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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The vertical line spirit, the horizontal line matter.
The vertical line the masculine, the horizontal line
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
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,
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
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.