The Perennial Life (La vida perenne) (2015)
José Luis Sampedro (1917-2013)
The Perennial philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis), also referred to as Perennialism, is a perspective in the philosophy of religion which views each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, universal truth on which foundation all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown.
Agostino Steuco (1497–1548) coined the term...
The term was popularized in more recent times by Aldous Huxley … in his 1945 book: The Perennial Philosophy.
Wikipedia; opening lines of the article on Perennial philosophy
The Perennial Life serves as an encapsulation of Sampedro’s life-long immersion in the philosophy of humanism, a pursuit that was clearly guided by the concepts of Perennial philosophy. In his book he integrates together thoughts and ideas from a broad range of Eastern and Western spiritual and religious traditions, as well as passages in which he presents his own thoughts on the texts, his own interpretations and conclusions. Collectively the text represents a bequeathal of what he learned about how one might most appropriately live one’s life.
The passages range from a few lines to a couple of pages, and are grouped into fourteen chapters, each reflecting a particular theme. The opening chapter Quiet the Voices, Awaken (Aquietar las voces, despertar), for example, considers how one might best turn away from hectic, quotidian concerns, to truly see and comprehend the reality of the world. Here he quotes Huxley’s observation that the
... one [divine] Reality is such that it cannot be directly and immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfill certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart and poor in spirit. Why should this be so? We do not know. It is just one of those facts which we have to accept, whether we like them or not and however implausible or unlikely they may seem.Already in these early lines, it becomes clear that true understanding first requires a willingness to open ourselves to, and make ourselves vulnerable to the world beyond our immediate concerns.
In another chapter, Die to Live (Morir para vivir), Sampedro notes that “we live in a society that skirts around the problem of death as much as possible,” (75) (“vivimos en una sociedad que escamotea el problema de la muerte todo lo que puede”). He quotes lines from Chuang Tzu (as translated by Thomas Merton) that conclude “[A man’s] thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present.” (79), and he himself observes that in striving for immortality, human beings become “vain” (“endiosarnos”), which leads to a belief
... that we are the kings of creation, that the world is for little more than our pleasure, for our enjoyment, for our exploitation.” (81)Thus, again, what prevents human beings from becoming more aware of the reality of our world is a blindness of the spirit. In this context, it is a blindness resulting from a willful desire that lies outside the realm of nature's possibilities (immortality), and which impels us to subjugate or ignore the natural world instead of opening ourselves up to it.
(... que son los reyes de la creación, que el mundo poco menos que está para nuesto goce, para nuestro disfrute, para nuestra explotación.”)
In the concluding chapter, Sampedro portrays our lives as being “no more than the spark of a grand bonfire” (163) (“no es más que la chispa de una gran hoguera”). It is within our lives, ourselves, that he says we must look to understand reality. He includes a story from the Sanskrit text Chandogya Upanishad, in which a teacher leads a student toward an understanding of his place in the universe, concluding:
The spirit of the entire universe is an invisible and subtle essence. That is reality. That is truth. YOU ARE THAT.” (171)
(“El Espíritu del universe entero es una esencia invisible y sutil. Ésa es la Realidad. Eso es Verdad. TÚ ERES ESO.”)
Sprinkled throughout the book are wonderful photographs by Chema Madoz, an example of which can be found on the book’s cover, pictured above. Madoz takes common, everyday objects, both man-made and from nature, and creates subtle, yet striking images that can perhaps best be described as visual poetry. These photographs form an ideal accompaniment to the themes in the book's passages, in that they reinforce the notion that, for those prepared to learn how to seek them out, rich and unexpected wonders exist in the world around us.
In The Perennial Life, Sampedro adeptly blends selections from Eastern and Western philosophical traditions with his own thoughts summarizing what he has learned from studying these texts, and from integrating aspects of them into his own life. The result is a coherent and deeply engaging meditation on how one can approach the critical and rewarding task of living a conscious and fulfilling life. Centered around the concepts of perennial philosophy, Sampedro’s work provides a view that inherently sidesteps the (often violent) disagreements that develop between followers of particular religious dogmas, by embracing instead a broader outlook, one that seeks out the unifying principles that lie behind these varied traditions.
This is a work that you will find richly rewarding to read carefully, from the first page to the last, as Sampedro crafts his beautiful and hopeful invitation to turn away from one's daily concerns to instead behold the beauty of creation. There are, however, also rewards to be found later, by simply turning to a random page and considering the particular reflection on life and nature that presents itself.
Have you read this book, others by this author, or even similar ones by other authors? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.
Other of my book reviews: FICTION Bookshelf and NON-FICTION Bookshelf