Frithjof Schuon

Frithjof Schuon

Infobox Person
name = Frithjof Schuon

dead = dead
birth_date = birth date|1907|6|18|mf=y
birth_place = Basel, Switzerland
death_date = Death date and age|1998|05|05|1907|06|18
death_place = Bloomington, Indiana, U.S..

Frithjof Schuon, (June 18, 1907 – May 5, 1998) was a German philosopher, metaphysician and author of numerous books on religion and spirituality.

Schuon was known as an authority on philosophy, spirituality and religion, an exponent of the "Religio Perennis", and one of the chief representatives of the Perennialist School. He was not an academic, but his writings have been noticed in scholarly and philosophical journals, and by scholars of comparative religion and spirituality. Criticism of the relativism of the modern academic world is one of the main aspects of Schuon's teachings. In his teachings, Schuon expresses his faith in an absolute principle, God, who governs the universe and to whom our souls would return after death. For Schuon the great revelation is the link between this absolute principle and mankind.


Schuon was born in Basel, Switzerland, on June 18, 1907. His father was a native of southern Germany, while his mother came from an Alsatian family. Schuon's father was a concert violinist, and the household was one in which not only music but literary and spiritual culture were present. Schuon lived in Basle and attended school there until the untimely death of his father, after which his mother returned with her two young sons to her family in Mulhouse, France, where Schuon was obliged to become a French citizen. Having received his earliest training in German, he received his later education in French and thus mastered both languages early in life.

From his youth, Schuon's search for metaphysical truth led him to read the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. While still living in Mulhouse, he discovered the works of the French philosopher and Orientalist René Guénon, which served to confirm his intellectual intuitions and which provided support for the metaphysical principles he had begun to discover.

Schuon journeyed to Paris after serving for a year and a half in the French army. There he worked as a textile designer and began the study of Arabic in the local mosque school. Living in Paris also brought the opportunity to be exposed to a much greater degree than before to various forms of traditional art, especially those of Asia, with which he had had a deep affinity since his youth. This period of a growing intellectual and artistic familiarity with the traditional worlds was followed by Schuon's first visit to Algeria in 1932. It was then that he met the celebrated Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi. On a second trip to North Africa, in 1935, he visited Algeria and Morocco; and during 1938 and 1939 he traveled to Egypt where he met Guenon, with whom he had been in correspondence for 20 years. In 1939, shortly after his arrival in India, World War II broke out, forcing him to return to Europe. After having served in the French army, and after having been made prisoner by the Germans, he sought asylum in Switzerland, which gave him nationality and was to be his home for forty years. In 1949 he married, his wife being a German Swiss with a French education who, besides having interests in religion and metaphysics, is also a gifted painter. [Frithjof Schuon: Life and Work., [] ]

Following World War II, he accepted an invitation to travel to the American West, where he lived for several months among the Plains Indians, in whom he has always had a deep interest. Having received his education in France, Schuon has written all his major works in French, which began to appear in English translation in 1953. Of his first book, "The Transcendent Unity of Religions" (London, Faber & Faber) T. S. Eliot wrote: "I have met with no more impressive work in the comparative study of Oriental and Occidental religion." [Frithjof Schuon: Life and Work., [] ]

While always continuing to write, Schuon and his wife have traveled widely. In 1959 and again in 1963, they journeyed to the American West at the invitation of friends among the Sioux and Crow American Indians. In the company of their Indian friends they visited various Plains tribes and had the opportunity to witness many aspects of their sacred traditions. In 1959 Schuon and his wife were solemnly adopted into the Sioux family of James Red Cloud. Years later they were similarly adopted by the Crow medicine man and Sun Dance chief, Thomas Yellowtail. Schuon's writings on the central rites of Indian religion and his hauntingly beautiful paintings of their lifeways attest to his particular affinity with the spiritual universe of the Plains Indians. Other travels have included journeys to Andalusia, Morocco, and a visit in 1968 to the home of the Holy Virgin in Ephesus. In 1980, Schuon and his wife emigrated to the United States, where he continued to write until his death in 1998.

Through his many books and articles Schuon became known as a spiritual teacher and leader of the Traditionalist School. During his years in Switzerland he regularly received visits from well-known religious scholars and thinkers of both East and West. The traditionalist or "perennialist" perspective began to be enunciated in the West at the beginning of the twentieth century by René Guénon and by the Orientalist and Harvard professor Ananda Coomaraswamy. Fundamentally, this doctrine is the "Sanatana Dharma" -- the "eternal religion" -- of Hindu Vedantists. It has been formulated and expressed implicitly and explicitly in the teachings of all traditional civilizations including particularly those of Plotinus in ancient Greece, Meister Eckhart in the Christian world, Adi Shankaracharya in India, and Ibn Arabi within the Muslim world. Every religion has, besides its literal meaning, an esoteric dimension, which is essential, primordial and universal. This intellectual universality is one of the hallmarks of Schuon's works, and it gives rise to many fascinating insights into not only the various spiritual traditions, but also history, science and art.

