Perennialist Diagnosis
Perennialist Diagnosis
Perennialist Diagnosis

"And with the limited knowledge at my disposal I realize how very much more there is to be known which I have not attained. . . So, O wise man, reveal to me my present spiritual state which you know better than I do. For surely the physician knows more about the ailment of the sick man than the sick man himself, and is in a better position to diagnose the cause of the illness and prescribe the treatment to cure him."

Al-Junayd (830-910 CE), Rasail

   In dealing with persons expressing an interest in Perennialist development, teachers first determine the authenticity and capability of the seeker.

   If it is determined that the seeker has the minimum requisite amount and type of authentic, sincere, and determined interest in and dedication to Perennialist study and development, the Perennialist teacher can appropriately begin the process of gaining compehension of the seeker's intellectual, emotional, and moral essence.

  To complete the full inspection and analysis of the seeker, the Perennialist teacher must interact interpersonally with the individual through dialectical interchange via an online chat site. There are aspects of the student's personality which only reveal themselves in direct, person-to-person interchange: character, capability (e.g. understanding), and intellectual or emotional defects or incapacities.

  At the beginning of the student's study in the Perennial Tradition, while the teacher is formulating the diagnosis of the student/seeker, the teacher provides material relating to spiritual diagnosis--such as this essay--so the student knows the purpose of the diagnosis, how it will be carried out, and what the diagnosis will provide.

  All elements within the seeker are carefully observed by the Perennialist teacher in this phase of inspection and analysis. For example, some persons are incapable of considering themselves "seekers," incorrectly assuming that this is a pejorative term. Some individuals possess such an inflated sense of themselves that they find it intolerable to be assessed or diagnosed by another.

  Once the Perennialist teacher gains sufficient understanding of the seeker, it becomes possible for the guide to provide an initial diagnosis of the individual. If the seeker responds to the diagnosis in an appropriate and productive manner--and avoids inappropriate behavior--it then becomes possible for the Perennialist teacher to provide a prescription of curative, regenerative, and enlightening study and effort for a seeker, directly related to the spiritual diagnosis of the student. The prescription will provide the precise kinds of effort and experience which will facilitate understanding, capability, and probity. Some of the material and exercises will involve an opportunity for seekers to come face to face with their own ignorance, short-comings, and negativity.

  "An alienated man can become sighted if he realises that his heart is blind. He is like a sick man suffering from delirium. So long as he is prisoner to his illness he knows nothing of himself or of his sickness because delirium affects the brain and weakens it.   . . .   When he realizes that his heart is blind, it means that he has gained a bit of sight."

The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi
(1154-1191 CE) Translated by W.M. Thackston Jr.

    A Perennialist teacher's spiritual diagnosis deals with, among other elements, debilitating maladies and incapacities the seeker suffers from which in themselves make it impossible for the seekeer to understand himself or his world. The maladies and incapacities constitute an infirmity or defect that precludes genuine understanding or authentic awareness of reality.

". . . The Seeker must realize that he is, largely, a bundle of what are nowadays called conditionings--fixed ideas and prejudices, automatic responses sometimes which have occurred through the training of others. Man is not as free as he thinks he is. The first step is for the individual to get away from thinking that he understands, and really understand." 1

   The seeker must realize that the teacher's spiritual diagnosis of his state of being is a Gift, something the seeker needs, not something the teacher needs (or even particilarly wants to create). The diagnosis is a means for the seeker to gain genuine knowledge about himself and his world on the basis of which he can begin to build an authentic existence: true being. He must realize that in his present debilitated state he has almost no ability to gain true knowledge about himself and his world--unless he is fortunate enough to find a genuine Perennialist teacher who will assist him in gaining an authentic being.

"But by far the worst feature of this 'double ignorance' is that, on the one hand, it stands in the way of its own cure, and on the other, if unchecked, it is constantly aggravating itself. For if we look at things with a distorted view, these things will present themselves to us in a distorted manner too; and thus, instead of reaping from our experiences new impressions which might help us in restoring a healthy spirit within ourselves, we shall only add nourishment to the ulcer within our mind. And on the other side, if we should try to cure our ignorance, we see that for so doing it is required that we look away from ourselves and from our habitual ways of thinking, which seems to us tantamount to a flat repudiation of our very selves and consequently impossible."

