On The Traditional Perspective

On The Traditional Perspective

Or The Evergreen Tradition

Edited by Omar K Neusser1

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1. Regarding The General Criticism of Religion

Regarding the wide-spread attempts of atheists and other would-be-philosophers to doubt the existence of a Supreme Reality and to discredit religion in general, and Islam in particular, combined with a general ignorance of the essential characteristics of a revealed religion,2 it has become necessary to first of all disprove those misunderstandings (if not outright lies).

This is where the Evergreen Tradition enters into the arena of what is true and right. It is about a spiritual perspective or outlook on the Sacred, which has been lost among the educated elites as well among the public in these latter days.3

However there are also many others who have regained this knowledge of the Sacred, after having been informed and reformed by the traditional spirit in various instances.

2. What Is The Evergreen Tradition?

The Evergreen Tradition is informed by the Ultimate Truth, the Eternal Power behind and above everything else, God - Allah, the Supreme, Absolute Being, the 1st. Cause.

The world religions sprang - in different periods and places - out of the well of the Evergreen Tradition. Their common characteristic4 is the Heavenly revelation35 with which they came, a fact with which the flatness and banality of our post-modern mentality cannot compete.

Despite what some distractors may think, the truth of the Evergreen Tradition is today best preserved in the Islamic tradition. This is because Islam is an authentic tradition, true to its original teachings, even if there are those who have departed from some of its most basic tenets.5

The dín (heavenly way of life, religion) of Islam will be THE valid alternative until the last day, even if there have been and will be deviations from the norm.5 Regarding other religions, it does principally respect other religions, especially the monotheistic religions of Judaism and Christianity, whose followers are called the ’People of the Book’.6 Islam and Muslim are fine with criticism if done out of a will to understand; what is not accepted is being attacked unjustly or disgracefully.7

3. The Meaning Of Tradition

Tradition is here understood from its etymological root: tradere (deliver, transmit): it refers to an essential element - sacred knowledge - which has been transmitted to mankind from a heavenly source, from the beginnings of the human race to this present moment. Tradition has nothing to do with peoples' usages or customs from old, but is understood as revealed  tradition, that is truths and principles of divine order revealed35 or unveiled to mankind from times immemorial.

“Tradition is essentially of "super-human" origin … and nothing traditional can be qualified as such without the presence of this vital, axial and foundational element, which defines its own authentic character.”8

The meaning of Tradition is - in the words of Charles Upton, who is extensively quoted here9 - about “the transmission of a perennial (i.e. evergreen) wisdom, unanimous in essence, from the beginnings of the human race to this present moment, a transmission punctuated and channeled by Divine revelations and continually renewed… by the intellectual intuition of spiritual Truth.”10

“This faculty of Intellection, veiled in the general run of humanity, unveiled (to varying degrees) in the case of prophets and saints and sages, is traditionally considered to be the essence and raison d’etre of the human form itself, what Muslims call the fitrah.”11

4. More On Tradition & The Traditional Perspective

The Traditional perspective "does not 'dismiss' differences12 (of the various traditions) as 'deviations,' but sees in them providential variations of a common primordial13 tradition, designed to make saving truth available to those living in different cultures and historical periods, as well as to different spiritual “types.”

As The Absolute is One, there cannot be two absolutes, which is absurd, so God is One, Supreme Reality is One: this is the Unity of God - Allah.

5. Signs Of God’s Unity And Transcendence

”From the standpoint of this Unity14, the similarities in religious doctrines—particularly metaphysical or mystical doctrines—as they appear in the different religious traditions are understood as signs of God’s Unity, just as the irreducible doctrinal differences between the various traditions are recognized as signs of God’s Transcendence of all the forms through which He manifests, of Allah according to His names al-Malik (the Sovereign), al-Quddus (the Holy), and al-`Ala (the Highest).”

6. The Dimension Of Time, Eternity

”Tradition lives in conversation with the past,15 - remembering where we are and when we are,” but even more profoundly even with Eternity.

As the author Charles Upton points out, ”Tradition lives in conversation with Eternity. It is related to the past by virtue of the fact that what is temporarily established (since it has in fact already happened) provides a more complete (though still limited) reflection of what is eternally established by God’s timeless and present Act of Creation than the uncertain possibilities of future time.”

