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Perennial Wisdom

Updated: May 26, 2019

In the past several weeks, Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk and spiritual director of the Center for Action and Contemplation ( has been writing about the origins and core teachings of all the major religious traditions, including Judaism, Eastern Christianity, Western Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.

What has become apparent here is that despite what is currently taught by the authoritarian hierarchy within each tradition (e.g., the priesthood) and what is believed by most followers or adherents to the different religious traditions, the common thread throughout all these traditions is that there is no separation between what is perceived of as phenomena (including all of humanity and each individual) and the absolute.

This common thread or truth is also known as perennial wisdom, a term coined back in the 15th century by Agostino Steuco and elaborated on by many others.

(A shout out to my good friend Michael Kroth——who sent me a book titled Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent, which I highly recommend. The book is organized around five spiritually oriented questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? How shall I live? And Why? There is also an opening chapter that defines and explains the idea of perennial wisdom. Each section consists of a series of quotes pulled from a multiplicity of sources [e.g., St. Augustine; Tao Te Ching; the Qu’ran; the Bible; the Bhagavad Gita, and many more] all introduced by Rami Shapiro who provides an introduction to each section and annotations for each of the quotes.)

And so, I briefly wanted to introduce the idea of perennial wisdom.

What is Perennial Wisdom?

There are four basic truths or realizations that comprise what is know as Perennial Wisdom:

The first realization or truth is that there only one reality (call it God, Tau, Allah, Mother, Dharmakaya, Brahman, Source Consciousness, Emptiness, Nothingness, or Great Spirit) that is the source of all creation.

Meister Eckhard (1260-1327), paraphrased by Indian Scholar Eknath Easwaran (and again, paraphrased here) wrote that there is a “light in the soul that is uncreated and uncreatable”: It is unconditioned, universal, deathless.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) wrote: “The phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness—the world of things and animals and men and even gods—is a manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their beginning, and apart from which they would be non-existent” (Introduction to a 1944 translation of the Bhagavad Gita).

The second point realization or truth is that although we come to believe and identify with what has now become known as the ego or small self—the person we think we are—each of us is a manifestation of one reality. As Fred Davis often writes: There is one thing going on. There is just Oneness.

These first two aspects of perennial wisdom points to the non-dual nature of consciousness. The perennial wisdom of all religious disciplines is the truth of non-duality! There is an ancient Indian saying: Tat Tsam Asi, or That thou art. This has also been translated as That art thou, You are that, or That you are, and my favorite, You're it! You are IT!

The point being that despite appearances to the contrary, what we perceive as the ‘real world’ is actually an illusion, albeit a very powerful and detailed illusion, that is the manifestation of a single source.

Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), echoing Shankara (788-820) used to say:

The world is illusory; Brahman alone is real; Brahman is the world.

Brahman being another word for the Absolute, or God, or Tau, or Source Consciousness, or Nothingness. In other words, the world of phenomena IS the Absolute, IS Brahman, IS God. The world of relativity IS emptiness itself. There is no separation here. The Absolute or God is not outside of yourself. It is not other than yourself. What IT is, IS you!

I remember on Saturday Night Live many years ago when the character Father Guido Sarducci spoke of the Five Minute University, in which for each subject taught, he provided one pithy phrase that encapsulated the entire course. For theology, he merely stated “God is everywhere!” This is the truth espoused by all religions and disciplines, regardless of language! Note that if God or Tau or Source Consciousness or the Absolute is everywhere, then it also must be here! That means you, too!

A corollary of the second point or the second point itself, depending on the source, is that it is the belief in and identification with the separate self or ego (and I will add, all beliefs, opinions, or positions, or what Fred Davis refers to as BOPs) that is the cause of all sufferingand cross-cultural violence. (This is also known as the second Noble Truth of Buddhism, something I will discuss more in detail in a later blog or video post.)

The third truth or realization,and perhaps the most important truth, is that we can realize the truth of reality directly! Meister Eckhart wrote “The divine essence can be realized.”

As Meister Eckhart also wrote (I’m paraphrasing), when our true nature is realized, we discover simultaneously that the divinity within ourselves is one and the same in all—all individuals, all creatures, all of life.

This is what is meant by realizationor awakening.

A corollary to the third point is that when our true nature is realized, suffering will be replaced by peace and compassion.

The fourth realizationis that realizing one’s true nature is life’s real and highest goal (Meister Eckhart). Similarly, “Man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground” (Huxley).

In summary (a) there is only one reality, no matter what you call it; (2) each of us is a manifestation of that reality; (3) we can realize this truth directly; and (4) realizing this truth is each person’s (and humanity in general) ultimate goal. By doing so, suffering is eliminated. These are not philosophical points to be debated or believed. Rather, they point to a universal truth that is already you. When I studied Zen Buddhism, I used to hear all the time “You are already enlightened; you just don’t realize it.”

So, when are you going to realize it?

(Hint: Notice that you are already there. Not your ego, you; but You you: awareness itself. Spacious boundless awareness that exists prior to thought. Just turn your attention back on itself and look!)

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