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The Perennial Philosophy

Image of The Perennial Philosophy: An Interpretation of the Great Mystics, East and West
Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
August 2016
Fred's Rating: 
Aldous Huxley
Total Pages: 
Harper Perennial

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) wrote 11 novels – Brave New World (1932) is his masterpiece and The Perennial Philosophy (1944) may be his best known. A prolific writer, he's written 20 Essays and 15 other styles of literature: Short Stories, Poetry, Dramas, and Selected Works. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)

The Amazon website for the paperback edition is

The home page has a short summary – click on ‘Read more’ to see it. In the reviews by other readers, I especially recommend the three entitled “Thou Art That”, “Not for Atheists”, and “Beauty Stands and Waits” – these three offer words of praise and different but insightful summaries.

Use the ‘Look inside’ option and scroll down to the Contents to see the titles of the 27 Chapters (some of which are quite brief). There is a 5-pp Introduction by the author that is well worth reading. But Amazon’s online preview does not include the Introduction’s first page, so I give it here:

“PHILOSOPHHIA PERENNIOUS – the phrase was coined by Leibniz; but the thing – the metaphysic 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. Rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every religion of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions. A version of this Highest Common Factor in all preceding and subsequent theologies was first committed to writing more than twenty-five centuries ago, and since that time the inexhaustible theme has been treated again and again, from the standpoint of every religious tradition and in all principle languages of Asia and Europe. In the pages that follow I have brought together a number of selections from these writings, chosen mainly for their significance – because they effectively illustrated some particular point in the system of the Perennial Philosophy – but also for their intrinsic beauty and memorableness. These selections are arranged under various heads and embedded, so to speak, in a commentary of my own, designed to illustrate and connect, to develop and, where necessary, to elucidate.

“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. For example, the being of a child is transformed by growth and education into that of a man; among the results of this transformation is a revolutionary change is the way of knowing and the amount and character of the things known. As the individual grows up, his knowledge becomes more conceptual and systematic in form, and its factual, utilitarian content is enormously increased. But these gains are offset by a certain deterioration in the quality of immediate apprehension, a blunting and a loss of intuitive power.” [Continue reading the remaining 4-pp (viii to xi) of the Introduction in Amazon’s online preview.]

In Ch. 7 – Truth – I found the following mid-book summary by Aldous Huxley just after he had given a quote by the Sufi mystic and poet Julal-uddin Rumi. The following Huxley quote is a long paragraph, full of deep insights and warnings. [Any comments by me appear in square brackets.]

“Non-rational creatures do not look before or after, but live in the animal eternity of a perpetual present; instinct is their animal grace and constant inspiration; they are never tempted to live otherwise than in accord with their own animal dharma, or immanent law. Thanks to his [Rumi] reasoning powers and to the instrument of reason, language, man (in his merely human condition) lives nostalgically, apprehensively, and hopefully in the past and future as well as in the present; has no instincts to tell him what to do; [Wrong! Humans have retained the quick ‘fight or flee’ instinct and the even quicker ‘eye protection’ rapid instinct]; must rely on personal cleverness, rather than on inspiration from the divine Nature of Things; finds himself in a condition of chronic war between passion and prudence and, on a higher level of awareness and ethical sensibility, between egoism and dawning spirituality. But this ‘wearisome condition of humanity’ is the indispensable prerequisite of enlightenment and deliverance. Man must live in time in order to be able to advance into eternity, no longer on the animal, but on the spiritual level; he must be conscious of himself as a separate ego in order to be able consciously to transcend separate self-hood; he must do battle with the lower self in order that he may become identified with that higher Self within him, which is akin to the divine Not-Self; and finally he must make use of his cleverness in order to pass beyond cleverness to the intellectual vision of Truth, the immediate unitive knowledge of the divine Ground. Reason and its works ‘are not and cannot be a proximate means of union with God.’ The proximate means is ‘intellect,’ in the scholastic sense of the word, or spirit. In the last analysis the use and purpose of reason is to create the internal and external conditions favorable to its own transfiguration by and into spirit. It is the lamp by which it finds the way to go beyond itself. We see, then, that as a means to a proximate means to an End, discursive reasoning is of enormous value. But if, in our pride and madness, we treat it as a proximate means to the divine End (as so many religious people have done and still do), or if, denying the existence of an eternal End, we regard it as at once the means to Progress and its ever-receding goal in time, cleverness becomes the enemy, a source of spiritual blindness, moral evil and social disaster. At no period in history has cleverness been so highly valued or, in certain directions, so widely and efficiently trained as at the present time. And at no time have intellectual vision and spirituality been less esteemed, or the End to which they are proximate means less widely and less earnestly sought for. Because technology advances, we fancy that we are making corresponding progress all along the line; because we have considerable power over inanimate nature, we are convinced that we are the self-sufficient masters of our fate and captains of our souls; and because cleverness has given us technology and power, we believe, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that we have only to go on being yet cleverer in a yet more systematic way to achieve social order, international peace and personal happiness.”

I chose the above mid-book summary in part because it makes it quite clear that changing from your human self to the divine Self of God that has always been inside each of us is a process that takes much time rather than a brief time as is implied in some of the Asian religions. How long it takes is up to each person; some people never start the process; some people proceed too slowly. Alfred North Whitehead, to whom his philosophy/theology has been renamed as process philosophy/theology (which he accepted although he preferred his original name of an ‘organic philosophy’). My choice of the above long quote was to emphasize the element of growth over time that lies at the core of all of the world’s long-lasting, therefore great, religions.

An added attraction to this book is the 28-pp P.S. section at the end of the book. It has a 4-pp “About the Author,’ a 17-pp ‘Beliefs’ – An Essay by Aldous Huxley, and a 6-pp section about his books. I’m trying to decide which ones I want to read next – I’m sort of leaning toward ‘Brave New World Revisited.’

This book discusses in detail this how the Perennial Philosophy is deep in the core of these religions. Aldous Huxley did an excellent job, so I rate this book at five stars, but add my comment ‘think six stars.’

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