Metaphor is, in fact, an indispensable facet of daily life. Just as language is very effective at communicating information, so too can metaphor convey new and complex information to somebody by means of basic ideas that may be more familiar. But just as language does not always perfectly represent our thoughts, so too is metaphor an imperfect (yet often necessary) tool to concretize abstract ideas. Sacred scriptures and religious prophets are constantly reminding us of the inability of ordinary language to communicate divine truths, which is why they often speak in paradox, allegories, parables, and metaphors.
"And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor's shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life."
"The silkworm, which is fat and ugly, then dies, and a little white butterfly, which is very pretty, comes forth from the cocoon. Now if this were not seen but recounted to us as having happened in other times, who would believe it? Or what reasonings could make us conclude that a thing as nonrational as a worm or bee could be so diligent in working for our benefit and with so much industriousness? And the poor little worm loses its life in the challenge. This is enough, Sisters, for a period of meditation even though I may say no more to you; in it you can consider the wonders and the wisdom of our God.”
“The principle method the Sufis employ for penetrating God’s veils is symbolism. In using visible objects to speak of invisible things, symbolism is the language of religion in the way numbers are the language of science[…]Every verse of the Koran conceals a minimum of seven hidden significations and the number can reach to seventy. To illustrate this point: For all Muslims, removing one’s shoes before stepping into a mosque is a mark of reverence. The Sufi begins with this symbolism, but goes on to see in the act the additional meaning of removing everything that separates the soul from God."
"Those who take protectors other than God can be compared to spiders building themselves houses– the spider’s is the frailest of all houses– if only they could understand. God knows what things they call upon beside Him: He is the Mighty, the Wise. Such are the comparisons We draw for people, though only the wise can grasp them. God has created the heavens and earth for a true purpose. There truly is a sign in this for those who believe."
“Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."
“We have been taught that R. Judah said: He who translates a verse literally is a liar, and he who adds [his own words] to it is a blasphemer and reviler."
"The bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed" (Exod. 3:2). Why did the Holy One show Moses such a symbol? Because Moses had thought to himself that the Egyptian might consume Israel. Therefore the Holy One showed Moses a fire burning in a thornbush which was nevertheless not consumed, saying to him: As the thornbush, though burning, is not consumed, so the Egyptians will be unable to consume Israel.”
“The holy books are full of significance and must never be taken literally."
“Those who surrender to Brahman all selfish attachments are like the leaf of a lotus floating clean and dry in water. Sin cannot touch them."
“Hinduism is like the Ganges, pure and unsullied at its source, but taking in its course the impurities in the way. Even like the Ganges it is beneficent in its total effect. It takes a provincial form in every province, but the inner substance is retained everywhere."
“I do not regard the Mahabharata as a historical work in the accepted sense. The Adiparva contains powerful evidence in support of my opinion. By ascribing to the chief actors superhuman or subhuman origins, the great Vyasa made short work of the history of kings and their peoples. The persons therein described may be historical, but the author of the Mahabharata has used them merely to drive home his religious theme. The author of the Mahabharatahas not established the necessity of physical warfare; on the contrary he has proved its futility. He has made the victors shed tears of sorrow and repentance, and has left them nothing but a legacy of miseries.”
“Krishna of the Gita is perfection and right knowledge personified; but the picture is imaginary. That does not mean that Krishna, the adored of his people, never lived. But perfection is imagined. The idea of a perfect incarnation is an aftergrowth. In Hinduism, incarnation is ascribed to one who has performed some extraordinary service of mankind. All embodied life is in reality an incarnation of God, but it is not usual to consider every living being an incarnation…There is an Urdu saying which means, ‘Adam is not God but he is a spark of the Divine.’ And therefore he who is the most religiously behaved has most of the divine spark in him. It is in accordance with this train of thought, that Krishna enjoys, in Hinduism, the status of the most perfect incarnation."
“[One should] read religion as parable, as folklore, as poetic presentation of your own history and nature."
“Buddha also said that building character is like building a dam. You should be very careful in making the bank. If you try to do it all at once, water will leak from it. Make the bank carefully and you will end up with a fine dam for the reservoir."
“As irrigators lead water where they want, as archers make their arrows straight, as carpenters carve wood, the wise shape their minds."
“Hesitant was he! Like someone crossing a river in winter.
Undecided was he! As though in fear of his neighbors on all four sides.
Solemn and polite was he! Like a guest.
Scattered and dispersed was he! Like ice as it melts.
Genuine, unformed was he! Like uncarved wood.
Merged, undifferentiated was he! Like muddy water.
Broad and expansive was he! Like a valley.”
“Thirty spokes converge on a hub
But it’s the emptiness
That makes a wheel work
Pots are fashioned from clay
But it’s the hollow
That makes a pot work
Windows and doors are carved for a house
But it’s the spaces
That make a housework
Existence makes a thing useful
But nonexistence makes it work.”
“In archery, the point lies not in piercing the hide, for the reason that strength varies from man to man."
“Spiders can’t help making flying-traps, and men can’t help making symbols.”
“To Van Eyck and his sponsors the doctrine was clear that God is not a man with a beard, but that among all sensible things of which man can have an experience on earth, a beautiful and dignified fatherly ruler of infinite splendor is the most fitting metaphor our mind can grasp.”
“Aesthetic delight comes not from the literal meaning (the body of poetry) but from the suggested meaning (the soul)."
“No doubt, when all we do is consider the formulas literally, these religious beliefs and practices appear disconcerting, and our inclination might be to write them off to some sort of inborn aberration. But we must know how to reach beneath the symbol to grasp the reality it represents and that gives the symbol its true meaning. The most bizarre or barbarous rites and the strangest myths translate some human need and some aspect of life, whether social or individual.”
“The ‘objective’ work of salvation of the public church is not enough for the mystic; nor are the usually literal and uneducated understandings of faith advanced by the sect. The mystic wants to know salvation personally, directly, and dramatically. But he or she has also come to the conclusion that the doctrines and rituals of the church are symbolic, that is, they point to actual states of the soul and not necessarily to anything literal or historical."
“Individuals who have strong symbolic interpretation of religion have less need for closure and are more open to experiences of otherness, lending the promise of enrichment to encounters with others. This faith understanding entails a symbolic way of thinking that sees conflicting interpretations not as a problem to be solved but as opening up a horizon of innovation with respect to meaning.”