Letter 35: The Perennial Philosophy

Underlying the justification for meditation are the tenets of the Perennial Philosophy, the common core of all the world’s great Religions and Philosophies. We even find it in its infancy in earlier religions. The German Philosopher Leibnitz coined the phrase and Aldous Huxley in his book The Perennial Philosophymade a convincing case for its existence. Matthew Fox in One River, many Wellsextended the field of correspondences between the Wisdom Traditions. Bede Griffiths explains this common teaching as follows: “When the human mind reaches a certain point of experience it comes to this same understanding and this is what constitutes the Perennial Philosophy.”

Foundational to the validity of meditation is the confidence, expressed in the Perennial Philosophy, that there is an Ultimate Reality that is both universally immanent in creation and transcendent to it. The reality we can apprehend with the senses is embedded in and sustained by this all-pervading Reality. The essential quality of this Reality is that it cannot be reached or expressed by thoughts or images i.e. by the rational mind; it is incomprehensible and ineffable and yet we can get in touch with it experientially. There is something in the deeper eternal self of a human being, beyond the personal ego, which is similar to or even identical with this Ultimate Reality: it is the ground of our individual being, but also that of others and of the whole of creation; it is there that we are all one. We are part of the all-embracing web of life. Though we may seem disconnected on the surface we are all wells connected to the same source.

This may seem a difficult concept to accept; however, this is not dissimilar to the situation Quantum physicists confronted, when becoming aware of a Quantum field that underlies and sustains all matter. Both mystics and Quantum physicists have used the image of a field to describe the reality they experimentally came into contact with. Meister Eckhart said already in the 14th Century “The soul is a field.” This is one of the many ways in which the findings of Quantum physics mirror that of the accounts of the mystics. These similarities lend further support to the idea of a Perennial Philosophy.

When we are on the spiritual path, we may become aware of a different level of consciousness and recognise our spiritual nature through experiencing it. Then our energetic being starts resonating with the similar energy in the Divine Field and through a spiritual discipline we will become more and more in tune with it; thus we become whole, balanced and in harmony with the help of Divine Grace.

We can imagine the ‘fall’ in Christian Theology also in this movement along the pole of consciousness. As an early Church Father, Origen, and then Evagrius, the Desert Father, and later Meister Eckhart state, our spirits are eternal - we were originally one with the Divine. We were pure intuitive consciousness. As Origen explained then a choice was made to leave this pure state of being, an act of disobedience towards God. Why this was so, no one really has explained clearly. Origen called it being “sated” or “negligent”. In his theology, the only one not to do this was the pure consciousness of Christ, who stayed in union. We then became incarnate, were given a body and a soul – the seat of emotions -, but we retained our original intuitive consciousness, the summit of the soul, the spirit.

Perhaps that is the real meaning of ‘original sin’. By choosing to turn away from the Divine state and thus being incarnated, we take the inevitable consequence upon ourselves: we fall from a higher level of consciousness into a denser one. This is however not a punishment, but an opportunity with inbuilt limitations: we are given the survival needs we need on this material plane but also the choice to not confine ourselves to the material ‘ego’ level and its survival needs but remember instead our Divine origin through a spiritual discipline.

St Paul too described sin in these terms: “Those who live on the level of our lower nature have their outlook formed by it, and that spells death; but those who live on the level of the spirit have the spiritual outlook, and that is life and peace.” Couldn’t Paul have been drawing a distinction between different levels of consciousness? By lower nature he could have meant the drives of the ‘ego’. He could have been contrasting the attraction of the ‘ego’ and the ‘true self’.

Kim Nataraja

Adapted from Dancing with Your Shadow