Perennial Wisdom

Perennial Tradition

Perennial Wisdom
Monday, July 30, 2018

No one lives outside the walls of this sacred place, existence.
The holy water, I need it upon my eyes: it is you, dear, you—each form.

What mother would lose her infant—and we are that to God,
never lost from [Her] gaze are we? Every cry of the heart
is attended by light’s own arms.

You cannot wander anywhere that will not aid you.
Anything you can touch—God brought it into
the classroom of your mind.

Differences exist, but not in the city of love.
Thus my vows and yours, I know they are the same. . . .

The holy water my soul’s brow needs is unity.
Love opened my eye and I was cleansed
by the purity of each
form.

—Daniel Ladinsky, inspired by St. Francis of Assisi [1]

You can call it the collective unconscious; you can call it globalization; you can call it the One Spirit of God—the question is, 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.

We are rediscovering the philosophia perennis, the perennial philosophyan early nineteenth-century phrase that pointed to an idea of a shared universal truth. Some of us called it the “wisdom tradition” which keeps showing itself in all of the world religions throughout history. This wisdom cannot be dismissed as mere syncretism—a word sometimes used to dismiss something unfamiliar or different as merely lightweight thinking, skepticism, or just wrong.

Too many of God’s holy people from other “flocks” keep saying the same or very similar things for them to be false. Hearing the same thing in different language and images helps us see the same reality more clearly. It is like the blind men walking around the proverbial elephant and touching different parts of the one huge body of Christ.

As Rabbi Rami Shapiro explains it, “Perennial wisdom isn’t unique to any specific system of thought or belief, but rather a set of teachings common to all of them. Each articulation of perennial wisdom takes on the flavor of the system in which it rests. Mistaking the flavor for the substance leads us to imagine differences where none exist.” [2]

One way to summarize the essence of perennial wisdom (to paraphrase Aldous Huxley) is:

  • There is a Divine Reality underneath and inherent in the world of things;
  • There is in the human soul a natural capacity, similarity, and longing for this Divine Reality;
  • The final goal of existence is union with this Divine Reality. [3]

References:
[1] Daniel Ladinsky, Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (Penguin Compass: 2002), 35. Used with permission.

[2] Rami Shapiro, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent: Sacred Teachings—Annotated & Explained (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2013), xvi.

[3] See Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (Harper & Brothers: 1945), vii.

Adapted from Richard Rohr’s Foreword in Rami Shapiro, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent: Sacred Teachings—Annotated & Explained (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2013), ix-x, xvi; and
“Introduction,” “The Perennial Tradition,” Oneing, vol. 1, no. 1 (CAC: 2013), 11-12. (This issue of Oneing, a limited edition publication, is no longer available in print; however, the eBook is available from Amazon and iTunes. Explore additional issues of Oneing at store.cac.org.)

Image credit: Broken Obelisk (detail), by Barnett Newman. A permanent installation in the reflecting pool on the grounds of the Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas, United States.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Awakening the essential Self is one reason that the Center for Action and Contemplation is dedicated to reinvigorating the teaching of Christian contemplation. The consistent practice of contemplation helps to uncover our essential Self, our connected Self, our True Self. —Richard Rohr

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