This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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5.3. Distinctions Regarding Metaphysics

The character of metaphysics

Throughout this manual we refer to metaphysics and so it will be good to describe its nature and to distinguish it from types of knowledge or ways of knowing. We intend to address gnosis as a doctrinal subject separately, and so in this section we will only discuss metaphysics as a feature of the overarching traditions and in relation to reason, philosophy, and theology.

Metaphysical knowledge surpasses the individual order. This implies that it cannot be ‘discovered’ by discursive reason, which is capable of dealing only with the individual domain. Reason is also capable of dealing with the general, but the general does not surpass the individual, but rather stands in opposition to the particular. The general and the particular being two aspects of individuated being. Thus, any well-reasoned generalization will always remain within the individual order.

The method of reasoning, which is discursive, is conforms to its limitation and evidences this in its manner of operation. That is to say, it takes things one at a time, dealing first with one particular and then with another, and deriving generalizations from this process. From this observation alone it can be understood why the reason could do its work indefinitely and yet never intersect with the universal, which is beyond the individual domain. It does not matter how many reasoned conclusions are added together, they are still individual steps, and will grow in quantity but never change in quality.

In the order of metaphysics, and when we speak of metaphysical knowledge, things work differently. The object is not obtained one detail or one conclusion at a time, but immediately or ‘all at once’, in terms of something like an epiphany or a recollection in the ancient sense. Contact is made with the universal, and this contact transcends the ‘subject and object’ division that characterizes reasoning.

Metaphysics pertains to the universal, or to principles of the universal order, and is therefore permanently out of the reach of the rational faculty. In order to approach it, it is necessary to utilize the supra-rational faculty of the intellect, which is to be understood here in the traditional sense as a power superior to the reason and the only power capable of attaining to the universal.

When knowledge of the universal is apprehended, it implies the identity of subject with object, which is to say truth and metaphysical knowledge are one and the same thing, and to know it is to be identified with it. This is why the term ‘contemplation’—as opposed to reasoning or even philosophizing—is more appropriate when we are concerned with the ‘means’ of obtaining metaphysical knowledge, and this is why the religions all view with such high regard the great contemplatives and consider their work and witness to be of utmost importance to the life of the faith.

Intellectual intuition

The faculty used to conceive of metaphysical truths cannot in any way resemble discursive thought, which, as we’ve said, belongs to the individual domain. This is why the contemplation of metaphysical truths, due to its ‘immediate’ nature, could be called ‘intuitive’ knowledge, with the reservation that by this we do not mean what the psychologists and modern philosophers call intuition or ‘intuitionism’, which refers to sub-rational order of things, sometimes called the sub-conscious, and not supra-rational, which is the true origin of the intellect. That is why, when speaking of this most direct form of knowledge, the term ‘intellectual intuition’ is most precise, so long as confusions can be avoided.

Aristotle and Aquinas

Western philosophy has for centuries been mostly devoid of a true metaphysics, but this was not always the case. To refer back to Aristotle and his Scholastic successors, most notably St. Thomas Aquinas, we can gain a clearer understanding of the difference between the reason and the intellect.

Scientific knowledge, for Aristotle, is gained by means of the rational faculty, through discursive reasoning, on the basis of sense data, which provides the raw material of this faculty. Science consists of general conclusions based on this ‘reasoning.’ That is why Aristotle said that ‘there is no science but that of the general.’ Keeping in mind what we said earlier about the difference between the general, which is of the individual order, and the universal, which is beyond that order, Aristotle and Aquinas were essentially acknowledging the limitations of the rational faculty. Over and above this faculty, however, they spoke of the ‘pure intellect,’ which alone had ‘direct’ knowledge of the universal.

This is why Aristotle could say that ‘the intellect is truer than science’, which is to say that the intellect is truer than the faculty on which scientific knowledge is based. He also states that ‘nothing is more true than the intellect’, which is accurate because ‘direct knowledge’ of the universal amounts to an identification with it, for within that order the knower and the known are not distinct. It is also due to the fact of the immediate operation of the pure intellect that the truths apprehended are not subject to doubt, although it is possible that they can, once translated into rational knowledge, could be distorted or only partially retained in the enunciation.

