Learning causes the mind to grow. (Empedocles)
If you want to know the Rubaiyat poem, it is sound advice to go to a translation of such verses first. There are many more of them than what is in FitzGerald's transmogrification of combined phrases and verses from some of the medieval verses. But note a problem:
The number of quatrains attributed to Khayyam varies from about 1,200 (according to Saeed Nafisi) to over 2,000. Many scholars believe that not all the attributed quatrains are authentic and some have been added to Khayyam's Diwan in later years for various reasons. A few literary researchers, for example Mohammad-Ali Foroughi and Farzaneh Aghaeipour, have selected and published a subset of the quatrains believed to be original using various research methods. (Wikipedia, "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam")
Translators have used to pick out different old verses for their translations and arrange them differently.
If you want to read the Rubaiyat of Edward FitzGerald, you could do worse that choosing the fifth and last edition he worked a long time on, and not the first, which he worked himself away from as his knowledge of Persian improved.
Beginning in 1859, FitzGerald authorized four editions and had a fifth posthumous edition of his translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám . . . of which three (the first, second, and fifth) differ significantly; the second and third are almost identical, as are the fourth and fifth. The first and fifth editions are almost equally reprinted and equally often anthologized. (Wikipedia, "Edward FitzGerald")
In any case it should be good to be aware that much of the imagery and many phrases FitzGerald uses are not found in current translations (Examples are given on the next page).
Two American commentaries, "allegedly on Omar, but really on FitzGerald," have been developed in two American groups of followers of the same mystic, Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952). The wording in the two separate commentaries are often quite different. Yogananda's commentary was first published in a series of instalments in the yogi's own magazine, Inner Culture, between 1937 and 1944. What is said in the series might be closest to what he himself said. The series may be hard to find today. What is ascribed to Yogananda in it, should be close to what he had in mind when dictating, and closer to it than in later editions, where his words are amplified, rephrased and paraphrased differently by two publishers.
Today there may be few alive who can can tell just what Yogananda had in mind when he hinted at this and that to his stenographer and editors. However, he was his magazine's top dog - the magazine that first published his so-called Rubaiyat commentary; he did not put his foot down about it. To the contrary.
With these things in mind, the most alarming flaw in the Yogananda commentaries is that he refused to base his commentary on a translation, but chose to comment on FitzGerald's transmogrification. He liked to claim he saw Omar's ideas behind phrase after phrase that are not in any of the best known translations of the medieval collection of miscellaneous quatrains (verses). Yes, Yogananda told he tuned into the medieval Omar Khayyam, but used Fitzgerald's work. His commentary is a series of goadings based on FitzGerald, and looks clownish and unstudied.
Some FitzGerald phrases are said to stem from Omar among the other quatrain poets, but which, in case? That might be awfully hard to decide.
If we compare the collection of over a thousand quatrains to a wood, only some of the trees may be Khayyam trees, and the other trees are by other poets in Persia. FitzGerald did not discern between Khayyam trees and other trees, while Yogananda did not discern between FitzGerald trees and Khayyam trees and did not comment on all the remaining trees in the wood. He told he saw just Khayyam trees in FitzGerald's transmogrification
Are the two Yogananda commentaries one or two scams? That could be hard to tell in the light of this: the "intuitive mystic's approach" was a work of illusions, if his own visions did not fail him terribly: He told the wide universe is an illusion, but overlooked the obvious: he and his teachings in the universe were not real if that were the case. Oops! To cut it short:
One day when Alfred Hitchcock was still a churchgoing Catholic, he was driving through a Swiss city when he suddenly pointed out of the car window and said, "That is the most frightening sight I have ever seen."
Problems that Yogananda gave rise to
Yogananda's disciple Kriyananda edited Yogananda's mock commentary on the Rubaiyat. He writes how Yogananda opens his spiritual commentary with "The inner Silence silently sang" . . . and adds this moral: "Forsake melancholia, bask in the Light of Peace which destroys all false pride and inner gloom."
The editing Kriyananda met with a problem or three there. One was Yogananda's "Silence silently sang." Another was the "The starlike, pale, mock-lustred material desires." He confirms: "So many adjectives in a row distract . . . The central image, here, is of putting the paling stars to flight."
You may do better than that: you could see what is in the translations, and come up with "The day breaks. Have some wine." And so on.
On the next page are two handfuls of Rubaiyat verses of FitzGerald. The verses in his fifth edition are included, and some translations to compare with too. It stands out there may be a little "Omar" in Yogananda's commentary where much content is ascribed to Omar for no specially good reason. Yet, much by FitzGerald is not in any translations of the many medieval verse. You may see for yourself: [Next page]
Swelling Yogananda commentaries are hardly the main problem
The main problem with Yogananda's commentary is that he chose to forgo a translation for FitzGerald's creation while claiming he read what Omar Khayyam had in mind through a book that had more of FitzGerald's mind or making in it. It is generally unwise to do such things. The mature way is "Omar by a main translation." The evidence is on the next page.
