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Unfaithfulness of the world


The following poem is extracted from the Book of the Kings of Truth, written in 1919 by Ostad Elahi’s father, Hadj Nemat. Composed from more than 15000 verses, this book recounts the life of the saints, prophets, and great spiritual figures of humanity. Narrative sequences alternate with more meditative passages in the form of prayers, recommendations or invocations. An expression of Hadj Nemat’s mystical personality, of his unconditional love for the Divine and his relentless quest for the knowledge of spiritual truths, the Book of the Kings of Truth also tells something about the particular atmosphere which characterised Ostad Elahi’s early years.

In the poem entitled “Unfaithfulness of the World”, Hadj Nemat speaks his heart on the impermanence of the world.

I have reason to complain of this world that turns
Of the noise and the clamor that rises as it churns

Of its countermovements that deceive
And the shifting fluctuations we perceive

What can I say about this world, so crooked and bent
At times it appears lovely, at times beyond contempt

Fortune and glory it bestows on some
And lifts them higher than the lofty sun

To others it feeds toil and blood
A makeshift bed of soil and mud

To some it gives joy, a cause for celebration
Others it condemns to grief and lamentation

I know not the riddle of this ancient vale
That makes both men and women wail

A world in upheaval, a world that destroys
Nothing remains amid this ominous void

The heart of time and space it rends
So the pain within them never ends

Rust and dust cover this world of old
Its gloomy months and years, its days so cold

O how many luminous prophets and seers
How many saints with illustrious careers

How many kings glorious and heroic
How many sages, wise and stoic

How many mystics absorbed by God’s presence
How many lovers in search of His essence

How many men and women throughout the ages
Advanced in their years or at their younger stages

Have come into this world to be put to the test
All of them perished and were laid to rest

None of them could find any comfort here
What they found instead was turmoil and fear

All who come here suffer some measure of pain
For none can escape the trap of this ephemeral plane

An instant of happiness is chased by a hundred ills
A year’s worth of sorrow follows a moment’s thrills

In this world in which no desire can be realized
In this world in which no problem can be neutralized

He who rode horseback did so for a day
And thereafter walked the rest of the way

No one here has seen the least stability
This world grants nothing but infidelity

Now it’s the spring, now it’s the fall
So it’s always been, for one and all

Though the world constantly changes its hue
Shades of pain is all that it yields for you

Many have journeyed down this trodden lane
They lie beneath the earth, having lived in vain

And you, my heart, do not allow this world to catch you unaware
For it knows full well how to entrap you in its snare […]

In the end, all that remains is a person’s name
The memory of his beneficence or his ill fame

The benevolence of the good remain with them eternally
The malevolence of the bad will accompany them perpetually

O heart, devote yourself to beneficence with all your might
For it will deliver you here and in your eternal plight

Such goodness will endure in the people’s memory
And in the other world bring you joy and prosperity

This poem was published in French in Orient, Mille ans de poésie et de peinture, Diane de Selliers éditeur, 2004.
Translation from Persian into French by Leili Anvar-Chenderoff; translation from French into English by Martin Hoffman.

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  1. Niki Feb 28, 2011 4:30 pm 1

    thank you . what a beautiful start of my day. It touched my heart with the feelings of joy and happiness. Haj nemat devoted his entire life to fulfilling his objectives. his quest for divine attributes, his constant practice of charity, and the strength of his faith shows here and in the book of the kings of the truth. even hearing his name gives me a feeling of strong faith and detachment from this world. it always puts tears in my eyes.

  2. MA Mar 01, 2011 11:48 am 2

    It’s so true! But unfortunately hard to get detached from it! Hope to get into the right balance of it!

  3. pam Mar 05, 2011 9:43 am 3

    Wonderful poem. Although it seems to create a feeling of melancholy within me (because of the realization that the world that I live in and all its material pleasures are empty and transient), still these things are not without purpose. After the initial melancholy, I became hopeful that one thing will always remain stable: My true character and the pursuit of beneficence. This world can be used to pass through trials and tribulations, thereby strengthening my character. For this, I feel a sense of purpose.

