What is The Perennial Philosophy?


Here are two of a number of definitions/descriptions that can be found on the internet:

The perennial philosophy is the science of fundamental and universal ontological principles. Ontology being the study of the nature of being…. The Central Idea of the perennial philosophy is that Divine Truth is one, timeless and universal, and that the different religions are but different languages expressing that one truth.

The perennial philosophy states that every manifested being has its cause in a higher level of reality and ultimately with the highest reality – God.

In 1994, Harper Colophon Books, New York, published Aldous Huxley’s book with this same title. In his Introduction, the latter writes:

PHILOSOPHIA PERENNIS – the phrase was coined by Leibnitz; 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…. 

To which he later adds: 

The perennial philosophy is expressed most succinctly in the Sanskrit formula tat tvam asi (Thou Art That); The Atman or immanent eternal self is one with Braham, the Absolute principle of all existence, and the last end of every human being is to discover that fact for himself, to find out who he really is. 

Subsequently, in his Introduction to Bhagavad-Gita (translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood) Huxley will provide a much fuller description of the foundations on which the philosophy is based. He will write:

More than 25 centuries have passed since that which is now called the Perennial Philosophy was first committed to writing … at the core of  the Perennial Philosophy we find four fundamental doctrines. 

First: the phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness – the world of things and animals and even gods – is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would not exist. 

Second: human beings are not merely capable of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known. 

Third: man possesses a double nature. A phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the Spirit, the spark of divinity within the Soul. It is possible for a man if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground which is of the same or like nature with the spirit. 

Fourth: man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground. 

Next, and given all the noise that Christians and Muslims have been making over the centuries, I find it interesting to become aware of Huxley’s judgment – for that is what it is — that The Bhagavad-Gita is perhaps the most systematic statement of spiritual evolution of enduring value to mankind.  I don’t believe that either the Bible or the Koran can make that kind of claim.

Lastly, in Grace and Grit, that incomparable scholar Ken Wilber, described to his wife Treya, in a much more down to earth way, how he perceived the perennial philosophy. He told her that: 

Just as the human body universally grows hair, and the human mind universally grows ideas, so the human spirit universally grows intuitions of the Divine. And those intuitions and insights form the core of the world’s great spiritual or wisdom teachings … [and] … when you can find a truth that the Hindus and Christians and Buddhists and Taoists and Sufis, all agree on then you have probably found something that is profoundly important, something that tells you about universal truths and ultimate meanings, something that touches the very core of human meaning.
(Emphasis in the original)

So she asks him what the essentials of the philosophy are and how many profound truths, or points of agreement there are, to which he responds:

Dozens. I’ll give you seven of what I think are the most important. One, Spirit exists, and Two, Spirit is found within. Three, most of  us don’t realize this Spirit within because we are living in a world of sin, separation and duality ~ that is we are living in a fallen or illusory state. Four, there is a way out of this fallen state of sin and illusion, there is a Path to our liberation. Five, if you follow this Path to its conclusion, the result is a rebirth or Enlightenment, a direct experience of Spirit within, a Supreme Liberation, which … Six …  marks the end of sin and suffering, and which … Seven … issues in social action of mercy and compassion on behalf of all sentient beings.
(Emphasis in the original)