Jump to navigation. Best known for his often-translated masterpiece Mantiq al-tayr or The Conference of the Birds , his verse is still considered to be the finest example of Sufi poetry in the Persian language after that of Rumi. These pithy, paradoxical statements are still known by heart and sung by minstrels throughout Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and wherever Persian is spoken or understood, such as in the lands of the Indo-Pakistani Subcontinent. If his least known poem is the Book of Mysteries Asrar-namah , which strings together a series of unconnected episodic stories, his most famous epic poem is the Conference of the Birds Mantiq al-tayr , which is consecrated to the tale of the spiritual quest of thirty birds to find their supreme sovereign, the Simurgh.
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Some years after his birth his father removed to Schadbakh, where he kept a druggist's shop. On his father's death, Fariduddin carried on the business, whence he received his cognomen Attar druggist. His call to the religious life was as follows: One day while he was seated in his shop surrounded by servants busily attending to his orders, a wandering dervish paused at the door and regarded him silently, while his eyes slowly filled with tears.
Attar sharply told him to be off about his business. Had you not better consider a little? He promptly abandoned his business in order to devote himself to a religious life. Bidding a decisive adieu to the world, he betook himself to a Sufi convent, presided over by Sheikh Ruknuddin. To this work he devoted several years of his long life; he also composed a Pand-nama or "Book of Counsels. In this allegorical poem various birds representing mystics, unite themselves under the leadership of the hoopoe in order to journey to the court of the Simurgh, a mysterious bird whose name signifies "thirty birds," dwelling in Mount Kaf, the mountain which encircles the world.
At the commencement of the poem there is a long debate between the hoopoe and the other birds, who at first allege various excuses for not undertaking the journey, while he rebukes them for their lukewarmness, not concealing, however, the fact that the journey is full of peril, and that though many start few will reach the goal. The hoopoe's description of the road is as follows: "We have seven valleys to traverse. The first is the Valley of Search; the second the Valley of Love, which has no limits; the third is the Valley of Knowledge; the fourth is the Valley of Independence; the fifth is the Valley of Unity, pure and simple; the sixth is the Valley of Amazement; last of all is the valley of Poverty and Annihilation, beyond which there is no advance.
There thou wilt feel thyself drawn, but will have no power to go any further. There thou must cast away all thy possessions and imperil all thy riches. Not only must the hand be empty, but thy heart must be detached from all that is earthly. Then the Light of the Divine Essence will begin to cast upon thee some rays.
Faith and infidelity, good and evil, religion and irreligion, are all one for him who has arrived at the second stage; for where love reigns, none of them exist any more. In the path traversed by Abraham the Friend of God, can a feeble spider keep pace with an elephant? Let the gnat fly as hard as he may, he will never keep up with the wind. Thus the degrees of knowledge attained to by the initiated are different; one only reaches the entrance of the temple, while another finds the Divinity who dwells in it.
When the Sun of Knowledge darts its rays, each is illumined in proportion to his capacity, and finds in the contemplation of the truth the rank which belongs to him. He sees a path lie open before him through the midst of the fire, the furnace of the world becomes for him a garden of roses. He perceives the almond within the shell, that is to say, he sees God under the veil of all apparent things. But for one happy man who penetrates into these mysteries, how many millions have gone astray?
Out of this disposition of mind, which no longer feels the need of anything, there rises a tempestuous hurricane, every blast of which annihilates whole kingdoms. The seven seas are then no more than a pool of water; the seven planets are a spark; the eight paradises are only a single curtain; the seven hells a mass of ice. In less time than it takes the greedy crow to fill its crop, out of a hundred caravans of travellers there remains not one alive.
To make the meaning of "Amazement" clearer, Attar gives the following allegory. He supposes that the young companions of a princess wished one day to amuse themselves at the expense of a slave. At midnight, when he woke, he found himself on a gilded couch surrounded by perfumed candles, scent-boxes of aloes, and lovely women whose songs ravished his ear. He was no longer in this world, nor was he in the other.
