The Square, the Circle and the Triangle

Shinto symbols, the square, circle and triangle

A square, circle and triangle with the sun, moon and stars, by D. Stolcius von Stolzenberg, Viridarium chymicum,Frankfurt, 1624

Man is symbolized by three elements, one on top of another: pyramid—square— circle.
-- Zoroaster (founder of Zoroastrianism)
Philosophy is written in this grand book — I mean the universe — which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to interpret the characters. It is the language of mathematics and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which, it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering around in a dark labyrinth.
-- Galileo Galilei, 16th/17th c. Italian astronomer

The Circle

Sun Wukong drawing a circle
Master, I know that you haven't the patience to sit still, but I'll make a spell to keep you safe here.” With that, Monkey took out his gold-banded cudgel and in a flash he drew a circle on the ground with it. He asked the Tang priest to sit in the circle with Pig and Friar Sand standing on either side and the horse and luggage nearby. Then he put his palms together and said to the Tang Priest, “The circle I've drawn is stronger than a wall of bronze or iron. No tiger, leopard, wolf, demon, fiend or monster will dare come anywhere near it. But you must not step outside it. I guarantee that you'll come to no harm as long as you sit inside the circle; but once you leave, it very nasty things will happen to you. Please, please, please stay inside it whatever happens.
-- Journey to the West (one of the four great Chinese classical novels)

The many `I`s going round and round in one`s head, Dutch painting, 15th Century

The Chinese novel Journey to the West, symbolizes the inner journey to Amida Buddha`s Western Paradise, the state of Divine Presence. The Tang priest represents the heart, the desire to be present. Monkey stands for the educated mind, whose job is to protect the desire to be present from the many I`s. A tiger, leopard, wolf, demon, fiend or monster, all imply thoughts and emotions, or I`s, that try to interfere with efforts to be present. The circle indicates spell or mantra to protect one from the many thoughts and emotions going around inside one`s head, so that space is created for the presence of the Higher Self to come into being.

The heart is engaged in the circle of remembrance. -- Hafiz (14th c. Persian poet)
The science of essential life begins and ends with nurturing the primordial open nonreified true one energy. This energy is neither material nor immaterial and it has no shape or form, It has, nevertheless, been represented by the symbol of the circle, and called by various names. -- Liu Yiming (18th c. Taoist master)

The circle symbolizes the beginning and the end of nurturing the primordial open nonreified true one energy, the energy of Divine Presence.

A Taoist walking in a circle

A person's heart and mind are in chaos.
Concentration on one thing makes the mind pure.
If one aspires to reach the Tao,
one should practice walking in a circle.
-- Taoist text

In the images above and below, people are doing the outer meaning. Taoists have a practise to walk in a circle and muslims pray to an external God, while walking seven times around the square Kaaba. It symbolizes using six short words to remind oneself to make the effort to reach the God within oneself, the Divine state of presence, while the seventh time stands for reaching prolonged presence, represented by the Sabbath in the Judean and Christian traditions.

People circling the square Kaaba (Mecca, Saudi Arabia)

People praying around the Kaaba in a circle

As for walking around stupas, the stupa is your body and mind. When your awareness circles your body and mind without stopping, this is called walking around a stupa. The sages of long ago followed this path to nirvana. -- Bodhidharma (1st Chinese partriarch of Zen Buddhism)
Circle your inner temple. -- Hafiz

A sumo wrestler performing a ritual at a Shinto shrine

Heart-head Dogu with outstretched arms (Jomon period,10.000 - 400 BC)

With hands outstretched in adoration, and with fervent prayer in measured verse welling up from my heart, I encircle you, O God.
-- Zoroaster

The inner meaning of praying is waking up the God within, through a sustained effort of being present.

In short, conscious awareness is the very spirit of ritual Prayer. -- Al-Ghazali (11th c. Persian mystic)

A Zen painting of an empty circle

This circle represents the same as the one Monkey drew on the ground, in the Journey to the West. The inside of the circle in the Zen painting is empty, symbolizing the emptiness of prolonged presence, the absence of the many I`s.

