I have always been drawn to the big-picture view of things. This, to me, has always been the attraction of the Perennial Wisdom Tradition – the ancient but ongoing attempt to identify the common core of universal truth that lies at heart of the world’s major religions. Identifying this common core does not mean that the distinctives of the religious traditions it draws on are unimportant. Christianity is not the same as Sufism, Islam the same as Baha’ism, or Taoism the same as Hinduism. The distinctives allow each separate tradition to speak with its own voice and tell its own story, but the common core allows us to hear that story in broader and deeper terms than are possible when we only listen to the voices within our own tradition.
Christian theologians have often appreciatively dipped into the Perennial Wisdom Tradition, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas additionally playing an important role in its development. St. Augustine argued that “the very thing that is now called the Christian religion was not wanting among the ancients from the beginning of the human race.” Even the apostle Paul showed willingness to use the insights of the world’s wisdom traditions to help unpack Christian thought when he drew on the insights of the sixth-century BCE Greek philosopher and poet Epimenides to help unpack Christian thought – quoting Epimenides as saying that “it is in God that we all live and move and exist, for we are all God’s children” (Acts 17:28).
As a Christian, I find it encouraging that there is such a significant shared core to these various wisdom traditions. I find it helps me understand my own tradition when I encounter it in the light of the spiritual wisdom that is quite easily found if one considers even the contours of the Perennial Wisdom Tradition. And that is what I propose to do over the next few weeks – simply look at the contours of this common core of wisdom. For even those, I think we will see, are enough to help us ground ourselves in, and align ourselves with, a reality that is vastly grander than what we usually realize.
Adapted from Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living, an article first appearing in ONEING, a publication of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Spring 2013, Vol 1, No 1.
Sculpture by Paddy McElroy - Photo by Tony Brady/Tumblr