Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals
THE SYMBOLOGY OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS
The wise, have given lessons to the world in different forms suited to the evolution of the people at the particular time. The first and most original form of education that the wise gave to the world was symbolical. This method of teaching has been valued in all ages, and it will always keep its importance. That which is not veiled is not beauty. In the veiling and unveiling of beauty lies the purpose of life. Beauty is that which is always out of reach. We see it and we do not see it. We touch it and we cannot touch it. It is seen and yet veiled; it is known and yet unknown. That is why words are often inadequate to express the beauty of truth, and why symbolism was adopted by the wise.
The religions of the ancient Egyptians, of the Greeks, of the Hindus, and of the Parsis, all have symbols which express the essential truth hidden under each of them. There is symbolism in Christianity and in many other religions. Man has often rebelled against symbolism. This is natural, as man has always revolted against things he cannot understand. There has been a wave of opposition to symbolism in both the east and the west. In the east, it came in the period of Islam, and in the west, it re-echoed in the Reformation. No doubt when the sacred symbols are made into patents by the religions, which want to monopolize the whole truth for themselves; it encourages that tendency in human nature, which is always ready either to accept or to reject things. However, one can say, without exaggeration, that symbology has served to keep the ancient wisdom intact for ages. There are many ideas relating to human nature, to the nature of life, to God and His many attributes, and to the path towards the goal which can be and have been expressed in symbols.
To a person who sees only the surface of life, symbols mean nothing. The secret of symbols is revealed to souls who can see through life, whose glance penetrates through objects. Verily the things of the world disclose themselves to the seer and in this uncovering beauty is hidden. There is a great joy in understanding, especially in understanding things which mean nothing to most people. It requires intuition to read symbols, even something deeper than intuition, namely insight. To the one to whom symbols speak of their nature and of their secret, each symbol is in itself, a living manuscript. Symbology is the best means of learning the mysteries of life, and also one of the best ways of passing on ideas which will continue to live after the teacher has passed away. It is speaking without speaking; it is writing without writing. The symbol may be said to be an ocean in a drop.
THE SYMBOL OF THE SUN
Light has the greatest attraction for the human soul. Man loves it in fire and in things that are bright and shining. That is why he considers gold and jewels to be precious. The cosmos has a greater attraction for him than the earth, because of its light. As man evolves, he naturally ceases to look down towards the earth, and instead looks up to the cosmos, the heavens. The most attractive object that he sees is the sun, the sun which is without any support and is more luminous than anything else in the heavens. Therefore, as man is attracted to beauty and surrenders to beauty, he bows to the sun as being the greatest beauty in the heavens, and has taken the sun as nature's symbol of God.
This symbol he pictures in different forms. In Persia, China, Japan, India, and Egypt, whenever God was pictured, it was in the form of the sun. In all ages man has pictured his prophet, master, or savior with the rays of a sun round his head. In ancient Persia there used to be a golden disc behind the head of the king, representing him as the sun. They used to call this disk Zardash. The name of Zarathushtra has the same origin: the word simply meant 'the golden disc.' In Hindu and Buddhist temples around the images of different Avatars there is this symbol of the sun, and it was used both in the east and in the west in the form of turbans and hats. There are even now, in India, people who put copper bands on their turbans, for the same reason.
A deeper study of the sun suggests the four directions of lines which are formed around it. It is from this sign that the two sacred weapons were made, Chakra, and Trisula, and it is this sign that is the origin of the symbol of the cross. Ancient traditions show that the symbol of the cross existed in the east long before the coming of Christ, especially among the Brahmins. Islam, the religion which allows no symbols, yet has the same symbolism of the sun in the shape of the mosques. Whether the name of the sun be written in Persian or in Arabic, it takes the form of the mosque.
Men, according to their nature, have condemned and mocked the sun worshippers, but they have never been able to uproot the charm, the attraction for human souls held by the sun.
