Abul-Majd Majdūd ibn Ādam, penname Sanaei, was born around 1080 AD in the city of Ghazna, which is presently in Afghanistan, and died there in 1131 AD. Sanai spent his childhood and youth in Ghazna where he mastered the sciences of his day ranging from Arabic and Persian literature to jurisprudence, Hadith, medicine, astronomy, and rhetoric.
He spent part of his life traveling around the cities of Greater Khorasan such as Balkh, Sarakhs, Herat and Neishabour, where he benefited from the knowledge of the great scholars of his time like Mohammad bin Mansour Sarakhsi.
He was connected to the court of several rulers of the Ghaznavid Dynasty, especially Bahram Shah. After performing the Hajj pilgrimage to Holy Mecca, Sanai found himself a spiritually transformed man and decided to distance himself from court life. This spiritual development also affected his poems and other works, and he devoted himself extensively to ethical and Gnostic thought.
Among his famous works are 'Hadeeqat ol-Haqiqa', 'Seir ol-Ebad, 'Karnamey-e Balkh', and Makateeb. The Hadeeqat ol-Haqiqa, which means the Walled Garden of Truth, was dedicated to Bahram Shah, and expresses the poet's ideas on God, love, philosophy and reason. The work contains 10,000 couplets in 10 sections, and for almost the past 900 years has been extensively taught in the Islamic east.
Sanai's Gnostic poetry was intended to enlighten scholars and laymen alike to the realities of life with discourses on such topics as piety, monotheism, ethics, and the quest for knowledge. He also criticized the political and social issues of his time.
Sanai taught that lust and greed, emotional excitement, stood between humankind and divine knowledge, which was the only true reality. Divine love and a social conscience are for him the foundation of religion. He says mankind is asleep, living in what is in fact a desolate world. Sanai's view on common religion was that it was only habit and ritual. Sanai's poetry had a tremendous influence upon Persian literature.
He is considered the first poet to use verse forms as the qasidah or the ode, the ghazal or lyric, and the masnavi or lengthy rhymed couplet to express the philosophical, mystical, and ethical ideas. His Divan or Book of Poetry contains some 30,000 verses. The famous poet, Mowlana Jalaleddin Mohammad Balkhi Rumi has considered Sanai as his mentor, although he did not meet him.
He used to say: Sanai is my two eyes.
Here is a sample of Sanai's ethical poetry titled: Of him Who Feeds Me.
"When they capture the hawk in the wilds, they secure it neck and feet; they quickly cover up both its eyes and proceed to teach it to hunt. The hawk becomes accustomed and habituated to the strangers, and shuts its eyes upon its old associates; it is content with little food and thinks no more of what it used to eat. The falconer then becomes its attendant, and allows it to look out of one corner of an eye, so that it may only see himself, and come to prefer him before all others. From him it takes all its food and drink, and sleeps not for a moment apart from him. Then he opens one of its eyes completely, and it looks contentedly, not angrily, upon him; it abandons its former habits and disposition, and cares not to associate with any other. And now it is fit for the assembly and the hand of kings, and with it they grace the chase. Had it not suffered hardship it would still have been intractable, and would have flown out at everyone it saw.
This piece of poetry means to impart the message that many are heedless, so be wise, and on this path keep your tongue silent. The condition laid on such a one is that he should receive all food and drink from the Causer, not from the causes. So, be prepared to suffer hardship, if you would like to be cherished; and if not, be content with the road to perfidy, for none ever attained his object without enduring hardship.