By Paramahansa Yogananda
Poetry can be misread to mean the exact opposite of the poet’s intentions. This is what Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of Self Realization Fellowship and Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, well-known for his Autobiography of a Yogi, proves in his Wine of the Mystic, a new interpretation of Omar Khayyam’s The Rubaiyat.
Omar Khayyam, the Persian poet whose works were made world famous by the English translations of Edward FitzGerald, has been known as the poet of wine, music and sensuality. However, historical research indicates that Khayyam was much more than a hedonist. In The Nectar of Grace: Omar Khayyam’s Life and Works, Swami Govinda Tirtha has given one of the most comprehensive details about Khayyam’s life. The book reveals that Khayyam’s actual name was Ghiyath ud Din Abu’l Fatah Omar bin Ibrahim al Khayyam. Born in the 11th century, Khayyam was a physician, an astronomer and author of treatises on mathematics and physics. In his later years he pursued spiritual disciplines of the Sufis while he was writing The Rubaiyat
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
Morning: Dawn of awakening from delusive earthly existence. Bowl of night: The darkness of ignorance, which imprisons the immortal soul in mortal consciousness. Stone: Spiritual discipline. Stars: The attractive twinkling of material desires. Hunter of the East: Eastern wisdom, a mighty slayer of delusion. Sultan’s turret: The sovereign soul. Noose of light: Divine illumination of wisdom.
The inner Silence sings:
‘Awake! Forsake the sleep of ignorance, for the dawn of wisdom has come. Hurl the hard stone of spiritual discipline that breaks the bowl of dark unknowing, putting to flight the pale stars of mock-lustered material desires. ‘Behold, the Eastern Wisdom, the Hunter and Destroyer of delusion, has caught the proud minaret of the kingly soul in a noose of Light, dispelling its imprisoning mortal darkness.’
Most people, though apparently awake, are really asleep in delusion. Pursued by the compelling commands of their hounding habits, they have not yet been awakened by wisdom to walk its pleasant pathways. Where life is in danger for lack of watchfulness, it is not safe to sleep. So it is unwise to slumber in the dark doorways of evil habits, which invite the danger of possible death to wisdom and true happiness.
Destroy false pride. Awaken the soul and remain ever wakeful, striving each day to be different and better in all ways. Your soul was not meant to be a prisoner of passion, sleeping behind bars of ignorance. Jerk yourself from sloth; race forward with progressive activities, and catch success in the net of soul creativity.
For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.
In and out, above, about, below: The three-dimensional sphere of creation. ‘Tis nothing: Matter is nothing but maya, cosmic delusion. Magic shadow-show: The wonderful and artfully plotted motion-pictures of life. Played in a box: Exhibited on the stage of the universe. Candle is the sun: As a little candle reveals the silhouette images of a shadow-show, so the spiritual ‘sun’ of God’s light causes the appearance of all images. Phantom figures: Physical forms of human beings are not the solid masses we perceive them to be, but electromagnetic waves.
Life is as illusory as a magic shadow-show, whose candlelight reveals silhouettes enacting dramas. The ‘sun’ of subtle electromagnetic currents-the vibratory creative light of God-produces pictures of living beings, who suddenly appear on the stage of earth, and mysteriously vanish. This quatrain shows Omar’s familiarity with the Hindu concept of Maya
The sphere of creation with its manifestations within and without, above, about, below, can be duplicated by man in his dreams, which are mental movies, and are dissolved by wakefulness. Life is a macro-cosmic mental movie-house of dreams and illusions of Maya
Let us not be idlers, labeling life an empty dream without having any real understanding of the truth. Since we have to eat, sleep, earn, and struggle, we should strive for the best in everything for ourselves and for all. Let us banish self-created nightmares of misery, brought on by selfish greed, sense slavery, and wars, and make a beautiful dream—if dream we must—of life’s drama.
Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
TO-DAY of past Regrets and future Fears—
To-morrow?—Why, Tomorrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday’s Sev’n Thousand Years
Beloved: The soul; God’s image in man. The cup that clears: The blissful consciousness of the soul, which banishes all unhappiness. Past regrets: Sorrow over evil actions already performed, and their probable dire results. Future fears: Dread of repeating evil deeds under the influence of the law of habit, and of the evil that might impend from further misdeeds. Yesterday’s sev’n thousand years: The infinite past, which embraces the numberless dead.
O my Soul! fill my consciousness with ambrosia of bliss, flowing from the cask of ecstasy. Naught but that divine communion can dispel the haunting memories of past errors and the fear of future wrongs, with their yield of evil consequences. I dare not wait to find the all-freeing Cosmic Beloved! Tomorrow I may be with time’s infinite yesterdays. Today I will intoxicate myself with the love of the Beloved. Today I will make Him my own.
We must fill this life that we love so dearly with the nectar of perpetual soul-peace. Otherwise we can never be free from the consciousness of long-past errors and the foreboding of future misfortunes.
Let us be happy now, today; then it matters not if we die tomorrow and join the procession in the corridors of the past, colonnaded with the countless years. For we shall carry with us priceless soul-treasures of peace, faith, and happiness to light our long journey toward the great Beloved.
Alike for those who for TODAY prepare,
And those that after a TOMORROW stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
‘Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There!’
For today prepare: Try to earn material happiness now. After a tomorrow stare: Expect future earthly solace. A muezzin: The voice of wisdom. Tower of darkness: The piled-up painful disillusionment of life from which we finally learn. Your reward: Lasting material happiness. Neither here nor there: Will not be found in the present nor the future.
Foolish are those who singleheartedly concentrate on the pursuit of material happiness today, and those also who gaze longingly toward the dim promise of the future, waiting for the light of contentment to appear. The voice of wisdom calls to man from out of the dark despairs of repeated painful disillusionment, trying to remind him of his folly. Those who look for lasting happiness from material sources will never have real satisfaction, now or in the future.
To desire material contentment is to court disillusionment. From the many painful experiences of life that have shown us this, we should learn that material happiness deceives us. No matter how enjoyable the moment or how promising the future, material pleasure is temporal and fickle; its constant companion is disappointment and sorrow. This is because the soul can never feel satisfied with the foreign delusive happiness of the senses; it is always longing for its own forgotten joy of everlasting Spirit. Therefore it is foolish to waste time trying to get worthwhile results out of worthless activities. But from pursuits that are in harmony with our true soul nature, lasting, satisfying results will be forthcoming without any coaxing.
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