This would mean that we know (at least we could …) what we have had (regarding the different forms of various traditions in the history of mankind), but we don’t know what we’ll get - regarding the increasing ’distance’ from the era of revelations.

However, not every aspect of the future has to be so bleak, ugly, or even devastating, because there always has to be a universal balance of good and evil, true and false, otherwise the world would come to an end, which it will some day unknown to us.

7. Through Intellection Truth Is Seen Directly

”For those in whom Intellection is a working faculty, the Truth apprehended by “the eye of the Heart” is not derived from a synoptic16 reading of the mystical and scriptural texts of the various religions, based on an assumption of their common essence, but is seen directly; it is this intellective vision, in fact, which makes the synoptic reading of such texts both possible and valid.

”The faculty of Intellection may be nurtured by scripture and tradition—its development entirely outside such a context is in fact extremely rare, and in any case would lack any language in which to express itself—but such Intellection in turn is the seal and proof of scripture and tradition, just as the actual experiment36 is the proof of a given scientific theory. The idea that religions have a common esoteric essence is not assumed; it is perceived.17 And essential to such perception is the intuition of the Absolute.”

8. What The Evergreen Tradition Is Not

This tradition does not constitute some ”kind of meta-religion superceding the revealed traditional paths… but … each of these paths does indeed, from its own unique perspective, touch upon Absolute Truth…

The essence of what the Traditional outlook ”teaches (is) Salvation, Enlightenment, or Liberation,” but within the ’embrace’ of an authentic religion, which today is Islam.37

Also this Tradition is not a sentimental, unsubstantiated theory, far from it, it is a vehicle for truth.19

9. Submission To God Is Essential

Uniquely ”Islam does not deny the other revelations but confirms them. It declares itself definitive and “quasi-absolute” only insofar as in denies the possibility of a newer revelation before the coming of the Hour, and makes itself quasi-absolutely incumbent upon all who follow Muhammad ( sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam ), the last Prophet. Who could possibly say that the Shari’ah, after 1400 years of interpretation, carries no cultural conditioning?20

The only aspect of Islam that is not culture-bound is the essence of the dín (religion): submission to God. And submission to God is possible, and necessary, within every religion; as Jesus prayed in Gethsamane, “not my will but Thine be done.”21

10. The Evergreen Tradition As Support For The Spiritual Path

The Evergreen Tradition ”is an intellectual support for the spiritual Path. This is so because ‘this mass of doctrine’ is not an “ideology, but rather … a set of concrete intellectual supports for the spiritual Path, in the recognition that (the traditional perspective) has little or nothing to do with changing the world—to believe so is both doctrinally unorthodox and socially naïve—and everything to do with saving souls.”

Changing the world is understood in the context of changing the soul, according to the Quranic injunction:22

{ Verily, ALLAH does not change the condition of people until they change what is within themselves.} Sura ar-Ra`d 13:11

The Traditional outlook is ”essentially sober and without nostalgia, unless it be the ’nostalgia for eternity.’ Rather, it is a mass of doctrine adequate to orient us, in intellect, will and affections, toward what the Tao Te Ching calls The Always So,” i.e. The heavenly Truth, Ultimate Reality, God, Allah.

11. Possible Criticism

If one were to criticise ”the metaphysics and esoterism” of the Evergreen Tradition as ”romanticizing the occult aspects of the world’s religious traditions and being backed by unsupported assumptions… and rather wild speculations,” one could easily reject this criticism, as the author C. Upton does, to declare that ”its speculations are no more wild than those of:

the Prophet Muhammad ( sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam ),
’Ali ibn Abi-Talib,
Ibn al’Arabi,
Jalaluddin Rumi,
Mulla Sadra,
Moses de Leon,
Isaac Luria,
St. Paul,
St. Augustine,
St. Thomas Aquinas,
Clement of Alexandria,
Dionysius the Areopagite,
Maximos the Confessor,
Scotus Eriugena,
Meister Eckhart,
Dante Aligheri,
Ramana Maharshi,
Swami Ram Das,
Lao Tzu,
Chuang Tzu,
—a list which could be almost indefinitely extended. These figures, and hundreds like them, represent the highest, deepest and widest expressions, outside the revealed scriptures themselves, of the intellectual and spiritual heritage of the human race.” 23

12. The Discovery Of the Evergreen Tradition

What this article is about are “the religious, metaphysical and esoteric traditions of the world, in light of the One Truth from which they proceed, and to which they provide formally distinct but essentially equivalent paths of return.”

