the intent is not right, even an outwardly charitable act will be turned towards evil. So the most charitable of all acts, the act 15 Lord Northbourne without which no other act can be charitable, is one which is directed towards the saving of the only soul for which the doer is responsible.

But there is something more important still. Every spiritual act is done on behalf of humanity. It contributes to the fulfillment of the purpose for which man was created—that of keeping the world in touch with God and bringing it back to Him. Only in the spiritual act is man fully human, and without it every act is undertaken in vain. This life is not an end in itself. It is not justified by its pleasantness, nor by its length, but only insofar as it serves to purify and perfect the soul, and to make that soul ready to meet its God, as it must. The only certainty in life is death.

It could even be said that the only reality in life is death, for the reality of the world of appearances is not its own, and death is the moment when the veil of the flesh is torn away and we see the reality that lies behind it. The immense reality of death and its significance seem to be lost to this generation, which has forgotten that it is not the fact of death that is a cause for concern, nor the time of its occurrence, but the readiness of the soul to meet it. The guidance offered from sources claiming orthodoxy is often conflicting or vague or unconvincing.

The guidance offered from other sources is still more conflicting and inevitably lacks authority. How pleasant it would be if one could offer a simple prescription suitable for anyone, thus putting an end to doubts and hesitations! But applications to particular cases cannot be dealt with without taking into consideration the qualifications and situation of the individual concerned. For that reason anything that can be said here must be in very general terms.

The important thing about any statement is not whether it is general or particular, but whether it is true or untrue. Unless the truth can be grasped in its broad essentials it is unlikely that specific action will be soundly based. In the end, therefore, everyone must seek for himself the application appropriate to himself. His search is much more likely to be fruitful if he has some idea what he is looking for. If he is looking for a new Religion there is one thing to make quite sure about first, and that is whether what he already has may not after all be what he is looking for. Even if he is sure that it is not exactly that, it may still be the nearest practicable 16 Modernism: The Profane Point of View approach to it, and therefore something not to be lightly thrown to the winds.

He must be sure that what he is looking for may not after all be discoverable there where he is rather than elsewhere. God will not refuse His guidance to one who seeks it with humility, perseverance, patience, and confidence. He often allows us to be led astray for a time so that we may understand what is wrong; or to be confused for a time so as to test our real intention. Victory may not come till the last moment; it may come when least expected and in the most unexpected form. God knows well how difficult things are at this time.

When the conception of progress is applied to humanity as a whole, or to any section of it, the way in which that goal is conceived depends on the answers given to certain questions that are as old as mankind: That search is being pursued in one way or another as intensively today as ever before. As always, the directions in which it is pursued are contingent on the tendencies of the prevailing mentality. The purpose of this chapter is to draw attention to the contrast between two mentalities.

One or the other is almost always predominant. The progressive mentality is one in which a science founded on observation, together with a humanistic philosophy based on that science, is the mainspring of thought and action. Only within the last few centuries has the latter mentality become predominant. Almost everyone would agree that a profound change of outlook has taken place during that period, and that it first became predominant in Western Europe, from whence it has spread to the rest of the world.

The present confused and unhappy state of the world proves that the hoped-for results of this change of outlook have not yet been realized. Nevertheless, the world seems to see no hope of their realization except by way of an intensification and acceleration of the intellectual, social, and economic developments consequent on this change.

Is it not time to question the validity of the direction of our present aims, rather than thinking only about our efficiency in pursuing them? The fact that the unending search of humanity is essentially a search for freedom from the constraints that seem to be inseparable from terrestrial life proves that we are conscious that our terrestrial situation is in a real sense a bondage.

Less often are we fully conscious of the dual nature of that bondage. We are strangers here, and we know it, even when we behave as though the place belonged to us and as if we were answerable to nothing and nobody but ourselves. We are always more or less consciously trying to escape from some aspect of our double bondage.

Two main lines of action are possible, related respectively to the two sides of its dual nature. One is to try to free the ego from the constraints imposed on it by its environment, that is to say, to improve its outward situation. That is what most of us are trying to do for most of the time. The other is to try to escape from the limitations of the ego as such.

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In other words, we can aspire to freedom for our terrestrial nature, or we can aspire to freedom from our terrestrial nature. The choice is not between two alternative and more or less equivalent options. If our main objective is to bring our environment into subjection so that it may not restrict the freedom of our ego, we are not even going half-way towards release from our double bondage.

So long as we are not inwardly free, we cannot take advantage of whatever our environment may have to offer, even though it should be wholly under our command and at our disposal. Yet it is precisely such a progress that has become almost the sole aim of contemporary humanity. Its goal is to possess or to command everything in its environment. This last sentence describes very simply the way we have chosen. That way is associated with the traditional mentality.

Its final goal is not to command things external to itself, but rather to surpass itself. The knowledge that it seeks above all is not a knowledge of the outer world but a knowledge that will enable it to command itself, and this implies a knowledge of itself. It does not deny the validity nor the necessity of some command over and some knowledge of the outer world, but this must not supplant or suppress self-knowledge.

Our inmost being is really the only thing we do know for sure, though our knowledge of it is non-distinctive and intuitive. It alone is our one absolute certainty. We can be in doubt and in dispute about outward things and their relationships, but not about our own existence, without which there would be no perception, no knowledge, no doubt, and no dispute. Yet, although our intuitive awareness of it is the very starting-point of all our awareness, we cannot say what constitutes our own reality.