The Transcendent Unity of Religions

The traditionalist or "perennialist" perspective began to be enunciated in the 1920s by the French philosopher René Guénon and, in the 1930s, by Frithjof Schuon himself. The Harvard orientalist Ananda Coomaraswamy and the Swiss art historian Titus Burckhardt also became prominent advocates of this point of view. Fundamentally, this doctrine is the Sanatana Dharma--the "eternal religion"--of Hindu Vedantists. It was formulated in ancient Greece, in particular, by Plato and later Neoplatonists, and in Christendom by Meister Eckhart (in the West) and Gregory Palamas (in the East). Every religion has, besides its literal meaning, an esoteric dimension, which is essential, primordial and universal. This intellectual universality is one of the hallmarks of Schuon's works, and it gives rise to fascinating insights into not only the various spiritual traditions, but also history, science and art.

The dominant theme or principle of Schuon's writings was foreshadowed in his early encounter with a Black marabout who had accompanied some members of his Senegalese village to Switzerland in order to demonstrate their culture. When the young Schuon talked with him, the venerable old man drew a circle with radii on the ground and explained: God is in the center, all paths lead to Him. [Vedic Books, [] ]


For Schuon, the quintessence of pure metaphysics can be summarized by the following vedantic statement, although the Advaita Vedanta's perspective finds its equivalent in the teachings of Ibn Arabi, Meister Eckhart or Plotinus : "Brahma satyam jagan mithya jivo brahmaiva na'parah" (Brahman is real, the world is illusory, the self is not different from Brahman).

The metaphysics exposited by Schuon is based on the doctrine of the non-dual Absolute (Beyond-Being) and the degrees of reality. The distinction between the Absolute and the relative corresponds for Schuon to the couple Atma/Maya. Maya is not only the cosmic illusion. From a higher standpoint, Maya is also the Infinite, the Divine Relativity or else the feminine aspect ("mahashakti") of the Supreme Principle.

Said differently, being the Absolute, Beyond-Being is also the Sovereign Good ("Agathon"), that by its nature "desires" to communicate itself through the projection of Maya. The whole manifestation from the first Being (Ishvara) to matter (Prakriti), the lower degree of reality, is indeed the projection of the Supreme Principle (Brahman). The personal God, considered as the creative cause of the world, is only "relatively Absolute," a first determination of Beyond-Being, at the summit of Maya. The Supreme Principle is not only Beyond-Being. It is also the Supreme Self (Atman) and in its innermost essence, the Intellect (buddhi) that is the ray of Consciousness shining down, the axial refraction of Atma within Maya.

The Religio Perennis

Schuon, in more than twenty books written mainly in French, explained the metaphysical principles as well as the spiritual and moral aspects of human life. Schuon's "Religio Perennis" cannot be called a new religion with its own dogma and practices. For Schuon, the "Religio Perennis" is the "underlying Religion," the "Religion of the Heart" or the "Religio Cordis". Esoterists in every orthodox tradition have a more or less direct access to it but it cannot be a question of practicing the Religio Perennis independently. Religious forms can be more or less transparent but religious diversity is not denied for its raison d'être is metaphysically explained. On the one hand formal religions are upaya ("celestial strategy"), superimpositions on the core-essence of the Religio Perennis. On the other hand, religious forms correspond to as many archetypes in the divine Word itself. Religious forms are "willed by God" and each religion corresponds to a particular and homogenous cosmos, characterized by its own perspective on the Absolute.

The Perennialist perspective itself can thus be characterized as essentially metaphysical, esoteric, primordial but also traditional. For Schuon, there is no spiritual path outside of a revealed religion, which provides spiritual seekers with a metaphysical doctrine and a spiritual method, but also with a spiritual environment of beauty and sacredness.

The Spiritual Path

According to Schuon the spiritual path is essentially based on the discernment between the Real and the unreal (Atma / Maya); concentration on the Real; and the practice of virtues. Human beings must know the Truth. Knowing the Truth they must then will the Good and concentrate on it. These two aspects correspond to the metaphysical doctrine and the spiritual method. Knowing the Truth and willing the Good human beings must finally love Beauty in their own soul through virtue but also in Nature. In this respect Schuon has insisted on the importance for the authentic spiritual seeker to be aware of what he called "the metaphysical transparency of phenomena".

