Read by the author, Swami Kriyananda
Unlock the Mystery of One of the Great Spiritual Treasures of the Ages.
Omar Khayyam’s famous poem, The Rubaiyat, is loved by Westerners as a hymn of praise to sensual delights. In the East, his quatrains enjoy a very different reputation: they are known as a deep allegory of the soul’s romance with God. Even there, however, the knowing is based on who and what Omar Khayyam was: a sage and mystic. As for what the quatrains actually mean, most of them have remained a mystery in the East as much as in the West.
After eight centuries, Paramhansa Yogananda, one of the great mystics of our times, a master of yoga and the author of the now-classic Autobiography of a Yogi, explained the mystery behind Omar’s famous poem.
This book contains the essence of that great revelation. Unobtainable in book form since its first penning more than sixty years ago, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained is available at last, edited by one of Yogananda’s close disciples, Swami Kriyananda.
Omar Khayyam and Edward FitzGerald
One—Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Two—Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky
Three—And, as the Cock crew
Four—Now the New Year reviving old Desires
Five—Iram indeed is gone with all its Rose
Six—And David’s Lips are lock’t
Seven—Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
Eight—And look—a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Nine—But come with old Khayyam, and leave the Lot
Ten—With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
Eleven—Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough
Twelve— "How sweet is mortal Sovranty!"
Thirteen—Look to the Rose that blows about us
Fourteen—The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Fifteen—And those who husbanded the Golden Grain
Sixteen—Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
Seventeen—They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
Eighteen—I sometimes think that never blows so red
Nineteen—And this delightful Herb whose tender Green
Twenty—Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup
Twenty-one—Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
Twenty-two—And we, that now make merry in the Room
Twenty-three—Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend
Twenty-four—Alike for those who for Today prepare
Twenty-five—Why, all the Saints and Sages
Twenty-six—Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
Twenty-seven—Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Twenty-eight—With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow
Twenty-nine—Into this Universe, and why not knowing
Thirty—What, without asking, hither hurried whence?
Thirty-one—Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate
Thirty-two—There was a Door to which I found no Key
Thirty-three—Then to the rolling Heav’n itself I cried
Thirty-four—Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn
Thirty-five—I think the Vessel, that with fugitive Articulation answer’d
Thirty-six—For in the Market-place, one Dusk of Day
Thirty-seven—Ah, fill the Cup—what boots it to repeat
Thirty-eight—One Moment in Annihilation’s Waste
Thirty-nine—How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
Forty—You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
Forty-one—For "Is" and "Is-not" though with Rule and Line
Forty-two—And lately, by the Tavern Door agape
Forty-three—The Grape that can with Logic absolute
Forty-four—The mighty Mahmud, the victorious Lord
Forty-five—But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
Forty-six— ‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show
Forty-seven—And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press
Forty-eight—While the Rose blows along the River Brink
Forty-nine— ‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Fifty—The Ball no Question makes of Ayes or Noes
Fifty-one—The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ
Fifty-two—And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky
Fifty-three—With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man’s knead
Fifty-four—I tell Thee this—When, starting from the Goal
Fifty-five—The Vine had struck a Fibre
Fifty-six—And this I know: whether the one True Light
Fifty-seven—Oh Thou, who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
Fifty-eight—Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make
Fifty-nine—Listen again. One Evening at the Close of Ramazan
Sixty—And, strange to tell, among the Earthen Lot
Sixty-one—Then said another—"Surely not in vain"
Sixty-two—Another said—"Why, ne’er a peevish Boy"
Sixty-three—None answer’d this; but after Silence
Sixty-four—Said one—"Folks of a surly Tapster tell"
Sixty-five—Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh
Sixty-six—So while the Vessels one by one were speaking
Sixty-seven—Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide
Sixty-eight—That ev’n my buried Ashes such a Snare
Sixty-nine—Indeed the Idols I have loved so long
Seventy—Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before I swore
Seventy-one—And much as Wine has play’d the Infidel
Seventy-two—Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
Seventy-three—Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
Seventy-four—Ah, Moon of my Delight who know’st no wane
Seventy-five—And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
Long ago in India I met a hoary Persian poet who told me that the poetry of Persia often has two meanings, one inner and one outer. I remember the great satisfaction I derived from his explanation of the double significance of several Persian poems.
