Omar Khayyam: the true interpretation of Omar’s first rubaii3 min read

Omar Khayyam, scientist, -poet and mystic, is commonly judged as a materialist owing to the influence of Fitzgerald’s rendering of selected rubaiyat into English verse.

The true interpretation of Omar’s first rubaii according to the traditional Sufi symbology is given here:

“ Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky,
I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
‘ Awake, my little ones, and fill the Cup Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry”.

So runs Fitzgerald’s attractive version, which is however more of a paraphrase than a strict translation.

Literally the original runs as follows :—

“ At dawn, a mystic cry came from the tavern to me :
‘ O drunkard, O wasted one, O thou our lunatic !
Arise and come, so that we may fill thy cup with wine Before the cup of thy life is full”.

This is a highly mystic verse and sums up the Sufi philosophy as applied to the life of a disciple.

At dawn … at the propitious moment when the darkness of worldly desires has receded ; when the mind, tranquillized by prayer and meditation, is set on the Supreme Reality.

A mystic cry . . . there arose the way to mystic experience and inspiration. The higher Self is in touch with the Ultimate Reality and is ever crying to the lower Self: “ Come out of the dungeon of duality, anger, love-making, greed ”.

The Tavern . . . the place where the Teacher propagates divine wisdom.

O drunkard . . . O mind, who hast begun to take delight in mystic contemplation and study of the Scriptures.

O wasted one . . . thou who hast starved thy lower self and reduced the fattened desires and ambitions to a mere shadow of what they were.

O thou our lunatic . . . thou who hast realized the futility of worldly achievements and possessions, and the in’ adequacy of the senses and mind to approach the source of everlasting satisfaction, God.

Arise and come . . . give up the last shreds of lethargy (tamas) and restless activity (rajas). Break off the fetters of attachment to worldly friends and relatives. Then come to the mystic school where the cup of thy heart will be filled with the divine truth of “ That Thou Art ” (Tat twam asi).

Realize the uncertainty of life and the unreliability of its connections. Be independent of hope and fear, of the promises of friends, of fame, of help from those to whom thou hast done good by sacrificing thy valuable life-energy and time for the promotion of their worldly welfare.

If one’s life ends without achieving the supreme purpose, which is the annihilation of the empirical ego and discovery of the Supreme Self, then the whole span of life has been wasted. Such a man is like a feudal lord who has devoted his whole life to acquiring wealth, power and pleasure, only to find one morning when he awakes that his castle and all its contents is forfeit and he is doomed to a helpless and penniless exile.

The disciple has to arise and come to the Teacher. The Truth will not come to the disciple. As the thirsty man in search of water must go to the well since the well will not come to him, so Omar reiterates the great spiritual truth which the Upanishad declares in the following words : “ Arise ! Awake ! Approach the wise and learn ”.