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Volume XIII - The Gathas

Part III
Nakshi Bandi: Symbology


1.   'Die Before Death'

There is a symbolical picture known in the philosophical world of China that represents a sage with one shoe in his hand and one on his foot. It signifies the hereafter, that the change that death brings is to a wise man only the taking off of one shoe. The body of the philosopher in the picture represents his soul, or his person. The one shoe still on his foot represents his mind, which exists after death. And the withdrawal of the soul from the body is like taking one foot out of the shoe. For the mystic, therefore, the physical body is something he can easily dispense with, and to arrive at this realization is the object of wisdom. When by philosophical understanding of life, he begins to realize his soul, then he begins to stand, so to speak, on his own feet. He is then himself and the body is to him only a cover.

The teaching of the Prophet is to die before death, which means to realize in one's lifetime what death means. This realization takes away all the fear there is. By the symbol of the shoe is shown also the nothingness of the material existence, or the smallness of the physical being, in comparison with the greatness of the soul, or the spirit. Hafiz says, in Persian verse, 'Those who realize Thee are kings in life,' which means that the true kingdom of life is the realization of the soul. The idea that one must wait until one's turn will come after many incarnations keeps one far away from the desired goal. The man who is impatient to arrive at spiritual realization is to be envied. As Omar Khayyam says, 'Tomorrow? Why, tomorrow I may be myself with yesterday's seven thousand years.' He means by this, 'Don't bother about the past, don't trouble about the future, but accomplish all you can just now.' Life has taken time enough to develop gradually from mineral to vegetable, from vegetable to animal, and from animal to man, and after becoming man, delay is not necessary. It is true that the whole lifetime is not sufficient for one to become what one wishes to be. Still nothing is impossible, since the soul of man is from the spirit of God; and if God can do all things why cannot man do something?

2.   Fruitfulness

There is a Chinese symbol of philosophers carrying on their shoulders peaches, which means that the object of life is to be fruitful. However good or spiritual a person may be, yet, if his life is not fruit giving, he has not fulfilled the purpose of life. A person whose life becomes fruitful does not only bear fruit to others, but every aspect of life bears fruit to him as well. For him life becomes a fruit. If life were only for what people call goodness, life would be very uninteresting. For goodness is dependent for its beauty on badness. As a form cannot exist without a shadow, so goodness cannot be without badness. If life were for spirituality alone, the soul had better not have been born on earth, for the soul in its nature is spiritual. The whole creation is purposed for something greater than goodness or even spirituality, and that is fruitfulness. Goodness and spirituality are the means, not the goal. If there is any goal, it is fruitfulness. Therefore, it is the object of life, which the symbol of peaches represents.

Fruitfulness has three aspects. The first aspect is when man benefits from his own life. The next aspect is when man benefits from the life outside himself. And the third aspect is when man is a benefit to himself and to the life outside, and the life outside is a benefit to him. That is the moment of the fruitfulness of life. It takes all the patience one has to arrive at this realization, but it is for this realization that God created the world, that man may enjoy fruitfulness therein. It is the absence of faith and lack of patience which deprive man of this bliss; if not, every soul is purposed for this. For instance, when a musician begins to enjoy his own music, that is the first stage. When he enjoys the music of others, that is the second stage of realization. But when a man enjoys his own music and makes others enjoy too, then his life has become fruitful. There is a great treasure of blessing within oneself and there is a vast treasure of blessing outside oneself, and when one has become able to find out the treasure one has within oneself and to exploit the treasure which is outside oneself, and when there is an exchange between his own treasure, and the treasure outside, then his life has borne the fruit for which his soul was born. There comes a time in the life of the fruitful souls when every moment of their life bears a new fruit, just like a plant which bears fruit at all times of the year.

