The Perennial Philosophy

The Perennial Philosophy is a book written by Aldous Huxley, author of ‘Brave new World’, amongst other works. It was published shortly after WWII in 1946.
It’s one of the first modern ‘interfaith’ books. Aldous Huxley brings forward the point that all religions share the same metaphysical truth. This truth is more important to each of the individual religions than the form the religion takes. This idea takes root in Neoplatonism (of the Greek philosopher Plato), which is saying that the concept of God is beyond human rational, and is carried in the human soul or essence (this sentence really isn’t doing Neoplatonism enough favour, but it’s the best I can describe it).
In the Perennial Philosophy, Huxley takes excerpts from spiritual teachers such as Eckhart, William Law, Bhagavad-Gita, Jalal-uddin Rumi and many others, and shows that, in essence, they are saying the same thing. It is an excellent book to read, and surely stands the test of time.

One of my favourite stories in it is from the Chandogya Upanishad:

When Svetaketu was twelve years old he was sent to a teacher, with whom he studied until he was twenty-four. After learning all the Vedas, he returned home full of conceit in the belief that he was consummately well educated, and very censorious.
His father said to him, ‘Svetaketu, my child, you who are so full of your learning and so censorious, have you asked for that knowledge by which we hear the unhearable, by which we perceive what cannot be perceived and know what cannot be known?’
‘What is that knowledge, sir?’ asked Svetaketu.
His father replied, ‘As by knowing one lump of clay all that is made of clay is known, the difference being only in name, but the truth being that all is clay – so my child, is that knowledge, knowing which we know all.’
‘But surely these venerable teachers of mine are ignorant of this knowledge; for if they possessed it they would have imparted it to me. Do you, sir, therefore give me that knowledge.’
‘So be it,’ said the father. …And he said, ‘Bring me a fruit of the nyagrodha tree.’
‘Here is one, sir.’
‘Break it.’
‘It is broken, sir.’
‘What do you see there?’
‘Some seeds, sir, exceedingly small.’
‘Break one of these.’
‘It is broken, sir.’
‘What do you see there?’
‘Nothing at all.’
The father said, ‘My son, that subtle essence which you do not perceive there – in that very essence stand the being of the huge nyagrodha tree. In that which is the subtle essence all that exists has its self. That is the True, that is the Self, and thou, Svetaketu, art That.
‘Pray, sir,’ said the son, ‘tell me more.’
‘Be it so, my child, ‘the father replied; and he said, ‘Place this salt in water, and come to me tomorrow morning.’
The son did as he was told.
Next morning the father said, ‘Bring me the salt which you put in the water.’
The son looked for it, but could not find it; for the salt, of course, had dissolved.
The father said, ‘Taste some of the water from the surface of the vessel, how is it?’
‘Taste some from the middle. How is it?’
‘Taste some from the bottom. How is it?’
The father said, ‘Throw the water away and then come back to me again.’
The son did so; but the salt was not lost, for salt exists for ever.
Then the father said, ‘Here likewise in this body of yours, my son, you do not perceive the True; but there in fact it is. In that which is the subtle essence, all that exists has its self. That is the True, that is the Self, and thou, Svetaketu, art That.’

The essence in all of us is that which we cannot see, which words cannot express, and which few of us have ever truly felt. We can go into physics and say that it is the dark matter inside us.
We all know it’s there, but to make it tangible is a whole different story.
Yet our essence is what makes us all the same, regardless of what we do or don’t believe. It is not something we can change, it’s there. In all of us.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. David Robertson says:

    I’ve loved Aldous Huxley’s book for years and it helped take on a deep spiritual journey that took me from atheism to a belief in a divine reality. I haven’t joined any religion, but the perennial philosophy, or mysticism that is at the core of all religions has become the bedrock of my belief system and approach to life. It’s nice to see other people who enjoy his work. Maybe you’d like my blog which I’ve just recently begun. I’ll be focusing on a lot of this kind of stuff.


    1. CC says:

      Thank you David, I will definitely look at your blog. Interfaith (the spiritual movement I am an ordained minister in) is very much based around finding that core in different religions and spiritual movements. I have never been able to tie myself to one specific religion, but feel right at home within Interfaith.
      I wish you the best of luck with your blog!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. David Robertson says:

        I’ve never heard of the Interfaith, I’ll certainly read into it. I’m looking forward to reading more of your content in the future!


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