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Volume XIII - The Gathas

Part III
Nakshi Bandi: Symbology


1.   Laila and Majnun

The legend of Laila and Majnun is a story, which is known throughout the East, and the Sufi poets have used the characters of Laila and Majnun to express, in this symbolical legend, the philosophy of love.

Laila and Majnun, when young, were schoolmates, devoted to one another. Whenever the teacher looked at Majnun's slate there was the picture of Laila drawn upon it. And when the teacher asked Laila to read from the book she repeated the name of Majnun. So, disappointed with the school, the parents had to take them back home. When difficulties arose owing to the caste differences, so that they could not be married to one another according to the caste ideas, in order to make either forget the other, by changing direction of their minds, someone asked Majnun, 'What is there especial in Laila that you love her so much? There are many other maidens in the world.' Majnun answered, 'In order to see Laila you must borrow Majnun's eyes.'

With great difficulty Laila's people consented, on condition that Majnun did not show himself odd in his love, but would behave sensibly. On the first day for which the visit had been arranged, for Laila's people to meet Majnun, Majnun entered the room with his parents, who had told him to behave sensibly. It happened that Laila's dog, which Majnun had known for years, came into the room. Majnun could not for one moment hold to his dignity. He bowed at the face of the dog and kissed its paws, and the visit became a failure.

Disappointed at Majnun's action, his parents took him to the Kaba, and told him to pray as they would pray. He said yes. The multitude followed, to see what prayer was going to take place. On hearing the name of Majnun, Majnun's parents first prayed: 'God take away the love of Laila from the heart of Majnun.' All the others listened. Then they asked Majnun to come and pray as they did. He said, 'Then shall I have Laila if I pray?' They urged him to come and pray. He said, 'God give me Laila.' And all present said, 'Amen.'

When the parents became hopeless, then they let Majnun roam about as he wished. Majnun in the end arrived near Laila's town and stayed outside the town in an old ruin where nobody lived. Being tired he was taking shelter there, under that worn-out roof. Laila, hearing that Majnun was near the town, sent some of her portion of food by a confidential maid, who was to carry it to Majnun. When the maid came and looked in that place for the beloved of Laila there were two persons there, one a person thin and drowsy, the other person rather good looking. The maid thought certainly this person must be the beloved of Laila. With the basket of food in her hand, she asked this man, 'Are you Majnun?' 'What is it you have brought?' he asked. She said, 'Some food for Majnun.' He said, 'I am Majnun, give it to me.' He was glad to partake of it, and said, 'I shall be glad to have it every day.' So Laila starved for days, sending her food, and that food was given to this man, who for the time became Majnun. One day Laila asked, 'How is my Majnun?' The maid said, 'He is looking better every day.' Laila said, 'It cannot be.' The maid said, 'Certainly, be sure of it. He is looking better every day.' Laila said, 'Today you need not take the food. Take a knife and a saucer, and tell my Majnun that I need a drop of his blood.' When she came the man came with anxiety, with eagerness to have the dish, but there was a knife. He said, 'What is this?' She said, 'Laila wants a drop of your blood.' He first looked perplexed, then he said, 'I am not Majnun; that may be Majnun, he who is sitting over in that corner.' By that time Majnun had grown so thin; yet when she asked for a drop of his blood Majnun tried by striking the knife on different parts of his body, if he could get a drop of blood out to be sent to Laila. 'Ah,' he said, 'there cannot be anything more delightful for Majnun than to give a drop of his blood when it is asked for by Laila.'

2.   Laila and Majnun (Conclusion)

The end of the story of Majnun is that he sat a long time under the shade of a tree and he grew in time to be like the tree. Being near the tree, his body and the tree became one. And when a woodcutter came and instead of cutting the wood his axe struck Majnun, Majnun said 'Laila,' for that was the only thought there. Laila, on hearing this, when she had freedom for a moment, was drawn by some way to Majnun at his last moment on earth, and called him, 'Majnun!' He answered, 'Laila.' She said, 'I am Laila.' But he said 'I am Laila.' And so Majnun fell and died, and Laila followed him instantly.

