‘‘The essence of philosophy is not the possession of truth but the search for truth.” ~ Karl Jaspers.
The Perennial Philosophy is the reasonably modern term assigned to that unity of truth said to rest behind all spiritual traditions – the fundamental truth which has existed from the beginning, an inner knowledge revealed from direct spiritual insight. It is said by some to be fully evolved and not requiring any addition or expansion. It is universal, and not the sole preserve of any culture. Some few examples include the Eleusinian mysteries, Hermetic thought, the teachings from the Egyptian and Babylonian from the Mystery Schools, the Vedantic and Eastern schools, Gnostic and Hellenistic lineages and so on.
All these movements, which essentially sought to describe mysterious God and the awesome Universe and the human’s relationship with God and the Universe, interacted with and fertilised each other in various ways and throughout time, leading to a constant evolution of ideas and understanding. This evolution can be observed by looking back in history.
In the Greek schools for example, we understand that Socrates absorbed the teachings of his various masters, such as Thales and so on, and distilled them within himself, evolving his own personal understanding. Plato extended Socrates ambit, and in one of his dialogues (fictionally) depicts Socrates challenging the older Parmenides, again allowing for evolution, dialectic and expansion. Aristotle in his turn did the same for his teacher’s wisdom, as for example when Aristotle disagreed with Plato’s dismissal of the role of the senses. I am very ignorant of these philosopher’s work in general – this is simply an observation of patterns. I see a regular interaction and evolution of ideas.
All these great sages of old had access to the libraries of knowledge extant in their day. Just as with the ancient Alchemists who were the early chemists and scientists exploring the world of divinely-infused Matter, they were all building upon libraries of knowledge, wisdom and experience that went before them. Building and expanding.
This expansion and exploration continued over the centuries, flow and counter-flow.
The advent of the materialist age saw scientists with their rulers and lens continuing to probe the unknown. But by now, Matter began to supercede the Mind Of God, and so it has continued to this day – those who wield the measuring instruments parse up unfathomable creation into mundane chemical formulas and measurable processes.
The advances in science, instead of making our civilisation more filled with awe, or more inclined towards deeper thought, have made our general milieu as cocky as any Age of Enlightenment scientist who foolishly imagined as they walked the streets in the 18th century that with their callipers and eyeglass they would soon control the realm of matter.
This has not happened and instead the rabbit hole of inexplicable mystery grows ever deeper and more profound. Because we have generally dismissed the Mind of God behind these phenomenal advances, we feel smaller, not grander, more confused rather than more inspired by unfolding mystery.
The great teachers of old responded to the changing times in which they found themselves. The masters and philosophers of the Axial Age responded to the changing psyches of their fellow beings who were beginning to look for greater meaning in a human life, now that social order and evolving civilisation was beginning to organise their more mundane needs such as food and shelter. Buddha and Jesus and Lao Tzu (and so on) responded to social needs and the psychological needs of their people with their general teachings, emphasising methods for attaining peace in the midst of societal challenges.
We are again at a time of rapid evolution in civilisation, when technological advances augur a transhumanist age, and deeper questions arise about the human beings place in the overall scheme of things. Hot on the heels of new questions about ourselves, arrive questions about how God is now, not the God of Babylonian deserts and Grecian stoa, but the God who dwells right now, here within us in this post-digital cosmos.
The human psyche naturally seeks enchantment, especially as the modern science attempts to measure and parse the mysteries of old. But the discipline of old is lost, memory is short, history does not exist. The rigours with which the ancient mystic expanded their vision of God and the unknowable, using the various fields of information at his disposal, have morphed into a marshmallow play-zone of wish-fulfilling fabulism and a desire to be blindly entranced. We are part-time shamans, risking our souls to be fashionable. In place of the piercing analytical disciplines of the Mystery Schools arise wishful thinking and active imagination, where devotees are slinging their hopeful lasso around poorly understood soundbites of quantum science.
And yet, there is in this magical realism evidence of a profound need to expand our scriptures. Why should God remain confined to descriptions evolved in what is now antiquity. God is always expanding, always mysterious, always vast. Without wanting to be so foolish as to jettison the wisdom upon which serious metaphysics was founded, still questions and curiosity arise as to what Pythagorus would have created with all the discoveries we have made in the time since he walked upon the earth. How would he have expanded his teachings and cosmology? (How he would marvel at our time!) What would the star gazers from Babylon who so minutely mapped the skies have taught with the evidence of the inexpressible expanse of the cosmos to which we presently have access? A body of knowledge which increases exponentially, so that we feel as if we are forever merely on the threshold of an unimaginable infinity. What would the alchemists of ancient times have conjured with the science of inner atomic worlds we presently take for granted, where we have schema for minute particles, and where again we can understand ourselves to be at the fringe of another body of exploration that is ever expanding and constantly confounding us observers.
I wonder about the beautiful cosmologies and philosophies these sages living in our shoes would have left for our children’s inheritance.