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Travel Meditations[1]


Frithjof Schuon

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 12, Nos. 1 and 2. (Winter-Spring, 1978). © World Wisdom, Inc.

Many questions arise simply because man lets himself be enticed into the domain where questions lie, instead of keeping firmly to the domain of certainty, If a man is confused by something, he should first of all come back to the certainty that it is not this world as such which is important, but the next world, and above all that God is Reality; and he should say to himself: in the face of this truth, which in principle is the solution to all questions, this or that question just does not arise; it is enough if he has the Answer of answers. And then God will give him a light also for what is earthly and particular.

*          *          *

The Prophet said: “Guard yourself against suspicion, for the devil seeks to arouse discord amongst you,” or something of the kind. One ought never to brood, if only because the unintelligible or the absurd belongs to the stuff of which the world is made. One should say to oneself in the face of some apparently insoluble difficulty: first of all everything, every occurrence, ‘has a cause, whether we know it or not; our ignorance takes nothing from it and adds nothing to it. Secondly: this cause makes no difference to the truth that God is Reality; what is, is, and what is not, is not. A man sometimes lets himself be overcome by bitterness, because he has allowed the corresponding spiritual possibility—that of sobriety—to be altogether crowded out by his dreams and pleasures; but he who meets his fellow men with magnanimity and at the same time maintains a certain coolness towards the world—a kind of anticipation of all disillusionment, a foreknowledge of the nothingness of all that is earthly, a refusal to dream—will not be taken unawares by some unexpected bitterness breaking in upon him and will not be despoiled of the irreplaceable good of love. Know man and know thyself; only God is good.

It often surprises me how deeply most men are sunk in phenomena, how much they identify themselves with their own everyday world of appearances, and how little strength of imagination they have; this surprised me even as a child, in so far as I was capable of noticing it; I did notice it without any doubt, for otherwise I should not so often have felt myself to be as one standing outside, disinterested, as it were an onlooker. For the contemplative man the experience of vastly different worlds—the West, Islam, the Red Indians—can and must have a particular spiritual significance; the forms become transparent; they act as supports, yes, but they are no longer confining. What is distraction for one can for another be soaring flight.

*          *          *

What is distraction for one can for another be recollectedness, penetration, the way to oneself. This holds good for all dealings with forms. In my youth I used to call this standpoint, of which I was very conscious, an “exteriorization with a view to interiorization”. In a word: Whatever we may love, it ends in the sacred if we grasp it aright and so to speak think it out to the end. The quintessence of all values is the sacred.

*          *          *

We men have no scale of measurement such as would permit us to know what we are; we do not know, when we are somewhere or another, who it is that is there. But when God resounds in our Heart, then we know that God is there—that He is there where we are. We may not know whether we be good or bad, but we know for certain that God is God.

*          *          *

In the spiritual life one must jump over one’s own shadow; that is, from the human point of view, the liberating miracle. And scarcely anyone can do it.

Be surprised at nothing; it would be a waste of time. For there is nothing that could infringe this truth, or even call it in question—the truth that God is Reality. All else is indifferent, however hard it may be for us to take this standpoint.

Men are forever swaying to and fro between the consciousness of being divine manifestation and the command—or the necessity—to submit to God. Thus there are many confusions, misunderstandings and false presumptions: man often thinks he is absolutely good because in his genius he manifests something divine; he forgets that man as such is always man. So is it with civilizations also: they are at the same time good and not good, they are struck down on account of the bad they contain, but survive the blow because they are good and divine. Caesar was divine, and yet a man.

*          *          *

If one really knew that God is God, and that only God is God, then one would know everything else. Therefore, whenever the juggling tricks of the world cause doubts about this or that to arise in us, we must take refuge in the all-truth that God is Reality. It would indeed be strange if we knew and understood all possibilities from the outset. On the plane of phenomena—which is also the plane of darkness and therefore of contradiction—to see through all the artifices of Mâyâ on this plane from the outset would simply not be human.

Firstly, we must find our joy in God, not in the world; it follows from this that we must not be disappointed if we do not find our joy in the world.

Secondly, we must surrender ourselves to God, and judge the world from the standpoint of this surrender. We must not let the absurdity of the world sap our blood so that we are turned away from our surrender to God.

