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Volume XIII - The Gathas

Part III
Nakshi Bandi: Symbology


1.   An Ocean in a Drop

The wise have given lessons to the world in different forms suited to the evolution of the people at a particular time. And the first and most original form of education that the wise gave to the world has been symbolical. This method of teaching has been valued in all ages and will always have its importance. That is not beauty, which is not veiled. In the veiling and unveiling of beauty is the purpose of life. Beauty is that which is always out of reach. You see it and you do not see it, you touch it and you cannot touch it. It is seen and yet veiled, it is known and yet unknown. And therefore words are often inadequate to express the beauty of Truth. Therefore symbolism is adopted by the wise.

The religions of the old Egyptians, of the ancient Greeks, of the Hindus, and of the Parsis, all have symbols, which express the essential truth hidden under a religion. There is symbolism in Christianity and in all the ancient religions of the world. Man has often rebelled against symbolism. But it is natural, man has always revolted against things he cannot understand. There has been a wave of opposition to symbolism in both parts of the world, East and West. It came in the East in the period of Islam, and in the West re-echoed in the Reformation. No doubt when the sacred symbols are made as patents by the religious people who wish to monopolize the whole truth, then it gives rise to that tendency in human nature which is always ready to accept things or reject them. However, one can say without exaggeration that symbology has always served to keep the ancient wisdom intact for ages. It is symbology that can prove today the saying of Solomon, 'There is nothing new under the sun.'

There are many thoughts relating to human nature, to the nature of life, relating to God and His many attributes, and relating to the path toward the goal, that are expressed in symbolism. To a person who sees only the surface of life the symbols mean nothing. The secret of symbols is revealed to the souls who see through life. Whose glance penetrates through objects. Verily, before the seer the things of the world open themselves. And it is the uncovering of things in which are hidden beauty. There is a great joy in understanding, especially things that express nothing to everybody. It requires intuition, even something deeper than intuition – insight – to read symbols. To the one to whom the symbols speak of their nature and of their secret each symbol is a living manuscript in itself. Symbolism is the best way of learning the mysteries of life, and the best way of leaving ideas behind which will keep for ages after the teacher has passed. It is speaking without speaking, it is writing without writing. The symbol may be said to be an ocean in a drop.

2.   The Symbol of the Sun

Light has the greatest attraction for the human soul. Man loves it in the fire and in things that are bright and shining, and that is why he considers gold and jewels as 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 on the earth, but looks up to the heavens. The most attractive object that he sees is the sun in the heavens, 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 himself to beauty, he bowed to the sun, as being the greatest beauty in heaven, and man took the sun as nature's symbol of God.

This symbol he pictured in different forms. In Persia, China, Japan, India, Egypt, whenever God was pictured it was in the form of the sun. In all ages man has pictured his Prophet, Master, Savior, with a sun around his head. In ancient Persia there used to be a gold disc behind the head of the king, picturing him as the sun, and they used to call this Zardash. The name Zarathushtra has the same origin; the word simply meant the gold disc. In Hindu temples and Buddhist temples around the image of different Avatars there is this sign of the sun, and this symbol was used both in the East and in the West in turbans and hats. There are now people in India who put on their turbans a brass band which represents the sun.

A deeper study of the sun suggests the four directions of lines that are formed round the sun. It is this sign that is the origin of the symbol of the cross. The ancient traditions prove that the idea of the cross existed in the East long before the coming of Christ, especially among the Brahmins. It is from this sign that the two sacred arms were made, Chakra and Trishul. Islam, the religion which allows no symbolism, has in the building of the mosques the same symbolism of the sun. Whether the name of the sun be written in Persian or in Arabic, it makes the form of the mosque.

Man, as is his nature, has blamed the sun worshippers and mocked at them, but he has never been able to uproot the charm, the attraction for human souls held by the sun.

3.   The Symbol of the Cross

The symbol of the cross has many significations. It is said in the Bible, first was the word and then came light and then the world was created. And as the light is expressed in the form of the cross, so every form shows in it the original sign. Every artist knows the value of the vertical line and the horizontal line, which form the skeleton of every form. This is proved by the teaching of the Quran, where it is said that God created the world from His own light. The cross is the figure that fits to every form everywhere.

