Want to Learn More? Read the Full Bio Below.
Hakim Abul-Majd Majdūd ibn Ādam Sanā'ī Ghaznavi (1080 - 1141), more commonly known as Sanai, was a Persian poet from Ghazni who lived his life in the Ghaznavid Empire at the time of its golden age, in medieval Khorasan, which is now located in Afghanistan.
Sanai was originally a royal poet, writing poems of praise in the court of the Sultan of Ghazni (historically Ghazna), an important center of Persian literature in the early 11th century, where many scholars, philosophers, and poets lived.
The story goes that one day the then-Sultan Bahram Shah decided to invade and conquer neighboring India. Sanai, as the official royal poet, was summoned to join the Sultan to extol his virtues and conquest. But as he was heading toward the court, he came across a walled garden that was home to a notorious drunk named Lai Khur.
And as he was passing, Sanai heard Lai Khur raise a toast to the "blindness" of the Bahram Shah for trying to invade India in a pointless expedition, when there was so much beauty in Ghazni and he hadn't yet completed his conquest there. This forced the poet to stop in his tracks, and not a moment later did Lai Khur raise another toast—this time to the blindness of the famous Sanai who, with all his poetic and intellectual talents, couldn't see how meaningless his life was praising a blind and greedy Sultan. According to Lai Khur, Sanai failed to see what God created him for, and that on the Day of Reckoning all that he would be able to present to God are praises of kings and princes, nothing more.
These words shook Sanai to his core, and he abandoned the life of a royal poet—and even declined marriage to the Sultan's sister—in favor of journeying on the Sufi path under the instruction of Sufi master Yusef Hamdani. He moved to Merv (in modern day Turkmenistan) to pursue a life of spiritual perfection, before returning to Ghazni years later living in retirement. Towards the end of his life, Sanai went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and when he returned, he composed his magnum opus, Hadiqat al Haqiqa (Farsi: The Walled Garden of Truth), passing away soon after it was completed. The title of his masterpiece has a double meaning, as "garden" is a common symbol of "paradise" in Sufi and Islamic literature; but also, because it is from within a walled garden that he heard such devastating words that caused him to transform his life.
Sanai wrote a tremendous amount of mystic poetry over the course of his life, and is considered to be the first poet to use the qasidah (ode), ghazal (lyric), and the masnavi (rhymed couplet) poetic structures to express the mystical and philosophical tenets of Sufism. The Walled Garden of Truth is believed to be the first Persian mystical epic poem in Sufism, expressing themes of Divine Love, God, philosophy, and reason. It is even considered one of the seminal texts in Sufi poetry and Persian literature, and is said to have left a lasting mark on other notable Sufi teachers and poets that followed, including Attar and Rumi.
Rumi, especially, acknowledged Sanai and Attar as having a tremendous influence on his life and poetry, stating:
"Attar was the soul and Sanai its two eyes; we came from their path."
Many of Sanai's teachings revolved around awakening and removing the worldly obstacles (e.g. lust, greed, emotional excitement, etc.) that prevented one from achieving divine knowledge and experiencing the ultimate Truth and reality (Haqq). Similar to Hafiz after him, he criticized the formalities of common religion, and emphasized experiencing Divine Love firsthand, as opposed to merely (and blindly) following faith-based rituals without any true understanding at all. He believed that one must abandon their nafs (Arabic: self or ego) if they are to make any real spiritual progress in life, and he saw Divine Love as the key to achieving an enlightened and awakened state.
“If knowledge does not liberate the self from the self, then ignorance is better than such knowledge.” ~ Sanai
Belief and learning led the way
but failed at Your door.
Only by yielding into Your mystery
was I invited in.
“While reason is still tracking down the secret, you end your quest on the field of Love.” ~ Sanai
Bring all of yourself to his door:
Bring only a part,
and you’ve brought nothing at all.
“When the path ignites a soul there's no remaining in place. The foot touches ground, but not for long.” ~ Sanai
There is no place for place!
How can a place
house the maker of all space,
or the vast sky enclose
the maker of heaven?
He told me:
"I am a homeless treasure.
The world was made
to give you a place to stand
and see me."
Tell me, if the one you seek
why put your shoes on?
The real road
is found by polishing, polishing
the mirror of your heart.
“There is great joy in darkness.
Deepen it.” ~ Sanai
When he admits you to his presence
ask from him nothing other than himself.
When he has chosen you for a friend,
you have seen all that there is to see.
There’s no duality in the world of love:
what’s all this talk of ‘you’ and ‘me’?
How can you fill a cup that’s full already?