The Perennial Tradition

Orthopraxy

The Perennial Tradition
Sunday, August 23, 2015

This week we enter into the next element of my wisdom lineage, orthopraxy. Orthopraxy, right practice, is usually distinguished from orthodoxy, doctrinal correctness. The importance of orthopraxy was first taught to me by the Franciscans, who of course learned it from our father, Saint Francis, who learned it from Jesus. However, orthopraxy was taught much earlier in world history by much of Buddhism and Hinduism. This week I will give a general and Franciscan introduction to orthopraxy, then we will spend two weeks on Buddhism and two weeks on Hinduism.

It may surprise you to learn that I, a Catholic, include Buddhism and Hinduism in my wisdom lineage. Yet, like so many other pieces of my faith heritage, this too is a return to what has been lost. St. Vincent of Lerin, in the year 434, was the first to define the word “catholic.” His definition, called the “Vincentian Canon,” was used by scholars for much of the first millennium of Christianity. It became a way to discern the true belief of the Church. Vincent’s in-house principle was amazingly simple and clear and yet almost shockingly impossible: “Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly ‘catholic,’ as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally.” In other words, if it is true, then it has to be true everywhere and all the time, or it is not true!

Most of history has been content with cultural truth, denominational truth, national truth, scientific truth, rational truth, factual truth, personal truth, etc. These are all needed and helpful, but the job of true religion is to detach from them, use them in the largest possible synthesis, and find the Big Truth that is beyond any of these smaller tribal truths.

Jesus’ metaphor for this Big Truth beyond our little truths was the “Reign of God” or the “Kingdom of God.” Or we might say “in the light of eternity” or “in the final analysis” or “in the eyes of God.” But these are all ways of moving away from tribal thinking and looking out at life from eyes other than and larger than our own. It is hard work. This larger and constantly recurring wisdom has been called the Perennial Tradition or the Perennial Philosophy. No one group owns this content, but most of us own parts of it, and for me the goal is to honor and include as many parts as I can, so that I can be truly catholic. We see this same inclusivity in Jesus to an amazing degree. I see this as the clearest indication that one practices “the true religion.” A true religion is precisely one that can teach you how to recognize and honor God everywhere, and not just inside your own group symbols.

Gateway to Silence:
“Every change of mind is first of all a change of heart.” —The 14th Dalai Lama

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Eight Core Principles,” Radical Grace, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Center for Action and Contemplation: Fall 2012), 27-28.
Adapted from Richard Rohr’s Lineage.

Image credit: “Legend of St. Francis: St. Francis Giving his Mantle to a Poor Man” (detail of fresco), Giotto de Bondone. San Francesco, Upper Church, Assisi, Italy.

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