This last observation explains the hesitancy of contemplatives when it comes to sharing their knowledge with others. It is obvious to the possessor of such an experience that they cannot actually convey it without first degrading it, and so the project of translating what they have seen into rational concepts for the sake of verbal communication is a terrifying prospect, lest they betray the truth that it was their privilege to behold.

Experimental science and metaphysics

Another point of distinction between metaphysics and the empirical sciences is that the latter group proceeds by experimentation or external observation, whereas metaphysics cannot possibly be studied either experimentally or externally. This is why physics, with all its talk, can never approach metaphysical issues in any way other than by analogy, since its method is not capable of grasping anything of the metaphysical order. The limitation has had interesting consequences as physics has continued to develop and has, in some cases, come face to face with metaphysical reality, at which point it breaks down and see only paradox. The prime example of this is the discovery of quantum physics that the act of observation determines the state of that which is observed, but only at a certain level (that is to say, not within everyday experience). Without getting too deep into this problem, we can simply suggest that this great enigmatic discovery, which baffles the physicist, would be seen by the traditional metaphysician as the boundary between determined matter and ‘prime matter’ or materia prima, which is pure potency and thus undetermined until the moment of its ‘actualization’. Thus, the fundamental ‘substance’ that underlies everything else in the universe, that which contemporary physics has so proudly struck upon, but cannot understand, is precisely that which was described by Aquinas, along with its strange behavior, centuries before. For this is precisely what is in question when we speak of ‘wave function collapse’ whereby exposure to the world (the manifest world, that is), or at the moment of observation, that which was undetermined becomes actualized into this thing.

There are no discoveries in metaphysics

There is no such thing as a new discovery in metaphysics. Metaphysics is available to anyone at any point in history who attains to it, for the simple reason that, in itself, it never changes, and since it is received ‘at once’ it does not depend on a drawn out and quantitative education process. All that it presupposes is an adequate spiritual preparation—which is something very different from an educational preparation. What is in question is the immutable truth, and to apprehend it at one time is the same as to apprehend it at a point one thousand years before or after. If ‘developments’ appear to take place this is only because the formulation of principles will always be susceptible to the varying conditions of time and place and will also be conditioned by the mentality and intelligence of the individual carrying out the formulation. That is to say, differences in exposition are to be attributed to the presence or lack of understanding in the individual or the spiritual temperament and aptitude of whatever human type is in question, and nothing more.

All formulations are limited

Another way we can come to understand the diversity of exposition that exists from one tradition to another, and even within traditions themselves, is by acknowledging that when the knowledge of principles passes into discursive knowledge, it is necessarily limited and so something is immediately lost. We mentioned this above with regard to the hesitancy of contemplatives to share what they have come to know. When it comes to doctrinal exposition, what is lost and what is retained usually depends on the mentality of the individual, and in turn will determine the particular emphasis of any doctrine they take it upon themselves to enunciate. For example, it is undeniable that Christian mystics have attained to the universal, but their formulations are inevitably of a very different order than those of a Hindu contemplative. The former will be concerned with consolations or even ecstasies to the end of salvation, while the latter will be concerned with the assimilation of knowledge for the sake of spiritual realization.

Modern predispositions and metaphysics

Metaphysics in and of itself will present a substantial barrier to modern ways of thinking; or perhaps what is more precise, the modern way of thinking erects a nearly impenetrable barrier between itself and metaphysics. The Western tradition even in its Greek origins is problematic in this way. For example, it is well-known that the Greeks had no notion of the Infinite, which is a fundamental metaphysical conception. And even today, in the Western world, when the infinite is mentioned, it is almost always a question of the indefinite, which is not the same thing. For example, there can be no such thing as an Infinite series of numbers, although it is possible to have an indefinite series. But the Western habit, out of a lack of comprehension of the true meaning of the Infinite, has been to label as ‘infinite’ everything the limit of which is not within its grasp. Concepts like number, as well as space or time, can only be indefinite in multitude or extension or duration. But the very fact that space is space, and not something else, prevents space, no matter how great in extent, and even if we are unable to determine its limit, from qualifying as Infinite. The Infinite must always be absolutely unconditioned.

