The Perennialist notion of a universal Tradition transcending religious forms is not only Western in origin; it was also influenced by the belief, held among some contemporary Hindus, in an inner unity or harmony of religions and by their own theories on the direct link between Hinduism and the Primordial Religion.
We may introduce here the distinction established by Paul Hacker between neo-Hinduism and what he calls (in a rather ill-sounding fashion) “surviving traditional Hinduism.” For Hacker, neo-Hinduism originated with Hindu reformist movements of the 19th century such as the Brahmo Samāj and the Ārya Samāj. In the 20th century, it contributed to shape of Indian nationalist – and later Hindu nationalist – discourse. According to Hacker, “typically Neo-Hindus have received their ideas of religious, ethical, social and political values not from their native religion but from the outside, from Western philosophies, and from Christianity,” but “these values are however identified with elements of the native heritage … re-interpreted so as to express ideals that were assimilated from foreign sources.” Hacker believes a form of cultural nationalism is “the chief impulse of neo-Hindu thinking,” including “the idea that India has a message to proclaim to the world.” From the Sanātana Dharma, neo-Hinduism keeps only a vague spirit of tolerance and inclusiveness, which does not preclude a certain amount of chauvinism.
By contrast, “surviving traditional Hinduism” refers to the continuation of the pre-colonial Hindu tradition, though, as Hacker himself acknowledges, this neo-traditionalism may agree with modernist Neo-Hinduism on a wide range of issues. Hindu traditionalists, which consist largely of upper-caste paṇḍits, have also responded to colonial challenges, but unlike neo-Hindus, they have remained more faithful to the spirit and letter of the Sanātana Dharma. This more traditionally oriented branch of Hinduism, in Hacker’s own words, “lacks publicity [but] seems to have an incomparably greater vitality than neo-Hinduism. » It finds its most significant expression in the teachings of the Jagadgurus, Śaṅkara’s successors.
Hacker’s distinction has gained a general acceptance in Western Academia but has sometimes been criticized by Indian scholars. In his book Indra’s Net, Rajiv Malhotra challenges the assumption that contemporary Hinduism (Hacker’s “neo-Hinduism”) was manufactured and did not grow organically from the pre-colonial spiritual tradition of India. For Rajiv Malhotra, Hacker overestimates the discontinuity between traditional and modern Hinduism, in part because, like earlier Indologists, he tends to reduce the whole of Hinduism to the Vedanta of Śaṅkara, while ignoring other but nevertheless legitimate trends within the Indian tradition. For convenience, we will occasionally use Hacker’s distinction in this book, while being aware of its shortcomings. Interestingly enough, Guénonian Traditionalists themselves (without necessarily being familiar with Hacker’s work) tend to reproduce in their writings the orientalist dichotomy between traditional Hinduism and “neo- Hinduism.”
With the exception of Daniélou, most Traditionalists had limited access to the teachings of the representatives of the “surviving traditional Hinduism,” but they adopted a severe attitude toward most expressions of “neo-Hinduism.” Not always, however. Although he rejects much of neo-Hinduism, Guénon holds the nationalist thinker Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) in high esteem, much to the surprise of Daniélou. A member of the “extremist” branch of the Indian National Congress, which he joined in 1890, Tilak was jailed from 1908 to 1914 because of terrorist activities against the British. He is remembered today as a religious thinker who composed a commentary on the Gītā that exalts martial values. At the intellectual level, he attracted the attention of Guénon with his works on the prehistory of the Hindu religion. In them, Tilak seeks to establish, on the basis of astronomical observations recorded in the Scriptures, that the primordial homeland of the inhabitants of India around 10,000 BC was in the North Pole and that the Vedas date back to a much earlier period – between 5,000 and 3,000 BC – than usually acknowledged by orientalists. What Guénon seems to ignore is that Tilak was far from being a “non-westernized Hindu.” Not only did his life and thought have an impact on Vinayak Domodar Sāvarkar, the father of the ideology of the Hindutva, but Tilak himself was influenced by European nationalism. During Tilak’s lifetime, European scholars did not ignore his works completely. On the contrary, his polar hypothesis triggered a famous polemic in 1894 in the pages of The Indian Antiquary. Interestingly enough, Hindu traditionalists, and especially the contemporary disciples of Swami Karpātrī, usually reject as contrary to the śāstras Tilak’s theory that Vedic culture originated outside of India. One potential source for this idea of an Artic homeland is the writings of the French astronomer Jean-Sylvain Bailly (1736-1793), who was himself familiar with Hindu astronomy and the doctrine of the yugas. Bailly wrote to Voltaire that, based on his own astronomical works, he had concluded that in ancient times, sciences had originated in the North, before illuminating India and China, reaching Europe only much later.