The path of the Sufi is the path of devotion, and therefore, Laila and Majnun is the symbol that a Sufi takes for God and man. The soul who journeys in the path of God does not need much learning. What he writes on his slate is the name of God, what he reads in his book is His name. That is the only learning which is most essential in the path of God. And no one can distract the mind of the godly toward anything, however attractive; though he may find not one reason to give for his devotion to God, he can only say, 'In order to become the lover of God you must borrow my eyes.' While people think of the differences of their religions and creeds the godly bows before the humblest person, as Majnun to Laila's dog. And when the prayers of different people will be for themselves, the prayer of the godly is only to attain to the presence of God; and therefore, whatever be his religion, his prayer will be followed by every sincere soul. Besides, the path of God and of love both, if sincerely trodden, need sacrifice from beginning to end; and the one who is not ready for sacrifice is like that pretended lover of Laila who was ready for the food but was not willing to suffer. Verily, who pursueth the world will inherit the world, but the soul that pursueth God will attain in the end to the presence of God.

But to what does the love of God lead? It leads to that peace and stillness which can be seen in the life of the tree, which bears fruit and flowers for others and expects no returns, not even thanks in return. It serves, and cares for nothing else, not even for appreciation. That is the attribute of the godly. And the godly in the end of his attainment of God forgets himself, as Majnun said even to Laila, 'I am Laila.' And what happens then? Instead of man pursuing God, God follows man.

3.   The Symbology of Religious Ideas
Christ Walking on the Water

The phenomenon of Christ's walking on the water, from a mystical point of view, is suggestive of a much greater philosophy than only a phenomenon. The whole universe in all its forms is one single vision of a continual activity. From beginning to end every aspect of life represents motion, and it is the perpetual motion of the whole universe which is called life. Therefore, the universe is, so to speak, an ocean of vibrations, and every movement represents a wave. Therefore, the wise have called it, in Sanskrit, Bhava Sagara, the Ocean of Life, and the great devotees have constantly prayed to be liberated, that they may not sink in this ocean but that they may be able to swim in it, which is called Taran. And it is the master-spirit that can rise above these waves of the enormous ocean of life, in which generally souls are drowned. To be in it and to be able to stand above it and to walk on it is the phenomenon of Christ's walking on the water.

4.   The Symbology of Religious Ideas
Shaqq us Sadr, the Opening of the Breast of the Prophet

There exists a legend in the world of Islam, and some believe that it really did occur – some say once, and some say it happened more than once – that the angels from heaven descended on earth and cut open the breast of the Prophet; they took away something that was to be removed from there, and then the breast was made as before.

According to the Sufi point of view this is a symbolical legend. It explains what is necessary in the life of man, to allow the plant of divine love to grow in the heart. It is to remove that element which gives the bitter feeling. Just as there is a poison in the sting of the scorpion, and there is a poison in the teeth of the snake, so there is 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 dead by its own poison; it must be purified first and made real for God to arise. 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 there is no evil thought. Call it evil or call it devil, if there is any such thought 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, cutting open of the breast is the cutting open of the ego, which is as a shell over the heart. And taking away that element is that every kind of thought or feeling against anyone in the world was taken away, and the breast, which means the heart, was filled with love alone, which is the real life of God.

5.   The Symbology of Religious Ideas
Miraj, the Dream of the Prophet

A story exists 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 by which they came in. It is by the point of view of a mystic that one can find out the mystery.

It is said that the Prophet was taken from Jerusalem to the Temple of Peace, which means from the outer temple of peace to the inner temple of peace. A Buraq was brought for the Prophet to ride on. Jabril accompanied the Prophet on the journey to guide him. 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 together with the mind. The wings represent the mind, and the body of the Buraq represents the human body; the head represents perfection. Also this is the picture of 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 the Prophet saw on his way, Adam, who smiled looking to one side and shed tears looking to the other side. This shows that the human soul when it develops in itself real human sentiment rejoices at the progress of humanity and sorrows over the degeneration of humanity. The Buraq could not go beyond a certain point, which means that breath takes one a certain distance in the mystical realization, but there comes a stage when the breath cannot accompany one. When they arrived near the destination Jabril also retired, which means that reason cannot go any further than its limit. Then the Prophet arrived near that curtain which stands between the human and the divine, and called aloud the name of God, saying, 'None exists save Thou,' and the answer came, 'True, true.' That was the final initiation, from which dated the blooming of Muhammad's prophetic message.

