Perennial Philosophy: The Sacred in My Life

By Tony Salvata

I woke up this morning and lay in bed as a flood of thoughts, worries, and problems flowed into my awareness. I got out of bed and began my morning ritual: I live in God. I am a part of God. The flood slowed to a trickle as I touched the sacred in my life.

What I hold to be sacred is the perennial philosophy. After reading various interpretations, I have distilled my own definition: the knowledge of a universal mysticism or union with God that is the core of the world's wisdom traditions. What is this common core? Some might say love and compassion; I respectfully disagree. I would say it is the source of spiritual knowledge that produces love and compassion once we genuinely embrace it. This core of spiritual knowledge is the same in all wisdom traditions. We can get to it by exploring the esoteric parts of these traditions and discovering their commonalities. For me, the tenets of this perennial philosophy are: 1) God is ineffable; 2) panentheism; 3) oneness; and 4) the great chain of being.

I start my morning ritual by kneeling prostrate and surrendering to the ineffable. God is ineffable: there are no words, thoughts, ideas, or images, physical or nonphysical, that can describe or confine God. This knowledge keeps me from any form of idol worship. I was raised a Catholic and taught that Jesus is God. It has been hard to re-image Jesus into a Jewish mystic. Much of mankind seems to have evolved past the worship of a physical god (more or less), but is being challenged by the conceptual aspect of idol worship. Once mankind accepts the complete ineffability of God, we can begin a progression towards true interfaith understanding without arguing over each religion's dogmatic images.

I continue my morning ritual by sitting in a meditative posture and trying to actualize panentheism. An extremely inspiring term in theology that has just begun to be explored and defined, panentheism means "everything in God, and God in everything." It immediately connects all of reality to Divinity. Everything is pervaded and continuously manifested by that which is ineffable. Panentheism instantly puts me into sacred space by serving as a catalyst for oneness.

If we research the history of Western mysticism we find the belief in a sacred oneness going back as far as Heraclitus (535-475 BCE), Plato (428-347 BCE), and Plotinus (205-270 CE). Scriptural references to oneness can be found as far back as Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Lao-tzu, Shankara, Jesus, and Mohammed. These historical and scriptural references describe how everything originates from a oneness which dissolves the separation and multiplicity of our surface reality. The oneness that these philosophical and spiritual sages speak of is sacred to me because I believe it is the closest we can come to the ineffable Godhead.

Modern science has also begun to point in this direction. From the big bang theory to quantum physics we are discovering correlations to oneness. The big bang theory says that everything (including space and time) sprang into existence from a point of origin where all was one. In quantum physics the wave/particle theory says that the subatomic particles that create what we see as solid matter behave simultaneously as waves and particles. A mystic would interpret this as a oneness of physical and nonphysical realities. String theory suggests that there are unseen dimensions entangled with our usual four-dimensional world and that these extra dimensions would help physicists find a theory of everything to unite general relativity (large-scale physics) and quantum (subatomic) physics. These are just a few of the correlations between science and oneness being explored today. Science is becoming a path of sacred revelation as open-minded scientists as well as modern mystics uncover the sacred connections between science and spirituality.

I conclude my morning ritual by bringing my awareness through the body/mind/spirit chain of being, starting at the base of my spine, rising through my heart, and ending at the crown of my head, surrendering once again to the ineffable. Discovering this great chain of being throughout the world's wisdom traditions is a large part of the sacred in my life. Exemplified by the tao, chakras, and sefirot, this chain is the interconnected esoteric structure that allows us to journey through body/mind/spirit. This journey teaches us egoic lessons that connect oneness to family and community; sexuality; willpower and control; balance of body/mind/spirit; mercy and judgment; knowledge of duality and nonduality, including self-inquiry, silence, and nowness; and the ineffable.

We begin our journey through the great chain of being in our physical awareness as we navigate the boundaries between our body and the external environment. If we relate this part of the chain to our life journey, it becomes the stage when we are born and move through early adulthood, encountering family and community and dealing with issues of sexuality, willpower, and control. Our egos develop as we test our limits and learn who we are in relation to others and how we fit into this world. The lessons we learn enable us to be a part of a family and community. After we achieve a certain level of maturity in our lives, we can begin to experience a deeper union with oneness. At this part of the chain-of-being journey, our heart awareness can open into oneness as we learn to balance our physical (body/material) awareness with our nonphysical (spiritual) awareness. At this level our mind begins to recognize spirit and starts the process of balancing body/mind/spirit. As this process deepens we learn how to balance judgment and mercy in our lives. The journey culminates as spirit blossoms into a true knowledge of existence as we learn the lessons of duality and nonduality through self-inquiry, silence, and nowness. This sacred wisdom brings us into oneness and allows us to "touch" the ineffable. As we learn to connect oneness with the great chain of being, the sacred becomes manifested within us and also in the world.

Throughout my day thoughts and worries continue to flood my awareness. At times I feel myself drowning in weighty problems: a bad financial year, two children in college, a global crisis, health issues, politics, work and family responsibilities, etc. I cannot always access the sacred in my life at these critical times, but knowing that the sacred is the ground of my existence keeps me from drowning. I live in God. I am a part of God.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2005; copyright © 2005 Theosophical University Press)

Spiritual Path Menu


Serendipity -- the accidental discovery of unsought good fortune -- is a relatively modern word, coined from the old Persian tale of The Three Princes of Serendip, whose father sent them out into the world to test their mettle, and whose good fortune derived as much from careful deduction as from chance. Our lives are filled with serendipitous events -- those coincidental intersections of people and place, of timely help coming out of the blue, perhaps a random thought that helps solve a problem, or the innumerable "small world" stories which show how closely linked we are with one another -- each affording a startling, sometimes wondrous glimpse of life's hidden patterns.

If chance is but a synonym for unseen causes, we might pause to reflect on these thought-provoking gifts and ask ourselves if they are as accidental as they might appear. Or are they also sacred reminders of our intimate connection with all that lives in a world rich with benevolent purpose?

Writing to a group of London theosophists in 1887, H. P. Blavatsky urged each of them to pay attention to the unfolding chain of cause and effect in their lives, especially the "casualities and little events, the working of these might alone [reveal] to you a guiding Hand." For those who try to read and intuitively deduce this unfolding karma, "there are no more meaningless or trifling circumstances in his life, for each is a link purposely placed in the chain of events that have to lead him forward to the 'Golden Gate,' or the Gates of Gold. Each step, each person he meets with, every word uttered, may be a word purposely placed in the day's sentence with the purpose of giving certain importance to the chapter it belongs to, and each or another (Karmic) meaning to the volume of life."

However challenging our circumstances may be, with a few moments of daily reflection we may begin to see and feel the serendipity -- the unsought gifts of "good fortune" -- and discover within ourselves an enduring confidence and trust in the sacred in our lives. -- Will Thackara