Teaching by Numbers

The Great Triad by René Guénon. Cambridge Quinta Essentia 1991 pbk. Distribution Element Books ISBN 1 870196-07-04

AT LONG LAST the English speaking public are beginning to take notice of the works of René Guénon (1886-1951), the leading exponent of the Perennial Philosophy in our day. Many people are still in doubt as to what the Perennial Philosophy is. Briefly it may be described as "that body of spiritual, eschatological and cosmological speculation which underlies and is common to all apparently differing great religious traditions." It is the esoteric learning common to them all: their exoteric teachings differentiate them. Its origins are necessarily obscure. Both Pythagoras and Egypt have been suggested as its earliest sources.

What is more certain is that it became manifest in the third or fourth century BCE in China with the dissemination of the Tao Te Ching and its subsequent expansion Confucian and later Taoist texts. The work under consideration was the last of Guénon's works to be published during his lifetime. English speaking readers are greatly indebted to Quinta Essentia for issuing it in such an attractive format and in a translation by Peter Kingsley which does justice to Guénon"s rebarbative style. Whoever tackles this work is not in for an easy read.

Guénon was by inclination a mathematician and by training an academic, with all the meticulous attention to accuracy in every detail and the most painstaking exposition of his sources, with full scholarly references in every case that such a training implies. The wide range of Guénon's reading and his scholarship is indeed impressive; but I cannot help feeling that he has written this and all his other works with a preconceived end in mind, to which everything must lead, viz. The existence of a Perennial Philosophy. It should be pointed out here that all Guénon's works have the same intention and are examples of very skilful and often convincing special pleading.

[The remainder of this review by Robin Waterfield is available in the print version of The Scorpion.]

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