Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Excerpted from the “Editor’s Preface”

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained

by Paramhansa Yogananda
edited by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), published 1994

Readers may consider it strange that the words of a wise man should require editing. People often confuse wisdom with intellectual learning, or with the pleasure some deep thinkers find in making clearly reasoned explanations. True wisdom, however, is intuitive; it is an arrow that flies straight to its mark, while the intellect lumbers with labored breathing far behind. An example of such insight was Einstein’s first perception of the Law of Relativity, which came to him in a flash. He had to work years before he could tailor for his intuitive perception the rational clothing that would make it presentable to other scientists.

As I reflect on the man and women of great spiritual wisdom whom it has been my good fortune in life to meet, it occurs to me that all of them spoke from higher-than-rational perception. Their manner of self-expression was succinct. Seldom did they explain their ideas at length. It was as though they wanted their listeners to rise and meet them on a higher level of cognition.

Their wisdom was non-verbal. Where most people think in words, true sages, much of the time, are not thinking at all: they are perceiving. I don’t mean to say they are incapable of normal reasoning, even of brilliant reasoning. In fact, I have found them to be much clearer in this respect than most people. But the slow processes of ratiocination represent for them, rather, a step away from clarity into the tortuous labyrinth of “pros and cons”.

Yogananda was a sage of intuitive wisdom who disciplined his mind, out of compassion for people of slower understanding, to accept the plodding processes of “common sense”, and to trudge the twisting byways of ordinary human reasoning. His consciousness soared more naturally, however, in skies of divine ecstasy. His preferred way of expressing himself was to touch lightly on a point, inviting others to meet him on his own level. It was to us, his disciples, usually, that he left the task of expanding on, or explaining, the truths he presented in condensed form in his writings.

I did my best throughout this work not to change a single thought, and never to introduce any ideas of my own, though the logical flow made it necessary, sometimes, to create a bridge from one idea to the next. My job as editor has been to facilitate the flow of the author’s ideas. Occasionally, while working on the commentary for a particular stanza, some idea has occurred to me that, it seemed to me, might make a helpful addition to the book. In such cases I put that idea at the end of the commentary, under the heading, “Editorial Comment”.

The Rubaiyat, Stanza One
Three editions

(Parahmansa Yogananda’s commentary on The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was first serialized in “Inner Culture Magazine”, 1937-1944. It was later edited by Mrinalini Mata, a direct disciple of Yoganana, at Self Realization Fellowship, and serialized in “Self Realization Fellowship Magazine” from 1971 to the early 1990’s. What follow herewith are:

1) Omar Khayyam’s Stanza One, as translated by Edward FitzGerald;

2) Paramhansa Yogananda’s original commentary on that stanza;

3) A discussion of the editorial problems connected with Yogananda’s original;

4) Mrinalini Mata’s edition (henceforth called Self Realization Fellowship’s, or SRF’s), of that commentary, to be published in July, 1994, under the name Wine of the Mystic;

5) A discussion of the editorial problems connected with SRF’s edition;

6) Crystal Clarity’s edition of Stanza One, edited by J. Donald Walters, another direct disciple of Yogananda. This edition, also, will be published in July, 1994, under the name The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained;

7) An addition that appeared in the SRF version, but not in Yogananda’s original.

8) J. Donald Walters’ (Swami Kriyananda’s) analysis of portions of that addition.

Stanza One

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.

Yogananda’s Original:

Spiritual Interpretation:

The inner Silence silently sang: “Awake, forsake the sleep of ignorance, for the dawn of wisdom has thrown the stone of discipline to break the bowl of nocturnal unknowing, and put the starlike, pale, mock- lustred material desires to flight.

“Behold, the hunter of Eastern wisdom has cast a noose of light to catch the kingly minaret of pride of the soul and dispel its darkness.”

Moral:

Forsake melancholia, bask in the Light of Peace which destroys all false pride and inner gloom.

(The Glossary, which is part of the original text, is omitted here for the sake of brevity.)

Editorial problems:

1. “Silence silently” — these words are redundant.

The concept of “Silence” singing is both striking and unusual. What makes it so is, of course, not the thought of singing per se, but the image of “Silence” singing. Silence, then, is the important word. Its prominence, however, is diminished by its placement in the sentence. A stronger placement would be at the end: “Thus sang the inner silence”. The sentence would be further strengthened by giving it a paragraph of its own.

