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Articles

  1. What Is the Perennial Philosophy?
  2. Monday's response
  3. Perennial philosophy - Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
  4. Perennial philosophy

You can see it flourishing in the transcendentalism of Emerson, Coleridge and Thoreau. The Perennial Philosophy is a much more natural attitude to me than the exclusivism and tribalism of Christianity, which I find strange and incredible.

What Is the Perennial Philosophy?

While my adventures in Christianity of the last two years introduced me for the first time to Christian wisdom and grace, I still have a deep sense of the richness of other traditions. What I have been developing, this year, is something called the Wisdom Approach, which teaches ideas, practices and values from various different wisdom traditions. I think the idea of healing wisdom — Sophia — connects all the great wisdom traditions, including atheist ones like Epicureanism and Buddhism.

The courses I run try to explore this common ground while also exploring the different destinations they attempt to reach. This week, I read a book which made some trenchant criticisms of the Perennial Philosophy.


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The Perennial Philosophy, by being so universalist and essentialist, ends up doing violence to the traditions it tries to cohere. The Tao is not the same as the Christian God the Tao cares nothing for individuals, as Lao Tzu says , nor are either the same as Buddhist sunyata or emptiness. The mystics themselves do not agree that all religions are talking about the same ultimate reality.

Monday's response

All religions are equal, but some are more equal than others. Perennialists tend to rank religions, and even sects within religions. Christianity is usually near or at the bottom — Sam Harris says it has basically nothing useful to say about the human condition, Aldous Huxley said the Bible was an obstacle to evolution — and Tibetan Buddhism is at the top.

Perennialists tend to be western and tend to have rejected their Judeo-Christian background, and therefore rank Christianity low in their wisdom rankings. And of course Christianity, like Islam and Judaism, fits uneasily within a Perennial framework, with their tribal eschatologies and their faith in their unique revelation.

Perennial philosophy - Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core

Your mind is the laboratory, in which you can go and check these facts for yourself. The Perennial Philosophy can thus be considered a valid or reliable source of knowledge. But - important! Such a position - taken by the anti-modernist school of Rene Guenon i. Because the Perennial Philosophy constitutes the majority view of pre-modernist understanding, that does not mean it is the only view.

Perennial philosophy

In Aldous Huxley wrote of a perennial philosophy "that recognises a divine reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine reality; the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent ground of all being". He said that it could be found in both "traditional lore" and the "higher religions", in every era. Was Huxley right?


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Is there an eternal truth, that we keep on discovering — whether it's a "divine reality" or something better formulated in another way? And if so, what is its nature — is it outside us? Is it simply an aspect of the way our brains are wired?