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Svādyāya II: Omar’s Strait Road May 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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[This is the “missing” post related to Tuesday, May 18th. You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul
Where I’ll end up, well, I think only God really knows”

 

– quoted from the song “The Wind” by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens)

Imagine that you are one of the most influential polymaths of the Middle Ages. You are a phenomenal mathematician, astronomer, and scientist who wrote treatises on algebra and astronomy and you were able to calculate a year so accurately (so precisely) that, over 800 years after your death, a calendar based on your calculations is still used by millions, even billions of people.  Just imagine that level of accomplishment; soak up the feeling of being that accomplished.

Now, imagine that over 800 years after your passing, most people in the West – possibly in the world – don’t remember you for your accomplishments in math or science. Instead, imagine that what most people remember is that you were a poet – a poet known for a vast collection of poems you may or may not have written (some of which appear in the public sphere 43 years after your death). What if you wrote some or all of the poems attributed to you, but you wrote them as a diversion; a way to relieve stress and relax your mind between calculations, a little brain candy before going to sleep?

While you’re imagining all that, you may as well imagine that you were deeply religious, deeply committed to your faith and your Creator – so much so that your scientific work and philosophical essays (on existence, knowledge, natural phenomena, and free will and determination) all start off praising Allah and the Prophet Mohammed and end with blessings to the same. Yet, some people claim you were a nihilist, an agnostic, and/or purely a humanist. How would you feel if some people viewed you as the most divine (and Divinely inspired) poet in your faith and culture – yet, during your lifetime you were viewed as a heretic, your poems as blasphemy?

Practice a little svādyāya (“self-study”) and go a little deeper into how you might feel if all of that were true of you – as it is true of Omar Khayyám.

“Every line of the Rubáiyát has more meaning than almost anything you could read in Sufi literature.”

 

“The inner spiritual message is for all mankind, no matter what form it is contained in. The message is greater than any sect’s way of understanding it and goes out to all, just as the Sun shines on everyone, sinner and saint.

 

Fitzgerald’s first translation of the Rubáiyát was inspired for the benefit of all mankind. Allah works in mysterious ways. Whenever he wants something to come through in a pure way, it will happen in spite of everything.”

 

– from Who is the Potter? A Commentary on The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám by Abdullah Dougan (based on translations by Edward FitzGerald)

Given what we know about Omar Khayyám, who was born May 18, 1048, he might be equal parts amused and disgusted everyone doesn’t think cubic equations or Euclidean geometry and the parallel axiom when they hear his name. But, he also might not care. (After all, if all he is dead; so what would matter to him what we think?)

He might not mind that when people hear his name today, especially in the West, most people think of quatrains: complete poems written in four lines. Again, he might not care that some people consider his words (or words attributed to him) as their personal mantras. Then again, he didn’t care very much for people who claimed to have the answer to everything and, therefore (if he were alive), he might be annoyed that some people wave his words (or words attributed to him) completely out of context – or, even in support of things in which he didn’t believe.

“And do you think that unto such as you
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew
God gave a secret, and denied it me?
Well, well—what matters it? Believe that, too!”

 

– quoted from The Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám, translated by Richard Le Gallienne

As I mentioned in last year’s May 18th blog post, Khayyám’s popularity in the West is primarily due to a collection of translations by Edward FitzGerald. FitzGerald, an aspiring English poet and writer, was a contemporary of William Makepeace Thackeray and Lord Alfred Tennyson. He was also Christian skeptic and his skepticism comes through the translations loud and clear, as if he found a kindred spirit in the Persian poet. While a 2009 article in the book review section of The Telegraph indicates that The Rubáiyát has been published in at least 650 editions, with illustrations by 150 artists, and translated into 70 languages – and set to music by no less than 100 composers – there’s a distinct possibility that some of the poems were not actually written by this particular Persian mystic. 1,200 – 2,000 quatrains are often attributed to Khayyám, but some didn’t appear in the public sphere until 43 years after the poet’s death. Furthermore, prominent scholars have estimated that the actual number of verified lines is 121 – 178, or as little as 14 – 36.

“This cycle wherein thus we come and go
Has neither beginning, nor an end I trow,
And whence we came and where we next repair,
None tells it straight. You tell me yes or no.

***

We come and go, but bring in no return,
When thread of life may break we can’t discern;
How many saintly hearts have melted here
And turned for us to ashes who would learn?

***

The Skies rotate; I cannot guess the cause;
And all I feel is grief, which in me gnaws;
Surveying all my life, I find myself
The same unknowing dunce that once I was!

