Philosophy, Yoga and Dharma
The Ḥawż al-ḥayāt (The Pool of Life) is evidently the earliest Persian translation of the Arabic text entitled Mir’āt al-ma`ānī fi idrāk al-`ālam al-insānī (The Mirror of Meanings for the Comprehension of the Human World), which was itself a translation of a body of tantric and yogic teachings known under the title Amṛtakuṇda (The Pool of Nectar). These works also drew upon a text called Kāmarūpañčāšikā (the Fifty Verses of Kamarupa), which had been translated into Persian by the mid-8th/14th century). The Mir’āt al-ma`ānī was probably composed sometime in the 9th/15th century, by an author trained in the Illuminationist (išrāqī) philosophy of Suhrawardī (d. 587/1191) - perhaps one of the students of Jalāl al-Dīn Dawānī (d. 908/1502), a number of whom left Shiraz to seek their fortune in India. The anonymous translator of the Ḥawż al-ḥayāt only states of himself that he rendered the Arabic text into Persian at the request of his unnamed “soul brother and lover of the two worlds,” so that the work could be widely understood.
The date of the Ḥawż al-ḥayāt is uncertain, but it must have been in circulation in Indian Sufi circles by around 1500, to judge from the following testimonies. The Čištī Sufi master ‘Abd al-Quddūs Gangohī (d. 944/1537), who was quite knowledgeable on the subject of yoga, sometime after 1491 taught the Ḥawż al-ḥayāt to a disciple named Sulaymān Manḍawī (Rukn al-Din 1311/1894, p. 41, laṭīfa 55). A Šaṭṭārī Sufi, Bahā’ al-Dīn Anṣārī (d. 922/1515), referred to yogic mantras with Arabic translations in chapter four of his Risāla-i Šaṭṭāriyya, drawing upon what he calls Hindi ḏikr practices; these appear to come from chapter seven of the Ḥawż al-ḥayāt. This text also evidently preceded a revised translation, the Baḥr al-ḥayāt (The Pool of Life), composed by Muḥammad Ġawṯ (d. 970/1563). This relationship is demonstrated in numerous passages, such as the opening section of the Baḥr al-ḥayāt, which quotes verbatim from the Ḥawż al-ḥayāt, in its account of the introduction of the book to Muslims (Ġawṯ 1311/1894, pp. 2-3) and elsewhere. So it is correct to say that Muḥammad Ġawṯ had the Ḥawż al-ḥayāt before him when he wrote his much longer Baḥr al-ḥayāt (Ahmad 1998, p. 4). However, the justification for the new version was not the need to simplify the language or style of the text, but the desire to correct the Sanskrit mantras, which inevitably became garbled when copied by Persian scribes (e.g., the Hindi word alakh is regularly written as allāh). Nevertheless, there is material in the frame story of the introduction to the Baḥr al-ḥayāt that also suggests access to a no longer extant earlier recension of the Arabic text (Ernst 2006).
The text of the Ḥawż al-ḥayāt, which closely follows the Arabic original, is divided into an introduction and ten chapters (bāb): (i) on the knowledge of the microcosm (`ālam-i ṣaġīr); (ii) on the influences of the microcosm; (iii) on the knowledge of the heart and its realities; (iv) on the knowledge of the quality of discipline (riyāżat, yogic āsana postures); (v) on the quality of the breath and its realities; (vi) on the knowledge of preservation of semen; (vii) on the imagination and what is connected to it; (viii) on the sign of death, and averting it; (ix) on spirit subjugation and what is connected to it; (x) on the story of the experience. Several copies omit nearly the whole of chapter nine, perhaps from reluctance to discuss the summoning of Hindu goddesses.
