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A.k.Coomaraswmay SelectedLettersOfAnandaK.Coomaraswamy .pdf

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Titolo: Seclected Letters of Annada K. Coomaraswamy (488p)
Autore: Moore, Alvin; Coomaraswamy, Rama Poonambulam (eds)

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Ananda K. Coomaraswamy
Edited by

A l v in M o o r e , J r .


R am a P o o na m bulam C oom arasw am y

19 8 8


1. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy
at 52 years

facing page

2. “Progress” by Denis Tegetmcier, in
Eric Gill, Unholy Trinity, London, Dent,
3. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy at 58 years
4. An example o f Coom araswam y’s
manuscripts—letter to Eric Gill
5. Coom araswam y’s study in his home at
Needham, Massachusetts
6 . A room in N orm an Chapel,
Coom araswam y’s home at Broad
Cam pton, Gloucestershire, about. 1908
7. Albrecht Diirer’s ‘Virgin on the Crescent’
from his Life o f the Virgin (1511)
8 . Ananda K. Coomaraswamy at 70 years



In the wake o f Ananda Coom araswam y’s extensive writings,
volumes o f accolades have come forth in praise o f his enormous
erudition. But here in these letters for the first time we sec the
man writing intimately about himself; not in an autobio­
graphical sense, which he detested, considering such portrai­
ture “a vulgar catering to illegitimate curiosity” (p 25), “a
rather ghoulish and despicable trade” (p 25). This attitude was
with him, moreover, “not a matter of ‘modesty’, but one o f
principle” (p 25). His writing of himself was rather in the sense
of establishing a personal contact with each correspondent
through the painstaking effort o f getting a questioner to see the
why and wherefore o f his thought processes. Reading these
letters is like looking over his shoulder and watching how his
perceptions and ideas flow.
Eric Gill said it all when he wrote to the Doctor: “You hit
bloody straight, bloody hard, and bloody often.” For
Coomaraswamy was uncompromisingly honest; thus in a letter
to Albert Schweitzer on this missionary’s Christianity and the
Religions o f the World : “ [I] would like to let you know that I
regard it as a fundamentally dishonest w ork.”
Uncompromisingly charitable, as in a six-page letter to a
psychiatrist: “Your letter. . .brought tears to my eyes. Yours is
a personal instance of the whole modern world of impover­
ished reality. . . You caught the very sickness you were
treating. . . You did not shake off the effluvium from your
fingers after laying on your hands.” Pages of appropriate
counsel follow.
And uncompromisingly generous, instanced for example in
his long answers to letters from the Gandhian Richard Gregg
who was seeking clarification on such matters as realism and
nominalism, being and knowing, knowledge and opinion,
being and becoming, rcincarnationist theories, and the question
° f “psychic residues” .
Rama Coomaraswamy had first considered calling this
collection of his father’s correspondence Letters from a Hindu to
His Christian Friends. But although the young Ananda received

the investiture o f the Sacred Thread in Ceylon in 1897, he was
cducatcd in England and later lived as a Westerner, and was
Platonist and a Medievalist as much as a Vedantist. And his
correspondents were with few exceptions not religious by
vocation but academicians, albeit of Christian heritage. He
situated his own position as “ a follower o f the Philosophia
Perennis, or if required to be more specific, a Vcdandn.”
We sec from these letters that Coomaraswamy was totally
realistic in his assessment of Eastern and Western values. To
Professor F. S. C. N orthrup, he says that he tells Western
inquirers: “Why seek wisdom in India? The value of the
Eastern tradition for you is not that of a difference, but that it
can remind you o f what you have forgotten,” adding that “the
notion o f a com mon humanity is not enough for peace; what is
needed is our common divinity.” Elsewhere he writes that
“ East and West have a common problem .” And he complains
to the German art historian, Herman Goetz, that the great
majority o f Indian students in the West arc really “disorganized
barbarians” and “ cultural illiterates.” “The modern young
Indian (with exceptions) is in no position to meet the really
cultured and spiritual European.” Again to N orthrup, he says,
“ I am still fully convinced that the metaphysics of East and
West are essentially the same until the time o f the Western
deviation from the common norm s,” when Western thought
shifted (ca 1300) from realism to nominalism.
N ow he writes to the New English Weekly, “the ‘civilization’
that men are supposed to be fighting for is already a museum
piece.” Elsewhere: “The magnitude of our means and the
multiplicity o f our ideas arc in fact the measure o f our
decadence.” And near the close of his life, in his address
(included here) on “the Renaissance of Indian Culture” , given
at Harvard on August 15, 1947, he says: “our problem is not so
much one o f the rebirth of an Indian eulture, as it is one of
preserving what remains o f it. This culture is valid for us not so
much bccausc it is Indian as because it is culture.” In a letter
addressing the need for a realistic ground of understanding, he
writes that he can “sec no basis for such a common understand­
ing other than that of the common universe of discourse of the
Philosophia Perennis, which was the lingua franca of all cultures
before the ‘confusion of tongues’.” And he reiterates time and
again in his letters the necessity for people to turn to the

traditional authorities of our age in order to get their
metaphysical bearings: men like Frithjof Schuon, Rene Guenon
and Marco Pallis.
As foremost heir to Medieval wisdom the Catholic Church
in Coom araswam y’s eyes bore a priceless legacy coupled with
an enormous responsibility; and although continually inviting
Christians to share with him in the rediscovery o f this treasure,
the Doctor was with few exceptions thwarted by their
incapacity for adequate response. Conversion, they exclaimed,
not reciprocal comprehension, was the only way to salvation.
“ Please do not pray that I may become a Christian,” replied
Coomaraswamy to a nun’s entreaties; “pray only that I may
know God better every day.” And he foresaw what was
coming to the Church when he wrote to another Catholic:
“The humanisation, ie, secularisation of scripture accompanies
the humanisation of C hrist.”
His attitude on an esoteric aspect o f Christianity is disclosed
in his words to Eric Gill about a “wonderful Mary legend” he
has read, saying that “there is a Vedic parallel too, where
Wisdom is said to reveal her very body to some. Perhaps you
can print this legend someday, and I could write a few words of
introduction. On the other hand, perhaps the world does not
deserve such things nowadays!”
Regarding his own path, Coomaraswamy wrote, “ I fully
hold that labore est orare and do regard my work as a vocation.”
But “when I go to India,” he said in a letter to Marco Pallis, “it
will be to drop writing . . . my object in ‘retiring’ being to
verify what I already ‘know ’.” Meanwhile, in his seventieth
year he wrote, “the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads are daily
reading for m e.”
These letters convey a constant tone of the D octor’s own
self-effacement. He puts forth his principles unflaggingly,
while never putting forth himself, saying he is only an
exponent for the ideas o f others: “ [I] try to say nothing that can
properly be attributed to me individually.” To the traditional
Catholic, Bernard Kelley, he wrote: “It can only be said that
the mystic is acting ‘selfishly’ when there really remains in him
a ‘se lf.” The word idiot, he reminds another correspondent,
means “virtually ‘one who thinks for him self.” And in another
place: “Satan was the first to think of himself as a genius.”
All this touches on the axis around which Coomaraswamy’s

later exposition revolved, namely, the postulate of the two
selves or “ minds”— duo sunt in homine—and its ineluctable
corollary, on the necessity for self-naughting. With incredible
thoroughness he pursued parallels from Western and Eastern
sources, to Sankara’s presentation of Advaita Vedanta, the
doctrine o f monism or non-duality. And Coom araswam y’s
intransigence regarding the sole true reality of our Higher
Self—“the O ne and Only Transm igrant” , St Paul’s “not I, but
[the] Christ [that] livcth in me”— was compounded by his
insistence on the infallibility of immutable archetype and myth
over mutable accident and history, to the point even of
permitting him self an expression of doubt concerning the
historicity o f Christ and the Buddha. In order to situate the
paradox o f this tendency to excess at the expense of fact, we
have to remind ourselves that Coomaraswamy found himself
confronting a blind generation with timeless truths, in an age of
“impoverished reality” wherein most people no longer “see”
what is beyond their senses. In a world where religion for the
multitude has become equated with moral precepts on the level
o f “Be good, dear child” , the metaphysician felt the need to
repost with the thunder o f ultimates on the level o f “Every­
thing will perish save God’s Countenance” (Q u ’ran xxviii, 88).
To reply that the Doctor could better have struck a happy
medium in these matters is to ask that Coomaraswamy not be
He admits the Plotinian concept of “distinction without
difference” in the Noumenal Sphere where “all souls are one” ,
yet in actual exegesis he virtually reduces the human soul to a
“process” o f becoming, without final reality. In part his
emphasis on this point was to refute the popular notion of
reincarnation, currently a dogm a in India and one
particularly vexing to him as it lends an exaggerated im port­
ance to the accidental ego o f this man so-and-so, and also
because his insistence on the fallacy o f the belief invited
criticism from erudite Hindus who otherwise admired his
It may be well to state here that reincarnationism derives
from misconceptions of basic Eastern teachings having to do
with the Round o f Existence or samsara, this being the
transmigration o f souls to other states of existence insofar as the
impurities o f ignorance have not been wholly eradicated in

them, that purification which alone leads to enlightenment and
final deliverance from the meshes of existence and becoming.
But this teaching has to be situated in terms of the limitless
modalities and immensities of cosmic time and space (in which
“God does not repeat H im self’), whereas reincarnationism
credulously reduces transmigration through the multiple states
o f the being to a kind o f garden-variety genealogy played out
on the scale o f this w orld’s stage.
To a question about a prominent Indian put by S. Durai Raja
Singam, the man who was to become the indefatigable
compiler o f Coomaraswamy memorabilia, the Doctor replied
in 1946: [He] is a saint, not an intellectual giant; I am neither but
I do say that those whose authority I rely on when I speak have
often been both.” People may think what they like about
whether he was cither, neither, or the two concurrently, but it
cannot be denied that he certainly vehicled an aura o f both.
He was fond o f quoting St Paul to the effect that God has
never left Him self w ithout a witness. In the traditional
patrimony that Coomaraswamy has handed on we have an
eloquent testimony to this.
W hitall

