Frithjof Schuon. Life and Teachings

By Jean-Baptiste Aymard and Patrick Laude

A comprehensive introduction to the life and work of the preeminent expositor of 

perennial philosophy.


The first book in English devoted to the religious philosopher Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) to appear since his death, this biography also provides an analysis of his work and spiritual teachings. Relying on Schuon's published works as well as unpublished correspondence and other documents, the authors highlight the originality of Schuon's life and teachings in terms of his consistent focus on esoterism, defined as the inner penetration of sacred forms and spiritual practices vis-à-vis the religio perennis, the eternal wisdom that lies at the core of all sacred paths. Schuon's life, they argue, is a quest for the inner meaning of religious experience, as is indicated by his connections to Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Native American Shamanism. Spiritual seekers from all backgrounds will appreciate this comprehensive study of this towering figure of comparative religion.



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Book Review
Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings

Review by Harry Oldmeadow


Published in Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies

(Washington DC) 11.1, Summer 2005,  197-204.

Some years ago Seyyed Hossein Nasr wrote of the Integrated Man of Sufism:
His thoughts and actions all issue from a single centre and are based on a series of
immutable principles. He has been cured of that hypocrisy in which most men live and
therefore, since the veil of otherness which hides the inner light in the majority of men has
been removed, like the sun he reflects his light wherever he happens to be. In him, the
Islamic ideal of unifying the contemplative and active ways is realized… And because by
virtue of his becoming integrated he reflects Divine Unity and has become the total
theophany of the Divine Names and Qualities, he acts and lives in such a manner that there
is a spiritual fragrance and beauty about all he does and says. Somehow he is in touch with
that barakah which runs through the arteries of the Universe. (Sufi Essays, 1972, p.50)

Such a one was Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998), whose life and teachings are the subject of
the volume at hand.  Readers of this journal will need no introduction to Schuon, at once
the most sublime and the most profound metaphysician of our era. However, Schuon
covered his own life with the cloak of anonymity, maintaining a deliberate obscurity
which ensured that only those prepared to make the necessary effort could seek him out.
Like his predecessor René Guénon, Schuon had no interest in noisy public acclaim, nor
was he in any sense the worldy “intellectual” — quite the contrary. But now that Schuon
has departed this life it is meet and proper that two who knew him well, equipped with
the formidable qualifications that such a task demands, should furnish us with an
intellectual and spiritual biography of one of the most remarkable figures of the modern
era. The present work comes in the wake of a glittering collection of essays gathered
together by Aymard and Laude in Frithjof Schuon: Les Dossiers H (2002), an anthology
as yet only available in French.

The book is structured in four parts: a biographical narrative and a “spiritual
portrait”, followed by essays on “Esoterism and Tradition” and “Metaphysical and
Spiritual Aesthetics”.  One cannot speak of the “evolution” of Schuon‟s work in the
normal sense: his intuitive and seemingly spontaneous understanding of metaphysics
marked his work with a rare authority from the outset, and the “immutable principles”
remained implacable from beginning to end. Nonetheless, there is a certain pattern of
development and of unfolding in his work, traced in the first two chapters by M. Aymard.
The first, “ A Biographical Approach”, provides a more or less chronological sketch of
Schuon‟s life, tracking his intellectual and spiritual trajectory, and giving some account
of the various influences which exerted themselves at different times. Among the many
fascinating things in this narrative we find vignettes of his family life and  friendships
with such figures as Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings and Marco Pallis, his wartime
experiences, the early and potent attraction of the East and the formative influence of
Vedanta, the changing and sometimes difficult material circumstances of his outer life,
his meetings not only with the masters of the Sufi tradition to which he was ineluctably
drawn and towards which he was propelled, so to speak, by his revulsion for the modern
West, and his meeting with  scholars and representatives of the many religious traditions
about which he was to write so prolifically and with such sovereign authority over half a
century  — among them, Louis Massignon, Fathers Anthony Bloom and Sophronios,
Inayat Khan, Lhobsang Lhalungpa, Swami Ramdas, Shojun Bando, Thomas Yellowtail,
and Shaykh Hassan of Morocco. Here and there we catch fleeting glimpses of some of
the younger men who came within Schuon‟s orbit and who, in turn, were to play their
own part in unveiling the spiritual treasuries of the world‟s traditions — Leo Schaya,
Joseph Epes Brown and Jean Biès to mention a few. More sustained treatment is given to
several biographical threads: the decisive sojourn in North Africa and the initiation into
the order of Shaykh Ahmad 'al Alawi, Schuon's relations with René Guénon; the tangled
and sometimes unhappy interactions of various French Sufi groups; his extraordinary
engagement with the Plains Indians of North America to whose primordial heritage he
was so strongly attracted and which he himself did so much to illuminate at a time when
many Westerners could only look at such cultures through the grotesque distortions of
racial and progressivist prejudices. There is also a useful conspectus of the whole written
corpus.

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