Sa’di’s Gulistan

Once in Persia there was a king who had condemned a wrong-doer to death.

The angry man abused the king in his native dialect which the king could not understand.

So he asked a vizier to translate what the had said. The vizier said” “This man is saying that those who control their anger and forgive others will do to paradise. God will be good to them.”

The king was pleased and showed mercy to the helpless man.

Another vizier intervened and said: “It is not proper that we don’t tell the truth, oh King! This man was actually abusing his majesty and speaking ill of the king.”

The king replied: “I was happier with the falsehood of the first vizier which made me a benevolent king, than the truth you have presented which turns me harsh and heartless. Sometimes a falsehood that brings peace is better than a truth that stirs up mischief.

This story occurs in a marvelous work written by the great Persian writer and man of wisdom Sa’di. That work, called Gulistan (The Rose Garden) is said to have been written in 1257, more than 750 years ago. It has continued to be a major source of inspiration to the people for Persia during all these centuries. The stories and verses in Gulistan are as well known in that country as La Fontaine’s Fables are in France, Tiruvalluvar’s couplets are in the Tamil world, and Shakespeare’s plays are in the English speaking world.

The Rose Garden (translated many times into English) is an anthology of didactic stories and thought-provoking poems which deserve to be read by people all over the world. A quote from it is there for all to read in the Hall of Nations at the U.N.O. in New York. It reads:

Human beings are members of a whole,

In creation of one essence and soul.

If one member is afflicted with pain,

Other members uneasy will remain.

If you have no sympathy for human pain,

The name of human you cannot retain.


In our age of Orientalism-rancor and post-colonial writings, one may recall what one of the early English translators of Gulistan wrote:

… we find in Sa’di the science of life, as comprising morality and religion, set forth in a most suggestive and a most attractive form…

The “Rose Garden” has maxims which are not unworthy of being cherished amid the highest Christian civilization, while the serenity of mind, the poetic fire, the transparent sincerity of Sa’di, make his writings one of those books which men may safely take as the guide and inspirer of their inmost life.

July 20, 2011

Published by:

Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.

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