One day, as I was deeply concentrated on the pages of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, I suddenly beheld the walls of its outer meanings crumble away. Lo! vast inner meanings opened like a golden treasure house before my gaze.
Such profound spiritual treatises, by some mysterious divine law, do not disappear from the earth even after centuries of neglect or misunderstanding. Such is the case with The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Not even in Persia is Omar’s philosophy deeply understood. Few or none have plumbed it to the depths that I have tried to present here. Because of the spiritual power inherent in this poem, it has withstood the ravages of time, the misinterpretations of intellectual scholars, and the distortions of many translators. Ever pristine in its beauty, simplicity, and wisdom, it has remained an untouched and unpollutable shrine to which truth-seekers of all faiths, and of no faith, can go for divine solace and understanding.
In Persia, Omar Khayyam has always been recognized as a highly advanced mystic and spiritual teacher. His rubaiyat have been revered as an inspired Sufi scripture. “The first great Sufi writer was Omar Khayyam,” writes Professor Charles F. Horne in the Introduction to the Rubaiyat, which appears in Vol. VIII of “The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East” series. (Parke, Austin and Lipscomb, London, 1917.) “Unfortunately,” he continues, “Omar, by a very large number of Western readers, has come to be regarded as a rather erotic pagan poet, a drunkard interested only in wine and earthly pleasure. This is typical of the confusion that exists on the entire subject of Sufism. The West has insisted on judging Omar from its own viewpoint. But if we are to understand the East at all, we must try to see how its own people look upon its writings. It comes as a surprise to many Westerners when they are told that in Persia itself there is no dispute whatever about Omar’s verses and the spiritual depth of their meaning. He is accepted quite simply as a great religious poet.
“What then becomes of all [Omar’s] passionate praise of wine and love?” demands Professor Horne. “These are merely the thoroughly established metaphors of Sufism; the wine is the joy of the spirit, and the love is the rapturous devotion to God. . . .
“Omar rather veiled than displayed his knowledge. That such a man would be regarded by the Western world as an idle reveler is absurd. Such wisdom united to such shallowness is self-contradictory.”
Omar and other Sufi poets used popular similes and pictured the ordinary joys of life so that the worldly man could compare mundane pleasures with the superior joys experienced in the spiritual life. To the man who drinks wine in order to forget, temporarily, the unbearable sorrows and trials of his life, Omar offers a delightful alternative: the nectar of divine ecstasy, which leads to divine enlightenment, thereby obliterating human woe permanently. Surely Omar did not go through the labor of writing so many exquisite verses merely to “inspire” people to escape sorrow by drugging their senses with alcohol!
J.B. Nicolas, whose French translation of 464 rubaiyat (quatrains) appeared in 1867, a few years after Edward FitzGerald’s first edition, opposed FitzGerald’s view that Omar was a materialist. FitzGerald refers to this contradiction in the introduction to his own second edition, thus:
“M. Nicolas, whose edition has reminded me of several things, and instructed me in others, does not consider Omar to be the material epicurean that I have literally taken him for, but a mystic, shadowing the Deity under the figure of wine, wine-bearer, etc., as Hafiz is supposed to do; in short, a Sufi poet like Hafiz and the rest. . . . As there is some traditional presumption, and certainly the opinion of some learned men, in favor of Omar’s being a Sufi–even something of a saint–those who please may so interpret his wine and cup-bearer.” FitzGerald’s difficulty lay in the fact that, although some of the stanzas clearly lend themselves to a spiritual interpretation, most of the others seemed to him to defy any but a materialistic one.
In plain fact, Omar distinctly states that wine symbolizes the intoxication of divine love and joy. Many of his stanzas are so purely spiritual that hardly any material meaning can be drawn from them, as for instance in quatrains Forty, Forty-four, Fifty, and Sixty-six. The inner meaning of many other stanzas is more difficult to discern, but it is there nevertheless, and stands clearly revealed in the light of inner vision.
With the help of a Persian scholar, I translated the original rubaiyat into English. But I found that, though literally translated, they lacked the fiery spirit of Omar’s original. After I compared that translation with FitzGerald’s, I realized that FitzGerald had been divinely inspired to catch exactly, in gloriously musical English, the soul of Omar’s writings.
Therefore I decided to interpret the inner hidden meaning of Omar’s verses from FitzGerald’s translation rather than from my own or from any other that I had read.
