Caravanserai Magazine Archive

Published 1988-2000 semi-annually on behalf of the Sufi Movement International by the Sufi Movement in Canada.


1990 Volume 4. Hidayat Inayat Khan. "Teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan on the Subject of Symbology"

The ancient methods of religious education were given in symbolical terms, resulting in the preservation of truth in all its essence, de-spite the various dogmatic interpretations which have blossomed abundantly all through the ages. The wise at all times have taught humanity using the art of symbology in ways appropriate to the cultural evolution of mankind in each period of religious history. One could say one of the secrets of this method is the psychological effect of veiling and unveiling beauty, to the extent it is visible to our understanding, although it would seem that words may be inadequate to express the real beauty of the truth behind the symbols invoked.

Various symbols originally inspired by the mystery of the five elements became more and more the object of adoration by sun worshippers, water worshippers and nature worshippers. This led to later elaborations of symbols in various places in the world, specifically China, India and Egypt, and in various religions, particularly Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

The symbol of the cross not only pictures pain and suffering, but also refers to the path of crucifixion, which is the toll that the seeker on the inner path is confronted with when possessed by truth, a toll which is followed by resurrection. But in fact, for those who can see through symbols, both crucifixion and resurrection are illusions, known by the ancient Hindus as maya, a Sanskrit word which is the root of the word myth. Studies made in ancient traditions reveal that the symbol of the cross existed among the Brahmins long before the coming of Christ, and that it is from this symbol that the two sacred lines of the cross were conceived, the horizontal called trissoun and the vertical called chakra. The mystical explanation of these lines is that the vertical line represents all activities in life and the outgoing energy directed toward their realization, whereas the horizontal one symbolizes obstructing forces consequent to human limitation.

Every mystic and every artist knows the value of the vertical and horizontal lines, which are skeletons of every form. Geometrical symbols such as the dot, the circle, the pyramid and many others also take a mystical and artistic significance insofar as we direct our consciousness to the secret power which is latent in line and shape, and which can produce great effects on both the observer and the environment.

The dot is of course the essential of all figures, for in the extension of the dot resides the source of every line. Obviously the extension in either direction, horizontal or perpendicular, determines the angle and orientation of every form, be it top, bottom, right or left. In Sanskrit, the dot is called bindu, which means source and origin of all creation. Paradoxically, however, in mathematics the dot also means zero or nothing. The dot is therefore nothing and everything at the same time, mystically expressing that everything there is, is everything and nothing at the same time. The dot can also develop into the circle, in which there is infinite movement (moto perpetuo), therefore a symbol of the entire manifested universe. The triangle symbolizes the beginning, the continuation and the end. It is the sign of life seen from three aspects. From this originated the symbol of the Trinity, known by the Hindus as Trimurti, that is to say, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the creator, the sustainer and the destroyer. Later, it was known by the Christians as the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

The Egyptian symbolism is one of the most ancient forms of worship, from which many others have arisen. The Egyptian symbol of two wings with a disk in the centre, and two snakes on the right and left, also illustrates the three aspects of the power of the spirit, one being the sound of the universe, another the colour of the elements and the third being action. In this symbol, the centre, which illustrates the bright light of the spirit, is flanked by the two snakes, which represent the direction that the light of the spirit can take in life, either receptive or creative (or, when the two directions are uncontrolled, destructive). This same concept is referred to in the Hindu philosophy of the kundalini, with its two opposite forces, ida and pingala, which the Sufis call jelal and jemal. Mystics also call these two forces the sun force and the moon force, found on the right and left of the body. Furthermore, these two forces are projected alternately (and in some cases appropriately) through the right and left nostrils, in accordance with the immediate activity. The secret of all success resides in the knowledge and the use of the energy appropriate to the activity in which one is occupied, whether it be material or spiritual. This knowledge is called pranayama by the Hindus, and kasab by the Sufis.

The Sufi emblem seen on the Altar of All Religions is in the shape of a heart with wings, symbolizing that true nature of the heart, which knows only the notion of freedom and does not allow itself to be confined by limitations and boundaries, flying upwards into the light of the Spirit of Guidance, illustrated by the symbol of the five pointed star seen within the heart. The crescent moon in the emblem illustrates the receptive and expressive aspects of the heart which reflects and radiates Divine Light at all levels of consciousness.

The Dove which symbolizes the characteristics of the mission entrusted to the Messenger from Above, is also pictured in the shape of a flying heart representing the traveller of the skies peacefully dwelling in higher spheres while being at the same time committed to earthly boundaries, carrying messages from place to place.In the fulfilment of God's Message to mankind, the bringer of the Message is never really separated from the Divine origin, even while amidst the commitments and limitations of human attachments experienced all along the flight from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven in answer to the Call.


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