The structure of this work is complex, and it brings together materials from remarkably diverse sources. The introduction begins with an account of the book’s composition, relating that a yogi from Kāmarūpa revealed the text after he converted to Islam after losing a disputation with Qāżī Rukn al-Dīn Samarqandī (d. 615/1218-1219 in Bukhara) in Gaur; the latter then rendered it from the Indian language into Arabic in ten chapters, from which the present Persian translation was made (no reference is made to the second translation into Arabic mentioned in the Mir’āt al-ma`ānī). This narrative appears largely fictional, however, due to its supposedly early date (the reign of ‘Alī Mardān, 603-604/1206-1207) immediately after the Muslim conquest of Bengal, the formulaic and Qur’anic character of the disputation, and the fact that Samarqandī (a specialist in theological debate) evidently never went to India. The quick capitulation of the yogi, and his declaration that Hindu deities agree with the Muslim prophets, is a hagiographical trope that provides a Muslim hermeneutic of Hindu beliefs, rather than a historical account of conversion to Islam.
The introduction proceeds with additional frame stories taken directly from two Middle Eastern sources: first, the famous parable of the descent of the soul into matter, from the Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl, and second, a detailed allegorical portrayal of the internal and external senses taken from one of the most important Arabic writings of the Illuminationist philosopher Suhrawardī, the Risāla fī ḥaqīqat al-`išq. This framing establishes a strongly Išrāqī presentation of the text, although this was not generally recognized by Sufi readers, who were rarely trained in philosophy. The Ḥawż al-ḥayāt cites techniques of divination by breath in chapter two, and subjugation of yoginis in chapter nine, which closely resemble practices described in the Kamarūpančāšikā; the latter text is mentioned by name in a couple of manuscripts of the Arabic version, but not in the Ḥawż al-ḥayāt. Similarities have also been detected to Sanskrit works on divination by breath, such as the Śivasvarodaya and the Narapatijayacaryāsvarodaya. Although no original Sanskrit Amṛtakuṇḍa has been found, it is reasonable to suppose that the Ḥawż al-ḥayāt is based upon “a compilation of several yogico-tantric texts” (Sakaki 2005, p. 138).
The analogies between microcosm and macrocosm discussed in chapter one draw on the cosmological vocabulary of a popular Arabic encyclopedia, the Rasā’il (Epistles) of the Iḫwān al-Ṣafā’ (10th century) even as they connect to well-established Indic themes. Chapter two also describes the five elemental breaths and their extent as measured by fingers. Chapter three on the heart has little to do with Indian sources. Chapter four in contrast provides descriptions of five of the traditional number of 84 yogic postures (āsana), which are deemed to be sufficient. Chapter five provides additional details on the three directional breaths, while chapter six gives instructions on how to avoid loss of semen for the prolongation of life. Chapter seven describes meditations on the cakras, described as locations (mawża`) within the body, accompanied by Sanskrit mantras called words (kalima), conveniently translated into the Arabic names of God, plus visualizations of shapes (aškāl) illustrated with diagrams. Chapter eight provides guidance on how to recognize the signs of impending death by observing signs in the visual afterimage of one’s shadow or reflection. A more elaborate regime is proposed in chapter nine to subjugate (tasḫīr) the 64 yoginis to one’s will, although this section is cut to a few sentences in several copies. Chapter ten has no explicit reference to Indian doctrines, but expands on themes of microcosm, and the separation of the soul from the world as far as possible. A final section here concludes the Hymn of the Pearl narrative by a reunion with the metaphysical self. Throughout, the text emphasizes the importance of employing imagination (wahm) to powerful effect. The contents of the text, as indicated here, are practical and replicate established Indic practices, though the frame stories, glosses, and explanations tend to connect the material to Islamicate interpretations (Ernst 2003).