The difficulty of imagination

Perhaps some of this can be explained by saying that the Western mind, the ancient Greeks included, seem to confuse imagining with conceiving. This is closely linked with, and is perhaps the cause of its tendency toward, materialism; for the imaginative faculty operates by clothing concepts in sensible form. Anthropomorphism, for example, is the direct result of an inability to escape from sensible forms when dealing with transcendence. For the West, at least to large degree, it sometimes appears that anything which cannot be clothed by the imaginative faculty in some sensible form becomes ‘unthinkable’. Consider what we have said about the Infinite, and that Western philosophy has failed to grasp it because it insists on conditioning it in some way, which immediately nullifies its infinitude. It depicts it as space, or time, and it does this because these are things it encounters, but in doing this is destroys the concept it is attempting to describe. Now this is not to say that the imaginative faculty is not legitimate. It can and should be used as a ‘support’ for the ascent to higher orders of knowledge. For example, all symbols amount to the representation of a metaphysical truth in some familiar form. This is only problematic when the form is mistaken for the concept, or when the ‘ascent’ to the higher order does not occur, and when the concept becomes limited by the form in which it was closed. Thus, if an endless expanse were employed in Western science as a symbol of the Infinite, this would be appropriate, but this is obviously not the case, and the result is that no concept of the Infinite can be found.

Metaphysics and theology

When we try to distinguish between metaphysics and theology, we run into difficulties, especially since many traditionalists still follow Guenon’s condescending appraisal of theology as an inferior and in a sense anthropomorphized type of knowledge. We do not think this is justified but, as was the case with much of what Guenon wrote about Christianity, was the result of an unusual failure on Guenon’s part to truly appreciate the Christian tradition and its various schools of thought. He speaks of Christian theology as ‘entirely lacking a metaphysic’ but if that is true it is only true of a certain category of theological exposition and does not take account of men like Pseudo-Dionysius or Meister Eckhart, to cite only two examples.

Unfortunately, and to Guenon’s credit, he was mostly correct, at least descriptively, regarding what has become ‘mainstream’ Catholic theology since Aquinas, since this way of ‘doing philosophy’ does have its limitations. Theology is the highest development of philosophy in the sense that it typically proceeds via the methods of discursive thought. It does not limit itself to that data, and takes for granted the contents of the revelation in which it is situated, but at the same time and as a consequence it tends to disregard the contemplative mode of knowledge, since it needs for its development a more controlled and ‘systematic’ style of exposition.

Yet even this is an oversimplification because it suggests that theology excludes metaphysics always and everywhere and almost due to its very nature. We should instead say that theology tries to reconcile the data of revelation with the principles of rational discourse, and in this way it is neither a form of profane philosophy or a work of pure metaphysical contemplation touching on the universal.

That is to say, theology is as high as one can go if one restrains oneself to the philosophical point of view and grants at the same time the preeminence of the data of a given revelation.

This is not to denigrate theology in any way, but merely to put it in its proper place. It only becomes problematic when the metaphysical component is denied or is incompletely incorporated into a religious tradition, in which case it winds up being spliced in as a subordinate branch of theology. This can only happen when knowledge of metaphysics is forgotten or rendered incomplete, and this seems to have been the case with the Scholastics of medieval Europe. Theology, properly understood as the highest point of contact with the universal from the philosophical point of view, can be described as the ‘first particularization’ of metaphysical knowledge, but not identical with it.

Confusion of metaphysics and theology

As we said, theological point of view, taken as a particularization of metaphysics, is entirely legitimate. However, if metaphysics is only partially present or if metaphysics is subordinated to theological investigations that only permit of rational elaboration, then we find that confusions arise that are insoluble so long as the relationship is not corrected.

As an example of this confusion, we can cite one of the most debated theological concepts in history, the ‘ontological argument’ for the existence of God. As originally stated by Anselm, it argues that God, defined as ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived,’ must exist, since a God who exists is greater than a God who does not. The first problem here is that the definition of God is difficult to interpret. It is correct but confused. Metaphysically, the statement could be accepted. The problem, however, is that Anselm had in mind not that which is Non-Being, not the Dionysian ‘godhead’—but ‘a being’, which implies that this ‘being who exists’ is situated no higher than the order of being and not outside of it, and that in itself is enough to render the statement metaphysically incoherent, since ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’ cannot be said of anything that is situated within Being, since it is ‘the first particularization’ of the Non-Being, or to use Guenon’s terminology, Universal Possibility.

