Initiation: Only Three Possible Cases Beyond Realm of Phenomena

& René Guénon's Two Misunderstandings

(from "Ride the Tiger")





We can set aside the most spurious, "occultist" varieties of neospiritualism, dominated by the interest in "clairvoyance," in this or that supposed "power," and any kind of contact with the invisible. The differentiated man can only be indifferent to all of that; the problem of the meaning of existence is not going to be resolved in that way, because there one is still always within the realm of phenomena. Instead of a profound existential change, it may even cause an evasion and a greater dispersion, like that caused on another plane by the stupefying proliferation of scientific knowledge and technology. However, neospiritualism does occasionally envisage something more and different, even if confusedly, when it refers to "initiation" and when this is postulated as the goal of various practices, "exercises," rites, yogic techniques, and so on.

I cannot simply condemn this out of hand, but it is necessary to dispel some illusions. Initiation, taken in its strict and legitimate sense, means a real ontological and existential change of man's state, an opening to the fact of the transcendent dimension. It would be the undeniable realization, the integral and de-conditioning appropriation, of the quality that I have considered as the basis of the human type who concerns us, the man still spiritually rooted in the world of Tradition. Thus the problem arises of what one should think when some neospiritualist current exhumes and presents "initiatic" paths and methods.

This problem has to be circumscribed by the limits of this book, which is not concerned with those who leave their environment and concentrate all their energies on transcendence, as the ascetic or the saint can do in the religious realm. I am concerned rather with the human type who accepts living in the world and the age, despite having a different inner form from that of his contemporaries. This man knows that it is impossible, in a civilization like the present one, to revive the structures that in the world of Tradition gave a meaning to the whole of existence. But in that same world of Tradition, what might correspond to the idea of initiation belonged to the summit, to a separate domain with precise limits, to a path having an exceptional and exclusive character. It was not a question of the realm in which the general law, handed down from the heights of Tradition, shaped common existence within a given civilization, but of a higher plane, virtually released from that very law by the fact of being at its origin. I cannot go here into the distinctions to be made within the domain of initiation itself; we must just keep firmly in mind the higher and more essential significance that initiation has when one is placed on the metaphysical plane: a significance already mentioned as consisting of the spiritual de-conditioning of the being. Those lesser forms that correspond to caste and tribal initiations, and also to the minor initiations linked to one or another cosmic power, as in certain cults of antiquity - forms quite different, therefore, from the "great liberation" - must be left aside here, not least because no basis for them exists any longer in the modern world.

Well then, if initiation is taken in its highest, metaphysical sense, one must assume a priori that it is not even a hypothetical possibility in an epoch like the present, in an environment like the one we live in, and also given the general inner formation of individuals (now feeling the fatal effect of a collective ancestry that for centuries has been absolutely unfavorable). Anyone who sees things differently either does not understand the matter, or else is deceiving himself and others. What has to be negated most decisively is the transposition to this field of the individualistic and democratic view of the "self-made man," that is, the idea that anyone who wants can become an "initiate," and that he can also become one on his own, through his own strength alone, by resorting to various kinds of "exercises" and practices. This is an illusion, the truth being that through his own strength alone, the human individual cannot go beyond human individuality, and that any positive result in this field is conditioned by the presence and action of a genuine power of a different, non-individual order. And I can say categorically that in this respect, the possible cases are reduced to only three.

The first case is where one already naturally possesses this other power. This is the exceptional case of what was called "natural dignity," not derived from simple human birth; it is comparable to what in the religious domain is called election. The differentiated man posited here does possess a structure akin to the type to whom this first possibility refers. But for "natural dignity" in this specific, technical sense to be validated in him, a host of problems arise that can only be overcome if the trial of the self, spoken of in chapter 1, happens to be oriented in this direction.

The other cases concern an "acquired dignity." The second case is the possibility of the power in question appearing in cases of profound crises, spiritual traumas, or desperate actions, with the consequence of a violent breakthrough of the existential and ontological plane. Here it is possible that if the person is not wrecked, he may be led to participate in that force, even without his having held it consciously as a goal. I should clarify the situation by adding that in such cases a quantity of energy must already have been accumulated, which the circumstances cause to suddenly appear, with a consequent change of state. Therefore the circumstances appear as an occasional cause but not a determining cause, being necessary but not sufficient. It is like the last drop of water that makes the vase overflow, but only when it is already full, or the breaking of a dike that does not cause an inundation unless the water is already pressing on it.

