Symbols of the world's religions



Bal Natu

It was late on New Year's Eve. I was sitting on a mat, and, by the light of a lamp, was sorting through the contents of an old ebony box. The box, whose wood shone with natural lustre, had been in my family for years, and the objects it contained, even longer. These were precious heirlooms.

My mood at that moment was, however, more frantic than reverent, for among the old scarves, kerchieves, and pouches, which flooded my mind with thoughts of my ancestors and parents, one object of particular importance was missing. In desperation, I was unfolding and folding, untying and tying, opening and closing, searching for that one thing I could not find.

"What are you looking for so intently?" I heard a voice say from behind me.

I knew it was You, but because of my anxiety, I answered, without turning my head, "Excuse me for a minute. Please sit down." Immediately, I felt ashamed. I looked at You, and You were smiling at me without admonishing my folly.

I gathered most of the precious hoard between my hands and shoved it into the box, collected a few stray odds and ends and threw them in after, with the exception of two small pouches, one of which I distractedly jammed into my shirt pocket. I closed the lid on the box, and then turned to show You the piece that I had kept out. This was a very old, very fine silk pouch with a pink rose embroidered on it. Your eyes lit up when You saw it, and You expressed Your admiration of it.

"I embroidered the pink rose on it myself last year," I informed You, not without some pride. "Unfortunately, the thing I made it to hold isn't here. I haven't been able to find it anywhere. That's what I've been searching for this past hour.

"And what is it?" You asked.

"A ring," I answered sadly.

"A valuable ring?"

"Valuable! The best of its kind! It was an heirloom, my most precious possession! It was made of seven metals! It was set with gems in the pattern of the rising sun! Very charming and very auspicious too!"

"But why did you happen to be looking for it tonight, at the last hour of the year?"

"Because," I explained, "it is my custom to hold that ring in my hand at the beginning of every New Year. It seems to help me let go of the stress of the year passed, and to fill my heart with joy and energy for the coming year. It is a very significant symbol for me, and now that I have lost it, I feel as though my dream has died."

You looked probingly at me, seeing my turmoil. Then You asked calmly, "Is it the loss of the ring — the symbol — that distresses you? Or your attachment to it that worries you?"

The question stumped me. "Sorry," I said. "I'm not sure I understand You. Is there something wrong with the symbol of the rising sun?"

"The symbol is not bad, but your dependence and attachment to it is not good. When you imbue any symbol with rigid meaning, a personal interpretation, and isolate yourself in your fancies, the significance of the symbol is defiled."

"Perhaps there is something wrong with symbolism altogether," I ventured.

"I never condemn anything," You replied. "I am everything. But I want you to understand the proper role of symbols in your life, so that you will neither over- nor underestimate their importance."

"You are saying that I don't have a balanced view of this. But how am I to acquire it?"

"By not allowing the symbols to dominate you. The loss of your ring — the heirloom — should not have disturbed you so much. The One who gives symbols knows when to take them away. The right attitude toward symbols is to understand that they are directing you to something real that is beyond them. So don't try to fill your life with them, or cling to them, but when they come to you, respect them without being overly influenced by them."

"Are there certain categories of symbols which are especially significant?"

"Countless, but you have to have an eye to discern them. Then a time may come when every pebble can be a jewel for you, and its shape and color convey unspoken messages."

This was too much for me, and it must have shown in my expression, because You smiled indulgently.

"What I mean," You continued, "is that you shouldn't become bound by ideology, of which there are many. Ideology constricts your understanding of the real potential of symbols."

I still felt I was in over my head. "Your words often land me in deep waters," I said, shaking my head hopelessly.

You looked amused. "But if you know how to swim, you may dive as deep as you can and return to the surface, bringing the significance with you as part of your life."

"Maybe I'm grasping at straws while I should be diving, but could you just tell me, of all the symbols, is there one in particular which is the greatest?"

"Yes," You answered at once, and with a natural east. "There is. And you already have it."

I was amazed. "I have it? Are You joking?"

"I am not. The greatest symbol of all is the ring."

"The ring? What sort of ring?"

"You always look outward, and so you are not aware of it, for this ring is within you, within everyone. At the time of birth, I breathe life, My Spirit, into your being. The ingoing and outgoing breath that circles and sustains your life is the ring and the matchless symbol. If this breath continues to circle in My remembrance, it becomes the Real Ring, truly worth seeking. It is this to which all symbols, and all signs, are pointing."

Radiantly beautiful, Your gaze fell upon me benignly. I sat there gaping, speechless, overwhelmed by Your presence.

You broke the mood by asking, offhandedly, "By the way, what's that green string hanging out of your shirt pocket?"

I glanced down and noticed a strand of dyed wool cord with a ball and tassel at the end of it. "An empty pouch," I answered, feeling glum again. "I must have stuck it in my pocket while I was putting things away." Saying this, I took the pouch out of my pocket, and, to my amazement, felt something solid inside of it.

"Oh my God! Oh my God! Eureka! It's here! It's here!" I cried.


"The ring that I was desperately searching for!"

My spirits soared. I remembered in a flash that while I had been embroidering the pink rose on the silk pouch the year before, I had placed the ring in this other, plainer one, and obviously forgotten it.

"Are you happy now?" You asked.

"Happy! I'm ecstatic!"

And You responded casually, with a remark that has stayed with me every since. "The end of real seeking is to know that nothing was ever lost."

I still have not fathomed the depths of its meaning.

Then You smiled and added, "If you are happy, may I go now?"

Almost at once, my eyes clouded with tears. "How can You ask me that? How could I wish You to leave? But ... yes, goodbye. But don't stay away too long. And please forgive me for my impudent greeting." Tears of sadness were now mingled with tears of joy and gratitude. "Today You have disclosed to me the Real Ring You gave me at my birth. Please guide me to be aware of it in my day to day life in Your playful remembrance."

You gave me a smile of reassurance which transmitted absolute certainty. Like a soft feather, it gently touched the breath sustaining my being, and I felt the real Ring circling within me. At that very moment, the bells in the tower chimed in the New Year. What a peerless New Year's gift!

With your grace may I be worthy of it!

The bells were ringing loudly
to herald the New Year.
My heart was singing softly,
ushering in a new rhythm, so sure.


1991 © Sheriar Foundation


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