2. The remainder of the first paragraph would also be strengthened by not letting its beautiful images run together in a single sentence. These images are, after all, the opening salvo of the book. Verbal fanfare would be more appropriate. The images beg to be set forth in such a way as to suggest a “Grand Opening”. One simple method of accomplishing this end would be to give each image its own space.

3. “The starlike, pale, mock-lustred material desires.” So many adjectives in a row distract the attention, rather than focusing it. “Mock-lustreddesires” suggests that the desire is delusive. “Starlike”, in the other hand, suggests, not that their luster is false, but that it is diminished by the brilliance of Wisdom’s sun. Thus, the reader is given two concepts to absorb: the fact that desires lead to disappointment (which they do); and the truth that soul-fulfillment offers a greater light before which even the greatest material satisfaction pales to insignificance. Reason, unlike the meteoric flight of intuition, needs time to absorb each concept.

The central image, here, is of putting the paling stars to flight. The delusive nature of material desires, which promise happiness but provide only disappointment, is a separate subject; it is explored at length later in the book. I may be best here, then, to concentrate on the immediate image: the triviality of earthly fulfillments (the tiny stars) before the full glory of the dawn of wisdom.

4. The “bowl of nocturnal unknowing” gives the reader, again, two images to absorb: “bowl”, and “nocturnal”. Images are meant to clarify, not to confuse. It would be better in this case, because easier to absorb, for the central concept (“unknowing”) to be paired with a single image, and not made part of a triangle. “Dark bowl” provides that single image, and suggests itself as the best solution. “Nocturnal”, here, confuses the mind further by suggesting the existence of an opposite (“diurnal”, or daylight) kind of unknowing.

5. “The hunter of Eastern wisdom” leaves it unclear as to whether “Eastern wisdom” is the hunter or the hunted.

6. In the second section, titled Moral, “melancholia is but one of delusion’s consequences. Delusion as a whole, not melancholia specifically, is what the reader is being asked to forsake.

7. The chief problem with the moral is that it crowds three or four important thoughts into one brief sentence. Yogananda’s meteoric flights of intuition often needed to be spaced out for the sake of readers who have been accustomed all their lives to slow-paced reason, that they might absorb each concept in turn.

8. “Bask in the Light of Peace”. One basks in sunlight. One may bask in the “light” of flattery. To bask, however, suggests passivity, not conquest. Paramhansa Yogananda often said that for Divine grace to destroy our delusions we must cooperate with it actively.

9. “False pride”. There is a kind of pride that is spiritually valid, but it would have to be explained. And to explain it would be to digress from the central theme. This point is discussed at length later in the book. Better, here, simply to make clear within the sentence itself what it is that falsifies pride.

 

Self-Realization Fellowship’s (SRF’s) edition:

(Included below is only SRF’s version of Yogananda’s actual commentary. Omitted is a long addition that was inserted by SRF. This addition will be presented and discussed later.)

Spiritual Interpretation:


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 darkness”

(Moral:) Forsake spiritual lethargy and melancholia. Bask in the light of meditative peace and Self-realization, which destroys false pride of material existence and banishes inner soul gloom.

Editorial problems in the SRF edition

1. Omar Khayyam, and Yogananda after him, placed this stanza in
the past tense. The SRF edition changes the tense and, thereby, the meaning.

2. “The stone of discipline.”: Omar Khayyam, and Yogananda after him, said it was morning that threw the stone. In SRF’s version, the reader is urged to do the throwing.

3. “The hard stone”: “Hard” is redundant. All stones are hard.

4. “The pale stars of mock-lustred material desires.” The essential problem in Yogananda’s original is not addressed. No matter how pale the stars, their luster is not “mock”; it is genuine.

5. Yogananda’s expression “to catch the kingly minaret of pride of the soul and dispel its darkness” is not wholly clear, since one doesn’t normally think of pride as a soul attribute. Nevertheless, the mind lets it go because common English usage doesn’t always distinguish between soul and ego. SRF’s version thereby forces the reader to ponder how the soul—as distinct form the ego—can raise minarets of pride, or how it should happen that the soul must have its darkness (of delusion) dispelled.

6. SRF’s version of Yogananda’s moral preserves the passive word “bask”. Moreover, by saying “destroys” (singular) it intimates that only Self-realization destroys false pride. “Peace” is not included in this annihilating act. Thus, Yogananda’s meaning is changed — inadvertently one supposes. SRF’s version doesn’t make it clear that it is the light banishes gloom. “Destroy” (plural) would make this point clear. Presumably, “destroys” (singular) is a misprint.

