Hazrat Inayat: The Symbol as a Veil

Hazrat Inayat Khan offered insight into the significance of a number of religious symbols, such as the cross, the sun, the flute of Krishna and others, and the Inner Call will be posting some of these teachings for our readers.  The following passage is Hazrat Inayat’s general introduction to the study of symbology.

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 was 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 a symbolism in Christianity, and in many 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, the East and the West. It came in the East in the period of Islam, and in the West it re-echoed in the Reformation. No doubt when the sacred symbols are made as patents by the religious who want to monopolize the whole Truth for themselves, then it gives rise to that tendency of 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, the nature of life, relating to God and His many attributes, and relating to the path towards the goal, that are expressed in symbolism.

To a person who sees only the surface of life, symbols mean nothing. The secret of symbols is revealed to souls who see through life, whose glance penetrates through objects. Verily, before the seer the things of the world open themselves. And it is in this uncovering of things that beauty is hidden. There is a great joy in understanding, especially in understanding things that to most people mean nothing. It requires intuition, even something deeper than intuition–insight–to read symbols. 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 one of the best ways of leaving behind ideas which will keep for ages 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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