The Perennial Tradition
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 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.
Adapted from Richard Rohr’s Foreword in Rami Shapiro, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent: Sacred Teachings—Annotated & Explained (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2013), ix-xi.