THE BRAHMIN SYMBOL FORM OF WORSHIP
Puja is the name of the Brahmin form of worship, which is from the beginning to end a symbolical expression of what the seeker has to perform on the path of spiritual attainment. Before sunrise, the Hindu bathes in a stream of running water and calls it the Ganges, the sacred river, no matter what river or water it may happen to be. He then proceeds with flowers to the shrine of the deity. He puts the flowers on the deity, repeating a mantram; he stands to greet the deity with joined hands and prostrates himself. Then he rings a bell and repeats the sacred word. Then he takes rice in his hands and puts it at the feet of the deity; and with the tip of his finger, he makes a mark with red powder, called Kumkum, first on the shrine and then on his own forehead. After this, he lightly anoints the deity with a certain ointment, whereupon he touches his forehead with the same ointment. Next, he prostrates himself, before making three circles around the shrine. Then he rings the bell again, and the service is ended. Afterwards he goes and stands before the sun and does his breathing exercises, and that completes the next part of his worship.
However primitive this form of worship may seem, it has a deep meaning behind it. The bath in the Ganges signifies being purified before one makes any effort on the spiritual path. The purification of both body and mind is necessary before one takes the first step towards the God-ideal. One must not approach the deity before such purification, outer purification as well as inner purification, for only when a person is pure will he find it easy to attain the desired presence of God.
The meaning of presenting flowers is that God is pleased with offerings which are delicate, beautiful, and fragrant. Delicacy means tenderness of heart; beauty of color means fineness of character; and fragrance, the virtue of the soul. This is the offering with which God is pleased. The worshipper holds the thought that his self is devoted in perfect discipline to the supreme will of God. His joined hands express no action on the part of himself, but complete surrender. The meaning of prostration is self-denial in the true sense of the word, which means, 'I am not; Thou art.' Whispering the words and ringing the bell signifies that the same words ring like a bell in one's heart. Touching the red powder means touching the eternal life; and when he touches the deity with the powder, it means that from this source he will gain eternal life. When he touches his forehead with it, it means he has gained it for himself. The ointment means wisdom and applying it to the god and then to his own forehead means that true wisdom can be obtained from God alone, and that he himself has gained it. The three circles round the shrine indicate that life is a journey, and that the journey is made to attain his goal, which is God. 'Every step I take in my life,' the Brahmin thinks, 'will be in His direction, in the search for God.'
The second part of the service, when he stands before the sun, means that God is to be sought in the light, and the breathing exercises weld that link of inner communication between God and the worshipper.
THE FLUTE OF KRISHNA
Krishna is pictured in Hindu symbology with a crown of peacock's feathers, playing the flute. Krishna is the ideal of divine love, the God of love. And the divine love expresses itself by entering into man and filling his whole being. Therefore, the flute is the human heart, and a heart which is made hollow will become a flute for the God of love to play upon. When the heart is not empty, in other words, when there is no scope in the heart, there is no place for love. Rumi, the great poet of Persia, explains this idea more clearly. He says the pains and sorrows the soul experiences through life are like holes made in a reed flute, and it is by making these holes that a player makes the flute out of a reed. This means that the heart of man is first a reed and the sufferings and pains it goes through make it a flute which can then be used by God as the instrument for the music that He constantly wishes to produce. But as every reed is not a flute, so every heart is not His instrument. As the reed can be made into a flute, so the human heart can be turned into an instrument, and can be offered to the God of love. It is the human heart which becomes the harp of the angels. It is the human heart which is known as the lute of Orpheus. It was on the model of the heart of man that the first instrument of music was made, and no earthly instrument can produce that music which the heart produces, raising the mortal soul to immortality.
The crown of peacocks feathers leads to a further revelation: that it is the music of the heart which can be expressed through the head. It is the knowledge of the head and the love of the heart that together fully express the divine message. The peacock's feather in all ages has been considered as a sign of beauty and knowledge. Beauty, because it is beautiful, knowledge because it is in the form of an eye. It is by keen observation that man acquires knowledge. Knowledge without love is lifeless. So, with the flute, the crown of peacock's feathers makes the symbol complete.
