The Enclosed Garden of the Truth
By Hakim Sanai, edited by Kieron D. Moore, translated by M.J. Stephenson
Publisher: Create Space Independent Pub. Platform, 2016
The Walled Garden of Hakim Sanai
By Hakim Sanai, translated and abridged by David Pendlebury
Publisher: London: Octogon Press, 1974
ISBN: 0900860359. (Also e-books.)
The masterwork of Hakim Sanai, the twelfth-century Persian Sufi from Ghazna, entitled Hadiqat ul-Haqiqat (translated as The Enclosed, or Walled, Garden of Truth), opened a new era in Sufi literature. As the first Sufi work to present spiritual teachings in poetry, it was the inspiration for Rumi’s Masnavi a century later. Rumi wrote of Sanai: “I left off boiling while still half-cooked; Hear the full account from the Sage of Ghazna.”
It is surprising, then, that so few attempts have been made to translate this masterpiece into English. The only significant undertaking was by Major J. Stephenson, who in 1910 published a Persian edition of the first book of the Hadiqat ul-Haqiqat, about one-sixth of the entire work, also translating it into English. No further English translations of this monumental piece of Sufi literature has been attempted, perhaps because of the poor condition of the early manuscripts, which are often confusing and conflicting even as to the order of verses.
Unfortunately, Stephenson’s work is dense and challenging to read. This is partly because he ignores the poetic structure and compresses the verses into long paragraphs of prose, and partly because he uses a Victorian style of English. Also, Stephenson provides no notes to explain the many references in Sanai’s work that, however clear in his time, baffle readers today.
Two more recent books have set out to make the profound spiritual insights of Sanai’s work more accessible to the English-speaking reader. Both are based on Stephenson’s work. Kieron Moore took Stephenson’s prose and re-structured it into verse form, aiming to capture something of the rhythm and meter of the original. For example,
Say, the world of evil and of good proceeds not
except from Him and to Him, nay, is Himself.
All objects receive their outline and forms from Him,
their material basis as well as their final shape.
Element and material substance,
the form and colours clothing the four elements.
All things known as limited and finite,
are as but a ladder for thy ascent to God.
Moore also added detailed endnotes for every instance where Sanai alluded to a Quranic verse, a saying of the Prophet, or an image, story or metaphor obscure to the modern reader. Moore finds that many of Sanai’s allusions require some knowledge of Aristotle, Plotinus, Avicenna, and other philosophers, and his endnotes decode these references. Nonetheless, much of the text will be readily understood by any spiritual seeker. For example,
Since the object of desire exists not in any place,
how can you purpose to journey towards Him on foot?
The highroad by which thy spirit and prayers can travel towards God,
lies in the polishing of the mirror of the heart.
David Pendlebury, in the second book here reviewed, took a different approach. Relying on Stephenson’s edition of the Persian text, he chose to abridge and re-translate it. Skipping over all the obscure references, he selected passages that he felt spoke in a universal way to seekers following any spiritual path. These he rendered into verse in modern English, placing his selected verses in the same order in which they appear in the original, but with no notation showing how much was left out. The end result is brief (75 pages), but beautiful and inspiring. Some examples:
He introduced himself to us
out of kindness: how else
could we have known him?
Reason took us as far as the door;
but it was grace that let us in.
Bring all of yourself to his door:
bring only a part,
and you’ve brought nothing at all.
The way is not far
from you to the friend:
you yourself are that way:
so set out along it.
In another place Sanai gives clear instructions:
Arrange things so that when death calls,
he finds your soul waiting in the street.
Leave this house of vagabonds:
if you are at God’s door, stay there;
if not, make your way there now.
And in another conveys stern warnings:
A man must enter into prayer
sore-wounded and in poverty;
without humility and trust,
the devil will lead him by the nose.
He reveals our true condition:
You have broken faith,
yet still he keeps his faith with you:
he is truer to you
than you are to yourself.
Yet gives encouragement:
From him forgiveness comes so fast,
it reaches us before repentance
has even taken shape on our lips.
From the Pendlebury book are additional words of encouragement and wisdom.
If you wish for a pearl
you must leave the desert
and wander by the sea;
and even if you never find
the gleaming pearl, at least
you won’t have failed to reach the water.
It is your part to hand out
forgiveness and mercy;
mine to falter and fall.
Fool that I am, take me,
stumbling drunk that I am,
take my hand.
Either translation – Moore’s more complete and annotated version, or Pendlebury’s abridged but more lyrical one – clearly reveals the depth and beauty of Hakim Sanai’s teachings.
Book reviews express the opinions of the reviewers and not of the publisher.