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Consequences Flowing from
the Mystery of Subjectivity


Frithjof Schuon

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 11, No. 4. (Autumn, 1977). © World Wisdom, Inc.

Editor’s note: The following is a more recent translation of the essay than that
which appeared in the August 1977 issue of
Studies. It has been
approved by the estate of Frithjof Schuon.

The first thing that should strike man when he reflects on the nature of the Universe is the primacy of that miracle that is intelligence—or consciousness or subjectivity—and consequently the incommensurability between these and material objects, be it a grain of sand or the sun, or any creature whatever as an object of the senses. The truth of the Cartesian cogito ergo sum is, not that it presents thought as the proof of being, but simply that it enunciates the primacy of thought—hence of consciousness or of intelligence—in relation to the material world which surrounds us; certainly, it is not our personal thought which preceded the world, but it was—or is—absolute Consciousness, of which our thought is precisely a distant reflection; our thought which reminds us—and proves to us—that in the beginning was the Spirit. Nothing is more absurd than to have intelligence derive from matter, hence the greater from the lesser; the evolutionary leap from matter to intelligence is from every point of view the most inconceivable thing that could be.

We shall no doubt be told that the reality of a creator God has not been demonstrated; however, aside from the fact that it is not difficult to demonstrate this reality with arguments proportionate to its nature—but which for that very reason are inaccessible to certain minds—the least that can be said is that evolution has never been proved by anybody whatsoever, and with good reason; transformist evolution is accepted as a useful and provisional postulate, as one will accept no matter what, provided no obligation is felt to accept the primacy of the Immaterial, since the latter escapes the grasp of our senses. And yet, starting from the recognition of the immediately tangible mystery that is subjectivity or intelligence, it is easy to understand that the origin of the Universe is, not inert and unconscious matter, but a spiritual Substance which, from coagulation to coagulation and from segmentation to segmentation—and other projections both manifesting and limiting—finally produces matter by causing it to emerge from a more subtle substance, but one which is already remote from principial Substance. It will be objected that there is no proof of this, to which we reply—aside from the phenomenon of subjectivity which precisely comprises this proof, leaving aside other possible intellectual proofs, not needed by Intellection—to which we reply then, that there are infinitely fewer proofs for this inconceivable absurdity, evolutionism, which has the miracle of consciousness springing from a heap of earth or pebbles, metaphorically speaking.

Within the same order of ideas, we shall assert that the ideas of “Great Spirit” and of the primacy of the Invisible are natural to man, which does not even need to be demonstrated; now what is natural to human consciousness, which is distinguished from animal consciousness by its objectivity and its totality—its capacity for the absolute and the infinite, we might say—what is natural to human consciousness proves ipso facto its essential truth, the reason for the existence of intelligence being adequation to the real.[1] From another point of view, if Intellection and Revelation are “supernaturally natural” to man, their refusal is also a possibility of human nature, of course, otherwise it would not occur; but since man is integrally intelligent, and thereby integrally free, this means by way of consequence, that he alone among terrestrial creatures is free to go against his own nature. Now he possesses this liberty only in the wake of a fall which, precisely, separates him first of all from that immanent Revelation which is Intellection, and then sets him against prophetic Revelation which, for its part, compensates for the absence of immanent Science; and which, by this compensation, awakens It, at least in principle.

Extrinsic arguments, as points of reference or as keys, contribute to proving the intellectual and existential primacy of the Spirit, but we have no need of these proofs, let it be said once again; if there are people for whom the shadow of a cat does not prove the presence of the real cat, or for whom the sound of a waterfall does not prove the proximity of water, this could not mean that our knowledge of this animal or of this waterfall necessarily or exclusively depends upon the shadow or the sound. Our axiom is that on the one hand all that exists is inscribed a priori in the theomorphic substance of our intelligence —there is no integral consciousness that does not prolong absolute Consciousness—and on the other hand that the intellectual actualization of the real or of the possible depends, either on the perfection of our nature, or else on an external factor that activates this perfection, or which realizes it if it is partial; a factor such as Revelation or, in a more particular way, such as an experience which provokes the archetypal remembrance of which Plato spoke.

