"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."|
"I have meditated on the different religions, endeavoring to understand them, and I have found that they stem from a single principle with numerous ramifications. Do not therefore ask a man to adopt a particular religion (rather than another), for this would separate him from the fundamental principle; it is this principle itself which must come to seek him; in it are all the heights and all the meanings elucidated; then he will understand them."
Al-Hallaj, a Sufi Perennialist teacher
"Hence there is a single religion and a single creed for all beings endowed with understanding, and this religion is presupposed behind all the diversity of rites."
Nicolas of Cusa
The conception that the Perennial Tradition is the single stream of initiatory teaching flowing through all the original, authentic expressions of the great religions and philosophies does not point to an indiscriminate syncretism or a vacuous eclecticism.
It is important for seekers to realize what a unique approach to teaching the Perennial Tradition embodies. Non-Perennialist books on philosophy, religion, mysticism, or the occult are the results of teachers of a specific era borrowing from the ideas and practices of former thinkers and creating a syncretism of doctrines and procedures which they then represent as their own new system.
Perennialist teaching material and teaching methods are, on the contrary, the outcome of creative adaptation to contemporary needs of the identical stream of Perennialist truth by the initiated teacher. Certain material within the tradition becomes superseded and a Perennialist teacher does not repeat it just because it had been used at an earlier time.
Each Perennialist teacher will arrive at a different embodiment of the fundamental truths, not because she is borrowing from her predecessors and building her own idiosyncratic philosophical system on the basis of their ideas, but because the needs of her students, relative to her own time and place in history, require new compilations and techniques. The Perennialist teacher makes genuine contact with the essence of the Perennial Tradition and the originating impulse indicates what and how instructional material is to be created and used.
The concept of palingenesis graphically illustrates this single stream of initiatory teaching being adapted and reintroduced by each Perennialist teacher. The Greek word palingenesis is a compound which means "coming again into being," or "becoming again." The meaning attached to this word is quite specific, although having a wide and general application. The idea included in it may be illustrated, as is found in the philosophical literature of the ancients who lived around the Mediterranean Sea, by the example of the oak which produces its seed, the acorn, the acorn in its turn producing a new oak containing the same life that was passed on to it from the mother oak--or the father oak. This transmission of an identic life in cyclical recurring phases is the specific meaning of the word palingenesis. Thus the thought is different from the respective ideas contained in the other words connected with the doctrine of reimbodiment. Perhaps another way of stating the specific meaning would be by saying that palingenesis signifies the continuous transmission of an identic life producing at each transformation a new manifestation, these several embodiments being in each case a palingenesis or "new becoming" of the same life-stream.
In many instances, the immediate disciples of Perennialist teachers do not understand their masters' esoteric teachings, misinterpreting and distorting the genuine precepts, creating a fixed system of senseless dogma. As we'll see in chapter thirteen, this is precisely what occured with Jesus' teachings: his immediate disciples distorted his ideas into a neo-Jewish travesty of what Jesus had taught. It took Paul, a disciple of Jesus by virtue of his mystical experience, to understand the true nature of what Jesus had taught.
When disciples of a Perennialist master are able to follow in the same line as the original teacher, it is because they have tapped into the Perennialist initiatory current in an authentic way.
"Only by a rare stroke of fortune has one or another of these pioneers of thought found a single disciple who could grasp his meaning well enough to perform the task of handing it on. Even so, there arises a curious dilemma, which can hardly be escaped. Unless this disciple is himself a man of genius, he is not likely to rise to the height of his argument. If he is a man of genius, he will not stop short at a mere reproduction of what he has understood from his master. He will carry the thought farther, following out its implications in fields beyond its original scope; and in so doing he may transform the truth into a shape the master would hardly recognise. |
"Something of this sort happened in the case of Socrates and Plato. It was the unique good fortune of Socrates to have, among his young companions, one who was not only to become a writer of incomparable skill, but was, by native gift, a poet and a thinker no less subtle than Socrates himself. Plato was about twenty-eight when Socrates died, and he went on writing till his own death at the age of eighty. A philosopher of his calibre could not limit himself to reproducing the thought of any master, however great. True, the central germ of Platonism, from first to last, is the new Socratic morality of spiritual aspiration; but under Plato's hands this germ has grown into a tree whose branches cover the heavens."
In this book we will concentrate on the Perennial Tradition in Western Civilization, including the Near-Eastern Perennialist 2 teachers, but excluding Asian or Oriental sages such as Zoroaster, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Shankara, Patanjali, and others. The extant works of the Asian masters contain innumerable direct references to Perennialist themes.
