René Guénon, Sameness And Digestion Of Dharma – Part 3

Author: Giuliano Morais.

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III – Some responses

1) Symbolical unity and Primordial Traditional: Hindu teachings, while making use of symbols, do not invest them with the garb of reality itself. Symbols can be used in poetics, aesthetics and even as directed means of upāsana, as instructed by each tradition or guru, but there is no “tracking” of the Absolute or of some “Primordial Traditional” by means of symbolical operations of human intellect, nor is symbolism an independent pramāna in itself.

2) Unproven authority: He writes from a point of view of śruti or revelation, invested with impersonal authority rather than engaging dialectically with traditional opponents or at least offering evidences of being an āpta, an authorized exponent of Dharma. Not only that, but without offering sufficient evidence, he puts himself in a position to judge all spiritual traditions “from above”.

3) History centrism: Guénon indeed asserts, very emphatically, that the metaphysical point of view is superior to the historical one.  Nonetheless, in practice, his discourse has a consistent concern and shows a diligent effort and appeal towards the Western apocalyptic imaginary of the End of the World, even proclaiming erroneously that the end of Kali Yuga was near. He also does not reject Christian historical dogma.

4) Evil as an active force: His diagnosis of an active principle of evil as efficient cause of Modern problems – with many “centers of power” distributed all over the world, controlling history and fighting all “traditions” by means such as counter-initiation – has no support in dharmic sources, and would actually indicate traces of synthetic unity and anxiety of difference (Malhotra, 2011, Ch. IV) typical of Abrahamic religions.

5) Reincarnation as a symbol: His misunderstanding of punarjanman as purely symbolical does have the possibility of harmonizing conflicting doctrines among Abrahamic and dharmic traditions, but this conciliation, as we have seen, does not come from a dharmic standpoint. Actually it directly benefits the other side, whose dogmas are never compromised.

6) Wrong use of the term Sanātana Dharma: Sanātana Dharma implies a particular understanding of time and eternity which is not present in historical spiritual traditions[11]. I can use here the simile (not a symbol) of a tree standing in the middle of a field. The field is burned from time to time, and with it the tree is also turned to ashes, only the roots remaining underground. After the fire ceases, the tree always grows back.

            The tree is Dharma, while its root, branches and trunk are “different manifestations of Dharma”. The “tree-ness” residing in the tree is eternity, and the fire is pralaya, the cosmic dissolution. Dharma, as the manifested tree, remains from the beginning to the end of a universe, then recoils back into non-manifested form (root), only to become manifest again in the next cycle. This process repeats itself without beginning or end, and, as “tree-ness”, Dharma remains eternal.

            Therefore Sanātana Dharma does not imply only eternity or Platonic “ideas”, but it is also perennial continuity in time through manifested and non-manifested stages. That is why Dharma cannot be founded on a particular historical point, nor can it be born as a new tree just from contact of the parts with “tree-ness”. Let us see the alternatives:

a) Christianity and Islam do have a connection with the tree of Dharma, in which case we must admit some sort of secret connection of which not even authorities of those traditions are aware, only Guénon and his occult sources.

b) Christianity and Islam, while being Dharma’s branches or leaves, have a direct connection with the eternal “tree-ness”, which is impossible, as isolated parts do not support a universal: branches and leaves have an eternal connection with branch-ness and leaf-ness respectively.

c) Christianity and Islam are newly created trees, therefore, they are not “Sanātana”, as they originate at some point in time.

d) There are many perennial trees, which goes against the so called unity of Guénon’s “Primordial Tradition” and also would not be accepted by any scripture of any of those traditions.

7) Acceptance of Christian dogma: as dogmas are supposedly sentimental expressions of metaphysical truths, Guénon thought it possible to accept them indirectly via metaphysical or symbolical understanding. However, he does not actually deny the historical validity of the meaning of “incarnation”, and consequently, the singularity of such historical phenomenon. He ends up with an ambiguous standing: if he does accept incarnation as the dogma explains it, he has to accept its exclusivity, if he does not accept the exclusivity, he rejects the dogma. If he says the historical aspect of the dogma is sentimental, he should have clearly declared which part he understood as sentimental.

IV – Conclusion

            René Guénon did not have the initiative to openly declare that spiritual traditions like Christianity or Islam could not handle the Crisis of Modernity and that the solution would be to correct their wrong history-centered dogmatic understanding of reality by returning to the principles of Sanātana Dharma. Reading between the lines, one can see he had this knowledge. By benevolence, discarding malice or ill-intention, let us say he possibly made another choice, maybe a “historical” choice[12].   