6.   The Symbology of Religious Ideas
The Flute of Krishna

Krishna is pictured in Hindu Symbology with a crown of peacock feathers, playing the flute. Krishna is the idea of divine love, the god of love. And the divine love expresses itself by entering in man and filling his whole being. Therefore, the flute is the human heart, and a heart which is made hollow, which becomes a flute for the god of love to play. 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 the idea more clearly. He says the pains and sorrows the soul experiences through life are holes made in a reed flute, and it is by making these holes that the player makes out of a reed a flute. Which means, the heart of man is first a reed, and the suffering and pain it goes through make it a flute, which can then be used by God as the instrument to produce the music that he constantly wishes to produce. But every reed is not a flute, and so every heart is not His instrument. As the reeds need to be made into flutes, 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 the lute of Orpheus. It is on the model of the heart of man that the first instrument was made, and no earthly instrument can produce that music which the heart produces, raising the mortal soul to immortality.

The crown of peacock's 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 expresses the divine message fully. Peacock's feathers have in all ages been considered as a sign of beauty, as a sign of knowledge because they are 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.

Questions and Answers (July 20th 1923)

Q: What is the meaning of peacock feathers?

A: The peacock feathers are considered by the poets and mystics as a symbol (sign) of beauty, and a sign of vanity. And they are included in all the kingly grandeurs. And the peacock is the bird upon which rode the goddess of music and literature, Saraswati. Also the peacock feathers are used at the tombs of the Sufis, by the guardians of the tomb. Also by the healers, that by the pass of the peacock feathers, which is the pass of harmony and beauty, the bad influences may be taken away. Also in India they use peacock feathers in the necklace of a child, and that is a little psychological trick. A child who is susceptible to evil eye is saved from its severe influence, because it is natural that the first glance of a person, instead of falling upon the child, will fall upon the peacock feathers, because it attracts the curiosity of everyone. In that way the first severe glance is, so to speak, shielded by the peacock feathers. And the same thing is done by the lion's nails which are put in the necklace of a little child.

Q: Why can we only have knowledge of God through the heart? What part of the mind does the heart represent?

A: The heart is the principle center, not the heart in the body, but the heart which is the depth of the mind, for the mind is the surface of the heart. The heart and mind are as one tree: the root is the heart and the branches, fruits, flowers, and leaves represent the mind. The heart is at the bottom of thought, imagination, and all. Feelings always belong to the heart, thought to the mind. So what belongs to the mind can be expressed in words, what to the heart cannot. Everything in the mind is intelligible, but what is intelligible but not expressible, or beyond what is intelligible, that is the heart. Deeper feelings, mirth, kindness, sympathy, all fine feelings which cannot be expressed in words are all activities of the heart. The heart is like the sea, and the waves are its emotions. The brain is all over the body, this fact is admitted by modern science. The brain is that susceptibility which is sensitive, such as nerves which are the sensitive feelers of the brain.

7.   The Symbology of Religious Ideas
Tongues of Fire

The symbolic meaning of the legend – of the myth – is that there is a period when the soul of the earnest seeker is seeking; which means that it has not yet found the object it is seeking after. In the lifetime of Jesus Christ, the beauty of the Master's wonderful personality, the great intoxication of His presence, and the constant outpouring of the Message that He had to give, was so much for his disciples that it was beyond what may be called a joy or happiness or something which is explainable. All the blessing that they received and experienced during His presence was covered by the Master's personality. And the time of realization of that which they had constantly gained came in their lives, after that great change when the external person of the Master ascended and the capacity of realization became open.

