The Spirituality of the New Mythology — part 1, the Perennial Philosophy
This article is the latest in a series on the theme of whether we can find a new mythology, a common visionary story, to unite humanity in an attempt to solve the world’s problems. (For a guide to the whole series of 11 articles so far, click here.) In the most recent article I discussed the relevant science. Now I’ll be turning to the religion and spirituality.
I suggested earlier that this would be the Perennial Philosophy, the essential idea of which is that all the world’s religions, despite their apparent differences, and the resulting conflicts, at their heart are saying the same thing¹. At the very least this would provide inspiration. A new mythology, therefore, has the possibility of reunifying the various religions, making the underlying core of the Perennial Philosophy more obvious. On this theme the Jungian analyst Edward Edinger says: “A notable feature of the new myth is its capacity to unify the various current religions of the world… The new myth will not be one more religious myth in competition with all the others for man’s allegiance; rather, it will elucidate and verify every functioning religion by giving more conscious and comprehensive expression to its essential meaning…
“For the first time in history we now have an understanding of man so comprehensive and fundamental that it can be the basis for a unification of the world — first religiously and culturally and, in time, politically. When enough individuals are carriers of the ‘consciousness of wholeness’, the world itself will become whole”².
This last paragraph is especially important, since the scientists I have discussed in earlier articles claim that their ‘scientific’ worldview (based on materialism and atheism) provides a comprehensive and fundamental understanding of the universe and humanity, so that they can provide a new mythology to replace the old ones. Edinger is here implicitly rejecting this assumption, saying that only a truly religious foundation can provide a unifying mythology. Like me, he also thinks that this can be the basis for a new politics.
But is the Perennial Philosophy enough? There is an interesting discussion of this question in Keiron Le Grice’s excellent book The Archetypal Cosmos, beginning: “As science approaches the threshold of what can be known with certainty, scientific accounts of the nature of reality are coming to bear a striking resemblance to descriptions of the nature of reality found in the mystical literature of the perennial philosophy”³. Here he is echoing the thoughts of Fritjof Capra in his well-known book The Tao of Physics⁴, the subtitle of which was An exploration of the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism.
This may not be the final word on the matter, however, for Le Grice suggests that “certain important modifications and qualifications” might be necessary. He refers to “the application of modern evolutionary thinking to the timeless wisdom of the mystical teachings, promoting the view that humanity’s spiritual odyssey is taking place within a universe that is itself creatively evolving and continually complexifying into different forms”. He continues: “For some thinkers, such as Hegel and Teilhard de Chardin, reflecting on the direction of the evolutionary process has revealed the reality of a grand spiritual culmination of evolution, an Omega Point or Absolute drawing the universe towards itself in a unifying mega-synthesis of the multiplicity and diversity of all things”.
This can be described as the process of the Divine Spirit transforming itself, a philosophical term for which would be evolutionary panentheism, the transcendent dimension of spirit and the immanence of spirit in nature, being and becoming.
Joseph Campbell seemed to be thinking on similar lines when he wrote of “the unity of the race of man, not only in its biology but also in its spiritual history, which has everywhere unfolded in the manner of a single symphony, with its themes announced, developed, amplified, and turned about, distorted, reasserted, and, today, in a grand fortissimo of all sections sounding together, irresistibly advancing to some kind of mighty climax, out of which the next great movement will emerge”⁵.
Le Grice concludes that “there are still unfolding and newly emergent forms of disclosure of the mystery of being”, that although “the different religions… have each in their own way given expression to different aspects of the divine mystery underlying all forms… this mystery is surely not to be reduced to any single interpretation of universal truth or any single path, not even to the perennial philosophy”.
If the Perennial Philosophy in its original form is indeed not adequate to completely express the modern viewpoint, then such ideas as these must obviously become part of the new mythology.
What, if anything, is wrong with the Perennial Philosophy? Both Hinduism and Buddhism describe the material universe as maya, illusion. Their driving motivation is the desire to escape human existence, thus the need for reincarnation, expressed as the liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. Buddhism believes that life is suffering, and that this liberation is the solution. Hinduism perceives the material universe to be lila, a word often translated as divine play or sport. These systems therefore seem to denigrate the importance of the material universe.
In line with Le Grice’s viewpoint, however, the material level is important — another translation of lila is drama. It is the Divine spirit transforming itself for a purpose not always easily understood by humans. It should be our task, therefore, to try to understand this Divine purpose, and seek to participate, thus cooperating with it. We exist to serve the Divine.
The figure from the Hindu tradition most in tune with this alternative understanding would seem to be Sri Aurobindo. According to Britannica.com: “Rejecting the traditional Indian approach of striving for moksha (liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth, or samsara) as a means of reaching happier, transcendental planes of existence, Aurobindo held that terrestrial life itself, in its higher evolutionary stages, is the real goal of creation. He believed that the basic principles of matter, life, and mind would be succeeded through terrestrial evolution by the principle of supermind as an intermediate power between the two spheres of the infinite and the finite. Such a future consciousness would help to create a joyful life in keeping with the highest goal of creation, expressing values such as love, harmony, unity and knowledge and successfully overcoming the age-old resistance of dark forces against efforts to manifest the divine on earth”⁶.
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In the next article, I’ll discuss the relevance of Western spirituality to the new mythology.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics, and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website www.spiritualityinpolitics.com (click here and here).
1. Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy is the best known book on the subject. See also Frithjof Schuon, The Transcendent Unity of Religions.
2. The Creation of Consciousness, Inner City Books, 1984, p32
3. Floris Books, 2010, all quotes p37
4. 1976, 3rd edition Flamingo, 1992
5. Occidental Mythology, Penguin, 1991, p1