To obscure matters even more, Swami Kriyananda elaborated on his guru's "Omar by Fitz", for he thought Yogananda's stenographed ideas needed to be amplified and rephrased. And not only he thought so; the SRF editor did the same thing: amplified and rephrased, but in other ways than their competitor. So the end results are different. One edition of the commentary is not exactly like the other.
Kriyananda on Yogananda:
His preferred way of expressing himself was to touch lightly on a point . . . It was to us, his disciples, usually, that he left the task of expanding on, or explaining, the truths he presented . . . My job as editor has been to facilitate the flow of the author's ideas. [Kriyananda. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained, 2008, preface, passim]
Kriyananda also admits that "almost every sentence presents some problem" (Ibid.).
It often helps to get informed and believe as little as may be of any grossly unsubstantiated, grand-looking, swollen claims. Yogananda was one of those who claimed the Rubaiyat is Sufi poetry. Sufis are mystics of Islam. One should ask for sound evidence of that view, and for evidence that verses attributed to Omar, are by him. Evidence is to be treated with fairness in view too.
Yogananda also made a case for wine as love, as Robert Graves and Ali Omar-Shah did too in their way. They supposed that "Omar" treated wine as a metaphor of the ecstasy excited by divine love (1967:4). They also think the drunkenness that Omar writes of, is ecstasy. (1967:8, 9)
A word of warning: Reality checks had better not be overlooked; they may come in handy.
Looking Deeper than Flimsy Reviewers Also
Self-Realization Fellowship, SRF, published the other Rubaiyat work attributed to Yogananda.
The two books - both were first published in 1994 - are so different that it confused a reviewer in Hinduism Today (October 1994). Apart from the first publications of it in SRF's magazine, the reviewer takes into account the two book versions, the one by Crystal Clarity, and the one by SRF:
In both the original writing of Yogananda has been substantially edited. Both editors say they were commissioned to do this work by Yogananda himself.
Self-Realization Fellowship, SRF, published the other Rubaiyat work attributed to Yogananda. This commentary became the Winner of the 1995 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Book in the Field of Religion, for it looked good . . . That was in no small way because SRF had embellished the book. However, "Don't judge a book by its cover; look deeper," is an old lesson. One may add "- deeper than illustrations" to it.
If it is real quality that is at stake, one could do better than making do with awarding a book for cover and illustrations and paper quality, and look deeper, under the cover, where the content is. If the content is clownish, the award had better be for clowning.
What kinds of "good jobs" did Yogananda's two publishers do? It depends on the standards used. If lacking in fit and basic standards, meticulous embellishment and glossy paper may be of no help outside of the United States "in the Field of Religion".
❋ Tis a great confidence in a friend to tell him your faults; greater to tell him his. - Benjamin Franklin
Yogananda reviews: Examples and comments
Opinions differ: some reviewers on Amazon.com are against Yogananda's commentary, others hardly, and still others favour it. Adding to that: some reviewers are better informed than average, and others less informed. That could be taken into account.
Now for examples:
This is a book of rather peculiar interpretations [in that] Yogananda takes the 75 quatrains of the first translation of 1859 and adds to each a paraphrase, an "extended meaning" and what he calls "keys to meaning."
Another, on SRF's version, The Wine of the Mystic:
The spiritual interpretation and practical application . . . extrapolate wildly from the quatrain[s], and describe what just isn't there. [locust. Highlighting added]
I quite agree.
This book is an Islamic poem as interpreted by a Hindu, observes Bill Butler.
Among positive reviews, one finds Yogananda's commentary "irresistable [!] immediately upon opening its pages".
It says the reviewer had not read it when he found it irresistible.
Another finds "Yogananda's commentaries on these poems will bring every scholar on mystical Islam to shame . . . I would love to recommend this piece of timeless art to all the Muslims in this sordid world . . . no one is in a better position than Yogananda (except for those souls who have God realization), to interpret these poems the way Khayyam had intended it to be understood."
A faith talks a lot. A review like that throw higher sense overboard. Unfounded and silly praise and hollow Khayyam assertions carry a dogmatic tone. Such praise may be like a sausage that had better not be eaten for health reasons.
A third person: "This wonderful book is . . . a collection of deep spiritual discourses."
To this: If the guru's book really could help that person get better, OK.