Theology, since the Scholastic age, tends to treat of Being and of nothing beyond it, and this is how it ends up defining God as ‘a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.’ From the point of view of the philosopher (as opposed to the contemplative), this is true, but this point of view is already relative and not absolute. And so we can see evidence of the partial integration of metaphysics, which leads to false equivalences. The argument ignores the reality of Non-Being and then, taking Being as identical with the Absolute, identifies existence with It, which is inappropriate. Or to summarize it in a few words, the statement ‘Being is’ is not equivalent to ‘God exists,’ each statement pertaining to a distinctly different order. Or to say it yet another way, the statement ‘Being is,’ is true, and is different than the statement ‘Being exists,’ which is not true, or at least should not be accepted as true without careful qualification, for Being is the principle of existence and cannot be ‘conditioned’ by it in the way that the statement ‘Being exists’ would seem to imply.

We have, perhaps, gone too far afield too early, and have wandered into a discussion of doctrinal points out of order. Let us simply end with the warning that this confusion, which seems to only want to permit the data of metaphysics or contemplation on the grounds that these can be incorporated into a rationalistic system, numerous dilemmas present themselves and this is partly to blame for the endless doctrinal controversies that have plagued Christian history.

Proofs for God’s existence

We might say in general that the compulsion to ‘prove’ the existence of God makes clear two characteristics of the Western mind. First, that it seems very much trapped within the constraints of discursive reason, which is the only realm in which ‘proofs’ of any kind can be made. Second, it shows a lack of appreciation for metaphysical thought, first and foremost by failing to recognize its certitude is beyond proof, but also by implying that existence is some kind of supreme value, and that whatever does not exist is inferior to that which does. From the metaphysical point of view, existence is merely a determination, a condition of manifest being, and to insist on the existence of God is to attach conditions to Him. Ultimately, the exercise is beside the point, since what is really sought after, which seems to be an absolute certainty about God’s reality, cannot be provided by reasoned proof, but only by direct intellectual intuition through contemplation. This is why it has been suggested that the desire for proofs of God’s existence is a sign of either decadence or an incapacity for metaphysical thought.

Hindu deliverance vs. Christian salvation

To further understand the problems that occur by confusing the metaphysical and religious points of view, we can mention the tendency to liken the Christian idea of ‘salvation’ to the Hindu notion of ‘deliverance’ or moksha. Deliverance pertains to effective metaphysical realization, and involves the attainment of transcendent states. There is no hint of ‘guilt’ or ‘righteousness’ in this doctrine, and in Hinduism in general the spiritual laws are not fixated on morality, whereas it is easy to get the impression that in Christianity, morality is all that matters. For the Hindu (as for the Buddhist) ‘liberation’ is not from wickedness but from ignorance. Christian salvation, on the other hand, can be seen as a reconciliation with the divine from an almost exclusively moral standpoint, and refers to, if not a settling of moral accounts, at least to their nullification. Here the standpoints of metaphysical emphasis and moralistic theology are placed in stark contrast.

The consolatory principle

It is necessary and proper that metaphysical concepts be adapted to the mentality of the people who are to make use of them, and this is the justification for religions that emphasive what we might call the devotional element, which again emphasizes moral teachings and nurtures what Guenon called the ‘consolatory principle’. We do not deny any of this its place, as it is entirely legitimate. However, it must also be said that the consolatory principle can represent an intellectual distancing, since it is clearly an adaptation for the sake of an emotional need. This also results in greater diversity in religious forms, and necessitates in fact that a specific tradition develop, or allow to develop, multiple and even contradictory teachings at the level of devotion in pursuit of salvation, because not all social groups will find consolation in the same way and through the same teachings. This is why Catholicism has allowed various schools of thought to develop throughout its history, although at this same time this has produced no small amount of confusion amongst the laity, since they can only perceive as valid what applies to the style they have adopted, and inevitably they see other approaches as a denial of their own, and they respond accordingly. Nonetheless, the Catholic Church is right to have accepted and even promoted this, showing that it is too acquainted with the human condition to demand a rigid uniformity at any level other than the doctrinal. This is not evidence of compromise so much as it is a witness to the wisdom of the Church since she must act not only as guardian of doctrinal truth, but also as shepherd of a living flock that is subject to dispersion in accordance with the general climate of the modern world.