The influence of contemporary expressions of Hinduism on the Traditionalist school is more decisively reflected in the field of interfaith. At the heart of the Hindu Renaissance, and of modern Hinduism, are the lives of the saints, including Rāmakṛṣṇa, Ramaṇa Maharṣi and Ānandamāyī Mā, each of whom accepted and taught disciples of other creeds. Their mystical experiences cross sectarian boundaries and point in the direction of a unity of religions beyond theological differences. Similar expressions of universalism have existed in other traditional civilizations, but their magnitude and depth in India are clearly unmatched. Guénon and Schuon interpreted the lives of these saints as confirmation of their own positions. They were concerned, however, that this universalism – which in the case of those saints was linked to the highest degree of spiritual realization – could be misunderstood and turned into an anti-traditional ideology that seeks to free mankind from “separatist religions.”
Surprisingly enough, even the universalism professed by Rāmakṛṣṇa himself does not totally meet Guénon’s and Schuon’s requirements of orthodoxy and discrimination. Rāmakṛṣṇa (1836-1886) was a Bengali priest and a fervent devotee of the Divine Mother, who professed the convergence of the great religions. Having realized the Supreme State as a Hindu, he then followed the Muslim and the Christian paths, establishing, on a practical basis, their intrinsic orthodoxy and convergence with traditional Hinduism. His most important disciple was Swami Vivekānanda (1863-1902), the famous philosopher, reformist and founder of the Rāmakṛṣṇa Mission. We don’t have any particular indication about Guénon, but according to Schuon’s autobiographical testimony, he had been, since childhood, especially fascinated by Rāmakṛṣṇa. In an interview with Jean Biès, Schuon refers to Rāmakṛṣṇa as an “Eastern precursor” of the Perennialist school. It is clear for Schuon, however, that despite the great plasticity of his intelligence, Rāmakṛṣṇa embodies the “unity of religions” in an essentially bhaktic way. By comparison, Schuon claims not only to reach out to the unique Truth behind religious forms (as Rāmakṛṣṇa does) but to be able also to explain why there are so many different religions and what is their “raisons d’être.” Schuon’s perspective is therefore more metaphysical and based on a path of intellectual discrimination. In Rāmakṛṣṇa’s experience, the “outer shells” are broken under the pressure of Divine love. In the Schuonian approach, on the contrary, religious forms are first restored in their original transparency. They become the object of an intellectual intuition for the gnostic who thus sees them in their essence or in their archetypal reality. It is only at a later and final stage that religious forms are transcended, that they vanish in the light of the Supreme Self. The question remains however whether the teaching of Schuon truly reveals religious forms as they are, or if it distorts them.
In Perspectives spirituelles et faits humains, Schuon reflects on the enigma of Rāmakṛṣṇa-Vivekānanda, asking why a saint of the magnitude of Rāmakṛṣṇa was unable to prevent what Schuon considers to be a deviation of his lineage in the direction of a modernist and sentimentalist philosophy. Schuon does not hesitate to argue that the Bengali priest confused the mental sharpness of Vivekānanda with an inner predisposition for jñāna. Because of his bhakti orientation, Rāmakṛṣṇa only vaguely realized the heterodoxy of his entourage and he welcomed, perhaps too liberally, modernist influences around him. At a more subtle level, Schuon believes Rāmakṛṣṇa underestimated the power of the cosmic illusion and that, unconsciously, he sought to usurp the prophetic function by giving a formal content to the unity of religions. Ironically, this latter criticism was addressed to Schuon’s himself after his death.