  4. star Mar 05, 2011 2:16 pm 4

    How hard it is to constantly remember that our long term fate in another dimension is completely dependent on the short term thoughts, actions, intentions that we have in this world…this poem reminds me of this important notion.

  5. JW Mar 05, 2011 6:03 pm 5

    By far this has to be the most beautiful and meaningful poem I have ever read!

    How timely could this poem be or better yet how timeless can this poem be? Resided by Haj Nemat over 100 years ago yet it stands as a mirror of our life and times when I stand for a moment to ponder about the current and past events of my life and times on this earth, personal, social, economical and political every word drips with the “truth” and stands as a testament to our fragile existence while passing through this unfaithful world these moments of time! I find it “amazing” how the words of truth remain true to its essence no matter the language (translation from its original language to English) and its place in time, food, medicine and vitamin for the soul!

    I thank you for this timely post for once more it helped put my thoughts in the right perspective.

    I would like to also thank those who invested great time and energy in delivering such a fantastic and flawless translation of this poem from the book of kings, practically speaking this is a wonderful example of how one can be of beneficence and provides me for plenty of food for thought.

    Thank you.



  6. maxfarsh Mar 08, 2011 8:07 pm 6

    The Shahnaameyeh Haqiqat (Book of Kings of Truth) is a very complex yet accessible book which discusses some aspects of the Path of Perfection in more detail. Prof. Henry Corbin, the great expositor of the philosophy of illumination has called it “A Bible unto itself”. Indeed, the book starts from Creation, the purpose of earthly lives and the final gathering. Ever since I was 18 or so and I read this book, I fell in love with both the author and the book. I feel like this work states the same concepts as those of Ostad Elahi’s but Ostad Elahi was able to present them in a logical and rational fashion while the Book of Kings of Truth explains them from the viewpoint of detached mystic.

    I specially enjoy the last chapter of the book which is a spiritual autobiography of the author himself. Three points (among the many) emphasized by the author is detachment from material desires (not to be mistaken with detachment from duties but rather not to get lost in material desires), Truthfulness/Sincerity and also being content with what we have.

    An interesting episode is reminiscent of Dante’s divinine comedy and the Arda Viraf Nama, when the narrator is being punished (described in horrific graphical detail) for what he considers a small duty that he has neglected. As implicitly implied by the author, the higher the spiritual station, the more one must be wary of the smallest neglect. Well, in this episode, while the author is being tormened for what he considers a neglect, a man comes to his rescue and intercedes on the author’s behalf. The man states that he is ready to takeup the punishment and asks God to let the author go. The reason is that the man, while on his way for a spiritual pilgrimage, had met the author and the author, without knowing the man, had shared his food with the hungry traveller. Just because of this sincere act, the punishment of the author is lifted, his neglect forgiven and of course, divine justice would not allow for the punishment of the traveller. From this small episode, there are many lessons to be learned. One profound but simple lesson is that:
    1) A small sincere act towards fellow human beings can make up for an unintentionally neglected duty.
    2) Even the unintentionally neglected duties could be judged despite the fact that intention is more important than action.

    This book of some 15000 distiches deserves a more thorough study from many perspectives. For example from the viewpoint of ethics, religion, interfaith dialogue, cosmology, the ontological spiritual hierarchy, and mysticism. The commentary of Ostad Elahi explaining some of the more difficult passages sheds light on some of these matters.

    1. kbld Oct 26, 2021 9:19 pm 6.1

      The Divine Comedy of Dante is often seen as a spiritual book and we can respect the fact that it is a classic of Italian Literature. However, in this book, Muhammad and Ali are said to be in the lowest realms of Hell, and there are gross descriptions of the sufferings the first one is supposed to be enduring there. These depictions further “inspired” paintings and drawings, sometimes in churches it seems. In my view, it totally disqualifies this book as a positive reference in spirituality and Dante as a good conveyer of any truth.

  7. Peter Windsor Mar 19, 2011 3:23 pm 7

    What a great poem – and oh so true. Amazing that it translates so well into English. A wonderful way to remember that we should be hard-working and diligent in this world while at the same time always remaining aware of its fragility

  8. Hm Mar 26, 2011 1:58 pm 8

    How satisfying to read the truth about this world. I feel a certain peace when Reading it and motivation to battle on. It reminds me to be aware of my real goal here and feel the pains are worthwhile if endured for the right reasons.

