Sunday 18 February 2018

Why spiritual seekers and the perennial philosophy are unserious, and a trap

Christians can learn a lot from other religions; but those of no particular religion cannot learn anything substantive about Christianity - or indeed anything else.

Instead, these 'spiritual seekers' or adherents of the 'perennial philosophy' merely become trapped in a self-congratulatory/ self-indulgent version of the mainstream modern lifestyle - with its trapping of the sexual revolution, political Leftism, and technological self-manipulation of emotions (via drink, drugs, 'body-art', social activism etc.).

The perennial philosophy is therefore an amusement, not a conviction; an open-ended life-option that seeks no end and attains no progression; an interest, not a faith; and complacency, not courage. It is simply an addictive kind of feebleness - a craving for a pain-free and engaging mortal life - with genuine escape/ enlightenment always just around the next corner...

True seeking is based on the conviction that there is a right answer that leads to more right answers - it is serial finding, not serial seeking.

All answers - all true knowledge - are partial and biased (i.e. perspectival). Progress comes from the process of of integrating and correcting these answers - and it never ends; because reality is creative, so there is always more to know.

Spiritual seekers expend their mortal lives in looking-for a form - asserting that all forms and motivations are one. This is lethal to real spirituality; since it discards the ens and essences of metaphysics and motivation - and instead focuses on the means and peripheries of emotions, lifestyle, and detached/ fragmentary utterances and writings.

(A monk who seeks detachment-from the world is equated with a shaman who seeks absorption-into the abstract divine and a priest who seeks a personal communion-with a personal god... on the basis that they all wear robes and spend time sitting with their eyes closed...)

That the perennial philosophy is nonsense is a matter of simple common sense and logic; which is why the idea is only ever held by intellectuals who have the cognitive capacity to confuse themselves with complexity.

The perennial philosophy is at least tolerated, and probably encouraged, by the demonic beings who pursue strategic evil in this world, because it permanently neutralises the basic human quest for god, for true religion. Once enmeshed in endless syncretism and research - the spiritual seeker is trapped in a kaleidoscope of images and assertions, and cannot find a way out. 

Of course, even sincere and genuinely motivated individuals will likely go through some kind of phase of comparison and learning about religions - but to defend this as a valid permanent option, to crystallise it as 'the truth' about the human condition, is fatal to faith, hope and charity - leading instead to this-worldly materialism, purposive hedonism and despair.


Desert Rat said...

I read Huxley's "The Perennial Philosophy" almost 30 years ago and it was a major factor in my seeking for God. Its main value consisted in all the citations and quotes from saints and sages and from various holy books. The book worked like an index and greatly facilitated the search for authoritative sources.

I think it is westerners who dally in this that are unserious and fall into the trap that leads to both fatalism and nihilism. These are people who are not actually looking for God but for validation of their own assumptions and authority. They like eastern religion because they think it gets them off the hook of having to practice according to a set of moral laws. When I read about the saints and sages of the east I get a quite opposite message. People like Ramakrishna or Chaitanya or Sankara or Ramanuja practiced very strict lives of virtue and self discipline. But the east has produced charlatans and frauds who know a good marketing scam when they see it and have preyed on ignorant westerners with sometimes quite profitable results.

Religion for profit has been a worldwide racket for a long, long time.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NW - I guess you haven't read this blog much - to ask such a question!

Bruce Charlton said...

@DR - Everybody has a process of seeking to find a path - but to become addicted to addcited to seeking, or to claim that seeking is itself a path... that's the problem. Aldous Huxley was certainly an important writer - but equally certainly he is a bad *example*.

Desert Rat said...

Good point.

BTW - I am Sean Cory. For some reason it won't let me log in under that name so I use a Google account which I rarely use for anything.

To always be seeking is simply to wander aimlessly. Which is easily justified if god is an amorphous mass of being with no personality, parts or passions. I tried this for a while and only became confused and a little depressed.

I do find that learning appears (to me anyway) to be an endless process. But the source of knowledge is a Person who is accessible and the very embodiment of good will and love.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Huxley's Perennial Philosophy is an unusual example of the genre in that it focuses so heavily on Christianity. Its most-cited sources are Meister Eckhart, St. Francois de Sales, St. John of the Cross, and William Law. It didn't teach me anything I didn't already know about "Eastern philosophy," but it did serve as my introduction to all of the writers listed above, as well as to Thomas Traherne.

Certainly seeking is not itself a path, but one does have to go on seeking until a path is found -- and that can mean seeking for a very long time for some people.

Desert Rat said...

Wm Jas - that was the most valuable thing I got from that book as well. I had never heard of Meister Eckhart or William Law or most of the others quoted so my eyes were opened to the fact that a number of truly Christian figures of considerable saintliness had written works available. I started out thinking that Vedanta was the way and ended up confirmed in Christianity and, like our host, a believer in LDS theology.

Nicholas Fulford said...

"All answers - all true knowledge - are partial and biased (i.e. perspectival). Progress comes from the process of of integrating and correcting these answers - and it never ends; because reality is creative, so there is always more to know." - Bruce Charlton

Very scientific that, and I don't disagree.

But, I also have to wrestle with my own biases, both those which are intrinsic to being human, and those which are specific to my experience of life. To be Heinlein's "fair witness" is from a practical point of view not possible. We carry too many vestments - many of which are unconscious - to be a fair witness, and so we always have to try to bring those biases we can be aware of to the surface, to try and take that into account as best as we can, and to avoid projecting them. That is actually a remarkably difficult thing to do, and it is especially true where aggressive/defensive reactions ensue in response to data and narrative that runs against something that is held to be core to the ego's view of itself.

As for the Perennial Philosophy, let me just quote from the link that was provided:

"The Perennial philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis), [note 1] also referred to as Perennialism, is a perspective in the philosophy of religion which views each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, universal truth on which foundation all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown."

To the extent that each views something as a fundamental TRUTH, to the extent that each builds a series of beliefs and narratives, has a set of moral rules and considerations, they are the same in type, but not in content. A perennial philosopher would likely feel aligned with Jung's idea of archetypes, and some of Joseph Campbell's views with respective to types of narrative that find themselves within differing religions. It does not mean that such a person thinks that all religions are equivalent, but that because we are all biologically human that it is not surprising to see commonality of type expressed across cultures and religions. A perennialist may hold that this is the universal truth between religions, and I would not discount that as there are distinct similarities of type.