Perennial Philosophy

The philosophia perennis or Perennial Philosophy affirms that a direct insight into the nature of Reality is a universally human possibility -- whether it be gained after practice of spiritual disciplines and study of scriptures or through a wholly unanticipated illuminating experience of union with God or the Ultimate. A result of such awareness is the confidence that we have devolved from a single Source and the process of spiritual development is completed and perfected in our return to that One.

To call this perennial is to say that such an insight reappears in diverse times and places, not limited to any particular culture, class, or community. In more formal words, this philosophy has been described as

"the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality behind the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in [one] something identical with divine Reality and the ethic that places [one's] final end in the knowledge of the Immanent and Transcendent Ground of all things."

In other words, the term philosophia perennis is intended to describe a philosophy that has been formulated by those who have experienced direct communion with God or the Ultimate. However brief the experience, it transforms the thinking mind of the experiencer, so that they are never the same again. Such revelatory experience, captured however dimly in symbols supplied by human language or by whatever artistic expression, however often repeated through the ages by people of all races, genders, cultures and religious beliefs, open onto the Perennial Philosophy.

More than half a century ago, Aldous Huxley gave this title to an anthology that he edited. In the type of experience central to it, whether called archaic or primordial or mystical, the veil of materiality is rent and mistaken certainties are dispelled.

For the reader, Huxley's anthology may validate and verify that moment in which self-knowledge moves one beyond the felt limitations of "a foul stinking lump of himself," as the classical British text of spiritual instruction, The Cloud of Unknowing, described it. Are such texts of spiritual instruction and the experiences of traditional mystics still of value today? Perennial Philosophy responds with an emphatic Yes!

One way of expressing the central insight of the Perennial Philosophy is with the phrase That Thou Art, taken from the Sanskrit of the ancient Upanishads. The phrase teaches that the immanent eternal self is realized to be one with the Absolute Principle of all existence, and that the true destiny of human beings is to discover this fact for themselves, to find out Who and What they really are. Among the other vivid expressions of this insight are these:

BYAZID OF BISTUM: "I went from God to God, until they cried from me in me, "O Thou I!"

ST. CATHERINE OF GENOA: "My Me is God, nor do I recognize any other except my God Himself."

YUNG-CHIA-TA-SHIH: "The inner Light is beyond praise and blame; like space, it knows no boundaries, yet it is even here, within us, ever retaining its serenity and fullness. It is only when you hunt for it that you lose it. You cannot take hold of it, but equally, you cannot get rid of it."

MEISTER ECKHART: "The more God is in all things, the more He is outside them; the more He is within, the more without. Only the transcendent, the complete other, can be immanent without being changed by the becoming of that in which it dwells."

And what is the That which the Thou can discover itself to be?

RUYSBROECK: "In the Reality unitively known by the mystic ...we can speak no more of any creature but only of one Being... There were we all one before our creation, for this is our super-essence."

ST. BERNARD: "Who is God? I can think of no better answer than He who is. Nothing is more appropriate to the eternity which God is. If you call God good, or great, or blessed or wise, or anything else of this sort, it is included in these words, namely, He is."

How can one attain inner certainty of That?

Perennial Philosophy offers a seemingly paradoxical answer. The obstacle to unitive knowledge of That is obsessive consciousness of being a separate self. Attachment to I, me, or mine excludes unitive knowledge of God.

WILLIAM LAW: "Men are not in hell because God is angry with them . . . they stand in the state of division and separation which by their own motion, they have made for themselves.

ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS: "The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of divine union . . . held by the bonds of human affections, however slight they may be, we cannot, while they last, make our way to God."

ALDOUS HUXLEY: "We pass from time to eternity when identified with the spirit and pass again from eternity to time when we choose to identify with the body."

What help is available?

PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA: "They are on the way to truth who apprehend God by means of the divine, Light by the Light."

When is it available? Consider the following affirmations:

JOEL GOLDSMITH: "I am in union with the divine Intelligence of the past, the present and the future. No spiritual secret is hidden from me . . . There is this transcendental Being within me which I am and to which I have access forever. . . . That infinite divine Consciousness of God, the Consciousness of the past, and the present and the future, is my consciousness at this moment."

ALDOUS HUXLEY: "We are on a return sweep towards a point corresponding to our starting place in animality, but incommensurably above it. Once more life is lived in the moment. The life now of a being in whom love has cast out fear, vision has taken the place of earthly hope, selflessness has put a stop to the positive egotism of complacent reminiscence and the negative egotism of remorse.

"The present moment is the only aperture through which the soul can pass out of time into eternity, through which grace can pass out of eternity into the soul, and through which love can pass from one soul in time to another soul in time."

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