THE CROSS which is usually taken as the symbol of the
cross on which Christ died has many mystical meanings. It
shows a vertical line and a horizontal line: everything
that exists extends vertically and horizontally. This may
be seen in the leaf: it has length and breadth. All that
exists has come from these two lines, the vertical and the
horizontal. The cross therefore, in its first meaning, is
the symbol of manifestation.
Then, whenever someone begins to speak, to act for the
truth, his way is barred, there is a cross against it. Speak
the truth before the nation and there comes the cross, the
bar from the nation. Speak the truth in the face of the
world and the cross comes from the world against you.
You may ask, 'If all comes from the One, the Same, why
is one thing truth and one falsehood?' Truth is that which
lives, which remains, which stands upright. False is that
which falls, which is dead. While we are alive we stand
upright; when we are dead we have fallen down. What is dead?
This false self, this mortal self. This is fana, destruction.
The cross shows that in fana – in the ending of the mortal,
of that which is changing, dying every moment, which lives
upon mortal food in mortal surroundings – is the immortal
life. What is not fani the Sufi calls baqi. This I can explain
as ba-yaki, oneness. In the death of the mortal there is
life, immortality, the one immortal life.
There is another great mystery of the cross which is
very little understood. Everywhere without us there is space.
We call space that which can accommodate, which can contain.
Within us there is space too; the space within extends in
another direction. It is always a puzzle for the materialist
when he hears of the two worlds, this world and the other,
the next world. He says, 'This world I know, but the other
world I do not know. Where is the other world?' Our eyes
can give us an idea, a picture of the other world. These
little eyes, not an inch in length, contain so many miles
of country, such vast tracts, the sun, the moon, the whole
cosmos, millions upon millions of miles. These are not contained
in the physical eyes but in the eyes within. The space within
is much vaster than the space without; it can contain hundreds
and thousands of times all that is in the world without.
In this meaning the cross signifies the two worlds.
People have thought that the next world is above the
sky, beyond the stars. It is not above but within. This
world is contained in it.
Many think that this symbol has existed from the time
of Jesus Christ, and no doubt it became better known after
the time of the master, but in fact it is an old symbol
known at different times and at all times known by the mystics.
The mystery of the symbol contains a great truth.
There are two sides to this mystery. One side is the
journey towards a spiritual ideal, the reaching of a spiritual
ideal, and if any picture of this can be given there cannot
be a better picture than a cross. The other side of this
mystery represents the destiny of a teacher, the life of
a teacher, signifying what he has to meet with when delivering
the message of truth.
Besides this, the cross is a natural sign that man has
always made from his artistic or from his reasoning faculty.
It is the nature of light to spread rays, especially when
the light is in its perfection. For instance, sometimes
by looking at the sun – at the setting sun in particular
– one finds lines forming on the sky and on the earth: first
there is one straight line and if one watches that first
line minutely a horizontal line develops out of it. By keen
observation of light one can find that it is in the nature
of light to form one perpendicular and one horizontal line.
If it is the nature of the external light to form a cross
it is also the nature of the inner light: the external light
is the reflection of the inner light, and it is the nature
of the inner light that is expressed in the outer light.
So one can see that not only the inner light is manifest
in the outer light, but that the outer light is the picture
of the inner light.
We can also see by observing nature's forms – the form
of a tree, of a plant, of a flower, the forms of the animals
and birds, and in the end the most developed and finished
form of the human being – that they all present a cross.
One cross may be seen by observing the formation of man's
head, the other cross can be seen by the whole form of mankind:
it is ever a horizontal and a perpendicular line which suggest
the symbol of the cross. There is no form that does not
have a horizontal and a perpendicular line, and it is these
two different aspects or directions which form the cross.
In this way one can understand that in the mystery of form
the cross is hidden.
Now coming to the first mystery mentioned above, namely
that man's journey towards spiritual ideal can be pictured
as a cross: in the first place man's ego, man's self is
his enemy and stands as a hindrance to his progress. Feelings
such as pride, conceit, selfishness, jealousy, envy and
contempt are all feelings which hurt others and which destroy
one's own life making it full of the misery which springs
from that selfish personal feeling, that ego of man. The
more egoistic, the more conceited he is, the more miserable
a life he has in the world, the more he makes the lives
of others miserable. It seems that this ego, which in Sufi
terms is called nafs, is a natural development in man's
life or heart. The more he knows of the world, the more
egoistic he becomes; the more he understands and experiences
the world, the more avaricious he becomes.
It is not that man brings his faults with him. He comes
with innocence, with the innocent smiles of the infant,
the friend of everyone who comes to him, ready to smile
and ready to throw his loving glance on everybody, regardless
of whether he is rich or poor, friend or foe; attracted
by beauty in all forms. It is this in the infant which attracts
every soul. This shows that the soul which comes with such
purity of heart, purity of expression in the countenance,
beauty in every movement it makes – that this same soul
develops in his nature, as he grows up in the world, all
that is hurtful and harmful to himself and others. This
also shows that it is in the world that, growing up, he
creates all this and this creation is called nafs or ego.