Metaphysical realization

It would be wrong to put the goal of Eastern religion, which is spiritual realization, at the apex of all spiritual paths and to judge Christianity according to that standard, since of course the latter, operating in a different mode and utilizing some different techniques, albeit to the same end, would be judged poorly. Nonetheless, if we wish to develop a better understanding of what is meant by metaphysics and intellectual intuition, it will be good to speak a bit more about ‘metaphysical realization’ as it presents itself in Hinduism, as distinct from salvation, which is the ultimate ‘end’ of Christianity.

In short, metaphysical realization assumes that knowing and being are one. Or, to borrow the words of Aristotle, ‘the soul is all that it knows’. And although Western philosophy took so much from Aristotle, it did not really give this affirmation the attention it would seem to have warranted; and in fact Aristotle himself did not develop it very thoroughly. On this point, we find a significant divergence between Western and Eastern thought. The West, ignoring the principle of identity via knowledge, tends to speak in terms of ‘theories of knowledge’ and to delve into endless epistemological concerns, while the East tended to look at knowledge as an actual assimilation on the part of the knower.

Especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, the West became obsessed with ‘epistemological theory’ as an end in itself. In accordance with the scientific mentality, it was the explanation that mattered most, and he who explains a thing exhausts the issue. The East looked at theory as but a preparation for an effective realization of the knowledge in question. Theory is a basis, a means to an end, and the end is metaphysical realization, which is the identification of the knower with the known. Thus, to know God via contemplation is the same as to achieve a real union with Him. Ironically, although Western Christianity tends not to speak in this way, its symbols and metaphors are filled with explicit references to such a union, and no one who has read the works of Teresa of Avila could question that the mystic is describing the psychology of such a union. Nonetheless, since the starting point for the Western mind is not so much the oneness of things but rather the distinction between self and other, so too the religious outlook tends to take as a given a permanent division between creature and Creator, so much so that despite the witness of the mystics and many theologians, even at the moment of salvation it is imagined that it is not so much a union as it is a vision that is in question. That is why the Eastern emphasis on realization and ultimately union with the Absolute in the form of a ‘return to the principle’ may sound very odd to the Western ear.

Philosophy and metaphysics

Having distinguished between metaphysics and theology, we can now deal with philosophy in general. More specifically, we have in mind philosophy as it stands today and in recent centuries, since it became separated from any traditional framework. This ‘philosophy’ is of course quite a different animal from the teachings of Plato, and although what we say will have some correspondence with the philosophy even in its early Greek form, our criticisms will apply less to the ancient schools than to what, today, passes for philosophical thought.

Philosophy, as we encounter it today, is composed of so many heterogeneous elements, with lines of demarcation so unclear, that it is no exaggeration to say that the unity of philosophy is mostly imaginary, and that much like contemporary thought in general, its meaning is dictated more by sentiment than by reasoned criteria. We might say that its unity is mostly ‘historical’, since there has been, since its birth with the Greeks, a body of knowledge that goes by this name. Beyond that, all we can really say of the ‘sciences’ that compose what is today called philosophy is that they are the work of human reason; and with the exception of logic, we can add that they all more or less claim to be based on observation and experimentation. In other words, they have a unity of method. This tenuous unity, which we might call ‘rational inquiry’, is enough to show that philosophical knowledge is, regardless of its ‘area of study’ or emphasis, of an order separate from and below metaphysics.

The knowledge proper to metaphysics is not only beyond observation, but also, as we have explained, beyond the reach of discursive thought. Having made this initial distinction, which helps us to keep philosophical knowledge in its proper place, we can proceed through the philosophical sciences, as they are conventionally grouped, observing their character from the point of view our study entails.