3.   The Symbol of the Dragon

The best-known symbolical figure of China is the dragon. The dragon represents life and death both. Life in the sense of eternal life, death in the sense of a change from mortality to eternity. Very often a Chinese dragon has an appearance of a tiger, of a seal, its body that of a snake, together with wings of the birds and the paws of the carnivorous animals, also some appearance of man – which means that life is one but it is manifest in many forms, that life lives on life and so hungers for life. The dragon suggests mortality standing by one's side, awaiting its hour every moment of our life, and yet man is unaware of it, building castles in the air, depending upon the life of this mortal world. The dragon also suggests that there is an obstacle on the way to eternity and that obstacle is death, and that can be avoided by conquering the dragon. The dragon is also a picture of man's selfish ego, which is not only the enemy of others, but which makes man his own enemy. The dragon signifies the lower nature, and the conquering of the lower nature is the killing of the dragon, of which St. George also is the symbol. The dragon is a sign of material power, which has its transitory reign over things and beings. And often power can govern or cause difficulty even to spiritual beings, for the reason that even spiritual beings have matter which makes their being and which is dependent for its life and comfort on things of this earth. But all stories of dragons prove the dragon to be a failure in the end and the spirit alone conqueror over it. In Chinese art this symbol is kept to the fore, for this one symbol suggests and touches many things.

4.   Water

In the old scriptures such as the Vedanta and the Old Testament, spirit is symbolized as water. One wonders why something which is near to the earth, as water is, should be considered symbolically as spirit. The nature of water is to give life to the earth, and so the nature of spirit is to give life to the body. Without water the earth is dead, so is the body without soul. Water and earth both mix together, so the spirit mixes with matter and revivifies it, and yet spirit stands above matter, as water in time lets the earth sink to the bottom and stands itself above the earth. But one may ask, 'Is the spirit hidden under matter as the soul in the body?' I will answer, 'So the water stays beneath the earth.' There is no place where water does not exist, there are places where earth is not to be found. So there is nowhere in space where spirit is absent; only the absence of matter is possible.

The symbolic way of expressing high ideas does not come from the brain, it is an outcome of intuition. The beginning intuition is to understand the symbolical meaning of different things, and the next step is to express things symbolically. It is a divine art in itself, and the best proof of it is to be found in the symbol of water, which is so fitting to express the meaning of spirit.

5.   Wine

Wine is considered sacred, not only in the Christian faith, but also in many other religions. In the ancient religion of the Zoroastrians, Jam-i Jamshed, the bowl of wine 'from which Jamshed drank deep,' is a historical event. Among Hindus, Shiva considered wine sacred. And in Islam, though wine is prohibited when on earth, yet in heaven it is allowed. Hauz-ul Kausar, the sacred fountain of heaven, about which there is so much spoken in Islam, is a fountain of wine. Although the bowl that was given to the Prophet in the Miraj, the authorities of Islam say, was filled with milk, yet I doubt it. I should not be surprised if it were not the invention of the authorities, to keep the faithful followers away from wine. For it is natural that the followers should like to begin drinking the wine on earth, which the Prophet drank in heaven.

Wine is symbolical of the soul's evolution. Wine comes from the annihilation of grapes, immortality comes from the annihilation of self. The bowl of poison, which is known in many mystical cults, suggests also the idea of wine, but not a sweet wine, a bitter wine. When the self turns into something different from what it was before, it is like the soul being born again. This is seen in the grape turning into wine. The grape, by turning into wine, lives; as a grape it would have vanished in time. Only by turning into wine, the grape loses its individuality and yet not its life. The self-same grape lives as wine, and the longer it lives the better the wine becomes. For a Sufi, therefore, the true sacrament is the turning of one's own grape-like personality, which has a limited time to live, into wine that nothing of one's self may be lost but, on the contrary, amplified, even perfected. This is the essence of all philosophy and the secret of mysticism.

6.   The Curl of the Beloved

In the Sufi literature, which is known to the world as the Persian literature, there is much talk about the curls of the Beloved, and many have often wondered what it means. The curl is a symbol of something, which is curved and round. The curve denotes the twist in the thought of wisdom. Very often a straight word of truth hits upon the head harder than a hammer. That shows that truth alone is not sufficient, the truth must be made into wisdom. And what is wisdom? Wisdom is the twisted truth. As raw food cannot be digested, and therefore it is cooked, although raw food is more natural than cooked food, so the straight truth is more natural, but is not digestible, it needs to be made into wisdom.

