Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Spiritual Awakening as the Core Purpose of 'The Perennial Philosophy'

The English pacifist and humanist, Aldous Huxley, wrote often and eloquently on spiritual awakening, self-transcendence and what he (and others) termed the "Perennial Philosophy". Huxley penned an entire volume titled "The Perennial Philosophy", in which he introduced the reader to some of the finest insights of teachers, mystics and explorers of the inner, esoteric core of the World's great religions and wisdom traditions.

Building on his storied family's roots in the introspective and quietististic Society of Friends, or Quakers, Huxley delved evermore deeply into the esoteric roots of all metaphysics and religion. While doing so he rubbed shoulders with many of the 20th century's deepest and most influential proponents of personal, social, religious and cultural change. In many ways, Huxley helped lay the groundwork for the questioning of the cultural norms and beliefs which would revolutionize (and globalize) the West's worldview in the latter half of the 20th century.

Of Huxley's many writings on the Perennial Philosophy - which is really the stripped-down core of the great wisdom traditions of all ages and continents - perhaps none more clearly set the Perennial Philosophy so clearly or succintly before the reader than the following excerpt from the Introduction to Bhagavad-Gita:: The Song of God that he wrote to his friend and fellow seeker Christopher Isherwood's translation (along with their mutual Vedantic teacher, Swami Prabhavananda) of the Bhagavad Gita, perhaps India's greatest contribution to humanity.

Huxley writes:

"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 man 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 come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground."

Heady stuff for our times this . . . .and for all times!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spiritual Awakening: An 'Inner' Religious Experience Common to All Wisdom Traditions

I was taught by a quiet, anonymous spiritual teacher to "study all religions until I could see the 'sameness' in them all". Of course, my friend and teacher meant the inner religions behind the greater and lesser wisdom teachings of the world - the spiritual awakenings that retie one's inner, absolute consciousness or being with the outer, latent or hidden consciousness that underlies the patent forms of the relative 'worlds' we each perceive.

('Religion' comes from the Latin re ligare, meaning to re-tie, or reunite. Similarly 'yoga', which means religion in the East, comes from the same Sanskrit root as the English word 'yoke', the shoulder harness that 'ties' or 'unites' the ox to the cart. Thus, when Jesus is quoted as saying "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light", (Matt 11:30) what is meant is that his religion, his yoga, his method of practice to reunite with the absolute, with the Kingdom of Heaven within of which he spoke (Luke 17:21) is easy, and what he comes bearing is light, the fruit of his religion is enlightenment, satori, zen, moksha, the mystic union, Christ consciousness, Krishna consciousness, Cosmic Consciousness! What have you ... The words and symbols are unimportant, to experience liberation is the end. All teachings are just 'the finger pointing at the moon'!)

What is this inner religious experience, then? What is this transformative state of consciousness and being that the great esoteric teachers and mystics in all the world's wisdom traditions speak of? Perhaps it was best described by Paul, who in the beautiful words of the King James Bible called that highest mystical experience "the peace of God, that passes all understanding" (Phil. 4:7).

In my experience it is the cessation of thought, of the constant naming and narration of the small "self". One of the Bhudda's descriptions of that selfless state is the "voidness". But, I think, it takes a being that is strong, alert and awake to be free of falling into the trap of a-voiding this ultimate, selfless reality and falling into the multifarious addictions of the outer world - seeking ultimate fulfillment through relative attachments to persons, places, things, even mental formations. One must be strong enough, and have presence enough not to get carried away by the stream of thought!

Spiritual awakening is transcending "self" - transcending one's story, one's sense of individuality or sense of 'separateness' - and through self transcendence, abiding in the eternal, in the void, in zen, in a peace that surpasses our ability to perceive, conceive, name or understand.