In the old scriptures, such as the Vedanta and the Old Testament, spirit is symbolized as water. One wonders why something which is next to earth should symbolize spirit. But, just as the nature of water is to give life to the earth, so the nature of the soul is to give life to the body. Without water the earth is dead; so is the body without the soul. Water and earth both mix together. So the spirit mixes with matter and revivifies it. And yet the spirit stands above matter, just as water gradually lets the earth sink to the bottom and itself remains above the earth. The spirit is hidden under matter, as the soul is hidden in the body, in the same way as water exists beneath the earth. There is no place where water does not exist; though there are places where earth is not to be found. Thus, nowhere in space is spirit absent, and only the absence of matter is possible.
The symbolical way of expressing lofty ideas does not come from the brain. It is an outcome of intuition. The beginning of intuition is to understand the symbolical meaning of different things, and the next step is to express them symbolically. It is in itself a divine art. The best proof of it is to be found in the symbol of water, which so aptly expresses the meaning of spirit.
Wine is considered sacred, not only in the Christian faith, but in many other religions also. In the ancient religion of the Zoroastrians Jam-i Jamshed, the bowl of wine from which Jamshed drank deep, is a historical fact. Among the Hindus, Shiva considered wine sacred, and in Islam, though wine is forbidden on earth, yet in heaven it is allowed. Hauz-i Kauthar, the sacred fountain of heaven, about which there is so much spoken in Islam, is a fountain of wine.
Wine is symbolic 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 mystic cults also, suggests the idea of wine; not a sweet wine, but 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. But, by turning into wine it only loses its individuality, and 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 grape-like personality, which has a limited time to live, into wine, in order that nothing of one's self may be lost, but that on the contrary, it may be amplified and even perfected. This is the essence of all philosophy and the secret of mysticism.
The ancient method of teaching the mystery of life was to give it in the form of a legend. The meaning of the legend of Lot's wife is, that it was owing to the love and intercession of Abraham that two angels were sent to Lot, to warn him of the coming destruction of two cities and to advise him to go to the mountains. At first, Lot was not willing to leave the cities, but in the end he agreed to go. His sons-in-law failed him by not accompanying him, but his wife and two daughters went with him on the journey to the mountains. And they were told that on no account must they look back; and when his wife did so all the same, she was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot and his two daughters went on, and they reached the cave of the mountain, which was Lot's destination.
The two towns that were to be destroyed represent the North Pole and the South Pole, the two poles of the world. For all the treasure of the earth, all possessions and power and fame that belong to the earth are subject to destruction. And this was taught to Lot, the human soul, who was related to Abraham, the divine soul, whose name is derived from Brahma, the Creator. The relationship between Lot and Abraham represents the relationship between the human soul and the Creator. The two angels were the angels of light and of reason. When the light comes to man, its first teaching is to warn the soul of the disaster that awaits all that is subject to death and destruction. It is this lesson that is called in Sanskrit the lesson of Vairagya: when man's eyes are opened to see all that he likes and dislikes and wishes to hold and possess, is subject to destruction and death.
There are five bodies considered by the mystics of old to be the vehicles of the soul. These are called: Anandamaya akasha, body of joy, Vijnanamaya akasha, body of wisdom; Manomaya akasha, body of mind; Pranamaya akasha, body of ether; Annamaya akasha, body of earth. This last is the receptacle of food. It lives on earthly food, and if it is starved of that, it dies, for it is made of earth; it lives on earth. The one which is the receptacle of ether, and which is called Pranamaya akasha, is that part of man's being which lives by the breath and by taking in air, and if it is starved of air, it cannot live. These two bodies form the material part, the physical part of man's being; and it is these two receptacles which are referred to in the legend as the two sons-in-law.