Morally, the cross signifies pain or torture. That means that in every activity of life, which may be pictured as a perpendicular line, there comes obstruction, which the horizontal line represents. This shows the picture of life, and that, as it is said, 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, therefore 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 it connection with the life of Christ not only relates to the crucifixion of the Master but signifies the crucifixion that one has to meet with by possessing the truth. The idea of the Hindu philosophy is that life in the world is an illusion and therefore every experience in this life and knowledge in this life are also illusions. The Sanskrit word for this illusion is Maya, it is also called Mithya, from which the word myth comes. When the soul begins to see the truth it is, so to say, born again, and to this soul all that appears as true to an average person is false, and what seems truth to this soul is nothing to the average person. All that seems to an average person important and precious in life has no value or importance for this soul, and what seems to this soul important and valuable has no importance nor value for an average person. Therefore such a one naturally hides himself in a crowd which lives in a world quite different from that in which he lives. Imagine living in a world where nobody uses your language! Yet he can live in the world for he knows the language. And yet to him life in the world is as unprofitable as to a grown-up person the world of children playing with their toys. A human being who has realized the truth is subject to all the pains and tortures in the same way as all other persons, except that he is capable of bearing them better than the others. But at the same time when, while in the crowd, everyone hits the other and also receives blows, the knower of truth has to stand alone and receive them only. This is in itself a great torture. The life in the world is difficult for every person, rich or poor, strong or weak, but for the knower of truth it is still more difficult than for others, and that in itself is a cross. Therefore, for the spiritual Messenger the cross is a natural emblem, to explain his moral condition.

But there is a still higher significance of the cross, which is understood by the mystic. This significance is what is called self-denial, and, in order to teach this moral, gentleness, humility, and modesty are taught as a first lesson. Self-denial is an effect of which self-effacement is the cause. This is self-denial that a man says: 'I am not, Thou art;' or that an artist looking at his picture, says, 'It is Thy work, not mine;' or that a musician, hearing his composition, says, 'It is Thy creation, I do not exist.' That soul then 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 that only pain should be the means. It is the readiness on the part of man to efface his part of consciousness and to efface his own personality, which lifts the veil that hides the spirit of God from the view of man.

4.   The Two Forces

The Egyptian symbolism is the most ancient, and for the most part the symbolism of other nations originates from the Egyptian. The Egyptian symbol of wings with a center of circular shape and at the sides two snakes looking left and right is known to many as Karobi. The word really means spirit or angel. This symbol represents the spirit and the power of spirit, which differs in the two directions, the right and the left. The heads of the two snakes show the direction of life and energy to either side, or the central circular sign represents the light itself, the spirit, and the wings on both sides represent three aspects of the power of spirit. One aspect of the spirit is sound, another is color, and the third is external action. This symbol suggests that the spirit is not only a light in the center, but a light directed to the right and to the left, and that it shines out according to the degree of illumination. The light of the spirit is in either direction a peculiar force. The symbol also suggests that in either direction the sound, color, and activity change, according to the direction. In the Hindu Vedas these two different forces are called Ida and Pingala. The Sufi names these two forces Jalal and Jamal. The great Yogis have experienced the mystery of life by the study of these forces. The central point is called by the Sufi Kamal, in the Vedas this is called Sushumna.

It is difficult to picture the finer forms of nature, and as it has been the custom to picture the light in the face of the sage as the aura, so these two forces are pictured as wings, and not as rays or otherwise. As the body has hands, so the hands of spirit can only be pictured as wings. Besides this, man who without illumination is an earthly creature, after illumination becomes a heavenly creature. The idea of the mystic about these two forces is expressed in calling one the sun force and the other the moon force. The mystic pictures them as seated in the two parts of the body, the right and the left. He names also the two nostrils by the same names. By some, the right direction of this force is pictured as male, and the left as the female direction.

The serpent has been considered a sacred symbol because it is pictured as representing many secrets of mysticism. The Yogis have learned a great deal from the serpent, as there is a hint in the Bible, 'Be ye wise as the serpent and innocent as the dove.'

This sign shows that man is self-sufficient in his spirit, though incomplete in his body; that in every spirit there is both woman and man. It is the direction of the force of the spirit, which makes the male and female aspect. The central point represents the spirit, and the spirit represents God. As spirit is both male and female, so it is beyond both. It is limitation that turns one into two, but when man rises above limitation he finds that two become one.

So this symbol reminds man of the power of the spirit. That man may know that he is not only a material body, but that he is spirit himself, and that man may know that spirit not an inactive torch of life, but that spirit is full of activity, more than the body is. It also represents that man is not only an earthly creature, but that he also belongs to heaven. This symbol suggests that nothing earthly should frighten or worry man, for he may rise above the earth.

5.   The Symbol of the Dove

The bird represents the wayfarer of the sky, and at the same time it represents a being who belongs to the earth and is capable of dwelling in the skies. The former explanation of the bird represents the idea of a soul, whose dwelling place is in heaven, and the latter that of the dweller on earth being capable of moving about in the higher spheres. And both these explanations give the idea that the spiritual man, dwelling on the earth, is from heaven. They explain also that the spiritual man is the inhabitant of the heavens and is dwelling on earth for awhile.

