Thursday, February 25, 2010

Of The Conference of the Birds,Reason and Love,Excuses and Deliverance

drawing/ collage by marguerita

The Valley Of Love

Love's valley is the next, and here desire
Will plunge the pilgrim into seas of fire,
Until his very being is enflamed
And those whom fire rejects turn back ashamed.
The lover is a man who flares and burns ,
Whose face is fevered , who in frenzy yearns ,
Who knows no prudence , who will gladly send
A hundred worlds toward their blazing end,
Who knows of neither faith nor blasphemy,
Who has no time for doubt or certainty,
To whom both good and evil are the same,
And who is neither , but a living flame.
But you ! Lukewarm all you say or do,
Backsliding, weak - O, no, this is not you!
True lovers give up everything they own
To steal one moment with the Friend alone -
They make no vague , procrastinating vow,
But risk their livelihood and risk it now.
Until their hearts are burnt , how can they flee
From their desire's incessant misery ?
They are the falcon when it flies distressed
In circles, searching for its absent nest -
They are the fish cast up upon the land
That seeks the sea and shudders on the sand.
Love here is fire; its thick smoke clouds the head-
When love has come the intellect has fled;
It cannot tutor love, and all its care
Supplies no remedy for love's despair.

If you could seek the unseen you would find

Love's home, which is not reason or the mind,
And love's intoxication tumbles down
The world's designs for glory and renown-
If you could penetrate their passing show
And see the world's atoms, you would know
That reason' eyes will never glimpse one spark
Of shining love to mitigate the dark.
Love leads whoever starts along our Way;
The noblest bow to love and must obey-
But you, unwilling both to love and tread
The pilgrim's path, you might as well be dead!
The lover chafes, impatient to depart,
And longs to sacrifice his life and heart.

by Farid Ud-Din Attar

The Conference of the Birds metaphorically maps out the journey of the human spirit in its quest for truth. We could stay the “Stormy Search for the Self”. The story begins when the birds of the world gather together to seek out their King. Their leader, the hoopoe, tells them that they have a King whose name is the Simorgh but that he lives far away and the journey to him is fraught with dangers. The birds, each of whom symbolize different parts of us (patterns of behaviour or sub-personalities as Assagioli called them), are at first anxious to begin their search, but when they realize how difficult the journey is, they begin to make excuses. How often do we procrastinate and choose not to follow our heart’s desire through fears and false assumptions. The nightingale, that aspect of ourselves that is caught up in the purely physical world, cannot leave the rose, the hawk is happy with his position in court serving earthly Kings, the sparrow is too afraid even to begin. The hoopoe, representing inspiration, persuades them to continue their search although it will be difficult. The group formally appoints the hoopoe as its leader. Once the journey has begun the birds ask questions about its course, like the pupil asking the teacher (Hoopoe) questions. The Hoopoe answers using illustrative anecdotes and stories. The birds then cross seven valleys: • Search • Love • Insight into Mystery • Detachment/Independence • Unity • Bewilderment • Fulfillment in Annihilation. At the end of the quest, the birds find that the Simorgh has been with them, guiding them from within throughout the whole journey. The King they sought was non other than themselves. The goal of the Quest is the Self or the Soul. The moment that they discover this depends on the word play: thirty (si) birds (morgh) are left at the end of the Way and the si morgh meet the Simorgh, the goal of the quest. 'Attar began The Conference of the Birds (Mantiq al-tair) with an invocation praising the holy Creator in which he suggested that one must live a hundred lives to know oneself. But you must know God by the deity, not by yourself, for God opens the way, not human wisdom. 'Attar believed that God is beyond all human logic. The soul will manifest itself when the body is laid aside. One cannot gain spiritual knowledge without dying to all things. Not necessarily physical dying, but the letting go of false assumptions, negative emotions and fears.

Farid ud-Din Attar was born in Nishapur, in north-east Iran. There is disagreement over the exact dates of his birth and death but several sources confirm that he lived about 100 years. He is traditionally said to have been killed by Mongol invaders. His tomb can be seen today in Nishapur.

As a younger man, Attar went on pilgrimage to Mecca and traveled extensively throughout the region, seeking wisdom in Egypt, Damascus, India, and other areas, before finally returning to his home city of Nishapur.

The name Attar means herbalist or druggist, which was his profession. It is said that he saw as many as 500 patients a day in his shop, prescribing herbal remedies which he prepared himself, and he wrote his poetry while attending to his patients.

About thirty works by Attar survive, but his masterpiece is the Mantic at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds). In this collection, he describes a group of birds (individual human souls) under the leadership of a hoopoe (spiritual master) who determine to search for the legendary Simurgh bird (God). The birds must confront their own individual limitations and fears while journeying through seven valleys before they ultimately find the Simurgh and complete their quest.

The 30 birds who ultimately complete the quest discover that they themselves are the Simurgh they sought, playing on a pun in Persian (si and murgh can translate as 30 birds) while giving us an esoteric teaching on the presence of the Divine within us.

Attar's poetry inspired Rumi and many other Sufi poets. It is said that Rumi actually met Attar when Attar was an old man and Rumi was a boy, though some scholars dispute this possibility.

Farid ud-Din Attar was apparently tried at one point for heresy and exiled from Nishapur, but he eventually returned to his home city and that is where he died.

A traditional story is told about Attar's death. He was taken prisoner by a Mongol during the invasion of Nishapur. Someone soon came and tried to ransom Attar with a thousand pieces of silver. Attar advised the Mongol not to sell him for that price. The Mongol, thinking to gain an even greater sum of money, refused the silver. Later, another person came, this time offering only a sack of straw to free Attar. Attar then told the Mongol to sell him for that was all he was worth. Outraged at being made a fool, the Mongol cut off Attar's head.

Whether or not this is literally true isn't the point. This story is used to teach the mystical insight that the personal self isn't of much real worth. What is valuable is the Beloved's presence within us -- and that presence isn't threatened by the death of the body.

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