Category Archives: religion

The Destruction Of The Christian Tradition * Rama P. Coomaraswamy (2006)

Rama (1929-2006) was the son of Ananda (1877-1949) and however raised in his father’s tradition (Hinduism), Rama converted to Catholicism after his father died because he found that more fitting when living in the West. In the current book, Rama does not appear to be a Traditionalist like his father, but a traditionalist / fundamentalistic Catholic. Where his father sees One Source for all religions, Rama is exclusivistic. Now this is not strange when you think about the purpose of the book, but the author takes his stand so firmly that as I was reading the book I increasingly had the feeling that however much I understand the position, I have growing problems agreeing with it.
Basically the idea is simple, like with the position of the ‘Traditionalist School’ actually. The Catholic Church exists to represent the ideas and Church founded by Christ and his apostles, of course, unaltered since otherwise the Church would say Christ was wrong. Still the Church does alter the teachings and organisation of the original Church, especially during and after the second Vatican council of 1962 to 1965. The new Church thinks that Christianity has to be brought up to date thus incorporating ideas of progress, evolution, humanism, socialism, etc. exclusivisity is dropped and the Pope is not as infallible as he usd to be. I understand the position of the Church. When members leave and the minds of those that stay grow accustomed to Western ways of thinking, how would anyone stop the loosing of members? I also appreciate the author’s position which is completely logical, but often collides with the Western way I think myself. Moreover, the author is uncompromising, also in his language, so I think that his book will not appeal to the average Catholic, just to the (to use the word) fundamentalists. It is very interesting to read Coomaraswamy’s minituous account of changes made in the Doctrines, mass, etc. though and he forces me to continuously consider how much of a Traditionalist I really am. I can assure you that this is no easy or fun book to read. His examples are clear, his conclusions far-reaching. Perhaps you (too) can read the book of a test of ‘your Traditionalism’ and/or to learn about the orthodoxy of the current Church.
2006 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532984

Essential Sacred Writings From Around the World * Mircea Eliade (1967)

Originally published as “From Primitives To Zen”, Eliade presented an anthology of sacred texts for his students.

The instigation for this anthology of religious texts came during my first years of teaching History of Religions at the University of Chicago. In discussing a specific problem, I expected my students to read at least some of the basic original sources; but I soon discovered that I was unable to recommend to them any single work where one might find a number of essential texts regarding, for example, high gods, cosmogonic myths, conceptions of death and the afterlife, etc.

So he made one himself! Eliade goes from Amerindians to the monotheistic religions, far Eastern, small tribes from around the world and all put in different chapters which deal with certain topics (creation of man, origin and destiny of the soul, patterns of initiation, etc. etc.) Eliade recommends reading this book from cover to cover which makes well over 600 pages to cover. The book is actually a compilation. Eliade collected translations from various scholars (some texts are his own). Not all texts are translations of traditional texts, quite a few are descriptions of some scholar about (for example) the view of some Indian tribe on a certain subject. There are highly interesting, but also fairly dull texts and the same goes for the different subjects, but I understand why Eliade recommended to read the book from cover to cover, since you get different religions on different subjects which gives of course some more insight.
A very nice book, but not a very easy read.
1967 / 1992 HarperOne, isbn 0062503049

The Heart Of Islam * Seyyed Hossein Nasr (2002)

Recently I reviewed Frithjof Schuon’s “Understanding Islam“. Actually I find that title more fitting for Nasr’s book, but of course Schuon was 26 years ahead. While after reading Schuon’s book I had the idea that I perhaps learned something about Islam, I did not understand it better. With Nasr’s book this is much different.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1933-) is a born Muslim (Persian) and raised in the Middle East. He studied in America where he now also teaches. He is a lifelong student of Schuon, well-respected in the scholarly West and in traditional Islamic circles and a Traditionalist (as was Schuon). Many leading Traditionalists were born as Muslims, or converted to Islam. This is not so strange, because Islam sees itself as a branch of the religio perennis. As the author writes: “Islam sees itself as at once the primordial religion, a return to the original religion of oneness, and the final religion”.