As soon as we try to distinguish it, we are mentally trying to situate it outside itself so that it may examine itself, which is absurd, and is made even more so by the fact that it is essentially single and not multiple.

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Consequently, anything that we succeed in distinguishing is not the object of our search. Observation implies a duality between observer and observed, knower and known. Nothing that can be observed is identifiable with the observer. Therein resides the whole difficulty. Despite its overriding importance it is one which a science based wholly on observation can only ignore. We know moreover that everyone else is in the same position, so we must have a word for it.

Our passion for exact definition, when it is indulged to excess, hides from us much that is precious, and even that which is most precious of all. The Spirit is that of which the world and we ourselves are manifestations. Manifestation is an exteriorization or a deployment, implying change and movement in an outward direction; correspondingly, the Spirit, the changeless and motionless Origin, is inward with respect to its manifestations, including ourselves.

Although it is not strictly speaking localizable, we must look inward in order to find it. If that is true, we are certainly going the wrong way about it. Our main endeavors are directed to the feeding—one might say to the fattening—of the desiring soul; of that aspect of the soul which is indissolubly attached to the body during life, and is the 2 The characteristics of an adequate or natural symbol are analogous on their own plane to those of a prototype on a higher plane, the symbol being necessarily on the plane of the observable and communicable.

Our senses are adapted only to two planes of existence, the physical and psychic. To suggest that these two planes comprise all possibility is to make our senses the measure of all things which, in view of their obvious limitations, is childish. The way which we have rejected, the inward-looking way, seeks to free the human spirit from all its bonds by freeing it from those that are internal in the sense that they are part of the ego. It is they that confine the spirit most closely. In its purest form, this way is the way of the saint, whose goal is the unseizable Spirit and whose inward state it is beyond the power of words to convey.

The truth is the exact opposite. He is seeking a truth that can only be found by inner experience and not by observation, and it is the very truth without which humanity is lost. He is not seeking to obtain anything to satisfy his selfish ego, on the contrary, he is seeking to give himself wholly to God in love, and thereby to learn what love really is.

The repercussions of his intense activity, which is undertaken on behalf of humanity, are unpredictable, and they are independent of whether he is a public figure or totally unknown to his fellow men. The inward experience of the saint brings a supra-rational certitude, whereas observation brings no more than probability, which is not the same as certitude, even when it is of a very high order. The modern world is conscious of many of its own deficiencies; it does not appear to be at all troubled about its lack of saints, although that is the deficiency that matters most of all and cannot be compensated for by anything else.

But everyone cannot be a saint, so this same way is by extension the collective way of all communities whose traditions, laws, customs, and habitual outlook are predominantly directed towards the pursuit of sanctity, and therefore towards the support of the saint as its vehicle, either directly through religious rites and observances and the selection and training of individuals, or indirectly through the maintenance and defense of a political, economic, and social order so directed that the main aim can be effectively pursued within it.

This may not matter when both speaker and hearer are aware of the inadequacy of words in this connection; but when the inevitable failure is hidden in a morass of psychological jargon, which convinces many people by its apparent profundity that it has penetrated to the depths, then it matters very much indeed. By its exercise the participation of everyone in the pursuit of sanctity is made possible, whatever his situation or capacity.

Such, in principle, is the framework of a traditional civilization, although it is of course never perfectly realized. Such a society is never immune from degeneration and abuse, as we can see all too clearly today everywhere. All civilizations were originally traditional in outlook; each one has attributed its own origin to an initial divine Revelation or inspiration, and has regarded itself as the appointed preserver and guardian of the content of that Revelation.

This generalization is valid despite great differences in the outward forms of traditional civilizations, despite their many and obvious imperfections, and despite their impermanence. Their differences manifest the fact that the Spirit cannot be confined by any specific form. It can however manifest itself fully in an indefinity of different forms, sometimes mutually incompatible, without betraying itself, and always revealing itself. Their impermanence is a simple consequence of the fact that no civilization has ever been perfect, since it is a human and a temporal phenomenon; it is a manifestation of the Spirit, but it is not the Spirit itself which alone is imperishable.

Everything, save the Spirit itself, carries within itself the seeds of its own dissolution. He should look at what it has in fact produced in the way of contentment, peace, beauty, or freedom, and then at what it has in fact produced in the way of anxiety, war and rivalry, ugliness in the despoiling of Nature and in the arts , and subjection to its own insatiable desires, and to the inexhaustible demands of the machine.

Then he should consider, no less dispassionately, what its prospects of durability appear to be, bearing in mind that all its present tendencies are bound to be accentuated in the future, their accentuation being in fact its principal objective. More and more and faster and faster is the 23 Lord Northbourne cry, as if the end of a continuous quantitative expansion could be anything but dispersion and fragmentation, either gradual or explosive.

Yet it seldom seems to occur to anyone to question the doctrine of progress in principle rather than merely in some of its consequences, nor yet to wonder seriously whether traditional civilizations may after all have possessed something we have lost, something that made life worth living even under conditions of poverty and hardship.

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  6. Do we so excel in wisdom and virtue as to have the right to assume that they—our ancestors physically and intellectually—clung to Tradition merely from stupidity, from a false sense of where their true interests lay, or from a superstitious blindness to the realities underlying their lives on earth? We are prepared to admit that they often produced sanctity and nobility in man and incomparable beauty in art, but we look down upon them for their submission to a traditional hierarchy, and for their acceptance of their often humble situations in it, and for their relative contentment with service to it.