And why is it called the Beloved's curl? Because truth is of God, the Divine Beloved, and truth is God, and that twist given to His Own Being, which is truth, amplifies the divine beauty, as the curl is considered to be the sign of beauty. Then what is not straight is a puzzle. So wisdom is a puzzle to the ordinary mind. Besides, the curl hangs low down; so the heavenly beauty which is wisdom is manifest on earth. In other words, if someone wishes to see the beauty of the heavenly Beloved he may see it in wisdom. Wisdom is traced not only in the human being, but even in the beasts and birds, in their affection, in their instinct. Very often it is most difficult for man to imitate fully the work which birds do in weaving their nests. Even the insects do wonderful work in preparing a little abode for themselves which is beyond man's art and skill. Besides this, if one studies nature, after keen observation and some contemplation upon it one will find that there is perfect wisdom behind it. Once man has thought on the subject, he can never, however materialistic he may be, deny the existence of God. Man's individuality is proved by his wisdom and distinguished by comparison. The wisdom of God, being perfect, is unintelligible to man. The glass of water cannot imagine how much water there is in the sea. If man would realize his limitation he would never dare question the existence of God.

The symbol of the curl also signifies something which is there, attractive, and yet a puzzle, a riddle. One loves it, admires it, and yet one cannot fathom its length and breadth. It is that which is wisdom. Its surface is human, but its depth is divine. It could be hell or heaven, and the knowledge of it can enable man always to keep in touch with his heaven, instead of waiting for it till the hereafter.

7.   The Glance

The Persian poets, in the Sufi literature, very often speak of the glance. And their symbolical expression for the glance is, very often, a sword, and it is called a sword for various reasons. In the first place, the glance has a projecting effect. An intelligent glance has a crossways movement, like that of a sword. But besides this, from a psychological point of view a keen glance sees through an object, as though a thing had been cut open by the sword and manifested to view. The glance is a power, very little is known about it. The power of the glance can hold lions at bay. Therefore, also it is symbolized as a sword. The glance of a brave person is very often more powerful than a sword, for the will power works through the glance.

Besides its precious work, which makes the eye superior to every other organ of the body, it is the expression of the beauty of body, mind and soul. Sufis, therefore, symbolize the eye by a cup of wine. Through the eyes, the secret hidden in man's heart is reflected into the heart of another. However much a person may try to conceal his secret, yet the reader can read it in his eyes, and can read there his pleasure, his displeasure, his joy, his sorrow. A seer can see still farther. The seer can see the actual condition of man's soul through his eyes, his grade of evolution, his attitude in life, his outlook on life, and his condition, both hidden and manifest. Besides, to the passive soul of a disciple, knowledge, ecstasy, spiritual joy, and divine peace, all are given through the glance. One sees in everyday life that a person who is laughing in his mind with his lips closed can express his laughter through his glance, and the one who receives the glance at once catches the infectious mirth. Often the same happens through looking in the eyes of the sorrowful, in a moment one becomes filled with depression. And those whose secret is God, whose contemplation is the perfection of beauty, whose joy is endless in the realization of everlasting life, from whose heart the spring of love is ever flowing, it is most appropriate that their glance should be called, symbolically, the Bowl of Saqi, the Bowl of the Wine-Giver.

8.   The Myth of Balder

The Scandinavian myth tells that Balder, the god of youth, beauty, kindness and gentleness, was pursued by enemies who wanted to kill him. For his protection a spell had been cast upon all the trees of the forest and every plant that has a root in the ground and grows upward to heaven, that no weapon wrought from any of them should have power to harm him. But in this charm, the mistletoe had been forgotten, which has no root in the ground, and from its wood an arrow was made, with which Balder was hit and wounded to death.

Its interpretation is an answer to the question, which often arises, in an intelligent mind, 'Why were godlike people treated cruelly, continually, through all periods of the world's history? And how could any person in the world think of causing harm to those who attracted the sympathy of almost every soul they met on earth?' Their adherents spread their teachings and the beauty of their life and character among all, wise and foolish, kind and cruel. They all became more or less impressed by what they learned of the godly souls, even those whose soul had not yet risen to human evolution, who only live like trees and plants, living and yet dreaming, unaware of life, except their own activity. But the one who could not be impressed by this spell, whom, even had the spell been cast upon him, it could not have reached; and had it reached, only with great difficulty, is the godless, who is like the mistletoe, living without any root. The mourning for this is continued, in the memory of the death of that god. In reality it is celebrating the birth of what was born from him, it was divine knowledge.

