René Guénon

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There are those whose vocation it is to provide the keys with which the treasury of wisdom of other traditions can be unlocked, revealing to those who are destined to receive this wisdom the essential unity and universality and at the same time the formal diversity of tradition and revelation.(S. H. Nasr)[1] 

Such a one was René Guénon, about whom Ananda Coomaraswamy wrote that the least important thing about Guénon is his personality or biography… The fact is he has the invisibility that is proper to the complete philosopher: our teleology can only be fulfilled when we really become no one.[2]

 Whitall Perry, who knew Guénon personally, speaks of his ‘outer anonymity’ and of ‘this austere yet benevolent figure... ungraspable and remote.’[3] There is indeed something elusive and enigmatic about René Guénon the man. He left a formidable legacy of writings that testify to his achievements as a metaphysician, but his personal life remains shrouded in obscurity. In France he has always commanded a small but dedicated following, and academic interest in Guénon shows some sign of burgeoning there.[4] Elsewhere he remains a shadowy figure whose name occasionally crops up in reference to French occultism or his pioneering study (in the West) of Advaita Vedanta. The growing interest in Guénon has generated no small amount of controversy among French scholars about some aspects of his life, especially in the years from 1906 to 1912.[5] Here we shall confine ourselves to a biographical sketch that leaves aside some of the unresolved questions about Guénon’s life and includes only such material for which there appears to be persuasive evidence and reputable authority.[6] Furthermore, we shall only be interested in such aspects of his life as might shed light on his work.

[1] S. H. Nasr Sufi Essays Allen & Unwin, London, 1972, p. 126.

[2] S. D. R. Singam (ed) Ananda Coomaraswamy—Remembering and Remembering Again and Again, Kuala Lumpur (privately published) 1974, p. 223.

[3] W. Perry: ‘Coomaraswamy—the Man, Myth and History’ Studies in Comparative Religion (hereafter SCR) XI, iii, 1977, p. 160, and ‘The Man and the Witness’ in S. D. R. Singam, op. cit., p 6.

[4] See two reviews of some of the literature in SCR, VII, iv, 1978, pp. 472–475.

[5] Some of these controversies have been dispassionately discussed in J. P. Laurant: ‘Le Problème de René Guénon, ou Quelques questions posées par les rapports de sa vie et de son oeuvre’, Revue de l’Histoire des religions CLXXIX, i, 1971, pp. 41–70.

[6] The only English-language biography is Robin Waterfield, René Guénon and the Future of the West,  Crucible, London, 1987.




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