The Perennial Psychology
A Timeless Approach to Understanding Human Nature
What makes us tick? Why do we do what we do? What, in other words, is “human nature”?
We’re often encouraged to distract, amuse, and enjoy ourselves, but far less to know ourselves.
"Know Thyself" is age-old advice. That advice presumes that we don’t know ourselves. Yet it makes intuitive sense: going through life without knowing ourselves seems like a recipe for disaster.
But how can we “know ourselves”? Where can we find a trustworthy model of “human nature”?
The Perennial Psychology draws from the spiritual and philosophical traditions that have guided humanity across the world over thousands of years. While modern psychology relies heavily on empirical experimentation, these traditions have provided sturdy foundations of an implicit “psychology” or “science of the soul” across centuries. This underlying model of human nature offers tried-and-tested insights into what is often our greatest enemy: ourselves.
But what is this age-old psychology? Is there common ground, where Thomas Aquinas and the Buddhist Abhidharma, the Dalai Lama and Aristotle, Rumi, Kierkegaard, and others agree on the fundamentals of human nature?
The Perennial Psychology gathers insights from Zen, Christianity, Taoism, Islam, Buddhism, and more, to demonstrate that these approaches do indeed overlap, and reveal a great deal of common ground.
Any student of human nature should be familiar with them. These insights can have profound effects on us as individuals. They can help us understand not only who we are, but what we can be.
PART 1) HOW CAN WE UNDERSTAND OURSELVES?
Our Starting Point: A few simple questions
The basic aim: “Know Thyself”
How do we study the “mind”?
How can we “know ourselves”?
The scientific study of human nature
Science aimed to be neutral
It didn’t work as planned
The successes of science
The effort to study ourselves scientifically
How we seek affects what we find
Shouldn’t psychology aim to be atheistic?
What worldview should we adopt?
Spiritual traditions make claims about human nature
Science, psychology, and spiritual traditions
Is spirituality Premodern, or beyond Postmodern?
What do they agree on?
So, how can we understand ourselves?
PART 2) WHAT MAKES US TICK?
I) A few basic observations
II) A brief tour of proposed answers
III) Anatomy of the human condition
A state of “tension”
We long for “release”
Mechanics of transcendence
IV) So, what do we want, ultimately?
A resolution to the human condition
The polarity beyond polarities
The desire beyond desires
The drama beyond dramas
The ultimate motivation
PART 3) THE ORIGINS OF HUMAN NATURE
I) Why Maslow’s Hierarchy Isn’t Enough
II) A brief overview of traditional approaches
III) Areas of agreement across these approaches
IV) Existentially: A Core Disorientation
V) Emotionally: A Core Dissatisfaction
VI) Intellectually: A Core Ignorance
V) The Vacuum at the Center
PART 4) WHAT WE’RE MADE OF: OUR INNER ARCHITECTURE
I) A brief overview of approaches
Common Denominators: Our Inner Components
II) The Architecture of Feeling: How Do Emotions Work?
The Challenge: Understanding Emotions Intellectually
A Non-Reductionist Approach to Emotion
III) The Higher Component of Human Nature
An Overview of Approaches
Rough Maps of New Lands
Common Denominators: What Lies in the Depths
IV) Complicating Factors: Memory, Defenses, and Desire
Memory and the Emotional Echo Chamber
The Desire to Understand Desire
V) How human nature reflects a larger picture
VI) A Brief Summary
PART 5) OUR GREAT TASK IN LIFE
I) Building a self
On “Instincts,” or lack thereof
The furniture kit and the unfinished self
Emotional illiteracy and the symphony conductor
The challenge of becoming a self
Inner conflict, and “head verses heart”
How we’re both wholes, and parts
The crisis of meaninglessness
II) Beyond the self
The Climax of Life
Ego as “friend”
Ego as “enemy”
Ego as “friend and enemy”
“To be, and not to be…”
PART 6) THE BATTLEFIELD OF THE HEART
I) The Higher Potential: to use, or lose it
II) The Inner Conflict Zone
The Core Dilemma
The Primal Repression
“Something in us knows.”
The masks we hide behind
Solutions to compensations
III) The Classical Model of Inner Health
IV) From Inner Weakness to Inner Strength
How things go wrong
How things go right
V) From Inner Confusion to Inner Clarity
The Principle Confusion
The origin of illusions
The case of existential mistaken identity
VI) From Dis-integration to Integration of Self
The neutrality of the passions
VII) From Fragmentation to Unity
To not become a self, by Kierkegaard
Beyond pleasure and pain
Unification and fragmentation of self
The Way Up or The Way Down
The Way Up and The Way Down
VIII) The Kingdom of the Self
The task of the Prince
“The happy kingdom”
“The unhappy kingdoms”
IX) Beyond Instincts
The problem of angst
A higher level of joy
Fulfillment verses self-satisfaction
Our native hue
Mapping out inner flight paths
PART 7) The Inner Quest
I) A (not-so-brief) summary
II) The Guiding Directive
III) Applying “The Guiding Directive”
IV) A note to skeptics and apatheists
V) Cleansing the Doors of Perception
VI) Practical Recommendations
VII) A return to where we started
VIII) The Inner Treasure Hunt