Imagine attending a concert where the musicians are playing the harp, piano, violin or cello with missing strings. You were expecting a sweet melody, and you still hear many of the notes, but the continuity you expected will be missing. Each of us is a string in a Divine, universal instrument, but we are not all present to sound our note that creates the sublime harmony of love. That is because the music is being played within a walled garden, and until we enter, our notes are not heard.
Little is known about the 12th century Sufi master Hakim Sanai, but he has much to teach us about the wall, the garden and the music. But Sanai, like all other spiritual masters, began his journey in the world outside the garden. Sanai had gained fame as the court poet of the Sultan of Ghazni, Bahramshah. As such, it was his duty to write poetic histories that sang the praises of the Sultan and immortalized his victories. In his exalted capacity, Sanai was accompanying the Sultan and his army on a mission of conquest across India. As the great caravan passed a walled garden, Sanai heard a melody so sweet; it pierced his heart with an ecstasy he had never felt before. Although he felt compelled to investigate, the rest of the vast company was disinterested and irritated by the ‘noise’ they heard.
Sanai was shocked to find that the musician responsible for the glorious music appeared to be an incorrigible drunk. It’s considered a sin for Muslims to drink alcohol, but the musician called for wine so he could toast the passing Sultan. Of course the Sultan expected praise; who would offer anything else to one who could so easily end your life? But this was no ordinary drunk; it was Lai-Khur, a renowned, yet notorious, Sufi mystic. Instead of praise, Lai-Khur toasted the Sultan’s blindness in going off to attack India when Ghazni itself contained infinite beauty. If that were not enough, he called for a second toast to the ‘even greater’ blindness of Hakim Sanai!
Before we discover what happened next, it’s important that we look past the surface of the story. The meeting between a ‘crazy’ mystic and two great men could easily be written off as dead history, but when we look closer, the symbolic language tells a timeless story of spiritual awakening. We can begin by understanding that the walled garden symbolizes something far greater than a few flower beds. The English word paradise came from old French, Latin and Greek words describing an ‘enclosed park.’ Thoughts of heaven may come to mind when the word paradise is used, but this walled ‘paradise’ garden symbolizes the sublime spiritual state of oneness with the Divine. The wall signifies the fact that one must make a conscious choice to enter.
It’s common for us to think of a wall or enclosure as something that’s constructed by someone else who wants to keep us out, but in this case we would be mistaken. This wall is a barricade we each construct to keep the Divine music from reaching us and luring us into the garden to join in the song. But why would we do such a thing? Sadly, we’ve convinced ourselves that we would be happier outside the garden playing our own music even if we must play alone. The wall also symbolizes the difference between being spiritually awake and asleep, believing we are this body or understanding that the body is a mere projection of the true Self.
If you read our earlier blog on Hafiz, you may have already realized that Lai-Khur was drunk, not on literal wine, but on gnosis: the direct, personal experience of the Divine. Although he was still projecting a body, he was living fully as the Divine Self. From the standpoint of those who were outside the wall, still enmeshed in this world, he appeared to be a raving lunatic and his music more discord than harmony. When Lai-Khur raised the cup of truth to toast the Sultan and Hakim Sanai, he was accusing them of spiritual blindness. When Lai-Khur scolded him for going to India when he already possessed a kingdom, he was alluding to the fact that the Sultan had set his heart on conquering what was outside him when the real prize was already his. He would remain blind to the treasure within if he continued to look outside.
Sanai may have secretly agreed that the Sultan was greedy and foolish, but he certainly wasn’t prepared to have Lai-Khur accuse him of being even worse! Sanai had thought of himself as devout and virtuous, but that was the problem. The Sultan was aware of his own greed for power and riches, but Sanai was fooling himself. He was religious, but he wasn’t spiritual. He scrupulously followed religious rules and thought of himself as one who was devoted to God, but it was the world and its accolades that really interested him.
But Lai-Khur’s exquisite music had entered his heart, and his spiritual eyes were opened. He suddenly understood that he had been as deeply asleep as the Sultan, and just as attached to the world and the little self. He realized that if he was to enter the garden, he would have to be the one to tear down the wall of separation that he had erected to keep him from Oneness with All That Is. Without delay, Sanai resigned his position as court poet. The Sultan, who couldn’t imagine what insanity had suddenly overtaken his friend, offered Sanai his daughter and half his kingdom if he would stay. But what had once been very important to Sinai had become completely meaningless.
Sinai’s spiritual eyes were opening and he was waking up. Once this process begins, there is no turning back. This awakening is often referred to as ‘enlightenment,’ and many mistakenly believe it means that they have reached the ultimate spiritual goal. But recognizing the Oneness that’s hidden behind the illusion of separate forms is a beginning, not an end. Sanai didn’t make that mistake; he left the Sultan and set off on a pilgrimage of his own that would give him time to assimilate the overwhelming realization that life was not at all what he had imagined.
Sanai continued to open himself to one insight after another until he had mastered the self. When he returned to Lai-Khur, he was living as the Divine Self and he was ready to enter the garden. But Hakim Sanai did not come back empty handed. He had poured his experience of gnosis into a book, “The Walled Garden of Truth.” He joined his chords to the music that continually drifts from behind the walls of the garden. Do you hear it? Will you join in?
We tried reasoning our way to him:
It didn’t work;
But the moment we gave up,
No obstacle remained.
He introduced himself to us out of kindness:
How else could we have known Him?
Reason took us as far as the door;
But it was His presence that let us in.
But how will you ever know Him, As long as
You are unable to know Yourself?
Once one is one, no more, no less;
Error begins with duality;
Unity knows no error
The road your Self must journey on lies
In polishing the mirror of your heart