Then there is Manomaya akasha, which is mind, the mental body. And this body has its action and reaction on both aspects of man's being; it acts and reacts upon the earthly bodies, and it acts and reacts upon the soul. Therefore, when Lot left the two cities, which represent the physical plane, to journey towards the goal of immortality, his wife was still with him. For it is not necessary for the mental body to stay behind when the journey towards illumination is begun. It is capable of going with the soul towards eternity. And yet its attachment to the earth and the physical plane is great. Because it is made, it is built, of physical impressions, of all the impressions that come from the physical world; and it naturally wants to turn to see whether it is the physical being or the spiritual being which is leading it aright. The principal characteristic of mind is doubt, doubt whether one is doing right or wrong; and doubt and faith are enemies. While faith leads to the destination, doubt pulls back, and when the mind i.e. Lot's wife, was pulled back, attracted by all the impressions of earthly life, it could neither hold on to the earth nor journey further with the spirit, and remained as neither earth nor water, but salt.
Only two bodies followed the soul. Naturally, they would follow, for they are closely related to the soul: Vijnanamaya akasha, the body of wisdom, and Anandamaya akasha, and the body of joy. The soul bound for the eternal goal, which is called in the story the top of the mountains, then proceeded towards the mountains, but before it reached the top; there was the cave. This signifies heaven. In metaphysical terms it could be called a capacity, and in Sanskrit Akasha. It has the power of holding back the soul from going to the top and using it for some purpose.
The soul, which was bound for the eternal goal remained there, intoxicated by the ecstasy that it received from the plane of joy and the plane of wisdom. And as everything that happens has its purpose, so this joy resulted in a great purpose in the birth of the messenger, which in Sanskrit is called Bodhisattva. The messenger was born of the soul's experience, its knowledge and its happiness, in order to bring good tidings to the world.
The question may arise why Manomaya akasha should be the mother and Anandamaya akasha and Vijnanamaya akasha the daughters. And the answer is that they are born, born of mind and soul. If there were only the soul, there would be neither joy nor wisdom. Mind and soul together produce joy and wisdom. Therefore, the latter are the daughters, because mind is the mother. The two lower planes are represented by the sons-in-law, because they were not directly born of mind and soul; it was a separate substance mind and soul had taken into their life.
This story conveys the process by which the soul journeys from mortality to immortality, and what experiences the soul may possibly have to go through on its way. But when the messenger is thus created, then the father, who is the soul, rests in peace. This is the reason why the messenger was called the Son, and the original soul the Father.
JACOB WRESTLING WITH THE ANGEL
The wrestling with Jacob signified the wrestling of the soul with the ego. The awakened soul looks about and asks: 'Who is my enemy?' While the unawakened soul thinks that it is his neighbor or his relation who is his enemy, the awakened soul says, 'It is my self; my ignorant ego is my enemy; and it is the struggle with this enemy that will bring me light and raise me from the denseness of the earth.' Night is symbolically the time when the darkness of ignorance causes confusion: one feels sorrow, loneliness, depression; one sees no way out; one is burdened on all sides, chained, there seems no freedom for the soul, for this is the time of night. But when the soul can fight the ego, then it rises above the chains and attachments of this world. As it is said in the Bible, Jacob first left all his belongings; he came away from them. This means that he became indifferent to all which he had once felt attached. The Sufi looks at this from another point of view. He thinks that to leave all one possesses, and to go to the forests or mountains, is not true detachment. True detachment is in the heart of man. One can be surrounded by beauty, comfort, wealth, position, love, all these things, and yet be detached from them, be no slave to them, and rise above them.
