Monday, June 12, 2017

Conference of Birds

Abū Hamīd bin Abū Bakr Ibrāhīm (: ابو حمید ابن ابوبکر ابراهیم) (born 1145-46 in Iran – died c. 1221), much better known by his pen-names Farīd ud-Dīn (فریدالدین) and ‘Attār (عطار - the pharmacist), was a the greatest sufi persian poet, who influenced Rumi and the whole of persian poetry and Sufism. 

One day, it is related, an unsightly fakir visited the shop. The way he marveled at the opulence of the store made 'Attar uneasy; he ordered the fakir to leave. Looking the owner and the well-stocked shop over, the fakir said, "I have no difficulty with this, pointing to his ragged cloak, to leave; but you, how are you, with all this,

The fakir's response affected 'Attar deeply. He pondered the fakir's reply for many days and, eventually, decided to give up his shop and join the circle of Shaykh Rukn al-Din Akkaf of the Kubraviyyah order. His new life was one of travel and exploration, very much like the fakir who had inspired him. For a long time, he traveled to Ray, Kufa, Mecca, Damascus, Turkistan, and India, meeting with Sufi shaykhs, learning about the tariqah, and experiencing life in the khaniqahs.

When finally he felt he had achieved what he had been seeking in travel, 'Attar returned to Nishapur, settled, and reopened his pharmacy. He also began to contribute to the promotion of Sufi thought. Called Tadhkirat al-Auliya (Memorial of the Saints), '. is a 72-chapter book about the life of famous sufi's-- It starts with a biography of Imam Jafar Sadiq , the Sixth Imam of Shia and ends with one of Mansur Al-Hallaj's , the Sufi Martyr

Attar's initial contribution to his new world contains all the verses and sayings of Sufi saints who, up to that time, had not penned a biography of their own. 

Attar was a magus of his time, he was well versed in the alchemical treatise of his time and the mysteries of ascension.

Attar is renowned as a Sufi thinker and writer, on the other hand, his exact relationship with any Sufi teacher or order is vague. It is not known for certain which Sufi master instructed him. Possibly, his teacher was Majd ad-Din al-Baghdadi (d. 1219). Rumi wrote that he "had no teacher and was instructed in the Way by the spirit of Mansur al-Hallaj, the Sufi martyr who had been executed in Baghdad in 922 and who appeared to him in a dream.

It can, though, be taken for granted that from childhood onward `Attar, encouraged by his father, was interested in the Sufis and their sayings and way of life, and regarded their saints as his spiritual guides. `Attar "boasted that he had never sought a king's favor or stooped to writing a panegyric" which "alone would make him worthy of note among Persian poets." He appears to have regarded rulers as "capricious and cruel" suggesting that "it is best to have nothing to do with them."

This attitude may have been due to an ascetic tendency; love of wealth, power and fame have no place in his worldview. He narrates many stories suggesting that material wealth is often irreconcilable with spiritual health. "If all the world is yours" he wrote, "it will pass by as swiftly as the blinking of an eye."

His most famous work, The Conference of the Birds, rejoices in the loss of egotism and the realization that all people are equally loved by God. This work has been compared with Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and with his Parliament of Fowls. Attar challenges humans to abandon all "us and them polarities," such as those of race, religion, and social class. He affirms human solidarity. 
His poetry expounds the teachings of Islamic mysticism in a universal language, inviting one to live for the sake of others, to prize what has eternal, not ephemeral values.

Attar's Seven Valleys of Love in the Manteq al-Tayr( Conference of Birds)

In the poem, Led by the hoopoe, the birds of the world set forth in search of their king, Simurgh. Their quest takes them through seven valleys in the first of which a hundred difficulties assail them. They undergo many trials as they try to free themselves of what is precious to them and change their state. Once successful and filled with longing, they ask for wine to dull the effects of dogma, belief, and unbelief on their lives.

Look at the troubles happening in our world!
Anarchy — discontent — upheaval!
Desperate fights over territory, water, and food!
Poisoned air! Unhappiness!
I fear we are lost. We must do something!
I've seen the world. I know many secrets.
Listen to me: I know of a king who has all the answers.
We must go and find him

Yea, my friends, we have a king, whose name is Simurg, and whose residence is behind Mount Caucasus. He is close by, but we are far away from Him. The road to His throne is bestrewn with obstructions; more than a hundred thousand veils of light and darkness screen the throne. Hundreds of thousands of souls burn with an ardent passion to see Him, but no one is able to find his way to Him. Yet none can afford to do without Him. Supreme manliness, absolute fearlessness, and complete self-effacement are needed to overcome those obstacles. If we succeed in getting a glimpse of His face, it will be an achievement indeed. If we do not attempt it, and if we fail to greet the Beloved, this life is not worth living.