    We think that they accepted these things because they knew no better, since they lacked a vision of the possibilities open to humanity. The question is, of course, whether it is the followers of Tradition or the devotees of progress who are lacking in a vision of those possibilities. If, as most people assume today, this life comprises all the possibilities open to humanity individually or collectively, then the satisfaction of the ego, the mitigation of pain, and the postponement of death are indeed the best objectives we can choose, and we rightly accord first place to them.

    If, however, as the traditional view has it, death is a passage to another state of being in which we shall be confronted with the truth and see ourselves as we really are, and if pain is a reminder of the imperfection of our present state and as such not only inevitable but at least potentially beneficent, and if the salvation of the immortal soul takes precedence over the satisfaction of the ego, then the objectives named appear in a very different light.

    They do not become invalid, but to give them first place becomes both foolish and wicked. It seems to most people today to be foolish and even wicked to give them any other place. The attitudes and actions of traditional peoples seem to us often to be marked by both incomprehension and callousness. But what is the use of our achievements in mitigating pain and in postponing death if they are accompanied by the loss of the very thing that made life and death and pain both comprehensible and purposeful?

    Together they constitute a chain linking civilization with the Spirit in successional mode and in simultaneous mode respectively; in time to a spiritual origin and in space to a spiritual center. The origin inspires the center, and the center perpetuates the origin. Revelation alone confers on the chain of Tradition its directional or centripetal force. Human beings are always to some extent mutually interdependent; they are always linked together by chains of various sorts, physical, economic, or ideological.

    But such chains are accidental; human desires may give them a direction, which is always centrifugal rather than centripetal. If the chain of Tradition is anything at all, it is inherently directional and centripetal. It links mankind to its divine origin, and not to human wants or imaginings. Revealed Religion is therefore the heart of Tradition; without it Tradition would be an empty shell, a form without significance; it would be no more than mere social convention. Conversely, Tradition, with all its many manifestations that are not specifically religious in form, is the indispensable support of Religion.

    The sphere is the type of all spatial forms and the most generalized. The center of a sphere is the point to which all its dimensions are referred; it defines the sphere regardless of its size or qualitative constitution. The center is dimensionless, but its influence pervades and coordinates the entire space; it is thus an adequate symbol of the dimensionless spiritual origin of all things, and that not only in a verbal sense, but also in the concrete form of a sacred locality, be it a temple, a holy city, a holy mountain, or the heart of man.

    For the spiritual center is in reality everywhere, and it is therefore unseizable; and for that reason limited and localized beings who aspire towards it have need of a symbolical location to which they can direct their attention. And who can doubt that the Holy Spirit does indeed dwell in such places? The fact that mankind feels the need of a symbolical center to which he can direct his aspirations makes possible, in periods of spiritual decadence, the substitution for the sacred center of other centers which are anything but sacred, but are simply rallying points for the delusions and passions of a humanity that has lost touch with a traditional center.

    They give rise to their own orders or systems which are often misleadingly referred to as hierarchies. Religion and Tradition are inseparable, they are two closely related aspects of the same thing. They are however seldom met with in their pristine purity, since their temporal manifestations necessarily carry within themselves the seeds of their own dissolution, as has already been indicated. Those seeds germinate slowly but, like weeds in a crop, once well established can overwhelm the crop and even virtually replace it altogether.

    The process is gradual but accelerative. At most times there is a mixture of crop and weed in varying proportions. The assessment of the exact proportion of each present at any given time may be difficult; but it is always possible to discern and to describe the intrinsic nature of each. The point of departure of the traditional approach to reality is everywhere and always the same. This is true despite great differences in the historical development of traditional civilizations.

    Existence is envisaged as proceeding from an origin or prime cause which is transcendent with respect to all its productions, and is symbolically the center from which all existence radiates without ever becoming detached from it, on pain of ceasing to be. It is the center not only of the universe, the macrocosm, but also of the individual being, the microcosm, since the latter reflects the wholeness of the former. In any community, its own particular sacred center, and in the individual, the heart, represents or symbolizes the universal center. His outlook on all that he sees and knows is conditioned by the direction 5 The psycho-physical complex that constitutes a human individual is a coherent unit, a little world on its own, a microcosm.

    All its organs are mutually interdependent, and each has a distinct function. Most people nowadays would regard the brain as performing the highest function of all, but the function of the brain, and the nervous system that is continuous with it, is mainly one of interpretation and coordination. It is the heart, and not the brain, that vivifies the whole, and is therefore the source of all its potentialities, including the potentiality of intelligence. The correspondence on their respective planes between the heart and the spiritual center is therefore far from being merely fanciful see also footnote 4.

    When the heart is spiritually inert, the individual is not truly alive, but is a mere machine, however active the mind or the body may be. When the heart is spiritually active, the individual is truly alive, and is at peace whether he be outwardly active or not.

    Wherever Tradition is the controlling principle of human activity, every man, whether he be intelligent or not, and whatever his function, is consciously or otherwise involved in this centripetal tendency. The point of departure of the progressive outlook on reality, closely associated as it is with modern science, is observation. It looks exclusively outwards towards its environment, and not inwards towards the principle of its own being, which is at the same time the principle of all being.

    It does not consider existence as such, but only things that exist, and it regards their forms and qualities as products of their observable structure and their interaction with each other. It seeks to discern and to define the modes of operation of these interactions, hoping to discover some kind of fundamental law governing all relationships, and thus to arrive at something which, if not the absolutely prime cause of all things, represents at least as near an approach thereto as can be made by the human mind.