But after the resurrection, when they had had sufficient time to recover from the feeling that had overtaken their hearts, the seeming separation from their beloved Lord prepared them, so to speak, in time and opened the doors of the heart, giving capacity for that 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 their foreheads is the light of the Message, the rays of the Christ-spirit in the form of thoughts, which were 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 reality but a reality, his own experience. The head is the center of knowledge and when the center opens, the light, which was covered, becomes manifest, not only in idea, but even in form.

And the phenomenon that was shown the next day, when the apostles spoke all 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 language. For every soul has its own word, as every soul has its peculiar illusion. And it is, therefore, that one person cannot understand another person in this world, and it becomes more than a miracle when one friend, perhaps one person in the world, can understand one fully. Which means, in this world the language of each one is not understood by another, and if someone understands a little one feels at-one-ment with that one. It was the illumination of the Christ-spirit which brought exaltation in their lives, so that they began to see in every soul the Master and they became at one with every soul, inspired by sympathy and love of Christ. And they understood the souls as they saw them, and so they spoke with souls whose language was never understood. Plainly speaking, they heard the cry of every soul and they answered every soul's cry.

The Message means the answer to the cry of every soul. Every great prophet or teacher had in his life many followers attracted to his personality, to his kindness and love; but those who became as the instrument of his Message, whose hearts became as a flute for the Master to play his music, have always been some chosen few as the twelve apostles of Christ.

8.   The Symbology of Religious Ideas
The Story of Lot's Wife

The ancient method of giving the mystery of life was to give it in the form of a legend. The legend of Lot's wife is that it was to Abraham that Lot was related, and it as by the love and help of Abraham that the 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. And Lot was not willing to leave the cities, but in the end he agreed to. His sons-in-law failed him by not accompanying him, but his wife and him two daughters accompanied him on the journey to the mountains. And they were told that his wife must not look back. And when she did, she was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot and his two daughters remained, 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 treasures of the earth, all possessions and power and fame that belong to the earth are subject to destruction. And that was taught to Lot, the human soul, who was the relation of Abraham - the human soul which is from Brahma, the Creator. The relationship of Lot with Abraham represents the relation of the human soul to 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 open to see all that he loves and likes 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, which are called:

Anandamayakosha, body of Joy,
, body of Wisdom,
, body of Mind,
, body of Ether,
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. Another is the receptacle of ether. That part of man's being lives by breath and by taking in the air. 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 termed in the legend the sons-in-law.

Then there is Manamayakosha, which is mind, the mental body. And this body has its action and reaction on both sides; it acts and reacts on 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 toward the goal of immortality, his wife was still with him. For it is not necessary that the mental body should stay behind when the journey towards illumination is begun. It is capable of going with the soul towards eternity. And yet its attachment to earth and the physical plane is great, because it is made, it is built, of physical impressions, of all impressions that come from the physical world; and of necessity it wants to turn to see if the physical being or the spiritual being is leading it aright. The principle nature of mind is doubt, whether one is doing right or wrong. And doubt and faith are enemies. While faith leads to the destination, doubt pulls back. When the mind was so pulled back, attracted by all the impressions of earthly life, it could neither take hold of the earth nor journey with the spirit, and remained, neither earth nor water, but salt.

The only two bodies which are close to the soul followed the soul. Naturally, they would follow, for they are closely related to the soul, Vignanamayakosha, the body of Wisdom, and Anandamayakosha, the body of Joy. The soul bound towards the eternal goal – as it is called, the top of the mountains – then proceeded towards the mountains. And before they reached the top of the mountains there was the cave, which is called heaven – in metaphysics capacity, in Sanskrit Akasha – which has the power of holding the soul from going to the top and using the soul for some purpose. And the soul, which was bound for the eternal goal remained, so intoxicated by the ecstasy that it received from the plane of joy and the plane of wisdom. And as it ever happens, that ecstasy produces 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, the knowledge and the happiness, to bring good tidings to the world.

