Golistān (Flower Garden)
Introduction by Dr. Gholām Hussein Yusofi
Case by Case
No Formal System
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
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
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
Within the Golistān (Flower Garden) the rendition of human
sensitivities varies as in the circumstance of a Bedouin
famished when he finds a sack in the desert: The comparison of his
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 &
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
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
Wherever enters the Sultan of Ishq
Leaves the strength of the righteous
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
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
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
Similarly Sufis like Sa’di are that caveman taken away from their Nafs
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