    Its point of departure precludes its taking into account anything which is not within the capacity of the human mind. Thence it is but a step to the total rejection of Religion, or to its substitution by ideologies or fancies originating exclusively in the brain or the sentiments of men.

    Man is in no doubt about his own reality, and thus becomes supreme in his own eyes. At this point it becomes possible to say that man is now god. But he is not the first to make a public statement to this effect. In the Russian case it appeared that man was considered to be qualified for a divine status by his merits rather than by his capacities, whereas in Prof.

    However, such talk is eagerly swallowed by a public acutely anxious about its own future, and all too ready to escape from facts into the realm of anticipations and to delude itself by considering, not what is, but what could be, if only science could have its way. The outward look is separative. It emphasizes the duality between observer and observed, knower and known, man and Nature. And since our human neighbor is, for each one of us, part of his environment, men become more and more separated one from another. By contrast, the inward look is unitive.

    The seeker who finds the center, the knower who knows himself, sees both himself and the outside world, Nature and his neighbor, as one through their connection with that center, not through their chance linkages with each other. Unity becomes the reality, separativity and relativity the illusion. Powerful though that illusion be, yet for him it is so to speak transparent. Yet he knows that he as an individual does not occupy a situation fundamentally different from that of his neighbor. Unity, which is indivisible, cannot therefore appertain to him alone.

    If he is sane, he knows that he as an individual is not God; or alternatively, that if he can in any legitimate sense be said to be one with God, the same can be said of his neighbor. He knows that his own separate existence is in the last analysis both illusory and paradoxical; but this knowledge is all a part of his overriding certitude that God is, and alone is wholly real, and that Nature, his neighbor, and himself, distinct though they be and even often in conflict, are one in God, and in God alone.

    If the traditional view is the right one, the idea that progress, in the modern sense of the word, could ever fulfill the hopes and plans of its advocates must be deceptive, not primarily because men are weak, stupid, passionate, and sometimes vicious, nor yet because human desires are so often mutually incompatible, but primarily because the advocates of a scientific and progressive humanism are looking away from the luminous source of their being, which is reflected in the divine spark in their own hearts.

    They are looking towards a universe which, in the absence of a valid principle, appears to be made up of 28 Looking Back on Progress particles and blind forces in ceaseless conflict with the desires and delusions of the human ego. Accordingly, they inflate and even deify the human ego in order to convince it that victory is possible.

    The voice of a progressive humanism proclaims that man has at last found the means of satisfying his desires, thus opening up the possibility of his becoming the creator of an earthly paradise. He can at last see his way to getting all he wants from his environment, provided that he will work hard and be reasonable. The voice of Tradition on the other hand, when it is not enfeebled or afraid to speak out, proclaims that the worth, the dignity, the whole justification of human life, lies in the preservation of the chain that binds man to God, who is his origin, preserver, and end, whose Paradise is the only Paradise; and further, that in order to find that Paradise man must seek it in the sacred center, and not in the periphery.

    The measure of our bondage is the strength of our attachment to the world of our experience and the extent of our submission to the desires engendered by that attachment. We deceive ourselves if we seek to escape from our bondage by way of the satisfaction of those desires. The measure of our deception is the extent of our failure to realize that those desires, being fed to excess, will multiply and plague us the more.

    Instead, we can seek to forestall and counteract too strong an attachment to the world by giving priority to a conscious and active aspiration towards the eternal Principle of our being which, being changeless, is above and beyond all attachment and all desire. We have the freedom to choose which of these two attitudes or tendencies shall predominate and which shall be subordinate in directing the course of our lives.

    Collectively we have chosen, and must accept the consequences, but the individual is always free to conform to that collective choice or to reject it. If he rejects it, he can act only within the limits of the possibilities of his individuality and his situation. God does not ask the impossible of anyone.

    Tradition and all it implies being virtually a dead letter, he will get little help from his environment and much hindrance. He will have to face not only open hostility, but also much more subtle and often tempting subversive influences, which are of many different kinds and have invaded every domain, even the very domain of Religion itself. It may be thought that compromise of some kind must be possible, but the situation is such that compromise can never be anything but superficial and illusory.

    The opposition between the traditional and the progressive outlooks is strictly analogous to that between East and West, upward and downward, inward and outward, or any other two diametrically opposed directions. Since life is all movement and 29 Lord Northbourne change, necessitating choice at every turn, an inward choice between the two directions is inescapable, even though it may seem to be involuntary or unconscious.

    That choice, and it alone, determines the orientation of the soul and therewith its fate. At the same time it determines the ultimate effect of every act. In these days when circumstances seem to impose compromise, it is no small thing to assert the impossibility of an effective compromise between the two ways of approach to truth here designated as traditional and progressive.

    Individuals and societies frequently attempt compromises between things that are in reality incompatible, but when that is the case any apparent compromise is illusory and cannot endure. One or the other of the two factors involved is bound to win in the end. This generalization applies fully to the present case, and it is not difficult to see which of the two approaches in question appears now to be winning.

    The question is whether its final victory is possible. If it is impossible that the approach of modern science should penetrate to the foundations of the reality of existence, simply because that science is looking in the wrong direction, then the fact that Tradition is disappearing and Religion seems to be in eclipse does not affect in the slightest degree the certainty of the final victory of the approach that leads to truth, although the form that victory will take cannot be predicted.

    In the first place, it is often suggested that either modern psychology, or a philosophy that has developed in parallel with modern science, is working in the same direction as that pursued by traditional sages and philosophers and by the few who still seek to follow them, and that it is thus making an approach to the same goal.

