The term "Perennial Philosophy" was coined by Leibniz, but popularized by Aldous Huxley, according to whom it pertains to a primary concern "with the one, divine Reality substantial to the manifold world of things and lives and minds. But the nature of this one Reality is such that it cannot be directly or immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfill certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit." In the spirit of Aldous Huxley, this page explores Eastern and Western traditions of mysticism and religion.
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Excerpt from F.C. Happold (1970), "Perennial Philosophy":
What is mysticism? The word 'mystic' has its origin in the Greek mysteries. A mystic was one who had been initiated into these mysteries, through which he had gained an esoteric knowledge of divine things and been 'reborn into eternity.' His object was to break through the world of history and time into that of eternity and timelessness. The method was through initiation ceremonies of the sort so vividly described by the Latin writer, Apuleius, in The Golden Ass. Through the mysteries the initiated entered into something holy and numinous, a secret wisdom about which it was unlawful for him to speak. The word 'mystery' (mysterion) comes from the Greek verb muo, to shut or close the lips or eyes.
....In the course of time the word [mysticism] came to an extended, indeed a different meaning. In that syncretism of Greek and Oriental philosophy which occurred in the centuries immediately preceeding the birth of Christ, known as Neoplatonism, it came to mean a particular sort of approach to the whole problem of reality, in which the intellectual, and more especially the intuitive, faculties came into play. As a result of the fusion of Christian and Neoplatonist ideas in the early centuries of the Christian era, a system of so-called mystical theology came into existence, which was one of the main foundations of Christian mysticism.
To speak more generally, mysticism has its fount in what is the raw material of all religion and is also the inspiration of much of philosophy, poetry, art, and music, a consciousness of a beyond, of something which, though it is interwoven with it, is not of the external world of material phenomena, of an unseen over and above the seen. In the developed mystic this consciousness is present in an intense and highly specialized form.
The mystical element enters into the commoner forms of religious experience when religious feeling surpasses its rational content, that is, when the hidden, non-rational, unconscious elements predominate and determine the emotional life and the intellectual attitude. In the true mystic there is an extension of normal consciousness, a release of latent powers and a widening of vision, so that aspects of truth unplumbed by the rational intellect are revealed to him. Both in feeling and thought he apprehends an immanence of the temporal in the eternal and the eternal in the temporal. In the religious mystic there is a direct experience of the Presence of God. Though he may not be able to describe it in words, though he may not be able to logically demonstrate its validity, to the mystic his experience is fully and absolutely valid and is surrounded with complete certainty. He has been 'there,' he has 'seen,' he 'knows.' With St. Paul, in the poem by F. W. H. Myers, he can say:
Whoso has felt the spirit of the Highest
Cannot confound nor doubt Him nor deny.
Yea with one voice, O world, though thou deniest,
Stand thou on that side, for on this am I.
'Though he may not be able to describe it in words, though he may not be able logically to demonstrate its validity...' Let us be quite frank. To a man of the twentieth century, the heir of centuries of thought-techniques which had their roots in Greek logic -- conditioned, consciously or unconsciously, by the scientific approach of our time -- that may seem alien and incomprehensible. How, he may object, can anything be accepted which not only cannot be rationally proved but which also cannot even be described in words? It is a challenge that anyone setting out to write a study of mysticism must try to meet.
If the reader's initial approach is one of scepticism, I am quite content. I would, however...ask him to put to himself these questions: What is the nature of Reality, that which ultimately is? How much is our picture of it, what we know, or think we know, dependent on what we are able to see of it with our very limited range of perception? May it not be at least a possibility that, if our range of perception were enlarged, we should see it quite differently?
Not only have mystics been found in all ages, in all parts of the world and in all religious systems, but also mysticism has manifested itself in similar or identical forms wherever the mystical consciousness has been present. Because of this it has sometimes been called the Perennial Philosophy. Out of their experience and their reflection on it have come the following assertions:
1. This phenomenal world of matter and individual consciousness is only a partial reality and is the manifestation of a Divine Ground in which all partial realities have their being.
2. It is of the nature of man that not only can he have knowledge of this Divine Ground by inference, but also he can realize it by direct intuition, superior to discursive reason, in which the knower is in some way united with the known.
3. The nature of man is not a single but a dual one. He has not one but two selves, the phenomenal ego, of which he is chiefly conscious and which he tends to regard as his true self, and a non-phenomenal, eternal self, an inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within him, which is his true self. It is possible for a man, if he so desires and is prepared to make the necessary effort, to identify himself with his true self and so with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature.
4. It is the chief end of man's earthly existence to discover and identify himself with his true self. By doing so, he will come to an intuitive knowledge of the Divine Ground and so apprehend Truth as it really is, and not as to our limited human perceptions it appears to be. Not only that, he will enter into a state of being which has been given different names, eternal life, salvation, enlightenment, etc.