Thirdly, we must not forget that the evil enemy provokes absurdity in order to bewilder us and turn us away from God. Our surrender may not, cannot depend on our understanding all riddles; it is unconditional, depending only on the Truth of truths. Surrender to God was there before the existence of the world, and before we ourselves existed. We do not create it, we enter into it; it is our deep, eternal Being.

Our trust in God must protect us from doubts about the world; it must be stronger than all absurdity. Otherwise it would be as if we had doubts about the Truth of truths, whereas in fact this Truth is our real Being.

Pure Truth, pure Being, pure Inwardness.

In the ego there is something which invites the diabolic. In other words, in the ego—in so far as it is not actively penetrated by God—there is something diabolic. That is why one cannot find a definitive modus vivendi with God on the basis of this wavering ego, why one cannot complacently hang onto God by a thread. One must constantly see afresh through the ego—this impermanent, absurd fabric—and in seeing through it, one must overcome it, and so in a certain sense re-create it. One must always be aware of the relativity of the ego, so as not to slip into a false and unstable existential plenitude.

The ego would like to have a definitive and wholly logical relation-ship to God and the world, but the world is far from purely logical, and God’s logic—if one may use such a term—transcends that of man and sometimes shatters it.

*          *          *

A journey is not merely a movement from one place to another, but also a movement from oneself to oneself; in this way every journey is a pilgrimage, every journey leads to the holy shrine of the Heart. Whether or not a journey is a success depends not so much on whether we achieve this or that as on whether we overcome ourself and leave behind us a piece of the lower self, on whether we overcome something which in reality is not “ourself” at all.

*          *          *

We look forward to something with joy; then someone comes and spoils our joy. That should not be, for God is always present with all His liberating Truth and all His redeeming Goodness, and also with all His bliss-imparting Beauty. Behind the veil of things His pure Being lies hidden like a golden sound.

*          *          *

If only it were easier for a man to do what most people are incapable of doing, namely to step outside himself and to see himself from outside—an outside that is in reality the inside! Then he would be standing in a vast, silver silence and he would see his ego as something quite small; as something strangled, seething and noisy.

What makes spiritual realization so difficult is that the ego is inverted, as if turned inside out, a stranger to Reality. Within this inversion it is not so difficult to chase after mirror-reflections of Reality, if the corresponding gifts are there; but to step out of this invertedness into the open—that is difficult, humanly speaking.

There is something vengeful and self-destructive in man which, once it is awakened, refuses to draw back and seeks to submerge and utterly consume everything; there is something Luciferian in the vengefulness, which would shatter a life for the sake of a “yes” or a “no”, as though there were no greater pleasure than the feeling that one has been wronged. But in a certain sense only God can be wholly right, and it is to Him, not to men, that we must bow; in other words, if we sometimes have to bow to men and magnanimously meet them half-way—not by renouncing justice and truth, but by surmounting the offence as such and acting in terms of love of our neighbor—this is above all because we owe it to God, because we are not nearly good enough to lay a total claim to our rights; we cannot make a divinity out of revenge because of some unrecognized right or some unrecognized truth and take vengeance on the world and on ourselves, indeed on existence in general and so, in a fashion, on God. Only God is good, and in a certain sense one can do absolute and total wrong only to God. Before God man always has enough sin within him to enable him to retain his consciousness of guilt, even when he has suffered an injustice. A man may be right, but there is already as it were a wrong in the ego. The key to all this is the quite simple but immeasurable and inexhaustible Truth of truths, namely: there is no divinity except the One God.

Men have greed and hardness in them, and against this the Prayer takes its stand like a cooling, extinguishing and at the same time unshakeable strength. Whereas greed is hot and aggressive, hardness is cold and shuts itself off; it is selfishness toward one’s neighbor and indifference towards God; it is the lukewarmness and greyness of the worldly man whose soul fritters itself away in petty, noisy everyday trivialities, being without unifying warmth and liberating beauty and love; such a soul is not music, but chatter or clatter; and that is the complement to greed, which like a beast of prey is ever insatiably on the prowl for new victims for its lusts.

Next comes the evil of sloth, the neglect of God and of the last things; and then, as a natural complement, the evil of haste, restlessness, dissipating curiosity and constrictive tension; man lets him-self be tossed about by the world and never achieves rest or release except in sloth which wants to know nothing about God and Eternity and kills the soul.