Yet at the same time in the depth of the heart there is
that goodness which is the divine goodness, that righteousness
which man has inherited from the Father in heaven.
A longing for joy and rest and peace is in him, and this
shows that in man there are two natures: one which is in
the depth of his heart, another which has developed from
his coming on earth. A conflict arises, a struggle between
these two natures, when the nature which is in the depth
begins to feel that it yearns for something, longs for something
and feels it must have it: it must have goodness from other
people, it must have peace in life. And when it cannot find
these the inner conflict begins.
Man creates his own disharmony in his soul and then treats
others in the same way; therefore he is not satisfied with
his own life, nor is he satisfied with others because he
feels that he has a complaint against others, although mostly
it is caused by himself. What he gives he receives back,
but he never sees that. He always thinks: what the depth
of his being yearns for – love, goodness, righteousness,
harmony and peace – everybody must give to him. But for
him when it comes to giving he does not give because he
lives in the other life he has created. This makes it plain
that in every man a being is created; that being is called
nafs and is the same as the conception of Satan which has
always existed in the scriptures and traditions.
People have many times divided the world between two
spirits: a small part of humanity for God and a great part
of humanity for Satan, thus making the control of the Satan
spirit larger perhaps than the control of God. But if only
one could understand the meaning of the idea of Satan, one
would understand that it is this spirit of error which has
collected and gathered in man after his coming on earth;
it is nafs and stands as Satan, always guiding man astray
and closing the eyes of his heart to the light of truth.
But when a revolution comes in the life of a man, as
soon as he begins to see deeply into life, to acquire goodness
– not only to get but to give – as soon as he begins to
enjoy not only the sympathy of others but giving sympathy
to others, then comes a period when he begins to see this
Satan-spirit as apart from his real original being, standing
before him constantly in conflict with his natural force,
freedom and inclination. Then he sees that sometimes he
can do what he desires, and that sometimes this spirit gets
hold of him and does not allow him to do what he desires.
Sometimes he finds himself weak in this struggle and sometimes
he finds himself strong. His experience is that when he
finds himself strong in this battle he is thankful and satisfied,
and when he finds himself weak in it he repents, he is ashamed
of himself and wishes to alter himself.
This is the period in which another epoch begins in man's
life; from this time there is a constant conflict between
himself and that spirit which is his ego. It is a conflict,
it is a kind of hindrance to his natural attitude, to his
natural inclination to do good and right. He constantly
meets with that spirit because it was created in his own
heart and has become part of his being. It is a very solid
and substantial being, as real perhaps as he understands
himself to be, and mostly more real: something real in the
depth of his being, which is covered by it. This constant
conflict between his real original self and that self which
hinders his spiritual progress is pictured in the form of
This cross a man carries during his progress. It is the
ugly passions, it is the love of comforts, and it is the
satisfaction in anger and bitterness that he has to combat
first. When he has conquered these, the next trouble he
has to meet is that still more subtle enemy of himself in
his mentality: the sensitiveness to what others say, to
the opinion of others about himself. He is anxious to know
what anybody holds as an opinion about him, what anybody
says against him, or if in any way his dignity or position
is hurt. Here again the same enemy, the nafs, takes another
stand and the crucifixion is when that thought of self,
that nafs, is fought with until there comes an understanding
that there exists no self before the vision of God.
It is this which is the real crucifixion, but with this
crucifixion there comes still another, which has always
followed and which every soul has to experience; the perfection
of every soul, the liberation of every soul lies in this
crucifixion. It is that part of his being which he has created
in himself, that false part of his being, which is crucified,
not his real self, although on the way it always seems that
he has crucified his own self.
This is not self-denial, it is the false self that is
denied. The mystery of perfection lies in annihilation –
not in annihilation of the real self, but of the false self,
of the false conception which man has cherished in his heart
and always has allowed to torture his life. Do we not see
this with our friends and acquaintances? In those who attract
us and whom we deeply love and admire there is only one
quality which can really attract us: apart from our other
interests in life it is man's personality alone which attracts
us. It is not only that selflessness and the extent of that
selflessness attract us, but what repels us in the life
of others is nothing else than the grossness of their
nafs – or one might call it the denseness and hardness
of that spirit.
The teaching of Christ when he said, 'Blessed are the
poor in spirit', is little understood. He does not mean
poor in divine spirit, but poor in this self-created spirit.
Those who are poor in this self-created spirit are rich
in divine spirit, and those who are rich in divine spirit
are poor in this self-created spirit. The word which is
used in the scriptures for nafs is that spirit of grossness
or spirit – but the better word is ego.
There have always been two tendencies: one of sincerity
and the other of insincerity and falsehood. They have always
worked together; the false and the true have always existed
in life and in nature. Where there is real gold there is
false; where there is a real diamond there is an imitation
diamond; where there are sincere people there are insincere
ones. In every aspect of life in the life of spirituality,
in the acquisition of learning, in the arts and sciences
– we can see sincerity and insincerity. And the only way
to recognize real spiritual development is to understand
to what extent there is selflessness.