It's an allegorical tale, the birds are of course seekers and the seven valleys are the seven stations in Sufism before Nirvana or ego death. It's a beautiful poem to read for any spiritual seeker but especially a Sufi; I am giving brief excerpts of the poem below but it should be read in its entirety to be really appreciated and fully understood. 

The Valley of the Quest

"When you enter the first valley, the Valley of the Quest, a hundred difficulties will assail you; you will undergo a hundred trials. 
There, the Parrot of heaven is no more than a fly. You will have to spend several years there, you will have to make great efforts, and to change your state. 

You will have to give up all that has seemed precious to you and regard as nothing all that you possess. 

When you are sure that you possess nothing, you still will have to detach yourself from all that exists. 

I am alone; make me your single goal --
My presence is sufficient for your soul;
I am your God, your one necessity --
With every breath you breathe, remember Me.

Your heart will then be saved from perdition and you will see the pure light of Divine Majesty and your real wishes will be multiplied to infinity. 

One who enters here will be filled with such longing that he will give himself up completely to the quest symbolized by this valley.

The hoopoe said: 'Your heart's congealed like ice;
When will you free yourself from cowardice?
Since you have such a short time to live here, 

What difference does it make? 

What should you fear?  
The world is filth and sin, and homeless men
Must enter it and homeless leave again.
They die, as worms, in squalid pain; if we
Must perish in this quest, that, certainly,
Is better than a life of filth and grief.  
If this great search is vain, if my belief     

Is groundless, it is right that I should die.
So many errors throng the world - then why
Should we not risk this quest? To suffer blame 

For love is better than a life of shame.

No one has reached this goal, so why appeal
To those whose blindness claims it is unreal? 

I'd rather die deceived by dreams than give
My heart to home and trade and never live.
We've been and heard so much - what have we learned?
Not for one moment has the self been spurned;
Fools gather round and hinder our release.
When will their stale, insistent whining cease?
We have no freedom to achieve our goal
Until from Self and fools we free the soul.
To be admitted past the veil you must
Be dead to all the crowd considers just.
Once past the veil you understand the Way
From which the crowd's glib courtiers blindly stray.
If you have any will, leave women's stories,
And even if this search for hidden glories
Proves blasphemy at last, be sure our quest
Is not mere talk but an exacting test.
The fruit of love's great tree is poverty;
Whoever knows this knows humility.
When love has pitched his tent in someone's breast,
That man despairs of life and knows no rest.
Love's pain will murder him and blandly ask
A surgeon's fee for managing the task -
The water that he drinks brings pain, his bread
Is turned to blood immediately shed;
Though he is weak, faint, feebler than an ant,
Love forces him to be her combatant;
He cannot take one mouthful unaware
That he is floundering in a sea of care.” 

He will ask of his cup-bearer a draught of wine, and he has drunk it nothing will matter except the pursuit of his true aim. 

Then he will no longer fear the dragons, the guardians of the door, which seek to devour him. When the door is opened and he enters, then dogma, belief and unbelief--all cease to exist.


The Valley of Love

"In this valley, love is represented by fire, and reason by smoke. When love comes reason disappears. Reason cannot live with the folly of love; love has nothing to do with human reason.If you possessed inner sight, the atoms of the visible world would be manifested to you. But if you look at things with the eye of the ordinary reason you will never understand how necessary it is to love. Only a man who has been tested and is free can feel this. He who undertakes this journey should have a thousand hearts so that he can sacrifice one at every moment."

Two themes, in particular, are diffused throughout almost the entire poem -- the necessity for destroying the Self, and the importance of passionate love. 

Both are mentioned in every conceivable context and not only at the “appropriate” moments within the scheme. The two are connected: the Self is seen as an entity dependent on pride and reputation; there can be no progress until the pilgrim is indifferent to both, and the commonest way of making him indifferent is the experience of overwhelming love. 

Now the love Attar chooses to celebrate (and the stories that deal with love are easily the most detailed and the longest of the poem) is of a particular kind; it is always love that flies in the face of either social or sexual or religious convention. 

It may be love between a social superior and inferior (e.g. between a princess and a slave); it is very commonly homosexual love; or, as in the longest story of the poem (about Sheikh Sam’an), it may be love between people of different religions. 

