Symbols seen during spiritual experiences

During spiritual experiences and visions, one comes into contact with forces and beings in various planes of the Universe. These contacts are translated and rendered by the mind in terms of symbols of daily life(i.e. waking consciousness). Here is an explanation by Sri Aurobindo of the various symbols one might see in spiritual visions.


Interpreting the universe by soul signs
He read from within the text of the without:
The riddle grew plain and lost its catch obscure.
A larger lustre lit the mighty page.

(Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book I, Canto V)

Image by Temari09 (flickr). Click for source

Sri Aurobindo discusses symbols in a letter to a disciple

A symbol, as I understand it, is the form on one plane that represents a truth of another. For instance, a flag is the symbol of a nation…. But generally all forms are symbols. This body of ours is a symbol of our real being and everything is a symbol of some higher reality. There are, however, different kinds of symbols:

l. Conventional symbols: such as the Vedic Rishis formed with objects taken from their surroundings. The cow stood for light because the same word `go’ meant both ray and cow, and because the cow was their most precious possession which maintained their life and was constantly in danger of being robbed and concealed. But once created, such a symbol becomes alive. The Rishis vitalised it and it became a part of their realisation. It appeared in their visions as an image of spiritual light. The horse also was one of their favourite symbols, and a more easily adaptable one, since its force and energy were quite evident.

2. Life-symbols: such as are not artificially chosen or mentally interpreted in a conscious deliberate way, but derive naturally from our day-to-day life and grow out of the surroundings which condition our normal path of living. To the ancients the mountain was a symbol of the path of yoga, level above level, peak upon peak. A journey, involving the crossing of rivers and the facing of lurking enemies, both animal and human, conveyed a similar idea. Nowadays I dare say we would liken yoga to a motor-ride or a railway-trip.

3. Symbols that have an inherent appositeness and power of their own. Akasha(sky) or etheric space is a symbol of the infinite all-pervading eternal Brahman. In any nationality it would convey the same meaning. Also, the Sun stands universally for the supramental Light, the divine Gnosis.

4. Mental symbols: instances of which are numbers or alphabets. Once they are accepted, they too become active and may be useful. Thus geometrical figures have been variously interpreted. In my experience the square symbolises the supermind. I cannot say how it came to do so. Somebody or some force may have built it before it came to my mind. Of the triangle, too, there are different explanations. In one position it can symbolise the three lower planes, in another the symbol is of the three higher ones: so both can be combined together in a single sign. The ancients liked to indulge in similar speculations concerning numbers, but their systems were mostly mental. It is no doubt true that supramental realities exist which we translate into mental formulas such as Karma, Psychic evolution, etc. But they are, so to speak, infinite realities which cannot be limited by these symbolic forms, though they may be somewhat expressed by them; they might be expressed as well by other symbols, and the same symbol may also express many different ideas.

[Letters on Yoga, Visions and Symbols]

Examples of some symbols

In general, one has a wide variety of dreams on the spiritual path but there are some commonalities since all people are part of the same human consciousness. It takes discernment to interpret the dream. Sometimes it takes years to understand the significance of a particular dream.

This is a table of some significant symbols seen in dreams which were explained in letters that Sri Aurobindo wrote to various disciples.  It is summarized from the three-volume  set “Letters on Yoga” in the Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo.

Note: This is NOT a complete list.   Your mileage may vary! :-)

Update:  See more extensive compilation of symbols at Sri Aurobindo – Yoga site.

Symbol

Signifies

Ass Inertia
Bird Signifies the human soul
Buffalo Coarse vital energy.
Building New creation
Car, Train, Airplane A journey in any of these signifies rapid progress in some part of the consciousness.
Chakra/Disc Energy in action
Child Psychic transformation is in progress within the heart.
Color Beginning of inner vision (sūkşmadŗşţi). Afterwards this vision opens and one begins to see figures and scenes and people.
Cow Divine Light
Dawn Beginning of a new creation within the consciousness
Dog One’s fidelity to the Divine
Elephant Strength
Fire Purification which one is undergoing.
Fish in the ocean Experience of Sachchidananda.  Quote from Ramakrishna Paramahansa: “Then I jumped into the ocean and became a fish. I saw that I was swimming joyfully in the ocean of Sat-chit-ananda.”(Gospel of Ramakrishna, Section IX, Chapter 1)
Flower psychic activity, blossoming in the consciousness
Flower, lotus Opening in the consciousness.
Horse Power; force acting for progress
Lion Vital force
Moon Spiritual Ananda, spirituality in the mind
Mountain Ascending hill of existence with the Divine to be reached on the summits.
Peacock Spiritual victory.  Quote from Ramakrishna Paramahansa “Before I met Keshab Sen, I saw him in a vision. While in the state of samadhi, I saw him and his group. There was a room full of people sitting in front of me. I saw Keshab – like a peacock with its tail spread out. The tail meant his group. And I saw a red jewel on Keshab’s forehead. This is a sign of rajas. ” (Gospel of Ramakrishna, Section XXIV, Chap 3)
Rain Descent of Divine Grace
Sea Indicates the vital plane or some expanse of consciousness.
Sky Mental or overmental consciousness
Snake Hostile or evil force of the vital plane.
Snake with open hood Indicates the victorious or successful activity of the Kundalini.
Square A new creation is being established within our consciousness.
Star Promise of the Light to come.
Sun Power of the inner or higher Truth. There are different Suns in the different planes each with its own colour.
Swan Liberated soul
Teeth falling Indicates that one’s physical habits are changing or being relinquished. This happens due to a purification of consciousness.
Tiger Depends on the attitude of the tiger. If fierce and hostile, it may be a form of an adverse force, otherwise it is simply a power of vital nature which may be friendly.