The root of all evil lies in man’s unwillingness to rise above himself; and this holds also for the evil of mediocre, woolly and uncontemplative thought, for prejudice and illogicality, in short, for the incapacity to distinguish the true from the false and the essential from the unessential. People think as far as they like to think, and no further; the ego thinks, but this thinking does not enlighten the ego, it does not step outside it and show it its nothingness.

There is also the evil of superficiality or outwardness: the in-capacity to be, instead of merely acting and thinking; the inability to separate oneself from form and movement and to take hold of being; or in other words, persistence in doing, not in being; in form, not in content. Thus man remains in dividedness, in “I and world”, far from contemplative recollectedness and far from all unity.

We have already said above that thinking does not step outside the ego; now we say that in the case of the outward man the inner-most Self can only be grasped by thinking, and the same holds true for Being.

*          *          *

There is something diabolic in the dream-stuff of the world, a demonic something that sets pitfalls for us and would like to bring us down or would like to push us into the whirlpool of self-destruction,—but behind all that stands God, who wishes to put our faith, our consistency and our integrity to the test and who does not withhold His Grace from us so long as we are open to it; His Will is that we should achieve victory over ourselves, for our souls belong to Him alone.

Once again: that we should sometimes forego a little of our own right in order to help our neighbor to his feet is something that we may not necessarily owe to our neighbor, but we owe it certainly to God.

God does not primarily want our right to prevail, but His Right; ours can well be scanted, if His Right comes thereby all the more powerfully into its own. For indeed our right can have meaning only if it is His.

It is God’s right to possess our souls, to possess them completely, whether we suffer wrong on this account or not. God’s right is that which brings us, in one way or another, to God.

This too can be said: God looks after our rights; we cannot look after our own little rights better than He does. Man cannot assert his rights without putting himself slightly in the wrong—at some level or other—since God alone is totally in the right. To be sure, a human right can be a divine right,’ insofar as God’s Truth and God’s Honor are at stake. There are not words enough to describe all of this exhaustively.

When it is said: “Judge not that ye be not judged”, this does not mean that we should not use our God-given powers of discrimination to judge things aright, but merely that we should not let ourselves be led by passion into unjustly condemning them; the meaning is: judge as you yourself would wish to be judged, that is, from the standpoint of truth and with as much indulgence as possible; I do not say: with all indulgence, for love of one’s neighbor must never be allowed to falsify the truth. We may and must see the extenuating circumstances which are there—which means that they are in the very nature of things—but we have no right to invent such circumstances; that is an essential distinction. There are also extenuating circumstances which are too general to have any weight; to take them into account would be to con-fuse different planes; but justice is, above all, to put each thing in its proper place.

*          *          *

It is quite natural that the more perfect should sometimes suffer at the hands of the less perfect, but not that he should reproach the world for the existence of imperfection; for what is, must be. We must give a folly its true name, but we cannot reasonably wonder at the existence of fools; and if there are fools, then there must also be follies. It can moreover happen that through some inward folly we provoke our neighbor to some outward folly; how foolish he is will depend on how foolish we are.

All evil ultimately comes from men’s having forgotten their beings; they no longer repose in pure being, they are no longer conscious of it, but are completely yoked to their doing and let things pull them and push them this way and that. Men do not even know any longer what existence is, nor do they know that they carry a skeleton about with them and that they are locked up in the prison of their five senses; still less do they know what lies in the centre of their souls, namely the Kingdom of Heaven and the Glory of God, and that they have only to go through a door to escape from the noise of the ego and the world and to be in a golden quietness.

Rest in Being and trust in God. Live inwardly and trust in God.
Rejoice in Being and in the inward, and trust in God.
Rest in Being: not in doing, not in change.
Live inwardly, not outwardly, not in forms.
Rejoice in Being and in the inward: not in doing and in the outward.

Or again: the harmony between consciousness of Being and inwardness is joy. Breathing out symbolizes consciousness of Being, breathing in symbolizes inwardness.

*          *          *

Man’s customary play of thoughts is not being but doing and existing, escape from being and severance from being; it is movement, not essence. The play of thoughts is not what is innermost, not pure consciousness, not innermost witness, not centre, but form and outwardness, hardening and scission, duality and not unison.

