Perennial Philosophy — Unity of the Sacred

Naida Muslić

Naida is a Perennialist, Platonist and Jungian from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. She has studied religion both individually and in an academic setting. Naida runs Orphic Inscendence, a project aiming to bring the sense of beauty, sacred and faith to the world.

Since humanity’s earliest days, the human race has been surrounded by myths and religions. It could be said that today’s Western, completely secular outlook– utterly removed from any sense of the sacred– is a novelty in human experience. Some would say that the modern human has not really freed himself of religion – he seems to look for a materialistic religion with which to replace it. We see it in the dreams of technological progress, transhumanism, space colonies, and many other “more than earth, more than human” ideas of the modern mind. I am not opposed to technological progress or space colonies, but I suggest we acknowledge that the modern human does it in hope of finding answers to certain existential questions. He does it to cope with the anguish he feels in a world devoid of the sacred.

In humanity’s mosaic of religions, of different understandings, what then is the truth? How should a human navigate, especially in the modern times, when one can read any theology, join any spiritual lineage or convert very easily? These questions have come to my mind as a part of my own spiritual journey – if truth is one, transcendental, reality –unaffected by anything human– why then are there so many religions?

In Jain religion, there is a concept called “anekāntavāda” which translates into “many-sided reality“ – it claims that transcendent reality has multiple aspects, and that this reality can be experienced, but not fully be expressed in language. Language is limited and can only partially translate the Real that encompasses everything. Perennial philosophy holds a similar notion: the transcendental, esoteric reality is one and the same for every human. Therefore, perennial philosophy asserts there to be an “esoteric universalism”. However, the expression of the said reality can only occur through symbols and these can only express the images that exist in the psyche. They express the esoteric truth in the way a specific nation, tribe, or group of people would understand it the best. My personal thoughts were close to those – for how could a Hindu have deities that were personified as polar bears?  It is only natural that they would personify a specific divine expression, for example Ganesh, as an elephant, an animal very present in the psyche of the given culture.

When humans speak of God or their experiences with the Divine, these must be expressed in a human language. Our ability to express it in a verbal language is determined by our own skill in the language, our vocabulary, by experiences and references we have in our minds. In this alchemical process, we translate something we understand or know intuitively, into something we know conceptually. Yet God or the Truth, cannot be a concept. Something almost every religious tradition claims is that certain aspects of God, Reality cannot truly be known­– at least not in this life. There is perhaps, a wisdom in it – hiding behind the veil, the Truth above all truths, saves itself from being made into an idol. It is always escaping our mind’s desire to give everything a clear form and definition.

I have studied many religions – Abrahamic, Dharmic, as well as ancient religions of peoples of Europe, Americans, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and while reading their texts, looking through the archetypes, I could not help but notice that there were themes that seemed to repeat over and over again. These common themes may often appear unrelated, as the exoteric expressions can be very different, but when looked at beneath the form, at their core, they often carry the same message or the same insight into the esoteric reality.

I am not a dogmatist, and I don’t think that Traditionalist School (Perennial Philosophy) philosophers or scholars should be taken as prophets. However, perennialism as a perspective can help soothe many confusions. Of course, it will have a hard time against any form of orthodoxy, but I would say that perennialism does not have to oppose orthodoxy, as it does not care to create a new religion. Rather, it suggests that the Truth into which we each have insight must come from the same root. If we are able to look at the beauty and the saints that every religious tradition has created, we will be forced to admit that it must have been divinely inspired – sainthood and beauty can come only from the divine source and nothing else.

In an age in which profane is the norm, the age which seeks to remove any sense of sacred in us and that seeks to transform the world, once “full of gods” into a world that is full of plastic, artificial matter, feelings, and relationships, we must look into that which unites those of us who believe that human life and existence have more meaning than that.

Sacred is a human need, and as stated in the beginning, from its first step, humanity has looked for ways to live in harmony with sacred, cosmic laws. With the perennial outlook, we can allow for the particular to exist within the universal – we can allow for the local, specific traditions to exist while being aware of the much greater space everyone is a part of.  We all communicate on the same online platforms, speak foreign languages, travel to foreign countries–whether this is good or bad, I shall not debate– but I doubt any of us dreams of a completely uniform world, devoid of its different scents. The perennial outlook can help maintain the particular and local without prejudices and biases. It can also offer a way to understand our diversity that stands beyond the current socio-political debates. Only by recognizing the greater context, can we, in this age, save our spiritual traditions from becoming irrelevant and archaic.

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