    That is not so. The approach of modern psychology and philosophy coincides consciously and deliberately with that of modern science. It is a search for an outward and distinctive knowledge, either in order to gain more control over the environment or ourselves, or with no avowed objective other than that of increasing the sum of human knowledge.

    In either case, what is involved is the exteriorization and examination of phenomena with the greatest degree attainable of scientific detachment. This last word is very significant, because it implies the most complete separation possible between subject and object, knower and known. Such is the way of science. It has its own validity and produces its own kind of results; its dispassion is exemplary; nevertheless, the direction of 30 Looking Back on Progress its approach is diametrically opposed to that of what has, so far very briefly, been described as the traditional way.

    It therefore cannot lead to the same goal. There is an apparent illogicality in saying that the nature, or the end-point, of what one is talking about cannot be specified in words, and then going on talking about it. Might it not be better to retire within oneself and be silent? To do so would at least avoid the risk of leaving the reader puzzled or angry or, worse, bored. It is a serious risk. The reasons for taking that risk could be stated in many ways, among others as follows. Words are primarily evocative; their descriptive use is conditional on their evocative power.

    They convey no meaning at all unless they fall into correspondence with some potentiality present or latent in the hearer. Only then do they evoke a response of any kind. The possibility of their descriptive use depends on their evocative power, but description is restricted to the plane of our terrestrial life. Words are in any case all derived from our common experience on that plane. If that plane alone comprises the whole of reality there is no further argument; but, if there are other planes of reality, they too are accessible to the purely evocative potentiality of words by virtue of the analogical relationship subsisting between all planes, and constituting the basis of all true symbolism.

    Let us admit once and 7 If this is true in principle, nevertheless its application to particular cases is often difficult. Where that vision is lacking, either accidentally or because an approach that excludes it is adopted on principle, the result is a fatal confusion. The approach of much contemporary philosophy excludes that vision on principle; it is therefore liable to lead to error, however plausible its arguments may seem to be on the purely mental plane.

    Sacred science is not restricted in its outlook as modern science is. It sees the temporal universe of phenomena as no more than an appearance, and it seeks a supra-phenomenal and intemporal reality, just as Religion does, but it follows a path which is parallel to, rather than coincident with, the path of Religion, at least until both attain to the summit. In the second place, a Religion founded on Revelation remains now as always indissolubly linked with Tradition, and now as always it is centered on the supra-phenomenal and intemporal, even when, as a result of human weakness, it is not as evidently so as it might be.

    Meanwhile, science in its modern form has lost sight of the supra-phenomenal and intemporal, and has taken on the role of prophet, guide, and provider to an ideology of progress having as its goal a temporal and terrestrial utopia. There is a conflict, but it is not between Religion and science as such, for they can be regarded as two normal, necessary, and parallel approaches to truth, provided always that the hierarchical superiority of the religious approach is recognized and acted upon. The conflict is between the two points of view here designated respectively as traditional and progressive.

    Religion and science come into conflict only insofar as they are associated with the one or with the other. Attempts at compromise between the traditional and progressive points of view, as applied to the origin and destiny of man and of the universe, can only lead to confusion. Their mutual incompatibility is total and unequivocal. The ideology of progress envisages the perfectibility of man in terms of his terrestrial development, and relegates it to a hypothetical future, whereas Tradition envisages the perfectibility of man in terms of salvation or sanctification, and proclaims that it is realizable here and now.

    This is in some ways equivalent to another question: Is there any real incompatibility between religion and science? Does religion claim that pre-historic events can be dated on the basis of a literal interpretation of figures mentioned in the Old Testament, and that the approximate date of the Creation itself is 4, B. Can science allow that the earth was created about 6, years ago?

    Clearly it cannot, for evidence of various kinds show beyond doubt that at that date the earth and man were already old. If science seems here to refute the letter of the Scriptures, it does not refute their spirit, for even apart from archaeological and geological evidence there are directly spiritual reasons for preferring not to insist on the letter of Genesis chronology. This does not mean that our mediaeval ancestors, many if not most of whom did accept a literal interpretation, were less spiritual or less intelligent than ourselves—far from it.

    But even apart from questions of time, the men of the Middle Ages were too conscience-stricken to reason as we do, too overwhelmed by a sense of human responsibility—to their credit be it said. If what had happened was incongruous, not to say monstrous, all the more blame to man. None the less it remains for each one of us to ask himself exactly how sublime his own detachment is, always remembering that a man who is standing idly down in the plain sometimes has a better view of certain aspects of a mountain than have those who are actually climbing it.

    Its basis, the tradition of the four ages of the cycle of time which the Greeks and Romans named the Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages, is not merely European but is also to be found in Asia, among the Hindus, and in America among the Red Indians. According to Hinduism, which has the most explicit doctrine on this subject, the Golden Age was by far the longest; the ages became increasingly shorter as they were less good, the shortest and worst being the Dark Age, which corresponds to the Iron Age. But even this last and shortest age, the age we live in, stretches back more than 6, years into the past.

    The ancient and world-wide tradition of the four ages does not contradict the Book of Genesis, but, like the evidence of science, it does suggest an allegorical rather than a literal interpretation. Without any doubt yes, for if the story of the Garden of Eden cannot be taken literally, it cannot, on the other hand, be taken as meaning the opposite of what it says.