N. P erry


It is both a great privilege and an extraordinary experience to
have selected, and along with Alvin Moore, to have edited the
letters of Ananda Coomaraswamy. One wonders, in the face of
his enormous literary output, how he was able to carry on such
a fruitful correspondence. The num ber o f letters probably runs
to several thousand and one would hope, that over the course
of time many more will turn up. These can, almost without
exception, be divided into four categories: those dealing with
inquiries about works of art— either requests for identification,
evaluation or possible purchase by the Boston Museum; those
responding to or dealing with philosophical or metaphysical
issues; those written to the N ew England Weekly; and lastly a
handful o f brief personal notes to his mother, wife, or children.
There are various reasons why the letters of famous men are
published. In the case of some, they reflect the times they lived
in. Others give insights into the personal life of the author, or
clues as to what induced him to enter the public forum. Still
others are examples o f literary art—so called “belle lettrcs” .
Those o f D r Coomaraswamy are none of these. Indeed, what is
extraordinary about them is that they contain nothing personal,
even when written to close friends and associates. He had said
once, in response to a request for an autobiography, that
“portraiture o f human beings is aswarga”, and that such an
attitude was a matter, not of modesty, but o f principle. His
letters reflect this attitude.
I have said that there are several thousand letters. U nfortu­
nately, not all of these have been collected or collated. Many
have undoubtedly been lost. Thus for example, his own files
show perhaps a hundred letters from Marco Pallis. U nfortu­
nately, none o f his to Mr. Pallis survive as the latter
consistently destroyed all mail after reading. Again, there are a
targe num ber o f letters to him from Rene Guenon. However,
the Guenon archives have revealed or at least, produced none
from him. Several European and American libraries have letters
from him dispersed in collections of other notables such as
Yeates or Sorokin. Still other letters are archived in private

collections such as T. S. Eliott. Hopefully one response to the
publication of these carefully selected examples will be a more
complete collation, with hitherto unknown examples becom­
ing available.
The selection process was fairly simple. All the available
letters— cither originals or carbon copies— were read and
classified as to major topics of discussion. These sub groups
were then weeded out so as to avoid excessive length and
repetition. The end result is some 400 letters which can truly be
said to be characteristic.
The remarkable thing about these letters is that each o f them
is a sort o f “mini-essay” put forth in relatively easy language.
Despite this, they cover almost every major line o f thought that
is developed in his published works. Those who would seek an
introduction to the writings o f Ananda Coomaraswamy could
do no better than to start with this book.
It is both fitting and wonderful, that the Indira Gandhi
National Centre for the Arts should select this work as the first
publication in its planned collected works of Ananda Coomara­
swamy. If he was a universalist in principle, he was above all an
Indian in his origins and ways of thinking. It had been his plan to
return to India where he intended to continue his works, produce
a translation o f the Upanishads, and then take Sanyasa. God
willed otherwise and only his ashes were returned to the land he
loved. Hcnce it is—one says it again—both fitting and wonderful
that India should undertake to make available to the world, not
only his letters, but the entire corpus of his works.


Wc wish to acknowledge the co-opcration o f all who have
assisted in making this volume possible by providing copies o f
Dr Coom arasw am y’s letters which have been included in this
collection. We thank the University o f Minnesota for permis­
sion to use the lines from Ray Livingston’s The Traditional
Theory o f Literature which arc placed in exergue to this volume;
the heirs o f Devin-Adair publishers for permission to quote in
the Introduction the paragraph from Eric Gill’s Autobiography.
O ur thanks are due also to Sri Keshavram N . Icngar o f
Bangalore, India; M r and Mrs Eric H. Hansen, Emory
Univeristy, Atlanta, Georgia; D r Rene Imelee, West Georgia
College, Carrollton, Georgia; and to the librarians and staff
members o f the Em ory University library and the library o f
West Georgia College. And certainly not least, we thank our
respective spouses for their encouragement, patience and
practical help.
A l v in M o o r e , J r .
R am a P oona m bulam C oom arasw am y

In the late half o f the nineteenth century and the early twentieth
century scholars from all parts o f the world were drawn to the
Asian heritage. Some excavated, others brought to light
primary textual material, and a third group dwelled upon
fundamental concepts, identified perennial sources, and created
bridges o f communication by juxtaposing diverse traditions.
They were the pathfinders: they drew attention to the unity and
wholeness o f life behind manifestation and process. Cutting
across sectarian concerns, religious dogma and conventional
notions o f the spiritual East and materialist West, o f monothe­
ism and polytheism, they were responsible for laying the
foundations o f a new approach to Indian and Asian art. Their
work is o f contem porary relevance and validity for the East and
the West. Restless and unsatisfied with fragmentation, there is a
search for roots and comprehension, perception and experience

o f the whole. Seminars on renewal, regeneration and begin­
nings have been held. The time is ripe to bring the work of
these early torch bearers to the attention o f future generations.
The name o f Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy is foremost
among these pathfinders— for the expanse o f his grasp, the
depth o f his insights, and for their validity today.
To fulfil the need for renewed search for the whole, as also to
stimulate further work with this free and catholic approach
which is not imprisoned in the walls o f ideology, the Kala Kosa
Division o f the IGNCA has initiated a program me o f publica­
tion o f works o f critical scholarship, reprints and translations.
The criterion o f identification is the value o f the w ork for its
cross-cultural perception, multi-disciplinary approach and in­
accessibility for reasons o f language or on account o f being out
o f print.
The Collected Works o f A. K. Coomaraswamy, thematical­
ly rearranged with the author’s own revisions, is central to the
IG N C A ’s third program m e in its division o f Textual Research
and Publication, Kala Kosa. The present volume of the Selected
Letters o f Ananda K. Coomaraswamy commences this series.
The IGNCA is grateful to D r Rama P. Coomaraswamy for
agreeing to allow the IGNCA to republish the collected works,
and for his generosity in relinquishing claims on royalties.
Alvin Moore, an old associate of Coomaraswamy, has pains­
takingly edited the present volume along with D r Rama P.
Coomaraswamy. We are grateful to both of them. M r Keshav
Ram Iengar has to be thanked for his life-time devotion, his
interest, and his assistance in proof-reading and preparing the
We also thank M r Jyotish Dutta Gupta for rendering
invaluable help in the production, M r K. L. Khosa for
designing the jacket and M r K. V. Srinivasan for ably assisting
in this project.
K apila V atsy ay an
I n d ir a G a n d h i N a t i o n a l C e ntre F o r T he A rts


It seems fitting to introduce these letters selected from the
extensive correspondence o f Ananda Kentish Coom araswam y
with a paragraph from his close friend Eric Gill, Catholic,
artisan, artist and author o f distinguished reputation. Gill
wrote, in his Autobiography :
. . . T here was one person, to w hom I think William
Rothcnstein introduced me, w hom I m ight not have met
otherwise and for whose influence I am deeply grateful. I
mean the philosopher and theologian Ananda Coomara­
swam y. O thers have w ritten the truth about life and religion
and m an’s w ork. O thers have written good clear English.
O thers have had the gift o f w itty expression. Others have
understood the metaphysics o f Christianity, and others have
understood the metaphysics o f Hinduism and Buddhism.
Others have understood the true significance o f erotic
drawings and sculptures. O thers have seen the relationships
of the good, the true and the beautiful. Others have had
apparently unlim ited learning. Others have loved; others
have been kind and generous. But I know of no one else in
whom all these gifts and all these powers have been
combined. I dare not confess m yself his disciple; that would
only embarass him. I can only say that no other living writer
has written the truth in matters o f art and life and religion
and piety with such wisdom and understanding.
This citation gives a very discerning insight into the character
of the mature Coom araswam y. But one may, quite properly,
want to know som ething more of the life and circumstances of
this son o f East and West who corresponded so widely and who
left so many letters that are deemed w orthy o f publication even
after so many years. M oreover, what could a non-Christian
have to say that could be o f any possible interest to the serious
The w riter o f these letters was born in 1877 in Colombo,
Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), o f a Tamil father and an English
mother. The father, Sir M utu Coomaraswamy, was a particu­