9 thoughts on “Symbols seen during spiritual experiences

  1. Pingback: Issues in Sadhana (spiritual quest) for those practicing the Integral Yoga « Skylight

  2. kalpana

    >>” This body of ours is a symbol of our real being and everything is a symbol of some higher reality. ” Sri Aurobindo.
    It would appear, from this sentence, that one’s body is a projection of one’s consciousness, a sort of blue-print for the matter-energy dynamics.

    It is interesting that Sri Aurobindo doesn’t classify yantras in this letter.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      > > It is interesting that Sri Aurobindo doesn’t classify yantras in this letter.

      Actually they are covered under Part 4 Mental symbols
      See the line “…Thus geometrical figures have been variously interpreted.”

      Reply
    2. Anthony Butcher

      Hi Sandep,

      I couldn’t find the complete list of Sri Aurobindo’s Compilation on Symbols on Sri Surobindo-Yoga. I would be grateful if you could tellme where to find it.

      Reply
      1. Sandeep Post author

        The list I have compiled above is derived from Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 23, chapter on Visions and Symbols. You can find it online at http://www.sriaurobindoashram.info under the menu E-library –> Works of Sri Aurobindo –> English –> SABCL –> Letters on Yoga_Volume-23 –> Visions and Symbols-IV.htm.

        I didn’t paste the direct link because they frequently reorganize the website.

        Reply
  3. mike

    l believe SA said there were different meanings for different colored snakes too. A golden snake would be positive as compared to the darkly colored one’s mentioned above.
    l see an elephant [and horse] fairly often when dropping off to sleep.
    l was recovering from an illness once and l had this dream where SA was riding a huge elephant which was surrounded by people including myself. Quite colorful too.
    One dream l had recently was about the Mother and the color orange. ln waking life l was about to get some photos developed but they had nothing to do with the Mother and l don’t know why l would see a picture of Her in this dream. l was looking at this picture of Her and noticed that She had patches of bright orange covering most of her body, but there were several gaps which hadn’t weren’t covered. l know ‘orange’ signifies the ‘Supramental in the Physical’ so l assume this has something to do with that. Strange dream though.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mike: I believe SA said there were different meanings for different colored snakes too. A golden snake would be positive as compared to the darkly colored one’s mentioned above.

      Not SA, but the Mother I think. From the Agenda June 14, 1965

      Mother: Some, when they dream of snakes, have the feeling they’re going to meet with catastrophes; I myself have had all sorts of dreams with snakes: I had to go through gardens full of snakes everywhere – on the ground, in the trees, everywhere – and not kindly snakes! But I knew very well what it meant; during the dream itself I knew it: it depended on certain mental conditions around me and ill will – mental ill will.[[This was in France with Richard, at the start of the war, after the return from Pondicherry. ]] But if you have mental control and power, you can go through, they cannot touch you. And other people, when they see a snake, think it is the universal consciousness. So we can’t say. Theon used to say that the serpent is the symbol of evolution, and those who were with him always saw rainbow-colored serpents, with all the colors, and it was the symbol of universal evolution Basically, to tell the truth, everyone has his own symbolism.

      The connection of Paul Richard to dream of snakes can be discerned from the January 12, 1968 in the Agenda, which reads : “Paul Richard had a quite unhealthy sexual side, not at all healthy, far from it. He had much mental knowledge (a great deal, a very strong intelligence), but no spiritual life”

      Reply
  4. mike

    Funnily enough, l read another passage in the agenda just the other day, which was exactly the same thing only versed differently. lt was about Mother walking through gardens full of snakes at night because of Richards atmosphere.
    Agenda November 12, 1969
    lt’s been on my mind the last few days for some reason. l had that impression about some unhealthy sexual habits too – snakes are usually connected with the lower sexual appetites, l believe.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Ways of navigating this blog | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

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