Logic and mathematics

The science of logic has greater claim to an affinity with metaphysics than any other science since it is not based on observation or experimentation. Moreover, because it is this science that discerns the conditions pertaining to right reason, it can truly claim to form the foundation of all the others. Nonetheless, we must emphasize that even here it remains of an order inferior to that of metaphysics; on the contrary, metaphysics should be seen as ‘the principle’ of logic, just as the Intellect anterior to the rational faculty and is, in this sense, its principle. Even if we continue to speak of ‘logical principles’ being the foundation of the remaining sciences, it should be kept in mind that the term ‘principles’ used in this way is a relative usage, and these are only principles in the sense that they are determined applications of metaphysical principles, which are truly Universal. Much of what we have just said about logic also pertains to mathematics, although it should be kept in mind that this science is more limited, being restricted as it is to the realm of quantity. Its principles should always be seen as a kind of relative particularization of metaphysics.

The exposition of metaphysics

It will sound strange to those familiar with modern philosophy that we have placed logic as subordinate to metaphysics, since logic is typically placed at the foundation of all knowledge. The reason for this misunderstanding is twofold. First, it is a result of conceiving of knowledge as situated entirely within the rational order, and if this were true then logic would indeed be supreme. Second, and this is a more understandable confusion, it results from a failure to distinguish between metaphysics as a purely intellectual conception, and its formal expression, which is always secondary and is subject to all of the conditions this implies. That is to say, when metaphysical knowledge passes into exposition, either taught or written, it is translated into the sphere of discursive reason, and once there, in order to remain valid, must conform to the ‘principles of logic.’ Thus, we can acknowledge that when it comes to the rational expression of doctrine, it is determined by logic; but we cannot allow that metaphysics itself, as a category of knowledge, is in any way dependent on anything outside itself. This is, moreover, why the formal expression of metaphysical knowledge usually consists of symbols, because symbols, while logically explicable, leave more room for the inexpressible, and in this sense even the formal expression of metaphysical knowledge can transcend the constraints of rationality.

Moralism and metaphysics

Morality, contextually referred to as ethics, is the most relative of the sciences, and it is therefore furthest removed from metaphysics. From this it can be understood why we said earlier that the emergence of ethical systems are symptomatic of a departure from metaphysical principles, and can suggest either an change in emphasis due to spiritual temperament, or in the worst case, a falling off from traditional doctrine. We have in mind here Stoicism and Epicureanism with regard to the decadent period of antiquity, but we can also include here the moral element that tends to predominate in much of modern thought, not to mention Protestantism, which emphasizes morality almost to the exclusion of anything else. But as for professional philosophers, Kant provides a notable example. It is not that moral discernment is irrelevant or that it has no value, but that, being of such a contingent nature, moral philosophies not sufficiently attached (that is to say, subordinated) to a religious doctrine as their principle are doomed to end up as a collection of conventions, and it seems to us that more often than not the motivation behind their development is not exactly disinterested.

Moralism usually ends by simply justifying the actions of oneself, or one’s own social group. This does not make its claims ‘wrong’, but since proponents are usually attempting to claim as absolute their own collection of conventions, which can only be but relative, they are wasting much time, since this is a futile project.

What we have just said is hardly an affirmation of ‘moral relativism’, as should be clear from our remarks on moralism elsewhere. Moral relativism sees all moral notions as valid, regardless of their character or derivation. This we vehemently deny. It is true that moral codes are relative to one another, but we also add that, if they are to remain legitimate, they must be derived from a superior order of knowledge, which is to say, rooted in a religious doctrine. Thus, we differ from the ‘relativists’ by denying the arbitrariness of moral codes, and we differ from the ‘moralists’ by denying that moral codes must be universal in order to be legitimate. At any rate, we wish to spend as little time as possible on this subject, even though it was necessary to mention because morality holds such an exaggerated place in the Western mind. Even those who speak so often and so loudly about a ‘return to traditional values’ seem to mean little more than a return to a specific moral code, and that only in part, as it pleases them. Even if they succeeded, the code they managed to revive could not achieve what they wished. Being established ad hoc, and not as a direct development connected to an established religious tradition. The seeds, however well-sown, would find nothing in which to take root.