Further, the Perennial Philosophy rests on two fundamental convictions:
1. Though it may be to a great extent atrophied and exist only potentially in most men, men possess an organ or faculty which is capable of discerning spiritual truth, and, in its own spheres, this faculty is as much to be relied on as are other organs of sensation in theirs.
2. In order to be able to discern spiritual truth men must in their essential nature be spiritual; in order to know That which they call God, they must be, in some way, partakers of the divine nature; potentially at least there must be some kinship between God and the human soul. Man is not a creature set over against God. He participates in the divine life; he is, in a real sense, 'united' with God in his essential nature, for, as the Flemish contemplative, the Blessed John Ruysbroeck, put it:
"This union is within us of our naked nature and were this nature to be separated from God it would fall into nothingness."
This is the faith of the mystic. It springs out of his particular experience and his reflection on that experience. It implies a particular view of the nature of the universe and of man, and it seems to conflict with other conceptions of the nature of the universe and of man which are also the result of experience and reflection in it.
There is a poem by the late Latin poet and philosopher, Boethius, which, translated, opens as follows:
This dischord in the pact of things,
This endless war 'twixt truth and truth,
That singly held, yet give the lie
To him who seeks to hold them both...
In the world, constituted as it is, men are faced not with one single truth but with several 'truths,' not with one but with several pictures of reality. They are thus conscious of a 'discord in the pact of things,' whereby to hold to one 'truth' seems to be to deny another. One part of their experience draws to one, another to another. It has been the eternal quest of mankind to find the one ultimate Truth, that final synthesis in which all partial truths are resolved. It may be that the mystic has glimpsed this sythesis.
A Glossary of Terms, Persons and TextsThis is a continually growing list. Suggestions are welcome.
A: Abu Yazid, Adoptionism, Adamites, The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, Albigensians, Alchemy, Al-Ghazzali, Al-Hallaj, A. H. Almaas, The Analects, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, Apollinarianism, Apologia of St. Bernard, Apologia of St. John Damascene Against Those Who Decry Holy Images, Sir Edward Appleton, Apuleius, Arianism, Art of War, The Ascent of Man, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. Athanasius, Farid-al-din 'Attar, W. H. Auden, St. Augustine, and S. Aurobindo.
B: Baba Kuhi of Shiraz, BaLitthA Suukta, Barlaam and Ioasaph, Basic Writings by St. Anselm, Berdyaev, St. Bernard, Bhagavad Gita, Bhakti Yoga, William Blake, Boethius,Boethius' Consolatio Philosophiae, Jacob Boehme, The Book of the Golden Precepts, The Book of Supreme Truth, The Book of the Twelve Beguines, Robert Browning, Martin Buber, John Buchan, R. M. Bucke, and Buddhism.
C: Calvin's Commentaries, The Catechetical Instructions of St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Cathars, Joseph Campbell, John Caputo, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Catherine of Siena, Centuries of Meditations, Council of Chalcedon, Christian dogma, Chuang Tzu, Tung Chung-shu, City of God, Clement of Alexandria, The Cloud of Unknowing, The Conference of the Birds, The Conferences of John Cassian, The Confessions of St. Augustine, Confucius, Cosmic Consciousness, The Creation Hymn, The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, Culasunnatta Sutta, and St. Cyril of Alexandria.
D: Dante, Dark Night of the Soul, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, De docta ignorantia, Death's Duel, Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix (paintings), Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, A Discourse on the Cleansing Virtue of Christ's Blood, A Discourse of the Efficient of Regeneration, Part 1, A Discourse of the Efficient of Regeneration, Part 2, A Discourse of God's being the Author of Reconciliation, A Discourse of the Nature of Regeneneration, A Discourse of the Word, the Instrument of Regeneration, Dionysius the Areopagite, Diwan, Docetists, John Donne (poetry), Dostoyevsky and Du Prel.
E: Ebionism, Meister Eckhart, Mircea Eliade, The Enochian Walks with God, Epistle to the Romans, Etudes sur le Mysticisme, and The Everlasting Mercy.
F: The Faith of the Physicist, Feng Shui, Four Degrees of Passionate Charity, St. Francis of Assisi, Viktor Frankl, Freedom of the Will, The Future Evolution of Man.
G: Anne Gage, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Gnosticism, God's Way of Peace, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Golden Ass, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, The Greatest Thing in the World, Greek philosophy, St. Gregory, Stanislov Grof, and Gurdjieff.