His heart was full of love for the princess, but his tongue remained mute. His spirit was in ecstacies. When he awoke in the morning he found himself again a slave at his old post. The memory of the past night was so vivid that it caused him to utter a cry; he tore his garments, and threw dust upon his head.
They asked him what was the matter, but he knew not what to reply. He could not say whether what he had seen was a dream or a reality; whether he had passed the night in drunkenness or in full possession of his faculties.
What he had seen had left a profound impression on his mind, and yet he could not trace it out accurately. He had contemplated Beauty beyond all words, and yet he was not sure whether he had seen It after all. The only effect of his vision was a trouble of mind and uncertainty. One sun causes millions of shadows to vanish. When the ocean is agitated, how can the figures traced on its waters remain?
Such figures are this world and the world to come, and he who knows them to be nothing is right. In this ocean, where reigns a constant calm, the heart finds nought but annihilation.
Attar also illustrates the Sufi doctrine of annihilation which resembles the Buddhistic nirvana by an allegory. They held a meeting, and resolved that one of them should go and experiment, and bring back news. A butterfly was sent to a neighbouring house, and he perceived the flame of the candle which was burning within. He brought back word and tried to describe the flame according to the measure of his intelligence; but the butterfly who presided over the assembly said that the exploring butterfly had attained no real knowledge of the candle-flame.
A second butterfly went forth, and approached so close to the flame as to singe his wings. He also returned, and threw a little light on the mystery of union with the flame. But the presiding butterfly found his explanation not much more satisfactory than the preceding one.
It embraced him completely, and his body became as fiery-red as the flame itself. When the presiding butterfly saw from afar that the flame had absorbed the devoted butterfly and communicated its own qualities to it; 'That butterfly,' he exclaimed, 'has learnt what he wished to know, but he alone understands it. Until thou ignorest thyself, body and soul, thou canst not know the object which deserves thy love. The foregoing terrible description of the seven mysterious valleys was well calculated to discourage the birds, and Attar tells us that after hearing it they stood with hearts oppressed and heads bent.
They were so terrified by the discourse of the hoopoe that a great number died on the spot where they were assembled. As to the others, in spite of their dismay, they consented to commence the journey.
During long years they travelled over hill and dale, and spent a great part of their lives in pilgrimage. Some were drowned in the ocean, others were annihilated and disappeared. Others perished on the peaks of high mountains, devoured by thirst and a prey to all kinds of ills. They had arrived at the Palace of the Simurgh. A chamberlain of the King, who saw these thirty hapless birds without feathers or wings, questioned them whence they came, and why.
The love that we feel for him has unsettled our reason. We have denied ourselves all rest to follow the road that leads to Him.
It is very long since we started, and of our many millions, only thirty have reached the goal. The hope of appearing here has buoyed us up hitherto; may the King think kindly of the perils we have undergone, and cast upon us at least a glance of compassion.
This answer at first cast them into despair, but afterwards, imitating the moth which seeks certain death in the flame of the lamp, they persisted in their request to be admitted to the presence of the Simurgh. Their steadfastness did not remain unrewarded. The "chamberlain of grace" came out, opened a door, and presented them with a document which he ordered them to read. This contained a list of all the sins which the birds had committed against the Simurgh. The perusal of it caused them nothing less than death, but this death was for them the birth into a new life.
Attar says: "By reason of the shame and confusion which these birds experienced, their bodies became dust, and their souls were annihilated.
When they were entirely purified from all earthly elements, they all received a new life. All that they had done or omitted to do during their earthly existence passed entirely out of mind.
The sun of proximity burnt them, that is to say, their former existence was consumed by the sun of the Divine Essence which they had approached, and a ray of this light produced a life which animated them all. At this moment they beheld themselves reflected in the Simurgh. When they stole a glance at Him, He appeared to be the thirty birds themselves; when they looked at themselves, they seemed to be the Simurgh; and when they looked at both together, only one Simurgh appeared.
