The great 20th century metaphysician Frithjof Schuon was also a spiritual master familiar with the spiritual struggles of modern seekers. He once wrote, "To be a human being means to be connected with God; life has no meaning without this." This "human vocation" means that until we find a personal connection with God we are not able to connect with the innermost being that lies locked up within the human heart.
James S. Cutsinger, author, editor, and scholar, has collected into this volume some of the most memorable writings on prayer and the spiritual life by this great 20th century spiritual figure. Prayer Fashions Man includes an appendix of excerpts from letters and other writings which have not been published before. Thus, previous readers of Schuon will rejoice in this wonderful collection of many of his best writings on prayer and the human vocation, as well as seeing some materials they have never seen before. Readers new to Schuon will find, as countless others have, insights on spirituality that call to their innermost being in a universal language that all people of all times and all religions can, and indeed must, understand.
In his very clear and helpful introduction to the book, Cutsinger writes:
Our aim in this anthology is to give the reader some sense of the range and variety of Schuon's writings on prayer and the spiritual life, though the full scope of his doctrine on these momentous subjects can by no means be covered in a single volume. In a sense everything Schuon wrote was on the subject of prayer. Asked in a series of interviews during the last years of his life what his advice would be for people in general, he consistently replied by stressing the importance of prayer. "If you understand what is essential and what is absolute," he said, "you want to assimilate it; otherwise one is a hypocrite....We may think that God is God: Brahma satyam. But it is not enough to think it; we must assimilate it--we must 'eat' it, just as the Christians eat the body of Christ and drink his blood....And in order to assimilate the truth of the Absolute, you must pray....
Whether a passage illuminates for us the place of humankind in the cosmos, or the origin of evil, or the errors of the modern world, or any number of other considerations, Schuon's final advice to us is always the same. We must pray in order to become all that we really are by the grace of God.
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July 31, 2010
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Excerpt from Prayer Fashions Man by James S. Cutsinger
Meditation, concentration, prayer: these three words epitomize the spiritual life, while at the same time indicating its principal modes. Meditation, from the standpoint here adopted, is an activity of the intelligence in view of understanding universal truths; concentration for its part is an activity of the will in view of assimilating these truths or realities existentially, as it were; and prayer in turn is an activity of the soul with respect to God.
We have spoken of universal truths; by this term we mean principles which determine everything that is. The first function of the intelligence, from the point of view considered here, is to distinguish between the Absolute and the relative; its second function will then be, on the one hand, to perceive relativity intellectually insofar as it seemingly enters into the domain of the Absolute and, on the other hand, to perceive the Absolute as it is reflected in the relative.
Let it be said once again--since the context requires it--that the "pure Absolute" is "the Essence of Essences" or Beyond-Being; as for the relative, it includes both Being and its central reflection in the world, and then the world itself; Being--or the personal God, the Creator--is the "relative Absolute", if for want of a less problematical term one may thus speak of it.
We may therefore distinguish four degrees in the total Universe: Beyond-Being, God-Being, Heaven, and Earth, the last term designating symbolically and comprehensively all that is situated below the celestial Summit. Or again: Beyond-Being and Being taken together--if one may so express it--constitute the divine Principle, while Heaven and Earth constitute universal Manifestation, Heaven being able to be conceived as including Being and Beyond-Being, as is suggested by the phrase "Our Father who art in Heaven".
But the total Universe is not only made up of degrees, for there are modes as well; the degrees are disposed in a "vertical" order, whereas the modes are in a "horizontal" order and situated in the appropriate manner at each of the four degrees. There is first of all a duality: an "active" and divinely "masculine" pole, and a "passive" and divinely "feminine" pole; then there comes a trinity: Power, Consciousness, and Felicity. Finally, we may distinguish a quaternity: Rigor, Gentleness, Activity, and Passivity; in other words, Purity or Sacrifice, Goodness or Life, Strength or Light--or victorious Act--and Beauty or Peace; herein is to be found the origin of all the Qualities, divine and cosmic.
After meditation, which pertains to Truth and intelligence, comes concentration, which pertains to the Way and the will; there is no Truth that does not have its prolongation in the Way, and there is no intelligence that does not have its prolongation in the will; the authenticity and totality of the values in question require this.
Concentration in itself--apart from its possible contents--ultimately pertains to the "deiformity" of the planes constituting the human microcosm: man is like a tree whose root is the "heart" and whose crown is the "forehead". Now our mental space--the substance or energy containing or producing thought--is in itself consciousness of the divine Reality; the mind emptied of all coagulations "thinks God" by its very substance, in "holy silence", man being "made in the image of God".
The same is true of our bodily substance--or more precisely our consciousness of this substance--actualized in perfect immobility: the moment we do nothing but "exist" we are virtually identified with Being, beyond all cosmic coagulations. Concurrently with bodily consciousness, there is vital, energetical consciousness--in short, life and movement--which, as sacred dances testify, can be a vehicle for our participation in cosmic rhythms and universal life, at all the levels accessible to us by virtue of our nature and through Grace.
This leaves, in the human microcosm, the consciousness of self--namely, the "heart"--which can likewise be the support of an existential "remembrance of God" on the basis of intellectual, ritual, and moral conditions that guarantee the legitimacy and efficacy of such an alchemy. Whatever the case, the psychosomatic analogies we have just called to mind convey teachings that concern all men: every human being must, out of love for God, strive to "be what he is"--to disengage himself from the artificial superstructures which disfigure him and which are none other than traces of the fall--in order to become once again a tree whose root is made of liberating certitude and whose crown is made of beatific serenity. Human nature is predisposed toward the unitive knowledge of its divine Model....