I recently read and reviewed Burckhardt’s “Alchemy” (click on the author’s name above). That book is a much easier read. Now I noticed that there are two translations of this introduction to Sufism. I got a translation of D.M. Matheson from 1976, but there is also a translation by William C. Chittick from 2008. I do not know who is the translator of the title that I linked the cover to. I could not even find the cover of the version that I have on the web, let alone a link to that particular publication. In any case, I do not know if this book was written in a more difficult style of translated in such a manner.
This little book (126 pages) is divided in three parts with 5, 6 or 7 chapters. The sections are called “The nature of Sufism”, “The doctrinal foundations” and “Spiritual realization”. The first part makes a nice introduction speaking of different kinds of Sufism. In the second we learn about what Sufism has to say. The first part is the most interesting since it describes how Sufis reach for the above. Not very much in depth though, but enough to get an idea.
Burckhardt was, of course, a Traditionalist. You may know that the Sufi doctrine is quite close to the Traditionalistic way of thinking in several aspects. This is undoubtely the reason that more than one Traditionalist became Muslim or Sufi. The Traditionalistic approach may have coloured Burckhardt’s account written down in this book, but I am not versed in Sufi doctrine enough to be able to say anything about this.
Like the title says, this is an introduction to Sufi doctrine. I guess I will try to find a more in depth book, because this path is certainly interesting.
1951 Du Soufisme, 1976 The Aquarian Press, isbn 0850302927
This book was originally published in German in 1960 and already in 1967 there was an English translation. In 1997 Fons Vitae republished this English translation which was reprinted only in 2006. The Fons Vitae version is beautiful to see. The book is a bit more yellow than in the picture, has a wonderfull, minimalistic design and a matt cover.
Anyway, Burckhardt (1908-1984) wanted to show that alchemy was actually a “science of the cosmos, science of the soul” (as the subtitle goes) and not the proto-science (or worse: ‘primitive science’) that is so often made of it. In little over 200 pages Burckhardt speaks about alchemical symbolism and the aims and goals of alchemy. His Traditionalistic approach makes the book a wonderfull read in which you will not only learn a lot about alchemy, but you will also be able to see it as a spiritual path. Contrary to some Traditionalistic writers, Burckhardt offers a nice read in a stimulating tone. Lastly, the author reproduces several images that I never saw, mostly from manuscripts that he found in the Basle University library.
Titus Burckhardt (1908-1984) was a Swiss “perennialist” art historian, advisor to UNESCO and an active writer. Numerous works in a great variety of languages came from his desk. Also did he write on many different subjects. In “The Essential Titus Burckhardt” the editor William Stoddart tried to show the various sides of Burckhardt. The texts in this volume go from almost theological expositions to reports of Burckhardt’s many travels and much in between. The subjects varry from alchemy to ‘Amerindian’ sundances, evolution and Julius Evola’s Riding the Tiger. Indeed, the author had a broad interest and during his life made friends all over the world. The book is divided in seven parts each of which is divided in different chapters. The parts have titles such as “Traditional and Modern Science”, “Sacred Art and the Expression of Truth”, “Alchemy” and “Evocations of Traditional Maroccan Life”. An interesting and varried book of an interesting writer with a nicely personal writing style and critical but constructive ideas. 2003 world wisdom, isbn 0941532364