The situation was inexpressible in words. They were all submerged in an ocean of stupefaction, with all faculties of thought suspended. Without moving a tongue, they interrogated the Awful Presence for an explanation of the mystery of apparent identity between the Divinity and his adorers.
As you are thirty birds, you appear in this mirror as thirty birds; if forty or fifty birds came here they would see forty or fifty. Although you have passed through many changes, it is yourselves only whom you have seen throughout. Can the eye of an ant reach the Pleiades? Then how can your inch of inkling attain to Us? All this while you have been asleep in the Valley of the Essence and the Attributes.
You thirty birds have been unconscious hitherto. The name "thirty birds" belongs rather to Us, who are the veritable Simurgh. Find then in Us a glorious self-effacement, in order to find yourselves again in us.
While on pilgrimage they conversed; when they had arrived, all converse ceased. There was no longer a guide; there were no longer pilgrims; the road itself had ceased to be. Such is this allegory, or Sufi's "Pilgrim's Progress," which contains nearly five thousand couplets. Attar varies the monotony of the long speeches of the Hoopoe and the other birds by inserting anecdotes, of which the following is one of the most striking:—. The Sheikh Sanaan was one of the saints of his age; four or five times he had made the pilgrimage to Mecca; his prayers and fasts were countless; no practice enjoined by the religious law was omitted by him; he had passed through all the degrees of the spiritual life; his very breath had a healing influence upon the sick.
In joy and in grief, he was an example for men, and, as it were, a standard lifted up. One night, to his distress, he dreamt that he was fated to leave Mecca where he was then residing for Roum Asia Minor , and there become an idolator.
When he awoke, he said to his disciples, of whom he had four hundred, "My decision is taken; I must go to Roum in order to have this dream explained. They went from Mecca to Roum, and traversed the country from one end to another. One day, by chance they saw on an elevated balcony a young and lovely Christian girl. No sooner had the Sheikh seen her than he became violently in love, and seemed to lose all regard for his religious duties.
Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār
Died : Khorasan , Iran. Farridudin the Chemist, a great illuminate and author and an organiser of the Sufis. He died over a century before the birth of Chaucer, in whose works references to Attar's Sufism are to be found. More than a hundred years after his death the foundation of the Order of the Garter showed such striking parallels with his initiatory Order that this can hardly be a coincidence. Fariduddin was born near Omar Khayyam's beloved Nishapur and his father bequeathed him a pharmacy, which is one reason given for his surname and Sufi style Attar—the Chemist.
Some years after his birth his father removed to Schadbakh, where he kept a druggist's shop. On his father's death, Fariduddin carried on the business, whence he received his cognomen Attar druggist. His call to the religious life was as follows: One day while he was seated in his shop surrounded by servants busily attending to his orders, a wandering dervish paused at the door and regarded him silently, while his eyes slowly filled with tears. Attar sharply told him to be off about his business. Had you not better consider a little? He promptly abandoned his business in order to devote himself to a religious life. Bidding a decisive adieu to the world, he betook himself to a Sufi convent, presided over by Sheikh Ruknuddin.
Attar of Nishapur
Information about Attar's life is rare and scarce. According to Reinert: It seems that he was not well known as a poet in his own lifetime, except at his home town, and his greatness as a mystic, a poet, and a master of narrative was not discovered until the 15th century. While I am only at the bend of the first alley. While his works say little else about his life, they tell us that he practiced the profession of pharmacy and personally attended to a very large number of customers. Eventually, he abandoned his pharmacy store and traveled widely - to Baghdad , Basra , Kufa , Mecca , Medina , Damascus , Khwarizm , Turkistan , and India , meeting with Sufi Shaykhs - and returned promoting Sufi ideas.
In the poem, the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their sovereign, as they have none. The hoopoe , the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh. The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represents a human fault which prevents human kind from attaining enlightenment. The hoopoe tells the birds that they have to cross seven valleys in order to reach the abode of Simorgh. These valleys are as follows: . Valley of the Quest, where the Wayfarer begins by casting aside all dogma, belief, and unbelief.