“Perennial philosophy is a kind of waking up . . . If ordinary life can be likened to a cave, then to awaken is to go outside the cave from the darkness into the light of the sun.”
It was hard for us to imagine that a book by essentially the same title as Aldous Huxley’s classic The Perennial Philosophy could build upon what Huxley had done or further elucidate Huxley’s subject. Arthur Versluis’ Perennial Philosophy does both of these things and more. It stands on its own. And it stands upright.
Versluis has in fact provided us with a much deeper understanding of Perennial Philosophy, its ancient roots as well as it enduring presence at the core of diverse belief systems. Most important, Versluis crystalized for us what Perennial Philosophy is.
As he explains, “What is perennial in perennial philosophy is truth,” and “the human search for and realization of truth is perennial.” The word “philosophy” here holds tight to its original meaning, to the “philosophy” of Plato and the ancient Greeks – conscious thought and inquiry as a way of life, propelled by a deep love of wisdom.
Perennial Philosophy, as Versluis makes clear, points to the individual spiritual experience, the experience of tireless search and contemplation, of revelation, of true communion with God, which happens within the individual soul. This experience, through those who have been touched by it, has been the initiating force in world religions and spiritual belief systems. It is the individual spiritual experience, after all, that is the spark that ignites belief in others, that inspires others to coalesce around a system of shared beliefs. Perennial Philosophy in its ultimate manifestation – whether it ever finds its way outside a single individual’s lived experience – is an unflinching commitment to truth and goodness, to love and compassion, to the transcendent path “toward the higher meanings and purposes of human life.”
Versluis also builds upon Huxley’s work as he further examines the cultural implications of a society built upon Perennial Philosophy. As he says, “If contemporary society has largely lost sight of human possibilities . . . perennial philosophy is there to remind us of what our potential is.” He reminds us that the commitment to truth and wisdom, to love and compassion, is not just at the heart of spiritual belief systems but also of every truly ethical approach to life. He invites us to imagine a world where each society seeks its leadership and guidance from those most deeply engaged in a contemplative life.
Versluis’ Perennial Philosophy is both the perfect companion to Huxley’s classic and, in our view, the most essential reading for those seeking insight to the nature, history and significance of Perennial Philosophy.
The Gleam of Light Team
2015, New Cultures Press