Golistān (Flower Garden)    

Introduction by Dr. Gholām Hussein Yusofi

Case by Case  
No Formal System  

Discussion    Join     


What can you do with a bouquet of flowers?
But do take a page from my Flower Garden!

Forty or some years ago I came to know the Golistān (Flower Garden). Those days I was a grammar school lad and this priceless book was given to me as a prize. Unbeknownst to the person who offered me the book, he had introduced me to an intimate friend, a confidant with a lasting friendship with constant conversations. At this very moment that book is open in front of my eyes and upon its first page—the verve of a child-like handwriting beaming with his book prize—is written: This book belongs to Gholām Hussein Yosofi.

Glancing through the pages—indeed preserved as an endeared treasure—I recall the good days of childhood: The frolic bright days, empty of stress and worry, void of life’s bitterness. But before long returns the sorrow for the days that will never be again and fades the pleasure of those heartwarming memories. And at this very precise moment I see Sa’di conversing with me about the life’s truths: Some days bitter and some days sweet.

For this reason talking about Golistān (Flower Garden) brings back the memories of a lasting friendship (with Sa’di) and his disclosure of important points about different situations in life.

What is most remarkable about the Golistān (Flower Garden) is Sa’di’s broad spectrum of experiences in life. When we browse this book carefully, appears in our mid the face of a mature and thoughtful man who has traveled through many ups and downs of the life specially in Shirāz—the city of poetry & ‘Ishq (Unrestrained Love)—and other locations where he mused. For example he benefited from attending the talks of the great men of his world such as Abul-Faraj Ibn Jawzi or Abu-Hafs Omar Suhrawardi. In society’s ranks—from kings & viziers to middle class & just people at large—Sa’di interacted with all, in traveling caravans with every tribe (or clan), from city to city, traversing deserts, seeing new things in each place, above and beyond the numerous books that he read Sa’di learnt from the direct experience. And of course his overwhelming intelligence and enlightened mind saw beyond the surface all things, even within the mundane observations of daily life, nascent creative and subtle points.

The importance of the latter said experiences—meaning our own for us the readers—if are not entirely more important than that of Sa’di’s Moshāhedah (Observations) are definitely no less, because even with (Sa’di’s) travels around the world, spending time with people interacting with them, are not enough for nurturing the thoughts of a thinker (i.e. we need to have our own). In addition one has to have an intellectual eye, to glance with to recognize all that which are observable to Kashf (Uncover) their inner secrets in order to reach to the same rich set of conclusions as Sa’di did. Since there are many who have wide upon eyes and yet see nothing:

Wow! They see not the troops
A world upon the dawn so true

The eyes open, the ears upon and such minds
O Lord! Bewildered I am at closing of the eyes

There are several important points that we can learn from this introduction:

1.    Sufi readers are able to establish a relationship with the Sage who authored the book, though he is gone centuries ago. The very nature of Sufi literature is not that of the broadcast-mode as we read in most books these days—just like a TV broadcast one size fit all. The Sufi Sages crafted literature that was suitable for one-on-one experience of two very intimate friends having conversations especially through the hard times. Therefore lets forget about the term Sufi teachings and some such commanding & controlling term.
2.    Sa’di did not just travel around and gain wisdom from the experiences. He also did not confine himself in a cave and await the brilliant moments of enlightenment. He combined the two. Sa’di tells us what is out there is a mirror look upon it and you shall see your True Self! He also believes that there is a mirror inside us reflecting the Divine Light. The two are inexorably linked.
3.    We learn from Sa’di that no matter what object we observe whether material or immaterial, whether pleasant or unpleasant whether a temporal event or immovable constant, all indeed have Divine Sirr (Secrets) buried deep within them. But to see these secrets we need to open the eye within.
4.    The word ‘experience’ is something that we are exposed to gain and again, which we can crystallize into a purely mental form to remember and study for applications to other areas of our life & intellect, a preserve even for others to study. Often in English the Sufi readers use the term about something has happened once and they call it experience. Experience by definition requires frequency of occurrence. What Sa’di wrote as one poem for an experience type, perhaps happened in front of his eyes to his own person again and again. His talent is the ability to observe with the eye within the commonality of the causes and effects and not the singularity and peculiarity of one particular happening. There are other Sufi writers that wrote for one particular event in one particular person’s life but Sa’di is focusing on sieving the vicissitude of experiences to mine the nuggets of human nature.