As several writers have discovered the idea24 of a Tradition, the concept of Traditionalism25 emerged, which we however don't employ except as to contrast it to Tradition. It is a perspective, a spiritual outlook.

13. The Individual Stamp On Timeless Doctrines

“Every writer who deals with Tradition, no matter how self-effacing he may be, inevitably puts his or her individual stamp on the doctrines he transmits, since universal Truth can only travel in this world through the ’minute particulars’ of culture, time, place and person.”26

“To the degree that this casts a veil of idiosyncrasy27 over timeless doctrines it is unfortunate, but insofar as it allows these doctrines to be expressed in the language of a particular place and time, so as to relate them to concrete social and mass-psychological conditions, their dominant intellectual errors and specific spiritual potentials, then it is only good.”

The Traditional outlook ”invites us to accept religion in its essence, and to do what religion has always allowed and required human beings to do: to transcend ourselves, to die as limited, ego-bound creatures and be reborn—or re-envisioned—as directly dependent upon, and as dimensionally-limited creations or reflections of, God Himself, in this very moment,” all the while that we need to follow a living authentic tradition, which today is Islam.

14. Grasp The Plough And Move Forward On The Spiritual Path

Those who adopt the perspective of the evergreen Tradition will not be ”unwilling to grasp the plough28 and move forward on the spiritual path… Whoever believes that he or she can somehow possess what they have never lifted their hand to take possession of.”29

Here enters the Islamic teaching of the soul, or ego, the nafs, which does not want change.

15. The Ego Does Not Want Change

”The ego, however—individual or collective—wants to possess spiritual truth, but it does not want to be changed by what it believes it holds title to. It thinks that it can possess God by identification alone, rather than coming to realize, through death to all it has held itself to be, that it is in fact wholly possessed by Him.”30 FS said: ’Knowledge only saves us on condition that it enlists all that we are, only when it is a way and when it works and transforms and wounds our nature, even as the plough wounds the soil.’ ”

”And the same can certainly be said of morality and religious law.”

So for example ”the Muslim salat (ritual prayer) … teaches us to recognize passing moments not as temporal sequence alone but also as unique instances of Eternity entering, by God’s will, the temporal order: ’Before Abraham came to be, I am.’

Their occasions may multiply, their reflections may (for ever) find their unique and chosen instances, but God’s acts themselves, once spoken in His creative Eternity, remain what they are. They are the essences, the permanent archetypes, the Platonic Ideas. This is indeed the unanimous testimony of Tradition … (in a sense) refracting, by means of its multiple and unique facets, both spatial and temporal, the One Light.”

16. Transmitting The Teachings Of The Evergreen Tradition

To adopt the perspective of the evergreen Tradition is about ”an openness and readiness on the part of the ’sons’ to receive the wisdom of the ’fathers.’ This wisdom may emanate from Eternity as represented by ’the Ancient of Days,’ the Always So, but from the point of view of the ’sons’—who comprise anyone in need of teaching, open to teaching, and actually in the presence of teaching—it arrives from the direction of their ’future’; it is first potency, then act, first a longing for Wisdom, then (God willing) the actuality of Wisdom itself.”31

17. Religion Needs To Talk About Reality

”If religion has any validity at all, it must refer to an actual transcendent Reality.” ”If the various religions, all of whom in their unique spiritual dialects posit an Absolute, were not in fact talking about an actual Reality—necessarily One, since a plurality of absolutes is absurd—they would be worse than useless, mere caricatures of the truth like the atheists assume they are, various brands and grades of “the opium of the people.” …

”All valid religions must ultimately be referring to the same Truth.” However the degree of their validity at this time and place is different, they are not of equal value and they cannot be equal, otherwise the dimension of time would have no effect, and no one would venture to declare such an enormity!”