Hermann Gauss, Plato's Conception of Philosophy, 1974

    The student must use the knowledge made available through the diagnosis provided to him by his teacher to achieve the correct, functional attitudes and capabilities essential to his development as an authentic being.

"Then spake the wise man and said: 'Know, then, that the genuine scholar, prior to starting his searches for God, must in the first place have the right attitude and the correct objective. He must constantly observe what is taking place within his soul, and keep close watch on his desire to seek God as it emerges."

Ali Hassan Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality and Writing of Al-Junayd, 1962

  Only if students receive the spiritual diagnosis their Perennialist teacher provides in the correct spirit of humble gratitude will they have any chance of success in transforming themselves into trustworthy, reliable persons.

The Perennialist Teacher and the Student

   Throughout human history, Perennialist teachers--which have included Hermes, the Wisdom Teachers, Eastern Masters (e.g., Krishna and Shankara), Pythagoras, Diotima, 2  Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Paul, Hypatia, 3 Plotinus, Boethius, Al-Junayd, Rumi, Bernard of Clairvaux, and numerous others--have taught select students how to reawaken organs of perception, resulting in a higher state of consciousness. This higher consciousness enables the student to discern that what we take to be reality is actually a kind of illusion and that there are higher dimensions of being.

    The Perennialist teacher assists the student in accordance with the guidance he receives from his own teachers (carnate or incarnate) or from his own creative inspiration. Some of what the teacher does will, undoubtedly, include elements which to the student will seem strange, even, perhaps, harsh. The teacher must be as direct as possible in his interaction with the student if the student is to have a real chance for necessary transformation. The truth the teacher provides the student, in diagnoses and other statements, is, in essence, not harsh or the outcome of animus the teacher feels toward the student, but simply the unvarnished facts concerning the student's state of being.

   There are a number of negative responses a student or "seeker" can make in relation to a diagnosis provided him by a Perennialist Teacher:
  • Dismiss or ignore the diagnosis
  • Use the diagnosis as a basis for criticizing or rejecting the Teacher
  • Disagree with the diagnosis, assuming that he (the student) knows himself--and the world--better than does the Teacher
  • Attack the Teacher

  Plato, in the sixth section of his book, The Commonwealth, speaks of one such negative reaction to a teacher's diagnosis:
"A young person who has the requisite characteristics to become a genuine philosopher will be singled out by the public for its own purposes. This person will be filled with impractical expectations and believe himself to be capable of things which he is actually incapable and in the end will be brimming over with pretension, pride, and ignorance.

"If someone approaches such a young person in that condition and gently tells him the truth, namely, that he understands nothing and that understanding can't be acquired unless he works assiduously, he will most likely ignore such a person." 494d

"Give me more of this medicine because it has cured my malady, and my hope and desire to answer my problem is now intensified. And save me by your kindly treatment and your gentle wisdom from the confusion which you know so well to be hidden in my secret soul, from those deadly disorders concealed within me. In the past up till now there was concealed from me those hidden things within me which I denied. You have revealed them to me by your excellent diagnosis of them. . . ."

Al-Junayd (830-910 CE), Rasail

  A Perennialist teacher only provides a diagnosis (and related prescription) when a student has proven to the teacher's satisfaction that he is a genuine and serious seeker--and has sufficient intellectual, emotional, and moral capability to pursue the necessary study and practice assiduously.

  Persons, including previous students, can intellectually and morally degenerate to the point that additional diagnoses (and prescriptions) for that person would not be possible. Not only would the ex-student reject the diagnosis, but would misuse it to attack the the Teaching and the Teacher.


1 Idries Shah, The Sufis, 1964

2 Diotima was Socrates' teacher, as is explained in Plato's Symposium

3 Hypatia (370-415 CE), a Perennialist teacher and head of the Neo-Platonist school in Alexandria, murdered on the orders of "Christian" Bishop Cyril (who was later canonized by the Roman Catholic Church)

4 A letter from Al-Junayd [(830-910 CE] to one of his fellow mystics (Ali Hassan Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality and Writings of Al-Junayd, p. 126)