Sophia Perennis

The “common thread” between various cultural and religious traditions which is largely overlooked by modern philosophy is an outlook or a mode of philosophy known as “Perennialism” or Sophia Perennis or Philosophia Perennis. It is an outlook or a mode of thinking that “recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being – the thing is immemorial and universal” as Aldous Huxley argued. 

This outlook and mode of thinking runs a ‘common thread’ through various cultural and religious traditions, even though modern philosophy does not take this common thread into account. Moreover, this common thread becomes most evident and is perceived as a result of a higher level of knowledge and understanding. As Huxley wrote: “Knowledge is a function of being. When there is a change in the being of the knower, there is a corresponding change in the nature and amount of knowing.” 

The utilitarian view of life as espoused by the Anglo-American tradition which is centered on the notion of “happiness” is a view which has been explained by the 20th century American philosopher Manly P. Hall, but in a manner which is perhaps often overlooked or ignored. Hall wrote:

“In this world the only people that can ever be happy are not those who make good laws, but those who live well with simple laws. The idea of education, the final end of intelligence, the final proof of intellectual superiority is the recognition that to live well is the supreme assurance of happiness. It makes very little difference how much we know of medicine, chemistry, physics, anatomy, and biology; we may know all these things and perish miserably; but if we know the simple truth that cooperation is the life of people, then we survive regardless of all other knowledge or ignorance.” 

As mentioned before, what the West has lost is what the East has sought to preserve, namely, traditional and “initiatic knowledge” or the Sophia Perennis. As Byung-Chul Han wrote: “To initiate, means etymologically, “to close” – notably the eyes but, more importantly, the mouth.” Han added: “We are no longer familiar with that divine falling silent that elevates us to the life of the godhead, to the heaven of man. Blissful self-oblivion has given way to excessive self-production of the ego. Digital hypercommunication, unlimited connectedness, does not bring about attachment or a world. Rather, it effects isolation, deepens loneliness. The isolated, worldless, depressive ‘I’ moves away from that delightful all-embracing unity, that holy mountain pinnacle.”

And in a sense, an outlook or mode of thinking that is predicated upon a “common thread” which runs through diversity and pluralism and the notion that diversity and pluralism are assets rather than liabilities and a source of division and rancor is what makes “Perennialism” or Sophia Perennis something enduring and lasting amidst the fleeting and transient noise and ‘hypercommunication’ of the current day and age. 

Openness and genuine pluralism both on a domestic level and an international level have been largely confined and shut out by a public discourse which confines and limits, mainly because diversity, openness, and pluralism are seen as dangers and risks to order and stability rather than assets and benefits which have a “common thread” running through them. But perhaps the time is ripe for some change in this general outlook. As one law professor and scholar wrote: “It may turn out that in our pluralistic society, the sort of thin, desiccated public discourse we have today – a discourse haphazardly policed in politics and more rigorously regimented in the academy by the constraints of secularism – is the best we can do. But we will know only if we open up the cage and see what happens.” Moreover, high-risk usually translates into high-reward.

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