The play of thoughts is joy in this or that, not joy in being nor in the centre, the innermost; joy in things, not joy in Joy.

Men flee from Being and Self; they veil pure Being with existence and action, just as they veil the innermost Self with the ego and with things. But with God is pure Being which reconciles all opposites.

We have to realize an equilibrium between finite and Infinite. This equilibrium can only proceed from the Infinite, only be determined by the Infinite; the finite, the creature, cannot find the equilibrium, has no scales of measurement for it. For these scales of measurement could only come from Mercy.

A hundred years ago some poet racked his brains over some worthless play; somewhere in the world someone is dreaming of success, a statesman is greedily absorbed in some petty project; yesterday a Zen monk swept the floor-boards in Kyoto; and today, quite near, a cricket chirps in the grass. The world is mad.

One might object that every being, every man, is so completely locked into a narrow world of experience, in a picture-book, in a dream. Yes and no, and in a certain sense: absolutely not! I have seen venerable men in whom one could perceive no trace of being locked into a dream-world, nor any trace of aridity; they looked as if they had experienced everything that can be experienced and as if they were conscious of all possible limits and of the Unlimited.

*          *          *

The inward man stands timelessly before God; for him there are no questions and no problems other than standing before God and waiting for God. It is the outward man’s duty to abstain from what is meaningless, harmful and evil—while at the same time accomplishing what is meaningful, useful and good—and to trust in God.

The outward man lives in the multiple, the inward man lives in the One. The outward man would like to involve the inward in his doubt and restlessness, but the inward man must nonetheless determine the outward, quite unconditionally and without his asking why, whence and whither. For the inward is the anticipation of all answers and solutions; it is pure answer; in it there is no hesitation and no dividedness. The Inward transforms everything outward into a victory; it is so made that everything outward be-comes for it a way to the Centre and to the One.

For things and events either say: even so is the One, yet infinitely more wonderful; or else: since the world is so injurious, turn unto the One!

Sometimes God lets things happen which for the moment are incomprehensible to us, in order that in one fashion or another they may become for us a path to the Inward. The absurd lies in the fabric of the world side by side with the intelligible; God alone is the Meaning.

The more we repose in pure Being and partake of pure Being, the more the gulf is bridged between I and not I. “Love thy neighbor as thyself”: that means, hold to pure Being. It also means: the rift from which all oppositions arise closes only in the Inward, only in the Self. “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”

*          *          *

This is essential in the spiritual life: that our attitude towards the world and our neighbor should be a giving and not a taking, not an expecting. He who does not depend on what is pleasant is likewise independent of what is unpleasant; he who masters the one also masters the other. Bitterness cannot take us by surprise when it is already anticipated in our attitude towards the world; when it is already there from the outset, but in its proper place; when it is no true bitterness but merely a just appraisal of the limited and the ephemeral; when it is non-acquiring, non-pleasureseeking, and when it is balanced by giving and willingness to give.

A journey only has meaning when it is a journey to God: and when it is that, then all is well. Even if we do not understand the world, because in it good and evil are too interwoven, too finely interspun, too ramified—we know that only God is good; and if we seek our refuge in God, then God will give us such understanding of things as we need.

*          *          *

In a certain sense man is always in danger from God on account of his hypocrisy, because he, man, claims to be or to know some-thing which in his actions he belies; what wonder is it, then, if God, the Forbearing, sometimes shows him, with regard to what he pretends to believe or to know, that he neither believes nor knows it?

Be in God, that He may be in us. If God is not in us, and does not act in us, that is because we are not in God.

And if we saw all the beauties of the world: what could we find in the world more beautiful and more delightful than we have already found in God? And what disappointment can be greater than that which we have already experienced in being separated from God? And again: what right have we to happiness in the world if we do not already have our happiness in God?

Between God and man there is a kind of game of hide-and-seek, a losing each other only to find each other once again; a game between appearance and reality. This is because everything earthly wavers, because only God is God.

*          *          *

There are dissonances in life which we find unintelligible and unbearable because they have the Evil One for author. It is be-cause they come from the Evil One that they are what they are.