Schuon wrote about different aspects of spiritual life both on the doctrinal and on the practical levels. He explained the forms of the spiritual practices as they have been manifested in various traditional universes. In particular, he wrote on the Invocation of the Divine Name (dhikr, Japa-Yoga, the Prayer of the Heart), considered by Hindus as the best and most providential means of realization at the end of the Kali Yuga. As has been noted by the Hindu saint Ramakrishna, the secret of the invocatory path is that God and his Name are one.

Quintessential Esoterism

Guenon had pointed out at the beginning of the twentieth century that every religion comprises two main aspects, the Esoterism and the Exoterism. Schuon explained that the esoterism itself displays two aspects, one being an extension of exoterism and the other one independent of the exoterism; for if it be true that the form "is" in a certain way the essence, the essence on the contrary is by no means totally expressed by a single form; the drop is water, but water is not the drop. This second aspect is called, Quintessential Esoterism, for it is not limited or expressed totally by one single form or theological school and, above all, by a particular religious form as such.

This "quintessential esoterism" and the Religio Perennis, in the universe of Semitic monotheism, is represented by the Virgin Mary who according to the Persian Sufi Ruzbehan Baqli, is "the Mother of all the Prophets and the Prophecy and the Substance of the original Sainthood".

"Beauty is the Splendor of the Truth"

Schuon was also an artist and, more precisely, a painter and a poet. The subject of Schuon's art is, on the one hand, the Plains Indian world and, on the other hand, the mystery of cosmic and human femininity. During the last three years of his life he wrote approximately 3,500 short didactic poems in his mother tongue of German.

Throughout his life Schuon had also written extensively on sacred art and the traditional doctrine of Beauty. For him, as for Plato, "Beauty is the Splendor of the Truth".

ome passages from the writings of Frithjof Schuon

Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts

The habitual limitations of current modern thought are quickly dispersed and the spiritual perspectives normal for mankind are clearly set forth in this, Schuon's second book. An extraordinary breadth of subjects rendered in an aphoristic style makes the wisdom of these reflections accessible to a wide range of readers. The "spiritual contours" of various traditions are seen in the light of their necessary divergences, Schuon's emphasis always being on the one hand the essential nature of things and on the other the great question of knowing what aspect of Truth or Reality it is that motivates the entire being of a given individual. For, as the author says, "metaphysical knowledge is one thing; its actualization ... quite another."The Crisis of the modern World, the New World Order and Kali Yuga, [] ] Of particular interest here is a commentary on the interplay between knowledge, love and virtue in spiritual life.

Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism

"This book is a veritable summa of traditional doctrines at the heart of which stands metaphysics. It is in a sense a synthesis of the works of the author written over the past half-century and casts a light of exceptional intensity upon complex metaphysical issues, various facets of man's inner life and the spiritual significance of existence itself in relation to the Supreme Principle." [S. H. Nasr, University Professor of Islamic Studies, George Washington University]

From the Divine to the Human

. . . our position is well known: it is fundamentally that of metaphysics, and the latter is by definition universalist, "dogmatist" in the philosophical sense of the term, and traditionalist; universalist because free of all denominational formalism; "dogmatist" because far from all subjectivist relativism, we believe that knowledge exists and that it is a real and efficacious adequation and traditionalist because the traditions are there to express, in diverse ways, but unanimously, this quintessential position -- at once intellectual and spiritual -- which in the final analysis is the reason for the existence of the human spirit. [author's preface] [cite book
last = Schuon
first = Frithjof
authorlink = Frithjof Schuon
title = From the Divine to the Human
publisher = World Wisdom Books
date = 1982
location = USA
pages = 1
url =
doi =
id =
isbn = ISBN 0-941532-01-1

Esoterism As Principle and As Way

The prerogative of the human state is objectivity; the essential content of which is the Absolute. There is no knowledge without objectivity of the intelligence; there is no freedom without objectivity of the will; and there is no nobility without objectivity of the soul . . . Esoterism seeks to realize pure and direct objectvity; this is its raison d'être. [author's preface] [cite book
last = Schuon
first = Frithjof
authorlink = Frithjof Schuon
coauthors =
title = Esoterism as Principle and as Way
publisher = Perennial Books LTD
date = 1990
location = Middlesex
pages = 15
isbn = 0-900588-23-3

Biographical and Doctrinal Studies

*Laude, Patrick and Aymard, Jean-Baptiste. "Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings". New York: SUNY Press, 2004.
*Cutsinger, James. "Advice to the Serious Seeker: Meditations on the Teaching of Frithjof Schuon". New York: SUNY Press, 1997.
*Oldmeadow, Kenneth. "Traditionalism: Religion in the Light of the Perennial Philosophy." Sri Lanka: Institute of Traditional, 2000.

