No tongue can tell Your secret

by Hakim Sanai

English version by Priya Hemenway
Original Language Persian/Farsi

No tongue can tell Your secret
for the measure of the word obscures Your nature.
But the gift of the ear
is that it hears
what the tongue cannot tell.

-- from The Book of Everything: Journey of the Heart's Desire, by Hakim Sanai Al-Ghaznavi / Translated by Priya Hemenway

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/ Image by Sophie Charlotte /

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Today we contemplate a verse by the great Sufi poet Sanai. I especially wanted to feature Sanai out of respect the the many people killed by the recent bombing in Afghanistan. In a country traumatized for centuries by the colonial intentions of world superpowers from without and harassed by pockets of reactionary extremism from within, it is worth remembering that Rumi was born in Afghanistan, Sanai was from Afghanistan, Ansari, Rahman Baba... Afghanistan has given the world some of our greatest spiritual and poetic voices. I bow in deep respect to the people of Afghanistan.


This verse has an elegant subtlety, and is trimmed with a thin edge of wit. Here Sanai is playing with the mystic's dilemma of words.

No tongue can tell Your secret
for the measure of the word obscures Your nature.

The direct encounter with the Divine can't truly be put into words. Words are a creation of the limited mind, powerful, certainly, but limited. Words, even when masterfully wielded, can only describe limited aspects of limited reality. Words imply a fracturing of reality into countless objects, an impassible duality of observer and observed, describer and described. How can words properly convey the undivided Wholeness?

(There is really no 'encounter' the way I just phrased it, because that implies two separates meeting, when there is really only the profound recognition of unity. Words fail the Wholeness.)

Seeing this limitation, some teachers construct complex frameworks of descriptions. Some hint and suggest and riddle. Some fall silent. What is said and what is left unsaid... a fascinating game. But it is only the encounter (which is not really an encounter) that conveys the truth of all this.

The "tongue cannot tell" these things properly. "But the gift of the ear / is that it hears" anyway. That is, when we truly and openly listen, an inner whisper begins to draw the awareness beyond the descriptions, the suggestions, the silences. And suddenly there we stand, outside of all words and concepts that obscure while they define. There we stand, witnessing, participating in the living Wholeness that is the divine nature of undivided Reality.

I like the game of words, perhaps too much. But it is time for my tongue to rest and let the ear enjoy its gift...


And to all of our Muslim friends and neighbors, Ramadan Mubarak! May this Ramadan season be one of blessings and spiritual renewal for you.

Recommended Books: Hakim Sanai

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom
More Books >>

No tongue can tell