There are about 30 stone circles from the Late Jomon (2400 – 1000 B.C.) scattered through northern Japan. The sites display no evidence of human dwelling, and rarely encompass graves. This suggests that stone circles were constructed for ceremonies (perhaps religious ceremonies) and were in use on ceremonial occasions only. There are about 1000 stone circles in Britain and Ireland.

Nonakado stone circle, Kazuno, Akita, 2000 B.C.

Oshoro circle, Otaru, Hokkaido, Late Jomon,

The nature of God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.
-- St. Augustine (5th c. Christian saint)

The Square

A Sumo ritual, wrestlers in a circle

The Sumo ring

Jesus told us to form a circle and hold each other’s hands, and he himself stood in the middle, and said, "Respond to me with Amen." -- The Gnostic Gospels, The Acts of John

The shape of a Sumo ring is a circle within a square. The origin of Sumo wrestling is associated with Shinto religion ritual.

Coin water basin, Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto

This stone basin from the Ryoanji temple in Kyoto, shows a circle and a square with four Japanese characters which mean: the Self knows only contentment. In the state of presence, the Higher Self is content and at peace.

My Sabbaths, said God, denote the circle and the square within. -- The Kabbalah, The Zohar
The great way is without action and is natural. The square and circle are far away if there is not enough effort. -- Liu Yiming

Izanagi and Izanami descended from the Bridge of Heaven and made their home on the island they created. Eventually they wished to mate, because they fell in love, so they built a pillar around which they built a palace called Yashirodono ("a hall whose area is 8 'arms' length squared"). Izanagi and Izanami circled the pillar in opposite directions, and when they met on the other side Izanagi spoke first and their union was successful.
-- Kojiki (Shinto text)

A couple, squared in tantric union, the woman wears a square earring, the man wears a round earring. 19th-20th century, India

In this abbreviated section of a Shinto myth, Izanagi and Izanami, representing the mind and the heart, build a square palace, walk in a circle, and have physical union. Physical union is a symbol for the spiritual union of the mind and the heart, creating a state of Divine presence.

4th c. BC, Greek, gold bracelet with two Sphinxes
(Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia)

Chinese New Year decoration, the Golden Boy and Jade Girl, representing the mind and the heart

In the left image, the right sphinx is male and the left sphinx is female; they also represent the mind and the heart. The wings symbolize that they have created the state of Divine Presence. The empty space in the bracelet is a circle and the empty space between the two sphinxes forms a square.

Chanting the square deific, out of the One advancing, out of the sides, out of the old and new, out of the square entirely divine, solid, four-sided, (all the sides needed), from this side Jehovah am I.
-- Walt Whitman (19th c. American poet)

Brahma with Four Heads from Angkor Wat, 12th-13th Century, Guimet Museum, Paris

The square, symbolizes a prolonged state of presence, when the God within has awakened, like the last four of the Ox herding pictures. The Higher Self has an objective awareness, symbolized by the four faces shown in the image of Brahma. A human being, having only one face, can only see one direction, symbolizing the subjectivity and partial awareness of man in the state of sleep.

To put it another way, these four are one in God and the one is four. But we cannot grasp the simplicity of God. While we strive to understand that he is as one, he appears to us as fourfold.
-- Bernard of Clairvaux (12th c. French abbot)

Square face mask from the National Anthropological Museum, Mexico City

Master with a square third eye,
14th-15th Century, Tibet
The face forms a square in itself.
-- Leonardo da Vinci
In the Field of the square foot, in the House of the square inch, in the Temple of jade, dwells the God of utmost Emptiness and Light. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower
This immortal fourfold breath, is hidden in the original cavity of the spirit, behind the spot between the eyes. -- Chao Pi Chen (20th c. Taoist Master)

Sake overflowing in a masu

A sake offering

Wine and sake are symbols for the state of presence, which is why one can see sake barrels at ceremonies and shrines in Japan. In many restaurants in Japan they serve sake in a glass that is inside a masu , a square wooden box. Pouring sake in the round glass, symbolizes intoning a mantra through which the state of presence gradually becomes stronger. After one finishes intoning the mantra, one reaches a prolonged state of presence, symbolized by the sake, overflowing in the square box.