    Besides, it is not only Judaism, Christianity, and Islam which tell of the perfection of Primordial Man and his subsequent fall. The same truth, clothed in many different imageries, has come down to us out of the prehistoric past in all parts of the world. Religions are in fact unanimous in teaching not evolution but devolution. Is this religious doctrine contrary to scientifically known facts? Must science, in order to be true to itself, maintain the theory of evolution? In reality, despite appearances, no one any longer believes in it. Evolution is a sort of dogma whose priests no longer believe in it, though they uphold it for the sake of their flock.

    There is no doubt that many scientists have transferred their religious instincts from religion to evolutionism, with the result that their attitude towards evolution is sectarian rather than scientific. None the less, I believe evolution to be just as certain as if it had been objectively proved.

    It even finds itself in opposition with each one of these theories. There is something here which is both disappointing and disquieting. To criticize evolutionism, however soundly, was about as effective as trying to stem a tidal wave. But the wave now shows some signs of having spent itself, and more and more scientists are re-examining this theory objectively, with the result that not a few of those who were once evolutionists have now rejected it altogether.

    One of these is the already quoted Bounoure; another, Douglas Dewar, writes: Le Monde et la Vie, March But this knowledge—to revert to our opening question—would have taught our ancestors little or nothing that they did not already know, except as regards chronology, nor would it have caused any general change in their attitude. For in looking back to the past, they did not look back to a complex civilization but to small village settlements with a minimum of social organization; and beyond these they looked back to men who lived without houses, in entirely natural surroundings, without books, without agriculture, and in the beginning even without clothes.

    It would be true then to say that the ancient conception of early man, based on sacred scriptures and on age-old traditional lore handed down by word of mouth from the remote past, was scarcely different, as regards the bare facts of material existence, from the modern scientific7 conception, which differs from the traditional one chiefly because it weighs up the same set of facts differently.

    What has changed is not so much knowledge of facts as the sense of values. Until recently men did not think any the worse of their earliest ancestors for having lived in caves and woods rather than houses. And this our life, exempt from public haunt, 6 p. This word means what it says and is used here: As the palaeontologist Professor E. Temside Press, ], p. I would not change it. These words can still evoke in some souls an earnest echo, an assent that is considerably more than a mere aesthetic approval; and behind Shakespeare, throughout the Middle Ages and back into the furthest historical past, there was no time when the Western world did not have its hermits, and some of them were among the most venerated men of their generation.

    Among the Hindus, for example, it is still an ideal—and a privilege—for a man to end his days amid the solitudes of virgin nature. Tacitus tells us that the Germans of his time had a horror of houses; and even today there are some nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples, like the Red Indians for example, who have a spontaneous contempt for anything which, like agriculture, would fix them in one place and thus curtail their liberty. To this oral literature, as the French call it, education is no friend. Culture destroys it, sometimes with amazing rapidity. When a nation begins to read.

    Coomaraswamy, The Bugbear of Literacy London: Kittredge in his introduction to F. The growing child is taught all that is known. Songs are a form of story-telling. The lay-out and content in the thousand myths which every child learns often word perfect, and one story may last for hours are a whole library. The natives easily learn to write after white impact. They regard it as a curious and useless performance. In particular, literacy lulls men into a sense of false security by giving them the impression that their everyday speech is no longer the sole treasury in which the treasure of language is safeguarded; and once the idea of two languages, one written and one spoken, has taken root, the spoken language is doomed to degenerate relatively fast and to drag down with it, eventually, also the written language—witness the new English translation of the Bible.

    In the West of today, the degeneration of the spoken language has reached a point where, although a man will take more or less trouble to set down his thoughts in writing, pride of speech is something almost unknown. It is true that one is taught to avoid certain things in speaking, but this is for purely social reasons which have nothing to do with richness of sound or any other positive quality that language may have.

    And yet the way a man speaks remains a far more significant factor in his life than the way he writes, for it has an accumulative effect upon the soul which a little spasmodic penning can never have. Archer, The Blue Grove, preface London: Harrison, Savage Civilization , pp. Language tends to degenerate in the natural course of events, even among the illiterate, and accidents such as exile or foreign domination can cause all sorts of things to be forgotten in a surprisingly short space of time.

    How much of the spiritual heritage of the Jews might have been lost, for example, but for written records? None the less, writing cannot be said to confer any superiority on man, to say the very least, and it would no doubt even be true to say that it only became necessary, as the lesser of two evils, after a certain point of human degeneration had been reached. Speech on the other hand was always considered to be one of the glories of man.

    In Judaism, as also in Islam, we find the doctrine that by Divine Revelation Adam was taught the true language, that is, the language in which the sound corresponded exactly to the sense. None the less philology can give us a clear idea of the general linguistic tendencies of mankind, and in doing so it teaches us nothing which in any sense weighs against the traditional report.

    On the contrary, every language known to us is a debased form of some more ancient language, and the further we go back in time the more powerfully impressive language becomes. It also becomes more complex, so that the oldest known languages, those which are far older than history itself, are the most subtle and elaborate in their structure, calling for greater concentration and presence of mind in the speaker than do any of the later ones.

    The passage of time always tends to diminish the individual words both in form and in sonority, while grammar and syntax become more and more simplified. It is true that although time tends to strip language of its quality, a language will always have, quantitatively speaking, the vocabulary that its people needs. A vast increase of material objects, for example, will mean a corresponding increase in the number of nouns. But whereas in modern languages the new words have to be artificially coined and added on from the outside, the most ancient known languages may 43 Martin Lings be said to possess, in addition to the words in actual use, thousands of unused words which, if required, can be produced organically, as it were, in virtue of an almost unlimited capacity for word-forming which is inherent in the structure of the language.