larly able member o f an outstanding Tamil, Hindu family that
had been long settled in Ceylon but which had retained its ties,
especially religious ties, with India. Sir M utu was the first
Asian and the first Hindu to be called to the bar in Britain, in
1863, and a man whose personal presence and achievement
gained for him an entrance into upper social circles in England.
He counted Disraeli among his friends, eg, and Disraeli even
took him as model for one o f his fictional characters. The
m other was Elizabeth Clay Beeby, o f a Kent family prominent
in the India and Ceylon trade. The couple had been married in
1875 by no less an ecclesiastic than the Archbishop of
Canterbury. This was certainly no casual miscegenation, such
as had been all too com mon and even encouraged in colonial
India; on the contrary, it was the purposeful union o f two
strong minds and independent spirits. But an interracial
marriage is not likely to be easy; and, over a hundred years ago,
the couple must have faced distinct difficulties both among the
Victorian English and in the East among orthodox Hindus.
The young Ananda, however, was to combine in him self the
better qualities o f both races. He was himself to become ritually
one o f the twice-born among the Hindus, and he was to grow
into an apostle o f the traditional East (now no longer
identifiable geographically) to men hungering and thirsting for
spiritual and intellectual sustenance in the meaningless wastes
o f the modern world. Remarkably, and only to a slightly lesser
degree, he was an apostle of the traditional West as well; for he
was intimately familiar with the corpus o f Medieval Christian
philosophy, theology, literature and art, as well as with
Platonism and Neoplatonism.
In 1877, after two years in Ceylon and the birth o f her son,
Lady Coomaraswamy, not yet thirty, returned to England for a
visit. Sir M utu was to follow but, tragically, died on the very
day he was to have sailed from Colombo. It was thus that the
young m other and her child remained in Britain. The young
Ananda was educated in England, first at home, then at a public
school (Wycliffe, in Gloucestershire), and finally at the Uni­
versity o f London which he entered at eighteen. He graduated
from the latter in 1900 with' honors in botony (gardening was a
lifelong interest) and geology. Later, his university was to
award him its doctorate in science (1906) for his work in the
mineralogy o f Ceylon; for between 1902 and 1906 the young

scientist had w orked in the land o f his birth, making the first
mineralogical survey o f the island. His competence as a scientist
is indicated by the fact that he identified a previously unknown
mineral, serendibite. And characteristically, he chose not to
name it after himself, which he would have been fully entitled
to do. M uch o f this original w ork done by Coomaraswamy is
still in use.
Survey activities required extensive field work, and Coomara­
swamy found these duties particularly congenial. His con­
tinuing presence in the field gave him numerous occasions to
move am ong the Tam il and Sinhalese* villages, especially the
latter, and to observe rural life and the practice o f the local
crafts; and notably, to observe the blighting effect of the
European presence on indigenous culture and values. One
o f his early concerns was a campaign to encourage the use
o f traditional dress in preference to European clothing, in
which many Asians— particularly women— often looked so
M oving between England and Ceylon as he frequently did,
Coom araswam y had num erous opportunities for travel in
India. He did so in 1901, again in 1906, and more extensively in
1910-1911. Already in Ceylon he had been active in social
reform and educational m ovem ents, and he figured prominent­
ly in the campaign to found a national university in that
country. It was a natural step to pursue related interests in
India, which he was com ing to view as cultural macrocosm to
Ceylon’s microcosm. In India his interests shifted towards
Indian nationalism and its written expressions, and then
towards a personal survey o f the arts and artifacts o f the
subcontinent. He began collccting extensively but discrimina­
tingly in folk music, and especially in miniature paintings. In
fact, early on, he gained an international reputation on the basis
o f work begun in this inception o f his professional life. Later,
he offered his superior collection o f Indian miniatures to the
country if a national m useum could be built to house them; but
when funds were not forthcom ing for this purpose, he brought
* The Sinhalese, generally Hinayana Buddhists, are the m ajority in the
population o f Ceylon (Sri Lanka). T he encrgctic and enterprising Tamils,
generally H indu, arc Dravidians from adjacent South India and are the
largest m inority group in the island nation, w here they have been settled for
many centuries.

the collcction to the United States where it is housed primarily
at the Boston Museum o f Fine Arts.
Medieval Sinhalese Art, his first major publication, was a book
for which he did not only the field work (assisted by his wife
Ethel), but which he personally saw through the press— this
latter being William M orris’ old Kclmscott Press which had
come into Coom araswam y’s possession. This book is testi­
mony not only to Coom araswam y’s competence as art
historian, but also to a high degree of personal and methodolo­
gical discipline. A second major publication was his Rajput
Painting (1916), which bore the lengthy subtitle: Being an
Account o f Hindu Paintings of Rajasthan and the Punjab * Himalayas

from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century Described in Relation
to Contemporary Thought with Texts and Translations. All this is

cited to make a specific point: the phrase “described in relation
to contem porary thought” offers an important key to
Coom arasw am y’s approach in many of his more profound
studies written in later years. He would, eg, present a painting,
a sculpture, a weapon or a ritual object and on the basis of the
relevant Scriptural or other texts offer erudite and profound,
lucid and highly concentrated expositions of the ideas of which
the artifact was, so to speak, a palpable representation. This
approach implies the nullity of the precious distinctions that arc
commonly assumed to distinguish the “fine” from the applied
arts, for traditionally the governing rules and manners of
production arc the same. All appearances proceed from the
interior outwards, from the art and science of the artist to the
artifact; and, Ultimately, from an uncreated and principal
Interior to the manifested or created order, from God to the
world. The manner of this divine operation, in final analysis, is
the paradigm of the artist as practitioner. There can be no
traditional justification for an art that imitates nature only in her
external aspects, natura naturata, mere fact: nor for an art that
aims only at aesthetic pleasure; and even less for an art
conceived as nothing more than the expression of the individual
artist, ic, vulgar exhibitionism—not to mention “surreal art”,

* At the time Coom araswam y was travelling and collccting in Rajasthan and
in the Punjab, the latter was a much larger entity than it is today, for it has
undergone several divisions. It then consisted o f the areas that are now
included in the Punjab province o f Pakistan, Indian or East Punjab, and the
Indian states o f Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

which is an eruption o f the subconscious into the waking state,
like a nightm are experienced at midday.
There were themes that Coom arasw am y reiterated in season,
out o f season. They represent intuitions that were with him
from the beginning, but their eloquent articulation which was
to characterize his later w riting was not arrived at suddenly; he
w orked his way to this undoubted extended mastery. One very
im portant step in this maturation was the invitation extended
to him in 1917 by the Boston Museum o f Fine Arts to become
Keeper o f their Indian collections. So it was that at the age of
forty, uncom fortable in the Britain that frowned upon his
Indian sym pathies, and already with an international reputa­
tion, Coom arasw am y accepted the American offer and began
the association w ith the Boston M useum and the United States
that endured thirty years— until his death in 1947. His tenure
was by no means a sinecure, but the Boston Museum did
provide both the necessary freedom and the favorable ambiance
for the flowering o f one o f the most wide-ranging and
profoundcst intelligences that have ever worked in the United
States. In Boston, C oom arasw am y settled in for years o f work
in collections developm ent, in technical studies, in writing; and
generally in m aking know n the results o f his findings and
thinking on an intensely learned level, but also as occasion
offered, on m ore popular levels, eg, in radio talks and in public
lectures. But he conceived o f his vocation as primarily
addressing the learned, as being a teacher to teachers, believing
that thereby the im pact o f his w ork might be the greater. He
wrote to Eric Hill that “ . . . it is a matter of definite policy on
my part to w ork w ithin the academic . . . sphere: this is
analagous to the idea o f the reform o f a school o f thought
within, instead o f an attack without. . . .
His wife,
Dona Luisa, recalled his rhetorical question: “What would I
have ever done w ithout m y doctorate?” His credentials and his
achievements w on for him a hearing; but especially in his later
years when his w riting was m ore profound and his expression
more uncom prom ising, it was a hearing for views that were
* By contrast, his contem porary and friend Rerie Guenon worked in
pioneering isolation and let pass no opportunity to disparage academe,
especially the ‘official’ Orientalists. As a conscqucnce, only within the last
dccadc or so has the scholarly w orld begun to take note o f this body o f work
which, quite sim ply, can no longer be ignored.