Jacob left everything and went into the solitude, into the silence, where he wished to fight the deluded self, the ego, which blinds man to the truth. And what was the result? Daybreak came, and that man or angel who had fought with Jacob, wished to depart. This means that the ego wanted to leave; there was no ego, no more I. But, with the daybreak, came a new light, a new inspiration, a new revelation. The very ego which Jacob saw as his greatest enemy, in the daylight he recognized as God Himself. He bowed before the One with whom he had wrestled all night, and he asked his blessing. He asked His name, for then he saw, 'No longer I, but Thou.' And the name could not be told, for that was the unveiling of the unity of God and man, and in this realization names and forms are lost.
JESUS WALKING ON THE WATER
From the mystical point of view the phenomenon of Christ's walking on the water suggests a great philosophy rather than just a phenomenon. The whole universe in all its forms is one single vision of a constant activity. From the beginning to end every aspect of life represents motion, and it is the perpetual motion of the whole universe which is called life. Thus, the universe is, so to speak, an ocean of vibrations, and every movement represents a wave. That is why the wise have called it in Sanskrit, Bhavasagara, the ocean of life. The great devotees have constantly prayed to be liberated that they may not sink in this ocean, but may be able to swim in it. This they call Taran. And it is the master spirit which can rise above these waves of the immense ocean of life, in which souls are generally drowned. To be in it, and yet to be able to stand above it and to walk on it, is the phenomenon of Christ walking on the water.
Christ said to the fishermen, 'I will make you fishers of men.' That meant, 'As you spread the net and fish come into it, so by becoming more spiritual, your personality will spread in the atmosphere, and the hearts of men hungering for love will be attracted to you like fish.' The love of Christ for the lamb expresses symbolically, that the soul, which made the greatest appeal to the Master, was simple and harmless as a lamb. The crown of thorns represents tolerance of the thorn-like personalities of which there are so many in the world, constantly pricking with their thorns, consciously or unconsciously. It is this which makes sensitive people annoyed with life in the world. But the messenger, whose heart represents the divine Mother and Father, cannot but be tolerant, and is able to accept willingly all the thorns that come to him, for that is his crown, the sign of his sovereignty in the kingdom of the soul.
Christ said to Peter, 'Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.' This explains human nature. The faith of man is generally dependent upon the faith of the multitude. If the multitude should call a pebble a diamond, everyone would begin to consider it so and to say so. And if the multitude thought that the diamond was a pebble, then everyone would follow the belief of the multitude. The soul of the Messenger, which comes from above, as is signified by the dove, is a soul which was not made by the world, nor known by the world, but remains unrecognized till the cock crows and the sun rises. Then the words of the Messenger shine forth and spread the light to the world. The souls privileged to have some little recognition, though with much doubt, may believe for a moment, impressed by the power and grace of the Master's personality. But, they may also deny him a thousand times, and doubt and suspect, being impressed by the influence of the multitude. How true it is, the Hindustani saying that a (weak) soul generally follows the multitude! There are rare souls who believe in their conviction, and remain steady even if the whole world is against their inner conviction. Verily, to the faithful belongs the blessing.
THE SYMBOL OF THE CROSS
The symbol of the cross has many meanings. It is said in the Bible that first was the word, next came light, and then the world was created. And as the light is expressed in the form of a cross so every form shows in it the original sign. Every artist knows the significance of the vertical line and the horizontal line, which are the skeleton of every form. This proves the teaching of the Quran, in which it is said that God created the world from His own light. The cross is the figure that fits every form everywhere.
Morally the cross signifies pain and suffering. This means that in every activity of life, which may be pictured as a perpendicular line, there come hindrances, which are represented by the horizontal line. This shows the nature of life, and the truth of the saying that man proposes and God disposes. Somebody asked the great master, Ali, what made him believe in God, who is beyond human comprehension. Ali said, 'I believe in God because I see that when I alone wish, things are not accomplished.' According to the metaphysical point of view, this shows the picture of limitation in life.