18. Intellectual Intuition - The Organ To See

”Intellectual intuition does not abstract; it sees32. And what it sees is not a lowest theological common denominator based on an academic comparison of doctrines from different traditions, but rather the Unity of God—Allah according to His name al-Ahad.”

19. His Eternal Newness And Freshness

But in our superficial, hasty life, ”eternal Truth cannot be left behind,”33 the Evergreen Tradition of the Heavenly Beginning and End of all and any is not something which can be ignored or worse: ridiculed.

”God is certainly the ’Ancient of Days,’ but this in no way renders Him passé. The One who says ‘I am Jehovah: I have not changed’ can also say, without contradiction, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ When the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said ‘before He created the universe, God was alone, without a partner,’ and Hazrat ’Ali replied ‘and He is even now as He was,’34 this in no way contradicted the words of the Holy Qur’an:

{ Every day He is embarked upon some new work.}

”His Oneness, His Aloneness, His Changelessness are in fact the guarantee of His eternal Newness and Freshness; only the Changeless can impregnate each passing moment with its particular and eternal character without being swept away into the dust heap of things dead, gone and moribund.”


Related texts:


2016-12-01 vs.1.2; from 2016-06-02
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Disclaimer: First of all it is Islam that reigns (see Sura 5:3). Traditional Islam does not accept the notion that the world-religions (and even less so any man-made belief system) would be equally valid paths to God, these are perennialistic interpretations. Even so, they (their laws) still reflect some sacred truth, so they did not turn into falsehood by being abrogated. These are 2 (two) different points to be kept in mind.

• In the words of Muhyiddín Ibn `Arabi: ”The religious laws are all lights, and the law of Muhammad MHMD among these lights is as the sun's light among the light of the stars…”

”So all paths return to look to the Prophet's path MHMD : if the prophetic messengers had been alive in his time, they would have followed him just as their religious laws have followed his law.…” [further reading]

  1. From an article by Charles Upton: What is a “Traditionalist”?

  2. incl. the inability to distinguish between a revealed religion on the one hand and any wishy-washy made-up belief system.

    What are the essential characteristics of an authentic religion?

  3. ”The near-disappearance of the discipline of metaphysics in academia, at least in its more traditional forms, coupled with a relentless relativism and historicism, made it next to certain that many in the academies would” define the Evergreen Tradition ”mostly in socio-historical terms.”

  4. see On The Common Eternal Principles, And That Islam Reigns

  5. This issue, incl.the question what makes a religion or tradition authentic, has been dealt at many places. About those ’who have departed,’ … especially from MERCY (rahma), see Some Texts On Daesh (not ’IS/ ISIS’)

  6. see On The Common Eternal Principles, And That Islam Reigns

  7. Also not to forget that wars are usually started by the imperial (neo-imperialistic) powers for such mundane reasons as greed and economic-political influence and also in scenarios of resistance, when the people see no other alternative than to rise against heavy oppression. This is nothing new in this world of strife and persecution.

    Furthermore ”orientation to the Always So, to Absolute Reality” and all the consequences that flow from it, is always available—God willing, and ourselves (also) willing to pay the price. As such it has nothing intrinsically to do with ’working through and beyond modernity.’ It is intrinsically a-historical, though always (of course) vehicled by historically-conditioned groups and institutions.”

  8. see On Tradition

  9. What follows are quotes on the Evergreen Tradition from Charles Upton’s article ”What is a “Traditionalist”? — Some Clarifications” by Charles Upton.

  10. What is meant by Tradition was first clarified and defined by René Guénon, see An introduction to Shaykh Abd Al Wahid Yahya - René Guénon, by Omar K Neusser

  11. And insofar as the doctrine of the Evergreen Tradition ”draws from the eternal well of Revelation and Intellection, it too enshrines a core of Truth that cannot be corrupted by time.”

  12. see ch.9 Submission To God Is Essential

  13. “In Hinduism, the existence of a Primordial Religion is embraced by the doctrine of the Sanatana Dharma (in Muslim terms, al-din al-fitrah; cf. Q3:3)”

  14. of God being One, Reality One.

  15. “Tradition’s special relationship with the past is not based on nostalgia for a better time so much as on the intrinsic relationship of God as Pure Act with what has already been temporarily actualized—not to mention the more obvious fact that all “examples” or “exemplars” of any kind whatsoever must necessarily occupy the past or the present, not the future. On the other hand, Tradition is also a dialogue with the future.”

