“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 this confusion of tongues and myths, of local histories and particularist 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 of the philosophy, however undogmatic that statement may be, however deliberately syncretistic. The very fact that it is set down at a certain time by a certain writer, using this or that language, automatically imposes a certain sociological and personal bias on the doctrines so formulated. 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. The records left by those who have known it in this way make it abundantly clear that all of them, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Taoist, Christian, or Mohammedan, were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable Fact.” –Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy
Aldous Huxley came from a prominent family of scientists and skeptics. His grandfather, the renowned zoologist Thomas “Darwin’s Bulldog” Huxley, coined the term “agnosticism” to describe his aversion to both theistic and atheistic certainty about the “insoluble problem of existence.” Aldous always identified with this term, even later in life as a student of Advaita Vedanta. Yet he clearly also saw something of universal value in the religious beliefs and traditions of his fellows, regardless of whether he shared them.
It seems that I have always been naturally drawn to this kind of devout study of agnostic spirituality, and to thinkers like Huxley, Alan Watts, and Joseph Campbell who fashioned eclectic and autodidactic religions of one from their faithful observance of the faiths of others. To paraphrase Empedocles, we observe a religion whose orthodoxy, the Highest Common Factor, is everywhere and whose creed is nowhere. Agnosticism toward the letter which killeth, and gnostic trust and openness toward the spirit which giveth life.
If we begin an inquiry into the meaning of theological ideas by assuming that all religious thought is wooly-headed and superstitious wish fulfillment — an assumption for which there is no empirical evidence — we arrive at a very different place than when we agnostically presume it to be a distorted perception of something very real and true. The former will involve some degree of antipathy for the perhaps well-intended but ignorant cretins who cause these delusions to persist long after superior forms of knowledge should have replaced them. The latter allows for a more humble and inquisitive approach; it looks for patterns and concordances that help the observer in the search for a deeper meaning than what is immediately apparent; it asks “what aspects of Truth do these symbols signify that a literal reading obscures, but which intuition can seize and bring to light out of the blind spots in my mind?”
Perennialism is the study of this Highest Common Factor wherever it can be found in theology and spirituality. Omniperennialism, the particular variety espoused by Not Two, differs only by 1) expanding the inquiry into the broader realm of philosophy and, from there, down any epistemological rabbit hole it can find, such as cutting edge science, and 2) remaining neutral to the specific expressions of the Highest Common Factor. In contrast, the “Traditionalist” wing of Perennialism proffers that one should limit one’s practice to a particular faith, and as near as possible to the original source of that expression. I have no quarrel with Traditionalists, but it’s not my bag. I believe neutrality helps me to better assimilate the modern polymathic intellect with the timeless knowledge of our essential unity of Being, the ultimate expression of the Highest Common Factor that is hidden in the metaphorical language of all the major faiths of the world.
Perennialism is not a new religion; let us make sure that is clear from the start. What it actually is may be even less endearing to devout followers of old exclusivist religions, but for those of us waiting for a jolt of Avant-God energy for this dying institution, it may be the last great hope for keeping religion vital in the post-supernatural world.
Essentially, Perennialism is an intellectual sifting tool for finding the wheat of wisdom among the chaff of cultural history, behavior modification prescriptions, and –let’s face it– supernatural gobbledygook in most of the faiths handed down to us. The result is not a panoply of separate religions chopped down to size by superior sciences or neutered like humanism. It is the direct understanding of a single, simple, complex nugget of mystic wisdom at the heart of every one of them.
Perennialism is an idea that lifts us beyond the confines of our divisive thoughts and concepts of God, and into a branch of spirituality that encompasses the unitive end goal of each path: awareness of the eternal ground of being that is both our source and destination, and from which we are not and cannot ever be separate as we exist. It stands apart from religion and addresses it as a whole, attempting to replicate what it might be like to look from the mountaintop of Truth to see the wide array of conflicting beliefs and philosophies leading to its single, sublime peak.
As a term for the intellectual discipline of exploration of this unity, Perennialism is closely related to Metatheology. One could say that the relationship is like that between meditation and the state of mind achieved through meditating. The difference is that Perennialism is not akin to a specific kind of meditation, but rather, it is the integrative study of how all specific kinds lead to the same metatheological state.
To venture into metatheology is to go beyond our ideas of theos, into the higher non-dual awareness to which our religions are designed (yet sadly ill-equipped) to lead us. Each wisdom tradition has its own springboard into metatheology, so neutrality is not a requirement for using Perennialism. But seeing one’s own tradition as one of many fingers pointing at the same moon (eternal ground) definitely is.
ARTICLES FROM NOT TWO AND NOESTA AQUI
“The important difference –and this is absolutely crucial to understanding everything that Omnierennialism stands for– is that the mystic writes to be a jumping-off point for you to make your own journey to Truth, not in a vain attempt to present Truth on a platter of words. The mystic knows that words can only be a framework for understanding a portion of Truth, so the words themselves are never given a God-like status.”
“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 fundamentalist wants to tell us exactly what reality is, and on his own terms; he wants to subvert our direct experience of Reality and replace it with a subnatural overlay of his own creation (or the subculture with which he identifies).”
“Scientific skepticism regarding specific truth claims about absolute Reality and how we interact with it is always valid. But scientific skepticism about absolute Reality itself is never valid, nor will theological truth or Divine omnipresence ever shrink as new knowledge is obtained. Our confusion about the “always” and “never” in those two statements — the former a validation of methodological naturalism, the latter a rejection of metaphysical naturalism — creates a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the soul, and omniperennialism aims to ease that tension.”