The symbol of the cross in the life of Christ, not only relates to the crucifixion of the Master, but also the crucifixion that one has to meet with by possessing the truth. The idea behind this, which is to be found in Hindu philosophy, is that life in the world is an illusion, and therefore, every experience and knowledge of this life is also illusion. The Sanskrit word for this illusion is Maya. It is also called Mithea, from which the word myth comes. When the soul begins to see the truth, it is as it were born again; and to this soul all that appears truth to an average person appears false, while what seems truth to this soul is nothing to the average person All that seems important and precious in life to that average person has no value or importance for this soul; and what seems to this soul important and valuable has no importance or value for the average person.
Therefore, he naturally finds himself alone in a crowd, which lives in a world quite different from his own. Imagine living in a world, where nobody uses our language! But, he can live in the world, for he knows its language. And yet, to him the life in the world is as unprofitable as the world of children playing with their toys to a grown up person. A human being who has realized the truth is just as much subject to pain and suffering as all other people, except that he is capable of bearing them better than the others. But, while in the crowd, everyone hits the other and also receives blows, the knower of truth has to stand alone and only receive them. This, in itself, is a great torture. Life in the world is difficult for everyone, rich or poor, strong or weak, but for the knower of truth it is still more difficult, and that in itself is a cross.
Thus, for the spiritual messenger, the cross is a natural emblem, which explains his moral condition. But there is a still higher significance of the cross which is understood by the mystic. It is self-denial. And in order to learn this moral, gentleness, humility and modesty should be the first lesson. Self-denial is an effect of which self-effacement is the cause. It means that a man says, 'I am not, Thou art.' For instance an artist, looking at his picture, may say, 'It is Thy work, not mine,' or a musician, hearing his composition may say, 'It is Thy creation. I do not exist.' Then that soul is in a way, crucified, and through that crucifixion resurrection comes. There is not the slightest doubt that when man has had enough pain in his life; he rises to this great consciousness. But it is not necessary for pain to be the only means. It is the readiness on the part of man to deny his part of consciousness, and to efface his own personality, that lifts the veil which hides the spirit of God from his sight.
THE SYMBOL OF THE DOVE
The bird represents the wayfarer of the sky, and at the same time, it represents a being who though it belongs to the earth is capable of dwelling in the skies. The former explanation of the bird represents the idea of a soul, whose dwelling place is heaven, and the latter represents the dweller on earth, being able to move about in the higher spheres. Both these explanations give the idea that the spiritual man, dwelling on the earth, is from heaven. They also explain that the spiritual man is the inhabitant of the heavens and is only dwelling on the earth for a while.
The pigeon is used as a messenger, to carry a message from one place to another, and therefore, the symbol of the dove is a natural one to represent the messenger from above. Spiritual bliss is such a wonderful experience, that if a bird or animal were to have it, it would never return to its own kind. But it is to man's credit that after touching that point of great happiness and bliss he comes back into the world of sorrows and disappointments and delivers his message.
This quality can also be seen in the pigeon: when the pigeon is sent it goes, but it faithfully comes back to its master. The spiritual man performs this duty doubly: he reaches higher than the human plane, touches the divine plane, and brings the message from the divine to the human plane. In this way, instead of remaining on the divine plane, he returns to be among his fellow men for their welfare, which is no small sacrifice. Besides, he performs a duty to God, from whom he brings the message which he delivers to humanity. He lives as a human being, subject to love, hate, praise, and blame. He passes his life in the world of attachment and the life that binds him with a thousand ties on all sides. Yet he does not forget the place whence he has come and he constantly and eagerly looks forward to reaching the goal for which he is bound. Therefore, in both these journeys, from earth to heaven and from heaven to earth, the idea of the dove proves to be the most appropriate of all.
THE TEN VIRGINS
There is a story in the Bible about ten virgins, the five wise and the five foolish. It was said that the bridegroom was to come, and that they were to light their lamps. Five were in time, and brought the oil and lit their lamps. But the other five waited until the bridegroom came, and then they went to the five who had lighted their lamps and asked them for oil, and were refused.
