Frithjof Schuon: What is Humility?
The powerful clarity of thought of the Swiss mystic and philosopher provides keys to orienting ourselves in an accelerated world.
One may imagine Frithjof Schuon as one of the modern era’s last sages. His magnanimous bearing, his imperturbable elegance, the exactness of his words, and the pre-lucidity of his thought; these make us think of the remote, enlightened individuals who speak to us through sacred texts. The difference is that Schuon lived and died in the 20th century, a fact which envelops his teaching with a halo of timelessness.
Influenced in his youth by the thought of the Orientalist philosopher Rene Guénon, Schuon studied all religious currents, both Eastern and Western, in some depth. These currents he distilled down, and with Guénon himself and another Orientalist, Ananda Coomaraswamy, they grouped an understanding of these currents within the Perennial Philosophy perspective. Of importance to all of these authors was the universal tendency underlying all religions, regardless of their creed. That essence, or perennial knowledge could, according to Schuon, be reduced to a discernment between the real and the illusory, the permanent and the impermanent, Âtma and Mâyâ.
The truth is one, Schuon said, but it is to be made manifest through the human intellect. This is given a revelation and adopts multiple forms (just as there is a plurality of geometric figures to account for the unique nature of space).
Numerous interviews with Frithjof Schuon have been filmed. In the final period of his life, the philosopher, painter, and poet received a multitude of followers into his home. They yearned to know firsthand their master’s views on the fundamental issues of life, and again and again, Schuon repeated the essential traits of his thought, giving special importance to prayer. Praying in a canonical way, in a personal way, or through a contemplative act which establishes prayer in the heart was, to Schuon, the only way to approach the absolute.
In the midst of moral relativism and scientism, Schuon offered the key to a deep understanding of the human and the divine, recovering the idea of a primordial religion, purified from the historical and dogmatic excesses of institutions. Dignity, nobility, beauty, and humility are some of the virtues Schuon tried to rescue at a time already anxiously flooded with unbelieving postmodernism.
In one interview, in response to a request for his definition of humility, a virtue long entwined with the Christian notion of sacrifice, and scarce in the interpersonal relationships of our own time, Schuon said categorically that humility is “objectivity with oneself.”
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