Manuscripts of this text are typically accompanied by as many as 14 diagrams related to meditation practices. These include the visualization of the “constellations of the heart” in chapter three, separate depictions of the 7 cakras in chapter four, and a combined visualization of all 7 cakras. Like the corresponding diagrams in the Arabic Mir’āt al-ma`ānī, these diagrams vary from tiny scrawls to large sketches, often remaining enigmatic, and some take on the forms of Arabic letters. The Arabic Mir’āt al-ma`ānī enjoyed considerable popularity in Ottoman territories and European libraries - there are at least 80 known copies, but only one in India - in part because it was often misattributed to the Andalusian Sufi, Muḥyī al-Dīn ibn ‘Arabī (d. 638/1240). The Persian translations, beginning with the Ḥawż al-ḥayāt, circulated mainly in India (and to a lesser extent, Persia), among readers who were eager to engage with its marvelous practices. It has been rewritten repeatedly by authors wishing to clarify and restate its aims and techniques, in texts such as Amritakundaliyya (anonymous, probably 19th century), `Ayn al-ḥayāt (anonymous, 16th century), Baḥr al-ḥayāt (Muḥammad Ġawṯ, 1549), and Laṭā’if al-ḥayāt (Abū al-Qāsim ibn Muḥammad ʻAlī Simnānī Sāsānī, 1237/1822-1833). Its overall presentation of yoga practices forcefully assimilates them to Islamic philosophical and mystical terms and concepts, and that is its major contribution.
v) Information on colophon; vi) Description of miniatures/illustrations; vii) Other remarks; viii) Information on catalogue(s)
Hyderabad, Salar Jung Oriental Library, Majmu`a-i Rasa'il 2, ff. 12b-31a, ii)
Chapter 9 contains only a few lines. A notation on the first page reads, “this is the Ḫawż al-ḥayāt, in ten chapters. Qāżī Rukn al-Dīn made it in thirty chapters, and a different version has been made with the name Baḥr al ḥayāt with diverse expression and explanation.”, viii)
Ashraf 1997, vol. 11, p. 164.
Hyderabad, Salar Jung, taṣawwuf 66/16, ff. 47a-61 (pp. 96-124), viii)
Ashraf, 1983, p. 268.
London, Wellcome Library, WMS Persian 403, pp. 32, viii)
Keshavarz 1986, pp. 619-20.
Private collection, 15 ff., i) Jalesar, U.P., ii)
20 rabī` al-awwal 1194/ March 25, 1780, iii) Ḥāfiẓ Mīr Ġulām Muḥammad, vii)
Entitled Risāla-i ḥawd al-ḥayāt dar `ilm-i jog, chapter 10 missing, bound with Risāla-i pīrān-i šaṭṭār, by Muḥammad Muẓaffar ibn Muḥammad Farīd al-Qādirī al-Burhānī al-Rāpī, contains additional materials on diet in chapter 2 and on sex in chapter 6.
New Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia, Dr. Zakir Husain Library, C279 Persian, ff. 10, ii)
rajab 1202/April 1788, iii) Mīr Ḥasan wuld Sayyid `Arab Šāh Dihlavī, vii)
Note on p. 1: “This is a rare book. In the year 1310 . . . Muḥyī al-Dīn Mīrzā `Ālamgīr . . . ḫalf-i Riżwān Jalāl al-Dīn Mīrzā Maḥmūd Ḥaydar Gūrgānī on the date 15 [Jumādī al-awwal] 1318 hijrī corresponding to 9 [September] 1900,” ends abruptly in the midst of chapter 6, viii)
Markaz-i Taḥqīqāt-i Fārsī, 1999, p. 170, MS no. 0616.
Tehran, Kitābḫāna-i Majlis-i Šūrā-yi Islāmī, 12622/3, ff. 182b-201b, ii)
Third treatise in an anthology containing the Jawāhir-i ḫamsa of Muḥammad Ġawṯ, the `Ilm-i żamīr [abridged Kāmarūpañčāšikā], and a treatise on jafr; this copy is entitled Ḫawaṣṣ al-ḥayāt., viii)
Bābulī, vol. 31, p. 182.
Karachi, National Museum 1972-104, pp. 180-201, ii)
12 šawwal 1221/22 December 1806, vii)
Note on p. 181: “This book was from Ḥażrat Sayyid Kamāl al-Dīn ibn Ḥażrat Sayyid Jalāl al-Dīn Qādirī, 6 rajab 1223 (28 August 1808), price ten rupees”, viii)
Munzavī, 1364 š./1985, vol. 4, p. 2146 (erroneously identified as the Baḥr al-ḥayāt of Muḥammad Ġawṯ).