9.   The Tree of Wishes

There is an old Hindu belief, found in the ancient myths of India, that there is a tree, which they call Kamana Kalpa Vriksha. It is a tree that bears all the fruits that one can imagine, and if a person is under that tree he has but to wish for what he would like, and in the same moment all fruits, all flowers, everything he can imagine, he will find brought forth by the tree as its fruits. He has but to wish and it will fall into his hands. If it is within one's reach one has to raise one's hand to pluck the flower or fruit of that tree. If it is beyond one's reach one has only to wish and the branch will reach one's hand, that one may pick it without any effort.

And there is a story about that tree that a wanderer, while journeying in deserts, by chance happened to sleep under that tree. And when, after a good sleep, he opened his eyes and looked up at that tree, he thought, 'I suppose it must be a pear tree.' No sooner had he thought that, than two good ripe pears dropped near him. While lying there he picked them up. 'Oh,' he said, 'what a wonderful tree! If it were a grape tree, what a splendid thing it would be!' As soon as he said it, the tree seemed full of grapes, and before he raised his hands, the branches bent low and, without any effort, he was able to pick the grapes. But when he thought, 'What a wonderful tree!', he wondered if the tree would yield some roses. And no sooner had he given a thought to it than the whole tree seemed to blossom into roses. This man became so surprised, so amazed and perplexed at this magical tree that he wondered if it was true or if it was only a dream. As soon as he thought of a dream and he looked up at the tree, the tree vanished in a moment.

There cannot be a better example to demonstrate the idea behind the symbolical tree than this story. For this tree is this whole universe, the miniature of which is one's own self, and there is nothing that you ask that this universe will not answer, for it is the nature of the universe to answer your soul's call. Only, if you ask for the pears, there are pears, if one asked for a cactus, there is a cactus, if you ask for the rose, there will be the rose and its thorns together. And it is the lack of knowledge of this great secret, hidden in the heart of the universe, which is the only tragedy of life. When a person seeks for something in the universe and he cannot find it, it is not true that it is not there. The fact is that he does not see it. Besides, he sees something within his reach, he sees something, which he desires, and yet he thinks whether it is possible for him to get it or whether it is beyond the reach of his effort and power. And at the same time, the end of the story solves the whole question of life, and that is, it is all there and nothing is there. If we think it is everything, it is everything. But, if we realize that it is nothing, it is nothing. It is something of which you may say that it is and it is not. However, beyond all things of this universe, above all things that this life can offer, there is only one thing and that is God. And what is God? God is truth.

10.   The Hindu Symbolical Form of Worship

Puja is the name of the Hindu form of worship, which is from the beginning to the end a symbolical expression of what the seeker has to perform in the path of spiritual attainment. After bathing in the running stream of water, which the Hindu calls the Ganges (whatever be the name of the river he, at that time, believes it is the Ganges, the sacred river), he proceeds with flowers to the shrine of the deity. He puts on to the deity the flowers, and repeats the mantrams, and stands greeting the deity with folded hands, and prostrates himself before the deity. Then he rings the bell and repeats the sacred word. Then he takes rice in his hands and puts it at the feet of the deity. Then the red powder, Kumkum, he touches with the tip of his finger and makes a mark with it on the shrine of the deity and then on his own forehead. Then he touches the ointment with the tip of his finger and, after touching the deity, he touches his forehead with the ointment. He then prostrates himself and makes three circles around the shrine. Then he rings the bell, and thus the service is finished. Afterwards he goes and stands before the sun and does his breathing exercises while adhering to the sun, and that completes the next part of his worship.