First buffeted by joy and then by sighs; 
If you desire this quest, give up your soul
And make our sovereign’s court your only goal
First wash your hands of life if you would say: 
‘I am a pilgrim of our sovereign’s Way’;
Renounce your soul for love;
He you pursue Will sacrifice His inmost soul for you

In each case the love celebrated is seen by the people of the world as scandalous.The mention of scandal reminds us of the “scandalous”, i.e. blasphemous, aspects of the Khorasanian tradition of sufism to which Attar belonged; the “scandalous” loves which Attar celebrates, their flouting of convention, are the allegorical counterpart of this spiritually “scandalous” abandonment. Love is a catalyst of transformation. 

What do they whisper to each other? Love.
Love is the subject of their inmost thoughts.

In Love no longer 'thou' and 'I' exist,
For Self has passed away in the Beloved.   

Now will I draw aside the veil from Love
And in the temple of mine inmost soul,
Behold the Friend; Incomparable Love.
He who would know the secret of both worlds,
Will find the secret of them both, is love.

Heart’s blood and bitter pain belong to love,
And tales of problems no one can remove;
Cupbearer, fill the bowl with blood, not wine -
And if you lack the heart’s rich blood take mine.
Love thrives on inextinguishable pain,
Which tears the soul, then knits the threads again.

A mote of love exceeds all bounds; it gives
The vital essence to whatever lives.
But where love thrives, there pain is always found;
Angels alone escape this weary round -
They love without that savage agony
Which is reserved for vexed humanit


The Valley of Understanding 

"After the valley of which I have spoken, there comes another--the Valley Understanding, which has neither beginning nor end. No way is equal to this way, and the distance to be traveled to cross it is beyond reckoning.

"Understanding, for each traveler, is enduring; but knowledge is temporary.

The soul, like the body, is in a state of progress or decline; and the Spiritual Way reveals itself only in the degree to which the traveler has overcome his faults and weaknesses, his sleep and his inertia, and each will approach nearer to his aim according to his effort. 

Even if a gnat were to fly with all its might could it equal the speed of the wind? 

There are different ways of crossing this Valley, and all birds do not fly alike. Understanding can be arrived at variously--some have found the Mihrab, others the idol. When the sun of understanding

brightens this road each receives light according to his merit and he finds the degree assigned to him in the understanding of truth. 

When the mystery of the essence of beings reveals itself clearly to him the furnace of this world becomes a garden of flowers. He who is striving will be able to see the almond in its hard shell. 

He will no longer be pre-occupied with himself but will look up at the face of his friend. In each atom he will see the whole; he will ponder over thousands of bright secrets.

"But, how many have lost their way in this search for one who has found the mysteries! 
It is necessary to have a deep and lasting wish to become as we ought to be in order to cross this difficult valley. 
Once you have tasted the secrets you will have a real wish to understand them. But, whatever you may attain, never forget the words of the Koran, "Is there anything more?"
"As for you who are asleep (and I cannot commend you for this), why not put on mourning? 
You, who have not seen the beauty of your friend, get up and search! How long will you stay as you are, like a donkey without a halter!"


The Valley of Independence and Detachment 

"The there comes the valley where there is neither the desire to possess nor the wish to discover. 

In this state of the soul, a cold wind blows, so violent that in a moment it devastates an immense space; the seven oceans are no more than a pool, the seven planets a mere sparkle, the seven heavens a corpse,
the seven hells broken ice. 

Then, an astonishing thing, beyond reason! 

An ant has the strength of a hundred elephants, and a hundred caravans perish while a rook is filling his crop.

"In order that Adam might receive the celestial light, hosts of green-clad angels were consumed by sorrow. So that Noah might become a carpenter of God and build the ark, thousands of creatures perished in the waters. 
Myriads of gnats fell on the army of Abrahah so that that king would be overthrown. Thousands of the first-born died so that Moses might see God. Thousands of people took to the Christian girdles so that Christ could possess the secret of God. 

Thousands of hearts and souls were pillaged so that Muhammad might ascend for one night to heaven. 
In this Valley nothing old or new has value; you can act or not act. 

If you saw a whole world burning until hearts were only shish kabab, it would be only a dream compared to reality. 

If myriads of souls were to fall into this boundless ocean it would be as a drop of dew. 

If heaven and earth were to burst into minute particles it would be no more than a leaf falling from a tree; and if everything were to be annihilated, from the fish to the moon, would there be found in the depths of a pit the leg of a lame ant? 