However much a person pretends to spirituality and wishes
to be godly or pious or good, nothing can hide his true
nature, for there is the constant tendency of that ego to
leap out. It will leap out without man's control, and if
he is insincere he cannot hide it. Just as the imitation
diamond, however bright it may be, is dull compared with
the real one and when tested and examined will prove to
be an imitation, so real spiritual progress must be proved
in the personality of a soul. It is the personality that
should prove that he has touched that larger Self where
self does not exist.
Now coming to the next and still greater mystery of the
cross: this mystery can be seen in the life of the messengers,
the prophets and holy beings. In the first place no one
has entrance into the kingdom of God, into the abode of
God, who has not been so crucified as I have said just now.
There is a poem by the great Persian poet Iraqi in which
he tells, 'When I went to the gate of the divine Beloved
and knocked at the door, a voice came and said – Who art
thou?' When he had told, 'I am so and so', the answer came,
'There is no place for anyone else in this abode. Go back
to whence thou hast come'. He turned back and then, after
a long time, after having gone through the process of the
cross and of crucifixion, he again went there – with the
spirit of selflessness. He knocked at the door; the word
came, 'Who art thou? ', and he said, 'Thyself alone, for
no one else exists save Thee'. And God said, 'Enter into
this abode for now it belongs to thee'.
1 It is such selflessness,
to the extent that the thought of self is not there, it
is being dead to the self, which is the recognition of God.
One finds this spirit to a small extent in the ordinary
lover and beloved, when a person loves another from the
depth of his heart. He who says, 'I love you but only so
much, I love you and give you sixpence but I keep sixpence
for myself, I love you but I stand at a distance and never
come closer, we are separate beings' – his love is with
his self. As long as that exists, love has not done its
full work. Love accomplishes its work when it spreads its
wings and veils man's self from his own eyes. That is the
time when love is fulfilled, and so it is in the life of
the holy ones who have not only loved God by professing
or showing it, but who have loved God to the extent that
they forgot themselves. It is that state of realization
of being which can be termed a cross.
Then such souls have a cross everywhere; every move they
make is a cross, a crucifixion. In the first place, living
in the world, a world full of falsehood, full of treachery,
deceit and selfishness, every move they make, every act
they perform all they say and think, prove that their eyes
and hearts are open to something else than that at which
the world is looking. It is a constant conflict. It is living
in the world, living among people of the world and yet looking
at a place different from that which the world sees. If
they tried to speak they could not. Words cannot express
the truth; language is too inadequate to give a real conception
of the ultimate truth. As it is said in the Vedanta, and
as it was said in ancient times, the world is maya. Maya
means something unreal, and to these souls the world becomes
most unreal as soon as they begin to see the real, and when
they compare the world with this reality it seems even more
unreal. No one in the world can imagine to what an extent
this world manifests itself to their eyes.
Think of people who are good – yet not having arrived
at spiritual perfection – who are sensitive, tender and
kind, and see how the world treats them, how they are misunderstood.
See how the best is taken by the selfish, how the generous
one has to give more and more, how the one who serves has
to serve more and more, and still the world is not satisfied.
He who loves has to love more and more, and the world is
not satisfied. How jarring life is to these! Then think
of those who have arrived at such a stage of realization
that there is a vast gulf between the real and the unreal.
When they arrive at that realization their language is not
understood; they are forced to speak in a language which
is not their own and to say something different from what
they are realizing. It is more than a cross. It is not that
Jesus Christ alone had a cross, but every teacher who has
a portion of the message has a cross.
But then you may say, 'The masters of humanity who have
come at all times and had such a cross to bear, why did
they not go to the forests, to the caves, to the mountains,
why did they stay in the world?' There is a beautiful picture
that Rumi has made. He tells why the melody of the reed
flute makes such an appeal to your heart. It is, he says
in his poetry, because first it is cut away from its original
stem, then in its heart holes are made and, since the holes
have been made in the heart, the heart has been broken and
it begins to cry. So it is with the spirit of the messenger,
with the spirit of the teacher: by bearing and by carrying
his cross his self becomes like a reed, hollow. There is
scope for the Player to play his melody when it has become
nothing; then the Player takes it to play his melody. If
something was still there the Player could not use it.
God speaks to everyone, not only to the messengers and
teachers. He speaks to the ears of every heart, but it is
not every heart which hears it. His voice is louder than
the thunder, and His light is clearer than the sun – if
one could only see it, if one could only hear it. In order
to see it and in order to hear it man should remove this
wall, this barrier which he has made of the self. Then he
becomes the flute upon which the divine Player may play
the music of Orpheus which can charm even the hearts of
stone; then he rises from the cross into the life everlasting.
story in Mathnawi I-3056-64, Jalaluddin Rumi