This particular presentation of Perennialism is influenced by many sources, oral, written, and experiential. Here is a partial list. More will be added as I have time to annotate.
Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World’s Religions by Huston Smith
I cannot say enough about this book. It makes me think that I will not—indeed cannot–hold a conversation with any exclusivist person who has not read and considered this book. And by the label “exclusivist” I do not just mean religious fundamentalists, but also dogmatic materialists. I do not believe that the anthropomorphic theories of “intelligent design” are correct, but they are no more flawed than the evolutionary biology theories that take no account of quantum physics and the limits of scientific knowledge. Smith sets us straight on these an other issues, and gives us hope that there may be a legitimate end to the Post-Modernism crisis of meaning. Clues to this end can be found in more traditional ways of thinking, even if we cannot and should not try to adopt these ways wholeheartedly. I would like to look forward with Smith’s hope to a world populated by individuals discovering meanings.
Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers by Thich Nhat Hanh
Going Home provides an accessible comparison of the lives and teachings of Jesus and Buddha, as well as a contemplative look at the ways in which the beliefs and practices of Christians and Buddhists can intersect and enrich each other. This is an edifying and uplifting read; Hanh’s clear and simple prose calms and refreshes one’s mind.
The Atman Project: A Transpersonal View of Human Development by Ken Wilbur
In The Atman Project, Wilbur synthesizes the great insights of Western developmental psychology and Eastern spiritual development into a cohesive map of human development from birth to death. The Western traditions have mapped human development from birth through adulthood, but have typically viewed adulthood as this static stage that begins at age eighteen and continues until death (with important exceptions such as Maslow and Fromm). Wilbur mines the Eastern traditions (and Western mysticism) for their insights regarding the further development of the person throughout adulthood, taking place in spiritual stages of awakening. This culminates in the final stage of identification with others, the world, God—hence the word “Atman” which is the Sanskrit word for both “self” and “God’s self” which are, ultimately, the same thing in much of Hindu thought. (Note: Wilbur uses the metaphor of the spectrum to represent the different stages of development and evolution. This is very useful, but may be confusing if paired up with the spectrum as I have used it—as a representation of the relationship of the world’s religious traditions.)
Up From Eden by Ken Wilbur
This is the companion piece to The Atman Project, documenting a transpersonal view of human evolution. Evolution and human development have a macrocosmic-microcosmic relationship, and the story of evolution—from single-cell organism, to fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal, and, finally, to human being—mirrors the development of the human being from single-cell zygote, to fish-like embryo, to fetus, to baby. Wilbur argues that the existence of highly-evolved beings like Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, points not only to the potential of the human individual, but also foreshadows the potential for the evolution of the human race as a whole. (Note: Wilbur uses the metaphor of the spectrum to represent the different stages of development and evolution. This is very useful, but may be confusing if paired up with the spectrum as I have used it—as a representation of the relationship of the world’s religious traditions.)
God Is Not One by Stephen Prothero
Prothero’s book may be read as an argument against Perennialism; however, it is just as important to address criticism as it is to garner support. Prothero says that many mystics and other perennial-types tend to point out the similarities of their religious traditions, such as the proclamation of the golden rule or the use of meditation. He argues that these attempts to show the possible unity of religions obscure the cold, hard facts of the differences among religions. Prothero is correct in arguing that the perennial strain in religious traditions is the exception rather than the rule, and that the religious beliefs of “common people” differ tremendously and cannot be easily reconciled. However, the truth of these statements does not refute Perennialism. On the contrary, Perennialism agrees that that the religious imagination of “common people” is very different, but it argues that if people follow their spiritual paths to their highest heights, they will see the reality common to all the traditions—what Frithjof Schuon calls “The hidden religion.”
The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley
Huxley’s book is responsible for popularizing the phrase in the 20th Century. The book’s organization is its strength and its weakness: While it is filled with hundreds of parallel phrases taken from every religious and philosophical tradition and pertaining to all of the big existential questions, this format can make it laborious to read from cover to cover. It is more fruitful to read the stories of Buddha and Jesus, for example, and to do the work of comparison oneself. Or it might be more engaging to read a systematic account like that of Wilbur. However, Huxley’s book is great as a resource for parallel passages.
More to come…