The pigeon was 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 an experience that if a bird or an animal were to have it, it would never return to its own kind. But it is a credit due to man that after touching that point of great happiness and bliss, he comes into the world of sorrows and disappointments and delivers his message. This quality can be seen in the pigeon also. When the pigeon is sent it goes, but it comes back faithfully to the master who sent it. 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 arrives among his fellow men, for their welfare, which is no small sacrifice. But then again he performs a duty to God, from Whom he brings His message that he delivers to the human beings. He lives as a human being, subject to love, hate, praise and blame, passes his life in the world of attachment and the life that binds with a thousand ties from all sides. Yet he does not forget the place from where he has come, and he constantly and eagerly looks forward to reach the place 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 more appropriate than any other idea in the world.

6.   The Symbol of the Sufi Order

The symbol of the Order is a heart with wings. It explains that the heart is between soul and body, a medium between spirit and matter. When the soul is covered by its love for matter it is naturally attracted to matter. This is the law of gravitation in abstract form, as it is said in the Bible, 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.' When man treasures the things of the earth his heart is drawn to the earth. But the heart is subject not only to gravitation, but also to attraction from on high, and as in the Egyptian symbology, wings are considered as the symbol of spiritual progress, the heart with wings expresses that the heart reaches upward towards heaven.

Then the crescent in the heart suggests the responsiveness of the heart. The crescent represents the responsiveness of the crescent to the light of the sun, for naturally it receives the light, which develops it until it becomes the full moon. The principal teaching of Sufism is that of learning to become a pupil. For it is the pupil who has a chance of becoming a teacher. Once a person considers that he is a teacher his responsiveness is gone. The greatest teachers of the world have been the greatest pupils. And it is this principle which is represented by the crescent. The crescent in the heart represents that the heart, responsive to the light of God, is illuminated.

The explanation of the five-pointed star is that it represents the divine light. For when the light comes, it has five points. When it returns, it has four: one form suggesting the creation, the other annihilation. The five-pointed star also represents the natural figure of man, whereas that with four points represents all forms of the world. But the form with five points is development of the four-pointed form. For instance if a man is standing with his legs joined and arms extended he makes a four-pointed form, but when man shows activity – dancing, jumping – or he moves one leg, he forms a five-pointed star, which represents a beginning of activity, in other words, a beginning of life.

It is the divine light, which is represented by the five-pointed star, and the star is reflected in the heart, which is responsive to the divine light. And the heart, which has by its response received the light of God is liberated, as the wings show. Therefore, this sentence will explain, in short, the meaning of the symbol: the heart, responsive to the light of God is liberated.

7.   Symbology of the Dot and Circle

The dot is the most important of all figures, for every figure is an extension of the dot and the dot is the source of every figure. You cannot let a pen touch paper without making a dot first of all. It is simply the extension of the dot in two directions, which is called a horizontal or perpendicular line. And again, it is the dot, which determines sides. If it were not for the dot, the sides, as above, so below, or right, or left, could not be determined. The origin of all things and beings may be pictured as a dot. This dot is called in Sanskrit Bindu, the origin and source of the whole being. Since the dot is the source of the perpendicular and the horizontal lines it is the source of all figures and characters of all languages that exist and have existed, as doubtless it is the source of all forms of nature. The principal thing in man's figure is his eye, and in the eye, the iris, and in the iris, the pupil, which signifies the dot.

At the same time, the dot means zero, meaning nothing. It is nothing and it is everything, and the dot expresses the symbol of nothing, being everything, and everything being nothing. Amir, the Indian poet, expresses this idea in his well-known verse. He says, 'If thou wilt come to thy senses by becoming selfless, free from life's intoxication, thou wilt realize that what seems to thee non-existent is all-existing, and what seems to thee existent, does not exist.' How true it is that in ordinary life we look at reality upside-down; what exists seems to us non-existent, what does not exist in reality, but only seems to exist, that alone we consider existent.

The dot develops into the circle, which shows the picture of this seemingly non-existent developing into all existing. The iris of the eye is the development of the dot, which is called the pupil. A dot added to one makes one ten, and with two dots, the one becomes a hundred, and this shows that man is small when he is unconscious of God. When the knowledge of God, Who is the source of the whole being, although non-existent to the ignorant eye, is added to man, he becomes ten, or a hundred, or a thousand. As the dot enriches the figure, so God enriches man. As all figures come from the dot, so all things and beings come from God; and as destruction must in time break all things into dots, so all things must return to God.