If there remain no trace of either of men or jinn, the secret of a drop of water from which all has been formed is still to be pondered over."

In the dead of night, a Sufi began to weep.
He said, "This world is like a closed coffin, in which
We are shut and in which, through our ignorance,

We spend our lives in folly and desolation.
When Death comes to open the lid of the coffin,
Each one who has wings will fly off to Eternity,
But those without will remain locked in the coffin.
So, my friends, before the lid of this coffin is taken off,

Do all you can to become a bird of the Way to God;
Do all you can to develop your wings and your feathers.


The Valley of Unity 

"You will next have to cross the Valley of unity. 
In this valley, everything is broken in pieces and then unified.

 All who raise their heads here raise them from the same collar. 

Although you seem to see many beings, in reality there is only one--all make one which is complete in its unity.
Again, that which you see as a unity is not different from that which appears in numbers. 

And as the Being of whom I speak is beyond unity and numbering, cease to think of eternity as before and after, and since these two eternities have vanished, cease to speak of them. 

When all that is visible is reduced to nothing, what is there left to contemplate?"


The Valley of Astonishment and Bewilderment 

"After the Valley of Unity comes the Valley of Astonishment and Bewilderment, where one is a prey to sadness and dejection. 

Their sighs are like swords, and each breath a bitter sight; there, is sorrow and lamentation, and a burning eagerness.

It is at once day and night.

 There, is fire, yet a man is depressed and despondent.

 How, in his bewilderment, shall he continue his way?

But he who has achieved unity forgets all and forgets himself.

 If he is asked: "Are you, or are you not? 
Have you or have you not the feeling of existence? 

Are you in the middle or on the border?

 Are you mortal or immortal?"----- he will reply with certainty: "I know nothing, I understand nothing, I am unaware of myself. I am in love, but with whom I do not know. 

My heart is at the same time both full and empty of love."


The Valley of Deprivation and Death

"Last of all comes the Valley of Deprivation and Death, which is almost impossible to describe. 

The essence of the Valley is forgetfulness, dumbness and distraction; the thousand shadows which surround you disappear in a single ray of the celestial sun.

When the ocean of immensity begins to heave, the pattern on its surface loses its form; and this pattern is no other than the world present and the world to come. 

To seek death is death's only cure.

Whoever declares that he does not exist acquires great merit. 

The drop that becomes part of this great ocean abides there for ever and in peace. 

In this calm sea, a man, at first, experiences only humiliation and overthrow; but when he emerges from this state he will understand it as creation, and many secrets will be revealed to him.

Joy! Joy! I triumph! Now no more I know
Myself as simply me. I burn with lov
Unto myself, and bury me in love.
The centre is within me and its wonder
Lies as a circle everywhere about me.
Joy! Joy! No mortal thought can fathom me.
I am the merchant and the pearl at once.
Lo, Time and Space lie crouching at my feet.
Joy! Joy! When I would reveal in a rapture.
I plunge into myself and all things know.

"Many beings have missed taking the first step and so have not been able to take the second--they can only be compared to minerals. When aloe wood and thorns are reduced to ashes they both look alike--but their quality is different.

 An impure object dropped into rose-water remains impure because of its innate qualities, but a pure object dropped into the ocean will lose its specific existence and will participate in the ocean and in its movement. 

In ceasing to exist separately it retains its beauty. It exists and non-exists. How can this be? 

The mind cannot conceive it."

Now the Sun celestial began to shine forth in front of them, and lo! how great was their surprise! 
In the reflection of their faces these thirty birds of the earth beheld the face of the Celestial Simurg. 

When they cast furtive glances towards the Simurg, they perceived that the Simurg was no other than those self-same thirty birds.

 In utter bewilderment, they lost their wits and wondered whether they were their own selves or whether they had been transformed into the Simurg. 

Then, to themselves, they turned their eyes, and wonder of wonders, those self-same birds seemed to be one Simurg! 

Again, when they gazed at both in a single glance, they were convinced that they and the Simurg formed in reality only one Being.

 This single Being was the Simurg and the Simurg this Being. 

That one was this and this one was that.

 Look where they would, in whatever direction, it was only the Simurg they saw. No one has heard of such a story in the world. 

Drowned in perplexity, they began to think of this mystery without the faculty of thinking, but finding no solution to the riddle, they besought the Simurg, though no words passed their lips, to explain this mystery and to solve this enigma of I and Thou. 
The Simurg thereupon deigned to vouchsafe this reply to them: “The Sun of my Majesty is a mirror.” 

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