anything but popular and that were particularly at variance
with conventional opinion typifying the secularist mentality so
prevalent among the educated.
The author of these letters considered himself a Hindu;
moreover, he is recognized within this tradition as an orthodox
exponent of Hindu doctrinc. The word “orthodox” is used
here in its proper sense o f one who is sound or correct in
doctrinc and opinion; one whose expositions reflect, not willful
personal views, but a homogeneity of thought proper to the
spiritual perspective o f the Tradition from which he speaks. It
may be noted that o f all the extant traditional forms, Hinduism
is the oldest and is thus considered nearest the Primordial
Tradition. Hinduism is also the most universal, including
within its fold almost all the perspectives which have, mutatis
mutandis, been more specifically developed in one o f the other
orthodox Traditions. As an outstanding scholar, Coomaras­
wam y was familiar with the traditional writings and perspec­
tives o f Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, the doctrines o f the
American Indians, the Platonists and Neoplatonists; and
especially those o f Hinduism and Christianity. Indeed, he had
dream t o f writing, as he said, con amore about the latter.
Coom araswam y was on the side of the angels, a pre-eminent
witness to the ineluctable priority o f Intelligence. He was one
o f three remarkable men* whose Heaven sent vocations have
been, in varying degrees and foci, to recall to a secularized and
dispirited contemporary humanity what and who man is, what
it means to be man, and what is man’s proper destiny.
Coomaraswamy was a universalist in that he understood and
believed totally in the transcendent unity o f religions**. It
follows that he did not believe that the Christian Revelation
* The other tw o arc Frithjof Schuon and Rene Guenon, whose names
(especially the latter) appear from time to time in these letters, and whose
published w orks are mentioned in the bibliographical section at the end o f
this volume.
** The Transcendent Unity of Religions is the title o f the first major work o f
Frithjof Schuon which appeared in 1948 (the original French edition). T. S.
Eliot, then w ith Faber and Faber, London, which published the first English
translation, gave a very favorable endorsement o f the book. It is a landmark
with which Coom arasw am y would have been in full agreement. N ote that
the operative w ord, however, is transcendent; Schuon never minimizes the
genuine differences which providentially and necessarily separate the several
traditional forms.

was the sole initiative o f Heaven towards mankind, but rather
that the Incarnation o f Jesus Christ was one descent among
num erous others o f the Eternal Avatar, the Logos, the Divine
Intellect. Nevertheless, he wrote: “ . . . my natural growth,
had I been entirely a product o f Europe and known no other
tradition, w ould ere now have made me a Roman [Catholic]”,
p 80, letter to Eric Gill). But he did know more than one
tradition and this was a condition o f his immense value to us.
He could respond to the nun w ho wrote, urging him to join the
Roman Church: “I am too catholic to be a Catholic.” For he
had comc to understand that it is the essence and not this or that
modality o f religion that is immutable, a perspective which
made him prefer the w ord religion, singular, to religions, plural;
or, as “ . . . I should prefer to say, ‘forms o f religion,” (p 81).
Like his contem porary, Rene Guenon, however, he did not
always make sufficient allowance for the necessary exclusivisms which separate one traditional form from another, nor for
the distinctions, fully justified on their own levels, which
separate the exoteric and esoteric realms. But perhaps this is
understandable in som e measure, as being a function o f his
remarkable intellectual penetration o f the several Traditions,
Christianity and Hinduism especially—a penetration much
deeper than that o f even above average contem porary theolo­
As regards linguistics alone, eg, Coom araswam y could say:
“I should never dream o f making use o f a Gospel text without
referring to the Greek, and considering also the earlier history
o f the Greek w ords employed. . . ” . He was editor for
Gcalic and Icelandic entries for W ebster’s dictionary, having as
a young man done a translation o f the Voluspa from the
Icelandic o f the Elder Edda. Am ong the classical languages, he
knew Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and Pali and routinely used them
in his work; in addition, he knew some Persian and Chinese.
Among the m odern languages, he knew French, German and
Hindi as well as being a master o f English. The modern
languages have undoubtedly suffered qualitative attenuation in
the process o f their steady accommodations to our prevailing
horizontal and centrifugally oriented mind-sets; but Coomara­
swamy dem onstrated that a master can compensate for this in
large measure and give expression to the most profound and
subtle ideas even in languages that have not been used in

speculative* writing for centuries. At this point, one cannot but
recall the first Pentecost and the “ gift o f tongues” (Acts ii,
2-11) when the Apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, spoke so
as to be heard and understood by pilgrims from “ all nations
under Heaven”**— a kind of reversal of the malediction of
Babel. The work o f Coomaraswamy has something o f this
pentecostal quality—in the original, not in the sectarian
sense— implying some measure of inspiration by the Spirit of
Truth, some degree o f contact with the suprapersonal Intellect.
Spiritus ubi vult spirat, “the Spirit blowcth where it listeth” (Jn
iii, 8). It is thus that the most profound conceptions can be
articulated with all requisite authority when the proper
occasion demands it; and it is thus that these conceptions cannot
be the exclusive property o f any particular segment of
humanity. In his own case, Coomaraswamy prescinded from
this obvious unity in diversity to say: “What I regard as the
proper end o f ‘Comparative Religion’ is the demonstration of
fundamental truths by a cloud o f witnesses” .*** And it was in
this vein that he demonstrated the most striking parallels, eg, in
the writings o f St Thomas Aquinas and the Hindu shruti and
smriti, *** and not only as between these by any means.
Speaking as a Hindu (and, one might add, as a Platonist), and in
* The w ord ‘speculative’ can serve as a convenient example o f precisely this
attenuation. The prim ary m odern sense, when not referring to financial
manipulations, has to do with fantasy or imaginative thinking severed from
existential and especially palpable realities. Originally and etymologically,
the w ord refers to intellectual realities— ‘the same yesterday, today, and
forever’— and the capacity o f the human intelligence to understand these
** Coom arasw am y would have noted that the heaven in question was that as
conceived by the ancient M editerranean world. But he would have been
quite certain that the Christian Scriptures are in no way diminished when we
recognize that there were no Chinese, Red Indians or Incas am ong the
Apostles’ auditors.
*** A powerful apologetic tool is neglected more often than not when
Christians fail to make use o f the ‘probable’ evidences available in
non-Christian traditions. It is som ewhat as if St Thom as had rejected
**** Shruti, in Hinduism , is the highest degree o f Revelation, being direct
contact w ith Divine realities. Smriti derives its authority from the shruti via
reflection, comparable in this respect to certain aspects o f the Epistles o f St
Paul. A m ong the parallels Coom araswam y found as between the Hindu
Scriptures and Christian doctrine, we may mention that o f the one Essence

the face o f Christian exclusivism, he could say— with great
caritas— “ I am on your side, even if you arc not on mine” .
O bviously, all the several Traditions have their respective
points of view vis-a-vis the theses stated or implied above, and
we cannot pursue these here. We must limit our remarks to
contem porary Christianity as it is seen and known about us. At
first slowly but steadily, and now at a rapidly accelerating pace,
we have seen the Faith enter into a decline: intellectually and
conceptually, artistically, socially and morally. And now today
one sees an astonishing convergence of what is taken to be the
Christian message (and which is often only caricature at best)
with a frank worldlincss. O n a merely extrinsic reckoning,
Christianity has long since ceased to be a formative influence in
modern life (individual exceptions granted), having become
itself a follower— o f secular humanism, progress, evolution­
ism, scientism and other fashionable and more or less ephemer­
al trends. M ultitudes o f those who should normally be
Christian have deserted the Faith. N ot a few o f these have taken
to strange cults, which, in our decaying culture as in ancient
Rome, proliferate like flies. O thers have turned to one or
another o f the O riental religions, a move which often affords
occasions o f ridicule by those less in earnest or—
momentarily— in less apparent need. It must be admitted,
however, that in all too many cases the forms o f Oriental
religion accessible in the W est* are o f doubtful soundness—
though there arc clear and definite exceptions. In these last
times, when we find “ Christian” spokesmen expounding all
manner o f strange notions from within the Church and the
Churches, w hen the Christian vocabulary and idiom arc widely
used to disguise non-Christian and even counter-Christian
purposes, it is m ost appropriate that D r Coom arasw am y’s
letters to his learned friends should be made public. For as Ray
Livingston said in the lines cited in exergue above: “ Let it be
noted . . . that Coom arasw am y cannot be lumped with those
and tw o natures, the role o f the W ord and the prim ordiality o f sound, and
the procession and return o f creatures.
* As for H induism itself, it is not a proselytizing faith and the non-H indu
does not have the option o f converting to Hinduism , entry into which is by
birth into one o f the four traditional castcs. This says all that need be said
here about the so-called Hindu sects w hich have been so conspicuous in the