One of the manifestations of Sa’di’s power of comprehension and examination is his ability to understand people, his cognizance of the people’s Souls, truly this ability has been exhibited in different forms in Golistān (Flower Garden). In the stories of the Golistān (Flower Garden) good and evil are narrated side by side. In every corner, it is Sa’di’s ultra-realistic vision that observes the Haqiqa (Absolute Truth & Reality) of bitter or sweet situations thus guiding us towards a fine understanding and familiarity of those situations.

In some corner in Syria we see a man in solitude content with scantiness of his provision, but as soon as comfort and blessings comes his way cannot escape the demand of the desires and drowns within the pleasures. Not much later on he is caught with the trap of this world when Sa’di says: The tresses of the finer things in life enchain the foot of the mind and are the seeds to lure the smart birds into the trap.

Within the Golistān (Flower Garden) the rendition of human sensitivities varies as in the circumstance of a Bedouin desolate and famished when he finds a sack in the desert: The comparison of his joy thinking that he has found a sack of wheat vs. the bitterness of the despair when discovers the sack is filled with pearls. A human being that was constantly running after the gold & silver, as well has a day as observed by Sa’di:

When the pauper is scorched to death in the desert
A cooked turnip far better than the purified silver 

But this is not theoretical thinking, as Sa’di narrates an observation of his own: I was barefooted and could not afford any shoes, so I walked into the city of Kufeh depressed where I saw a man with no foot whatsoever. I offered my Shokr (Gratitude) for the endowment of Haqq (Absolute & True Reality, The Lord)—The Sublime The Lofty—and maintained patience over the fact that I had no shoes.

We face a wealthy miser that benefits no one, nothing not even a drop of water trickles from his fingertips, but lives that day when he is praying shipboard for his life trapped in a typhoon within the western sea. His relatives take advantage of the opportunity provided by his death and devour his inheritance thus Sa’di renders the texture of their realm and thoughts:

Ah! If the dead could return to this life
Again between his relatives in his tribe 

Indeed to reject the inheritance much harder
Than the inheritors mourning for their dead

The colorful nature of the rulers intrigues the sharp mind of Sa’di: Rulers are offended by a greeting yet reward the insults. Because of this he sees two facets to the court of a ruler i.e. Hope & Fear and sometimes Sa’di equaled this to a sea voyage i.e. Dangerous & Profitable.

The ceaseless nature of human being seeking digging exposing the faults of others, is another subject of Sa’di’s stories: Someone in the privacy of his home is intimate with a beautiful woman. Others in presence of a religious scholar are backbiting him, “Can there be any righteous safety for him from the evil (eroticism)?” The scholar replied to reflect what is within their own Self, “He may be one day safe from the beautiful women but definitely never safe from the backbiters”.

In the same vein other Sa’di tales do tell about his experience and Ma’refat (Gnosis) about Human Nafs (Psyche): If a person is in the company of the evil folk, and even if none of their bad behavior impact his own, still they accuse him of what they themselves do of evil—a person going to a bar to perform prayers, is accused of drunkenness.

This familiarity with the nature of people made Sa’di to say: The eyes of the enemies are only upon the faults of a person. And that denying-eye even if looked at the most beautiful face of the Prophet Joseph, sees him as nothing but ugly:

If you have an art and seventy faults
The lover sees nothing but the art

(Reference to Prophet Joseph stems from the fact that he was endowed with tantalizing beauty. The phrase “having an art” means to have something good, of any kind.)

Continuing with the issue of love, Sa’di deals with how ‘Ishq (Unrestrained Love) rubs the self-control. In Golistān (Flower Garden) we find a beautiful slave whose master is in love with her and she affords to insult and abuse him, or a dignitary who accepts all abuses from his lover and stays silent, or the judge in Hamedān (City in Iran) who in spite of his noble appointment succumbs to all humiliation and lowliness for his love. Sa’di sees this as a general behavior of human beings:

Wherever enters the Sultan of Ishq
Leaves the strength of the righteous

A young boxer and his argument with his father about traveling for tournaments exhibit the spirits and the methodology of people’s deep thoughts. On one side of the argument we observe a young boxer relying mostly on the strength of his arms, charged with the hope to win a championship and on the other side of the ring we see a father trained & conditioned by the bitter experiences a believer in destiny a father who has concluded: Destiny issues bravery to the poor and breaks the paws of the lion.