Schuon judges even more severely the attempts made in some Hindu circles to place a contemporary guru (to say nothing of political figures) at the same level as great exponents of the Sophia Perennis such as Śaṅkara or avatāras such as Rāma and Kṛṣṇa. A sense of proportion seems to be lacking in this case. He also criticizes the exorbitant pretensions of other modern Hindu thinkers such as Śrī Aurobindo who pretend to have answered questions which have remained unsolved for ages by importing modern ideas such as “progress” and “evolution” or by building a syncretistic system of their own making in which traditional wisdom prepares for the advent of a new world religion.
This neo-yogism, like other similar movements, pretends that it can add an essential value to the wisdom of our ancestors; it believes that the religions are partial truths which it is called upon to stick together, after hundreds or thousands of years of waiting, and to crown with its own naive little system. (…) The intellectual poverty of the neo-yogist movement provides an incontestable proof that there is no spirituality without orthodoxy.
For Schuon (and here Guénon agrees with him), everything has already been said, though truths too often have not been understood. Put another way, the Tradition is there but no one is listening. What is needed for our time is a new approach for rediscovering Truth, one which is more differentiated and reflective, though not necessarily better than past approaches. But the time for the crystallization of new darśanas is over, according to the Swiss metaphysician, and a master of wisdom deludes himself and his disciples if he forgets what it means to be born at the end of the Kali-yuga, i.e., at a time of spiritual decadence and even generalized subversion. No guru can claim to have come to restore the Satya-Yuga, because the Kalkin avatāra, described in the Purāṇas, has not yet appeared.
Reformist and modernist Hindus were not the only ones in modern India to profess a supra-confessional universalism. Traditionalist views of Hindu primordiality are also mirrored in the teachings of contemporary Jagadgurus, who are really the embodiment of that “surviving traditional Hinduism” to which Hacker refers. The descendants of Śaṅkara tend to identify the Sanātana Dharma with the primordial religion of humanity and often claim that other religions, reduced to their essence, are in agreement with the fundamental tenets of Vedānta.
During a private interview with Swami Avimukteshwaranand Sarasvati, the head of the Śrī Vidyā Maṭha in Vārāṇasī and disciple of his Holiness Swami Śrī Swarupananda Sarasvati Ji Maharaj, the question of the conversion of foreigners to the Sanātana Dharma arose. He explained to us that, according to his tradition, every child is born a Hindu, though later he may become a Christian or a Muslim, depending on the background of his family. Properly speaking, for a foreigner to turn to Hinduism amounts less to a conversion than to a return to the Primordial Religion. Another pre-eminent paṇḍit, Mahant Veer Bhadra Mishra, whom we met in his house on the ghats of Vārāṇasī, was more reluctant to speak about conversion but only because of its religious connotation. The Sanātana Dharma is the older tradition on earth, he argued. It predates any existing religion insofar as it has no human founder but was received by the ṛṣis at the beginning of the cycle, when humanity was not split into different sects.
Schuon was himself in contact with the Jagadguru of Kāñcipuram, Swami Pūjyaśri Candrasekharendra Sarasvatī (1894-1994), who also taught that the Vedic religion was originally practiced all over the globe. It was “a religion without name” because, at the time, no other faith competed against it.
All religions barring our own were established by single individuals. Buddhism means the religion founded by Gautama Buddha. Jainism was founded by the Jina called Mahavira. So has Christianity its origin in Jesus Christ. Our religion predating all these had spread all over the world. Since there was no other religion to speak about, it was not necessary to give it a name [the term Hindu being brought by foreigners only much later].