This story is a symbolic expression of receiving the message of God. The virgin means the soul, which is awaiting illumination, innocent and responsive to the light; and five means the multitude. There are two kinds of people. One, is those who have prepared themselves and made ready to receive the message of God, which is pictured as the bridegroom. The five foolish are those who wait and wait until the message has come and gone. In all ages there have been these two kinds of souls: one kind who are called in the scriptures believers, and the others who are known as unbelievers.
In every age the messenger of the time has prophesied the next advent. Sometimes, it was said, 'I will come,' and sometimes, 'He will come.' 'I will come' was for those who would be able to recognize the same Spirit of Guidance in every coming of the messenger. 'He will come' was for those to whom name and form make a difference, and who cannot recognize the same spirit in another name and another form. For example, the coming of Jesus Christ was the coming of that spirit which was expressed in this parable of the bridegroom. Yet, how few at that time recognized him, and how few received illumination! Only those, whose lamps were ready to be lighted. Oil in this parable is love, and the light is wisdom. And when their lamps were lighted, then many came afterwards for oil. But, by then that blessing and privilege, which had come with the personality of the Master had gone. They had to rely on the light that came from those whose lamps were lighted, for the chance of lighting their own lamps was lost.
It is the same with all things in life. Every moment in our lives is an opportunity which brings a benefit and blessing. And the one who knows how to be benefited and how to be blessed by it, receives the benefit and the blessing. Everyone seems alive and awake, but few souls are really awake and living. There are opportunities of benefit and blessing on every plane of one's life, on the physical plane, on the mental plane, and on the spiritual plane, and every opportunity is invaluable. But often, one realizes the truth when it is too late. There is no greater and better opportunity than the moment which can give a spiritual illumination, a moment when one can receive the blessing of God. It is a priceless moment. He who knows it and understands it and tries to be benefited by it is blessed.
TONGUES OF FLAME
The symbolic meaning of this legend is that there is a period when the soul of the earnest seeker is still seeking, when it has not yet found the object of its search. During the lifetime of Jesus Christ, the beauty of the Master's wonderful personality and the great intoxication of his presence, the constant outpouring of the message that he had to give, was so overwhelming for his disciples that it soared beyond what may be called joy or happiness, or anything which can be explained. All the blessing that they received and experienced while his presence was among them was overshadowed by the Master's personality. The realization of all that they had constantly received only came to them after that great event when the external person of the Master ascended, and their capacity for realization became available.
But, after the fifty days following the Crucifixion, when they had had time to recover from the feeling that had overwhelmed their hearts, the seeming separation from their beloved Lord prepared them, so to speak, at the right moment. It opened the door of their hearts, giving them the capacity to receive the illumination which was constantly pouring out from the Spirit of Guidance, the Alpha and Omega, who always was and is and will be.
The symbolic interpretation of the tongues of flame rising from the foreheads of the disciples is the light of the message, the rays of the Christ Spirit in the form of thoughts which could be expressed in words. There is a stage in the life of a seer when the tongue of flame becomes not only an interpretation of the mystery, but also a reality of his own experience. The head is the center of knowledge, and when this organ opens, the light which was covered becomes manifest, not only as an idea, but even in a form.
The phenomenon which occurred the next day, when the apostles spoke all the different languages, can be rightly interpreted in this sense, that every soul hears its own language. For every soul has its own word, as every soul has its own evolution. This is why one person cannot generally understand another in this world. It is more than a miracle if we find perhaps one person in the world who can understand us fully. This means that in this world, the language of one is not understood by another, and if it happens that someone understands a little, one instantly feels at one with him.
It was the illumination of the Christ Spirit which brought exaltation into the lives of the disciples, so that they began to respond to every soul they met, and they became at one with every soul, inspired by the sympathy and love of Christ. They understood the souls as they saw them, and could speak with souls whose language they had never before understood. They heard the cry of every soul, and they answered every soul's cry.
