Aldous Huxley & The Perennial Philosophy
Aldous Huxley (26 July 1894 – 22 November 1963), one of the great modern thinkers, philosophers, and social commentators of the 20th century, is often hailed as an inspirational figure of the Human Potential Movement and the subsequent development of transpersonal psychology. His contributions to modern thought spanned many genres: novels, including the groundbreaking works Brave New World (1932) and Island (1962); essays, including the volumes The Art of Seeing (1942) and The Doors of Perception (1954); and philosophy, including The Perennial Philosophy (1945), a work often credited as one of the early pillars of transpersonal theory.
Huxley was a humanist, pacifist, and satirist. Huxley later became interested in spiritual subjects such as parapsychology and philosophical mysticism, in particular, Universalism. By the end of his life, Huxley was widely acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of his time. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in seven different years.
Born into a prominent family in England in 1894, Aldous Leonard Huxley was raised among intellectuals, including several great scientists, among them Huxley’s grandfather, Thomas Huxley, who supported and promoted the work of Charles Darwin. Huxley’s mother died when he was fourteen years-old and her death and the death of a sister in the same month were major sources of sorrow within the family. To cope with his grief, Huxley applied himself diligently to his studies…
The Perennial Philosophy
By Aldous Huxley
An inspired gathering of religious writings that reveals the “divine reality” common to all faiths, collected by Aldous Huxley.
“The Perennial Philosophy,” Aldous Huxley writes, “may be found among the traditional lore of peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions.”
With great wit and stunning intellect, drawing on a diverse array of faiths, including Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Christian mysticism, and Islam, Huxley examines the spiritual beliefs of various religious traditions and explains how they are united by a common human yearning to experience the divine. The Perennial Philosophy includes selections from Meister Eckhart, Rumi, and Lao Tzu, as well as the Bhagavad Gita, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Diamond Sutra, and Upanishads, among many others.
“More than twenty-five centuries have passed since that which has been called the Perennial Philosophy was first committed to writing; and in the course of those centuries it has found expression, now partial, now complete, now in this form, now in that, again and again. In Vedanta and Hebrew prophecy, in the Tao Teh King and the Platonic dialogues, in the Gospel according to St. John and Mahayana theology, in Plotinus and the Areopagite, among the Persian Sufis and the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance — the Perennial Philosophy has spoken almost all the languages of Asia and Europe and has made use of the terminology and traditions of every one of the higher religions. But under all this confusion of tongues and myths, of local histories and particularist doctrines, there remains a Highest Common Factor, which is the Perennial Philosophy in what may be called its chemically pure state. This final purity can never, of course, be expressed by any verbal statement of the philosophy, however undogmatic that statement may be, however deliberately syncretistic. The very fact that it is set down at a certain time by a certain writer, using this or that language, automatically imposes a certain sociological and personal bias on the doctrines so formulated. It is only in the act of contemplation when words and even personality are transcended, that the pure state of the Perennial Philosophy can actually be known. The records left by those who have known it in this way make it abundantly clear that all of them, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Taoist, Christian, or Mohammedan, were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable Fact.”
“The original scriptures of most religions are poetical and unsystematic. Theology, which generally takes the form of a reasoned commentary on the parables and aphorisms of the scriptures, tends to make its appearance at a later stage of religious history. The Bhagavad-Gita occupies an intermediate position between scripture and theology; for it combines the poetical qualities of the first with the clear-cut methodicalness of the second… one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the Perennial Philosophy ever to have been made. Hence its enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind.”
“At the core of the Perennial Philosophy we find four fundamental doctrines.
First: the phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness — the world of things and animals and men and even gods — is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent.
Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.
Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.
Fourth: man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground.”
“The second doctrine of the Perennial Philosophy — that it is possible to know the Divine Ground by a direct intuition higher than discursive reasoning — is to be found in all the great religions of the world. A philosopher who is content merely to know about the ultimate Reality — theoretically and by hearsay — is compared by Buddha to a herdsman of other men’s cows. Mohammed uses an even homelier barnyard metaphor. For him the philosopher who has not realized his metaphysics is just an ass bearing a load of books. Christian, Hindu, Taoist teachers wrote no less emphatically about the absurd pretensions of mere learning and analytic reasoning.”
