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Volume X - Sufi Mysticism

Sufi Poetry

Fariduddin Attar

Fariduddin Attar was one of the earliest Sufi poets of Persia, and there is no doubt that the work of Attar was the inspiration of Rumi and of many other spiritual souls and poets of Persia. He showed the way to the ultimate aim of life by making a sort of picture in a poetic form. Almost all the great teachers of the world, when they have pointed out the right way to seeking souls, have had to adopt a symbolical form of expression, such as a story or a legend which could give a key to the one who is ready to understand and at the same time interest the one who is not yet ready. Thus, both may rejoice, the one who sleeps, and the one who is already awakened. This method has been followed by the poets of Persia and India, especially the Hindustani poets. They have told their stories in a form which would be acceptable, not only to the seekers after truth, but to those in all the different stages of evolution.

Attar's best known work is called Mantiq-ut-Tair, or the 'Colloquy of the Birds,' from which the idea of the 'Blue Bird' has been taken today. Very few have understood the idea of the 'Blue Bird', or the 'Bird of the Sky.' It contains a very ancient teaching, through the use of the Persian word for sky. This teaching points out that every soul has a capacity, which may be called the 'sky,' and that this capacity can accommodate earth or heaven, whichever it partakes of and holds within itself. When one walks in a crowd, what does one see? One sees numerous faces, but one might better call them various attitudes. All that we see in individuals, all that presents itself to us, has expression, atmosphere and form. If we give it one name, it is the attitude, whatever attitude they have towards life, right or wrong, good or bad; they are themselves that attitude. Does this not show how appropriate the word 'sky' is?

In point of fact, whatever one makes of oneself, one becomes that. The source of happiness or unhappiness is all in man himself. When he is unaware of this, he is not able to arrange his life, but as he becomes more acquainted with this secret, he gains mastery, and the process by which this mastery is attained is the only fulfillment of the purpose of this life. It is this process which is explained by Attar in his description of the seven valleys through which this Bird of the Sky has passed.

The first valley is the Valley of the Quest. How true it is that every child is born with the tendency to search, to know! What we call inquisitiveness or curiosity is born in each one of them, and it represents the inner feeling of quest. And as man is born with this tendency, he cannot be satisfied until by searching he has obtained the knowledge he wishes to have. There is no doubt that what prevents man from gaining the knowledge that his soul is really searching for is himself. It is his small self, always standing in his way, that keeps him from searching for the only thing that every soul strives to find. Therefore, it would be safe to say that there is no one in this world who is a worse enemy of man than man himself.

In this search, some people think that one can perhaps find out from science or from art something that is behind this manifestation. Surely, whether the quest be material or spiritual, in the end, one will arrive, and one must arrive, at the goal that is the same for everyone. Scientists and engineers, people who are absorbed in research into material things and hardly ever think of spiritual matters, even they, after much research, arrive very close to the same knowledge that is the ultimate knowledge. Therefore, whatever a man may seem to us, materialist, atheist or agnostic, we cannot really call him that because, in the end, his goal is the same and his attainment is the same. If he really reaches the depths of knowledge, if he goes far enough, then whatever he was searching for, he will arrive at the same goal.

When he has searched enough and found something satisfying, a man still cannot enjoy that satisfaction unless there is one faculty at play, and that is the faculty of love and devotion. Do we not see in our everyday life that people of great intellect and wide interests very often seem to miss something? When it happens with a couple that one is very intellectual, the other may feel there is something lacking to make their lives complete, that intellect alone is not enough. What is it? It is the heart which balances life, and the absence of heart keeps life dry. Knowledge and heart are just like the positive and negative forces; it is these two things which make life balanced. If the heart quality is very strong and intellect is lacking, then life lacks balance. Knowledge and heart quality must be developed together. Therefore, according to Attar, the faculty of devotion or quality of heart is the Second Valley, the Valley of Love.