Azamgarh, Shibli Academy, 297/06/11, ff. 8, viii)
Bārzigār 2012, pp. 93-94, no. 211.
Ahmedabad, Pir Muhammad Shah Library, no. 2364(h).
Tehran, Dā’irat al-Ma`ārif-i Buzurg-i Islāmī, 1176/3, ff. 149a-157b, vii)
entitled Ḫawaṣṣ al-ḥayāt.
Ahmad, Nazir, 1998, “The Earliest Known Persian Work on Hindu Philosophy and Hindu Religion,” in Islamic Heritage in South Asian Subcontinent, ed. Nazir Ahmad and I. H. Siddiqui, Jaipur, Publication Scheme, vol. 1. Ashraf, Muhammad, 1983, A Catalogue of the Persian manuscripts in the Salar Jung Museum & Library, Hyderabad, Salar Jung Museum and Library, vol. 8. Ashraf, Muhammad, 1997, A Catalogue of the Persian manuscripts in the Salar Jung Museum & Library, Hyderabad, Salar Jung Museum and Library, vol. 11, The Sciences, Mixed Contents, Turkish and Pushtu Works. Bābulī, Abū al-Fażl Ḥāfiẓiyān, 1969, Fihrist-i Kitābḫāna-i Majlis-i Šūrā-yi Millī, kutub-i ḫaṭṭī, Tehran, Majlis-i Shūrā-yi Millī, vol. 31. Bārzigār, Karīm Najafī, 2012, Fihrist-i nusaḫ-i ḫaṭṭī-yi Kitābḫāna-i Dār al-Muṣannifīn `Allāma-i Šiblī Nu`mānī A`zamgarh (Hind), Tehran, Farhangistān-i Zabān va Adab-i Fārsī. Ernst, Carl W., 2003, "The Islamization of Yoga in the Amrtakunda Translations," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 13:2, pp. 199-226. Ernst, Carl W., 2006, “Fragmentary Versions of the Apocryphal ‘Hymn of the Pearl’ in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Urdu,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, vol. 32, pp. 144-188. Ġawṯ Gwāliyārī, Muḥammad, 1311/1894, Baḥr al-ḥayāt, Delhi, Maṭba`-i Riżvī. Keshavarz, Fateme, 1986, A descriptive and analytical catalogue of the manuscripts in the library of the Wellcome Institute of Medicine, London, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. Markaz-i Taḥqīqāt-i Fārsī, 1999, Fihrist-i nusḫa-hā-yi ḫaṭṭī-i fārsī, no. 5, Kitābḫāna-i Jāmi`a Milliyya Islāmiyya, Dihlī-i Naw, New Delhi, Rāy-zanī-i Farhangī-i Jumhūrī-i Īrān. Munzawī, Aḥmad, 1364 š./1985, Fihrist-i muštarak-i nusḫahā-yi ḫaṭṭī-yi fārsī-yi Pākistān, Islamabad, Iran Pakistan Institute of Persian Studies, vol. 4. Rukn al-Dīn ibn ʻAbd al-Quddūs Gangohī, 1311/1894, Laṭā’if-i Quddūsī, ed. Ḥāfiẓ Muḥammad `Uṯmān Quddūsī, Delhi, Maṭba`-i Mujtabāʼī.
Ernst, Carl W., 2019, "Ḥawż al-ḥayāt", Perso-Indica. An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions, F. Speziale - C. W. Ernst, eds.available at http://www.perso-indica.net/work/hawd_al-hayat.
|Main Persian Title:||Ḥawż al-ḥayāt|
|English Translation of Main Persian Title:||The Pool of Life|
|Approximate period of composition:||1500|
|Quoted sources on India (Unknown or not existent):||
|Later texts quoting this Work:||