Focusing on Western themes, we will review material from a variety of expressions of the Perennial Tradition: Sufism, Hermeticism, Neo-Platonism, Illuminism, 3 Cabala, Alchemy, Magic, Mysticism, and Gnosticism.
"It is necessary, my dear brothers in the Lord, to give you a clear idea of the interior Church; of that illuminated Community of God which is scattered throughout the world, but which is governed by one truth and united in one spirit. This enlightened community has existed since the first day of the world's creation, and its duration will be to the last day of time. This community possesses a school, in which all who thirst for knowledge are instructed by the Spirit of Wisdom itself; and all the mysteries of God and of nature are preserved in this school for the children of light. . . |
"Perfect knowledge of God, of nature, and of humanity are the objects of instruction in this school. It is from her that all truths penetrate into the world, she is the School of the Prophets, and of all who search for wisdom, and it is in this community alone that truth and the explanation of all mystery is to be found. It is the most hidden of communities yet possesses members from many circles; of such is this school. From all time there has been an exterior school based on the interior one, of which it is but the outer expression. From all time, therefore, there has been a hidden assembly, a society of the Elect, of those who sought for and had capacity for light, and this interior society was called the interior Sanctuary or Church."
With sound preparation, a seeker can discern whether particular teachers--living or dead--reside within the Perennial Tradition, not by looking for secret hand-shakes, outlandish garb, mysterious rituals, or esoteric symbols, but by discovering distinctive characteristics in the teachers' words and actions. We'll examine the defining themes of the Perennial Tradition in Chapter Two, those concepts and activities which constitute crucial criteria for determining whether a person worked within the Perennial Tradition or was merely touched or influenced by this spiritual legacy.
One of the extraordinary characteristics of Perennialist concepts and exercises, including those in this book, is that they seem like mere nonsense or imponderable speculation to readers not properly prepared for the subtle dimensions involved.
" Words should not be withheld from the worthy, but the unworthy will be annoyed by the words of
real men. The hearts of the unworthy and those who are alienated from reality are like wicks that have been drenched in water
instead of oil. No matter how much fire you put to such a wick it will not burn." |
The Perennial Tradition teaches a new way of discerning the world, different from ordinary intellect or reason, requiring training in this way of Higher Cognition, and involving both seeing subtle or "invisible" entities and "not-seeing"--freeing oneself from the ordinary visual and mental conditionings. We'll examine the Perennialist conception of knowledge in Chapter Three: knowledge through prescribed experience.
We've been taught to assume that we can gain immediate and total understanding of anything we read. But the Perennial Tradition teaches that we must be awakened by stages. We might say to a teacher,
"If, as you say, I have foolishly thrown myself from a great mountain height, then why don't you simply teach me how to pull the rip cord of my parachute?"According to the Perennial Tradition, spiritual development is a step-by-step process which must occur over a period of time--unlike gaining intellectual comprehension which can occur in one reading (or several readings) of a chapter or an entire book. Spiritual development involves many disparate skills and insights which must be acquired in sequence, each building on the ones before. We must test to see if one step has been achieved before proceeding to the next. We'll examine the various states of consciousness having to do with spiritual enlightenment in Chapter Four.
"Because," the teacher might reply, "you are not only falling to your death, you have also put yourself into a straitjacket, so that you cannot move your arms. I must first help you free yourself from your straitjacket and then help you learn to pull the parachute rip chord to bring you to safety."
"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."|
The Perennial Tradition involves actual, not merely theoretical, contact with the spiritual realm. In Chapter Five we examine the means of making initial contact with this world and in Chapter Ten we explore the transcendental experience, Illumination. Chapter Twenty will explicate some of the features of the higher unitive consciousness, beyond initial contact and beyond the inaugural experience of illumination. And Chapter Twenty-One explores the process of transformation into a higher consciousness.
The Hermetic writings, including the Corpus Hermiticum and the Asclepius, and the Sufi teachings were important elements in Western Europe's re-discovery of the Perennial Tradition beginning in the twelfth century C.E. We'll examine the Hermetic tradition in Chapter Six and explore the "renaissance" or re-birth of Perennialist teaching in Western Europe in Chapter Fifteen.
| "This overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement. In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed. In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian Mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about the mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land. Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God, their speech antedates languages, and they do not grow old."|
The transformative character of Perennialist art and artistic creativity are reviewed in Chapters Eight and Nine. In Chapter Eighteen we'll explore several examples of contemporary literature containing Perennialist strains.
