Lately I’ve been reading a translation of Sarmad by Paul Smith, who seems to have translated almost the whole body of Persian language Sufi poetry into English – tons of material. Paul Smith is a disciple of the 20th century spiritual teacher Meher Baba, whose center near Ahmednagar in Maharashtra I’ve visited. Interestingly the small town of Ahmednagar is also the place where emperor Aurangzeb (or Alamgir) died. Aurangzeb was responsible for Sarmad’s execution; a year or so after he had his elder brother and rival to the throne Darah Shikoh killed. Dara Shikoh, like Sarmad, was also a sufi and a composer of poems. He is also known for translating the Upanishads. A great man but a poor leader of men, unfortunately.
I don’t much care for Paul Smith’s translations, unfortunately, at least not his rubaiyat of Sarmad. He attempts to follow the traditional rubaiyat format of rhyming the first, second and fourth line, as Edward Fitzgerald did more successful with Omar Khayyam back in the 19th century. But whereas Fitzgerald employed blank verse, Smith’s translations are almost like prose, except for the rhyme at the end of the line. This convention doesn’t work very well, in my opinion.
This is what I occupy myself with instead of worrying about citizenship laws, impending wars and other troubles. Sarmad would feel right at home I think, or not at home:
“Until your last breath
This world won’t be your friend.”
I feel a need to write some sort of manual about how to spiritually survive the current dark age. It would be full of quotations from Lao Tzu, Ashtavakra, Sarmad… Lao Tzu was probably the most practical survivalist. His teachings provided the philosophical basis of Chinese martial arts, but he also showed people how to stay out of harm’s way. In T’ang dynasty China, many a disgraced courtier would find asylum by adopting a new life far from the emperor in the forests and mountains south of modern day Xian. Even today, folks who are disgruntled with modern day China and want to lead a simpler lifestyle are reportedly finding refuge in these same mountains. There have been a couple of films about these modern day hermits. However, the spiritual survival about which the sufis and vedantins (and Lao Tsu himself) speak is more important than merely living out one’s days.
Shorten your complaint.
Of two choices, take one.
Either surrender your body
To the will of your friend
to sacrifice your soul.
At the time of his death, he was perfectly ready. He “looked straight into his executioner’s eyes, and spoke the following words:
o come, I implore you!
In whatever guise you come
I know you well.
Aurangzeb, on the other hand, lived almost to the age of 90, but did not know peace. He had on his conscience the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men. From his deathbed he wrote:
I know not who I am, where I shall go, or what will happen to this sinner full of sins. . . . My years have gone by profitless. God has been in my heart, yet my darkened eyes have not recognized his light. . . . There is no hope for me in the future. The fever is gone, but only the skin is left. … I have greatly sinned, and know not what torments await me. . . . May the peace of God be upon you.