***

Had I but choice, I had not come at call,
Had I a voice why would I go at all?
I would have lived in peace and never cared
To enter, stay, or quit this filthy stall”

 

– selections from The Rubáiyát, quoted from The Nectar of Grace: Omar Khayyam’s Life and Works by Swami Govinda Tirtha

Given the quatrains quoted above and the fact that I initially mis-dated both playlists (and only caught the mistake once on my own), you might be surprised that today’s Tuesday’s title is not a type-o. It really is intentionally “Omar’s Strait Road,” because (Euclidean geometry aside) Omar Khayyám shares a birthday with the “King of Country”: George Strait.

Born May 18, 1952 (in Poteet, Texas), George Strait is considered one of the most influential and popular recording artists of all time. He has 13 multi-platinum, 33 platinum, and 38 gold albums and has sold over 100 million records worldwide (making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time). He was elected into Country Music Hall of Fame (in 2006, while still actively recording and performing) and named Artist of the Decade (for the 2000’s) by the Academy of Country Music (ACM). Additionally, he was named Entertainer of the Year by Country Music Awards (CMA) in 1989, 1990 and 2013 (making him the oldest entertainer so designated and the only person to win in three different decades) and by the ACM in 1990 and 2014 – making him the most nominated and most awarded artist for both Entertainer of the Year awards. (I’m not even going to try to tally his total awards count or how often he’s been on the Billboard charts, because that just gets ridiculous.)

“King George” is known for his blockbuster tours and has performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 30 times, over almost 40 years. However, his first performance was a bit of a fluke – he went on as a replacement for Eddie Rabbit, who was sick with the flu. Ironically, the Rodeo just announced that Strait – who retired from touring with his 2013 – 2014 record-breaking “The Cowboy Rides Away Tour” – is coming out of retirement to perform on the final night (03/20/22) when the Rodeo returns after being shut down by COVID.

A United States Army veteran, with a degree in agriculture, George Strait’s philanthropic endeavors include co-founding the Jenifer Lynn Strait Foundation (which is named for his daughter and supports children’s charities in the San Antonia area); serving as spokesman for the VF Corporation’s Wrangler National Patriot program (which raises awareness and funds for America’s wounded and fallen military veterans and their families); and co-founding and hosting the Vaqueros Del Mar (Cowboys of the Sea) Invitational Golf Tournament and Concert with his business partner Tom Cusick (in order to raise money for David Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, benefiting wounded servicemen, servicewomen and their families).  Additionally, he continuously supports agriculture and land and wildlife management programs and scholarships at his alma mater (Texas State University) and variety of disaster relief efforts.

Also worth noting, the King and his Queen (Norma) will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this December.

“There’s a difference in
Living and living well
You can’t have it all
All by yourself
Something’s always missing
‘Til you share it with someone else
There’s a difference in living and living well”

 

– quoted from the song “Living and Living Well” by George Strait

So, Omar Khayyám and George Strait share a birthday and a tendency to succeed in their endeavors. And they are also thought of as poets. The thing is, if you really pay attention to the lines of the poems and the songs, it seems like they also share a bit of the same philosophy. It’s a philosophy found in Khayyám’s essays (as well as the poems attributed to him) and centers around the idea that (for some reason) one day we are here and one day we will not be here and that, prior to dying, everyone suffers, but we decide what we do with all that time in between. Given these “givens,” we can (in the words of these two poets):

  • Have “a nice little life,” “let [ourselves] go” spending the time we are given “living well” and, at the end of the day say, “My life’s been grand” or
  • Just feel “grief, which in me gnaws;” have a heart “as hard as that old Caliche dirt,” and “just wanna give up.”

There is, of course, a third option: Join the “maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew” that dogmatically believes they are the only one with all the answers. (“Check yes or now.”)

“The world will long be, but of you and me
No sign, no trace for anyone to see;
The world lacked not a thing before we came,
Nor will it miss us when we cease to be.”

 

– quoted from (quatrain 132) Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Ahmad Saidi (with preface by Seyyed Hossein Nasr)

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.

 

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d–
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

 

– XXVII and XXIX from The Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám

 

“Even if a man had lived for a hundred years and had changed his religion, philosophy, and beliefs twice a day, he could scarcely have given expression to such a range of ideas.”

 

– commentary by Sadegh Hedayat in In Search of Omar Khayyám by Ali Dashti (translated by L. P. Elwell-Sutton)

 

 

### “Be happy for this moment. / This moment is your life.” ~ OK ###