“The unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground has, as its necessary condition, self-abnegation and charity. Only by means of self-abnegation and charity can we clear away the evil, folly and ignorance which constitute the thing we call our personality and prevent us from becoming aware of the spark of divinity illuminating the inner man.”
“The spark within is akin to the Divine Ground. By identifying ourselves with the first we can come to unitive knowledge of the second. These empirical facts of the spiritual life have been variously rationalized in terms of the theologies of the various religions. The Hindus categorically affirm that Thou art That — that the indwelling Atman is the same as Brahman. For orthodox Christianity there is not an identity between the spark and God. Union of the human spirit with God takes place — union so complete that the word deification is applied to it; but it is not the union of identical substances. According to Christian theology, the saint is ‘deified,’ not because Atman is Brahman, but because God has assimilated the purified human spirit in to the divine substance by an act of grace. Islamic theology seems to make a similar distinction. The Sufi, Mansur, was executed for giving to the words ‘union’ and ‘deification’ the literal meaning which they bear in the Hindu tradition. For our present purposes, however, the significant fact is that these words are actually used by Christians and Mohammedans to describe the empirical facts of metaphysical realization by means of direct, super-rational intuition.”
“In regard to man’s final end, all the higher religions are in complete agreement. The purpose of human life is the discovery of Truth, the unitive knowledge of the Godhead. The degree to which this unitive knowledge is achieved here on earth determines the degree to which it will be enjoyed in the posthumous state. Contemplation of truth is the end, action the means.”
“Human beings are not born identical. There are many different temperaments and constitutions; and within each psycho-physical class one can find people at very different stages of spiritual development. Forms of worship and spiritual discipline which may be valuable for one individual maybe useless or even positively harmful for another belonging to a different class and standing, within that class, at a lower or higher level of development.”
“I have tried to show that the Perennial Philosophy and its ethical corollaries constitute a Highest Common Factor, present in all the major religions of the world. To affirm this truth has never been more imperatively necessary than at the present time. There will never be enduring peace unless and until human beings come to accept a philosophy of life more adequate to the cosmic and psychological facts than the insane idolatries of nationalism and the advertising man’s apocalyptic faith in Progress towards a mechanized New Jerusalem. All the elements of this philosophy are present, as we have seen, in the traditional religions. But in existing circumstances there is not the slightest chance that any of the traditional religions will obtain universal acceptance. Europeans and Americans will see no reason for being converted to Hinduism, say, or Buddhism. And the people of Asia can hardly be expected to renounce their own traditions for the Christianity professed, often sincerely, by the imperialists who, for four hundred years and more, have been systematically attacking, exploiting, and oppressing, and are now trying to finish off the work of destruction by ‘educating’ them. But happily there is the Highest Common Factor of all religions, the Perennial Philosophy which has always and everywhere been the metaphysical system of prophets, saints and sages. It is perfectly possible for people to remain good Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, or Moslems and yet to be united in full agreement on the basic doctrines of the Perennial Philosophy.”
“The Bhagavad-Gita is perhaps the most systematic scriptural statement of the Perennial Philosophy. To a world at war, a world that, because it lacks the intellectual and spiritual prerequisites to peace, can only hope to patch up some kind of precarious armed truce, it stands pointing, order soma online, clearly and unmistakably, to the only road of escape from the self-imposed necessity of self-destruction.”
“To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large — this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.”
“I was sitting on the seashore, half listening to a friend arguing violently about something which merely bored me. Unconsciously to myself, I looked at a film, of sand I had picked up on my hand, when I suddenly saw the exquisite beauty of every little grain of it; instead of being dull, I saw that each particle was made up on a perfect geometrical pattern, with sharp angles, from each of which a brilliant shaft of light was reflected, while each tiny crystal shone like a rainbow. . . . The rays crossed and recrossed, making exquisite patterns of such beauty that they left me breathless. … Then, suddenly, my consciousness was lighted up from within and I saw in a vivid way how the whole universe was made up of particles of material which, no matter how dull and lifeless they might seem, were nevertheless filled with this intense and vital beauty. For a second or two the whole world appeared as a blaze of glory. When it died down, it left me with something I have never forgotten and which constantly reminds me of the beauty locked up in every minute speck of material around us.”
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