H: Thich Nhat Hahn, Handbook on Hope, Faith and Love, The Heavenly Cloud Now Breaking, Hebrew religion, Heretics by Chesterton, Hesychasm, James Hillman, Hindu Bhakti, Hinduism, Winifred Holtby, The Holy War, Homiliae in Primum Librum Samuelis, The Hound of Heaven, Yang Hsiung, Hsun Tzu, Huai-nan Tzu, H. H. Huntley, Aldous Huxley, and Hymns to the Mystic Fire.
I: I Ching, The Idea of the Holy, The Ideal Life, In Memoriam, Indian Philosophy--Vol. 1, Inferno, The Inner Life, The Inner Way, Institutes of the Christian Religion, The Interior Castle, 'Iraqi, Isaiah, and Islam.
J: William James, Jami, Karl Jaspers, Richard Jefferies, Jewish Kabbalah, St. John of the Cross (poetry), John of Damascus, Martin Johnson, Judaism, Julian of Norwich, al-Junaid of Baghdad, and C. G. Jung.
K: Rabiah ibn Kab, Kabbalah, Immanuel Kant, Jack Kornfield, Krishnamurti, and Kundalini.
L: Lankavatara Sutra, Lao Tzu, The Laws of Paradise, Timothy Leary, Letters of Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Leo, Lieh Tzu, The Life and Doctrine of St. Catherine of Genoa, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Life of St. Theresa, A Life for a Life, Liturgy of St. Dionysius, A. C. B. Lovell, and LSD, My Problem Child.
M: Maurice Maeterlinck, Making, Knowing and Judging, Malaval, Gabriel Marcel, John Masefield, Abraham Maslow, St. Maximus of Turin, Rollo May, Meditation,
Memory Hold-the-Door, Mencius, Thomas Merton, A Message to the Philadelphian Society, Metanoia, Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love, Thomas Moore, Mishkat al-Anwar, The Mistress of Vision, Mo Tzu, My Utmost for His Highest, F. H. W. Myers, Mysteries of Fasting, and Mystical Theology.
N: Natural Law in the Spiritual World, The Necessity of Prayer, The Necessity of Regeneration, Negative Theology, Neoplatonism, The New Evangelism, and Nicholas of Cusa.
O: Of Learned Ignorance, Of Prayer, The One Work, On Christian Doctrine, On Loving God, On the Incarnation, and Orthodoxy by Chesterton, and Rudolf Otto.
P: Panentheism, Pantheism, Paradiso, Parinirvana Sutra, Blaise Pascal, Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga, St. Paul, The Phenomenon of Man, Pilgrim's Progress, Max Planck, Plato, Plotinus, The Poppy, The Possibilities of Prayer, Power through Prayer, Practical Mysticism, The Principle Upanishads, The Psychedelic Experience, and Purgatorio.
Q: Quia amore langueo.
R: Radhakrishnan, Wilhelm Reich, Religio Medici, Religion in Transition, Religious Affections, The Rembrance of Death and the Afterlife, The Rent Veil, Revelations of Divine Love, The Revelation of Revelations, Richard of St. Victor, Rig Veda, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, The Rule of St. Benedict, Rumi, Bertrand Russell, and John Ruysbroeck.
S: Santhya Sai Baba, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Saints' Everlasting Rest, Sankara, Arthur Schopenhauer, Albert Schweitzer, Seeing Suffering Directly, The Secret of the Golden Flower, Select Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, Sermon on the Mount, Donne's Sermon Preached to the Lords upon Easter-day, at the Communion, Sermons on the Song of Songs, Anya Seton, Shamanism, Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Short & Very Easy Method of Prayer, E. Sinnett, The Six Enneads, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, The Sparkling Stone, The Spiritual Canticle, Stones Rolled Away, The Stromata, Study of History, Sufism, Summa Contra Gentiles, The Summa Theologia, Sun-tzu, and Henry Suso.
T: Tantra, Taoism, Johannes Tauler, tawhid, The Temple--Its Ministry and Services, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Tennyson, St. Teresa of Avila, Theologia Germanica, Theosophy,
Thomas of Celano, Francis Thompson, Tibetan Buddhism, Paul Tillich, Time and Universe for the Scientific Conscience, The Timeless Moment, Arnold Toynbee, Thomas Traherne, Transcendental meditation, Treatise on Grace, The Tree of Faith, and The Trinity is One God, Not Three Gods.
U: Evelyn Underhill, Understanding Catholic Devotion to Mary, Uniformity with God's Will, Unpublished Essay on the Trinity by Edwards, and Upanishads.
V: The Visuddhimagga, Von Hartmann, and Voudon.
W: Wang Ch'ung, Michael Washburn, Alan Watts, The Way of Chuang Tzu, The Way to Christ, The Way to God, The Way of Perfection, What's Wrong with the World Today,
Ken Wilbur, The Winthrop Woman, The Wonders of God's Creation Manifested in the Variety of Eight Worlds, and William Wordsworth.
Y: Yin & Yang.
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