The Perennial Tradition

August 11th, 2019 by Dave Leave a reply »

A Shared Universal Truth

Monday, August 12, 2019

Consider an important question: Why are so many people from different cultures, countries, ethnicities, educations, and religions saying very similar things today? This really is quite amazing, and, to my knowledge, has no precedent in human history. Call it the collective unconscious, globalization, or the One Spirit of God. We seem to be evolving and experiencing more widespread transformation. The things we used to argue about or use as reasons to dismiss one another now so often seem boring, limited, historically bound, and prejudicial.

We are rediscovering the philosophia perennis, a shared universal truth, and at a rather quick pace—God seems urgent at this point in our tragic history. This “wisdom tradition” shows itself in all of the world religions throughout history. Too many of God’s holy people keep saying the same thing—although admittedly from the more mature levels of consciousness—that we cannot continue to dismiss all holy people as “fuzzy thinkers.”

We might call these folks mystics, prophets, and saints. While we all of us have the capacity to tap into this consciousness, humans struggle to think contemplatively and nondually, and few religious leaders “teach spiritual things spiritually,” as the Apostle Paul said in his sermon on wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1-16). I am convinced that Paul learned the core of this from his own Jewish tradition and was trying to teach it to what would become another religion called Christianity—which neither Jesus nor Paul foresaw or intended!

Most people were not ready for Paul’s nondual way of thinking, and most Christians and Jews have interpreted his thinking in an entirely dualistic way, and even in antagonism to his own beloved Judaism. “The mystery of the crucified” that Paul often speaks of is not a statement about Jesus being victimized or a pro-Christian rallying cry, but a metaphor for the universal pattern of disorder inside of order, tragedy inside of holiness, surprise inside of consistency, the last being first, death inside of life. This is a universal pattern and truth, as old as the Hindu Scriptures, Confucian aphorisms, and the biblical books of Exodus and Job.

But many Christians have used Paul’s writings in a contentious, dualistic, and either-or way. We used his strong metaphors to blame, hate, and separate because that is what the unconverted self prefers. The ego loves to take sides, and the longer and more vigorously it justifies its side, the more it feels like this is surely truth. Soon my truth easily morphs into the truth and even the only truth. We end up not with orthodoxy but with egocentricity. This is invariably what happens when we have not been exposed to perennial philosophy, when we are not taught how to distill the big patterns out of the momentary arguments where everyone takes sides, when we cannot distinguish the small, separate self and the self created by God and one with God, from all eternity.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Perennial Tradition includes the constant themes and truths that recur in all the world religions at their most mature and deep levels. As I mentioned last week, the Second Vatican Council teaches Catholics that indigenous religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism each reflect “a ray of that Truth which enlightens all [people].” [1] If it’s true, then it has to be true everywhereOr, as Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) was fond of saying, quoting Ambrose (another Doctor of the Church, 340–397), “If it is true, it is always from the one Holy Spirit.” [2]

Here’s philosopher Aldous Huxley’s (1884–1963) definition of “the perennial philosophy”:

The metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality, and the ethic that places [humanity’s] final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being. This is immemorial and universal. [3]

The Perennial Tradition constantly recognizes that we are part of something more than we are observing something. Read that again: we are part of something more than we are observing something. How does that feel to you? From the perspective of participation, we can recognize that most of religious and church history has been largely preoccupied with religious ideas about which we could be wrong or right. When it is all about ideas, we do not have to be part of “it”; we just need to talk correctly about “it.” We can avoid actually living out our beliefs and walking our talk.

The foundational spiritual question is this: Does one’s life give any evidence of an encounter with God? When we’ve experienced union and intimacy with the divine, what is our response? Does the encounter bring about what Paul described as the “fruits” of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22)? This is what authentic conversion or metanoia means. We should keep asking ourselves: are we different from our surroundings, or do we continue reflecting the predictable cultural values and biases of our group?

Until recently, participation has not been the strong suit or primary position in the three monotheistic religions, except among some subsets of Kabbalistic Jews, Hesychastic Orthodox, Sufi Muslims, Christian mystics, and the many individuals who would have fit into any of these groups if they had known about them.

The “participatory turn” is learning from concrete practices, personal disciplines, and interactive dialogues that change the seer and allow and encourage the encounter itself. Many Christians today are rediscovering prayer beads, prayer of quiet, icons, Taizé songs, charismatic prayer, walking meditation, Zen chores, extended silence, solitude, and disciplined spiritual direction. Up to now, someone could have a doctorate in theology as a Catholic or Protestant and not really know how to pray or even enjoy prayer (experienced union), although they could recommend and attempt to define it. Now we need to personally live it.

Summary: Week Thirty-two

Interspiritual Mystics

August 4 – August 9, 2019

At their most mature levels, religions have a common goal: union with all beings and with God. —Beatrice Bruteau (Sunday)

By allowing inward change, while at the same time simplifying our external life, spirituality serves as our greatest single resource for changing our centuries-old trajectory of violence and division. —Wayne Teasdale (Monday)

A true dialogue between East and West would help seekers in both cultures to travel “upstream,” [to what Cynthia Bourgeault calls the “headwaters” of the world’s religions] to find their way to a deeper dimension of reality in which all religious paths might ultimately converge. —Robert Ellsberg (Tuesday)

Mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. —Beverly Lanzetta (Wednesday)

Deep down, each one of us is a mystic. . . . Getting in touch with the mystic inside is the beginning of our deep service. —Matthew Fox (Thursday)

How do we find the path forward? Howard Thurman, a mystic who sought to make peace between religions and founded the first major interracial, interfaith church in the United States, urged people to “listen for the sound of the genuine.” (Friday)

Practice: Loving Gaze

Having someone look at us with love can be a healing and transformative experience. Sometimes we need a human—or in my case, many times canine—gaze to convey God’s unconditional acceptance. My dogs Peanut Butter, Gubbio, Venus, and now Opie have done this for me. Humans can’t seem to sustain eye contact for long. We get nervous, maybe because we’re afraid people will see there’s nothing in here or they won’t like us. But dogs just keep looking and staying present.

In the Hindu tradition, darshan (or darsana) is to behold the Divine and to allow yourself to be fully seen or known. Many Hindus visit temples not to see God, but to let God gaze upon them—and then to join God’s seeing which is always compassionate.

I invite you to spend several minutes with one you love—a human or a dog or other pet—looking into their eyes. (If you or the one you’re with are blind, you might lightly touch instead.) Without speaking, simply mirror to each other love and respect through your gaze. During the silence, allow the source of love within you to well up and flow from you. Receive the love flowing from the one gazing at you. It is all one love. Witness the Divine Presence in both yourself and the other.

Bring your experience of darshan to a close by placing your palms together at your chest, bowing, and speaking “Namaste.” (Namaste is a familiar Indian greeting which literally means “I bow to you.”) Or you may prefer to say, “The Christ in me sees the Christ in you.”

Bring this loving gaze and an inner stance of humility and recognition to all you encounter today. Try to see the divine indwelling in everyone you meet.


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