7. The Glossary is missing from SRF’s Version of the first stanza. I don’t know why, since it always appears elsewhere. Where it is included, however, the editors changed the original placement, which was at the end of the commentary. Throughout the book, SRF placed it at the beginning, immediately following the stanza.

The reason for placing it first is clear: SRF’s editors wanted to suggest at the outset how Yogananda had arrived at his interpretations. There is a defect, however, in this arrangement. For by reading the glossary first, the reader is separated from the poetic mood of the stanza, and is forced into an analytical or intellectual mode of thinking. The poetry of Yogananda’s subsequent commentary, therefore, is pulled editorially toward a more prosaic exposition. SRF’s editing of the entire book demonstrates this altered approach.

This alteration has a further, and unfortunate, consequence. The reader is made to feel subliminally that Yogananda’s very approach to the stanza was more rational than intuitive. In the Rubaiyat Explained, especially—more, perhaps, than in any of Yogananda’s other books—it is stunningly clear in the original that his insights could only have come from intuition.

Swami Kriyananda’s edition

Paraphrase

Thus sang the inner Silence:

“Forsake your sleep of ignorance: Awake!

“For the dawn of wisdom has flung into the dark bowl of your unknowing the stone of spiritual discipline—that weapon of Divine power that can break the bowl and put to flight the paling stars of earthly desire.

“Behold, Wisdom—’the Hunter of the East’—has cast a noose of light to encircle the kingly minaret of your egoic pride: Wisdom to free you at last from the long night of spiritual ignorance!”

Expanded Meaning

Forsake delusion! Absorb into your innermost Self the calm light of Wisdom.

Listen! Your soul calls you to embrace a new adventure. As the sun travels form east to west across the sky, so does the light of civilization and of knowledge move across the earth. From the east comes wisdom’s call: Awake! all you who sleep in ignorance. Dispel gloom forever: Abide from today on in the light of inner peace.

(If problems exist in my edition, they will have to be explained by someone else. Were I capable of finding them, I’d have changed things accordingly. As I was, I estimate that I went over every sentence no fewer than fifty times. —JDW)

SRF’s Addition

(Here follows the omitted portion of SRF’s Edition, which followed the end
of the third paragraph and the words, “dispelling darkness”)

I have been inspired further to interpret this introductory quatrain as Omar’s personal clarion call to the spiritually sleeping:

“O inhabitants of the City of Delusion, sleep no more! The sunlight of my awakening message of mystic wisdom has arrived. Learn how to use the hard stone of spiritual discipline to break the bowl of your dark ignorance, dashing from its hold the desire for momentarily attractive material pleasures.

“Behold with envy how the Hunter of Wisdom has been searching out and gathering the lofty, kingly, spiritually advanced devotees of Truth, encompassing their souls with a halo of the everlasting Light of Freedom.”

Practical Application:

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.

The ordinary man earns a living, eats three times a day, amuses himself with trivial entertainments, remaining engrossed in the mechanical performance of material duties without ever awakening to the importance of understanding the purpose of life: attaining true happiness and sharing it with others. The wise man gives up false pride in self-perfection, the thought that “I am all right as I am”. Using the net of introspection, he catches delusion and destroys it. Forsake the slumber of ignorant habits and awaken wisdom by performing those good habits which alone can free life from danger and crown it with lasting happiness.

To be drunk with the daily round of haunting useless habits, to be negatively the same every day for years, is a wasted existence. 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 the stupor of sloth; race forward with progressive activities, and catch success in the net of soul creativity.

Problems with SRF’s Addition:

An in-depth analysis of each and every sentence would be burdensome to the reader. The fact is, almost every sentence presents some problem. Here, then, are merely a few thoughts:

The extended insertion impresses me as not having been written by Paramhansa Yogananda. The thoughts expressed are little more than repetitions of those already explained in the opening paragraphs. The style, moreover, is very different. In the insertion, the poetic simplicity of the first paragraph becomes lost in a plethora of images. Poetic images should serve the purpose of clarifying concepts; they should not complicate them. A few images, carefully chosen and carefully developed, are always preferable to many of them. It is partly the sheer over-use of imagery that makes me doubt the authenticity of this insertion.

