Symbols, Truth and Growth
From Inner to Outer
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See also:The Mystics of Islam
System Lecture 4 — Wrong Functions
There is an inner and an outer side to everything; and the quality of the superficial mind which causes it to fail in the attainment of Truth is its willingness to rest content with the outside only. So long as this is the case, it is impossible for a man to grasp the import of his own relation to the Universal: and it is this relation which constitutes all that is signified by the word "Truth".
So long as a man fixes his attention only on the superficial, it is impossible for him to make any progress in knowledge. He is denying that principle of "Growth" which is the root of all life, whether spiritual, intellectual, or material, for he does not stop to reflect that all which he sees as the outer side of things can result only from some germinal principle hidden deep in the centre of their being.
In the widest sense, everything is a symbol of that which constitutes its inner being. All Nature is a gallery of arcana revealing great truths to those who can decipher them. But there is a more precise sense in which our current life is based upon symbols in regard to the most important subjects that can occupy our thoughts: the symbols by which we strive to represent the nature and being of God, and the manner in which the life of man is related to the Divine Life. The whole character of a man's life results from what he really believes on this subject — not his formal statement of belief in a particular creed, but what he realises as the stage which his mind has actually attained in regard to it.
Has a man's mind only reached the point at which he thinks it is impossible to know anything about God, or to make any use of the knowledge if he had it? Then his whole interior world is in the condition of confusion which must necessarily exist where no spirit of order has yet begun to move upon the chaos in which the elements of being are all disordered — and therefore neutralise one another.
Has he advanced a step further and realised that there is a ruling and ordering power, but beyond this is ignorant of its nature? Then the unknown is, for him, the terrifying; and, amid a tumult of fears and distresses that deprive him of all strength to advance, he spends his life in the endeavour to propitiate this power as something naturally adverse to him instead of knowing that it is the very centre of his own life and being.
The nearer those we address have approached to the actual experience, the more transparent the symbol becomes, and the further they are from such experience the thicker is the veil. Our whole progress consists in the fuller and fuller translation of symbols into clearer and clearer statements of that for which they stand.
But the first step, without which all succeeding steps must remain impossible, is to convince people that symbols are symbols, and not the very Truth itself. And the difficulty consists in this: that if the symbolism is in any degree adequate it must, in some measure, represent the form of Truth, just as the modelling of a drapery suggests the form of the figure beneath. People in general have a certain consciousness that somehow they are in the presence of Truth; and this leads them to resent any removal of those folds of drapery which have hitherto conveyed this idea to their minds.
Such ignorant objections need not, therefore, alarm us; and we should endeavour to show those who make them that what they fear is only the natural order of the Divine Life which is "over all, through all, and in all".
But we must do this gently, and not by forcibly thrusting upon them the object of their terror and so repelling them from all study of the subject. We should endeavour gradually to lead them to see that there is something interior to what they have hitherto held to be ultimate Truth. We should encourage them to realise that the sensation of emptiness and dissatisfaction, which from time to time will persist in making itself felt in their hearts, is really the spirit within pointing to that inner side of things which alone can satisfactorily account for what we observe on the exterior. By getting to know ourselves from within, we gradually perceive the true nature of our inheritance in the Universal Life which is the Life Everlasting.