swamis* o f East or West, or like types, who peddle a bogus
‘spirituality’ that is vague, delusory and deceitful . . . . Coomar­
aswamy had no designs on us . . . except to return us to the
sources of our own w isdom .”
Coomaraswamy had found in art a window onto the
Universal; and from a maturing interest in art as illustrative of
ideas, particularly metaphysical ideas, in the last fifteen years or
so o f his life his primary interest was in the ideas themselves: in
the metaphysical doctrine that is the heritage of humanity as
such, ideas which embody those principles by which civiliza­
tions rise and fall and which are variously expressed in the
several traditional forms— una veritas in variis signis, variae
resplendet, ad majorem gloriam Dei, “one truth in various forms,
variously resplendent, to the greater glory o f G od”, an
aphorism which Coomaraswamy liked to quote. It is in this
area, as metaphysician and comparative religionist, that
Coomaraswamy can and should be of the greatest interest
to those willing to make the effort involved in following his
dialectic, namely those whose powers of attention and concen­
tration have not been utterly vitiated by the host distractions
which— purposely, it would seem—permeate modern life. He
can be instrumental in helping restore some sense o f the
transcendent dimension to one’s understanding o f a Christian­
ity which, officially, has all too often become worldly, banal
and insipid— in the Gospel expression, unsavory.
There are doubtless some who would criticize D r Coomara­
swamy as an elitist, though in the nature o f things such
judgem ents can have little intrinsic force or significance. For
there are men (and, o f course, women, too, for man and men
cover all humanity)— there are men, we say, who have superior
intellectual and spiritual gifts, far above the average, so much
so that a com mon humanity serves only to cloak for the
undiscerning the fact that interiorly men can differ almost as
much as angels from animals. “ God giveth without stint to
whom He will”, says the Q u ’ran. And to some Heaven has
given the vocation, appointed the task o f recalling men to their
inalienable spiritual and intellectual patrimony. Ananda
Coom araswam y was one o f these few; men with whom
* The w ord swamy is itself a perfectly respectable honorific, and it was
evidently incorporated into the Coom ara family name at some point, as is
not uncom m on in India.

“ Heaven docs . . . as we with torches do, not light them for
themselves.” The first fifty years or so o f his life were almost as
a period o f training for the last decade and a half. During that
latter period he was consumed in the effort to recall the modern
world, through those scholars w hom he specifically addressed,
to the intellectual/spiritual birthright that has been abandoned,
to a saner manner o f life, a life that might take due account o f
the whole man and especially o f the claims o f the Inner Man,
the Man in cveryman (a phrase he often used). O ur task is to
know who and what we are; because we, being manifold, have
the duty to appraise ourselves and to become aware o f the
number and nature o f our constituents, some o f which we
ignore as wc commonly ignore our very principle and manner
o f being—to adapt words o f Plotinus (Enneads VI.7.14).
Coomaraswamy took his calling quite seriously; nevertheless,
he was far from being puritanical or shrunken; indeed, the
humane amplitude o f the man was inescapable and remarkable.
He believed that living according to Heaven-given designs
assured not only the fullest possible happiness in this life, but
also plenitude o f joy and perfect fulfillment outre tombe. O ne o f
the great weaknesses he perceived in religion in the modern
West was the wide tendency (since his death, greatly accentu­
ated) to reduce the claims o f religion to merely social and
ethical considerations, ie, the most external and derivative
aspects o f a Tradition. He saw that religion needs to return to
doctrine, and this in a more profound sense than anything
Christianity has known since the Middle Ages.
What we need is the revival o f Christian dogma. This is
precisely where the East is o f use and help. I have been told
by Catholics that my own w ork has given them renewed
confidence, which is just the effect it should have . . . ethics
have no power o f their own . . . they become a mere
sentiment and do little or nothing to better the world.
Further, following St Thomas and other traditional doctrines,
he distinguished faith, which is an intellectual virtue in its
intrinsic nature, from mere . . ‘fidcism’ which only amounts
to credulity, as exercised in connection with postulates, slogans
and all kinds o f wishful thinking” .
Should one doubt Coomaraswamy’s sincerity in all the
positions he advocated, there are several tests one might apply.

Whitall Perry mentioned several in his Foreword— the man’s
honesty, his generosity, his self-effacement. In this latter,
Coomaraswamy is reminiscent of Plotinus, who refused to
allow his portrait to be painted on the grounds that no one
could benefit from the image of an image. Additionally, one
might consider Coomaraswamy’s indefatigable labours spread
over many years, and his large indifference to copyright
interests as regards his own work. The man was essentially
We have commented on Coomaraswamy the metaphysician,
on his comprehensive view of man and the world, on his vast
erudition. These qualities are as valuable today, probably more
so, as when he wrote; before, be it noted, the II Vatican
Council and its devastating aggiomamento with the accompany­
ing public eruption of modernism into the heart of Christianity.
Were there no shortcomings in the man? Is this brief sketch
mere extravagant hagiography, simply a litany of praise? It is
yes to the first and no to the second question. Whitall Perry has
noted several aspects of Coomaraswamy’s ruling perspectives
that do require qualification; and there are a few additional
points that need to be made in this connection. When
Coomaraswamy wrote, he found that available translations of
Oriental texts and expositions of traditional doctrine were
usually inadequate at best and commonly little better than
caricatures. Skeptics, non-believers, nominalists and rational­
ists, on the basis of no more than a presumed linguistic
competence, set themselves to translate and expound the most
abstruse texts and doctrines of the traditional East; and, not
surprisingly, the results betrayed the originals. But in the half
century since D r Coom araswam y’s death, this situation has
changed substantially, thanks in no small part to the efforts of
AKC himself. It is not that there are no longer inadequate trans­
lations nor expositions that delude: it is rather that due to the
efforts o f a num ber of traditionalists: men like Rene Guenon,
Titus Burckhardt, Marco Pallis, Seyyed Hossein Nasr and
especially Frithjof Schuon, as well as those of AKC and a few
others o f like mind and inspiration, there now exists a very
respectable body of expository and interpretative work in
which we have a touchstone for judgem ent.* Let it be noted,
too, that the traditional East has continued to play a necessary
* See bibliographical section at the end o f this collection for further
suggestions. N ote, too, that translations, however good, seldom rise to the

and positive role in reintroducing to the modern West essential
conceptions o f the metaphysical and traditional order, concep­
tions which had been forgotten or allowed to lapse within the
Christian West. So when Coomaraswamy expressed the view
that one had to have command of the relevant classical
languages in order to understand the Oriental doctrines, he was
speaking in isolation, before most of the published work o f the
above named men. The works of these latter, along with those
of Coom araswam y (including these letters), can be of inestim­
able value for anyone who sincerely wishes to effect
metanoia, a thorough change o f mind. Insensibly, those things
which our world rejects [can] become the standard by which
we judge it”.
We should note also that Coomaraswamy was on shaky
ground when he occasionally asserted, in effect, that any object
can be beautiful in its kind; eg, a mechanical device, even a
bomb. To accept this would be tantam ount to the denial of
beauty as a divine quality and to confuse it with mere artifice
and prettiness. But on the basis of the D octor’s own inclusive
statements on art and on the nature o f beauty, we believe that
the above views do not represent his final and considered
positions but rather were adopted ad hoc for the purpose o f
making a particular point.
A few more extensive comments arc in order as regards
missionary activity*, which often irritated Coomaraswamy
and which he often castigated. But Christianity, like Buddhism
and Islam in this, is inherently a missionary religion. This stems
from the post-Resurrection injunction of Christ to “go. . . un­
to all nations. . .”, and the resulting attitude typified in St
Paul’s “ woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel”— positions
which, until quite recently, have been considered as defining
the essential Christian attitude in these matters. The rest is a
question o f qualification, opportunity and sincerity. Approx­
imately from the time of World War II, however, the character
o f Christian missionary activity has undergone fundamental
changes. Power relationships are no longer the same. Peoples
level o f the originals; so nothing said here should be taken to imply that
competence in the original languages is not a great boon in the effort at
* These remarks may serve also as indirect com m ent on the presumed
superiority o f all things Western, Christianity included, and how any
basis— even illusory— for these presumptions has evaporated.

among whom missionaries most often work now live in their
own nation-states and, needless to say, exercise their own
controls according to their own lights. The example o f a
decadent West— Europe and America—has served to undercut
the assumptions o f superiority and mission ciuilisatrice which in
the past have undeniably been elements in missiology, and
which have been attitudes often shared by the “natives” . More
fundamentally the rationale o f missions has changed from
within. In Catholic circles, the views o f Teilhard de Chardin
and his all-encompassing evolutionism have become a major
influence. Similar outlooks are to be found in Protestant
missiology, along with the widespread view that those to
w hom missionaries are sent have themselves something to
teach the missionaries and those who support the missionary en
terprise.* There is a frank recognition o f the part previously
played by “cultural imperialism” , and a deemphasis on
conversion. The modern missionary takes man as he is found,
including his cultural ambiance; no more of “the missionary is
first o f all a social reform er” . The whole man, as currently
conceived to be sure, must be taken into consideration, soul
and body; and the latter is taken to include economics and
politics. What, then, o f the basic motives for missionary
activity? For it is recognized that the old motives have been
seriously weakened since World War II and especially since
Vatican II. O ne current motive is charity, but a charity
humanistically conceived, more along the lines o f caring and
obviously something far removed from an informed caritas.
Another motive is that o f witnessing. And yet another is the
search for truth which, of course, entails much dialogue—that
interminable sink o f humanistic endeavors. Obviously, not all
these points are ill-taken; but it is equally obvious that none o f
them, singly or combined, can be of such a nature as to set
peoples afire for Christianity. And this apparent digression will
have served its purpose if it has suggested something o f the fatal
moderateness and tepidity o f a Christianity that has lost touch
with its most fundamental roots; a Christianity, indeed, that is
busying itself in auto-destruction, to adopt an expression of
Paul VI. We would do well, as we reflect on Coom araswam y’s
* It is interesting that these views have been put forward principally by a
D utch Catholic m em ber o f a missionary order, the White Father, Henri
N ouw en.