A question may arise, why Manamayakosha should be the mother, and Anandamayakosha and Vignanamayakosha should be the daughters. And the answer is that they are born of mind, born of mind and soul. If there were only the soul there would be neither joy nor wisdom. Mind and soul both 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 have taken into their life.

By this story the process is taught how the soul can journey from mortality to immortality and what experiences the soul has to have on its way. But when the Messenger so created then the father, the soul, rests in peace. It is, therefore, that the Messenger was called the Son and the original soul the Father.

9.   The Symbology of Religious Ideas

The idea that is meant in the Bible by the words of Christ, 'Eat my flesh and drink my blood,' is suggestive of the inner being of the Master. It is the eternal life, which he meant by his blood, and it is the omnipresent existence, which he meant by his flesh. The idea of the Master was to make his disciples know that his physical form that they were attracted to was not his being, his true being was the all-pervading, everlasting life of God. And this is the meaning that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one.

Christ said to the fishermen, 'I will make you fishers of men,' which meant, 'As you spread the net and the fishes come into it, so by spirituality your personality will spread in the atmosphere, and the hearts of men hungering for love will be attracted to you as fishes.' The love of Christ for the lamb symbolically expresses that to the Master that soul made a greater appeal, which was simple and harmless as a lamb. And the crown of thorns represents tolerance of the thorn-like personalities of which there are so many in the world, constantly pricking their thorns, consciously or unconsciously, and it is this which makes the sensitive annoyed with life in the world. But the teacher, whose heart represents the divine mother and father both, cannot but be tolerant, and can take willingly all the thorns that would come to him, for that is his crown, the sign of his sovereignty in the kingdom of the soul.

Christ said to Peter, 'Thou wilt deny me three times before the cock crows.' It explains human nature. The faith of man is generally dependent upon the faith of the multitude. If the multitude calls the pebble a diamond, then man calls the pebble a diamond, everyone will begin to consider it and say it. 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, that comes from above (which the dove represents), which is not made by the world nor known by the world, remains unrecognized till the cock crows and the sun rises. His words shine and spread the light to the world. And the souls privileged with some little recognition, but with a great deal of doubt, may believe for a moment, impressed by the power and grace of the Master's personality, and yet may deny a thousand times, and doubt and suspect, being impressed by the influence of the multitude. How true it is, the saying in Hindustani that, 'Generally a soul follows the multitude.' There are rare souls who believe in their conviction, and remain steady even if it were that the whole world was against their own inner conviction. Verily to the faithful belongs every blessing.

10.   The Symbology of Religious Ideas
The Ten Virgins

There is a story in the Bible about ten virgins, the five wise virgins and the five foolish. It was said that the bridegroom was to come and they were to light their lamps. And five were in time and brought the oil and lighted their lamps, and the other five waited until the bridegroom came, and when the bridegroom came then they went to the five who had lighted their lamps and asked of them oil and were refused. This story is a symbol of receiving the Message of God. By virgin is meant the soul, which is awaiting illumination, innocent and responsive to the light. And by five is meant the multitude. And there are two classes of people; one class are those who have prepared themselves and made ready to receive the Message of God, which is pictured as the bridegroom; and the five foolish are that class in mankind 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, the others who are known as unbelievers.

In every age the prophecy has been seen by the Messenger of the time as to the next advent. Sometimes it is said, 'I will come,' and sometimes, 'He will come.' 'I will come,' has been told to those who would recognize the same Spirit of Guidance in every coming of the Messenger. 'He will come,' has been told to 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 myth as the bridegroom, and 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, so many came afterwards. But that blessing and privilege, which had come with the personality of the Master, had then gone. They had to take the benefit of the light that came from the lamps of those whose lamps were lighted, but the chance of lighting their own lamps was lost.

The same is 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 by it and how to be blessed by it receives the benefit and the blessing. Everyone seems living and awake, but few souls really are living and awake. There are opportunities of benefit and blessing on every plane of one's life, on the physical plane, on the mental plane, 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 that can give a spiritual illumination, a moment when one can receive the blessing of God. It is a priceless moment. Who knows it and understands it and tries to be benefited by it, is blessed.


checked 31-nov-2015