Aldous Huxley: The Perennial Philosophy

Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009 (1945)

Book Description:

An inspired gathering of religious writings that reveals the “divine reality” common to all faiths, collected by Aldous Huxley.

“The Perennial Philosophy,” Aldous Huxley writes, “may be found among the traditional lore of peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions.”

With great wit and stunning intellect – drawing on a diverse array of faiths, including Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Christian mysticism, and Islam – Huxley examines the spiritual beliefs of various religious traditions and explains how they are united by a common human yearning to experience the divine. The Perennial Philosophy includes selections from Meister Eckhart, Rumi, and Lao Tzu, as well as the Bhagavad Gita, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Diamond Sutra, and Upanishads, among many others.

Back Cover:

A marvelous gathering of selections from the world’s religions with a commentary by Huxley.

The perennial philosophy is defined by the author as “the metaphysic that identifies a divine Reality subtantial to the lives of world of things and lives and minds”. With great wit and stunning intellect, Aldous Huxley examines the spiritual beliefs of various religious traditions and explains them in terms that are personally meaningful.

“It is important to say that even an agnostic…can read this book with joy. It is the masterpiece of all anthologies. As Mr Huxley has proved before, he can find and frame rare beauty in literature, and here, long before Freud, writers are quoted who combine beauty with profound psychology.”  The New York Times 

I am amazed at the range of the author’s knowledge…It is both an anthology and an interpretation of the supreme mystics, East and West. There are well-known books on Western mysticism. There are studies of  Oriental and Mohammedan mysticism, but this is the first time that anybody has adequately covered the entire field and showed an equal familiaqrity with all fields. It is a magnificent achievement.”  Rufus M. Jones

“Mr Huxley writes as well as ever, occasionally with brilliance and wit, but now and then, in his absorption and other-worldliness, he soars clean out of sight.”  The New Yorker

Wikipedia article on the book

JOB’s Comment:

Scholars, and other perennialists (especially in the traditionalist school), have later criticized aspects of this book, but its historical importance cannot be denied. In the late 1970s, it was still one of the most widely read books among those who entered upon the spiritual quest.

Perhaps I should not include so many blurbs in these references posts, however. The NYT one here, reprinted on the cover of all of Harper’s – the original American publisher – many editions, seems a little stupid. It is remarkable that Huxley has found writers who combined beauty with profound psychology long before Freud? Freud combined beauty with profound psychology?

The subtitle added in recent editions, which seems to be taken from Jones’s blurb – An Interpretation of the Great Mystics, East and West – I cannot find in earlier ones.

It is, I think, important to note that Huxley showed an awareness of the spiritual reality, and at least the possible meaningfulness of reorienting one’s life towards it or in accordance with it, at least as early as the novel Those Barren Leaves (1925) – one of the novel’s main characters, Calamy, actually makes that choice. Many are unaware of this and think Huxley was at that time a social satirist only.

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"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
Ramana Maharshi