attitudes to call to mind Christ’s own views on proselytizing
(M t xxiii, 15). In any case, one can conceive of few peoples
more in need o f genuine religion than those o f modern Western
In principle, there is nothing lacking to Christianity. Even
though outwardly it has been primarily bhaktic or devotional in
character, Christianity contains legitimate and essential ele­
ments which Coomaraswamy, for one, has compared to “ an
Upanishad o f Europe” . Christianity is a full Revelation,
addressed to a particular sector of humanity; our task, as
“workers of the eleventh hour” is to fathom its profundities once
again insofar as this may be possible and, hopefully, sense
something o f That which led St Paul to exclaim: “ O the depth
o f the riches, the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” (Rom
xi, 33).
O ur purpose, then, in offering these letters is to help
reintroduce Western readers and especially Christians to their
own proper Tradition, to point out to them again the
well-springs o f our faith, and to offer some small glimmer o f
the splendour o f Truth. For those whose interest is comparative
religion, it is hoped that they may find reflected in these letters
both the need for strict personal honesty and a recognition of
the fact that because a com mon Truth is to be found in the
several traditional forms, this Truth must therefore be lived all
the more deeply in one’s own. Lastly, it is hoped that those
who look eastwards (not always an illegitimate option) will
seek proper authority and ignore the proselytizers o f a
neo-Hinduism, a chic-Zen, or a deracinated Sufism. And we
invite all who will to reflect on the ways o f Heaven, which are
often mysterious or at least dimly understood: a man who was
in many respects superior to the exclusivisms which separate
and define the several religions, even a Hindu, had the
remarkable function o f serving as an able defender o f the
integral Christian faith. The Holy Spirit, who moves as and
where He will, breathes across boundaries which in normal
times and with good reason separate the different Traditions. In
our indigence, let us not be too proud to accept grace and help
from whatever quarter they may be proffered.
A lvin M o o r e , J r
R ama P oonambulam C oomaraswamy


Dear M r N ott:
. . . The problem o f the “spiritual East” versus the “material
West” is very easily mistaken. I have repeatedly emphasized that
it is only accidentally a geographic or racial problem. The real
clash is o f traditional with antitraditional concepts and cultures;
and that is unquestionably a clash o f spiritual and ideological
with material or sensate points o f view. Shall we or shall we not
delimit sacred and profane departments o f life? I, at any rate,
will not. I think if you consider Pallis’ Peaks and Lamas you will
see what I mean. I think it undeniable that the modern world
(which happens to be still a western world, however fast the
East is being westernized) is one o f “impoverished reality”, one
entleert o f meaning, or values. O ur contemporary trust in
Progress is a veritable fideism as naive as is to be found in any
past historical context.
Very sincerely,
M r Stanley N ott, Harpenden, Herts, England, was in correspondence with
Dr Coom arasw am y about a new edition o f The Dance of Shiva which Faber
and Faber, London, was considering.
Peaks and Lamas, see Bibliography.

August 16, 1942
Dear Richard:
Very many thanks for your kind words. I am glad o f the last
sentence in the first paragraph. As you realize, I have never
tried to have a “style” but only to state things effectively—so
that I was very pleased, too, once when Eric Gill wrote to me:

“You hit bloody straight, bloody hard, and bloody often.”
I think our valuation o f “literature” (and o f art generally) is
now fetishistic, the symbol being more important to us than its
reference: this is just what the Sufi calls idolatry.
With best regards,
D r Richard Ettinghausen was Director o f the Freer Gallery o f Art,
W ashington, D. C.
Eric Gill, well know n Catholic writer and artist; sec Introduction above.
For an understanding o f the w ord Sufi the reader is referred to the writings o f
Frithjof Schuon (see Appendix A) and the Kashf al-Mahjub by Ali bin
U thm an al-Hujwiri (sec Bibliography).

Dear Margaret:
What impresses me about contemporary education is the
vacuity o f the result, and above all, the isolation produced: it is
the almost invariable result that Plato, Dante, the Gospels,
Rumi, the Upanishads, Lao Tzu, etc, no longer mean anything
to the college product who is brought up to be an “aesthete”
(euphemistically, an “aesthctician”) so that all these things are
just “literature” for him, and he never puts his teeth into them,
but remains a provincial.
O ur present chaotic condition is primarily a chaotic state of
mind, and only secondarily a chaotic state o f morals. Please
note, I am not talking o f you in particular; and that there are
some exceptions, some who “survive” a college education is
certain. What 1 despise is the so-called “intellectual honesty”
that makes college men “unbelievers”; Sheldon calls this
“honesty” by its right name, “cowardice” .
In every procedure, faith must precede experience; as in
Buddhism, a man has only the right to be called “faithless”
when he has verified the outcome by acting accordingly; then
he has no need of “faith” and is explicitly “no longer a man of
faith.” Faith is an aristocratic virtue; as an old gloss o f Plato
remarks, “unbelief is for the m ob”, skepticism is very “easy” .
This is not merely a religious position. The greater part o f all

our everyday actions rest on faith. We have faith that the sun
will rise tom orrow (any serious scientist will tell you that we
do not know it will), we act accordingly, and when tom orrow
comes, we verify the expectation. . . . Some (like Traherne,
Buddhist Arhats, etc) claim to have achieved this “felicity” or
“eudaimonia” (as Aristotle, etc, call it), which all religions arc
agreed in regarding as man’s final aim. Traherne also callcd it
51/p^human virtue for which all should strive. If you don’t want
it, that is all right, but you cannot call it unattainable unless you
have practised what those who claim to have attained it taught;
just as you can’t know that 2H + O = H 2O until you have
made the experiment (until then you believe your teacher). If
you don’t want it, so be it; but this very not wanting excludes
you from any sympathetic understanding of the greater part o f
the world’s literature which has to do with the quest.
It is not intellectual honesty, but pride, that makes the college
man not want. You “believe” in yourself; but for the real value
of this “self’ vide Jung and Hadley and others of your own trust­
ed psychologists who affirm, as the religious philosophies do,
that the first sine qua non for happiness is to have got rid of this be­
lief in one’s own individuality or personality (our “great pos­
sessions”). I may still be “selfish” ; but that only represents
a failure to live up to what I know, viz, that my personality is
nothing but a causally determined process, and o f absolutely
mortal essence, subject to all the ills that “flesh” is heir to. For
Jung, just as for the religious philosophies, there is something
else beyond this brainy “individuality”—a Self around which
the inflated Ego revolves, much as the earth revolves around the
Sun (his own words). Nowadays, nothing is taught o f Selfknowledge, but only o f Ego-kno wledge; and for Jung, the inflat­
ed Ego was the root cause o f the late war. I cite him so much
only because the collcgc man has so much “faith” in him.*
The “isolation” I spoke o f makes o f modern man what Plato
calls a “playboy”, “interested in fine colors and sounds” , but
“ignorant o f beauty” . O ne might say that acsthcticism (literal­
ly, sentimentality, being at the mercy o f one’s feelings as
recommended by Bentham) is a subjection which Plato defined
as “ignorance”— and this is the disease o f which the current
crisis is a sym ptom ; the disease equally o f contemporary
Christianity and o f contem porary skepticism (between which
there is not much difference). All this works out in U topian-

ism, the notion o f a future millenium (just around the corner, if
only . . .) to be achieved by the improvement o f institutions.
Religion has no such illusions; religion is not in this sense
“ futuristic” , but asserts that felicity is attainable, never en masse,
but at any time by the individual here and now. “But o f course,
that looks like w ork” , and the appearance is not deceptive; it is
very much easier to sit back and rely on “progress” .
You might look at Erwin Schrodinger’s book What Is Life ?
No doubt you have seen Zim m er’s M yths and Symbols in Indian
A rt and Civilization —now out.
* Elsewhere, AKC expressed grave reservations about the views o f Carl G.
Jung, eg, on page 10.
M rs M argaret F. M arcus, Cleveland, Ohio.
Thom as Traherne, Centuries of Meditations, see Bibliography.
Sheldon, W ilm ot Herbert, Departm ent o f Philosophy, Yale University,
N ew Haven, Connecticut.

April 29, 1946
Dear Margaret:
I send the Puppet paper, also the booklet of lectures which
you may find helpful when you talk about India. But you
know, I always have the feeling that you look at these things
only with interest as “ curiosities” , and that metaphysics doesn’t
have any real significance for you. It is pretty hard for anyone
who has been to college to have any other attitude, I know.
And yet, man is by nature a metaphysical animal, or if not, just
an animal whose concept of the future is limited by time.
We arc having a num ber of different cactus blossoms. I
havn’t done much in the garden yet—bad weather, and time is
not my own!
Someday you must try to tell me what interests you in the
material I assemble: you realize I say nothing, or try to say
nothing that can properly be attributed to me individually.