The Third Valley is the Valley of Knowledge, the knowledge which illuminates and comes by the help of the love element and the intellect. That is the knowledge which is called spiritual knowledge. Without a developed love quality, man is incapable of having that knowledge. There are fine lights and shades in one's life that cannot be perceived and fully understood without having touched the deeper side of life, which is the devotional side. The person who has never in his life been wholly grateful cannot know what it is. He who has not experienced humility in life does not know its beauty. The one who has not known gentleness or modesty cannot appreciate its beauty or recognize it.

No doubt a person of fine qualities is often ridiculed if he happens to be in a place where these qualities are not understood, where they are like a foreign language. This shows that there is a refinement in life for which intellect alone is not sufficient. The heart must be open too. A very intellectual man went to Jami and asked him to take him as his pupil and give him initiation. Jami looked at him and said, 'Have you ever loved anybody?' This man said, 'No, I have not loved.' Then Jami said, 'Go and love first, then come to me and I will show you the way.'

Love has its time at every stage of life. As a child, as a youth, as a grown-up, whatever stage of life one has reached, love is always asked for and love always has its part to perform. Whatever situation we are placed in, amongst friends or foes, amongst those who understand us or amongst those who do not, in ease or in difficulty, in all places at all times, it has its part to perform. The one who thinks, 'I must not let the principle of love have its way, I must harden myself against it', imprisons his soul. There is only one thing in the world that shows the sign of heaven, that gives the proof of God, and that is pure, unselfish love. For all the noble qualities which are hidden in the soul will spring forth and blossom when love helps them and nurtures them. Man may have a great deal of good in him and he may be very intelligent, but as long as his heart is closed, he cannot show that nobleness, that goodness which is hidden in his heart. The psychology of the heart is such that once one begins to know it, one realizes that life is a continual phenomenon. Then every moment of life becomes a miracle; a searchlight is thrown upon human nature and all things become so clear that one does not ask for any greater phenomenon or miracle; it is a miracle in itself. What one calls telepathy, thought reading, or clairvoyance, and all such things, come by themselves when the heart is open.

If a person is cold and rigid, he feels within himself as if he were in a grave. He is not living, he cannot enjoy this life for he cannot express himself and he cannot see the light and life outside. What keeps man from developing the heart quality? His exacting attitude. He wants to make a business of love. He says, 'If you will love me, I will love you.' As soon as a man measures and weighs his favors and his services and all that he does for one whom he loves, he ceases to know what love is. Love sees the beloved and nothing else.

As Rumi says, 'Whether you love a human being or you love God, there will come a day when all lovers, either of man or of God, will be brought before the throne of love, and the presence of that only Beloved will reign there.' What does this show? In loving our friend, in loving our neighbor, even in the love that one shows to one's enemy, one is only loving God. The one who says, 'I love God, but I cannot love man,' does not love God, he cannot. It is like saying, 'I love you very much, but I do not like looking at your face!'

After this Third Valley, where the knowledge of human nature and of the fine feelings, which are called virtues, is attained, then the next step is Annihilation. What we call destruction or annihilation is nothing but change. Neither substance nor form nor spirit, nothing is absolutely destroyed; it is only changed. But man sometimes does not like to change. He does not like it, but he cannot live without it. There is not one single moment of our life when there is no change. Whether we accept it or not, the change is there. Destruction, annihilation or death might seem a very different change; yet, there are a thousand deaths that we die in life. A great disappointment, the moment when our heart breaks, is worse than death. Often our experiences in life are worse than death, yet we go through them. At the time they seem unbearable; we think we cannot stand it, but yet we live. If after dying a thousand deaths we still live, then there is nothing in the world to be afraid of. It is man's delusion, his own imagination, which makes death dreadful to him. Can anyone kill life? If there is any death, it is that of death itself, for life will not die.