However primitive this form of worship, at the back of it there seems to be great meaning. The meaning of the bath in the Ganges is to become purified before one makes any effort of journeying on the spiritual path. The purification of the body and of the mind both are necessary before one takes the first step toward the God-ideal. One must not approach the deity before such purification, the outer purification as well as the inner purification, for then alone, when once a person is pure, he will find it easy to attain the desired presence. The meaning of the flowers, which he takes, is that God is pleased with the offerings, which are delicate, beautiful and fragrant. Delicate means tenderness of heart, beautiful in color is fineness of character, fragrance is the virtue of the soul. This is the offering with which God is pleased. He stands with the thought that his self is devoted in perfect discipline to the supreme will of God. His hands folded express no action on the part of himself, but complete surrender. The meaning of prostration is self-denial in the right sense of the word, which means: 'I am not, Thou art;' whispering the words and ringing the bell is that the same word is rung in the bell of one's heart. His touching the red powder means touching the eternal life and when he touches the deity with that powder it means that from this source he is to gain eternal life. When he touches his forehead with it, it means that he has gained it for himself. And the ointment means wisdom, and the touching of the God with it and then to his forehead means that true wisdom can be obtained from God alone, and touching his own head with it means that he has gained it. Then making three circles around the shrine is the sign that life is a journey and that journey is made to attain his goal which is God, that 'Every step I take in my life,' the Brahmin thinks, 'will be in His direction in the search of God.' In the second part of the service when he stands before the sun, by that he means that God is to be sought in the light. And by breathing exercises he welds that link of inner communication between God and himself.

Questions and Answers

Q: Do the Vaishnavas and Shiva followers and the worshipper of all the different deities worship in the same way?

A: It is almost the same. There may little differences; not much. Just some differences which will perhaps distinguish one from the other. But at the same time mostly this is the form.

Q: Have they all the same sacred words and breathing exercises?

A: No, perhaps the words of the Vaishnava (followers of Vishnu) differ from the words that the followers of Shiva use. Of course, the meaning is the same. And breathing exercises do not differ much. For the reason that the yoga is one yoga for all the Hindus. There are four different yogas, but one system.

Q: Who gives them the words and the breathing exercises? Are the priests Murshids?

A: First of all, a Brahman is a priest by birth. A Brahman is a born priest. Therefore, the first lesson he receives is in his own family, of the sacred word. But when he takes an esoteric path, at that time he needs the guidance of a Murshid. What the Brahman calls a Guru. And it may be the same word perhaps which he learned from his parents. Still, when that word is given by the Guru, that has a different value again. Perhaps he has repeated that word in his life, but when it is given by the Guru the value of the word is different.

Q: And for the non-Brahman?

A: The manner of their worship is the same. But the worship of the other persons is done by the mediumship of a Brahman, because only a Brahman was entitled to perform the service. Brahmans were the community of priests. And for Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas, and Shudras, which are three different castes of the Hindus, the Brahmans had to perform services. The others had no power to perform the service anywhere.

Hindus are all those who live in India. They have to take Brahman as a medium. Through Brahman they are entitled to have a service. Brahman is the one who will perform the service. And they will have to stand there and partake in the service.

Q: Do they know the meaning of all the different actions they perform?

A: Not everybody. An advanced Brahman knows it.

Q: Has it not changed the customs of the other classes?

A: Yes, they do prostrate. But going near the deity, and putting the red powder and the ointment, that they do not do. Sometimes they bring, for the Brahman, the red powder and the oil, and leave it there. But that is Brahman's work to do.

They have many different marks of the caste. But the caste-mark denotes the third eye, the inner sense.

Q: The Catholic Church.....?

A: One thing is very admirable in the Hindu religion. It is so very vast in its ways of worship, and in its doctrines and ideal and forms and philosophy, that it gives a scope for a person of every grade of evolution. He has an answer in the religion of the Hindus, whatever grade of evolution he has reached. For every person Hinduism will give an answer, because it is very vast. If a person will try in the philosophical field, he will find an answer. In worship, in symbology. Therefore, it is something, which answers the demand of every individual's life. If one takes the whole religion of the Hindus, from the beginning to the end, so vast and deep, and yet so simple that it answers the need of every person. Hinduism is not one religion. Hinduism is many religions itself.

Q: Is that the reason that the Jains and Sikhs have so grown?

A: The religion of the Jains is Buddhistic, and of the Sikhs is a modern reform of Hinduism.

Q: Does the ancient.......?

A: There is no direction of life which is not expressed.

Q: .......?

A: It is the spiritual effect of the word. At the same time, when the Guru gives it, at that time the Guru has charged this word with his own spiritual power. That is the same thing in Sufism.

Q: What is the meaning in the worship of the Brahmans of putting rice at the feet of the deity?

A: That all the love and light that they will gain from the deity, they will spread in the world, as the seeds thrown in the furrow.

The name of red powder symbolizes eternal life.


checked 30-nov-2015