    This does not mean that the ancient languages—and those who spoke them—were lacking in the virtue of simplicity. True simplicity, far from being incompatible with complexity, even demands a certain complexity for its full realization. A distinction must be made between complexity, which implies a definite system or order, and complication which implies disorder and even confusion. A corresponding distinction must be made between simplicity and simplification.

    The truly simple man is an intense unity: To keep up this close-knit integration, the soul must readjust itself altogether to each new set of circumstances, which means that there must be a great flexibility in the different psychic elements: It is only by an elaborate system of grammatical rules that the different parts of speech, analogous to the different elements in the soul, may be inflected so as to fit closely together, giving to each sentence something of the concentrated unity of a single word.

    The simplicity of the synthetic languages is in fact comparable to that of a great work of art—simplicity not necessarily of means but of total effect; and such no doubt, in an altogether superlative degree, was the simplicity of the primordial language and, we may add, of the men who spoke it.

    That at any rate is the conclusion to which all the available linguistic evidence points, and language is of such fundamental importance in the life of man, being so intimately bound up with the human soul of which it is the direct expression, that its testimony is of the highest psychological significance. When the Arabs first appear in history they are a race of poets, with a wide and varied range of metrical forms, almost their only prose being their everyday speech. They possessed a somewhat rudimentary script, which only a few of them could use, but in any case they preferred to pass down their poems by living word of mouth, and until the coming of Islam they were probably the most illiterate of all Semitic peoples.

    No doubt this explains, at least in part, why their language was so remarkably well preserved: A special science was quickly evolved for recording and preserving the exact pronunciation; and language-debasement was also checked by the sustained efforts of Moslems throughout the centuries to model their speech upon the speech of their Prophet.

    As a result, his language is still living today. Inevitably dialects have been formed from it in the course of time through leaving out syllables, merging two different sounds into one, and other simplifications, and these dialects, which vary from one Arab country to another, are normally used in conversation. But the slightest formality of occasion calls at once for a return to the undiminished majesty and sonority of classical Arabic, which is sometimes spontaneously reverted to in conversation also, when anyone feels he has something really important to say.

    On the other hand, those few who on principle refuse to speak the colloquial language at all are liable to find themselves in a dilemma: Idle chattering, that is, the quick expression of unweighed thoughts, must have been something comparatively unknown in the far past, for it is something that ancient languages do not lend themselves to; and if men thought less glibly, and took more trouble to compose the expression of their thoughts, they certainly took more trouble 45 Martin Lings to utter them. Sanskrit tells the same story as Arabic: But religion adds—as science cannot without going beyond the scope of its function—that there is a way of escape for individuals from the collective downstream drift, and that it is possible for some to resist it, and for some even to make upstream headway against it, and for a few to overcome it altogether by making their way, in this life even, back as far as the source itself.

    It should be easier for us to see how the world goes than it was for our ancestors, for we have a wider view of history than they had, and history as a whole, in its fundamental aspects, tells the same story as that of the Old Testament and confirms its rhythm. The key events of the last three thousand years, the missions of Buddha,16 Christ, and Muhammad, were sudden interventions: Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. An Introduction to the Perennial Philosophy 4. This is an anthology of 25 essays by the leading exponents of the perennialist school of comparative religious thought.

    It aims to be the most accessible introduction yet to the perspective of the Perennial Philosophy. Paperback , pages. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Underlying Religion , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about The Underlying Religion. Lists with This Book. Oct 18, Tim rated it it was amazing Shelves: When I came to Islam, I had come out of a period of searching that caused me to recognize a certain universal pattern to reality.

    This was particularly true after a near-fatal car accident in , when I found that my consciousness had changed. I began to realize that for all of my life my vision had been narrowed. I had become insular in faith and life. Yet, how was I to proceed down a deeper spiritual path, and what road was I to take? I wanted something bigger, and at first that seemed to in When I came to Islam, I had come out of a period of searching that caused me to recognize a certain universal pattern to reality.

    I didn't immediately understand that I was skimming an exoteric surface. This was not taking me any deeper, but was simply showing me the outward appearance of different manifestations of the ONE or the Absolute. After much searching, my commitment was to Islam, and as I often tell people when I'm asked about my conversion process, there are many factors which led to the decision, and had my life path been different, I might have easily adopted a different faith without falling out of step with the universal or ultimate "being".

    I realize this at my deepest level while being no less committed to the Islamic path. Yet I also know that to go deeper I needed to be on a specific path - one that had its roots in a universal reality that transcends all of the patterns and "progress" we see in human societies and existence. I believe that all of us are at base concerned with some sort of ultimate reality, whether we claim spirituality or not, and that ultimately we are searching for the same essence, whatever symbols, linguistic terminology or philosophies we use to describe it.

    For in the end, we all want authenticity, we want to know the true nature of things. This also resonates with what has become known as the "Sophia Perennis" or Perennial Philosophy. There is nothing new about this "Philosophy" and I hesitate to even give it a label, but for purposes of commenting on the ideas contained in this book, it is necessary to do so.

    This Philosophy, as the excellent appendix describes is not concerned so much with what humanity can accomplish, but what it is meant or created to accomplish. The introduction defines it as: As absolute Truth it is the perennial wisdom sophia perennis that stands as the transcendent source of all the intrinsically orthodox religions of humankind. Yet the perennial philosophy does not discard religion or as it describes it "tradition". In fact, the need for this new articulation of something that has never left us is - as Frithjof Schuon describes it - because of the "totalitarian rationalism" of modernity, post-modernity.

