Attar of Nishapur

“Had I known how listening is superior to speaking, I would not have wasted my life preaching.”

Farid al-Din Attar

Wise, preacher, poet, philosopher, even a sage. All these qualities are true about him. A man way ahead of  his time…Attar of Nishapur. Attar is one of the greatest poet and philosophers of Iran. Although most of his books were destroyed during the first Mongol invasion, those of them who remained unharmed are among the best literary and philosophy works of the world. 

One of the greatest Iranian Gnostic, poets, and writers. His birth date is not precisely known, but researchers have recorded his birth time between 513 to 537 Ah. This is up to 521 h. Sh. Attar was born in the village of Kadkan from surrounding villages of Nishapur, his father had an spice and medicine store(Attari). and he took to his family job after his father died. That is why he is known as ” Attar. There is not much information from his childhood and youth. Some sources say In the middle of his life, he suffered a mental upheaval and took the path of mysticism. The most famous version of the story tells the story of a Dervish who came to his store for help :

One day, in his shop, he was engaged in selling and dealing when a Dervish entering his shop and asking for assistance a few times, saying give something to please God. But he ignored him. Finally, Dervish says to him,How are you going to leave this world?

“The same way that you would”, the grocer responds.

“You can die like I do”? Dervish says.

“Yes,” the grocer says.

Dervish puts his wooden bowl under his head and goes away with the word Allah.

seeing that he saw, grocer was deeply moved and went out of the shop and changed his way to life for good.

His  death story is quiet dreadful.  After the invasion of Genghis Khan to Khorasan province , he was also captured by the Mongol army. The Mongolian said that he wanted to kill him, a man said, a sack of gold for the old mans life. He said do not sale me. I worth even more. The Mongol solder waited for a better offer. Another man said: I ‘ll give you a sack of straw, he said, after another hour. This time Attar said : sell me that I worth no more than that. The Mongul was furious at his words and took his life.

The Conference of the Birds

The Conference of the Birds or Speech of the Birds is a celebrated literary masterpiece of Persian literature. The title, which is in Arabic, is taken directly from the Qur’an. where Sulayman (Solomon) and Dāwūd (David) are said to have been taught the language, or speech, of the birds.

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:

1. Valley of the Quest, where the Wayfarer begins by casting aside all dogma, belief, and unbelief.

2. Valley of Love, where reason is abandoned for the sake of love.

3. Valley of Knowledge, where worldly knowledge becomes utterly useless.

4. Valley of Detachment, where all desires and attachments to the world are given up. Here, what is assumed to be “reality” vanishes.

5. Valley of Unity, where the Wayfarer realizes that everything is connected and that the Beloved is beyond everything, including harmony, multiplicity, and eternity.

6. Valley of Wonderment, where, entranced by the beauty of the Beloved, the Wayfarer becomes perplexed and, steeped in awe, finds that he or she has never known or understood anything.

7. Valley of Poverty and Annihilation, where the self disappears into the universe and the Wayfarer becomes timeless, existing in both the past and the future.

Sholeh Wolpé writes, “When the birds hear the description of these valleys, they bow their heads in distress; some even die of fright right then and there. But despite their trepidations, they begin the great journey. On the way, many perish of thirst, heat or illness, while others fall prey to wild beasts, panic, and violence. Finally, only thirty birds make it to the abode of Simorgh. In the end, the birds learn that they themselves are the Simorgh; the name “Simorgh” in Persian means thirty (si) birds (morgh). They eventually come to understand that the majesty of that Beloved is like the sun that can be seen reflected in a mirror. Yet, whoever looks into that mirror will also behold his or her own image.”

If Simorgh unveils its face to you, you will find

that all the birds, be they thirty or forty or more,

are but the shadows cast by that unveiling.

What shadow is ever separated from its maker?

Do you see?

The shadow and its maker are one and the same,

so get over surfaces and delve into mysteries.

Attar’s masterful use of symbolism is a key, driving component of the poem. This adroit handling of symbolisms and allusions can be seen reflected in these lines:

It was in China, late one moonless night, The Simorgh first appeared to mortal sight – Beside the symbolic use of the Simorgh, the allusion to China is also very significant. According to Idries Shah, China as used here, is not the geographical China, but the symbol of mystic experience, as inferred from the Hadith (declared weak by Ibn Adee, but still used symbolically by some Sufis): “Seek knowledge; even as far as China”.[5] There are many more examples of such subtle symbols and allusions throughout the Mantiq. Within the larger context of the story of the journey of the birds, Attar masterfully tells the reader many didactic short, sweet stories in captivating poetic style.

“The people of this world are like the three butterflies
in front of a candle’s flame.

The first one went closer and said:
I know about love.

The second one touched the flame
lightly with his wings and said:
I know how love’s fire can burn.

The third one threw himself into the heart of the flame
and was consumed. He alone knows what true love is.” 

Farid al-Din-Attar

“The home we seek is in eternity;
The Truth we seek is like a shoreless sea,
Of which your paradise is but a drop.
This ocean can be yours; why should you stop
Beguiled by dreams of evanescent dew?
The secrets of the sun are yours, but you
Content yourself with motes trapped in its beams.
Turn to what truly lives, reject what seems —
Which matters more, the body or the soul?
Be whole: desire and journey to the Whole.”.


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