Friday, September 28, 2012

Perennialism Today


The Ebullio of Meister Eckhart

Thinking outside the box?

When most people say we should think outside the box they don't really mean it. I believe they are saying, “Think about how we can make a bigger, better box.” Conventional opinion makers do not want the box to go away. It is the box that contains them and their comfortable world. Thinking a little bit at the edges of the box might help reinforce the box but they really don't want a different box. Employing people to examine the box will help find potential weaknesses in the box so it can be strengthened.

The box is the materialistic worldview. Few in authority really want to go to a place that contemplates anything except this cozy and predictable box. Even though there may be ominous signs of danger, growing evidence that the box is crumbling, abandoning the box is unthinkable.

Ancient Rivers

On the other hand when considering the perennial wisdom we speak of rivers not boxes. Great rivers of history, philosophy, and politics flowing into the valley of human consciousness. Twenty five years ago a handful of us working in the Institute for Perennial Studies asked the question; what went wrong some two centuries or so past, with the western world to bring us to the brink of nuclear destruction, social deterioration, and the corruption of our natural world? We went to the rivers for answers.

The ancient rivers of thought are always in motion. Not rushing mountain steams but turbid outflows, braided across a vast delta slowly cutting one channel into another, co-opting the flow of one then in turn being replaced by its neighbor. There seems to be no beginning or end to the flow but it is alive with probabilities.

Lately the study of the philosophia perennis is akin to panning for gold in those rivers. Looking for a glinting timeless nugget in the immense muck of human history. Sloshing back and forth through the murky goo of ideas your pan filled with mud, eyes riveted on the froth hoping for some color to show. Mining the past looking for answers, the tiny nugget of thought that will bring all the jumble of information together. Colliding one school of thought into another in an binge of eclecticism, searching for a “unified field theory” or the Philosopher's Stone we become particle physicists of history.

Although an interesting process we should not mistake the method for the answer. There really is little new under the sun. Our search for a perennial wisdom may find us using novel tools that are resident to our times but if our assumptions are correct about the nature of a perennial wisdom then finding it's message should not be so difficult.

Yet the elucidation of the obvious is sometimes challenging. If it is the amalgam of a materialist worldview and the allied cultural appendage of modernism that is our problem, then the antidote should become evident.

Beyond Schrodinger's Cat

I have fallen victim to some of these distractions and perceived paradoxes. Examining first this position then another trying to balance myself in the course of the last 25 years. Through all of that two things stand out. One is my new appreciation of quantum theory that may be the climax of materialist science. The second proposition is a line from “The Herald ofPerennialism” we wrote in 1987; that there is an eternal and “...deep relationship between God, people, and values”. This is the message of the perennialist but the basis of this message was not stated at the time. I want to fill in that gap.

Perennialism is a theistic system that believes in eternal renewal. The statement “God was here at the beginning, He is here now, and He will always be here” supplies a workable transcendent foundation. The perennial wisdom then is the struggle of people to apply this timeless truth onto the playing field of common reality.

A hazy outline of God has been seen forever. Throughout all of human culture there has been an attempt to understand the substance of a vision that the shamans would see. We tried to make sense of fuzzy pictures and uncertain outlines detected by sincere mystics. When we gave those abstractions names like Osiris, Avalokitasvara, or Quetzalcoatl we were seeing Lord Christ who in a thus far unique event briefly appeared to us in human form. The fact that we have called God by various names is neither disrespect nor evil it is only an incomplete interpretation of the nature the visions our shamans, scholars, and others were having of this complex trinitarian non-locality.

The role of perennialism is twofold. To understand the dynamic process of revelation God gives us and secondly support cultural activities that will influence the potential form of perennial restoration.
Illustration: "Trinity", 4"x6", gouche, D S Reif, 2010