The Perennial Philosophy was committed to writing over twenty-five centuries ago and was expressed in many different forms. It has been spoken in almost all the languages of Asia and Europe and has made use of the terminology and traditions of all of the higher religions.
At the core of the Perennial Philosophy are four fundamental doctrines: 1) The physical world and the spiritual world are the manifestation of a Higher Power, within which everything has it‟s being, and without which, would be nonexistent. 2) Humans are capable of more than just knowing about the Higher Power. They can also realize its existence by direct intuition thereby uniting the knower with the known. 3) Man has a dual nature; his ego or external self, and his eternal Self which is the inner man or spark of Divinity within the soul. 4) Man‟s life on earth has only one purpose and one end; that is to recognize his eternal Self and to become one with the Higher Power.
From the Perennial Philosophy, one can see that ego has been a concern of humanity for all of recorded history. Over time man has dealt with his ego in a variety of ways. In the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita, we read about the great warrior, Arjuna who asks his friend, Krishna (an enlightened being) how an illumined soul may be recognized. Krishna says to him: “He knows peace who has forgotten desire; He lives without craving, free from ego, free from pride.”
Krishna explains even more about the nature of ego when he identifies the three gunas or bonds that tie man to his mortal existence. It seems sattwa/rajas/tamas are the egos search for happiness and longing for knowledge/ the egos thirst for pleasure and possessions/and the egos delusion and ignorance about reality. Krishna tells Arjuna that man will be made free and become immortal when he has overcome the gunas and no longer yearns for them.
The Hindu tradition was a critical force in the development of Buddhism. Yet, there is a difference in how they perceive the ego and its role in physical life. Whereas Hindus seek to suppress ego, Buddhists seek to walk the Middle Path. This idea of a middle path is explained in an ancient sutra that tells a story called “The Parable of the Bird”.
The story tells of a particular royal palace in which there was a daily ritual of selecting plump birds from a large flock to be served at the king‟s table. One of the birds, who had been captured and kept in the flock, observed this selection process and secretly in his heart considered his fate; if he gorged himself and became obese, he reasoned that he would surely be slaughtered and devoured. However, if he did not eat, he knew that he would perish. In either event, he knew he would not escape death. He determined that it would be best to eat just the right amount so that he could live a long life. From that point on, he adequately reduced his food intake shrinking himself to the size of the holes in the net meshing of his bird cage. He then flew out into open air and became free.
This story suggests that the Middle Path is a philosophy of balance through moderation. It‟s actually more than that. The Middle Path seeks to attain a nature of emptiness. It recognizes that pain and hardship will always exist in the world and that joy, pleasure, and happiness will as well. The state of emptiness is a non-emotional, non-egocentric reaction to these events.
In the Samyuktagama, it says “One who thinks of impermanence will understand the truth of ego-lessness. The Enlightened One lives in the state of ego-lessness, renounces self-conceit and hence progresses towards liberation and Nirvana.”
The Middle Path is therefore more than a philosophy of moderation. It seeks to help one understand that physical life is impermanent and spiritual life is eternal. What happens in the physical life is of less concern (this too shall pass) than what happens in the spiritual life.