"And with the limited knowledge at my disposal I realize how very much more there is to be known which I have not attained. . . So, O wise man, reveal to me my present spiritual state which you know better than I do. For surely the physician knows more about the ailment of the sick man than the sick man himself, and is in a better position to diagnose the cause of the illness and prescribe the treatment to cure him."
Perennialist teachers provide study material, exercises, spiritual diagnoses, and prescriptions which nurture discerning awareness of oneself and one's world, and the mastery of specific capabilities requisite for participation in
Perennialist spiritual warfare against evil.
True knowledge is attained through a teacher prescribing enlightening experience for a seeker directly related to a spiritual diagnosis of the student. The Perennialist guide must thoroughly understand the learner's personality and provide a detailed diagnosis and the precise kinds of experience which will facilitate understanding, capability, and probity. Some of the material and exercises will involve an opportunity for the seeker to come face to face with his own ignorance and negativity.
A spiritual diagnosis of each seeker/student is essential at the beginning of study in the Perennial Tradition. The Perennialist teacher begins the diagnosis "at a distance" through dialectical interchange via an online chat site. This provides the means for the teacher to determine if the particular student has the capability of beginning the highly challenging course of study. The next step in the diagnosis requires that the teacher interact with the student/seeker in person.
The teacher must interact interpersonally with the student for her to complete her full diagnosis. There are aspects of the student's personality which only reveal themselves in direct, in-person interchange: character, function (e.g. speech), and intellectual defects or incapacities. At the beginning of the student's study in the Perennial Tradition, while the teacher is formulating her diagnosis of the student/seeker, she provides material relating to spiritual diagnosis, so the student knows why he is being diagnosed and what the diagnosis will provide him.
"An alienated man can become sighted if he realises that his heart is blind. He is like a sick man suffering from delirium. So long as he is prisoner to his illness he knows nothing of himself or of his sickness because delirium affects the brain and weakens it. . . . When he realizes that his heart is blind, it means that he has gained a bit of sight."
The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Shihabuddin Yahya
Suhrawardi (1154-1191 CE) Translated by W.M. Thackston Jr.
The spiritual diagnosis deals with, among other elements, debilitating maladies the student suffers from which in themselves make it impossible for him to understand himself or his world. The maladies constitute a debility that precludes genuine understanding or authentic awareness of reality.
". . . The Seeker must realize that he is, largely, a bundle of what are nowadays called conditionings--fixed ideas and prejudices, automatic responses sometimes which have occurred through the training of others. Man is not as free as he thinks he is. The first step is for the individual to get away from thinking that he understands, and really understand. But man has been taught that he can understand everything by the same process, the process of logic. This teaching has undermined him." 1
The student must realize that the teacher's spiritual diagnosis of his state of being is a Gift: a means of gaining genuine knowledge about himself and his world on the basis of which he can begin to build an authentic existence: true being. He must realize that in his present debilitated state he has almost no ability to gain true knowledge about himself and his world--unless he is fortunate enough to find a genuine Perennialist teacher who will assist him in gaining an authentic being.
"But by far the worst feature of this 'double ignorance' is that, on the one hand, it stands in the way of its own cure, and on the other, if unchecked, it is constantly aggravating itself. For if we look at things with a distorted view, these things will present themselves to us in a distorted manner too; and thus, instead of reaping from our experiences new impressions which might help us in restoring a healthy spirit within ourselves, we shall only add nourishment to the ulcer within our mind. And on the other side, if we should try to cure our ignorance, we see that for so doing it is required that we look away from ourselves and from our habitual ways of thinking, which seems to us tantamount to a flat repudiation of our very selves and consequently impossible."
Hermann Gauss, Plato's Conception of Philosophy, 1974
The student must use the knowledge made available through his spiritual diagnosis to achieve the correct, functional attitudes and capabilities essential to his development as an authentic being.
"Then spake the wise man and said: 'Rejoice in that God has opened for you the gate of questioning and enabled you to couch your questions clearly. . . . Know, then, that the genuine scholar, prior to starting his searches for God, must in the first place have the right attitude and the correct objective. He must constantly observe what is taking place within his soul, and keep close watch on his desire to seek God as it emerges."
Ali Hassan Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality and Writing of Al-Junayd, 1962
Only if students receive the spiritual diagnosis their Perennialist teacher provides in the correct spirit of humble gratitude will they have any chance of success in transforming themselves into trustworthy, reliable persons.
The Perennialist Teacher and the Student
Throughout human history, Perennialist teachers--which have included Hermes, the Wisdom Teachers, Eastern Masters (e.g., Krishna and Shankara), Pythagoras, Diotima, 2 Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Paul, Hypatia, 3 Plotinus, Boethius,
Al-Junayd, Rumi, Bernard of Clairvaux, and numerous others--have taught select students how to reawaken organs of perception, resulting in a higher state of consciousness. This higher consciousness enables the student to discern that what we take to be reality is actually a kind of illusion and that there are higher dimensions of being.
The Perennialist teacher assists the student in accordance with the guidance she receives from her own teachers (carnate or incarnate) or from her own creative inspiration. Some of what the teacher does will, undoubtedly, include elements which to the student will seem strange, even, perhaps, harsh. The teacher must be as direct as possible in her interaction with the student if the student is to have a real chance for necessary transformation. The truth the teacher provides the student, in diagnoses and other statements, is, in essence, not harsh or the outcome of animus the teacher feels toward the student, but simply the unvarnished facts concerning the student's state of being.
The elements of study within the Perennial Tradition include:
The worst thing a student or "seeker" can do in relation to a diagnosis provided him by a Perennialist teacher is to dismiss or ignore the diagnosis. Plato, in the sixth section of his book, The Commonwealth, speaks of this danger.
"A young person who has the requisite characteristics to become a genuine philosopher will be singled out by the public for its own purposes. This person will be filled with impractical expectations and believe himself to be capable of things which he is actually incapable and in the end will be brimming over with pretension, pride, and ignorance.
If someone approaches such a young person in that condition and gently tells him the truth, namely, that he understands nothing and that understanding can't be acquired unless he works assiduously, he will most likely ignore such a person." 494d
Perennialist teachers also provide diagnoses--and curative prescriptions--of primary elements within a culture:
"Give me more of this medicine because it has cured my malady, and my hope and desire to answer my problem is now intensified. And save me by your kindly treatment and your gentle wisdom from the confusion which you know so well to be hidden in my secret soul, from those deadly disorders concealed within me. In the past up till now there was concealed from me those hidden things within me which I denied. You have revealed them to me by your excellent diagnosis of them. . . ."
Al-Junayd (830-910 CE), Rasail
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2 Diotima was Socrates' teacher, as is explained in Plato's Symposium
Hypatia (370-415 CE), a Perennialist teacher and head of the Neo-Platonist school in Alexandria, murdered on the orders of "Christian" Bishop Cyril (who was later canonized by the Roman Catholic Church)
4 A letter from Al-Junayd [(830-910 CE] to one of his fellow mystics (Ali Hassan Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality and Writings of Al-Junayd, p. 126)