The Symbol of the Cross
The symbol of the cross has many meanings. It is said in the Bible that first was the word, next came light, and then the world was created. And as the light is expressed in the form of a cross, so every form shows in it the original sign. Every artist knows the significance of the vertical line and the horizontal line, which are the skeleton of every form. This proves the teaching of the Qur'an, in which it is said that God created the world from His own light. The cross is the figure that fits every form everywhere.
Morally the cross signifies pain or suffering. This means that in every activity of life, which may be pictured as a perpendicular line, there come hindrances, which are represented by the horizontal line. This shows the nature of life, and the truth of the saying that man proposes and God disposes. Somebody asked the great master, Ali, what made him believe in God who is beyond human comprehension. Ali said, 'I believe in God because I see that when I alone wish, things are not accomplished.' According to the metaphysical point of view, this shows the picture of limitation in life.
The symbol of the cross in the life of Christ not only relates to the crucifixion of the Master, but also the crucifixion that one has to meet with by possessing the truth. The idea behind this, which is to be found in Hindu philosophy, is that life in the world is an illusion, and therefore every experience and knowledge of this life is also illusion. The Sanskrit word for this illusion is Maya; it is also called Mithea, from which the word myth comes. When the soul begins to see the truth, it is as it were born again; and to this soul all that appears truth to an average person, appears false, while what seems truth to this soul is nothing to the average person; all that seems important and precious in life to that average person has no value or importance for this soul; and what seems to this soul important and valuable, has no importance or value for the average person.
Therefore he naturally finds himself alone in a crowd which lives in a world quite different from his own. Imagine living in a world where nobody uses our language! But he can live in the world, for he knows its language; and yet to him the life in the world is as unprofitable as the world of children playing with their toys to a grown-up person. A human being who has realized the truth is just as much subject to pain and suffering as all other people, except that he is capable of bearing them better than the others. But while in the crowd everyone hits the other and also receives blows, the knower of truth has to stand alone and only receive them; this in itself is a great torture. Life in the world is difficult for everyone, rich or poor, strong or weak, but for the knower of truth it is still more difficult, and that in itself is a cross.
Thus for a spiritual messenger the cross is a natural emblem, which explains his moral condition. But there is a still higher significance of the cross which is understood by the mystic. It is self-denial; and in order to learn this moral, gentleness, humility and modesty should be the first lesson. Self-denial is an effect of which self-effacement is the cause. It means that a man says, 'I am not; Thou art.' For instance an artist, looking at his picture may say, 'It is Thy work, not mine,' or a musician, hearing his composition may say, 'It is Thy creation; I do not exist.' Then that soul is in a way crucified, and through that crucifixion resurrection comes. There is not the slightest doubt that when man has had enough pain in his life, he rises to this great consciousness. But it is not necessary for pain to be the only means. It is the readiness on the part of man to deny his part of consciousness, and to efface his own personality, that lifts the veil which hides the spirit of God from his sight.
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