In other discourses, the Śaṅkarācārya distinguishes stages in the evolution of the old Vedic religion up to the present day. He believes that the primordial tradition contained in the Vedas was gradually adulterated in different parts of the world and, in the process, gave birth to the great faiths of Antiquity: Greco-Roman polytheism, Israeli monotheism, and the religions of America. These ancient traditions were derived from Vedism (which in India was kept intact) and later supplanted by new, proselytic religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.
The Jagadguru of the southern maṭha, points out that archeological evidence exists to support his historical views of the antiquity and the universality of Hinduism. He refers, for instance, to “a treaty between Ramses II and the Hiitites dating back to the 14th century BC” in which “the Vedic Gods Mitra and Varuṇa are mentioned as witnesses to the pact.” As well, the Śaṅkarācārya does not hesitate to draw a connection between the name of the Pharaoh and Rāma, the avatāra of Viṣṇu. The existence of a festival, Rāma-Sītā, celebrated in Mexico at the time of Navaratri, also suggests that the Vedic religion may have flourished in the Western Hemisphere. Along the same lines, Swami Pūjyaśri Candrasekharendra Sarasvatī says “the Hellenic religion” contains “Vedic elements” and that this is also true of “the Semitic religions of the pre-Christian era.” He even interprets the biblical narrative of Adam and Eve as essentially a reminiscence of the Upaniṣadic story of the two birds perched on the branch of a pippala tree, Adam symbolizing Ātman and Eve the individual jīva.
The Upaniṣadic ideas transplanted into a distant land underwent a change after the lapse of centuries. Thus we see in the biblical story that Ātman (Sana) that can never be subject to sensual pleasures also eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. While our bodhi tree stands for enlightenment, the enlightenment that banishes all sensual pleasures, the biblical tree affords worldly pleasures. These differences notwithstanding, there is sufficient evidence here that, once upon a time, the Vedic religion was prevalent in the land of the Hebrews.
For a Western reader, the evidence outlined by the Jagadguru of Kāñcipuram warrants critical examination, and yet the history of religions does show that the meeting between different traditions, especially in a colonial and post-colonial context, often produces similar gestures or efforts toward understanding “the Other” through native religious categories, an exercise which necessarily betrays, at some level, a naive and often innocent religious ethnocentrism. The situation is complicated in the case of the contemporary representatives of the Sanātana Dharma by a certain lack of perspective on the most “exoteric” aspects of the Hindu religion, as well as an unfamiliarity with the specific nature of the scientific material produced by Western scholarship.
Guénon and the contemporary exponents of Advaita Vedānta seem to agree at least partially as regards the relationship between the Primordial Tradition and Hinduism (which may incidentally corroborate the idea that Guénon came into contact with traditional Hindus in Paris). This apparent convergence should not prevent us however from acknowledging that the two perspectives do not totally overlap. For Traditionalists, Hinduism itself, despite its universality and lack of dogma, remains a form which belongs to the domain of nāma-rūpa. According to Guénon, if we mean by Sanātana Dharma the Primordial Tradition stricto sensu, then Hinduism and Sanātana Dharma cannot be simply identified. Hinduism represents only the most direct heritage of the latter. Traditionalists will also complain that when they express views about other faiths, the Jagadgurus are still approaching them from a particular upāya, adopting an attitude certainly more tolerant than that of Abrahamic religions but nevertheless condescending and not necessarily well-informed. Their position would still reflect an almost “exoteric” tendency frequently witnessed among the religious authorities, consisting in an effort to universalize their own faith and identify it with the Primordial Religion, while seeing in other religions serious deviations from this original norm.
Traditionalists are probably right, up to a certain extent. As far as traditional Hindus are concerned, since the colonial era, they have been engaged in reinterpreting the concept of Dharma in order to respond to the challenges of the European missionaries. They have strived to present Hinduism as something more ancient and of a different nature than the confessional religions, which are not autochthonous to the Indian subcontinent. But in doing so, they may seem guilty, in the eyes of the European Traditionalists, of underestimating the spiritual possibilities of these other faiths. Even Sufism, which has co-existed with Vedānta for centuries in India, tends to be reduced by the Śaṅkarācāryas to a form of bhakti mārga which ignores the supreme identity of the individual self with the Absolute.