Every great prophet or teacher had many followers in his life, attracted to his personality, to his words, to his kindness and love. But those who became the instrument of his message, whose hearts became like a flute upon which the Master could play his music, have always been only a chosen few, like the twelve apostles of Christ.
There is a story, told in Arabia, that the angels descended from heaven to earth and cut open the breast of the Prophet. They took away something that was to be removed, and then the breast was made as before. It is a symbolic expression which gives to a Sufi a key to the secret of human life. What closes the doors of the heart is fear, confusion, depression, spite, discouragement, disappointment, and a troubled conscience. When that is cleared away, the doors of the heart open. The opening of the breast is in reality the opening of the heart. The sensation of joy is felt in the center of the breast, as is the heaviness caused by depression. Therefore, as long as the breast remains choked with anything, the heart remains closed. When the breast is cleared of it, the heart is open. It is the open heart which receives the reflection of all impressions coming from outside. It is the open heart, which can receive reflections from the divine Spirit within. Also, it is the openness of the heart which gives power and beauty to express oneself; if it is closed, a man, however learned, cannot express his learning to others.
This symbolical legend also explains what is needed in the life of man for the plant of divine love to grow in his heart. It is the removal of the element which gives a bitter feeling. Just as there is poison in the sting of the scorpion and in the teeth of the snake, so there is a poison in the heart of man, which is made to be the shrine of God. But God cannot arise in the shrine, which is as though dead from its own poison. For God to arise, it must be first purified, and made real. The soul who had to sympathize with the whole world was thus prepared, that the drop of that poison which always produces contempt, resentment, and ill feeling against another, was destroyed first.
So many talk about the purification of the heart, and so few really know what it is. Some say to be pure means to be free from all evil thought, but in reality, there is no evil thought. If there is any such thought which one could call evil or devilish, it is the thought of bitterness against another. No one with sense and understanding would like to keep a drop of poison in his body, and how ignorant it is on the part of man when he keeps and cherishes a bitter thought against another in his heart! If a drop of poison can cause the death of the body, it is equal to a thousand deaths when the heart retains the smallest thought of bitterness. In this legend, the cutting open of the breast is the cutting open of the ego, which is like a shell over the heart. And the removing of that element means that every kind of thought or feeling against anyone in the world has been taken away, and the breast, which means the heart, is filled with love alone, which is the real life of God.
MIRAJ, THE DREAM OF THE PROPHET
A story survives in Islam about the dream of the Prophet: a dream which was an initiation in the higher spheres. Many take it literally and discuss it, and afterwards go out by the same door through which they came in, but from the point of view of a mystic one can find out the mystery it contains.
It is said that the Prophet was taken from Jerusalem to the Temple of Peace, which means from the outer Temple of Peace, Dar-i Salam, to the inner Temple of Peace. A Buraq was brought for the Prophet to ride upon. The angel Jabril accompanied the Prophet on the journey, and guided him on the path. The Buraq is said to be an animal of heaven which has wings, the body of a horse, and the face of a human being. It signifies the body connected with the mind. The wings represent the mind, and the body of the Buraq represents the human body. The head represents perfection. It also symbolizes the breath. Breath is the Buraq, which reaches from the outer world to the inner world in a moment's time. Jabril, in this story, represents reason.
It is said that on his way the Prophet saw Adam, who, looking
to one side, smiled, and looking to the other side, shed tears.
This shows that the human soul, when it develops in itself real
human sentiment, rejoices at the progress of humanity and sorrows
over its degeneration. The Buraq could not go beyond a certain
point, which means that although the breath takes one a certain
distance in the mystical realization, there comes a stage when
the breath cannot accompany one. When they were near the Prophet's
destination, Jabril also retired, which means that reason cannot
go any further than its limit. Then the Prophet arrived at that
curtain which stands between the human and the divine, and he
called aloud the name of God, saying, 'None exists, save Thee,'
and the answer came, 'True, true.' That was the final initiation
from which dated the blossoming of Muhammad's prophetic message.