FitzGerald prepared five different editions of The Rubaiyat. For my explanation I have chosen the first, as a person’s first expression–being spontaneous, natural, and the closest to true soul-inspiration–is often the deepest and purest.
As I worked on the spiritual explanation of The Rubaiyat, I found it taking me into an endless labyrinth of truth, until I was rapturously lost in wonderment. The veiling of Omar’s metaphysical and practical philosophy in these verses reminds me of “The Revelation of St. John the Divine.” Indeed, The Rubaiyat might justly be called “The Revelation of Omar Khayyam.”
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.
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!"
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 from 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.
What has pride brought you but melancholia and pain?—dark products of soul-ignorance. Dispel gloom forever: Abide from today onward in the light of inner peace.
Keys To Meaning
Morning — The dawn of awakening from delusive material existence.
Bowl of Night — The dark night of soul-ignorance.
Stone — Delusion-shattering acts of spiritual self-discipline.
Stars — Falsely attractive material desires.
Hunter of the East — Eastern wisdom, hunter and destroyer of delusion.
Sultan’s Turret — The kingly minaret of pride.
Noose of Light — The light of wisdom, which, like a lasso, haloes the darkness of ego to ensnare it, transforming it forever into kindred light.
* * * * * * *
It has long been a tradition in the East to face eastward during prayer and meditation. The reason, Paramhansa Yogananda explained, is that subtle rays of wisdom radiate westward over the earth.
It is a tenet in other traditions also that enlightenment comes from the east. American Indian tribes, for example, believe that a dwelling place should be built with its entrance eastward—"from whence," claim the Sioux Indians,
"all good things come."
Kedem (meaning "that which lies before, or in front") is the Hebrew word for east, and implies the direction to be faced during prayer.
In mystical tradition, east also represents the forehead,
specifically the point midway between the eyebrows. Modern medicine would
identify this point with the region just behind it, in the frontal lobe of the
brain. This area is, anatomically speaking, the most advanced part of the brain.
The devotee, by concentrating deeply here, finds the "sun" of inner, spiritual vision dawning upon his consciousness.
In 1950, when Paramhansa Yogananda withdrew to his desert retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms, California, he asked me to come with him and help with editing his writings. A group of several of us monks were standing with the Master beforehand. He said to us, "I asked Divine Mother whom I should take with me to help with editing, and your face, Walter, appeared. Just to be sure, I asked Her twice more, and both times your face appeared. That’s why I am taking you."
I’ve often thought he told us that in order that everyone might know he wanted me to do editing work. This was not the first time, moreover, that he quoted Divine Mother when giving directions concerning me. When I first met him he told me also, "I’m seeing you because Divine Mother told me to; I want you to know that. It isn’t because you’ve come from so far. [I’d traveled by bus all the way from New York.] Two weeks ago, a lady flew here all the way from Sweden, but I didn’t see her. I do only what Divine Mother tells me."
Editing this book was the first job he gave me that year in the desert. It has been published in recent years by Self-Realization Fellowship under the title, Wine of the Mystic. I confess I am not wholly pleased with their edition. To my mind it loses some of the poetry, and also some of the clarity of the original. Still, in fairness I think one should read both versions and draw his own conclusions.
The question remains, however: Why, since I knew that SRF would someday publish Yogananda’s commentaries on the Rubaiyat, did I publish my own edition? On this question there is, more than in most cases, a "story behind the story."
First of all, I felt I owed it to him to do this work. When he had me working with this manuscript in 1950, I was bewildered to find that his commentaries didn’t seem always to correspond with the words in Omar Khayyam’s quatrain. This doubt became a serious inner test for me, in fact. For I asked myself, "Is Master simply writing his own book, and not really giving the reader Omar Khayyam’s inner meanings?" I struggled over what appeared to me to be several serious discrepancies.
I had a further problem with the fact that Master would often have written one interpretation, and then said, "On the other hand, it also means (so and so)." Doubts arose in my mind. "Can’t he make up his mind?" I wondered. With my Aristotelian education, I thought that a truth was either one thing or another. How, I asked myself, could they be both?
I came through that test, completely won over by his love, and by my love for him. Years passed, however, before I was able fully to reconcile this intellectual dilemma. Only after years did I come to realize that truth is like a diamond, many faceted; that it shows greater subtlety of insight, in fact, to see a truth from several points of view, all of which, in their own context, are correct.