The Writings of Frithjof Schuon

* "Adastra & Stella Maris: Poems by Frithjof Schuon", World Wisdom, 2003
* "Castes and Races", Perennial Books, 1959, 1982
* "Christianity/Islam", World Wisdom, 1985
** New translation, World Wisdom, 2008
* "Echoes of Perennial Wisdom", World Wisdom, 1992
* "Esoterism as Principle and as Way", Perennial Books, 1981, 1990
* "The Essential Frithjof Schuon", World Wisdom, 2005
* "The Essential Writings of Frithjof Schuon" (S.H. Nasr, Ed.), 1986, Element, 1991
* "The Eye of the Heart", World Wisdom, 1997
* "The Feathered Sun: Plain Indians in Art & Philosophy", World Wisdom, 1990
* "Form and Substance in the Religions", World Wisdom, 2002
* "From the Divine to the Human", World Wisdom, 1982
* "The Fullness of God", World Wisdom, 2004
* "Gnosis: Divine Wisdom", 1959, 1978, Perennial Books 1990
** New translation, World Wisdom, 2006
* "Images of Primordial & Mystic Beauty": Paintings by Frithjof Schuon, Abodes, 1992, World Wisdom
* "In the Face of the Absolute", World Wisdom, 1989, 1994
* "In the Tracks of Buddhism", 1968, 1989
** New translation, "Treasures of Buddhism", World Wisdom, 1993
* "Language of the Self", 1959
** Revised edition, World Wisdom, 1999
* "Light on the Ancient Worlds", 1966, World Wisdom, 1984
** New translation, World Wisdom, 2006
* "Logic and Transcendence", 1975, Perennial Books, 1984
* "The Play of Masks", World Wisdom, 1992
* "Prayer Fashions Man", World Wisdom, 2005
* "Road to the Heart", World Wisdom, 1995
* "Roots of the Human Condition", World Wisdom, 1991
** New translation, World Wisdom, 2002
* "Songs for a Spiritual Traveler: Selected Poems", World Wisdom, 2002
* "Songs Without Names Vol. I-VI", World Wisdom, 2007
* "Songs Without Names VII-XII", World Wisdom, 2007
* "Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts", 1954, 1969
** New translation, Perennial Books, 1987, New Translation, World Wisdom, 2007
* "Stations of Wisdom", 1961, 1980
** Revised translation, World Wisdom, 1995
* "Sufism: Veil and Quintessence", World Wisdom, 1981
** New translation, World Wisdom, 2007
* "Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism", World Wisdom, 1986, 2000
* "The Transcendent Unity of Religions", 1953
** Revised Edition, 1975, 1984, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1993
* "The Transfiguration of Man", World Wisdom, 1995
* "To Have a Center, World Wisdom, 1990
* "Understanding Islam", 1963, 1965, 1972, 1976, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1989
** Revised translation, World Wisdom, 1994, 1998
* "World Wheel Vol. I-III", World Wisdom, 2007
* "World Wheel Vol. IV-VII", World Wisdom, 2007

ee also

;Religion and Spirituality
*Sophia Perennis
*Comparative Religion

;Traditionalist School
*Titus Burckhardt
*Martin Lings
*Seyyed Hossein Nasr
*Tage Lindbom
*Kurt Almqvist
*Ivan Aguéli
*Michel Valsan
*René Guénon
*Huston Smith
*William Stoddart
*Whitall Perry

;Advaita Vedanta and Hinduism
*Adi Shankara
*Kashmir Sivaism

;Sufism and Islam
*Ibn Arabi


*Virgin Mary
*Meister Eckhart
*Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
*Gregory Palamas


* Plato
* Neoplatonism
* Plotinus

;Native American

*Black Elk


External links

* [ A web site on the Perennialist/Traditionalist School]
* [ Another web site on Frithjof Schuon]
* [ Frithjof Schuon biography at]
* [ Fons Vitae books - Books from Traditionalist School]

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  • Frithjof Schuon — (* 18. Juni 1907 in Basel; † 5. Mai 1998 in Bloomington, Indiana, USA) war ein Orientalist und gilt weltweit als einer der bekanntesten Religionsphilosophen. Er wurde als Sohn deutscher Eltern in der Schweiz geboren. Zusammen mit René Guénon und… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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