The Perennial Tradition is the single stream of transformative wisdom which has been given many names. This wisdom is termed sofia (sophia) in Greek and hikma (wisdom) or marifat (deep knowledge) in Arabic. The love of and the search for this wisdom was called filosofia (philosophia), philosophy, by the Greeks. We'll examine philosophia, in Chapter Eleven.
In Chapter Twelve, we'll discuss how Plato can only be understood if he is recognized as a Perennialist teacher. Jesus as a teacher within the Perennial Tradition is the focus of Chapter Thirteen, including a review of the life and teachings of Marcion, Valentinus, and Origen, who believed that Jesus' teachings had been completely distorted by Roman Christianity.
Shakespeare's Perennialist-inspired play The Tempest is the subject of Chapter Sixteen; we'll discover that this is a Mystery Play on the order of the Eleusinian Rites.
Stewart Edward White and Betty White are two of the most important Perennialist savants of the twentieth century; their teachings and activities are reviewed in Chapter Seventeen.
We're fortunate to have a small number of movies which contain strains of the Perennial Tradition; we'll examine three such movies in Chapter Fourteen.
You cannot prevent persons merely reading a book, such as this one, and assuming that they "understand" and "grasp" what it says--even if the book is a specially constructed system of training in a process of more-than-intellectual development which can't be understood merely by reading. The most one can say is that spiritual enlightenment involves the development of entirely new organs of perception.
| "The Pythagoreans . . . in their conversations and discussion, their notes and records . . . did not use common, vulgar, ordinary language, which could be superficially understood by anyone who heard it, in an attempt to make what they said easy to follow. Instead, they kept Pythagoras' rule of 'holding your peace' about the divine mysteries, using secret devices to exclude the uninitiated and protecting their exchanges of speech and writing by the use of symbols. Unless one can interpret the symbols, and understand them by careful exposition, what they say would strike the chance observer as absurd--old wives' tales, full of nonsense and idle talk. But once they are deciphered as symbols should be, and become clear and transparent instead of obscure to outsiders, they impress us like utterances of the gods or Delphic oracles, revealing an astounding intellect and having a supernatural influence on those lovers of learning who have understood them." |
This book is part of a more comprehensive curriculum in the Perennial Tradition, which includes other books and individually prescribed instruction. The complete curriculum is designed to assist persons at various levels gain the capabilities required for the unitive experience:
Three additional books are complementary to this book and should be read along with or after studying this one:
The Perennial Tradition should help you explore the teachings and activities of savants within the Perennial Tradition. The exercises are designed to throw light on the subtle aspects of the Perennialist world.
The Perennial Tradition is embodied in the teachings of many different illumined seers over centuries and no single expression can contain the whole. The Perennial Tradition is, among many other things, a process--the development of understanding of Higher Truth. This process takes place within the interaction between a Perennialist teacher and a seeker. The Perennial Tradition is known by means of its total operation--all components which produce Higher Awareness. Hence no one can successfully study the Perennial Tradition entirely from the outside. As a process, the Perennial Tradition is something which a seeker achieves through personal effort, not something which is given to her.
This book is intended only for those persons who have some connection with the unique supersensible psychic stream through which Perennialist teachings communicate with those few persons who are attuned to this confluence and to an element within each human's psyche which has innate connection to this transcendental current.
Readers who intellectually grasp the higher awareness elucidated in this book gain a limited understanding of it, while those who follow the book's precepts in experiencing this higher level can achieve a great deal more.
Perennialist knowledge is actually a highly developed technology which can reveal its successive levels of meaning relative to the degree of preparation of each individual approaching it. While a book such as this can provide an entré into the Perennial Tradition, the complete process can only be made available within a course of study in a specially designed school.
"I have composed this book for polishers of hearts which are infected by the veil of 'clouding' but in which the substance of the light of the Truth is existent, in order that the veil may be lifted from them by the blessing of reading it, and that they may find their way to spiritual reality.|
(The Revelation of the Veiled)
1 Perennial: enduring for an indefinite or infinite time; lasting, permanent, never failing, continual, perpetual, everlasting, eternal
2 Perennialist: this is a new term I am coining to refer to teachings, activities, and teachers having to do with the Perennial Tradition.
3 Illuminism: Distinguishing Illuminism from Noxious Cults
Illuminism, one of the many embodiments of the Perennial Tradition, as elucidated in this book must be clearly distinguished from false teachings which share similar titles:
Each of these noxious cults was formed to undermine the established order of the day and psychologically manipulate their disciples into unthinking obedience and acts of mayhem or murder. These venomous secret societies had nothing in common with the illuminist embodiment of the Perennial Tradition as explicated by such a master as Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi.
4 Progressive Awareness is available for order here.