In reliance upon God there lies a great mystery or miracle. This is the key to spiritual unfolding; inward repose in God, outward reliance upon God, abandoning things to the Divine Wisdom and Goodness; we should place our cares in His hands and take out rest in Him like a carefree child. Be inwardly with God, and He will be outwardly with you. Even so the Prophet said: “Whoso protecteth God in his heart, him will God protect in the world.”

In life we may indeed seek refuge in the great, but again and again find ourselves face to face with pettiness and, when it wounds us, we run the risk of answering it with pettiness: for this is its very nature, to entice man into its own narrowness. Greatness we have only from God and in God, for everything truly great is so through God; in Him alone lie our refuge from the mortal pettiness of the world and our answer to the petty. When the petty, the futile assails you, do not be petty and futile yourself, but be great through thanking God for this experience, which shows you once again that worldly things are petty and futile; and submit your case to God, without tormenting yourself with questions. Do not try to puzzle things out on their own meaningless level, do not seek to compel what is meaningless to have a meaning and do not be meaningless yourself; but take things by their root, which lies in your own self; do not contend with the petty, but understand why it is the petty and why it is there and must be there; remember what greatness is, and give your neighbor greatness where you can; for every being is bound up with God and so has greatness in him; pettiness is only a darkening cloud and an outward din.

In the All-Holy Truth and in pure Prayer there is no narrowness and no bitterness, but only breadth and soft, cooling peace.

*          *          *

The world as such cannot make us happy; why do we remain rooted in the world and bear it a grudge for not giving us what it does not possess? Why do we strive with it, as if we would compel it to give what it cannot give, precisely because it is the world? There are two way of dying: one is natural death, which in itself offers no solution, and the other is taking up one’s abode in God, the perpetual remembrance of Him, Who is not of this world.

The realization of the not-I cannot take place without the I; make the ego perfect through fear and love, activity and trust, and through veracity; persevere in rightly oriented recollectedness, and on this basis meditate on the not-I, in so far as you can grasp it, and in so far as it is given you to do so.

The difficult thing is to step outside the dream-stuff of the world --a stuff that is as immeasurable as starry space itself—into the golden silence. In this dream-stuff all opposites are contained, good and evil, joy and sorrow, day and night, and at the same time it is itself night in the face of the One Eternal Day.

And this dream-stuff could not harm us, it would be nothing at all, but for the ego—the “I” whose contradictory repetition in countless living creatures is the best evidence that only the Self has Reality and that only in the Self are we what we are in Reality.

The difficult thing for the spiritual man is that he has to live on two planes: on the one hand he has to recognize the dream-stuff—in which he himself as “I” is inwoven—for what it is, and as it were set it aside; and on the other hand, within the dream-stuff, he has to discriminate rightly between things, solve those problems which need to be solved, and give his neighbor his due.

Man fluctuates, moreover, between spiritual pretension and spiritual right; it is loathsome to overreach oneself in prating about things with which one has no real God-given connection; at the same time our spirit has a right to all that it can really grasp, in the measure that it has in fact the power to grasp it, and in the measure that it is willed by Divine Providence.

*          *          *

I and world: the one needs the other. Not only does the ego need the world as content and means of nourishment, but also the world is incapable of doing without its complement, for it wants to be experienced, and is insatiable in its craving to be experienced; it is in its nature to do everything it can to keep alight the fire of the ego; or, differently considered, to maintain the ice of the ego in its coldness and hardness; in short, to prevent our escaping from its play. And that is why we should be surprised at nothing that the cosmos dazzles us with.

At the same time the dream-stuff “world” is already in a sense undone from within, for all its images that attach us to itself testify to That which it is not and which is infinitely more than it; That which it would like to hide, and yet must reveal, on pain of having no existence.

There is only one Being; there is only one Witness, one Beholder; and there is only one Joy, which reposes in Itself and at the same time in a profusion of Self-giving, showers down in a thousand forms and movements.


[1] These are extracts from a diary written during a journey in North America, 1963. (Editor’s Note).

Original editorial inclusion that followed the essay in Studies:
The true saint goes in and out amongst the people and eats and sleeps with them and buys and sells in the market and marries and takes part in social intercourse, and never forgets God for a single moment…
Abu Sa‘id ibn Abi ’l-Khayr.