We are living in a time when dangerous and death-dealing ideologies (belief systems) are threatening to pull our world apart. In one way or another, these ideologies share a common lineage by attaching themselves to the “wild card” factor of ego consciousness.
Some regard ego as supreme, whether we’re speaking of the personal ego of individuals or the national ego of millions, asserting its superiority over every challenger. Other ideologies condemn the historical rise of ego consciousness as the cause of humanity’s fall from grace and our current lot of suffering.
Both these extremes, from the glorification of ego to its demonization, are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of its place in the longer evolution of consciousness.
Their common misunderstanding – with the subsequent corrupt and conflicting ideologies that have formed around it, amplified to now apocalyptic proportions – is both fueled by an underlying insecurity and feeds it in turn.
For ego to get established as the control center of an individual and national identity, the developing consciousness must be separated to some extent from the reality around it – the “I” (Latin ego) from what is “not me” and “not us.” Such separation brings with it feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, exposure, and alienation, a psychic state of anxiety and distrust over what it cannot know or fully control.
To promote its own interests and defend itself against “the Other,” an insecure ego constructs (and easily falls for) a belief system which channels its existential anxiety into a constellation of convictions – claims to absolute truth, its own special election, and a manifest destiny for the elect alone.
Whether an individual is making assertions of greatness and superiority over others, or a national leader is promising to make his nation “great again,” the unavoidable consequence will be only more isolation, more suffering, and a final torment in psychic depression and political oppression.
There is a better way, one that leads into a future of genuine community and human flourishing. This tradition is just as ancient as the versions of ego insanity running rampant on our planet today. In fact, its roots go even deeper – much deeper.
In what follows I will offer a kind of digest of wisdom, a simple summary of what this tradition teaches and has been cultivating for thousands of years. The good news is that it is still alive today, and it offers all the insight, understanding, and inspiration we need to break past this psychotic episode of human history.
To make it even easier to grasp and recall, I propose a mnemonic code: 1-3-5-4. Hyperlinks will take you to deeper explorations of our topic.
The 1 Tradition of Sophia Perennis
In a time when the word “tradition” carries all kinds of heavy baggage holding us in the past, invoking it here might seem ill-advised. How can the way through our current threat be about tradition, when forward is the direction we need to go? Many of us shudder at the sound of it, since getting to where we are now has meant breaking free of its strangling coil and leaving the past behind us.
But tradition simply refers to the “handing on” of a heritage, worldview, and way of life from one generation to the next. By its mechanism, human civilization has been able to advance along the wheels of cultural evolution, maintaining stability while making improvements along the way, and seeding at times truly revolutionary innovations.
This particular tradition has been responsible for handing on a system of truths, principles, and practices that provide grounding and orientation for a life of meaning and fulfillment. At the rise and later decline of modernity, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Aldous Huxley named it the “perennial philosophy,” for its pursuit and preservation of wisdom over the long millenniums of cultural history.
It can be helpful to think of this tradition, what I call Sophia Perennis, as the collective superconscious of our species, a stream of wisdom that has been gathering “above” us in a “cloud drive” or shared library of spiritual insights and discoveries.
If the “collective unconscious” of Jungian psychology puts the store of archetypes in a place from which they come “up” to us unbidden in dreams and mythology, this collective superconscious of Sophia Perennis must be called “down,” by intention, into the realms of daily life.
Each original discovery “uploaded” its bit of wisdom to the superconscious stream, making it instantly available for “download” by all humans anywhere and for all time – but only by those who are ready for it by virtue of their own psychospiritual development. Henceforth they serve as the creative catalysts, inspired examples, and “chosen” teachers of The Way.
Here is what they have taught, and what we now so desperately need to understand and bring back to life.
The 3 Truths of Reality
- Everything is connected (Evident Truth).
- All is One (Essential Truth).
- We’re all in this together (Encompassing Truth).
Sophia Perennis defines truth in a revelational rather than a propositional way. Instead of telling us about reality, as something to be explained, its Three Truths represent the alignment of consciousness to reality, as the way things are.
The First Truth is the obvious fact that everything is connected; or put in the negative, that nothing is separate from everything else around it. While this truth is arguably the most obvious of the three, its insight is inherently abhorrent to the insecure ego whose very identity is based on separation. To accept it will require the ego to give up its delusion and effectively “die” as a separate self, just as a seed must surrender its contained identity for the plant to come forth (a metaphor from the wisdom teachings of Jesus).
Once accepted, though, consciousness is allowed to drop below egoic thinking, to deeper centers of mind, body, and soul. And it is there that Wisdom’s Second Truth is found: that in the deepest interior of existence is a grounding mystery, a Ground of Being, in which All is One. And because all things arise out of the same grounding mystery (continuing with the plant or tree analogy), the “canopy” of their myriad interactions reveals a Third Truth: We’re all in this together.
This refers to the higher wholeness in which we and everything else participates, and to which all of us belong; an encompassing truth that empowers and shapes an ethics of kindness, generosity, cooperation, and goodwill.
The 5 Principles of Wisdom
- Cultivating inner peace is key to making peace with others.
- Living for the wellbeing of the greater Whole promotes health and happiness for oneself.
- Opening a larger frame with a longer view on life leads to better choices and fewer frustrations.
- Letting go of vengeance and practicing kindness instead provides space for damaged relationships to heal and community to arise.
- Living only for oneself leads to loneliness, hypertension, and an early death.
The distinctive ethical shape of a life seeking to align itself to the Three Truths of Wisdom is further elucidated in its Five Principles. Each principle operates as a rule or guideline of The Way (the Torah, Logos, Tao, Dharma, Pollen Path, or Gospel way of life). All together these principles translate the transcendental insights (Three Truths) into specific injunctions that either invite us to active intention (Principles 1-4) or warn of the suffering we can expect as a natural consequence of not living in accord with reality (Principle 5).
These Five Principles of Sophia Perennis will inevitably be mistaken by egoic consciousness as moral commandments legislating what it means to be right, proper, and pure; laying down the necessary conditions of reward and punishment. But the Principles of ethical wisdom are only understood in their true spirit by those who have transcended “me and mine,” reward and punishment, and who are able to consider their own life in service to a greater whole.
The 4 Practices of Spirituality
- Get grounded.
- Find your center.
- Connect to what matters.
- Be the change you want to see.
The question remains as to how, practically speaking, we can hold this higher (enlightened) consciousness of Wisdom in the challenging business of daily life. Ritually reciting the Three Truths and taping the Five Principles on our bathroom mirror can be effective methods for not forgetting the teachings of Sophia Perennis. But “not forgetting” is not the same as putting these teachings into practice. For this we have the prescription of Four Practices, which are specific counsel on “how to” cultivate a vibrant spirituality and a life of wisdom.
As in a hologram, the Four Principles are a smaller image of the larger gestalt whose code we’ve been following here.
Drop out of ego and become fully present to your life where you are (Practice 1); center yourself in your essential nature as a human being (Practice 2); connect to what is authentic, relevant, genuine, and true (Practice 3); be a creative force in moving the world deeper into harmony and closer to peace (Practice 4).
Set this entire meditation on the Sophia Perennis against the egomaniacal ideologies running amok today, and the difference is glaring. Ego insecurity, neurotic attachment, and dogmatic convictions are driving our globe ever closer to the brink. We need more people to wake up. They are the ones who turn off the extremist media and tune in to reality, not just to what’s going on but to the way things really are.
They are the true revolutionaries of a New Humanity, who will take the lead and show us The Way.
Perhaps you are one of them.
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