From here we can, for the most part, pass over all of those philosophical systems which amount to so many attempts to express something ‘original’, originality being but the expression of individualism, which in and of itself removes it very far from our concerns. Nothing of metaphysical value is ‘original’, which should be obvious from what we’ve already said. Anyone who believes themselves to have ‘discovered’ a new aspect of Being is deceived. He is deceived even if the conception he wishes to express is valid, because, if this is indeed the case, it will certainly have already been expressed within pre-existing doctrine. However, this is almost never the case in the systems we have in mind, such as those that go by the name of their ‘inventor’, whether it be ‘Hegelian’, ‘Nietzschean’, ‘Kantian’, or otherwise. This is why, in the East, names are not attached to doctrines, and only tenuously attached to certain expositions of doctrine. If something is true, its truth is never the possession or the discovery of the individual who happens to put it into writing. That is also why we have been careful not to attach names to any of the positive doctrines contained in this manual, knowing that the readers can easily be led to the conclusion that these truths are but the imaginings of a few inventive erudites and nothing more. If that were to happen, this book would indeed be a failure.

Systematization mania

One of the reasons it is necessary to reject most philosophical systems out of hand is for the plain and simple fact that they are systems, and although it is sometimes expedient to systematize for the sake of expediency, in philosophy this amounts to the implicit exclusion of metaphysical notions from consideration. Remember we have said that metaphysical notions, whether symbolic or doctrinal, must always leave some room for the inexpressible, because the universal principles, which are the end of these symbols and doctrines, are themselves inexhaustible. To translate these conceptions into formal expression already places limits on them, but this is necessary for them to be expressed at all, and so that the higher can be attained by a focus on a limited aspect of it. But again, the formal expression must never be ‘closed’, which is to say it can never be a ‘system’.

Taking this into account and looking at a survey of modern philosophy, it can be seen that it is but a procession of systems that are really only the development of some individual concern, hence the attachment to them of an individual’s name, or else the rigid development of a very specific hypothesis, which the developer usually attempts to identify not simply as true from his limited point of view, but true absolutely; and this is why he encloses it as a system. He wishes to ‘complete’ his truth and let it stand on its own, which is never possible unless he is dealing with metaphysics itself, and even then it is not possible in the way he thinks it is. Thus, he imposes more or less rigid definitions on his ideas and develops it in a way that excludes more truth than it isolates and enlightens, and in the end sacrifices everything outside itself to whatever notion has mesmerized its author. We can adopt here the saying of Leibnitz, that ‘every system is true in what it affirms and false in what it denies’. This is not at all a problem if done consciously and with a specific intent, since any project must have limits and sometimes we must stake out a more or less limited territory in order to accomplish something, but when it is done under pretenses of totality, then it becomes an expression of ignorance.

Once acquainted with a pure metaphysics, we can see that most of the ‘-isms’ that sometimes fly under that banner are not really qualified to bear the name. In these cases we should prefer the term ‘pseudo-metaphysics’, and this would apply to systems such as materialism, pantheism, idealism, and certainly to all those ‘theories of knowledge’, namely rationalism and empiricism.


Although we need not proceed through all of the various ‘philosophies’ that have been put forward through the history of the West, we do wish to address just a few of the difficulties these systems have grappled with, and by putting them in their proper place, attempt to reconcile them.

The first of these difficulties is dualism, the most significant example being the Cartesian notion of the spirit-matter opposition. First, we need to say that this particular dualism is a modern production and depends for its existence mostly on an inability to see beyond appearances. After all it is a fairly accurate description of appearances, but it is nothing more. The idea of matter it proposes is something that was never conceived by the ancients, or by anyone in the East, and the persistence with which the spirit-matter debate has continued is proof of the superficial nature of post-medieval Western thought. The debate was never resolved, but modern science nonetheless takes this dualism as its unacknowledged starting point.

