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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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This verse has an elegant subtlety, and 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...



Recommended Books: Hakim Sanai

Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi The Walled Garden of Truth
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No tongue can tell