Symbol & Archetype: A Study of the Meaning of Existence (Martin Lings)

Newly expanded and thoroughly revised edition from Fons Vitae

If one were truly to understand the levels of significance provided by such symbols as are presented in this work, one would indeed be well on the way to grasping the nature and purpose of human life and the meaning of existence as understood by the great esoteric systems of spirituality. We are shown in this volume certain aspects of symbolism as they relate to the Divine, the hierarchy of this universe, the function of man, his faculties and qualities. With references to all the world’s great faith traditions, both ancient and current (with special attention devoted to Christianity and Islam) Lings demonstrates how the science of symbols is inextricably linked with the path of Return. For example, regarding human nature, we see how the “seven deadly sins” are, as it were, inversions of spiritual possibilities. A glutton seeks infinite pleasure in nourishment that is finite, but in actuality, this human tendency has as its true goal the seeking of infinite pleasure in the Divine. Among the many insights found in this volume, Lings explains human virtues, the function of saints and bodhisattvas, and the inner meaning of the Heart and Eye.

From the world of Nature the significance of …the planets, clouds, the hawk, eagle and swan, the lion, the spider and the bee are presented. In the chapter, “The Quranic Symbolism of Water,” the Fount, the Rivers of Paradise, the gushing spring, rain, the Flood, waves, ice and the Throne are presented as they relate to gnosis. “The Symbolism of Pairs” takes up symbols such as Ying-Yang and alchemical marriage followed by the meaning of the triad of primary colors and the trinity. Symbols related to religion include the Tree of Life (axis mundi/the Cross), sacred rites and sacraments such as the Eucharist. The Fall, Divine Mercy and sacred architecture are explained at their deepest levels.

The author himself, in the Preface to the volume, writes of the importance of the subject:
The answer to the question ‘What is Symbolism?’, if deeply understood, has been known to change altogether a man’s life; and it could indeed be said that most of the problems of the modern world result from ignorance of that answer.  As to the past however, there is no traditional doctrine that does not teach that this world is the world of symbols, inasmuch as it contains nothing which is not a symbol.  A man should therefore understand at least what that means, not only because he has to live in the herebelow but also and above all because without such understanding he would fail to understand himself, he being the supreme and central symbol in the terrestrial state.

Needless to say, this little book does not claim to be exhaustive.  Its purpose is to enable the reader to dwell on certain basic aspects of symbolism in relation to the Divinity, the hierarchy of the universe, the function of man, his faculties and his qualities, the conditions to which he is subject, the natural objects which surround him, his works of art, and his final ends, all with reference to the great living religions of the world, and in particular to Christianity and Islam.

What we have often called the ‘spiritual journey’ is described by Martin Lings as the return of the symbol to its Archetype. He explains how submission and purification is practiced through the stations of spiritual learning…what becomes clear to the reader is the gripping fact that not only is everything around us a symbol, but that we ourselves are the symbols of our own reality.
-Patricia Ellis Church

One of the most important books to have appeared in the English language on symbolism considered from the traditional and esoteric point of view…In this eloquently written work it is shown that through the symbol man gains access to the archetypes of things and is brought back to his own Archetype thanks to the inner nexus between the symbol, the symbolic and the symbolized.
-Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Dr. Lings points out that the answer to the question, ‘What is symbolism?’, if deeply understood, ‘has been known to change altogether a man’s life; and it could indeed be said that most of the problems of the world result from ignorance of that answer’. The whole conduct of a human life depends upon the way its meaning is understood…there is no traditional doctrine that ‘does not teach that this world is the world of symbols inasmuch as it contains nothing that is not a symbol.’...The objects of this world necessarily reflect a higher reality, and it can truly be said that they glorify that which transcends them…For those already interested in symbolism, particularly in relation to the Qur’an, Lings book will be immensely rewarding; for others who may not previously have grasped the importance of this subject, it cannot fail to be profoundly enlightening.
-Hasan Gai Eaton

Price: 18.95
Category: Religion/Spiritual
Book Type: Paper  
Pages: 160
Size:  5 1/2 x 8 1/2
ISBN:  188775279X