At any rate, from a metaphysical point of view, we can accept the spirit-matter opposition in a relative sense, knowing as we must that the point of view it assumes is itself a very relative one, being a description of appearances and little more, and having accepted it as such, we can say that it fails by a failure to acknowledge that its point of view is not absolute. Yet we are getting ahead of ourselves, and before we show how this problem dissolves under the solution of metaphysics, we need to acknowledge the attempts by moderns to resolve it without that solution. They go about this by adopted an opposite point of view, which can be called ‘monism’, and which says that this dualism is only apparent, which is true, and then reconciles the duality by claiming that one of the terms is reducible to the other, which is not true.


Monism attempts to reconcile the spirit-matter duality in one of two ways: either it reduces all things to matter, in which case we have materialistic monism, or else it goes in the opposite direction and becomes spiritualistic monism. Monism, then, is true insofar as it refuses to accept any dualism. It fails, however, by attempting to reconcile the two terms without leaving the ‘order’ to which they belong, and this cannot be done. That is to say, it is impossible to reconcile the spirit-matter dualism while remaining at the level of the relative, because at the relative level, the opposition is ‘real’ and ‘irreducible’. The only way to truly reconcile them is to transcend the relative and approach the universal, which is to say, by looking at the problem from the point of view of metaphysics, which monism cannot do.

The identity of spiritualism and materialism

The irony of the monist resolutions to dualism is the fact that, by reducing the one to the other, both forms of dualism, whether spiritualist or materialist, end with the same set of attributes, so that in the end they are the same thing, and their battle is only one of words; if one side seems to win, then they have in fact both won. But this does not happen.


The only doctrine capable of truly reconciling the spirit-matter duality is also the doctrine which reconciles all particular dualities, even the more universal, such as the one made up of ‘essence’ and ‘substance’. This doctrine does not have a name in Western philosophy, which is to be expected since it is of the metaphysical order, as it must be in order to achieve this reconciliation. In Sanskrit the doctrine is called advaita-vada. In English, the most accurate translation is ‘non-dualism’ or ‘the doctrine of non-duality’. The only misfortune here is that the term, in the first form given, ends in ‘-ism’ which gives the impression that it is but another system offered along with all the others, which is certainly not the case, being but the name of a metaphysical principles of the highest order. The name itself warrants comment.

As principles become more universal, it becomes more difficult to speak of them affirmatively. For example, the term Infinite is, technically speaking, a negation meaning ‘without limits.’ But in another sense, this way of speaking amounts to a ‘negation of negation,’ since although it is stated in the negative, it amounts to a universal affirmation. The same can be said for ‘non-duality’, which is the negation of duality, and which, being a ‘negation of negation’, amounts to a more universal and open-ended affirmation than the one made by monism, which simply states that all is one. As regards the spirit-matter duality in particular, the difference between non-dualism and monism is that the former does not claim that one of the two terms is reducible to the other, while still denying that their opposition is irreconcilable. It reconciles them, but it does so by acknowledging an order that is beyond them, and there it locates their common principle. By adopting this point of view, non-dualism acknowledges the distinctness of the terms, and even their opposition, within a certain order, while also allowing for their unity through the principle.

To summarize and clarify using the human body as an illustration, we might say that on the level of philosophy, the body has a right hand and a left hand, and that philosophy either stops there, treating them as separate, irreconcilable beings, or else it adopts the ‘monist’ view and treats them both as left arms or both as right. Non-dualism alone is able to step back far enough to see that they actually belong to one body, and are, even though distinct and opposed at a certain level, still reconciled into a single unity. It is precisely this unity that is beyond the ken of rationalist philosophy.

Being is a determination

Being is not the most universal of all principles. If this were so, then metaphysics and ontology would be one and the same, which is not the case. This can also be seen by taking into account what we have said about the most universal of principles being impossible to describe in the affirmative. Being is an affirmation, and is thus a determination, and even if it is a determination of the first order, it is clear that beyond it must lay the ‘undetermined’. It is also true, then, that if we limit ourselves to the order of Being, we cannot properly conceive of the Infinite, since this is a universal conception, and it cannot be contained within the determined order of being. We insist on this point only to emphasize the distinction between ontology and a pure metaphysics, and to show again how professional philosophy has tended toward self-limitation, since, even if approaches Being, it never moves beyond it.