The third and last case concerns the grafting of the power in question onto the individual by virtue of the action of a representative of a preexistent initiatic organization who is duly qualified to do so. It is the equivalent of priestly ordination in the religious field, which in theory imprints on the person an "indelible character," qualifying him for the efficacious performance of the rites. The author already cited here, René Guénon - who in modern times has been almost alone in treating such arguments with authority and seriousness, not without denouncing, too, the deviations, errors, and mystifications of neospiritualism considers this third case almost to the exclusion of the others. For my part, I think that in our time this case is virtually excluded in practical terms, because of the almost complete nonexistence of the organizations in question. If organizations of the kind have always had a more or less underground character in the West, because of the nature of the religion that has come to predominate there, with its repressions and persecutions, in recent times they have virtually disappeared. As for other areas, especially the East, such organizations have become ever more rare and inaccessible, even when the forces that they control have not been withdrawn, in parallel with the general process of degeneration and modernization that has now invaded those areas, too. Most of all, today the East itself is no longer in a position to furnish most people with anything but by-products, in a "regime of residues." That much is obvious if one examines the spiritual stature of those from the East who have set to exporting and publicizing "Eastern wisdom" among us.

Guénon did not see the situation in such pessimistic terms because of two misunderstandings. The first derived from his not only considering initiation in the integral and actual sense, as described here, but introducing the concept of a "virtual initiation" that can take place without any effect being perceptible by the consciousness; thus it remains as inoperative in concrete terms as - to take another parallel from the Catholic religion - the supernatural quality of being a "son of God" is in the vast majority of cases, though this is dispensed at baptism, even to retarded infants. Guénon's second misunderstanding comes from supposing that the transmission of such a force is real even in the case of organizations that once had an initiatic character, but which time has brought to a state of extreme degenerescence. There is good reason to suppose that the spiritual power that originally constituted their center has withdrawn, leaving nothing behind the facade but a sort of psychic cadaver. In neither point can I agree with Guénon, and so I think that today the third case is even more improbable than the other two.

Referring now to the man who concerns us, if the idea of an "initiation" is to figure on his mental horizon, he should clearly recognize the distance between that and the climate of neospiritualism, nor should he have any illusions about it. The most he can conceive of as a practical possibility is a basic orientation in terms of preparation, for which he will find a natural predisposition in himself. But realization has to be left undetermined, and it is well for him to recall the post-nihilistic vision of life, described above, which excludes any reference point that might cause a deviation or de-centering - even if the diversion, as in this case, were linked to the impatient awaiting of the moment in which he would finally achieve an opening. The Zen saying is again valid in this context: "He who seeks the Way, leaves the Way. “

A realistic view of the situation and an honest self-evaluation indicate that the only serious and essential task today is to give ever more emphasis to the dimension of transcendence in oneself, more or less concealed as it may be. Study of traditional wisdom and knowledge of its doctrines may assist, but they will not be effective without a progressive change affecting the existential plane, and more particularly, the basic life force of oneself as a person: that force that for most people is bound to the world and is simply the will to live. One can compare this effect to the induction of magnetism into a piece of iron - an induction that also imprints on it a direction. Afterwards one can suspend the iron and move it about as one wishes, but after oscillating for a certain time and amplitude, it will always return to point toward the pole. When the orientation toward the transcendent no longer has a merely mental or emotional character, but has come to penetrate a person's being, the most essential work is done, the seed has penetrated the earth, and the rest is, in a way, secondary and consequential. All the experiences and actions that, when one lives in the world, especially in an epoch like ours, may have the character of a diversion and be tied to various contingencies, will then have the same irrelevant effect as the displacing of the magnetized needle, after which it resumes its direction. Anything more that may eventually be realized, as I have said, is left to circumstance and to an invisible wisdom. And here the horizons should not be restricted to those of the individual, finite existence that the differentiated man finds himself living here and now.

Thus, setting aside the far-off and overly pretentious goals of an absolute and actual initiation understood in metaphysical terms, even the differentiated man should think himself fortunate if he can actually succeed in producing this modification, which integrates quite naturally the partial effects of the attitudes defined for him, in many different domains, in the preceding pages.



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