Friday, May 20, 2011

Aldous Huxley and "The Perennial Philosophy"

One of the foremost voices of spiritual awakening in the modern West was the writer, Aldous Huxley, While the dystopic, science-fiction novel, "A Brave New World," is perhaps his most famous work, "The Perennial Philosophy," his collection and commentary on mystic and esotreic religious writings from all the world's great wisdom traditions, may be his most lasting.

In an introduction to a translation of the Bhagavad Gita by his friends Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda, Huxley penned the following concise explanation of what the perennial philosophy behind the world's greatest wisdom traditions and philosophies is, observing:
"At the core of the Perennial Philosophy we find four fundamental doctrines.

First: the phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness - the world of things and animals and men and even gods - is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their beginning, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing
about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.

Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

Fourth: man's life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground."
In "The Perennial Philosophy" itself, Huxley illustrates what he means by such "unitive knowledge" by quoting and then discussing the following observations of the Zen master, Huang Po (d. 850 C.E.), who wrote about and taught the direct transmission of enlightenment.
"When followers of Zen fail to go beyond the world of their senses and thoughts, all their doings and movements are of no significance. But when the senses and thoughts are annihilated all the passages to Universal Mind are blocked, and no entrance then becomes possible. The original Mind is to be recognized along with the working of the senses and thoughts - only it does not belong to them, nor yet is it independent of them. Do not build up your views upon your senses and thoughts, do not base your understanding upon your senses and thoughts, do not try to grasp Reality by rejecting your senses and thoughts. When you are neither attached to, nor detached from, them, then you enjoy your perfect unobstructed freedom, then you have your seat of enlightenment.
["The Perennial Philosophy," pp. 58-59]
"Every individual being," Huxley observes, "from the atom up to the most highly organized of living bodies and the most exalted of finite minds may be thought of . . . as a point where a ray of the primordial Godhead meets one of the differentiated, creaturely emanations of that same Godhead's creative energy."

"The creature, as creature," he writes, "may be very far from God, in the sense that it lacks the intelligence to discover the nature of the divine Ground of its being. But the creature in its eternal essence - as the meeting place of creatureliness and primordial Godhead - is one of the infinite number of points where divine Reality is wholly and eternally present. Because of this, rational beings can come to the unitive knowledge of the divine Ground, (while) non-rational and inanimate beings may reveal to rational beings the fulness of God's presence within their material forms."

Huxley, like his friend Isherwood, was a student of the Advaita Vedanta, and was clearly a pantheist, viewing everything as an emanation of the "primarily Godhead." In this respect, his views are similar to any number of spiritual giants, modern and ancient. One of these giants was undoubtedly the Sufi poet, Rumi.

Huxley was a mystic and philosopher who wrote  philosophic prose, while Rumi was a philosopher and mystic, who wrote some of the world's most beautiful mystic poetry. Writing of the many forms that the Godhead takes, he observed:
                                                          We began
as a mineral. We emerged into plant life
and into the animal state, and then into being human,
and always we have forgotten our former states,
except in early spring when we slightly recall
being green again.

                            That's how a young person turns
toward a teacher. That's how a baby leans
towards the breast, without knowing the secret
of its desire, yet turning instinctively.

Humankind is being led along an evolving course,
through this migration of intelligences,
and though we seem to be sleeping,
there is an inner wakefulness
that directs the dream,

and that will eventually startle us back
to the truth of who we are.
[Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi," p. 113]
Huxley, Huang Po and Rumi would all undoubtedly tell us that we are far more than we realize, that we are part of a larger whole, that we are but seemingly individual manifestations of that which is the divine.

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