For each [people] We have appointed a Divine Law and a way. Had God willed, He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you. So vie with one another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you concerning that wherein ye differed. (Qur’an 5:48)

“The Heart Of Islam” is divided in seven parts. The first explains the quote above. In the second you will learn that there is not something as the Islam. Like there are many forms of Christianity, there are many forms of Islam. Nasr describes the big division between Sunnism and Shi’ism and currents and schools within these two. These currents and schools are roughly to be divided in Traditional, modernistic and “so-called Fundamentalistic”. Nasr is glad to conclude that the first group is still by far the biggest, but unfortunately the second is growing and the latter gets most attention in Western media. The other parts speak about more specific subjects. Divine and human laws; peace, love, beauty and compassion; the community; justice and human rights and responsibilities. Nasr discusses at length and at various places what the Shari’ah really is, but also how often the term is misused for non-religious reasons. Very interesting discussions follow about environmental issues, the decline of the world caused by the West, religion, politics, society, etc.

Now Nasr is, like I said, a Muslim by birth. He knows the ‘Islam from the desert’ and is well familiar with the Western world. When describing elements of Islam he often quickly passes over excesses of recent years. I am sure that these elements are much enlarged by our media and governments and it is not that the author is totally uncritical and tries to turn everything into something positive, but I would have liked to read a bit more about certain subjects and I totally miss the question of honour and the honour killings. It is probably true, but Nasr blames the West for all excesses as well. There were no problems before Napoleon went south and currents such as modernism and “fundamentalism” did not exist before the West came to impose the materialistic way of thinking and democracy. Basically Nasr’s book seems to be a plea to the West to leave the “abode of Islam” in peace to solve its own problems in its own way, together with, but not led by, the West and the East. I think this is a fair call.

Read “The Heart Of Islam” to learn about Islam, understand it better, think about what happens in the world since the last centuries and get acquainted with an interesting religion that is much alive and has a big role to play in the world.

When one thinks of Islam, one should go beyond the repetitive scenes on television of wars and battles, which unfortunately abound in today’s world, to behold the peace and harmony of Islamic art seen in the great mosques, traditional urban settings and gardens, and the rhythm and geometry of calligraphy and arabesque designs; read in the poems that sing of the love that permeates all of God’s creation and binds creatures to God; and heard in the strains of melodies that echo what we had experienced in that primordial morn preceding creation and our descent into this lowly world.

2002 HarperOne, isbn 0060730641

The Doctrine Of Awakening * Julius Evola (1943/1996)

I ran into a free ebook version of this book in the webstore of my ereader’s manufacturer. The version that I have is a pretty badly converted PDF to ebook with notes in the middle of the text (below the pages in the PDF no doubt) and badly converted text with replaced characters (“dtmd” for “atma” for example) and messed-up formatting. Oh well, it is free…

Evola speaks about “the ‘Doctrine of Awakening,” that is to say, Buddhism” (p. 18). He bases himself on the oldest texts which are Pali:

The term Buddhism is derived from the Pali designation Buddha (Sanskrit: Buddha) given to its founder; it is, however, not so much a name as a title. Buddha, from the root budh, “to awaken,” means the “Awakened One”: it is thus a designation applied to one who attains the spiritual realization, likened to an “arousing” or to an “awakening,” which Prince Siddhattha announced to the Indo-Aryan world. Buddhism, in its original form-the so-called Pali Buddhism-shows us, as do very few other doctrines, the characteristics we want: (1) it contains a complete ascetic system; (2) it is universally valid and it is realistic; (3) it is purely Aryan in spirit; (4) it is accessible in the general conditions of the historical cycle to which present-day humankind also belongs. (p. 17)

In this way Evola argues that Buddhism is originally a warrior religion:

Only in certain Western misconceptions is Buddhism —considered in later and corrupted forms- presented as a doctrine of universal compassion encouraging humanitarianism and democratic equality. (p. 48)

Fortunately “The Doctrine Of Awaking” does not get any more ‘political’ than this. Actually, it is something of a spiritual handbook with many quotes, references, thoughts of the author and information about Buddhism in its different forms. Especially the closing part about Zen Buddhism is very nice. Actually I found the book more enjoyable than I expected and especially because I ran into it quite by accident, this was a nice surprise.
1943 /1996 Inner Traditions, isbn 0892815531

Understanding Islam * Frithjof Schuon (1976/2011)

