Humanistic or Transpersonal? Homo Spiritualis and the Perennial Philosophy


God became man so that man might become God. — St. Irenaeus
In man the Spirit becomes the ego in order that the ego may become pure Spirit. — Frithjof Schuon

In the late 1950s a “third force” in modern psychology known as humanistic psychology was beginning to take shape. In 1958 the Journal of Humanistic Psychology was founded and in 1961 the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) was formally launched. Humanistic psychology was defi ned in contrast to behaviorism, known as the “fi rst force”, and psychoanalysis, known as the “second force”, in modern psychology. It was developed to off set the reductionism of the fi rst two “forces”, which was not a simple undertaking given the predominant intellectual myopia of the times.
It is important to realize that at its origin humanistic psychology acknowledged the spiritual dimension as being the Summum Bonum of the human condition—“Th e
spiritual life is then part of the human essence. It is a defi ning characteristic of human nature, without which human nature is not full human nature” (Maslow, 1972:325). Or, “The spiritual dimension cannot be ignored, for it is what makes us human” (Frankl, 1973:x).
However, from within this “third force” there emerged a growing dissatisfaction about the limitations of this outlook, which resulted in the development of a “fourth force”, transpersonal psychology, whose purpose was to acknowledge the rightful place of the empirical ego as well as that which transcends it the Self (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993). Th e school was originally defi ned through its offi cial organ the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology in 1969, and the Association for Transpersonal Psychology (ATP) in 1971. Anthony J. Sutich defi ned this “fourth force” in modern psychology in these terms:

Transpersonal (or “fourth force”) Psychology is the title given to an emerging force in the psychology fi eld by a group of psychologists and professional men and women from other fi elds who are interested in those ultimate human capacities and potentialities that have no systematic place in positivistic or behavioristic theory (“fi rst force”), the experiencing Individual defi nition classical psychoanalytic theory (“second force”), or humanistic psychology (“third force”). (Sutich, 1969:15–16)

Abraham H. Maslow, pioneer of both third and fourth “forces”, describes how humanistic psychology was a preparation for a more complete psychology:

I should say also that I consider Humanistic, Th ird Force Psychology to be transitional, a preparation for a still ‘higher’ Fourth Psychology, transpersonal, transhuman, centered in the cosmos rather than in human needs and interest, going beyond humanness, identity, self-actualization, and the like. (Maslow, 1968:iii–iv)
Frances Vaughan, former president of both the Association for Humanistic Psychology and the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, makes the following distinction between these two “forces” in modern psychology:

Transpersonal psychology was differentiated from humanistic psychology, placing greater emphasis on the study of spiritual experiences, optimum psychological health and the full spectrum of human consciousness. . . . Humanistic psychology then became primarily identifi ed with feeling-oriented therapies and the process of self-actualization. (Vaughan, 1995:162)

Although the perennial philosophy has been underscored as one of the central theoretical tenets of transpersonal psychology, and arguably of humanistic psychology
(Bendeck Sotillos, 2009), very few people have researched the integral psychology of the perennial philosophy that recognizes both what is human and what is spiritual,
emphasizing their implicit interconnectedness while not misrepresenting “the decisive boundary” between them (Lings, 1991) in the understanding that, to use an expression of Meister Eckhart, they are “fused but not confused”.
We recall the following words of Frithjof Schuon, a preeminent expositor of the philosophia perennis, quoted by Ken Wilber (1977) in what is considered a landmark
work in the fi eld of transpersonal psychology: “Th ere is no science of the soul [psyche] without a metaphysical basis to it and without spiritual remedies at its disposal”
(Wilber, 1977:11, Schuon, 1984:14). Wilber continues to put forward the centrality of the perennial philosophy within this emerging “fourth force” in modern psychology: “One might say that the entire aim of this volume [Th e Spectrum of Consciousness] is simply to support and document this statement of Frithjof Schuon,
a statement that the siddhas, sages and masters of everywhere and everywhen have eloquently embodied” (Wilber, 1977:11). Although “the perennial philosophy” was
popularized via Aldous Huxley’s (1944) acclaimed book under the same title, very few know of the traditionalist or perennialist school of comparative religion including René Guénon (1886–1951), Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877–19 47), Titus Burckhardt (1908–1984), and a more contemporary exponent, Seyyed Hossein Nasr (b. 1933), who have ardently presented the philosophia perennis in its uncolored light:

The term philosophia perennis, which has been current since the time of the Renaissance and of which neo scholasticism made much use, signifi es the totality of primordial and universal truths and therefore of the metaphysical axioms whose formulation does not belong to any particular system. (Schuon, 1991:21)

