The Perennial Philosophy – Aldous Huxley1

More than twenty-five centuries have passed since that which has been called the Perennial Philosophy was first committed to writing; and in the course of those centuries it has found expression, now partial, now complete, now in this form, now in that, again and again. The Perennial Philosophy has spoken almost all the languages of Asia and Europe and has made use of the terminology and traditions of every one of the higher religions. But under all the confusion of tongues and myths, of local histories, and particularistic doctrines, there remains a Highest Common Factor, which is the Perennial Philosophy in what may be called its chemically pure state. This final purity can never, of course, be expressed by any verbal statement. It is only in the act of contemplation, when words and even personality are transcended, that the pure state of the Perennial Philosophy can actually be known.

At the core of the Perennial Philosophy we find four fundamental doctrines.

First, the phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousnesses – the world of things and animals and men and even gods – is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have there being, and apart from which they would be nonexistent.

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

Third, man posses 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 the eternal Self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground.

A philosopher who is content merely to know about the ultimate Reality – theoretically and by hearsay – is compared by Buddha to a herdsman of other men's cows. Mohammed uses and even homelier barnyard metaphor. For him, the philosopher who has not realized his metaphysics is just like an ass bearing a load of books. Christian, Hindu, and Taoist teachings wrote no less emphatically about the absurd pretensions of mere learning and analytical reasoning.

The Perennial Philosophy and its ethical corollaries constitute a Highest Common Factor present in all the major religions of the world. To affirm this truth has never been more imperatively necessary than at the present time

 

1 Walsh, Roger and Vaughan, Frances (Eds.). Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1993. pp. 212-213. The essay originally appeared in Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy. New York: Harper and Row, 1945. p. vii.