  9. Eileen Apr 10, 2011 4:37 am 9

    I am also amazed at how masterfully this poem was translated into English. What a magnificent poem and what a magnificent job in translation, in my opinion. I was reflecting on what Ostad Elahi was quoted as saying in “Unicity”, a Collection of Photographs of Ostad Elahi, 1895-1974, if my memory serves me correctly, that when he left his home in Jeyhounabad and went to live in society, so to speak, outside of the home and area in which he grew up, he was horrified to see what a garbage can this world is, because of people telling so many lies. He hadn’t known or experienced knowing people with such bad behavior. In my opinion, this poem reflects how unpleasant this material world is, and that answers the question for me as to why we can never be happy here. I like the advice that Hajj Nehmat gives when he says, quote: “O heart, devote yourself to benificence with all your might, For it will deliver you here and in your eternal plight”, end quote. Reading on, I feel that the last two sentences give me a great feeling of hope that it is possible for us human beings to experience true joy and happiness in the other world.

  10. NN May 30, 2011 4:41 pm 10

    This poem is truly excellent! Goodness will remain eternal, this world is not what counts, it’s what we do that will carry over with us.

  11. kbld Apr 01, 2020 2:00 pm 11

    Having been thinking about this poem, I wonder if, based on this translation, it is totally fungible in the new medicine of the soul set up by Ostad Elahi.
    I was recently talking with somebody who profoundly loves a branch of a religion which was originally mystical and which has close ties with the spiritual universe of Haji Nemat. This person was saying about that branch something that reminded me a lot of that poem: “pessimism”, in her words, about the material aspect of things, but also immense hope in its spiritual dimension.
    The most striking and structuring example of that branch is the Kerbala events, which took place the day of Ashura. The link with the questions raised by this poem is clear. Traditionally, these events are considered at the same time as a material tragedy and a blatant spiritual victory. Materially, one or several people considered as spiritual kings and queens have been savagely killed after a hard agony (in particular by lack of water, one of those having had his horse drink but was pierced by arrows while bringing back the water to the others without having himself drink; another having his head cut and brought to Damas at the top of a lance, etc.], with companions, and others also considered as such were made prisoners, ill-treated, etc. Spiritually, it is considered in this tradition that these events, based on the actions of these kings and queens, let the purity of the divine guidance perpetuate on Earth, let the true nature of people who could have been subject to faith be revealed to those who are seeking Truth and let those kings and queens attain a higher step of Perfection. And there is a popular sentence “every day is Ashura, every place is Kerbala” which place this historical event in the every day life of people who choose to be part of this tradition.
    However, is it exactly the worldview that Ostad proposes? I would not be certain of that.
    On the one hand, there are obvious shared beliefs with the poem and the spiritual universe one can link it to.
    There is that idea that the world is ephemeral. See Words of Truth / Bargozide, saying 30. Therefore, that it is the other world that really counts : sayings 2, 279, 280 and 47. As a consequence, there is indeed a partial renunciation of this world, because one is advised to abandon even non-illegitimate material attractions to go directly to what counts. Like a pupil who just follows the rules and otherwise spends her time to not-harmful activities in comparison to another who wants to have the higher marks to achieve something afterwards but necessarily doesn’t acquire things she could legitimately have (popularity, going out, etc.). Ostad seems to go even beyond when he says that worldly enjoyments make one loose those from the hereafter (Words of Truth, 160), and we understand it as general.
    This is not in this except of the poem, but there is obviously also in Ostad’s teachings this idea of a permanent and deadly fight against this world’s grip, since the imperious self emits “toxic gaz” that “poison the soul” without such a fight.
    Ostad also refers to the material aspect of people as a black and foul mud (sayings 78 and 404).
    For all of that, the poem can be very useful for motivation in our practice I guess.
    On the other hand, however, I am not sure that Ostad has such a negative outlook on the material aspect of things, and has a positive outlook of thee spiritual one only. It is true that classical spirituality, which implies a total renunciation to the world, goes well with such an idea, but not necessarily the new medicine of the soul.
    It occurs to me that there is a difference between giving one’s heart to the world and thinking that everything will be negative in the world. Ostad advises to see the positive aspect of things, and he says that it is what is most important to succeed in both worlds, therefore in this world too. The idea that in this world there isn’t “any” comfort, “no” desire can be realized or problem neutralized and is “all” pain does not appear to me to go along with this. Of course, these sentences can be explained by the idea that the One is the only Efficient or what is true success, but it appears that there is globally a difference of state of mind.