But what is more prominent in storytelling of Sa’di is his ability to probe the depth of the persona of both sides of the argument to reveal the methodology of their individual thinking. The same can be seen in the story “Contention of Sa‘di with a Disputant concerning Wealth and Poverty” wherein the thought patterns of both ranks of the society the poor and the affluent are revealed: Their interactions with each other, how they approached the problems and where they drew the line so far as the expectations, obligations and duties go.

Again and again in Golistān (Flower Garden) we see the Dervish who was begging the Lord for a son, a young teenage boy in search of manhood, the man who stoned a peaceful Dervish and the final end when the Dervish dropped the same on his head after the king threw him in a well. These are the manifestations of the people’s thought patterns that preoccupy the people for long periods of time. Or when the crow and the parrot share the same cage—annoyed by each other’s company—a paradigm bringing to light the people’s feelings towards each other: As much as the learned hates the ignorant the ignorant fears the learned!

In Golistān (Flower Garden) we talk to a person according to his taste & interests, this way the person is drawn to our words e.g. a wise man sitting with a lover should not speak about anything but his loved one. This point shows the familiarity of Sa’di with spirits and inclinations of the people as individuals. Upon the tip of his pen blooms the human experience and cognizance of people: A bitch that does not repent from disturbing the people or when one sees his life in danger of immediate loss says with sincerity that which sediments at the bottom of the heart.

These sample points from Golistān (Flower Garden) reveal a man that has in depth comprehension of the human behavior and Nafs (Psyche) understands both the merits as well as the shortcomings of the people. These points are enrobed with narrated stories and parables though so simple in nature and construction the reader often needs much more time than usual to find the depth of their meanings.


In Sufism we read the works of Rumi, these are poems and prose suitable for spiritual search within. Or we read the works of Shabestari, these are ideological teachings of Sufism. Or we read the works of Qoshairi, these are fundamentals teachings and training matters. Or we read the works of Tusi, these the scholarly works of a scholar giving us the meanings of the Sufism.

When we read Sa’di, these are the psychological works of a Sufi psychotherapist who is teaching us self-therapy. Sa’di did go to the libraries and read many books, he also attended the best of teachers of his time, but he also looked with eyes open glancing upon the mirror of life fully reflecting the knowledge of Self. He sees these images, he writes them in form of stories, some happened to others some happened to him some he made up.

We hear these stories and all seem so plain! Yet Sa’di teaches us how to see with our ears, it is upon this vision of our ears that we see the depth of meanings within his Golistān (Flower Garden).

He does so by teaching us that people are as individuals. In conflict in love or in solitude, he shows us how the individuals react to the world and react to others. Often we understand individuals as people; this is because we are exposed from young age to TV where individuality is destroyed in order to maximize the performance to assure maximized viewer-ship. Sa’di’s Golistān (Flower Garden) is not a movie it is a garden made up of individuals blooming their secrets held within, into blossoms the beauty of which seen by the tip of his pen.

Case by Case   

Because of Sa’di’s shuffling amongst all kinds of personalities and musing the peculiarities of their behavior and dispositions, we find such rich narrative regarding different layers of society within Golistān (Flower Garden). Not only there are chapters such as “Rulers’ Conduct” or “Behavior of Dervishes” but also scattered through the pages of the Golistān (Flower Garden) we clearly see a plenary rendition of an image portraying the diversity of people. Perhaps the latter is the reason for the immense popularity of the book since everyone may find a personality to relate with—kings to pious to homeless to naked.

Moreover what the author wrote is not far away from the truth, indeed this brilliant man would find a corner of someone’s life and pondering about it attentively to enrobe the observations with a short narrative.

Case after case Sa’di examines observations: A king with two viziers one righteous and one evil, brothers plotting against each other for the father’s throne, a son imprisoning his father’s viziers out of fear, the bandits ambushing a caravan, a young man shipboard going berserk thrown into the waves for a cure, feelings of an army about their commander and a deposed vizier joining the Sufis.

Amongst those whom Sa’di listened to we find: Depressed who do not see beyond the surface of physical life, a righteous man preferring the infliction of tiger’s wound than to the sedition of the Divine Rule, a drunk by a road completely out, amazing tale of two Dervishes one an ascetic and the other voracious, a grocer harshly demanding business from the Sufis, a bisexual who gathers much wealth but during a famine feeds the hungry, or a firewood gatherer who prefers to eat his own food than bow to generosity of others.