Contemporary Hindu traditionalists would undoubtedly learn a lot from a more direct acquaintance with the other contemplative traditions. But one needs to acknowledge that the position of the Western Traditionalists is not totally disinterested either. The whole Perennialist doctrine of the unity of religions serves not only a theoretical purpose (accounting for religious diversity) but also a more practical one. As already explained, although their metaphysical starting point is Advaita Vedānta, Traditionalists, in their overwhelming majority, are practitioners of Sufism. In some ways, they have to convince themselves that Hinduism and Islam are providing rigorously equivalent spiritual possibilities for a Western esoterist and that the attitude of the Jagadgurus has no other explanation than a secret “religious patriotism.”
Western Traditionalists may have a platonic inclination, i.e. a tendency to essentialize and dehistoricize the objects they are studying, but their notion of Tradition is imbedded in history, inconceivable without the French Revolution and later the interactions between India and Europe during the colonial period. Even if they are not aware of it, Traditionalists are part of the global trade of ideas that modernity has put into motion, with communities on both sides redefining their identities and rewriting their past to face the challenges of the time. This background will continue to be informative for us as we compare Guénon’s conception of the Primordial Tradition with its equivalents in the writings of Daniélou and Schuon. Surprisingly enough, far from staying at the level of the Principles and symbolism where history does not count, Guénon appeals to pseudo-historical arguments to establish the existence of a Primordial Tradition. Daniélou follows a relatively similar approach. Only Schuon, with his more universal notion of Religio Perennis, manages to rise to a perspective that, despite its own shortcomings, is probably more relevant today.
Renaud Fabbri (Excerpt from an unpublished manuscript)
 Philology and Confrontation: Paul Hacker on Traditional and Modern Vedānta, edited by Wilhelm Halbfass. Albany: State University of New York, 1995, p.229-256.
 Ibidem, p.251-252.
 About Paul Hacker see Rajiv Malhotra, Indra’s Net : Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity, HarperCollins, 2014, p.62 and following pages. Like Andrew Nicholson, Rajiv Malhotra insists for instance on the role of the pre-modern scholar Vijñānabhikṣu in consolidating what we now call Hinduism (p. 158).
 René Guénon, Etudes sur l’hindouisme, p.25. Guénon explicitly embraces Tilak’s theory of the Artic Homeland of the Vedas. See also the letter of René Guénon to Alain Daniélou of August 27th 1947 published in La Corrispondenza fra Alain Daniélou e René Guénon: 1947-1950, Orientalia Venetiana, 2002, p.32.
 See Alain Daniélou’s contribution in René Guénon, Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1984 p.137.
 Bal Gangadhar Tilak, The Secret Meaning of the Bhagavad-Gītā, 1936.
 Bal Gangadhar Tilak, The Orion, or Researches into the Antiquities of the Vedas, 1894 and The Arctic Home in the Vedas, 1903.
 For a discussion of Tilak and the dating of the Vedas, Edwin Bryant, The Quest of the Origins of the Vedic Culture: The Indo-Āryan Migration Debate, p.238-266.
 René Guénon, Formes traditionnelles et cycles cosmiques, p.37.
 Chetan Bhatt, Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths, p. 31-36.
 The Quest for the Origins of the Vedic culture, p.251.
 See in particular, Jean-Sylvain Bailly, Histoire de l’astronomie indienne et orientale, 1787.
 Jean-Sylvain Bailly, Lettres sur l’origine des sciences et sur celle des peuples de l’Asie adressées à Monsieur de Voltaire, 1777.
 On Rāmakṛṣṇa, see “Sri Rāmakṛṣṇa and Religious Tolerance,” in Ananda Coomaraswamy, Vol. II: Selected Papers, Metaphysics, edited by Roger Lipsey, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977, p.34-42.
 Jean Biès, “Frithjof Schuon: A Face of Eternal Wisdom,” Sophia 4, 1.
 Frithjof Schuon, Perspectives spirituelles et faits humains, p.152-164.
