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Coming (& Going) Through The Door May 18, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open for the night of power.)

 “Be happy for this moment.
This moment is your life.”

 

– Omar Khayyám

One of the most influential polymaths of the Middle Ages – a mathematician, astronomer, and scientist who wrote treatises on algebra and astronomy and whose calendar calculations still provide the basis for calendars used in Iran and Afghanistan – is primarily remembered in the West as a poet. One wonders if Omar Khayyám (born today, Mary 18, 1048) would find it amusing or annoying that when most people outside of his homeland think of him they think not of cubic equations or Euclidean geometry and the parallel axiom, but of quatrains, complete poems written in four lines. I personally think he might be amused, especially considering the fact that many historians believe he wrote the poems as a diversion, a little personal entertainment to relieve stress. Some historians even have good solid reasons to believe that many of the quatrains attributed to Khayyám were not actually written by him. Especially since the poems did not start appearing in the public sphere until 43 years after Khayyám’s death.

“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)

 

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, but his literary aspirations never met with the acclaim of his friends. His friend and professor, Edward Byles Cowell (a noted translator of Persian poetry and the first professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge University) sent FitzGerald the quatrains in the form of two manuscripts: the Bodleian (containing 158 quatrains) and the “Calcutta” manuscript. While the initial pamphlet of the Rubáiyát, didn’t receive much fanfare, it would eventually become so popular that FitzGerald approved four editions of the “collection of poems written in four lines” and a fifth would be publish after his death. According to a 2009 article in the book review section of The Telegraph, The Rubáiyát has been published in at least 650 editions, with illustrations by 150 artists, and translated into 70 languages. All this, plus, it has been set to music by no less than 100 composers.

“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)

Edward FitzGerald was a Christian skeptic and his skepticism comes through the translations loud and clear, as if he found a kindred spirit in the Persian poet. On the flip side, some see Omar Khayyám as a Sufi mystic – even though, he was reviled by prominent Sufi leaders during his lifetime. Lines like “Who is the Potter, pray, and who is the Pot?” further the confusion as they can be seen as a very definitely acknowledgement of a Divine Creator or as a philosophical question posed by a writer who believes God is a construct of man. Those religious and spiritual contradictions, the sheer volume of poems, and the lack of provenance are some of the problems critics have with all of the quatrains being attributed to Omar Khayyám. In fact, while there are 1,200 – 2,000 quatrains attributed to Khayyám, prominent scholars have estimated that the actual number of verified lines is 121 – 178, as little as 14 – 36.

In addition to some poems, and his work in math and astrology, Omar Khayyám wrote several philosophical essays about existence, knowledge, and natural phenomena. One such essay, on free will and determination, is entitled “The necessity of contradiction in the world, determinism and subsistence” – which puts a whole other spin on the poems if, in fact, he wrote them as a kind of brain candy.

“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

You can come to the practice as a physical-mental exercise, as a spiritual exercise, or even as a mathematical exercise. The question is: will you leave it the same way you came to it? What will shift, what will change along the way? These are the questions we ask each and every time we step on the mat. Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, May 18th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

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