The word that comes of grace is like a cup which runneth over. -- Gregory of Sinai, Philokalia
Every moment this cup (chalice) fills with vision. This is my wine. I drink the given moment.
-- Bauhauddin (12th c. Sufi)
The sun is wine and the moon the cup. Pour the sun into the moon. -- Hafiz

The Japanese tea hut also is square. The ritual behavior of the host as well as the guests during the tea ceremony, was all aimed at creating a prolonged state of presence. Through eliminating unnecessary talk and being intentional with one`s movements one can create this state in oneself. Tea, like wine, is also used as a symbol for prolonged presence.

A drawing of a tea ceremony hut

The first bowl moistens my lips and throat;
The second bowl banishes all loneliness;
The third expelled the dullness from my mind,
Inducing inspirations born from all the books I’ve read;
At the fourth cup, I begin to perspire –
life's troubles evaporate through my pores.
The fifth cup cleanses my entire being.
Six cups and I am in the realm of the Divine.
Seven cups - ah, but I can drink no more:
I can only feel the gentle breeze blowing through my sleeves,
wafting me away to the Isle of Immortality!
-- Lu Tong, 8th century Taoist poet

The Noh theatre stage is also square.

A diagram of a Noh stage

A pine tree at the back of a Noh stage
At the back of the stage, a wooden wall called Kagami-ita (Mirror wall) harbors the divinity: an aged pine tree painted on this wall symbolized the residence of the Kami. The stage represents the world of the present, and the backstage the world of the dead.
-- Arata Isozaki (Japanese contemporary architect)

The square stage symbolizes Divine Presence, and the pine tree represents the heart that has engaged the Divine Presence of the God within.

I have become one with the Tree of Life. My glory rises like the mountain peak. I have realized the Self.
-- Upanishads (Hindu text)

A Himorogi

A Himorogi is a square or cube, temporarily erected sacred space or altar used during a land purification ceremony. In ancient times before there were shrines in Japan, religious ceremonies were performed in these square sacred spaces in which a God would be invited. In the center of the area, a large branch of sakaki, representing the tree of Life which symbolizes the heart longing for presence, is erected in which the God, the Higher Self, descends.

When the desire comes, it is a Tree of Life.
-- The Bible, Proverbs 12:12

I am Quetzalcoatl. I love heaven and earth equally, and I come to plant the four branches of the Tree of Life.
-- Mayan Texts

Thousands of Shinto torri at the Fushimi-Inari Shrine, Kyoto

The vermillion red-orange part of a Shinto Torii (gate) makes a square. According to Japanese and Chinese belief, vermillion red-orange is the color for expelling demons and illness; getting rid of the many I`s. Through the fire of prolonged presence, one rises above all one`s thoughts and emotions. Shinto torii mark the transition of the profane to the sacred, the transition of the state of sleep to the state of Divine Presence.

In some Shinto shrines purification ceremonies are held using a loop in front of a Torii. The inner meaning of purification is cleaning oneself of the many thoughts and emotions that are concerned with worldly affairs, so that the God within can be present.

A purification ceremony at a Shinto shrine

The Triangle

A circle, square and triangle with the sun, moon and stars

A spiritual heaven, with sun, moon and stars, is formed in the blessed heart of one who has reached a state of watchfulness. -- Philotheos of Sinai Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)

Our inner world, our inner universe, echoes the design of our solar system; as above so below. In Shinto cosmology, the square stands for the Sun God Amaterasu, the circle for the Moon God Tsukuyomi no Mikoto, and the triangle for the God of the Stars, Susanoo-no-Mikoto.

