Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Does a 'perennial philosophy' actually exist?

Some comments by Michael James on the existence of a 'perennial philosophy':


2. The view that all views are one is due to lack of vivēka

F: I think my outlook is fundamentally Zen, but I still worship Bhagavan. I’m more open to a perennial philosophy, so I see it basically everywhere, despite the (apparently) diverse iterations. I think it’s everywhere.

M: Perennial philosophy of the type that Aldous Huxley wrote about is a huge generalisation, in which most non-materialist metaphysics can find a place, particularly (but not only) the more monistic or non-dualistic ones. Viewed superficially, there are many similarities [between the religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions of various cultures], as found by Huxley, but if one goes deeper there are also many significant differences.

Take vēdānta, for example, which Huxley considered to be the archetype of perennial philosophy. It is considered to be one view (darśana), but there are so many interpretations of it, dvaita, viśiṣṭādvaita and advaita, among which there are so many fundamental points of disagreement.

Even advaita is not a single view, because there are so many interpretations of it. Many professed advaitins, for example, do not accept dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi vāda [the contention that perception is causally antecedent to creation (in other words, that creation is a consequence of perception), though they actually occur simultaneously, as in a dream], which according to what Bhagavan taught us is the cornerstone of advaita philosophy.

[My friend later suggested I was mistaken in writing this, because ‘Bhagavan’s teaching is ajata’, to which I replied: Though Bhagavan said that the ultimate truth is ajāta, he clarified that his actual teaching is only dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi vāda (also known as vivarta vāda, the contention that everything [both the perceiver and the perceived] is just a false appearance), as you can see from verses 83 and 100 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai. Ajāta is not suitable for teaching, because in the state of ajāta there is no one in need of any teaching or to put any teaching into practice. Teaching is necessary only because we have risen as this ego (the perceiver) and consequently perceive the world (the phenomena perceived), so the most beneficial teaching is to say that all this is just a false appearance, which appears only in the view of the ego, so we should investigate the ego in order to see that it does not actually exist. Only by applying dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi vāda in practice can we arrive at ajāta.]

Even among Bhagavan’s followers there are so many interpretations of his teachings.

If we want to see uniformity we cannot go deep into anything. If we want to go deep, we have to give up the idea that all views are one. In order to go deep in any spiritual path, particularly the path of jñāna [knowledge or awareness], vivēka (distinguishing differences and judging what is true or real) is absolutely essential.

When you say your outlook is fundamentally Zen, what do you mean by ‘Zen’? I do not know much about Zen, but I expect there are many different interpretations or understandings of it, as there are of advaita.

Therefore rather than just giving our view a label, we need to consider each point of difference and judge for ourself what is correct in each case. And we each have to consider whether our views on various points are consistent and coherent, which is something that is lacking in most people’s views, because they haven’t considered their views deeply or critically enough.

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