While editing the book, I gradually discovered that certain commentaries that hadn’t seemed at first to correspond clearly to the quatrain were actually addressed to deeper meanings implicit in the quatrain. I realized more clearly than ever how very subtle, and true, had been my Guru’s insight into every Rubaiyat, or quatrain.
The "clincher" to this story came in the spring of 1994, after a lecture I’d given on this book at the Theosophical Society in Sydney, Australia. A gentleman raised his hand and said, "In this particular passage [I forget which one it was, specifically] I don’t see a clear correspondence between the words of Omar Khayyam and what Yogananda says in his commentary."
"I had that trouble initially," I replied, "with several of the stanzas. As I meditated on what Master had written, however, I always found the connection, and found it to be always perfect."
At this point a lady in the audience raised her hand. "I am from Iran," she stated, "and am conversant with ancient Persian. I am also familiar with the stanza to which this gentleman refers. I do see his difficulty; what Yogananda wrote seems at first, in fact, to diverge in meaning from the original. The same stanza in the original, however, coincides perfectly with what Yogananda wrote."
Thus, I came to understand something that I had, in fact, come increasingly to feel as I was editing the book: Yogananda, who himself knew no Persian, was in perfect attunement with Omar Khayyam’s consciousness. It was as though the two of them, widely separated as they were in time, had been working consciously together! Master didn’t really work at all from Edward FitzGerald’s translation.
A corroboration of this way of working may be seen in what he told me of the way he’d written his commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita. After finishing that great work, he exclaimed rapturously, "A new scripture has been born!" Several times he repeated these words. Then he added, "Now I understand why my Master never wanted me to read other people’s commentaries on the Gita. He didn’t want my perception to be affected by them. While writing this book, I tuned my mind to Beda Byasa (Veda Vyasa, to some people), the author of the Bhagavad Gita, and asked him to write it through me. The words in this book are his words, not my own."
Interestingly, with regard to the editing I’ve done of Master’s books, I recorded my edition of the Rubaiyat, later on, in Menlo Park, California. I was so deeply moved by the wonderful poetry of it (I myself had only polished Master’s words; it was rather like varnishing a beautiful table in order to bring out the grain of the wood) that I broke down weeping while I read the last stanza. It took me several attempts before I was able to finish it.
Interestingly also, many years later I awoke from sleep with a melody for Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam’s poem. It fit all the stanzas, and I’ve often sung it when reciting a few of them. Though I am unfamilar with the music of Persia, I knew it was right. Some years later I was able to sing two stanzas of the poem to someone from Iran ( Persia). His first comment was to exclaim in surprise, "Why, that’s Persian!"
"This book was an instant classic the day it was published. A rare treasure of spiritual wisdom that will take your breath away and fill you with gratitude."
—Light of Consciousness magazine
"The most enchanting reading experience I’ve had in a decade."
—Wayne Dyer, author of Wisdom of the Ages
"For the lover and the poet, the philosopher and the sage . . . . In this volume, sages from the great traditions of the Muslim and Yogi, the East and the West, have stepped together to untangle an intricate dance and explain its meanings. It helps to restore our soul."
—Rabbi Michael Paley, Chaplain, Columbia University
"This is the alchemical wedding of body, mind, and spirit through the resonant words of poetry."
—Stan Madson, owner, Bodhi Tree Bookstore
"Yogananda’s spiritually illuminating commentary on the Rubaiyat is a living treasure which can be read and re-read, for each reading will unveil another truth in the infinite mystery of life."
—Yoga + Joyful Living magazine
"Yogananda’s interpretation of The Rubaiyat is a must-read for all spiritual seekers."
—Louise Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life
"Passionate, evocative of bliss, ecstasy, and possible transformation, the combined work of Khayyam, Yogananda, and Kriyananda sings with the beauty of inner mysteries and fathomless love."
—Body Mind Spirit magazine
"This is a tremendously spiritual book filled with deep wisdom that is applicable to daily life. . . . If you enjoy words that are filled with deep meaning, words you have to ponder and take inside and nurture for awhile, you’ll enjoy this book. . . . Take a look and see how difficult it is to put down."
—New Spirit Journal