Introduction to the Principles

The nine perennial first principles I propose here are the foundational ones that come from my studies in philosophy, religion, expressed wisdom from cultures including but also going beyond our modern Western ones, and world history. They are perennial because they are enduring, coming up over and over again throughout history and across cultures. They are my take on what guidance we’ve been given as it continues to be repeated across the centuries, even the millennia, and around the globe. 

From humankind’s earliest efforts to understand ourselves and our worlds, we have persistently sought out perpetually new “foundations” as part of the crucial work of our existential development. Going back to the oldest and most perennial principles is not a new endeavor. Perennial philosophy, perennialism or perennial wisdom (philosophia perennis) dates back to the Renaissance. At that time, perennial philosophy emphasized a particular interest in pairing Christianity with the Hellenistic and Neoplatonist concepts of “the One”—the original source of all existence, and puts forward that all spiritual traditions hold in common a similar truth. It was enhanced by engagement with the works and belief systems of “the Orient” during the time of the Enlightenment, as well as embraced by the German romantics.

Contemporary “universalism” points to the underlying common truth despite surface differences of the various spiritual traditions and new directions, and was put forward by nineteenth-century American Transcendentalists. In the twentieth-century, Aldous Huxley famously outlined the idea of an underlying common truth and the traditions from which it can be drawn in his book The Perennial Philosophy. It also underpins the work of Huston Smith and Joseph Campbell.

The nine perennial first principles I propose don’t follow this long-established line. The set put forward here still embodies a synthesis of the philosophical wisdom but the principles are secular, not divine. They have a psychological underpinning—that is, they are largely centered in ways of understanding the world through deep reflection rather than received dogma. Therefore, they are principles we have it fully within our control to live according to and/or direct our lives by without the intervention of or adherence to a religion or school of spiritual thought. They do not point at an underlying Absolute Truth but describe a way of understanding our world that can make for a more harmonious, less conflictual engagement with it. Still, by virtue of their being first principles, they require us to examine and work through conflicting belief systems. And it is thus that the psychological nature of this proposed set comes into play.

The Principles of Being:

Each of the following first principles will be explicated in terms of their ongoing appearance across cultures and epochs, traditions and disciplines through to our contemporary times. Because each is a first principle, they aren’t hierarchical but they’re numbered here for ease of identification in related posts.

  • First Principle: We make our world from stories; all views we hold are stories, including this one.   
  • Second Principle: We are here “just because;” there is no existential purpose.
  • Third Principle: We create our own reality; the mind can be used to overcome the mind.
  • Fourth Principle: Letting go we set ourselves free, clinging we suffer; mostly what we cling to is an expected outcome, thus things only appear to be less than perfect if we mind what happens.
  • Fifth Principle: We exist in a conscious universe and all consciousness is derived from the consciousness of the Universe itself rather than from the consciousness of fundamental particles.
  • Sixth Principle: We are all one, inseparably connected to everything else in the universe; our separateness is an illusion created by the ideas of space and time, and the notion of a unique individual self.
  • Seventh Principle: Only the responsible “self” is truly free; each of us is his/her own and only savior.
  • Eighth Principle: There is no separate self; our memories and emotions help us create an identity, and repeated behaviors and interactions reinforce this construction as uniquely “me.”
  • Ninth Principle: We can’t really know anything; this is, by definition, due to the inherent limits on knowledge itself as its formation is tied to our constantly evolving understanding of reality.