A challenging ambiguity prevails when it comes to the term humanistic. Humanistic psychology initially declared its intent to do away with the errors and reductionism of behaviorism and psychoanalysis that dehumanized humanity by attempting to construct a psychology centering itself on the human ideal (Sutich & Vich, 1969). Th e perennial philosophy, on the other hand, views the term humanistic as denoting another current of reductionism which is rooted, alongside behaviorism and psychoanalysis, in the modern deviation: “Th ere is a word which rose to honour at the Renaissance and which summarized in advance the whole programme of modern civilization: this word is ‘humanism’” (Guénon, 1996:25). Since the “third force” in modern psychology endeavors to revive a more inclusive conception of the human person, it could be misleading to apply the perennial philosophy’s critique to humanistic psychology insofar as this psychology actually diff ers from the Humanism born with the Renaissance, which may be defi ned in the following terms: “‘humanism’ [is]. . . the point of view that would like to reduce everything to the purely human level, which basically is one with the profane point of view itself ” (Guénon, 2001:81); or “Th e humanistic perspective not only proposes the cult of man, but by that very fact also aims at perfecting man according to an ideal that does not transcend the human plane” (Schuon, 1990:10).
Conversely, according to Abraham Maslow, “Th e goal of humanistic studies [or humanistic psychology] was defi ned as the perception and knowledge of the good, the
beautiful, and the true” (Maslow, 1994:8). However, we can see how certain problems might arise from the following characterization of humanistic psychology, which could lead to what might be termed “humanistic narcissism”:

One of the most revolutionary concepts to grow out of our [humanistic psychology’s] clinical experience is the growing recognition that the innermost core of man’s nature, the deepest layers of his personality, the base of his ‘animal nature,’ is positive in nature is basically socialized, forward-moving, rational and realistic….
We do not need to ask who will socialize him, for one of his own deepest needs is for affi liation and communication with others. . .He is realistically able to control himself, and he is incorrigibly socialized in his desires. Th ere is no beast in man. There is only man in man. . . . (Rogers, 1961:90,105,194)

Examples could also be provided within the “fourth force” of modern psychology as it has been noted that

even the so-called spiritual archetypes, described by the school of C. G. Jung, to which, without knowing it, we are subject, although they may in certain respects distinguish us from the animals, do, by their automatic character, nevertheless recall the nature of the animal. (Tournier, 1973:95)

By the same token, transpersonal psychology could be said to have divorced itself from what is human per se, which is conceived of as a “spiritual bypass” or “pre/trans fallacy” which could lead to spiritual narcissism. Be that as it may, even though we live in the Kali-Yuga which is marked by countless ingenious counterfeits, nevertheless the discernment (viveka) between the Real (Ātmā) and the illusory (māyā), the Absolute and the relative, remains situated in the spiritual domain itself. Th is is why it is crucial to demonstrate that the spiritual traditions and their corresponding psychologies are linked to a chain of transmission (silsila), both human and Divine, which alone can safeguard and integrate the human psyche. While the perennial philosophy does acknowledge the animal aspect of the human being, it in no way defi nes man by this criterion, since it would be sub-human to do so:

It should be noted that human animality is situated beneath animality as such, for animals innocently follow their immanent law and thereby enjoy a certain natural and indirect contemplation of the Divine Prototype; whereas there is decadence, corruption and subversion when man voluntarily reduces himself to his animality. (Schuon, 1981:69)

For this reason it is essential to demonstrate the hazards of defi ning the human person by what is strictly human, in the psychophysical sense, instead of by what lies above the psychophysical sphere, namely the spiritual: “To say homo sapiens, is to say homo religiosus; there is no man without God” (Schuon, 1990:51), which
also implies that “Man is fully man only when he realizes who he is [in divinis]” (Nasr, 1989:183), because “without a sense of the sacred you are less than a man” (Yellowtail in Fitzgerald, 1994:9). The human individual becomes what he or she is by transcending his or her animal nature: “Man is totally himself only by transcending himself ” (Schuon, 1990:39)—a truth which is also expressed by Victor Frankl, a pioneer of both humanistic and transpersonal psychology: “Self-transcendence is the essence of [human] existence” (Frankl, 1988:50). Likewise Paul Tournier states that “Man is not just a body and a mind. He is a spiritual being.
It is impossible to know him if one disregards his deepest reality” (Tournier, 1965:55). To ignore this danger of reducing the human being to the sub-human by ignoring
the spiritual dimension would be to close one’s eyes to the many errors that have led the modern and post-modern world into its present-day dilemma:

The word “humanism” constitutes a curious abuse of language in view of the fact that it expresses a notion that is contrary to the integrally human, hence to the human properly so-called: indeed, nothing is more fundamentally inhuman than the “purely human,” the illusion of constructing a perfect man starting from the individual and terrestrial; whereas the human in the ideal sense draws its reason for existence and its entire content from that which transcends the individual and the earthly. (Schuon, 1982:9)

