The symbology of religious ideas
Hazrat Inayat Khan
The Wise have given lessons to the world in different forms suited to the evolution of the people at the particular time; and 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, but 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.
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