‘It is only when we have renounced our preoccupation with “I,” “me,” “mine” that we can truly possess the world in which we live. Everything is ours, provided that we regard nothing as our property. And not only is everything ours; it is also everybody else’s.’
Aldous Huxley interviewed by Mike Wallace (1958)
BBC Radio: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
The Contemplative Life Blogcast: Who Are We? A Lecture by Huxley
Aldous Huxley on Spotify
The Perennial Philosophy (1945)
Aldous Huxley
In Summary

The soul of man speaks with a unified voice. Hidden beneath the vestments, rituals and doctrinal disputes are a set of perennial beliefs that underlie the world’s many religions.


The world was widening; Islam encroached steadily North, Asian goods rolled in from the East, and in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Christian thinkers during the Renaissance – such as Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola – began to explore whether certain beliefs reoccurred perennially across the world’s religions, unifying Greek, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought into a philosophia perennis. The expansion of the British Empire eventually integrated Indian philosophy into this system while bequeathing the Neo-Vedantic universalism that would later turn the head of one of England’s greatest authors, Aldous Huxley. 

As the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley – who coined the term ‘agnostic’ and was nicknamed ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’ – Aldous did not fall far from the family tree, spending his youth as an ardent sceptic. Eventually growing tired of materialism, however, he found himself longing for something more, yet remained unwilling to return to traditional Christianity. Introduced to perennialism by a friend in the late 1930s, Huxley began collecting excerpts from across the theological spectrum, publishing his findings in 1945 as The Perennial Philosophy. While Huxley’s view of the world may have been brave, it was certainly not new, claiming to reveal the roots of an ancient and universal theology. Seamlessly blending quotations from authors as diverse as Aquinas, Shankara, and Zhuang Zhou, Huxley provided a common denominator so desperately needed in the wake of World War II.


God is beyond us and our finite understanding. Yet because he transcends our ways of thinking, he can paradoxically exist both infinitely beyond and intimately within the world at the same time. In this way, religions that merge the Creator and creature (for example, Hinduism) are not all that different from religions where God is beyond creation (for example, Judaism), allowing Huxley to wed both types into one unified philosophy. 

As such, the infinite God is also the Source and sustainer of our finite universe – of time, space, nature, dirt, and everything we see around us. The holy is ‘in the hog trough no less than in the conventionally sacred image.’ In fact, God’s eternal fire dwells within and sparks every human soul, as testified to by the unity of Atman and Brahman in the East and the notion of the ‘image of God’ in the West. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. 

We must chase this closeness until we lose ourselves in oneness with God. Evil is simply the opposite tendency, pulling away from the Divine and intensifying our distinctness and separation. When we focus on ‘I, Me, Mine,’ we absolutise our individual being while isolating ourselves further from the one who gave us being. Thus, our prayers should not be for God to do our will but for us to do his. Huxley believes this loss of self is common to all the great religious traditions. For example, Buddhists seek the dissolution of self, Christians pick up their cross and die-to-self daily, and the word ‘Muslims’ literally means those who ‘submit themselves to Allah.’ 

Yet this perennial philosophy is apparently more of a common experience than a common set of propositions, doctrines, or paradigms. Practitioners of different religions may articulate very different beliefs yet still experience mystical unity with God in shockingly similar ways. Christians and Hindus may argue about whether Jesus was the only incarnation of the Divine, yet both can still experience God through him.

While there are rudiments of the perennial philosophy in all faiths, these traces of common truths often go unnoticed by theologians, who, though they may be full on theories, are often starved for genuine, mystical, insider knowledge of God. While we can intellectually contemplate and systematise God from the outside, our final and deepest calling in life is to become one with the same God who is one with everything and everyone else.


Some may find Huxley’s work a refreshing tonic amid seemingly unending divisions, oppositions, infighting, outfighting, heresies, orthodoxies, and the like. Few moments in recent history can summon the same sense of global disunity as World War II, but our current situation might come close. If Huxley really has found the secret ingredient that links our many cultural confections (rather than simply reasserting his own religious taste as more fundamental and universal than everyone else’s) then there might just be a way to unify humanity moving forward. Huxley warns that the ‘reign of violence will never come to an end until… this Perennial Philosophy is recognised as the highest factor common to all the world religions.’

Furthermore, if global theologies really are built on such a common foundation, then this provides a unified front in the face of rising scepticism. Indeed, the sciences claim to represent universal truths because the same experiment can be performed at Cambridge, MIT, or Peking University, with comparable results. If theology had a similar universality – perhaps not in degree but at least in kind – then this would provide a profound defence that the divine object of its study is not a subjective creation of particular persons or cultures but an objective fact of reality. 

Finally, aside from apologetics or global unity, Huxley claims to provide the individual person with a purpose; a way to surpass the self en route to the sacred; a means to move beyond our individual traumas, heartbreaks, successes, and wavering identities; a promise that the intimacy we’ve searched for in all the wrong places can be found; that oneness with God is possible.

Further Reading By This Author

As one of the most celebrated English authors of the 20th century, Huxley has dozens of novels, short story collections, and treatises worth exploring. Those most topically similar to The Perennial Philosophy include The Devils of Loudon, The Doors of Perception, and Heaven and Hell, as well as the posthumously published Moksha and The Divine Within.

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