8.   Symbolism of Lines

The Upright Line:

The upright line suggests the One, therefore also the number one is represented by an upright line.

The upright line suggests heaven, or the world above, its extremity being upward.

The upright line is perfection.

Through all forms life has culminated in the end in the human form, which is upright.

The upright line also suggests straightforwardness, for it is straight upward.

The upright line also suggests firmness, for it is steady.

The upright line also suggests life, for it stands.

The upward line also suggests rising, for it goes upward.

The upward line also suggests unity, as it shows oneness and the oneness of the whole, all being one.

The upright line is the form of Alif, the Arabic A, and the name Allah in Arabic writing begins with Alif.

The upright line is the first line, and all forms and figures are nothing but the change of direction of that line, and as all is made by God and of God, so by the upright line and of the upright line all forms are formed.

The Vertical Line and the Horizontal Line:

The messenger is pictured symbolically as a Cupid. He is meant to guide the longing soul toward its Divine Beloved, and that part of his work is symbolized as the vertical line. He is also used by Providence to bring together two souls in light who are seeking each other through darkness, some knowing, some not knowing what they are seeking after, which is represented by the horizontal line.

The horizontal line and the vertical line together make a complete cross, which is the sign of Kamal, perfection.

The vertical line is the sign of God, and the horizontal line is the world.

The vertical line represents heaven, the horizontal line earth.

The horizontal line represents this world, the vertical line that world, the next world.

The vertical line conveys the meaning Yes, the horizontal line the meaning No.

The vertical line denotes life, the horizontal line death.

The vertical line represents strength, the horizontal line powerlessness.

The vertical line spirit, the horizontal line matter.

The vertical line the masculine, the horizontal line the feminine.

The vertical line the sun, the horizontal line the moon.

The vertical line the day, the horizontal line the night.

The vertical line the positive, the horizontal line the negative.

The vertical line the power, the horizontal line beauty.

The vertical line God, the horizontal line man.

9.   The Symbolism of the Triangle

The triangle represents the beginning, the continuation and the end. The triangle is the sign of life, which has appeared in three forms, of which the idea of the Trinity is symbolical. The idea of these three aspects of life has existed for a very long time among Hindus, who named it Trimurti. As in the Christian church the Trinity consists of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, so among Hindus the Trimurti consists of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer and Mahesh or Shiva the Destroyer. By the word Destroyer destruction is not meant, but change.

The triangle in all its forms is the basic outline of all form that exists in the world. The triangle has a horizontal line in it and a perpendicular line, and two triangles can very well form a square. The hand, the head, the leg, the palm, the foot all show in their form the triangle as the principal outline. In the leaf, fruit, tree or mountain, the triangle is the outline.

The triangle is the riddle, which has within it the secret of this life of variety. But for these three different aspects, which stand opposite each other, man would not be able to enjoy life. At the same time it is these three aspects again which are the cause of all illusion. And if the riddle of the idea of trinity has been solved and out of trinity unity has become manifest, then the purpose of this idea of trinity is fulfilled. One can understand this by realizing the truth that it is not three that are one, but one that is three. The beginning and end of all things is one, it is the repetition of one, which makes two and it is this division which produces three. In this riddle of the Trinity lies the secret of the whole life.

The three aspects in which life has manifested and of which the triangle is the symbol are the knower, the known, and the knowing faculty – the seer, the seen, and the faculty of seeing.

10.   Symbology of the Mushroom

The Chinese philosopher is symbolically depicted holding a mushroom stem in his hand. The mushroom represents the earth and what comes from it and what is close to it, and keeping it in the hand means spirit handling or controlling matter. At the same time, it suggests a moral, that the sign of the sage is to be tender, as refined, as meek, and as humble as a mushroom. It teaches the same moral that Christ taught, 'If one smite you on one cheek, turn the other cheek.' If one strikes on the rock one's own hand will be hurt, but one will not have the same experience by striking the mushroom. It also teaches the philosophy that all the produce of this earth, however precious, is in the spiritual sense no more than a mushroom, which is subject to destruction every moment. It also teaches the idea of being in life as free and independent as a mushroom, which needs no special care and demands no great attention from others. If anyone will use it, it is ready to be used. If anyone will throw it away, ready to be thrown away without causing great loss. It also suggests a mystical point: while all other plants and trees respond to wind and storm and make a noise, the mushroom stands still without uttering one sound. When the body and mind of the mystic are trained to the stillness of the mushroom through all storms and winds of life, then the mystic achieves perfection.


checked 30-nov-2015