This is the first ebook that I bought. I bought an ereader to read all those PDFs that I have on my computer, but when I noticed that there are also ebooks that I want to read and the prices are better than I thought and I was looking for a Traditionalist title anyway, I got myself this famous book by Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998). The book was initially written in French (“Comprendre l’Islam” 1976), has been published in English before, but in 2011 became available in a new English translation and was expanded with letters and other short writings of Schuon. I must say that I am relatively happy ‘reading e’. When there is a note, I can read it in a popup without having to page to the notes and even when a note is too long for the popup, the jumping to the note and back to where I was reading goes with one click. The ereader keeps track of where I am in which book as well, so I can read several books without having to finish each of them first and the dictionary function is great. I was afraid that reviewing an ebook would be a pain, because when reviewing a book, I am constantly flipping through it which is not ‘doable’ on the ereader, but the software that I need to put books on the device, also acts like a reader and on the computer navigation goes well enough. I guess that the choice between buying a physical book and a digital one will be the question if I want to put it in my library for referential purposes.
In any case, in his preface Schuon says that he did not want to write another book about what Muslims believe, but why. Perhaps this is why I am not really sure if I understand Islam better after reading this book. The book reads more like a Traditionalistic work (of course Schuon was a Traditionalist and Muslim) and a deeply religious one, making cross-references to other religions and speaking about Muslim concepts, but it is not like he sets out to explain these concepts. It is more like a long text in which those different concepts are touched upon in the light of the larger story. “Understanding Islam” certainly is a great book if you want to read a religious work of a Traditionalist, but perhaps there are better books to answer your questions about the religion of Islam. The remark: “A masterpiece of comparative religion” (Islamic Quarterly about the book) descries what I mean. Of course, since the book is about Islam afterall, you will learn about it, but just different from what I expected I guess.
2011 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532240

Het Grote Boek Der Apokriefen * Jacob Slavenburg (2009)

I was quite excited when I heard about the publication of this book. Still it took quite a while before I got myself a copy. It is a 1170 page book, printed on thin paper (and thus only 5cm thick) and however Jacob Slavenburg is on the cover as editor, he did not make any of the translations. Slavenburg has published quite extensively about early Christianity and Gnosticism and this monster work completes his publication of translated texts together with his massive Nag Hammadi publication. Most of the early Christian (gnostic) texts are now available in Dutch. I have found no English counterpart to this new “great book of apocryphal texts, secret early Christian texts”. The massive amount of texts are grouped under the headers “saying of Jesus”, “Fragments of gospels”, “Gospels”, “Youth stories”, “Early Christian lectures and letters”, “Acts of apostels”, “Revelations of visions”, “Oracles”, “Early histories of the church”, “Early texts from Edessa” and “Gnostic texts”. The texts are from the first to the fourth centuries and them being apocryphal means that they did not make it into the Holy Scripture. That is not to say that most of them are not very Christian texts, but probably there was something with them when the Bible was put together. The stories of Jesus’ youth, for example, portray Jesus as somewhat of a hothead. Many texts read like you are reading the Bible and I must say, a large part of this book is rather dull, especially when you compare them to the compilation of mostly Gnostic from the Nag Hammadi library. The texts do sometimes give a nice peak in the history of Christianity that the fourth century Church fathers did not want us to see. Sometimes amusing, sometimes slightly surprising, but I must way that I was relieved when I finally came to the short closing part with Gnostic texts which have more of my interest. The book is not cheap, but how could it be with 1170 pages, but Dutch-speaking people who want to expand their view on early Christianity are highly recommended to get this wonderfull publication.
2009 Ankh Hermes, isbn 9789020203578

Hildegard von Bingen 1098 – 1179 * Winfried Wilhelmy & Ines Koring (1998)

