A few weeks ago, John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods, invited me to a social event at his ranch west of Austin.
Wandering through his home, I couldn’t help admiring the beautiful artwork on the walls, much of it depicting Eastern mystical traditions. I asked John if he had an interest in oriental philosophy.
"Some," he said, adding at one point, "I’m a perennialist."
What a thought-provoking self-description, one you seldom hear these days.
Perennialists believe you should learn – and pass along to your children and students – those things that are of everlasting importance to all people everywhere, as discussed in Wisdom: The Greatest Gift One Generation Can Give To Another by Andrew Zuckerman
What are those things? Humanity’s best ideas about how to live.
Some will insist, of course, that we’ve hit a snag right out of the gate. After all, the world is full of divergent views. People simply don’t agree on these matters.
But perennialists counter that enlightened people everywhere agree on certain core principles. These are handed down from generation to generation, through the ages, and across nations and cultures.
The phrase Philosophia Perennis – the Perennial Philosophy – was coined by the German mathematician, philosopher and polymath Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). In more recent years, Aldous Huxley, Mortimer Adler, and Huston Smith, among other writers, have carried the perennialist torch, beckoning us to take part in what they call "The Great Conversation."
It’s a broad discussion about what constitutes the best life, one that encompasses everything from the Analects of Confucius to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics – the sound, practical and undogmatic ethics of common sense – to the mystical truths of the world’s great religious traditions. (It is the kind of thought that would have brought Thomas Jefferson, a man who believed in God but not steeped in any one particular Christian religion or even organized religion at all, to make the conscious choice of using Judeo-Christian Values as a basis for American law and that would have brought him and the Founding Fathers to choosing to make America a Republic rather than a Democracy.)
The conversation is ongoing and evolving, never static. The best ideas about how to live are hardly new, of course. But discoveries are sometimes made and old ideas are enlarged or restated for a modern audience. Recent books that touch on the perennial philosophy include Roger Walsh’s Essential Spirituality, Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation, and Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God.
Perennialists understand the connection between compassion and successful living. They offer, for example, that:
* Everything worthwhile in life is created as the result of love and concern for others.
* Humanity is one great family. Our similarities are deep, our differences superficial.
* The Golden Rule, expressed in some way in every society, is the cornerstone of human understanding.
* The giving of time, money, support and encouragement can never be detrimental to the giver.
* Character development – the path from self-absorption to caring and consciousness – is paramount.
* Problems are life’s way of getting the best out of us. They are opportunities to grow.
* It is important to nourish your mind with the thoughts of history’s wisest thinkers.
* Courage and self-awareness are required to live fully and follow your heart.
* You should develop the ability to reason accurately and independently rather than accepting ideas based solely on authority or tradition.
* Our egos cause us to cherish opinions, judge others and rationalize our beliefs. Perennialists ask "would you rather be right or be happy?"
* We should exercise humility. Not because others find it attractive – although they do – but because, if we are honest with ourselves, we have much to be humble about.
* We should practice forgiveness. When we forgive others, we find that others forgive us – and that we forgive ourselves.
* Moral development comes from strengthening our impulse control, prioritizing personal relationships and fostering social responsibility.
* Our lives are immeasurably improved by expressing gratitude and generosity.
* Development of the heart is essential. Our actions are the mirror of our inner selves.
* Whenever we act, we are never just doing. We are always becoming. If we aren’t growing, we are diminishing.
* Integrity is everything.
Rather than quarreling over sectarian differences, perennialists are interested in the nuggets of truth at the heart of every great tradition.
Two years ago, for instance, a friend and I bumped into Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, at a bookstore in Vancouver. (This was no great coincidence. All three of us were speaking at an investment conference at the Fairmont down the street.)
Taleb indicated that he was planning to write a book on religion, whereupon my friend and he got into a brief dispute about whether a particular theological point "was true."
Like many conversations of this nature, there was more heat shed than light. Frustrated at one point, Taleb waved an arm toward the fiction section. "How about all those books over there. Are they true?"
"Of course not," my friend said. "They’re novels."
"But they are full of universal truths," I added.
Taleb turned and jabbed a finger in my direction. "Exactly!"
Consciously or not, he was advocating the perennial philosophy. Perennialists seek enlightenment wherever they can find it. It doesn’t matter whether the source is ancient, modern, mythical, foreign, mystical or verified by the latest scientific findings. It only matters that it’s true – and that it has some practical application for more skillful living.
