Perennial philosophy  

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Perennial philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis "eternal philosophy", also Philosophia perennis et universalis) is the notion of the universal recurrence of philosophical insight independent of epoch or culture, including universal truths on the nature of reality, humanity or consciousness (anthropological universals).



Under the term 'prisca philosophia' the idea of a philosophy that could be found in the earliest European and Middle Eastern writings, and which led to the divine unity of all things was strongly put by Marsilio Ficino of Florence in the second half of the 15th century; he sought its traces in Egyptians such as 'Hermes Trismegistus' and the Persian 'Magi' alike.

The term philosophia perennis was first used in the 16th century by Agostino Steuco in his book entitled De perenni philosophia libri X (1540), in which scholastic philosophy is seen as the Christian pinnacle of wisdom to which all other philosophical currents in one way or another point. The idea was later taken up by the German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who used it to designate the common, eternal philosophy that underlies all religions, and in particular the mystical streams within them. The term was popularized in more recent times by Aldous Huxley in his 1945 book: The Perennial Philosophy.

A "philosophia perennis" is also the central concept of the "Traditionalist School" formalized in the writings of 20th century thinkers René Guénon and Frithjof Schuon and Ananda Coomaraswamy.

Under the term 'Sanātana Dharma'-- the eternal law—the concept of a philosophy which is 'authorless' but perceived by the great ancient seers, has been a fundamental concept of Hinduism for over two thousand years. It is identified with the Veda and Purana, and as 'shruti', 'heard', is potentially to be added to by such seers.


According to Huxley, the perennial philosophy is:

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 region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions
(The Perennial Philosophy, p. vii).

He also pointed out the method of the Buddha:

The Buddha declined to make any statement in regard to the ultimate divine Reality. All he would talk about was Nirvana, which is the name of the experience that comes to the totally selfless and one-pointed. […] Maintaining, in this matter, the attitude of a strict operationalist, the Buddha would speak only of the spiritual experience, not of the metaphysical entity presumed by the theologians of other religions, as also of later Buddhism, to be the object and (since in contemplation the knower, the known and the knowledge are all one) at the same time the subject and substance of that experience.
The Perennial Philosophy

and that in the Upanishads:

The Perennial Philosophy is expressed most succinctly in the Sanskrit formula, tat tvam asi ('That thou art'); the Atman, or immanent eternal Self, is one with Brahman, the Absolute Principle of all existence; and the last end of every human being, is to discover the fact for himself, to find out who he really is.
Aldous Huxley

According to Karl Jaspers:

"Despite the wide variety of philosophical thought, despite all the contradictions and mutually exclusive claims to truth, there is in all philosophy a One, which no man possesses but about which all serious efforts have at all times gravitated: the one eternal philosophy, the philosophia perennis."

See also


  • The Unanimous Tradition, Essays on the essential unity of all religions, by Joseph Epes Brown, Titus Burckhardt, Rama P. Coomaraswamy, Gai Eaton, Isaline B. Horner, Toshihiko Izutsu, Martin Lings, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Lord Northbourne, Marco Pallis, Whitall N. Perry, Leo Schaya, Frithjof Schuon, Philip Sherrard, William Stoddart, Elémire Zolla, edited by Ranjit Fernando, Sri Lanka Institute of Traditional Studies, 1991 ISBN 955 9028 01 4

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