|Whitall N. Perry|
January 19, 1920|
Belmont, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||November 18, 2005
Bloomington, Indiana, U.S..
Whitall Nicholson Perry (January 19, 1920 – November 18, 2005) was born of old New England stock in Belmont, Massachusetts (near Boston), on January 19, 1920. A quest for wisdom led him, as a young man, to travel out to the Far East. In Bali, in 1939, he found the echoes of a still authentic traditional world that sparked a lifelong encounter with ancient traditions, which he approached through the metaphysical perspectives of Platonism and Vedanta. He spent several decades abroad, living first in Giza, Egypt, where he met and frequented the French metaphysician René Guénon, and later in Lausanne, Switzerland where he became a close associate of the German metaphysician and mystic, Frithjof Schuon. In 1980, he moved to Bloomington, Indiana where he resided for the last 25 years of his life. He died on November 18, 2005.
A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom
Perry's masterwork, A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom (1971, reedited twice), is a testament to his contacts and personal ties with representatives of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Sufism, and, not least, with Native American Indians. This opus is a true Summa of the Philosophia perennis, namely a harvesting of the timeless spiritual wisdom culled from every major tradition in the world.
Perry’s commitment to traditional philosophy of the East and West led him, in 1946, to make the acquaintance of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, who, over many years, had established his reputation as the leading authority on the arts of India and Indonesia, as well as on the religions of which these arts were the expression. In the later part of his life, Coomaraswamy came under the influence of René Guénon, the French philosopher and orientalist who was the founder (together with Frithjof Schuon) of what came to be known as the “traditionalist” or Perennialist school of thought. Coomaraswamy became a powerful advocate of that school, and he introduced Perry to the writings of the two founding authors. Thus it was that the Perennial Philosophy, especially as expounded by Schuon, became the guiding star of Perry’s life.
Perry was one of the very few people who was personally acquainted with all four of the leading figures of the traditionalist school: René Guénon and Frithjof Schuon (the two originators) and Ananda Coomaraswamy and Titus Burckhardt (the two continuators). Titus Burckhardt was Schuon’s closest friend and collaborator, and he too lived in Lausanne.
Whitall and Barbara Perry accompanied Frithjof Schuon and his wife on many journeys. They visited the Absaroka and Lakota (Crow and Sioux Indians) in the American West in 1963 and, amongst other things, attended an Absaroka Sun dance; the famous House of the Virgin, at Ephesus, Turkey, in 1968; Morocco on several occasions in the 1960s and 1970s, and also many European countries, including Spain, Italy, Greece, and England (the last-named almost annually). When, in 1980, Frithjof Schuon left Lausanne and retired to Bloomington, Indiana, the Perrys followed suit.
Personality and other works
Visible in Perry's writings was a strong and incisive manner, but underneath this lay much empathy and compassion, with a healthy sense of humor. For instance, the article entitled “The Coming of Coriolanus" (Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 9, No. 4, Autumn, 1975), reveals his severity, while his humor comes to the fore in “The Dragon that swallowed Saint George” (Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 10, No. 3., Summer, 1976), an article deriding the second Vatican Council.
Ideas he considered misguided were constant targets of Perry’s writing. In his book Gurdjieff in the light of tradition (1978), a study containing considerable information, Perry argues in detail against the pretensions of those he perceives as pseudo-gurus. And in Challenges to a Secular Society (1996), among other tasks, he counters Aldous Huxley’s writings extolling the allegedly “spiritual” effects of psychedelic drugs.
- Challenges to a Secular Society. Oakton, VA: Foundation for Traditional Studies, 1996.
- Gurdjieff in the Light of Tradition. Bedfont: Perennial Books, 1978; reed. Ghent, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001.
- A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971; reed., with a preface by Huston Smith, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986; reed. Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2000; reed. as The Spiritual Ascent: A Compendium of the World's Wisdom, Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2008.
- The Widening Breach: Evolutionism in the Mirror of Cosmology. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1995.
- Perennial Philosophy
- Traditionalist School
- Frithjof Schuon
- René Guénon
- Titus Burckhardt
- Ananda Coomaraswamy
- Martin Lings
- William Stoddart
- Angus Macnab
- Bernard Philip Kelly