Schuon was born in Basel, Switzerland, on June 18, 1907. His father was a native of southern Germany, while his mother came from an Alsatian family. Schuon's father was a concert violinist, and the household was one in which not only music but literary and spiritual culture were present. Schuon lived in Basle and attended school there until the untimely death of his father, after which his mother returned with her two young sons to her family in Mulhouse, France, where Schuon was obliged to become a French citizen. Having received his earliest training in German, he received his later education in French and thus mastered both languages early in life.
From his youth, Schuon's search for metaphysical truth led him to read the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. While still living in Mulhouse, he discovered the works of the French philosopher and Orientalist René Guénon, which served to confirm his intellectual intuitions and which provided support for the metaphysical principles he had begun to discover.
Schuon journeyed to Paris after serving for a year and a half in the French army. There he worked as a textile designer and began the study of Arabic in the local mosque school. Living in Paris also brought the opportunity to be exposed to a much greater degree than before to various forms of traditional art, especially those of Asia, with which he had had a deep affinity since his youth. This period of a growing intellectual and artistic familiarity with the traditional worlds was followed by Schuon's first visit to Algeria in 1932. It was then that he met the celebrated Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi. On a second trip to North Africa, in 1935, he visited Algeria and Morocco; and during 1938 and 1939 he traveled to Egypt where he met Guenon, with whom he had been in correspondence for 20 years. In 1939, shortly after his arrival in India, World War II broke out, forcing him to return to Europe. After having served in the French army, and after having been made prisoner by the Germans, he sought asylum in Switzerland, which gave him nationality and was to be his home for forty years. In 1949 he married, his wife being a German Swiss with a French education who, besides having interests in religion and metaphysics, is also a gifted painter. 
Following World War II, he accepted an invitation to travel to the American West, where he lived for several months among the Plains Indians, in whom he has always had a deep interest. Having received his education in France, Schuon has written all his major works in French, which began to appear in English translation in 1953. Of his first book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions (London, Faber & Faber) T. S. Eliot wrote: "I have met with no more impressive work in the comparative study of Oriental and Occidental religion." 
While always continuing to write, Schuon and his wife have traveled widely. In 1959 and again in 1963, they journeyed to the American West at the invitation of friends among the Sioux and Crow American Indians. In the company of their Indian friends they visited various Plains tribes and had the opportunity to witness many aspects of their sacred traditions. In 1959 Schuon and his wife were solemnly adopted into the Sioux family of James Red Cloud. Years later they were similarly adopted by the Crow medicine man and Sun Dance chief, Thomas Yellowtail. Schuon's writings on the central rites of Indian religion and his hauntingly beautiful paintings of their lifeways attest to his particular affinity with the spiritual universe of the Plains Indians. Other travels have included journeys to Andalusia, Morocco, and a visit in 1968 to the home of the Holy Virgin in Ephesus. In 1980, Schuon and his wife emigrated to the United States, where he continued to write until his death in 1998.
Through his many books and articles Schuon became known as a spiritual teacher and leader of the Traditionalist School. During his years in Switzerland he regularly received visits from well-known religious scholars and thinkers of both East and West. The traditionalist or "perennialist" perspective began to be enunciated in the West at the beginning of the twentieth century by René Guénon and by the Orientalist and Harvard professor Ananda Coomaraswamy. Fundamentally, this doctrine is the Sanatana Dharma -- the "eternal religion" -- of Hindu Vedantists. It has been formulated and expressed implicitly and explicitly in the teachings of all traditional civilizations including particularly those of Plotinus in ancient Greece, Meister Eckhart in the Christian world, Adi Shankaracharya in India, and Ibn Arabi within the Muslim world. Every religion has, besides its literal meaning, an esoteric dimension, which is essential, primordial and universal. This intellectual universality is one of the hallmarks of Schuon's works, and it gives rise to many fascinating insights into not only the various spiritual traditions, but also history, science and art.
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