Last year somewhere me and my girlfriend spent our holidays in the Rhein/Mosel area in Germany. Of course we visited Bingen and the local museum with its Hildegard von Bingen exposition. We were lucky, there was also a temporary exposition about Hildegard’s visions. Hildegard is one of the most famous Medieval, female mystics and the paintings based on her visions are magnificent. There is much more to say about Hildegard though and there was a book sold in the shop which speaks about all the aspects of Hildegard, but (most importantly) also had the paintings of the visions together with the texts that these visions are based on. The authors start with a biography of Hildegard, her cloisters on the Disibodenberg and the Rupertsberg and her dealings with the official church. The part about Hildegard’s work is lenghty. Hildegard wrote (about) music, (natural) medicines and theological tracts. Her visions appear to be nothing more (or less) than descriptions of what she saw. Amazing figures with two or three heads, multiple sets of wings, lion-paws for feet and eyes all over their bodies. There is nothing as of interpretation or explanation which leaves a lot for the imagination. Of course the other texts and the writings of the authors give leads.
The book is printed luxerously on heavy paper. This makes the book too heavy to read comfortly, but the images look manificent. Another thing is however I read a lot in German, but the way Hildegard tries to describe what she saw, makes it hard to follow sometimes, even in modern German. The book is completed with overviews of items from the museum, items that Hildegard made or used or that were found on the terrains where she lived. All in all a wonderfull overview of an extremly interesting Christian.
1998 Die Deutsche Bibliotheek, isbn 3805323980

Sleutel Tot Licht * Anne Korteweg & Helen Wüstefeld (2009)

The troubled Bibliotheca Philosophia Hermetica has a publishing house called “In de Pelikaan” (‘in the pelican’) through which a nice collection of books saw the light of day. The library contains (or by now perhaps contained) some of the earliest books of hours, 25 of which are the subject of this book. The book is magnificently printed on heavy paper with beautiful images of and from the colourfull books. Both authors are experienced investigators of books of hours and what they describe here is mostly the connection with the originally Dutch movement called “Modern Devotion” of Geert Grote (Geert Great) who died in 1384. Two major aspects of this movement were the fact that they wanted the old devotion to God back which had been lost in the church. This could for example be done by the imitatio Christi that was known from the Geman mystics. The other aspect is that Grote wanted religion closer to the common folk so he preached and wrote not in Latin, but in his native language. Korteweg and Wüstefeld made a fascinating introduction into books of hours which were originally books for laymen guiding them through religions daily life (hense: books of hours). Followers of Grote became fanatic copiers of books, making it a part of their daily duties. Therefor many books of hours came from modern devotic groups and with prayers written by Geert Grote. In short chapters the authors describe different religious movements that followed the footsteps of Grote, different kinds of spirituality and the very personal side of the books of hours with references to family, personal or regional saints, etc. as if the books were written on demand with the possibility for requests. The book reads easily, looks splendid and is highly informative.
2009 In de Pelikaan, isbn 978907608285

Man And His Becoming According To The Vedanta * René Guénon (1925)

l'Homme et son devenir selon la VedÍ nta

I ran into an old English translation (1958) of l’Homme et son devenir selon la Vêdânta. Books of Guénon are never easy literature, but this fifth book is all about Metaphysics, not the way of thinking of the Western man. The first part of the book is mostly about the most ancient traditions of Hinduism and its conceptions. The last part of the book is the second part of the title. Even though this is a small book (185 pages), it took me a while to get through. At some points I can easily follow Guénon, but at other times my thinking is obviously too Western for easy understanding what the man tries to say. Therefor this little book is not only “probably the best account of the Vedanta in any European language” (according to Ananda Coomaraswamy), but also a nice way to train that other way of thinking.
1925 les éditions traditionelles; 1958 noonday; 2001 sophia perennis (isbn 0900588616)

The Mysteries Of Mithra * G.R.S. Mead (1907)

The Mysteries Of MithraI ran into an old Dutch translation of this little book. I have known about it for a long time, did not buy it when I was studying Mithraism, but I was still curious enough to read it years later. Mead opens with ‘an alternative’ history of Mithraism. Alternative to the scholarly version of Cumont. Mead has not only used archeological sources, but also early written sources and this sheds a nice light on the subject. The booklet is actually a translation of what Dieterich has called the “Mithraic lithurgy”, a short text from the “Papyri Graecae Magicae” (see here and here. Mead’s translation is alright, his explanation is also alright, but not too interesting. He sees the text as Yogo and comes with a too Theosophical explanation of initiation and mysteries. Not a boring read, some interpretations give something to think about, but not a booklet that I would advice if you want to learn something about Mithraism (save for the first part to offer an alternative history).
More about Mithraism on you can find by “browsing” for book reviews and I have some articles on the subject in the articles section.