 Frithjof Schuon, Language of the Self, p.39-40.
 A coherent but problematic position, for it encourages a sort of intellectual conformism in Traditionalist circles within Europe and the US.
 On this, see also Michel Hulin, Śaṅkara et la non-dualité, Paris: Bayard, 2001, p.222-223 and William Cenkner, A Tradition of Teachers, p.145-146.
 Clarifying this point, Swami Śrī Swarupananda Sarasvati Ji Maharaj, told us, during a different interview in Badrinath, that according to the Śāstras, the fetus, when still in the womb of its mother, has the ability to recall its past lives. As it realizes the suffering of transmigratory existence, it prays to Lord Viṣṇu in order to obtain final Deliverance in its new life. It is only at birth that this inner contact with his Creator is temporarily lost, veiled by the false opacity of the things of this world. The Adhyātma Rāmāyaṇa tells us a very similar story. See Adhyātma Rāmāyaṇa, translated by Swami Tapasyananda, Chennai: Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa Math, p.219-220.
 Pūjyaśri Candrasekharendra Sarasvatī, Hindu Dharma: the Universal Way of Life, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidyā Bhavan, 2008. p.28.
 Ibidem, p.34.
 Ibidem, p.30-31.
 Ibidem, p.33.
 For instance, after the Muslim invasions of India, some Muslim rulers agree to classify the Hindus as People of the Book, on the grounds that they had received their own revelation from Heaven, and some Sufis did not hesitate to identify great avatāras like Kṛṣṇa with prophets who would have been later divinized by their followers. See Arvind Sharma, “Can Muslims Talk to Hindus?“ Religions/Adyan, 0, p.194-195.
 On the one hand, many traditional Ācāryas, especially if they have been superficially exposed to profane sciences, will be tempted to seek in orientalist or scientific literature evidence to support the content of the śāstras. Such a temptation is quite natural on their part. But in yielding to it, these Ācāryas generally pay little if any attention to the epistemological foundations of Western sciences, their embeddedness into a secular and naturalist worldview, and to the hypothetical and instable status of the conclusions these sciences may reach. A theory that seems to support religious teachings one day will be discarded the next day. On the other hand, the same Ācāryas, sometimes unconsciously driven by the materialist bent of those secular sciences and under their influence, will also tend to re-interpret the myths and legends found in the śāstras in a rather literalistic manner, as referring to positive facts, either historical or natural, such as those studied by the secular disciplines of the West. The outcome of this unhappy marriage between tradition and modernism will be disappointing for both sides. A more metaphysical and symbolical exegesis that does not seek to establish, at any cost, a convergence between religion and science is certainly more able to protect the sacred truths revealed in the scriptures.
 René Guénon, Etudes sur l’hindouisme, p.113. Similarly, the following passage from Schuon shows that he did not identify Hinduism with the Primordial Tradition as such: “In order to make itself understood by souls impregnated with passion, religion itself adopted a so to speak passional language. (…) There are here three possibilities: firstly, men dominate the passional element, everyone lives spiritually by his inward revelation; this is the golden age, in which everybody is born an initiate. Second possibility: men are affected by the passional element to the point of forgetting certain aspects of the Truth, whence the necessity – or the opportuneness – of Revelations that while being outward are metaphysical in spirit, such as the Upaniṣads. Thirdly: the majority of men are dominated by passions, whence the formalistic, exclusive and combative religions [like Christianity or Islam].” The Essential Frithjof Schuon, Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2005, p.89
 For instance with the concepts of ‘Ahl al-Kitāb (People of the Book) and Dīn al-Fiṭra (religion of the primordial nature of man), Muslims find ways to accommodate the existence of other religions but only to conclude that, at the End of Time, Islam will prevail as the last and best religion. Catholics, after the Second Vatican Council, no longer demonize other faiths but they celebrate in Christianity the fulfillment of the religious expectations of humanity since the beginning of time.
 On the evolution of the concept of Dharma, see Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe: an Essay in Understanding, Albany: State University of New York, 1988.