*          *          *

Man’s liberty is total, but it cannot be absolute, since the quality of absoluteness pertains solely to the supreme Principle and not to its manifestation, even if it be direct or central. To say that our liberty is total, means that it is “relatively absolute,” that is to say it is so on a particular level and within certain limits; nonetheless, our liberty is real—that of an animal is also real in a certain way, otherwise a bird in a cage would not feel itself deprived of freedom—and it is so because liberty as such is liberty and nothing else, whatever may be its ontological limits. As for absolute Liberty, that of the divine Principle, man participates in it to the extent that he conforms to it, and this possibility of communion with Liberty in Itself, or with the Absolute, originates precisely from the total, although relative, character of our liberty; this amounts to saying that in God and through Him, man can be reunited with pure Liberty; only in God are we absolutely free.

To acknowledge that man is by definition situated between an Intellection which connects him to God and a world which has the power to detach him from God, and that consequently man, being free correlatively to his intelligence, possesses the paradoxical freedom to wish in his turn to make himself God, is to acknowledge at the same stroke that the possibility of a rupture between Intellection and mere reason is present from the start, by the very ambiguity of the human condition; for the pontifex suspended between the Infinite and the finite cannot not be ambiguous, so much so that it is inevitable that “offenses must needs come”: that man—starting from the original fall and passing from fall to fall—should end in rationalist luciferism,[2] which turns against God and thereby opposes itself to our nature; or which turns against our nature and thereby opposes itself to God. The rational faculty detached from its supernatural context is necessarily opposed to man and is bound to give rise in the end to a way of thought and a form of life both of which are opposed to man; in other words: Intellection is not altogether secure except in souls providentially exempted from certain risks inherent in human nature; but it is not—and cannot be—secure in man as such, for the simple reason that man comprises by definition passional individuality, and it is the presence of the latter, precisely, that creates the risk of a rupture with pure Intellect, and consequently the risk of the fall.

What is human is what is natural to man , and what is most essentially or most specifically natural to man is what relates to the Absolute and which consequently requires the transcending of what is earthly in man.[3] And even prior to symbols, doctrines and rites, our very subjectivity—as we have said—points as clearly as possible to our relationship with the Spirit and the Absolute; but for the absolute primacy of the Spirit, relative subjectivity would be neither possible nor conceivable, it would be like an effect without a cause.

Intelligence separated from its supra-individual source is accompanied ipso facto by that lack of sense of proportions which one calls pride; conversely, pride prevents intelligence, when it has become rationalism, from rising to its source; it can only deny Spirit and replace it with matter; it is from matter that it makes consciousness spring forth, to the extent that it does not succeed in denying consciousness by reducing it to a particularly refined or “evolved” kind of matter—and efforts to do so are not lacking.[4] Rather than bow to the evidence of the Spirit, proud reason will deny its own nature which nonetheless enables it to think; in its concrete conclusions, it lacks imagination and sense of proportions as much as it does intellectual perspicacity, and this precisely is a consequence of its pride. Corruptio optimi pessima: it is this that proves, once again, the monstrous disproportion between the cleverness of reason, become luciferian, and the falseness of its results; immense intellectual energy is wasted on conjuring away the essential and brilliantly proving the absurd, namely that in the end the spirit sprung from a piece of earth—or, let us say, from an inert substance—over the course of billions of years, of which the quantity, in relation to the supposed result, is ridiculous and proves nothing. There is here a loss of common sense and a perversion of the imagination which, strictly speaking, no longer have anything human about them, and can only be explained in terms of the well-known scientistic prejudice that explains everything from below; to erect no matter what hypothesis, provided it excludes real causes, which are transcendent and not material, and whose concrete and tangible proof is our subjectivity.

*          *          *

Spirit is Substance, matter is accident: that is to say that matter is but a contingent and transitory modality of the radiation of the Spirit which projects the worlds and the cycles while remaining transcendent and immutable. This radiation produces the polarization into subject and object: matter is the terminal point of the descent of the objective pole, sensorial consciousness being the corresponding subjective phenomenon. For the senses, the object is matter, or let us say the perceptible physical domain; for the Intellect, objective reality is the Spirit in all its forms. It is by it that we exist, and that we know; were it not immanent in physical substances, these could not exist for one instant. And in this Spirit, precisely, the subject-object opposition is resolved; it is resolved in Unity which is at once exclusive and inclusive, transcendent and immanent. The alpha as well as the omega, while transcending us infinitely, reside in the depths of our heart.[5]

That which we can and must know, that we are; and this is why we can know it, infallibly, on condition that we are liberated from the veils which separate us from our true nature. Man imposes these veils upon himself because his luciferian will identifies itself with them; because he believes therefore that he recognizes himself in them; and because, in consequence, to remove them is to die. That at least is what man feels so long as he has not understood that “I am black, but beautiful.”