    I think one can link that to the difference of methods in spiritualities. In natural spiritual, one seeks equilibrium, measure and putting everything at its place, in one’s thoughts too. That means having a more balanced vision of the world. In the end, the world and the body relatively bring about positive things, including for the soul whose perfection soil it is. Therefore the world and its components have a right to be considered with equity. One could even say that, since difficulties in life can be good for us, there is no complaint to be made about the world, which is a creature of God that should be loved as such and in the right measure (see sayings 113 and 179).
    By the way, I am not talking about the personal vision of Haji Nemat, which I don’t know, but about what this poem can mean for people and in my practice. He “complains” about the world, but when he says it, it is not the same as if we said it.
    One can remark that Haji Nemat says “An instant of happiness is chased by a hundred ills” and compare it with saying 258 of Words of Truth, which puts on the contrary the attention on the benefaction – possibly material I think – that follows every affliction, and which urges to concentrate one’s thought on the positive aspect of things, including the material positive aspect.
    Indeed, since the One is the Efficient in all things, this world cannot be, in general, trusted. However, I wonder if Ostad does not insist more on the fact that this world, and even the other one by the way to a lesser extent, are “nothing” since “everything is God” (saying 269) rather that saying that this world would be negative.
    Ostad talks about harvesting in this world while old too (saying 183).
    One can also think about the saying in which Ostad says that neither the materialists nor the anchorites benefit from the other world, and adds that the materialists are craftier since they more or less enjoy a little this world. (Once again, it is not about Haji Nemat personally here.)
    One can also see an eschatological difference: in the book the Path of Perfection, there seems to be confidence in material science and progress, which is a proof of an optimist vision on this world. In the discussion I had with the person mentioned above, it was said that in the mystical branch I was talking about, on the contrary, the process of perfection was only for spiritual kings and queens whereas our difficulties would be punishments. In this poem, somebody with a close connection with God has such a vision of the world, but I am not sure this is applicable for people like us that are part of the world and in a spirituality that is for everybody.
    Regarding Kerbala, precisely, from what I understood, Ostad rejects lamentations on what is seen as how miserable one of those kings would have finished, and he even says that, in his view, this is blasphemy. It is not about saying that there is no evil on Earth, and it would be not to say that the actions of those who killed him are not evil, but more to concentrate on what counts rather than to denigrate in general terms this world. In such a spirituality, people are in general very explicit against some people in spiritual history, and I think that Ostad pushes, indeed to see things as they are, but rather, first, to make a difference between those whose intention we do not know and those who actually fought against those kings and queens, and even for those who fought, to pragmatically concentrate one’s thoughts on useful things and the process of perfection of the soul rather than to foster animosity, even though this animosity is natural and not necessarily bad in itself or to repress.
    This issue has practical consequences.
    The obvious one is the fact that I concluded that, even though I wanted to originally, it was perhaps not good for me to entertain with force the sentences of this poem in my thoughts. I wanted to, but I finally did not and came to the conclusion that it was better for me, even though perhaps it is a mistake. I think it is more adequate for me to focus on the fact that this world has its “ups and downs”, like Ostad says, which means that we should not rely on its ups, while at the same time appreciate that things can also improve materially, if it is spiritually a good thing. It is also a detachment, but a fairer one for me I think.
    The other consequence is more difficult to encompass. It is about the fact that there are still legitimate things we should renounce to in this world, if we want to have our things the most possible in order for the other world, like the pupil I was talking about (see saying 367). But since the new medicine of the soul is based on natural spirituality, there is a part of enjoyment of this world it seems. As a consequence, between the duty to respect one’s materiality and the internal mysticism that can be seen as good in spirituality, it is quite hard to understand where and to which extent it is positive to renounce to this world.

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