Someone went to a Sufi with a question. He said, 'I have been puzzling for many, many years and reading books, and I have not been able to find a definite answer. Tell me what happens after death?' The Sufi replied, 'Please ask this question of someone who will die. I am going to live.' The idea is that there is one sky which is our own being; in other words, we can call it an accommodation. What has taken possession of this accommodation? A deluded ego that says, 'I.' It is deluded by this body and mind and it has called itself an individual. When a man has a ragged coat he says, 'I am poor'. In reality his coat is poor, not he. What this capacity or accommodation contains is that which becomes his knowledge, his realization, and it is that which limits him. It forms that limitation which is the tragedy of every soul.

Now, this capacity may be filled with self, or it may be filled with God. There is only room for one. Either we live with our limitation, or we let God reign there in His unlimited Being. In other words, we take away the home which has always belonged to someone else and fill it with delusion and call it our own. We not only call it our own, but we even call it our self. That is man's delusion, and all religious and philosophical teachings are given in order to rid man of this delusion that deprives him of his spiritual wealth. Spiritual wealth is the greatest wealth. Spiritual happiness is the only happiness; there is no other.

Once a person is able to disillusion himself, he arrives at the stage described in the Fourth Valley, the Valley of Non-Attachment, and he is afraid. He thinks, 'How can I give my home to someone else, even if it is God? This is my body, my mind, my home, my individuality. How can I give it away, even to God?' But in reality it is not something upon which he can rely. It is delusion from beginning to end and subject to destruction. Does anything stand above destruction? Nothing. Then why be afraid to think for the moment that it is nothing? This natural fear arises because man is unaccustomed to face reality. He is so used to dreams that he is afraid of reality. People are afraid of losing themselves, but they do not know that non-attachment is not losing one's self; it means losing illusion. In reality, it is only by losing this illusion that they can find themselves. One's soul has become lost in this illusion, and the process is to get out of it, to rise above it.

By the time the Fifth Valley, the Valley of Unity, is reached, one has disillusioned one's self, and it is this act which is called in the Bible 'Rebirth'. This is when the soul has emerged from illusion, it is the birth of the soul. How does this birth of the soul express itself? What does one feel? It expresses itself first in a kind of bewilderment, together with a great joy. A man's interest in life is increased; all that he sees he enjoys. He concerns himself with few things, but wonders at all. This bewilderment is such that it becomes wonderfully amusing to look at life. The whole world becomes a kind of stage to him, full of players. He then begins to amuse himself with the people of this world, as one might play with children, and yet not be concerned with what they do, for he expects no better. If children do something different from the parents, the parents are not much concerned. They know it is a stage of the child's life and that they cannot expect any better from them. So, likes and dislikes, favors and disfavors, may interest him, but they will not affect him in the least.

There is another stage, where this bewilderment brings a man to see the reflection of the One who has taken possession of his heart. This means also to see one's Beloved in everyone, even in one's enemy. The Beloved is seen in all things, and then the bowl of poison given by the Beloved is not so bitter. Those who, like Christ, have sacrificed themselves and suffered for humanity, have given an example to the world. They have revealed a God-conscious soul who has reached the stage where even an enemy appears as a friend, as the Beloved. And it is not an unattainable stage, for the soul is made of love, and it is going towards the perfection of love. All the virtues man has learned, love has taught him. Therefore, this world of good and bad, of thorns and flowers, can become a place of splendor only.

In the Sixth Valley, the Valley of Amazement, man recognizes and understands what is beyond all things, the reason of all reasons, the cause of all causes; for all intuition and power develop in man with this unfoldment.

The Seventh Valley, the Valley of God-Realization, is the valley of that peace which every soul is looking for, whether spiritually or materially, seeking from morning until night for something that will give it peace. To some souls, that peace comes when asleep; but for the God-conscious, that peace becomes his home. As soon as he has closed his eyes, as soon as he has relaxed his body, stilled his mind and lost the limitations of his consciousness, he begins to float in the unlimited spheres.

checked 18-Oct-2005