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About: The Perennial Philosophy

Søren Ventegodt

In his book The Perennial Philosophy from 1947, the great British intellectual Aldous Huxley shows the whole world that there is only one philosophy about life and existence.

There is only one basic philosophy of life that repeats itself in all times, in all cultures and in all religions, all mystical, shamanistic, spiritual, cultural etc. systems.

This discovery is shocking in its way, because if there is only one basic philosophy of life and existence regardless of continent, people and historical time, this philosophy must come from something other than the inventive brain of man. It must come from life itself; it must be a necessity for man, and all who search deep into existence must find it as the ultimate truth of life.

Aldous Huxley’s assertion of the existence of a Perennial Philosophy shook intellectual England in the middle of the last century; and it became a debate that continues to this day, and which spread across Europe and then to the rest of the intellectual world.

The Perennial Philosophy has numerous expressions. It is expressed differently in all the world’s religions. The great mystics have spoken about it in paradoxical terms and phrases, Rumi, Mester Echerhardt, William Blake…

The Perennial Philosophy is primarily about love. Love for life, for reality, also with a capital R, which many mystics equate with God, and perhaps most of all about love for oneself and other people.

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” thus says Jesus to us, and with this he gives us the core of the Perennial Philosophy, thrown right in the face as a demand we can all strive for, but which very few pure souls can live up to .

But the Perennial Philosophy is not flat and one-dimensional, as the simple commandment from Jesus may seem to be; the Perennial Philosophy reveals a deep well of wisdom, a sea of ​​life, an ocean of existence into which we can all plunge, if we have the courage to do so.

Because it takes courage to live, and courage to live is another of the themes that repeat itself over and over again in the Perennial Philosophy. It takes courage to acknowledge the joy of life, to take life’s table for ourselves, while all the people around us hold back shyly. We all know the envy of another’s happiness, and there is no revenge for the deeds of your enemies greater than your own success.

Sexuality is a third theme that comes up again and again. Sexuality, the life force, is the driving energy in everything human – all human striving, interest, curiosity and joy comes from sexuality. This is of course extremely controversial, because we want to rise above the low and animal, and therefore find it difficult to acknowledge our nature, and to admit that we are still, as humans, a complete and totally integrated part of nature. The aspiration to be more than nature is becoming the downfall of all humanity and only the realization of our complete unity with nature – of a collective form of life that expresses this – can now save the planet. Sustainability and respect for life also on a global level comes naturally as a consequence of the Perennial Philosophy.

The spiritual is a fourth inherent theme, which for many seekers becomes what awakens them to an understanding of the crucial importance of the Perennial Philosophy in our time. The mind and consciousness are deep mysteries to all of us, but if we seek the truth about ourselves and existence, we open Pandora’s box and look into our own darkness. Our inner shadow world, the subconscious, with all the repressed, traumatic, emotional things we have fled from in our personal history, is what stands between us and the direct experience of the truth of the Perennial Philosophy in our own life world.

The person who opens himself up to the possibility of a Perennial Philosophy, a final philosophical truth about life, cannot help but become interested in personal development. Often you start by reflecting deeply on life; read wise books, or you start going to a therapy that supports self-knowledge, like the classical holistic medicine that in Europe dates back to Hippocrates’ time 400 BC, where body, mind and spirit are healed through loving support from the holistic doctor.

The Perennial Philosophyshows us the way to happiness, to a long good life, and to our physical and mental health. I have never found a subject more important or more needed in our world and in our time than the Perennial Philosophy. It is therefore a great pleasure for me to be able to welcome you to a fantastic week 28 at Kurrebo in the summer of 2023!

For those interested, I am also happy to provide a free link to:

Aldous Huxley / Original title: The perennial philosophy/ Original edition/ Formerly: 1st edition. 1947

Free download here

Aldous Huxley

The book – perhaps not an easy read but definitely worth reading – begins like this:

PHILOSOPHIA PERENNIS the phrase was coined by Leibniz; but the thing the metaphysic that recognizes 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 the thing is immemorial and universal.

Rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditionary lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions.

A version of this Highest Common Factor in all preceding and subsequent theologies was first committed to writing more than twenty-five centuries ago, and since that time the inexhaustible theme has been treated again and again, from the standpoint of every religious tradition and in all the principal languages of Asia and Europe.

In the pages that follow I have brought together a number of selections from these writings, chosen mainly for their significance because they effectively illustrated some particular point in the general system of the Perennial Philosophy but also for their intrinsic beauty and memorableness.

These selections are arranged under various heads and embedded, so to speak, in a commentary of my own, designed to illustrate and connect, to develop and, where necessary, to elucidate. Knowledge is a function of being. When there is a change in the being of the knower, there is a corresponding change in the nature and amount of knowing. For example, the being of a child is transformed by growth and education into that of a man; among the results of this transformation is a revolutionary change in the way of knowing and the amount and character of the things known.

As the individual grows up, his knowledge becomes more conceptual and systematic in form, and its factual, utilitarian content is enormously increased. But these gains are offset by a certain deterioration in the quality of immediate apprehension, a blunting and a loss of intuitive power. Or consider the change in his being which the scientist is able to induce mechanically by means of his instruments. Equipped with a spectroscope and a sixty-inch reflector an astronomer becomes, so far as eyesight is concerned, a superhuman creature; and, as we should naturally expect, the knowledge possessed by this superhuman creature is very different, both in quantity and quality, from that which can be acquired by a stargazer with unmodified, merely human eyes. Nor are changes in the knower’s physiological or intellectual being the only ones to affect his knowledge. What we know depends also on what, as moral beings, we choose to make ourselves.

Practice,’ in the words of William James, may change our theoretical horizon, and this in a twofold way : it may lead into new worlds and secure new powers. Knowledge we could never attain, remaining what we are, may be attainable in consequence of higher powers and a higher life, which we may morally achieve. To put the matter more succinctly, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ And the same idea has been expressed by the Sufi poet, Jalal-uddin Rumi, in terms of a scientific metaphor: The astrolabe of the mysteries of God is love.

This book, I repeat, is an anthology of the Perennial Philosophy; but, though an anthology, it contains but few extracts from the writings of professional men of letters and, though illustrating a philosophy, hardly anything from the professional philosophers. The reason for this is very simple. The Perennial Philosophy is primarily concerned 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 and immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfill certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit. Why should this be so? We do not know. It is just one of those facts which we have to accept, whether we like them or not and however implausible and unlikely they may seem. Nothing in our everyday experience gives us any reason for supposing that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen; and yet when we subject water to certain rather drastic treatments, the nature of its constituent elements becomes manifest. Similarly, nothing in our everyday experience gives us much reason for supposing that the mind of the average sensual man has, as one of its constituents, something resembling, or identical with, the Reality substantial to the manifold world; and yet, when that mind is subjected to certain rather drastic treatments, the divine element, of which it is in part at least composed, becomes manifest, not only to the mind itself, but also, by its reflection in external behavior, to other minds. It is only by making physical experiments that we can discover the intimate nature of matter and its potentialities. And it is only by making psychological and moral experiments that we can discover the intimate nature of mind and its potentialities. In the ordinary circumstances of average sensual life these potentialities of the mind remain latent and unmanifested. If we would realize them, we must fulfill certain conditions and obey certain rules, which experience has shown empirically to be valid.