Apr 21 2014
Bring all of yourself to his door
by Hakim Sanai
English version by D.L. Pendlebury
Bring all of yourself to his door:
bring only a part,
and you’ve brought nothing at all.
— from The Walled Garden of Truth, by Hakim Sanai / Translated by David Pendlebury
/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /
These few lines from Sanai aren’t particularly poetic. They aren’t filled with exotic and lovely imagery. Reading this short verse we don’t get that boost of uplifting energy we often seek in sacred poetry. Yet it resonates, doesn’t it?
I think these lines get to the core of what spiritual seeking is all about. What does it mean for us to bring all that we are to God’s door? If you prefer less theistic language, how do we stand fully before the Eternal Presence? This is the fundamental dilemma of every seeker.
The truth is that we are always before the Eternal Presence, but most of the time not much seems to be happening. The problem isn’t that God isn’t there, it’s that we are not there. Not fully. But what then does it mean to bring all of ourselves to that meeting?
We begin to wrestle with our own reflexes, trying so hard to be fully present, trying to bring our whole selves to the threshold — and yet we still hold back.
We each have a deep seated instinct to hide. We feel protected when we hide. To not be seen is to be safe. This is the entire purpose of the ego; we create a social mask behind which we hide ourselves. We gather our experiences, stitch them together with a narrative, and present that patchwork creation to the world, saying, “This is me. Don’t look any further.” The formulation and modification of this ego-mask becomes the primary work of most of our lives, and we too easily forget that we are not that mask, that we are, in fact, something much bigger and less easily defined. The act of hiding becomes institutionalized in the awareness. Only a rebellion can overcome this entrenched pattern in the awareness. But before that revolution can catch fire and spread throughout the psyche, we need to recognize the effects of this dynamic and we have to really decide that we don’t want to hide any more.
Now, we need to be clear with ourselves that there may very well be reasons to present a specific image of ourselves in social situations. Some parts are emphasized and others necessarily held back. Some aspects of our lives are appropriately private or sacred or vulnerable, and not to be casually shared.
Here’s the thing: That same valid self-protection mechanism becomes spiritually toxic when we try to hide aspects of ourselves from our own awareness… or from God. We need to drop those fig leaves that were a childish attempt to hide parts of ourselves from the All-Seeing.
The fulness of all that we are is much bigger than any neat story we want to pack it all into. We can’t truncate parts of ourselves to force a snug fit into the story we want to tell ourselves. We must dwell in our entirety. Anything else becomes self-dismemberment. We must claim all of our history, all our feelings and thoughts, the painful and the celestial all together.
And then we step up to the threshold. Hesitant, naked, vulnerable, we step up to God’s door, we enter the eternal present moment. That’s when the magic happens. The large, unwieldy collection of victories and wounds we’ve brought with us comes into focus for the first time and we have a vision of ourselves, our whole selves, alive and immense, integral within the living immense universe. That which we were hesitant to look at within ourselves becomes an image of beauty and, yes, majesty blissfully melting into the majestic Beauty all around us.
We all, on some level, crave this encounter precisely in order to heal the deep pain of separation. If we come with less than our whole selves, if we come with only fragments of our being, how then can we find healing?
Bring all of yourself to his door
Not much is known about Hakim Sanai, often just called Sanai or Sanai of Ghazna. Sanai is one of the earlier Sufi poets. He was born in the province of Ghazna in southern Afghanistan in the middle of the 11th century and probably died around 1150.
Rumi acknowledged Sanai and Attar as his two primary inspirations, saying, “Attar is the soul and Sanai its two eyes, I came after Sanai and Attar.”
Sanai was originally a court poet who was engaged in writing praises for the Sultan of Ghazna.
The story is told of how the Sultan decided to lead a military attack against neighboring India and Sanai, as a court poet, was summoned to join the expedition to record the Sultan’s exploits. As Sanai was making his way to the court, he passed an enclosed garden frequented by a notorious drunk named Lai Khur.
As Sanai was passing by, he heard Lai Khur loudly proclaim a toast to the blindness of the Sultan for greedily choosing to attack India, when there was so much beauty in Ghazna. Sanai was shocked and stopped. Lai Khur then proposed a toast to the blindness of the famous young poet Sanai who, with his gifts of insight and expression, couldn’t see the pointlessness of his existence as a poet praising such a foolish Sultan.
These words were like an earthquake to Hakim Sanai, because he knew they were true. He abandoned his life as a pampered court poet, even declining marriage to the Sultan’s own sister, and began to study with a Sufi master named Yusef Hamdani.
Sanai soon went on pilgrimage to Mecca. When he returned, he composed his poetic masterpiece, Hadiqatu’l Haqiqat or The Walled Garden of Truth. There was a double meaning in this title for, in Persian, the word for a garden is the same word for paradise, but it was also from within a walled garden that Lai Khur uttered the harsh truths that set Hakim Sanai on the path of wisdom.