The Universal Spirit

by Thomas Troward

1: Consciousness of Spirit

Contents List:

Symbols, Truth and Growth
From Inner to Outer
Overcoming Objections

Return to:

"Cover" of Book 16
Ardue Library
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See also:

The Mystics of Islam
System Lecture 4 Wrong Functions

Symbols, Truth and Growth

To realise fully how much of our present daily life consists in symbols is to find the answer to the old, old question, 'What is Truth?'; and in the degree in which we begin to recognise this, we begin to approach Truth. The realisation of Truth consists in the ability to translate symbols, whether natural or conventional, into their equivalents; and the root of all the errors of mankind consists in the inability to do this and consequently in maintaining that the symbol has nothing behind it. The great duty incumbent on all who have attained to this knowledge is to impress upon their fellow men that there is an inner side to things and that, until this inner side is known, the things themselves are not known.

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.

From Inner to Outer

Expansion from the centre by growth according to a necessary order of sequence: this is the Law of Life of which the whole Universe is the outcome, alike in the one great solidarity of cosmic Being and in the separate individualities of its minutest organisms. This great principle is the key to the whole riddle of Life upon whatever plane we contemplate it; and without this key the door from the outer to the inner side of things can never be opened. It is therefore the duty of all to whom this door has to some extent been opened to endeavour to acquaint others with the fact that there is an inner side to things, and that life becomes truer and fuller in proportion as we penetrate it and make our estimates of all things according to what becomes visible from this interior point of view.

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.


And so on through every degree, from the lowest depths of ignorance to the greatest heights of intelligence, a man's life must always be the exact reflection of that particular stage which he has reached in his perception of the Divine Nature and of his own relation to it. As we approach the full perception of Truth, so the life-principle within us expands; old bonds and limitations which had no existence in reality fall off from us; and we enter into regions of light, liberty, and power of which we had previously no conception. It is impossible, therefore, to overestimate the importance of being able to realise the symbol as a symbol, and being able to penetrate to the inner substance which it represents. Life itself is to be realised only by the conscious experience of its liveliness in ourselves, and it is the endeavour to translate these experiences into terms which shall suggest a corresponding idea to others that gives rise to all symbolism.

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.

Overcoming Objections

There is sufficient indication of the inner Truth in the outward form to afford an excuse for the timorous and for those who have not sufficient mental energy to think for themselves to cry out that finality has already been attained, and that any further search into the matter must end in the destruction of Truth. But in raising such an outcry they betray their ignorance of the very nature of Truth which is that it can never be destroyed: the very fact that truth is Truth makes this impossible. And again they exhibit their ignorance of the first principle of Life namely, the Law of Growth which, throughout the Universe, perpetually pushes forward into more and more vivid forms of expression. Variety has expansion everywhere and finality nowhere.

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.