First written in the 12th century, Conference of the Birds is an allegory of extreme measures for extreme times -- the story of birds seeking a king is the story of all of us seeking God. Like the birds, we may be excited for the journey, until we realize that we must give up our fears and hollow desires, that our journey will be long and hard. Like the duck, we may not wish to leave the water. Like the nightingale, we may want to stay close to our roses. Direct and to the point, Masani's translation, made in the early part of the 19th century, is particularly apropos for our early 21st century times -- both are periods of intense spiritual seeking.
Topics: Spirituality , Poetry, Islam, Inspirational, Poetry, and Iran
Published: Red Wheel Weiser on Oct 15, 2001
The writings of the Sufis are, without a doubt, some of the most beautiful and challenging spiritual works in existence. Rumi's works are currently undergoing something of a renaissance in the Western world but the name of Farid Ud-Din Attar is not as well known. This is unfortunate, since The Conference of the Birds provides, in my opinion, a much better insight into Sufi philosophy than the bits and pieces of Rumi floating about the New Age universe.Attar's beautiful descriptions, exquisite metaphors and delightful parables describe the stages on the soul's journey to union with God. An extended metaphor for the soul, the birds gather and travel through various valleys to reach the Simorgh - a state of ecstatic oneness with deity. The Hoopoe acts as the guide and provides answers to the bird's questions and doubts about the journey - usually with short illustrative tales. These tales are each tiny drops of gold, the longest being only a few hundred lines. The overarching theme is the denial of the self to gain ultimate bliss. This is no intellectual exercise and much of the advice given is shocking and revolutionary. In the extended tale of Sheik Sam'an, the Sheik leaves his faith and becomes a Christian for the love of a woman who ultimately spurns him. His apostasy and depravity astound his followers who swiftly abandon him. A Sufi teacher chastises them for their lack of faith and eventually they return to his side. Sam'an then reconverts and his love is converted too. The message would seem to be that to find God it may be necessary to abandon conventional notions of behaviour and faith and plunge forward with wild abandon, losing the self. Some of the stories may shock our sensibilities, and no doubt had the same effect on Attar's medieval audiences. A kind of counter-culture attitude is displayed in the book, with tales of romantic love between men and other "un-Islamic" behaviours challenging accepted norms.As to the book itself, the translation is done in "heroic couplets" which according to the introduction, best suits the style of the arabic original. It at first seems a little stilted but soon lends a beauty of its own to the work. A fairly substantial introduction helps put the book in context and describes what is known of Attar's life and times. A biographical index is included which provides details on the many characters - often historical - who people the pages of the poem. This book is a beautiful little gem, filled with a lot of wisdom. It is definitely worth the read for members of any faith, even those who aren't practicing Sufis.read more
These poems about, the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their king, as they have none. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh, a mythical persian bird roughly equivalent to the western phoenix. It is an allegory of the quest for God (The Simorgh). The hoopoe respresents a sufi master and each of the other birds represents a human fault which prevents man from attaining enlightenment. When the group of thirty birds finally reach the dwelling place of the Simorgh, all they find is a lake in which they see their own reflection.
This remarkedly long poem was composed in Iran around 1150 AD. It is a metaphor for the challenges the soul faces into seeking unity with God. The birds set out on a quest to meet their king, the Simorgh bird. I found the poem rambling with too many parables from history and culture of the day. It certainly didn't have the dramatic focus of Homer.read more
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