Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Schuon on Islamic Esotericism

The Islamic religion is divided into three constituent parts: Īmān, Faith, which contains everything one must believe; Islām, the Law, which contains everything one must do; Ihsān, operative Virtue, which confers upon believing and doing the qualities that make them perfect—in other words, that intensify or deepen both faith and works. Ihsān, in short, is the sincerity of the intelligence and the will: it is our complete adherence to the Truth and our total conformity to the Law, which means that we must on the one hand know the Truth entirely, not only in part, and on the other hand conform to it with our deepest being and not only with a partial and superficial will. Thus Ihsān opens onto esoterism—which is the science of the essential and total—and is even identified with it; for to be sincere is to draw from the Truth the maximal consequences from the point of view of both intelligence and will; in other words, it is to think and will with the heart, hence with our entire being, with all we are.

Ihsān is right believing and right doing, and it is at the same time their quintessence: the quintessence of right believing is metaphysical truth, Haqīqah, and that of right doing is the practice of invocation, Dhikr. Ihsān comprises as it were two modes, depending on its application: the speculative and the operative, namely, intellectual discernment and unitive concentration; in Sufi language this is expressed precisely by the terms Haqīqah and Dhikr or by Tawhīd, “Unification”, and Ittihād, “Union”. For Sufis the “hypocrite” (munāfiq) is not merely someone who gives himself airs of piety in order to impress people, but it is the profane man in general, someone who fails to draw all the consequences implied in the Dogma and Law, hence the man who is not sincere since he is neither consequential nor whole; now Sufism (tasawwuf) is nothing other than sincerity (sidq), and the “sincere” (siddīqūn) are none other than Sufis.

Ihsān, since it is necessarily an exoteric notion as well, may be interpreted at different levels and in different ways. Exoterically it is the faith of the fideists and the zeal of the ritualists; in this case it is intensity and not profundity and thus has something quantitative or horizontal in it when compared with wisdom. Esoterically one can distinguish in Ihsān two accentuations: that of gnosis, which implies doctrinal intellectuality, and that of love, which requires the totality of the volitive and emotive soul, the first mode operating with intellectual means—without however neglecting the supports that may be necessitated by human weakness—and the second with moral and sentimental means. It is in the nature of things that this love can exclude every element of intellection and that it can readily if not always do so—precisely to the extent it constitutes a way—whereas gnosis on the contrary always contains an element of love, doubtless not violent love but one akin to Beauty and Peace.

~Frithjof Schuon

[Sufism: Veil and Quintessence]