Rather than being a mere play of semantics, the above passage provides another example of how modern psychology (behaviorism, psychoanalysis, humanistic, and
transpersonal) diff ers from the integral or traditional psychology of the perennial philosophy, since all modern psychology is an outgrowthn of the scientism of the Enlightenment known as the Cartesian Newtonian outlook (Rank, 1998, Edwards, 1998, Ferrer, 2002, Grof, 1984, Tart, 2009) as opposed to traditional psychology which is rooted in a sacred science based upon metaphysical principles (Guénon, 2001, Nasr, 1993). Less discerning adherents of transpersonal or even humanistic psychology may perhaps argue otherwise, but since both are contingent upon and in many cases continuations of the fi rst two “forces” “It is a prolongation of rationalistic materialism, extending it to the whole of [modern] psychology” (Tournier, 1964)—this materialistic science is not easily overcome, nor is the problematic infl uence of New Age thought which made its appearance vis-à-vis the Human Potential Movement (Vitz, 2002, Drury, 1989, Hanegraaff , 1998) leading numerous seekers astray as these spiritual forms are not rooted in a genuine revealed tradition. Th is point would require further analysis  which cannot be contained by this article (see Smith, 1982, Stoddart, 2008, Upton, 2001, Bendeck Sotillos, 2010). The perennial philosophy’s view  of humanity is clearly expressed by John Herlihy:

According to all the great spiritual traditions of the world, the defi ning characteristic of the human species is the quality of human-ness, for want of a better term. Humanity is considered human because it enjoys a number of higher faculties that distinguish the species from the rest of the animal kingdom and place it at the pinnacle of the creation as a being created in the image of God [imago Dei]. (Herlihy, 2005:149)

Th e following passage, however, expresses what happens when the human norm, rooted in the recognition of the Origin and Center of all things manifest and unmanifest  a recognition which appears in varying forms in both East and West becomes subverted by one’s terrestrial or “horizontal” identity:
. . . a remarkable fact [is] that man, as he regarded himself as a creature, interpreted his existence in the image of God [imago Dei], his creator; but as soon as he started considering himself as a creator [the kingdom of man], began to interpret his existence merely in the image of his own creation, the machine. (Frankl, 1988:16)
A defi ning point of “height psychology” humanistic and transpersonal as fi rst envisioned by its pioneers is that the human individual is inseparably connected
to, and accordingly fulfi lled by, the spiritual domain. In the words of Frankl, “Th e ‘spiritual’ is what is human in man” (Frankl, 2000:28) or, more simply: “Man is spirit” (Frankl, 1985:70). According to the perennial philosophy, the human state is consummated in the transpersonal; and yet, devoid of the transpersonal,
the human state cannot be what it is meant to be. “To speak of a ‘spiritual anthropology’ is already a pleonasm to say man is to say spirit but it is justifi ed in a world which, having forgotten the divine, no longer can know what is human” (Schuon, 1982:76).
Furthermore, “the sole way to the Transpersonal is through the Personal, . . . the only path beyond the human leads straight through the human” (Upton, 2008:34). The  human individual is properly human only so long as that individual’s animality is subsumed into the spiritual domain:
What is human is what is natural to man, and what is most essentially or most specifi cally natural toman is what relates to the Absolute and which consequently requires the transcending of what is earthly in man. (Schuon, 1982:9)
The polarity between what ishuman and what is spiritual is not only harmonized but actually resolved by the plenary principles of the perennial philosophy. It is only
through an alignment of humanistic and transpersonal psychologies with the tenets of the perennial philosophy that an integral psychology addressing the entirety of
the human person Spirit, souland body may be authentically effective. What has been presented here is only the outline of such an alignment, partial at best, yet
it underscores what is indispensable to any operative psychologythat means to address the human being in toto, which is to also say in divinis. We are quite aware that
it is a nearly impossible task, or at least a daunting one, to comparethe primordial tradition, unanimous in all times and places, with modern psychology. And although
many questions, and importantones at that, remain unanswered, it is throught he guiding light of the perennial philosophy that we may progressively achieve greater
clarity on this matter, a viewpoint that reminds us of the immense danger of disowning spirituality, for it is only through the spiritual that man may know what it means
to be fully human: “Without the transcendent and the transpersonal, we get sick, violent, and nihilistic, or else hopeless and apathetic” (Maslow, 1968:iv).
 SAMUEL BENDECK SOTILLOS has received graduate degrees in Education and Psychology. He has traveled throughout the world to visit sacred sites, and had contact with noted spiritual authorities. He currently works as a mental health clinician in Northern California. He is an AHP Board Affiliate.
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Taken from: Samuel Bendeck Sotillos
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