M rs M argaret F. M arcus, Cleveland, Ohio.
“ ‘Spiritual Paternity’ and the ‘Puppet Com plex’ ” (AKC), Psychiatry, VIII,
287-297, 1945; republished in A K C ’s collection o f essays, Am I M y Brother’s

January 17, 1946
Dear Professor Hook:
M any thanks for your kind reply. You will realize, I hope,
that w hat I sent you was the copy o f a private letter, and that I
would have w ritten in a som ewhat different “tone” for
My main point was that the “mystics” (or, I would prefer to
say, “ metaphysicians”) insist upon the necessity o f moral
means if the amoral end is to be reached; hence theirs is a
practical way, though a contemplative end. I agree with them
(and you) that the end is logically indescribable, other than by
negations, o f which “ a-m oral” is but one.
To put it in another way, the end is not a value amongst
others, but that on which all values depend. If we have not the
concept o f an end beyond values (+ or —) we are in great
danger o f making our own relative values into absolutes.
As for H induism and Buddhism, Plato and St Thom as
Aquinas, you see differences where I see essentially sameness,
with differences mainly o f local color. However, for this
sameness I w ould go to Eckhart and such works as The Cloud of
Unknowing, Boehm e or Peter Sterry or Ficino rather than to
St Thom as (whose Summa belongs rather to the exoteric aspect
o f Christianity). I have done a good deal to illustrate what I call
essential “sameness” by correlation of cited contexts, in print,
and I have vastly m ore material collected, eg, my “ Recollec­
tion, Indian and Platonic” , or “ ‘Spiritual Paternity’ and the
‘Puppet C om plex’ ” .
Very sincerely,
Sidney H ook, Professor o f Philosophy, N ew Y ork University.
The Cloud o f Unknowing, see bibliography.
Jacob B oehm e, see bibliography.

Peter Sterry, Platonist and Puritan, by Vivian de Sola Pinto; see bibliography.
The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, by Paul O Kristcller; see bibliography.
“ ‘Spiritual Paternity’ and the ‘Puppcrt Com plex’ ”, AKC, in Psychiatry,
VIII, 1945.

January 11, 1946
Dear Mrs Morgan:
Right now I cannot find time to go into the Huxley review at
length. Let us grant to Sidney Hook that Huxley fails to clarify
certain matters. But Hook, who makes this criticism, confuses
the matter by mistaking the situation itself. I am referring
particularly to the “moral” question which Hook not only
approaches as a moralist, but apparently in utter ignorance of
the traditional distinction of the moral means and the amoral
(not immoral!) end, that o f the active from the contemplative
life. The normal position is that morality is essential to the active
life and is prerequisite but only dispositive to the contemplative.
This is the way St Thomas Aquinas states it: cf The Book of
Privy Counselling, “ when thou comest by thyself, think not
what thou shalt do after, but forsake as well good thoughts as
evil.” Buddhism is notoriously a system in which great stress is
laid on ethics; and yet there, too, we find it repeatedly affirmed
that the end o f the road is beyond good and evil. Bondage (in the
Platonic sense o f “ subjection to oneself’) depends on ignor­
ance, and hence it is only truth that can set you free; there can
be no salvation by works o f merit, but only by gnosis; but for
gnosis, mastery o f self is a prerequisite.
The point is that one cannot reach the end of the road without
“going straight”, and “ while wc are on the way, we are not
there.” The end o f the road, or as it is often spoken of, home,
means that there is no more tramping to be done: therefore the
words “ walking straight” or “ deviating” cease to have any
meaning for or application to one who has arrived and is at
home. Wc are told to “ perfect, even as . . .”, and as you will
rccognize, in whatever is pcrfcctcd there is no more perfecting
to be done. W hether or not perfection is attainable on earth we
need not ask; it represents, in any case, the “ ideal” , and even
St Augustine refused to deny the possibility.

Moralism, such as Sidney Hook’s is really an unconscious
form of Partipassianism—the doctrine that an infinite God is
nevertheless himself subject to affections and disaffections, and
only “good” in the human sense, which is one that implies at
the same time the possibility o f “not being good”.
I had only time to take up this one point: but generally, I
should say Sidney Hook does not know his stuff well enough
to criticize Huxley, even though and where the latter may need
Very sincerely,
Mrs C. M organ, Cam bridge, Massachusetts.
Sidney Hook, Professor o f Philosophy, N ew York University.
The review referred to is in the Saturday Review, N ovem ber 3, 1945.
Book of Privy Counselling and The Cloud of Unknowing, sec Bibliography.


Date uncertain
Dear M:
Your questions arc mostly about the how, and my answers
mostly about the what o f metaphysics.
What you mean by Metaphysics is not what I mean. College
“metaphysics” is hardly anything more than cpistemology.
Traditional metaphysics is a doctrine about possibility: possibi­
lities o f being and not-bcing, o f finite and infinite; those o f
finite being arc embodied mosdy in what one calls ontology
and cosmology.
The traditional Metaphysics (Philosophia Perennis or Sanatana
Dharma) is not an omnium gatherum o f “what men have
believed”, nor is it a systematic “philosophy”; it is a consistent
and always self-consistent doctrine which can be recognized
always and everywhere and is quite independent o f any concept
of “progress” in material comfort or the accumulation of
empirical knowledge; neither opposed to nor to be confused
with either o f these. It is the meaning of a world which would
otherwise consist only o f experiences, “one damn thing after
another.” Without a principle to which all else is related, an end

to which all else can be ordered, our life is chaotic, and we do
not know how or for what to educate. A merely ethical trend is
only for our comfort and convenience but does not suffice for
I can only, for the present, assert that the traditional
Metaphysics is as much a single and invariable science as
mathematics. The proof o f this can hardly be found w ithout the
discipline o f pursuing fundamental doctrines all over the world
and throughout the traditional literatures and arts. It is not a
matter o f opinions o f “thinkers” . One should rapidly acquire
the powers o f eliminating the negligible teachers, and that
includes nearly all modern “ thinkers” , the Deweys and Jungs,
etc, through w hom it is not w orth while to search for the few
bright ideas to be found here and there. One must be fastidious.
Why pay attention, as Plato says, to the “inferior philo­
sophers” ?
The One Truth I am speaking o f is reflected in the various
religions, various just because “nothing can be known except in
the mode o f the know er” (St Thomas Aquinas). It is in the
same sense that the “Ways” appear to differ; this appearance
will diminish the further you pursue any one of them, in the
same way that the radii o f a circle approximate the nearer you
get to the center.
Metaphysics requires the most discriminating legal mental­
ity.* When Eckhart says that man is necessary to G od’s
existence, this is not a boast but a simple logical statement. He
is not speaking o f the Godhead, but o f God as Lord (Jesus), and
merely pointing out that wc cannot speak o f a “lordship” in a
case where there are no “servants”; one implies the other. Just
as there is “no paternity w ithout filiation” ; a man is not a
“ father” unless he has a child. You w on’t catch Meister Eckhart
out as easily as all that!
The traditional Metaphysics does not deny the possible value
o f random “ mystical experience” , but is (like the Roman
Catholic Church) suspicious and critical o f it because o f its
Very sincerely,
* W hatever D r Coom arasw am y had in m ind in the use o f this term (and
som ething o f it will be inferred in the course o f these letters), it was not

Pharisaism of any kind: his own life and thought are ample proof of that. On
the other hand, among the ‘laymen’ who wrote to AKC, many were
lawyers, men trained in disciplined thinking, respect for evidence and in
some measure of discrimination and discernment.
* Although the copy of this letter available to the editors ends rather
abruptly, wc think it well worth inclusion because of its contcnt.



Dcccmbcr 11, 1944
Dear Grctchcn:
In such a comparison my preference would be for St
Augustine; I would explain this most briefly by saying that
Augustine is still a Platonist, Aquinas an Aristotelian, and
much nearer to being a “rationalist”. If Aquinas treats more
fully o f the “whole o f man” that is because the ages of
formation had passed and it was time for such cncyclopacdic
treatment; the difference is something like that between
Hinduism and Buddhism in emphasis. No scheme of life is
complete in which both norms arc not recognized and allowed
for, namely the social and the unsocial (not antisocial), Martha
and Mary. I think it is an error to say that Augustine had a
“morbid terror o f beauty”. He seems to me to share fully in the
normal Christian admiration of the beauty of the Cosmos, as
sanctioned by God’s own appreciation o f his handiwork in
Genesis— “saw that it was very good” (cf Aug., Confessions
XIII, 28). He says also, “there is no evil in things, but only in
the sinner’s use o f them” (De doc. Chr. Ill, 12). He says that
while things please us because they arc beautiful, it does not
follow that bccausc they please us they arc beautiful; some
people like deformities (Lib. de uer. relig. 59; De Musica VI, 36).
“An iron style is made by the smith on the one hand that we
may write with it, and on the other that we may take pleasure
in it; and in its kind it is at the same time beautiful and adapted
to our use” (Lib. de uer. relig., 39). He points out that the
beautiful is to be found everywhere and in everything, for
example in the fighting cock (De Orditte /, 25)—a good
example, since he would not have approved o f cockfighting
and yet could see and point out the beauty of the fighting cock.
“And this beauty in creatures is the voice of God.” There is a

book by K. Svoboda entitled L ’Esthetique de St Augustin, and
also his De Musica is very profound.
M rs Gretchen Warren, Boston, Massachusetts.

