Image courtesy of ERIC KIM
BY DANIEL PATRICK WARD When Aldous Huxley composed The Perennial Philosophy, humanity was just beginning to recover from the epic horror show of the Second World War. Across the globe, communities struggled to understand the reality of the tragic events that allowed millions of people to perish at the hands of an evil that was previously unknown to mankind. Amidst all of the conflict and confusion, Huxley produced a masterpiece that could help unite a divided world through something that reaches every corner of the globe: spirituality.
At its core, The Perennial Philosophy is an anthology of ideas. Huxley’s fascination with spirituality led him to study the many different metaphysical ideologies that humans have created worldwide. While they all have many differences, both in ideology and in practice, Huxley recognized a common thread that held human spirituality together. He called this thread the “ground of all being,” or the objective singularity of human existence. The purpose of his anthology is to identify this objective reality using examples pulled from various metaphysical writings and comparing the similar nature of their sentiment.
The book is set up in short chapters, with each one exploring a different component of common spirituality. Prayer, suffering, faith, and free will are a few examples of the different aspects of spiritual thought that he attempts to connect with divine singularity. In each of these short chapters, Huxley uses quotations from varying sources to capture a complete sense of meaning relating to the topic. It seems clear that he was attempting to limit the references to western religion, while focusing more of his attention towards lesser-known sources. He likely understood that, because he was writing in English, the vast majority of his audience would identify as Christian. Many of his readers would be familiar with the Christian Bible and its teachings. This provided Huxley with a brilliant opportunity to unify seemingly different ideologies under common ideas from Eastern sources that many of his readers likely would not be familiar with. This, of course, was the crux of the book. His ultimate goal was to show the world that, while our ideologies vary on the surface, the objective nature of our reality dictates that we are really just one in the same.
This book is not just for people who believe in God. It is not just for people searching for God. Huxley’s spiritual anthology is made for everyone. With effortlessly elegant language, Huxley laid the groundwork for an ideology that anyone could use to make sense of his or her own subjective reality. Many of Huxley’s critics believed he was attempting to create his own religion, but anyone who actually dives into this book understands that this is not the case. Huxley wrote the anthology believing that it could spark an amicable conversation between an atheist and the most adamant believer in divine creation. For me, someone who struggled to find meaning and purpose in religion, it taught me that no matter what religion looks like on the surface, they are all rooted in the same ideas that were created to make society better for everyone. Above all, it taught me that god exists wherever you see it. The Perennial Philosophy is as objective as the message it spreads, and shows that common humanity is the only thing that holds us all together.
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