In Golistān (Flower Garden) we often see women too: The daughter of an influential man that marries Sa’di but is filled with foul quarrelsome behavior, an ugly girl whom in spite of her substantial dowry still has to marry a blind man while the father worries the return of the groom’s sight that may cause him to divorce the ugly wife, the comic tale of a shoemaker marrying an old man’s daughter and their behavior as an indication for persistence of foulness within human nature.

This is only a brief summary of the richness of interaction of Sa’di with people from all ranks of the society. Indeed truly he was intimate with these characters though often he may just make a short passage alluding to something fundamental about their behavior.


More than often we box most people into few child-like categories of ‘like’ ‘dislike’ and ‘don’t care’! If we can see through the Sa’di’s Golistān (Flower Garden), we find out that this Garden is not made up of just three followers, indeed Golistān (Flower Garden) has sprouted with wonderful rich mix of characters that in our daily life we may not notice their subtle differences.

We do not spent time to study people! We do not have the time or we do not have the interest or we do not know how? Sa’di insists we must learn and we must spend much energy studying people, not for the sake of controlling the outcomes of our relationships with them, but to know our own Self.

Lack of such astute study can be compared to a beautiful person who refuses to use a mirror to remove the blemishes from his/her face, and yet wonders why people are not enjoying his/her beauty?

No Formal Systems   

Golistān (Flower Garden) is criticized for not having a foundation similar to the Western concept of a “Formal System”, or it does not have a central theme. Some said that Golistān (Flower Garden) is just a hodgepodge of travel stories of Sa’di.

In Golistān (Flower Garden) we see the real daily life of people, which is considered as a characteristic of this book as well as one of its superiorities. In Golistān (Flower Garden) we deal with a world that we can sense, a real slice of life, and not just from an imaginary point of view beyond the reach of the reader. The bitter and the sweet, the desired and the unwanted sit side by side.

Golistān’s (Flower Garden’s) world is that of a tourist sightseeing non-stop, from one situation to another: An alchemist dying from hunger while a moron finds a treasure in the ruins, a thief in the cloak of a Dervish and a beggar who has accumulate much wealth, a son wishing the death of his compassionate father and a righteous person inheriting a wealth falling into every kind of mischief and accepts no advice.


If we study the details of any Sufi collection of works, almost unanimously we observe total lack of a Formal or Axiomatic approach. Even though some of the Sufi writers were mathematicians of their time e.g. Omar Khayyam whom by the virtue of their profession are used to conceptual systems starting from a set of principals, methods of derivation and logic for arriving at evermore assertions and findings.

However the same Sufi writes about Sufi concepts completely with disregard to any Formal System enforcing any rigor. It is a daunting task—often impossible—to integrate the concepts into a unified framework.

In most works of Sufism as it is true with Golistān (Flower Garden) we see a Sufi sitting within a vessel braving the waves of destiny, his entire Self has evanesced, transformed to an unblinking eye from the follicles of his hair to his toe nails, watching browsing staring at the motion picture of the life.

When you look at an appetizing apple, you do not need a Formal System of assertions, you just need your eyes. The Sufi who has truly cleansed his Nafs (Psyche) and feels the nobility of his Soul, reports to his readers not logical derivations of an observation but the actual observation in its true and original form as appeared to his eye.

This absolute description of something seen, as opposed to thoughts and their rigor, is called Haqiqa (Absolute & True Reality). If a caveman was transported through time to this day and observed closely the launch of Space Shuttle, and if he was sent back to his people, what would he report? Would he report assertions about what happened? Or in his dazed state of bewilderment he would report exactly the astonishing observation?

Similarly Sufis like Sa’di are that caveman taken away from their Nafs (Psyche) and from the Mohdath (Transience & Temporal-ness) of life into a Realm where they observe Haqiqa (Absolute & True Reality) of people incidents and things, then taken back again to their notebook to eke out what was seen, without any change or interpretation.

And doing so, we read an odd patch of seemingly unrelated expressions, similar to extracting few picture frames from a motion picture attempting to construct the entire movie in our heads. Though we can describe each frame in great details, we cannot and for that matter even the Sufi writer cannot integrate the entire movie from these few pieces of imagery.

For this reason, careful reading and musing the Sa’di’s Golistān (Flower Garden) teaches us how to see with our ears the few images rendered, in place of trying to integrate via rigor and mental constructions an entire movie out of a couple of pictures.

© 2004-2002,  Dara O. Shayda