February 7, 1946
Dear D r Schwcitzcr:
Although I have due respect for your fine work in Africa, I
have lately come across your book, Christianity and the Religions
o f the World, and would like to let you know that I regard it as a
fundamentally dishonest work. Buddhism is, no doubt, a
doctrine primarily for contemplatives; but you cannot mix up
Brahmanism in this respect with Buddhism, because Brahman­
ism is a doctrine for both actives and contemplatives. What I
mean especially by “dishonest” is that, to suit your purposes,
you cite the Bhagavad Gita where Arjuna is told to fulfil his duty
as a soldier, w ithout citing the passage in which others are
likewise told to fulfil their vocations as means better than any
other o f fulfilling the commandment “Be ye perfect. . . . ”
This makes quite ridiculous your second paragraph on page
41. I am afraid that most Christians, for some reason obscure to
me, find it indispensable to exalt their own beliefs by giving a
perverted account o f those o f others, o f which, moreover, they
have only a second-hand knowledge derived from the writings
o f scholars who have been for the most part rationalists,
unacquainted with religious experience and unfamiliar with the
language o f theology. I recommend you spend as much time
searching the Scriptures of Brahmanism and Buddhism, in the
original languages, as you may have spent on the Scriptures of
Christianity in their original languages, before you say any­
thing more about other religions.
Very truly yours,
Albert Schwcitzcr, German theologian, musicologist and medical mission-

ary, w idely influential in Protestant cirdcs in his time.
Christianity and the Religions o f the World, see Bibliography.
A lbert Schw eitzer Jubilee V olum e, a festschrift to which D r Coomaraswamy
contributed a profound study entitled ‘W hat is Civilization?’, for which see
B ibliography.

O ctober 7, 1943
D ear Sarton:
Thanks for Schweitzer, I’ll return it very soon. 1 have read
m ost o f it and it seems to me a strange mixture o f much doing
good and m uch m uddled thinking. I don’t think he grasps the
weltanschaung o f the ancient (European) world at all; and as for
the East, on page 178, line 1 “concern himself solely” and line
18 “ after living part o f his life in the normal way and founding a
fam ily” arc inconsistent.
I received the invitation to w rite for the festschrift, but am
asked for som ething “non-tcchnical” and after reading the
book, I too feel that the little symbological paper I had in mind
w ouldn’t interest Schweitzer him self at all. I’m seeing if I can’t
put together a little note on the intrinsic significance o f the
w ord “ civilization”.
Schw eitzer’s analysis o f colonisation and its effects is good
(and tragic), but he feels helpless* in the face o f “ world trade”
and has no fight in him . He rem inds me a little o f Kierkegaard,
w ith his groaning and grunting; and with all his defense of
“affirm ation” is not nearly as positive a person as, say, Eric
Gill, for w hose last collection o f cassys I am writing an
With kindest regards,
* A nd yet he despises ‘resignation’! O n the whole, one o f the most exotcric
m en im aginable. T here arc m any sides o f Africa that he seems never to have
seen at all; there is no sign that he ever go t into m ore than physical contact
w ith the people. C ontrast St G eorge Barbe Baker in Africa Drums.
G eorge Sarton, Professor o f the H istory o f Scicncc, Harvard University, and
editor o f Isis.
A lbert Schweitzcr, Christianity and the Religions of the World; see bibliography.

‘W hat Is Civilization?’, by AKC in The Albert Schweitzer Jubilee Volume; see
St George Barbe Baker, Africa Drums; see Bibliography.
Eric Gill, It A ll Goes Together, sec Bibliography.

Nobember 2, 1942
Dear M r Mascall:
Many thanks for your kind letter. I cannot agree that it is the
essence o f Christianity to be final and exclusive in any sense
except in the sense that any truth must be exclusive of error.
With that reservation, it can as much as Hinduism or Islam
claim to be final and conclusive.
Exclusive, as I said, presumes the existence o f error; but it
remains to be shown that the other religions are in error,
whether about m an’s last end or the nature of deity. I venture
that your knowledge o f these other religions is not profund:
knowledge o f them cannot be that if it is not based on texts in
the original, and on thinking and being in their terms. I do
actually think in both Eastern and Christian terms, Greek,
Latin, Sanskrit, Pali, and to some extent Persian and even
Chinese. I hardly ever deal with any specific doctrine (eg, that
o f the one essence and the two natures, or that o f the light of
lights, or “I will draw all men unto me”) with reference to one
tradition only, but cite from many sources. I doubt if there is
any point o f essential doctrine that could not be defended as
well from Indian as from Christian sources.
I presume that we are liberty, and even bound to use reason in
defense o f any true doctrine. It will be evident, however, that if
we are to discuss the possibility o f error in either one or both of
two given religions, it will be contrary to reason to assume that
one o f them can be made the standard o f judgem ent for both.
That would be to make an a priori judgem ent, and not an
investigation at all. A standard must be, by hypothesis,
superior to both the parties whose qualifications are under
consideration. One comes nearest to possession o f such a
standard in the body o f those doctrines that have been most
universally taught by the divine men of all times and peoples.
Anything for example, that is true for Plato (whom Eckhart

callcd “that great priest” , and in the same century that
Jtli —Moslem saint—had a vision of him “filling all space with
light”), the Gospels, Islam, Hinduism and Taoism, I am
prepared to regard as true, and rather for me to understand than
question. When we have in this way built up a standard o f the
most important speculative verities, we can proceed to judge of
other propositions, in case they arc less widely witnessed to, by
their consistency or inconsistency with what has been accepted.
In any case, let me say, speaking for Hindus as to Christians,
that even if you are not with us, we arc with you.
Very sincerely,
M r Mascall is not further identified, but may have been E. A. Mascall, the
prominent Anglican theologian and philosopher.

Novem ber 15, 1940
Dear Signor Galvao:
It is a pleasure to receive your letter and to hear from an
unknown friend.
M. Rene Guenon had recovered his health last spring and
was again contributing to E T . The last num ber I received was
that o f May 1940. The last letter I received from him was
written in June and did not reach me until October!
I have no news o f M. Schuon. M. Preau had my ms (on the
“Symbolism of Archery”), intended for the 1940 Special No on
the “ Symbolism o f Games” , but I have heard nothing from
him since the occupation, and do not know if the publication of
E T can be continued. Yes, the participation o f civilians in
warfare is quite anti-traditional: it must be shocking to a true
soldier, for whom war is a vocation.
I send you one o f my publications here. With cordial
Very sincerely,
Signor Galvao is a Brazilian correspondent o f Guenon and AKC.

Rene Guenon, see Bibliography.
Frithjof Schuon, sec Bibliography.
ET = Etudes Traditionnelles\ see Bibliography.
“Symbolism o f Archcry”, see Bibliography.

October 10, 1941
My dear Signor Galvao:
I am happy to hear from you. Quand vous ecrivez: “Un

chretien, e’est-a-dire, un catholique”, je suis en parfait accord de vousl

In view o f the Pauline interdiction of the eating of meat offered
to idols, it might be considered irregular for a Catholic to eat
meat that has been sacrificed to what is (in his opinion) a false
god. However, where it is a question of accepting “hospital­
ity” , one should ask no questions (Buddhist monks accept
whatever is given, even if meat: the responsibility for the
killing rests upon the donor). I cannot give an answer to the
question about the foundation stone.
I have heard from mutual friends that M. Guenon is well, but
I have heard nothing from him directly. The first o f the
translations (East and West, published by Luzac, London) has
just appeared. Another book I can recommend to you is Eric
Gill’s Autobiography, published by Devin-Adair, N ew York.
As for your pretre (sacerdota): it is quite permissible for any
Catholic to recognizc the truth of any particular doctrine taught
by a “pagan” philosopher. Indeed, St Thomas himself makes
use of the “ pagan philosophers” as sources of “intrinsic and
probable truth” . I have known two devout Catholics, a layman
and a learned nun who saw more than this. The former wrote
to me that he saw that Hinduism and Christianity amounted to
the same thing; while the nun said to me that “ I see that it is not
necessary for you to be a Catholic.” But this is unusual, and
with most o f my Catholic friends I go no further than to
discuss particular doctrines, in connection with which, as they
arc willing to recognizc, exegetical light may be throw n from
other than specifically Christian sources.
It is perhaps M. Cuttat, whom I recently had the pleasure to
meet, who proposes to publish in Spanish a journal somewhat

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