As the historian Will Durant wrote in The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time… Time, "We are born animals; we become human. We have humanity thrust upon us through the hundred channels whereby the past pours down into the present that mental and cultural inheritance whose preservation, accumulation and transmission place mankind today, with all its defectives and illiterates, on a higher plane than any generation has ever reached before."
What is that higher plane? An upward spiral of caring – from me to us to all of us.
It doesn’t always come naturally. And for some, unfortunately, it doesn’t come at all. (But The Great Conversation ends up being a bridge for many who find it hard to pray or believe, after which Prayer becomes the result and pinnacle of The Great Conversation )
But perennialists try to absorb as much as they can of our three-thousand-year heritage and take an occasional moment from their hectic lives to ask, "Am I becoming the kind of person I want to be? Am I part of The Great Conversation?"
Alex Greene is the Investment Director of The Oxford Club (and one of my favorite inspirational writers). The Oxford Club Communique, whose portfolio he directs, is ranked among the top 5 investment letters in the nation for 10-year performance by the independent Hulbert Investment Digest. Alex is the author of The New York Times bestseller "The Gone Fishin’ Portfolio: Get Wise, Get Wealthy…and Get on With Your Life (Agora Series)" and, more recently, "The Secret of Shelter Island: Money and What Matters." He has been featured on Oprah & Friends, CNBC, National Public Radio (NPR), Fox News and "The O’Reilly Factor," and has been profiled by The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Forbes, and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, among others. He currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia and Winter Springs, Florida with his wife Karen and their children Hannah and David.
God and Dad — A Father’s Four Lessons of Faith
Why are men abandoning God?
Religion is increasingly a woman’s domain in America. Two-thirds of church and synagogue attendees are women, studies show, with young men fleeing the pews even faster. On any given weekend, 13 million more women than men will attend religious institutions.
Home is even worse. Moms are usually the ones talking about God at the dinner table. When the topic turns to faith, dad is usually out to lunch.
What a shame. Fathers can find great inspiration in faith. For the last dozen years, I’ve traced the influence of the Bible through the Middle East and America looking at how religious figures from the past are relevant to today’s families. In Walking the Bible, I climbed Mount Ararat, crossed the Red Sea, and spent weeks recreating the Exodus through the desert. In Where God Was Born, I continued that journey through the second half the Bible in Israel, Iraq, and Iran. In America’s Prophet, I explored how the story of Moses has influenced Americans from the Liberty Bell, through the Statue of Liberty, through Cecil B. DeMille and Charlton Heston.
Two years ago this week I was struck by a life-threatening illness and suddenly my travels took a more personal turn. What lessons of faith would I pass on to my three-year-old twin daughters (or sons)? My new book, The Council of Dads, includes a Father’s Four Lessons of Faith.
1. Wrestle with God. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a messenger of God. The two come to a standstill, and the messenger leaves a mark on Jacob. The scar does not end up on Jacob’s hand, nor on his head, his heart, or his eyes. Humans experience God, the text suggests, not by touching him, imagining him, feeling him, or seeing him. Jacob is scarred on his leg, for the essential way humans experience God is by walking with him. Forever after, Jacob is called “Israel,” one who wrestles with God. Don’t be afraid of doubt. The true way to experience the divine is struggle with him.
2. Befriend the Stranger. There’s a reason the Exodus story has inspired so many Americans. It’s a narrative of home. “This year we are slaves, but next year we can be free.” History is not set in stone. It is not an immovable pyramid. The pyramid can be flipped. When you despair, when you hurt, when you fear – and especially when you encounter those feelings in others – remember the slaves who first groaned under bondage. You should read the Israelites’ story and remember: There is a moral dimension to the universe. Right can prevail over might; justice can triumph over evil. Flip a few pyramids yourselves along the way. Overturn injustice. Befriend the stranger, for you, yourselves, were strangers once in a land with no hope.
3. Plunge Into the Waters. One reason Moses is America’s true founding father is that he evangelizes action; he justifies risk. He gives ordinary people the courage to live with uncertainty. The visionaries who have been inspired by him – Christopher Columbus, Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King – were not born to greatness. They became great by tapping into the anger and hope within themselves. Imagine your own promised land, girls, plunge into the waters, persevere through the dryness, and don’t be surprised – or saddened – if you’re stopped just short of your dream. Because the ultimate lesson of Moses’ life is that the dream does not die with the dreamer, and the true destination in a narrative of hope is not this year at all. But next.
