Lantern Lesson

A recent presentation at Shanti Sadan made use of a handcrafted candle cover. Shaped from thin brass, with tinted cut-glass stones circling centre and base, it is covered with fine engravings and pierced with many minute openings. A night-light burns at the centre.

Hari Prasad Shastri once commented that our body may be out of sorts, our mind may be agitated, our emotions may be disturbed; yet within us is a centre of peace that is untouched by vicissitude of any kind. That centre is the key to what we are.

We can compare our body to the brass form of the candle cover, elaborately shaped, engraved and embossed from edge to edge. As the Islamic mystic Al-Ghazzali has said: ‘Our body is marvellously made and for some great end.’ Like the body, the candle cover is symmetrical; it is, some may feel, attractive—but it is not perfect, and has suffered some wear and tear, resulting in dents and unevenness. The body can never be perfect; or—we could say—its apparent perfection of appearance is short-lived. As Shakespeare reminds us in Sonnet 15:

When I consider everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows…

Notice the tinted cut-glass stones, translucent rather than transparent—allowing a partial, diffused emission of the central light. There is beauty here, too, and the stones (of which there are five of different colours) represent our five senses and the wondrous physiology behind them.

At the base of the candle cover, there are more tinted glass stones. These are also lit from within, but less conspicuously than the sense lights, representing, one might suggest, our internal faculties—intellect, feeling, will, memory, imagination, and the rest.

We seem now to have a complete ‘kit’ for functioning as a human being. Body + senses + mind = me. We can easily go through life thinking this is all we are, one of billions who have spent a little time on this planet and then vanished—who knows where, and with what?

But the great spiritual teachers draw our attention to a deeper phase of our nature that will not be obliterated with time, and is not a fragment but is one with the great whole. That is symbolized by the light itself— the central flame, the true Self, the eternal consciousness, the spirit. The candle-cover is only meaningful in relation to the candle.

Happiness, peace and liberating knowledge come from unfolding our spiritual nature, getting to know more and more about the constant light underlying the fluctuating mind. Just as, in this tiny flame, there is light and heat, so too the nature of our innermost Self is consciousness-bliss—a knowledge that is blissful, a happiness that is knowing.

What is necessary to lead us to appreciate this wholeness of our being, light eternal, bliss imperishable?

If we look closely at the lantern, we find it is full of openings, apertures—little windows through which the central flame may be glimpsed. These openings represent those moments in our own life when we are free from thoughts of our body, when we are withdrawn from the hypnotism of the senses, and when our mind is sufficiently calm that even our engagement with our inner faculties—our desires, hopes, fears, memories—is calm and harmonious. It is in this quietude, this freedom from psychological congestion, this openness of experience, that we become aware of the inexhaustible source of our being, our deeper Self. Like the working of alchemy, our inner life will be transformed, strengthened and liberated by this communion.

The special time for tranquillity and inner unfoldment is sometimes confined to our periods of meditation. But once we grasp this principle of withdrawal and inner attunement, we will find there are many other times during the day when we can briefly withdraw and reconnect with true being—the central flame. The more we attune ourselves to this way of peace and higher knowledge, the more our burdens in this world will be lightened and borne with good cheer and calmness.

This article is from the Spring 2016 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.