  16. synoptic: taking or involving a comprehensive mental view

  17. “The esoteric aspects of the world’s religions are much closer to true unanimity than their exoteric aspects, though never strictly identical. For example, the (well-known saying) ’he who knows himself knows his Lord’ is closely analogous to Meister Eckhart’s ’my truest ‘I’ is God’ and St. Paul’s ’it is not I who live, but Christ lives in me’.”

  18. see chapter 005

  19. “And certainly the Bible, the Qur’an, the Upanishads may appear to some to be filled with romanticism and wild speculation, but only those whose minds are essentially closed to the mystical aspects of spiritual truth will see them like this.”

  20. “Islam is not a sect. Though in its outer form it necessarily possesses forms peculiar to itself, laws and practices designed to recall believers to sanctity, and designed to meet the specific spiritual needs of the people to which it is addressed, in its essence it is a return to al-din al-fitrah, the primordial religion of the human race. In the words of the Qur’an (3:3):

    { He hath revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture with truth, confirming that which was (revealed) before it, even as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel.}

  21. Even non-theistic Theravada Buddhism, in its practice of vipassana, requires that we witness the ongoing changes of bodily sensations, feelings, mind-set and mind-contents—including all the events of the world, precisely as experienced—with no editorializing or interference. Such practice is strictly equivalent to submission to the Will of God, since whatever happens is in fact God’s Will, given that He is Lord of the worlds.”

  22. see What Is Within Themselves, okn

  23. “To reject Traditionalist doctrine (though certainly not to simply criticize it) is to implicitly reject almost the entire spiritual heritage of the human race—in order to put what in its place?”

  24. René Guénon and Ananda Coomaraswamy, did not talk about or use the word “Traditionalism” themselves.

  25. Traditionalism has been adopted “for the mills of academia, which tend to grind pretty rapidly, though rather coarsely for all that.” Also it is misused in certain circles, who treat Traditionalism in a purely socio-historical way. There are also those ”who wish to reduce Traditionalism to a political ideology with metaphysical trappings·”

  26. so also the ”founders” of the traditional outlook. s.o.

  27. idiosyncrasy: a distinctive or peculiar feature or characteristic of a place or thing. (Apple Dictionary)

  28. In Islam this is called the Greater Jihad.

  29. This would be like ”The metallurgist who leaves the ore in the ground in the belief that he thereby holds it in safekeeping has “buried his talent”—or rather, he has never smelted, hammered, cut and stamped it in the first place. That past he assumes is safely dead is in reality a living potential lying hidden in his own future—if he only knew.”

  30. “As for being reactionary,“ the Traditional outlook "does indeed ‘react,’ as religion has always done, against the passions, against the system of passion-bound collective egotism known as This World (dunya), against all that veils or perverts the image of God within the human soul, all that makes us less than ourselves, while inflating our empty pretensions beyond all bounds. Truth does not change, nor do the fundamental passions and intellectual errors of the fallen soul. But the social, cultural and historical renditions of these passions and errors do change, which necessitates a continual updating of religion’s critique of This World (dunya) and a constant re-presentation, in contemporary terms and in response to contemporary conditions, of the (evergreen) Truth.”

  31. see A Survey Of Decisive Arguments And Proof For Tasawwuf - Sufism in Islam

  32. The Truth apprehended by intellective vision.

  33. Because Tradition is not in any sense evolutionary.

  34. see Insights Into The Nature Of (Being) And Existence, okn kâna wa lâ makân wa huwa ‘ala mâ 'aleihi kân, “HE WAS when there was no place, and He is now such as He has always been

  35. revelation: see What Do You Need To Grasp Divine Revelation?

  36. experiment, science: What is evoked here is a very important point, which it would be a pity not to comment on briefly:

    When criticising religions it is often asserted that whereas religions are purely about ’believing’, sciences are about ’knowing’ - through observation, theory and proof by experimenting.
    Has no-one ever been told that (esp. in Islam) the faithful are continuously believing, testing, experimenting, improving and knowing?!

  37. see On The Common Eternal Principles, And That Islam Reigns