4. Be Reunited With the Ones You Love. My book, “The Council of Dads” tells the story of my “lost year” fighting cancer and the men I asked to be father figures to my daughters. Today I am cancer-free, and I learned a powerful lesson during that experience. The Liberty Bell has a quote from Moses on its side, “Proclaim Liberty throughout the world, unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This line refers to a tradition whereby every seven years, farmers are obliged to give their fields a year of rest. Every 49 years the land gets an extra year of rest, during which all families are reunited, and all people reunited with the ones they love. That fiftieth year is called the jubilee year. That tradition perfectly captures my experience. My “lost year” was my jubilee year. I was needy. I was a stranger. I was reunited with the ones I love. Don’t forget to slow down, girls. Reunite with the ones you love.
Take trips. Take chances. Take off.
Feiler was featured on the Glenn Beck Show on Friday 6.17.10
By Bruce Feiler - the bestselling author of "Abraham," "Walking the Bible, "America’s Prophet" and "The Council of Dad." Click here to buy The Council of Dads. Or click on the title to purchase America’s Prophet, which Glenn Beck called “the best book of narrative history I have ever read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.” To learn more, or watch a video of Bruce talking about the life lessons of his fathers, please visit www.councilofdads.com.
As we find ourselves in the midst of perhaps the greatest fight for American values including, our Judeo-Christian heritage, our inalienable rights and freedoms (the U.S. Bill or Rights enumerates many but is only the beginning), our way of life, free market Capitalism, and perhaps our Republic itself, the greatest question that we must be asking ourselves is why?
At the center of our problems seems to be our National Character that has been purposely attacked by a progressive left movement for the past 100 years. The present onslaught under the present administration and leadership in Washington is actually the 3rd attempt to destroy the American way of life, which has been weakened through a methodical plan which includes the weakening of the family unit, the diminishment of religion being replaced by secularism or even environmentalism or sustainable development as a religion, political correctness, and the loss of connection with Americans with our history and the Founding Fathers through the focused dumbing down of America, which includes re-writing history, drugs and chemicals in our water and food supplies, vaccines, media brainwashing and diversion from core responsibilities and activities, and an onslaught of progressive thinking in all areas of life.
There is a new brilliant documentary out called Generation Zero that every American needs to see, that makes it all very clear. It pulls together everything from the past 40-years into a concise package, explaining how we got here and what we have to do to get ourselves out. If we make a U-turn and do what is needed, no matter how hard it is, we will make it. If we do not, we will fall by the way side like all former empires and superpowers that became arrogant and narcissistic.
Generation Zero is the film of the discussion and thoughts that every fiscal conservative and American who has uses their common sense has had many times over, without necessarily knowing all the facts. I know I and many of my friends have had this conversation many times, however, I didn’t realize how close the country came to collapse during the dark days of September 2008. This film makes it clear how close we came to the abyss. The film opens and closes with video from CSPAN that reflects the anger of middle-class America and how close we came to a complete and utter meltdown on September 18, 2008 when there was an electronic bank run that was hurtling out of control. Watch this clip to understand the situation. It also explains to those who still don’t get it, where the Tea Party and other like movement have come from. (Read Full Article)
Everyone needs to see this movie: Generation Zero
We, spoiled baby-boomers raised by the Greatest Generation who wanted to spare their kids of hardship, have created The Lost Generation that desperately needs help to be turned around. Unfortunately turning the tide we have created is like righting the Titanic once she started to sink, if it is possible, it will be an extremely difficult and slow process and unfortunately not in time to stop the affects of the damage for families like the Schullers and many others… as well as for America herself. (However, in 30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family… by Rebecca Hegelin, she out lines some great steps of where to start, and start we must with our kids being taught that they know better than their parents in both school and through programs like Americorps.)
The spoiling of our children and taking our eye off what might be argued as our greatest responsibility is rampant throughout America and not restricted to any one group. Not to kick someone when they are down, but a sad example can be gained from the Schullers of Crystal Cathedral and Hour of Power fame: Pianist Roger Williams: (spoiled) Schuller Kids Spoiled Crystal Cathedral.
Dads, Moms, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents and all Americans must take up the gauntlet to restore our values.