Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a rare phenomena in these days of religious decadence, earth-ravaging materialism, and all around despair. Nasr's sober call to return to our religions, not to the truncated and diseased state into which we've reduced them, but to their still beating hearts which are everywhere the same, is the driving force behind this latest title "The Garden of Truth", which is a sort of inner sequel to his "The Heart of Islam" published in 2002. This 'still beating heart' is not other than the esoteric or inner dimension of religion which informs its outer practices and doctrines, and it is this that communicates most directly the religion's presiding idea. In Islam this 'beating heart' is what we call in the West Sufism, but which is also known as Tasawwuf in Arabic, and 'Irfan in Persian. This living tradition, which goes back to the noble Prophet Muhammad, consists of many disciplines, all of which seek to purify our soul and render it transparent vis-?-vis the Divine Attributes. And while tomes have been written on the myriad aspects of this tradition it is incredibly difficult to give a concise summary that does even the least bit of justice to it. In fact I can think of no one better qualified to undertake such a task than Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Over the past four decades Nasr has, more than any other Muslim scholar, informed the Western world about not only the Islamic tradition, but its central virtues, which are preserved most succinctly in Sufism. Covering Nasr's qualifications for this is beyond the scope of this humble review, but suffice it to say that he has lived the reality of Sufism for over fifty years, has studied under traditional masters of Islamic philosophy/gnosis, and is recognized as a peerless scholar of Islamic civilization, its arts, and its philosophical tradition.
While "The Garden of Truth" is a summary it is not simply another academic appraisal. Instead this was written as a Sufi treatise for Western seekers. While summarizing the basic doctrines of Sufism, its historical unfolding, its luminaries and prerogatives Nasr also draws a basic map of the Path for the potential wayfarer. Obviously a book can never take the place of a living Master, but books can be useful supports for embracing the spiritual life. Also, it should be noted that although this is a summary it is by no means a light read. Since Nasr's perspective is informed by Islam's long tradition of knowledge-based mysticism his interpretations of Sufi doctrine, symbolism, and rites are tempered with that principial knowledge associated with speculative metaphysics. It is this edge that allows Nasr to communicate the sublimity of the Islamic vision, and of Sufism in particular, to a Western audience with all of the nuance necessary to make its central doctrines and practices intelligible.
As the destructive and hedonistic culture of the secularized West dominates more and more of the globe, crushing indigenous cultures, erasing the traces of their religions, and subordinating their economies, one wonders what could curb the sheer madness such a domination entails. For the spiritual man the only answer is inwardness, self-reform, and trust in God. For some of us Islam, and Sufism, are the means whereby these goals are sought, and I can think of no better a guide than Seyyed Hossein Nasr.