There are, moreover, in favor of the primacy of the Spirit, extrinsic proofs which are not negligible; we have often alluded to them, and they result from the very nature of man. If everything has begun with matter, and if there is no Spirit, thus no God, how can we explain that men were able firmly to believe the contrary for thousands of years, and that they even put forth a maximum of intelligence in affirming it and a maximum of heroism in living up to it. One cannot attribute this to progress, since the unbelievers of every kind are far from being superior to believers and sages, and nowhere does one see an evolutive movement from the latter to the former; materialistic ideas have manifested and spread, so to speak, under our eyes—since the “Age of Enlightenment”—without it being possible to note therein an evolution in the direction of a qualitative ascent, both intellectual and moral—quite to the contrary.

Those who uphold the evolutionist argument of an intellectual progress like to explain religious and metaphysical ideas by inferior psychological factors, such as fear of the unknown, childish hope of a perpetual happiness, attachment to an imagery that has become dear, escape into dreams, the desire to oppress others at small expense, et cetera; how can one fail to see that such suspicions, presented shamelessly as demonstrated facts, comprise psychological non sequiturs and impossibilities, which cannot escape any impartial observer? If humanity has been stupid for thousands of years, one cannot explain how it could have ceased being so, all the more so as it occurred in a very short period of time; and one can explain it still less when one observes with what intelligence and heroism it has been stupid for so long and with what philosophic myopia and moral decadence it finally became “lucid” and “adult.”[6]

The essence of the real is the banal or the trivial, the scientists and other pseudo-realists seem to say. To which we could answer: the essence of the real is the miraculous; the miracle of consciousness, intelligence, knowledge. In the beginning was, not matter, but Spirit, which is the Alpha and the Omega.


[1] We have heard someone say that the wings of birds prove the existence of air, and that in the same way the religious phenomenon, common a priori to all peoples, proves the existence of its content, namely God and the after-life; which is to the point if one takes the trouble to examine the argument in depth.

[2] Or existentialist luciferism, which on the whole amounts to the same thing, since there is no one who reasons more relentlessly than one who negates intellectual efficacy.

[3] The word “humanism” constitutes a curious abuse of language in view of the fact that it expresses a notion that is contrary to the integrally human, hence to the human properly so called: indeed, nothing is more fundamentally inhuman than the “purely human,” the illusion of constructing a perfect man starting from the individual and terrestrial; whereas the human in the ideal sense draws its reason for existence and its entire content from that which transcends the individual and the earthly.

[4] Whether one speaks of “energy” rather than “matter” — and other subtleties of the kind — changes nothing in relation to the basis of the problem and merely transposes the limits of the difficulty. Let us mention that a so-called “socio-biologist”— this word implies a whole program — has carried ingenuity to the point of replacing matter with “genes,” whose blind egoism, combined with the instinct of ants or bees, would have ended by forming not only bodies but also consciousness and finally human intelligence, miraculously capable of delivering a dissertation on the very genes which had amused themselves by producing this same intelligence.

[5] The key to the Delphic mysteries is: “Know thyself” (Gnóthi seautón); to know the nature of subjectivity is to know the structure of the world.

[6] A characteristic trait of “ourtimes,” is that one everywhere “puts the cart before the horse”: that which normally should be the means, becomes the end, and inversely. Machines are supposed to be there for men, but in fact men are there for the machines; whereas formerly roads were there for the towns, now the towns are there for the roads; instead of mass media being there for “culture” the latter is there for the mass media, and so forth. The modern world is an inextricable tangle of twistings and turnings that no one can stop.

Original editorial inclusions that followed the essay in Studies:
Everything that is thereon passes away;
    And there remains but the Face of thy Lord, Possessor of Majesty
and Glory.
Qur’an LV. 26, 27.