Saturday, August 1, 2009

Are doors mystical symbols?

I've always had a thing for old doors. My first animated movie was of Meher Baba walking through a door into a sunlit field. My second animated film, "Where is My Master's Workshop?" began and ended with the passing through a door. It turns out that the door is a Sufi symbol.
Gar andar amad avval ham bidar shud
Agar cih dar ma’ad az dar bidar shud.

“He returns to the door from which he first came out,
although in his journey he went from door to door.”
The quote appears in God Speaks. It is from "Garden of Secrets" by Sheikh Mahmoud Shabestari.

Update: (July 15, 2009)

I stand corrected. Kendra Crossen informs me that the door is not listed as a Sufi symbol in a book she owns called Sufi Symbolism by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh. Thank you Kendra. I only wish there was some way I could inform Sheikh Mahmoud Shabestari of this. He must not have read that book. (:

I'm glad this came up, because it brings me back to the subject of how Baba used words. The following is interesting in that regard.
What Baba meant, by Sufism, was not Islamic Sufism. He always used the word Sufism in its universal sense, as seekers of God, those who wish to draw closer to God, to love him, praise him, and know him by actual experience. Meher Baba said that Sufis always come in the wake of the Avatar. So Baba said that the first Sufis were at the time of Zoroaster and there were Sufis surrounding every Avatar. The last one, of course, was Mohammed. He would say, “I am a Sufi. I am the great Sufi. I am the greatest Sufi.” --Murshida Carol Weyland Conner - from an interview with Naosherwan Anzar for Glow International
So maybe we will come up with our own symbols.

Examples of doors pop to mind when thinking of Christian mystics, though I can't speak about theological symbolism. These are some that have stuck in my mind.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern. --William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790-1793

The God-man closeth Hell's sad doors, In all His majesty He soars. --Goethe, Thoughts On Jesus Christ's Descent into Hell, 1765

And here is one by Bhau Kalchuri
The infinite abode of the Avatar has seven doors, and each
door remains closed to those bound in illusion. The aim of human consciousness undergoing involution is to open these seven doors, one after another, and finally to experience the Infinity. (The Hole He Has Cut)
Baba seemed to think the door was a symbol. Wasn't he a Sufi?
I am the greatest Sufi of the past, present and future. (Meher Baba LM 5036)

Update 2: (Aug 12, 2009)

The word dervish is said to mean one standing at the threshold (vish) of the door (dar). In Turkish Sufism, one speaks of "four doors" (dort kapi): the law (shari'a), the path (tariqa), realization (haqiqa) and discernment (ma'rifa). In "Everything and Nothing," Meher Baba refers to these by the analogies of swimming, diving, gathering pearls and sharing pearls. And of course ~~ we "a-door" Meher Baba. - Talat Halman

Also see: Doors as symbols of the path


  1. There's a wonderful series of books, an enecylopedia, called Sufi Symbolism by Dr, Javad Nurbakhsh, where each term is illustrated by a couplet or two by various Persian poets. I have four volumes (they're expensive at $30) but unfortunately door is not in it; they're organized by topic, such as parts of the Beloved's body.

  2. Just because door is not in the volumes of the symbolism dictionary I own does not mean that the door is not a Sufi symbol; I just meant that alas I could not find any discussion of door there. The door is most obviously a symbol. One particular aspect that I find fascinating is that the door symbolizes threshold consciousness, which includes all kinds of "in-between" or intermediate states, bardos, and barzakhs. Stepping through a doorway is passing between one state and another, and it can be an experience of confusion and instability (but also inspiration and intuition)--until one passes entirely into the new state of being, and begins to abide there permanently and become at ease in the new conditions that now prevail. Jungians have written about threshold consciousness (which includes dreams) from a psychological point of view. Look at a book on the topic, titled Threshold Experiences: The Archetype of Beginnings by Michael Conforti, with its cover design--a door! The intermediate state was written about from an Islamic point of view by the great Ibn Arabi. In Hinduism the threshold is the dwelling place of Ganesha, Lord of Beginnings and Gatekeeper (and Baba euqated Ganesh with the Mischievous Chicken, the Avatar, the first soul to complete the journey to God-realization).

  3. Thank you Kendra,
    This makes a very nice addition and clarification.

    "Knock and the door will open, seek and you will find." (From Welcome to My World, by Jim Reeves)

  4. Christopher - are you aware of a reference for Meher Baba saying that William Blake was on the fifth planeor stationed himself on the fifth plane? I recall this sort of speculation from years ago but someone said I actually wrote this (or Phyllis did) in the book we wrote, Love Bade Me Welcome, and I was then determined to try to find a reference. If you know of such a reference could you please let me know? I really am intrigued by your website, different from anything I've seen before. Thank you -- Barbara Scott

  5. The word dervish is said to mean one standing at the threshold (vish) of the door (dar). In Turkish Sufism, one speaks of "four doors" (dort kapi): the law (shari'a), the path (tariqa), realization (haqiqa) and discernment (ma'rifa. In "Everything and Nothing," Meher Baba refers ti these by the analogies of swimming, diving, fgathering pearls and sharing pearls. And of course ~~ we "a-door" Meher Baba.

  6. "Zarathustra was the greatest Sufi. He was the father of Sufism, and its very foundation owes its creation to him. Sufism began with Zarathustra and ended with Muhammad."

    Meher Baba, 7 August 1929, Harvan, Kashmir, LM4 p1196

  7. Another significance of doorways: Walking through doorways causes memory lapses, according to recent (2011) research at University of Notre Dame in Indiana. “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,” researcher Gabriel Radvansky explains. “Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.”

  8. Mani's song "Open Up the Door" comes to mind here.