The insertion begins: “I have been inspired further to interpret this introductory quatrain as Omar’s personal clarion call to the spiritually sleeping:” We have already had Omar’s “personal clarion call”, both in the stanza and in Yogananda’s paraphrase of it. What need is there to introduce another clarion call? What need is there, moreover, to emphasize that this call is “personal”? And what need is there to say, “I have been inspired further”, as though to suggest that the first inspiration had been insufficient?

“O inhabitants of the City of Delusion, sleep no more!” The image of a city of delusion is confusing. First, it implies that the whole city is in delusion, whereas the very purpose of Omar’s poem, and of Yogananda’s explanation, is to challenge people individually to awaken from their delusion. What are they expected to do, once they awake? Emigrate? The image is not only confusing; it is self defeating. A city of delusion raises images in the mind of shadows, darknesses, hungry cats prowling in dark alleys. Omar’s image, however, is one of the light dispelling darkness.

“Learn how to use the hard stone of discipline.” The original image is weakened. The first command—at least implied in Yogananda’s version, and stated openly in SRF’s—was “Use” the stone. Now we are told, “Learn how to use it.” A course of study is implied here: perhaps classes, lessons, detailed instructions. The immediacy of the original inspiration, which describes action occurring on an intuitive level, is distanced still further by this new call to make the intellectual effort to “learn how”.

“Behold with envy [emphasis added] how the Hunter of Wisdom has been searching out and gathering,”etc. Envy is a spiritual flaw. What is intended here, of course, is that one should emulate the saints, not envy them.

Practical Application:

This “Practical Application” serves no particularly useful purpose, especially since the points are brought out more effectively, and in better contexts, later on in the book.

“Pursued by the compelling commands of their hounding habits.” It is the hounds that pursue, surely, not their commands. “Compelling commands” works well enough as alliteration. “Hounding habits”, however, suggests the image of pursuing hounds. What “compelling commands” would a pack of pursuing hounds utter? The only image that comes to mind is, “Halt and be eaten!”

Pursued by compelling commands “most peoplehave not yet been awakened by wisdom to walk its pleasant pathways.” If you’re running for your life (as must be assumed from the fact that you’re being hounded), it is difficult to imagine how you can be asleep. All the imagery here is confusing.

“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.” What kind of writing is this? Oh, one can of course figure it all out. In the end, however, the effort costs the reader too much of his commitment to what he is reading.

“The ordinary man earns a living, eats three times a day, amuses himself with trivial entertainments, remaining engrossed [emphasis added] in the mechanical performance of material duties” “Remaining” modifies each of the three clauses before it. In other words, what is being said is, “The ordinary man earns a living remaining engrossed in the mechanical performance of material duties” [redundant]; “the ordinary man eats three times a day remaining engrossed in the mechanical performance of material duties” [difficult to imagine how he accomplishes both tasks at once]; “the ordinary man amuses himself with trivial entertainments remaining engrossed in the mechanical performance of material duties“[a contradiction in terms].

“Using the net of introspection, he catches delusion and destroys it.” How is one to visualize destroying anything with a net?

“To be drunk with the daily round of haunting useless habits” This brief phrase contains three images, none of then related to one another: “drunkenness”; a “daily round”(which implies a routine existence); and “haunting habits”, suggesting an image ofghosts. Thesehaunting habits, moreover, are described as being “useless”. The mind pauses to wonder, What kind of ‘haunting habits’ would be useful?

“Your soul was not meant to be a prisoner of passion, sleeping behind bars of ignorance.” If one is engaged in an act of passion of any kind, one is hardly asleep!

“Jerk yourself from the stupor of sloth.” It is not easy to imagine anyone in a stupor of sloth suddenly finding the inspiration to “jerk” himself from anything. “race forward with progressive activities.” Progressive activities have nothing to do with spatial movement. One associates them with the quality of the activities concerned.

“Catch success in the net of soul creativity.” A very confusing image.

I should like to reiterate the importance of not confusing poetry with a profusion of images. Poetic images must be few, apt, and well developed. It is better to develop one image over several paragraphs than to hurl dozens of them at the reader to persuade him that there’s a barrelful where those came from.

Alliteration, too, must be used both sensitively and sparingly, lest it become an object of humor (as Shakespeare demonstrated in some of his best comic scenes).

A commentary on The Rubaiyat should, if possible, be poetic too. Yogananda had the soul of a poet, and a great one at that. Though he left the process of refining his words to his disciples, we should appreciate in all its depth and beauty the treasures that he left.

 

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