Seeds and soil that suit each other do not always bring a good harvest
Seeds of thought that sprout in joy but later wither, parched and scorched, might have been sowed on soil that was not deep and good enough. Or the seeds were not all right. To a trouble-shooter is not good enough to blame just the "soily" readers of Yogananda, although there is a point in the Bible parable to keep in mind. Just what comes out of a seed depends on the seed itself, the seasons, soil, climate, water, light and more. [Cf. Matthew 13:3-8]
He who manages to discern well, has perhaps withstood much untoward, such as airy assertions and "blunderbuss tactics" and instead get nicely informed. If not, there is a danger of repressing what we normally could sense and appropriate, as Rollo May suggests. Repressed thoughts may have a disintegrating influence on so many.
❋ There ought to be better things to do than remaining in an old outhouse loo. Try climbing a mountain and enjoy the fresh air and lovely view.
❋ He that won't be counseled, can't be helped. - Benjamin Franklin
Wisdom of Yogananda?
I used to be fond of ginger ale . . . Some students arranged to have this beverage on hand for me wherever I went. One day I found my supply was all gone, and I missed it.
Why on earth did he talk to ale? Besides, it was not his ale but something in Yogananda that had gone too far. Also, why did he not resort to calling ginger ale "wisdom"? He grants he lacked in realisation (above). Otherwise he could see wisdom in so many things, including water. Ale is mostly water. In Yogananda's verse glossaries - his first ten verses only - he reads wisdom into eleven different things:
"Maybe there is wisdom all around if we can but see it." Yogananda advocates wisdom, but the wisdom symbols he says he finds in Omar Khayyam through FitzGerald's transmogrifacion, as FitzGerald called his work, may not seem impressive. Many have survived without such wisdom stuff. Yet a good laughter can make one feel good for a while.
Verses, "bare bones" and a commentary investigated
Eleven Rubaiyat verses will be dealt with in the following. Along with the versions and translations you get a sort of lowest common denominator of each verse, the Bare Bones of at least some of them. The translations and their "bare bones" set the scene for Yogananda's commentaries.
Sound discernment is from inside. What is good, is to work for your enlightenment. Books and words may help you some of the way up to some level, and to some extent. Clear-headed investigations can help too. However, victims of hearsay often fail to accommodate fairly and well enough and for that reason may discard really helpful words. Some could be enmeshed in soapy tenets that are not good for them.
He's a good fellow who knows better than stanzas. Aim for spiritual development also.
✑ Compare The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen.
Encyclopaedia Britannica: See Britannica Online.
Graves, Robert and Ali-Shah, Omar: The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam. Cassell. London, 1967. ⍽▢⍽ May be closer to original Persian than the version produced by Edward Fitzgerald. The source of Omar Ali-Shah's version was most likely a study by Edward Heron-Allen. – The manuscript copy that Heron-Allen worked from, was much as the one Fitzgerald got by the same Cambridge professor. Fitzgerald got a hand-written copy, and Heron-Allen got a photostatic copy.
Hinduism Today. ◦"SRF Uncorks a Winner". Hinduism Today, Magazine Web Edition. 10th issue, October 1994.
Inner Culture (Mag.): See Self-Realization Magazine.
Khayyam, Omar. The Ruba'iyat. Trs. Peter Avery and John Heath Stubbs. Reprint paperback ed. London: Penguin Books, 1989. ⍽▢⍽ One of the better translations, with no effort to rhyme the poem. Here are 235 quatrains, more than twice as many as in FitzGerald's. Materialism comes to the fore.
Khayyam, Omar. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Rendered into English Verse by Edward Fitzgerald. Online Etext: Urbana, IL: The Gutenberg Project, 2008. ⍽▢⍽ The first and fifth editions, with notes. Some notes explain figures or imagery factually, and largely different from Yogananda.
Self-Realization Magazine. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship. ⍽▢⍽ The Yogananda magazine was first called East-West, next Inner Culture, and finally Self-Realization (Magazine). The first, edited version of Yogananda's Rubaiyat commentary, seemingly closest to Yogananda's own words, was published in Inner Culture as a series of instalments from 1937 and into 1944.
Walters, James D., ed. ◦Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam, excerpted from the Editor's Preface, 1994. Yogananda for the World.
Wikipedia, s.v. "Omar Khayyam"; "Edward FitzGerald (poet)"; "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam"
Whinfield, Edward H., tr. The Quatrains of Omar Khayyam. 2nd, corrected and enl. ed. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1901. ⍽▢⍽ 500 stanzas of fine quality.
Yogananda, Paramahansa. The Wine of the Mystic. Paperback ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1996 (1994).
Yogananda, Paramhansa. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. 2nd ed. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2008.
Harvesting the hay
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