            Whatever may be the case, only Sanātana Dharma has the right technologies to guide the world to a new stage after Modernity. That is why, from Guénon’s perspective, the whole phenomenon of Modernity appears as insurmountable, demonic and apocalyptic. Guénon is part of the collective anxiety and the chain reactions entailed by the end of a civilization. He has positive points in comparison with esoteric and new-agers, but his choices and mistakes definitely contributed to further the Western digestion of Hinduism and to reinforce of the narrative of “sameness”, even though at a very sophisticated level.

Editorial Note: The author acknowledges his debt to the work of Rajiv Malhotra on his seminal Theory of Digestion, and in particular the extensive discussions the author has had with him regarding René Guénon. The author was given privileged access to an entire book manuscript developed by Patricia Renaud and Renaud Fabbri on a comparison between René Guénon and Hindu dharma. That book was funded by Infinity Foundation and the foundation is its copyright holder. The book was the brainchild of Rajiv Malhotra in the 1990s when he explained digestion to Patricia Renaud and Renaud Fabbri and they decided to take it up as a topic of research leading to the book. Many ideas of Mr Malhotra and the authors of that book have been incorporated in this series of articles.

Giuliano Morais is Brazilian translator and teacher, follower of the shakta path, he has been studying Hindu traditions and thought for more than 15 years. He understands that Sanatana Dharma has principles and technologies, View More

References: –

[11] Guénon could not even claim to have a different understanding, as he himself makes a very precise distinction between eternity and perennity, as published in the Chapter XI of his Studies in Hinduism: “Indeed, the term Sanātana implies an idea of duration, while eternity, on the contrary, is essentially ‘non-duration’” As he does understand this concept and cannot be accused of ignorance, it is difficult not to understand in that negligence or even malice.

[12] Which would also be quite an issue for an alleged supra-historical work. 

Bibliography: –

Guénon, René. 1945. Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines. Translated by Martin Lings. London, UK: Luzak&Co.

____________. 1995. Fundamental Symbols – The Universal Language of Sacred Science. Translated by Alvin Moore. Cambridge, UK: Quinta Essentia.

____________. 2001a. East and West. Ghent, NY: Sophia Perennis.

____________. Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power. Translated by Henry de Fohr. Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis.

____________. 2001b. The Crisis of Modern World. Translated by Arthur Osborne, Marco Pallis and Richard C. Nicholson. Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis.

____________. 2001c. The Reign of Quantity – and the Signs of the Times. Translated by Lord Northbourne. Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis.

____________. 2001d. The Spiritist Fallacy. Translated by Alvin Moore, Jr. Rama. P. Coomaraswamy. Hillsdale, NY. Sophia Perennis.

____________. 2001e. Traditional Forms and Cosmic Cycles. Translated by Henry D. Fohr. Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis.

____________. 2002. Studies in Hinduism. Translated by Ian Kesarcodi Watson. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Gotama. 2003. Nyayadarsana of Gotama. Translated by Satish Chandra Vidyabhusan. New Delhi, India: New Bharatiya Book Corporation.

Shivananda, Swami. 2008. Brahma Sutras. Uttarakhand, India: The Divine Life Society.

Jha, Ganganatha. 1984. The Nyaya Sutras of Gautama – Volume 1. Delhi, India. Motilal Banarsidass

E-books: –

Damascene, Hieromonk. 2014. Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works. Platina, California. Saint Herman Press. Kindle.

Malhotra, Rajiv. 2011. Being Different : An Indian Challenge To Western Universalism. New Delhi, India: HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle.

______________. 2014. Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity. New Delhi, India: HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle.

Sedwig, Mark. 2004. Against the Modern World – Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century. New York, NY. Oxford University Press. Kindle.

Websites :

Temenos Academy. n.d.  Message from HRH The Prince of Wales. Accessed in November 07, 2019.

Vanity Fair. 2017. “Inside the Secret, Strange Origins of Steve Bannon’s Nationalist Fantasia.” Accessed in November 07, 2019.

Des vertus, un combat. 2010. “Deux lettres de René Guénon à A. K. Coomaraswamy.” Accessed in November, 07, 2019.

Les Classiques des sciences sociales. n.d. Autorité spirituelle et pouvoir temporal (Avant-propos). Accessed November 07, 2019.

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