The universe, by Gibon Sengai, Japanese monk (1750-1837)

The square, circle and triangle, Shinto symbols

A square-based pyramid with the sun on top, Giza, Egypt

Man is symbolized by three elements, one on top of another: pyramid—square— circle.
-- Zoroaster
When we begin to press forward firmly established, at first there appears in our mind a lamp which the hand of our mind holds aloft to guide our mental steps; thereafter comes a full moon, circling in the sky of the heart, and, at last, the sun. -- Hesychios of Jerusalem, Philokalia

A sign at the Circle, Triangle and Square garden, Kenninji temple, Kyoto

The Circle, Triangle and Square
garden with the tree of life,
Kenninji temple, Kyoto

In the Kenninji temple in Kyoto, there is a garden called the Circle, Triangle, Square Garden. It is said that the idea behind the circle, triangle, and square is that all things in the universe are represented by these forms.

What is the sun but the essence of the Universe? -- Quetzalcoatl (Mesoamerican deity)

The sun symbolizes prolonged presence, as in the Egyptian Sun God Ra, Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana - The Great Sun Buddha) and the Shinto God Amaterasu (She who shines in heaven). Therefore Divine presence is the essence of the universe. The word universe has an inner meaning.

The whole universe in all ten quarters is what our radiantly luminous True Self is.
-- Dogen (13thc. Japanese Zen monk)
It is Brahma who inhales and exhales the universe. -- Upanishads (Hindu text)

All things related to the state of prolonged presence are represented by the square, the circle and the triangle.

The Sun (Amaterasu, represented by the square), symbolizes our inner light, and rules the day, the state of Divine Presence. When presence is absent, the moon gives light, and rules the night, the state of sleep , in which man spends most of his days. The moon (Tsukuyomi no Mikoto, represented by the circle) symbolizes our ruling faculty or the mind of Tao, which Gurdjieff , a 20th century Fourth Way spiritual teacher, called the steward. It tries to bring us back to the state of presence. Gurdjieff spoke about creating moon in oneself, which means creating a steward, or a faculty in oneself that keeps reminding one to not sleep, but to be present.

What does it mean to create moon in ourselves? … The first step is to create a permanent center of gravity. This is what it means to create moon in ourselves. -- Ouspensky, quoting Gurdjieff

A permanent center of gravity means that awakening one's inner God has become the most important thing in one`s life.

The left image is the character for mind and on the right is the crescent moon
The crescent moon symbolizes the sudden manifestation of the celestial root in people. This celestial root is called the mind of Tao. A furnace is a vessel in which fire is used; because the mind of Tao has a Yang light which can be used to burn away a person`s mundanity (Yin energy), the mind of Tao is also represented as a furnace. -- Liu Yiming (18th C. Taoist master)

Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from Journey to the West, with the Rabbit in the moon, Japanese Ukiyoe by Yoshitoshi

The point where one yang begins to move is when the yang light of real awareness of the mind of Tao stirs but is not yet very active: only then is a glimpse of the root of heaven revealed. At this time you should quickly set about increasing the fire, gathering yang and putting it into the furnace of evolution, gradually gathering, gradually refining, from vagueness to clarity, from one yang to complete purity of six yangs. This is also like the mid-autumn moon, exceptionally bright, shining through the universe.
-- Liu Yiming (18th C. Taoist master)
When the full moon of contemplation is reached, you will be pure.
-- Journey to the West Ch. 19

In ancient times, the stars were the main means of navigation at sea during the night. Stars (Susano-no-Mikoto, represented by the triangle) symbolize reminders to awaken the God within. When one is submerged in daily activities, one suddenly realizes that one is asleep, and one tells oneself to Be (present). Stars are small sparks of light in the darkness (the state of psychological sleep that we spend most of our waking hours in) that guide us to our destination, the present moment.

The Egyptian Sun God Ra in the night bark, sailing towards a narrow gate with thirty stars, from the Papyrus of Ani
Make the divine presence your destination.
-- Al-Ghazali (11th c. Persian mystic and writer)
The stars are engaged in divine remembrance.
-- Sultan Bahu (17th c. Sufi)
The stars are God’s holy commandments.
-- Symeon Metaphrastis, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)

It is Allah who has set for you the stars that ye may guide your course by them amid the darkness. -- The Koran
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