From the reading notes of Michel Bauwens, chapter 4 of Jorge Ferrer's Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, titled: Transpersonal Psychology and the Perennial Philosophy
Michel Bauwens, summarizing the views of Jorge Ferrer:
Transpersonal psychology has been dominated by perennialism from the start, in the neo-Advaitin version of Grof and in the structuralist version of Wilber. Perennialism dates from the Renaissance when it was an attempted marriage of Christianity and Platonism (Ficino, Pico, Cuso), first formulated by a Vatican librarian, bishop Steuco (1497-1546). It was used by the Thomists, by Leibniz, by Theosophists, but was especially popularized by Huxley in his 1946 classic.
Perennialism believes in the following postulates:
- 1) involutionary cosmology
- 2) hierarchical ontology and axiology (the Great Chain of Being)
- 3) hierarchical epistemology (knowledge of higher realms is morfe authorative)
It may come in different types:
- a) BASIC , one path, one God (Huxley) - b) ESOTERICIST: one goal, many paths (Schuon) - c) STRUCTURALIST: different contextual manifestations of one underlying pattern (Laughlin) - d) PERSPECTIVIST: many paths, many goals, but reflecting one Ground of Being (Nasr, Grof) - e) TYPOLOGICAL: a limited number of paths and goals are available, which are themselves independent of time and space (Otto, Stace, Zaehner)
Ferrer cautions that the differences he outlined are not always clearcut. After describing Grof's tenets, he distinguishes Wilber from the 'classic' evolutionary perennialists such as de Chardin and Aurobindo. Wilber has no omega point in the future, since he says it is outside time and space. But his version is teleological, since he sees Spirit as the final goal and pull. Moreover, it includes a modern element, structuralism, and a postmodern one, constructivism (Varela's enacting paradigm), which allows him to formulate a more powerful synthesis.
A critique of perennialism could take the following form:
- 1) it is an apriori metaphysical stance - 2) it privileges nondual, monistic perspectives - 3) it is geared towards an objectivist epistemology - 4) it leans towards essentialism - 5) shows dogmatism and intolerance
1. Perennialism is an apriori metaphysical stance
Why ? Because it is not arrived at through
a) cross-cultural research, or through,
- b) inter-religious dialogue
It is claimed to be the result of the use of the Intellect, which arrives at universal Truths, rather than reason, which can only arrive at individual truths. But this is a circular reasoning that means disagreement is necessarily false. It's a-priori-ness means it cannot be proven by experience.
2. Perrenialism privileges a non-dual metaphysics
Though they say the Ground is unqualifiable, they also insist it is the Absolute One, and place it above other forms of mysticism.
3. Perennialism is geared towards an objectivist epistemology
Though it cogently criticizes the objectivism in science decades before the philosophy of science itself, it falls back to it by stressing that there is an ultimate pregiven reality that can be objectively known (through the intuitive knowledge of the Intellect). This means they have the same problems as Cartesianism, i.e. absolutism vs relativism and objectivism vs subjectivism remain as unsolvable contradictions of which they reject the latter element.
4. Perennialism leans towards Essentialism
It looks for what is common, but that is not necessarily what is most valuable. It may well be the most distinctive aspects of a tradition, that are its most transformative!
5. Perennialists tend toward Dogmatism and Intolerance
Since they claim to know the most valid interpretation of the Absolute, they inevitably find themselves ranking traditions and insights. But the unity of contemplatives cannot be substantiated by the history of spirituality: they hardly agree amongst themselves. The purported unity is a dogma. Thus, they are incapable in entering in a full 'symmetrical' dialogue, unable to fully accept religious 'otherness'.