The Principle of Orthodoxy


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(Continued from Oldmeadow)

"One criterion of religion derives from the principle of orthodoxy. Schuon articulates the principle thus:
"In order to be orthodox a religion must possess a mythological or doctrinal symbolism establishing the essential distinction between the Real and the illusory, or the Absolute and the relative... and must offer a way that serves both the perfection of concentration on the Real and also its continuity. In other words a religion is orthodox on condition that it offers a sufficient, if not always exhaustive, idea of the absolute and the relative, and therewith an idea of their reciprocal relationships... " (Light on the Ancient Worlds, p. 138).

Elsewhere Schuon affirms that
"Traditional orthodoxy means being in accord with a doctrinal or ritual form, and also, and indeed above all, with the truth which resides in all revealed forms; thus the essence of every orthodoxy is intrinsic truth... " (Language of the Self, p. 1).

In yet another passage he writes,
"For a religion to be considered intrinsically orthodox – an extrinsic orthodoxy hangs upon formal elements which cannot apply literally outside their own perspective – it must rest upon a fully adequate doctrine ... then it must extol and actualise a spirituality that is equal to this doctrine and thereby include sanctity within its ambit both as concept and reality; this means it must be of Divine and not philosophical origin and thus be charged with a sacramental or theurgic presence..." (Islam and the Perennial Philosophy, London, 1976, p. 14. (Italics Oldmeadow's.) See also commentary by Leo Schaya in Traditional Modes of Contemplation and Action, ed. Y. Ibish & P.L. Wilson, Tehran, 1977, pp. 462ff).

The ramifications of these claims will become clearer as our discussion proceeds.
"What of the attitude of one orthodoxy to another? The key is in Schuon's reference to "formal elements which cannot apply literally outside their own perspective". From the exoteric vantage point of any particular tradition there can only be one orthodoxy, i.e., the one determining the outlook in question. Thus, for example, from a Hindu viewpoint Buddhism must appear as heterodox, the test of orthodoxy here being the acceptance of Vedic authority.

The exclusivist or alternativist perspective belongs firmly in the domain of religious exotericism. Here the Hindu viewpoint is both 'right' and 'wrong'. This paradox is resolved in an illuminating passage from Schuon: "What makes the definition of orthodoxy rather troublesome is that it presents two principal modes, the one essential or intrinsic, and the other formal or extrinsic: the latter is being in accord with a revealed form, and the former the being in accord with the essential and universal truth, with or without being in accord with any particular form, so that the two modes sometimes stand opposed externally. To give an example, it can be said that Buddhism is extrinsically heterodox in relation to Hinduism, because it makes a departure from the basic forms of the latter, and at the same time intrinsically orthodox, because it is in accord with that universal truth from which both traditions proceed; on the other hand the Brahmo-Samaj, like every other variety of "progressive" neo-Hinduism, is doubly heterodox, first in relation to Hinduism itself and secondly in relation to truth unqualified..." (Language of the Self, p. 1. See also Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred, New York, 1981, pp. 78-80.)
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