    It is not a reactive philosophy, in the sense that the reactivity of the various fundamentalist strains - particularly as seen in certain quarters of the Abrahamic faiths - are reactive to modernity by becoming more insular and violently protective of exoteric notions of faith. This protection is lacking of the esoteric. The Perennial idea seeks to expand our vision by allowing us to realize that there is a universal truth expressed by one Creator.

    This Creator manifests itself in different exoteric ways throughout history in this lower world, the world of forms. Diversity is a part of the universal plan. Diversity in fact points to the true idea of unity, which is a unity of foundation if you will, or better a unity of a higher foundation. As we progress through levels of consciousness we realize how illusory are the forms through which we perceive our world. These forms though, serve as symbols pointing to the ultimate and can also serve as a delineation between those things that lead to the ultimate and what can pull us away from that ultimate into the illusory world of forms or the world of the ego.

    More simply expressed, these symbols serve as a guide to right and wrong, good and bad in this lower form of consciousness where forms assume a dualistic manifestation. So, precisely for that reason, there is truth in traditional forms, and the traditional forms in faith - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. These faiths have survived throughout the centuries because they are of the nature of divine revelation.

    They are self-contained systems of living that share a universal truth. The Sophia Perennis expresses the idea that a focus on forms in the modern world is to the detriment of the underlying symbolic truth of these revealed faiths. Yet there is a yearning in the modern world for this truth. We all look for purpose in life, and we all want to achieve a higher state of being, despite the language we might use to describe what "higher" means.

    From the equality of humanity expressed through the ideas of Socialism, to the attainment of success of the individual in Capitalism, we can see it in the world of economics and politics. There is equally a desire to return to a "purer" form of life, before "agrarian civilization" that we can find expressed in the ideas of Jared Diamond and others. What is lacking in this modern world is the esoteric.

    We are back to the totalitarian rationalism that Frithjof Schuon speaks of. The exoteric dominates our lives, and it is precisely this fact that is at the base of the argument which the Sophia Perennis makes against the idea of evolution as the nature of the universe.

    While it is true that humanity is making progression in the exoteric world through outward "innovation" in technology, it is at the expense of the esoteric, and in this sense there is a DE-evolution in humanity. We have lost the sense of who we are - of our humanity. This is exemplified in the way religions practice and clash in our world just as much as it is in the lack of the idea of the transcendent altogether.

    The reason that there is conflict in our world is - as the book expresses - because form by nature will delimit parts of the universal archetype. Yet we live in this world, so we cannot escape form. Traditional faiths allow us to get past the form to the higher reality, and we cannot break these revealed forms.

    They are the sole route to truth in this world. Therefore, it cannot be stated enough how important it is to respect the revealed forms. As a Muslim who believes in an underlying unity, I must still practice my Islam. This is the key to Perennialism. It is not a new idea in that it proposes a new faith. Again, Sophia Perennis is not some system which brings a new faith, religion or tradition.

    It is more of an articulation of reality. It is pointing out more than ever why it is important to follow a revealed path. Yet it also equally emphasizes that there is a deeper understanding to a particular revealed path, and with this understanding comes a tension due - again - to the world of forms. The tension can be seen here in that while practicing my Islam, I also acknowledge that this might not be the path for everyone, and that there is truth in other paths.

    I respect my Christian heritage and family knowing that it also comes from the same truth as Islam. The Qur'an itself teaches this, telling Muslims that the Prophet Muhammad pbuh has come as the Seal of the Prophets and Islam has come as the culmination of all rightly guided faiths. Realizing and being able to hold this tension is key to the reduction of conflict through religion, and is key to the very fundamentals of the religion itself - virtue, love, humility, respect, etc There are three metaphysical truths which the Sophia Perennis expresses as doctrine, way and method.

    It describes doctrine as discernment of the truth from illusion. The way is a life "addressed to the soul" for conforming itself to the nature of the Real. The method is the technique that one uses to concentrate and focus on the real as one's ultimate life goal. When dealing with an Absolute that is bigger than any of us can conceive, there will be different manifestations of the Real in our world. We cannot follow all of these manifestations. Yet we can attain to the true reality while still realizing and respecting that there are other equally valid ways of attaining to that reality.

    View all 4 comments. Jul 11, Essam Qais rated it really liked it.

    • Tears of Haximu?
    • The Golden Tiger (Derl Wothor Trilogy Book 2).
    • The Underlying Religion;
    • Frommers EasyGuide to Ireland 2014 (Easy Guides).

    The Underlying Religion attempts to summarize the main tenets of the Perennial Philosophy. This philosophy appeared in an age where religion is treated as the residue of primitivism; and people should or must replace it with modernism and science. In fact, in many parts of the world, many people follow this prescription directly or indirectly. The book is divided into seven parts and they are as follows: The understanding of perennial philosophers of religion is deep, esoteric and sometimes shocking.

    They dig deeper into the essence of almost all great religions in order to show us that all religions are from the same source, they are different only exoterically. The book is a heavy read, and I personally skipped two parts, namely Evolution and I don't understand evolution and honestly I'm not interested in the evolution theory. The Symplegades is very dense and contains many of Hindu terms that I don't understand. The book has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of this book lie in its ability to tell implicitly the reader, mostly Western reader, that religion is not merely the result of fear or the stupidity of our ancestors, on the contrary; religion is a message from heaven to save humanity.