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Conference of the Birds: A Seeker's Journey to God

Conference of the Birds: A Seeker's Journey to God

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Conference of the Birds: A Seeker's Journey to God

4/5 (27 avaliações)
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Lançado em:
Oct 15, 2001


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.
Lançado em:
Oct 15, 2001

Sobre o autor

Attar lived in the 12th century, just prior to Rumi, whom he may have actually met as a child. Indeed Rumi wrote, "But in everything I say I am only the servant of Attar." Attar also wrote The Book of Secrets, The Memorial of the Saints, and The Hidden Voice. He was tried, but not executed, for religious heresy in part because his mystical philosophy, as reflected in this work.

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Conference of the Birds - Farid Al-Din Attar

This edition first published in 2001 by

Red Wheel/Weiser Books

P.O. Box 612

York Beach, ME 03910-0612


Introduction copyright © 2001 Andrew Harvey

All rights reserved. Reviewers may quote brief passages.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

'Attar, Farid al-Din, d. ca. 1230.

[Mantiq al-tayr. English]

Conference of the birds : a seeker's journey to God / Farid-ud-din Attar; introduction by Andrew Harvey; translation and commentary by R. P. Masani.


ISBN 1-57863-246-3 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Sufi poetry, Persian Translations into English. I.


Rustom Pestonji, Sir, 1876-1966. II. Harvey, Andrew.

III. Title.

PK6451.F4 M2813 2001

Typeset in 11 point Centaur

Cover and text design by Kathryn Sky-Peck

Printed in the United States of America


08 07 06 05 04 03 02 01

8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials

Z39.48-1992 (R1997).




Introduction by Andrew Harvey

Translator's Foreword


The Parliament of the Birds,

The Princess and the Dervish

A Miser's Fate

A Handsome King

Story of Shaykh San'an


On to the Bound of the Waste, On, to the City of God,

Sultan Mahmud and the Orphan Lad

A Grave-Digger's Experience

A Saint's Dream

A King's Palace

A Father's Love

Shaykh Ahmed Guri and Sultan Sanjar

A Faithful Infidel and a Deceitful Crusader

The Magic Cup of Joseph

The Advice of Satan

Sultan Mahmud and Ayaz


Through the Seven Valleys,

The Valley of the Quest

Majnun's Search of Layla

Mahmud and the Rag-Picker

The Valley of Love

A Love-Sick Nobleman

Majhun's Stratagem

The Valley of Knowledge

The Man of Stone

The Beloved Who Found Her Lover in the Arms of Morpheus

A Love-Sick Sentinel

Sultan Mahmud and The Fanatic

The Valley of Detachment

An Analogy from Astrology

The Fly and the Bee-Hive

The Valley of Unity

Advice Given to a Shaykh by a Woman

The Valley of Bewilderment and Stupefaction

A Mother's Grief

The Lost Key

The Valley of Poverty and Annihilation

Nasir-Ud-Din Tusi's Advice to His Disciple

The Assemblage of Butterflies in Search of the Candle


Reception at the Royal Court,

A Brief Memoir of the Poet Farid-ud-din Attar



by Andrew Harvey

Farid-Ud-Din Attar, the 12th-century Persian poet, is one of the world's most poignant, astringent, and exalted mystics. His masterpiece the Manteq-ut-tair (Conference of the Birds) ranks with only a handful of works—the Bhagavad Gita, the Divine Comedy, Rumi's spiritual epic the Mathnawi—that transcend the temporal cultural conditions under which they were created in order to speak with the unmistakable authority of authentic inner experience to all seekers on all paths. Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch, the great French Sufi scholar and Rumi translator, used to say of the Manteq-ut-tair, All true seekers should read it from beginning to end every three years to see how far they have progressed; it is a divine mirror that reflects back to you transformed what you have come to understand. I have been reading and re-reading Conference of the Birds for over twenty-five years now, at every stage of my own inner evolution. With each reading, I have found in it a deeper and more mysterious beauty, and fresh wonders of insight.

Attar was born at Neishapur (also the birthplace of Omar Khayyam) in northeast Iran in around 1120. His name derives from a form of the word attar—as in attar of roses—which suggests that he was a perfume seller, or a druggist, or perhaps someone who combined the selling of drugs and perfume with the practice of medicine. He was almost certainly educated at the theological college attached to the shrine of Imam Reza of Mashad (a major spiritual center of pilgrimage), and he spent many years wandering the world in search of wisdom. He is said to have visited Rey (the ancient Reghges), Egypt, Damascus, Mecca, Turkestan, and India. After his years of wandering, he settled in his birthplace where he wrote The Book of Secrets, The Memorial of the Saints, The Hidden Voice, and other major works, as well as Conference of the Birds, which he finished in 1177. No one knows for sure which Sufi lineage, if any, Attar belonged to. Some authorities name his sheikh as Majd-al-Din of Baghdad (who died in 1219); others, following a tradition we see first in Rumi, suggest that he was instructed directly in a dream by Al-Hallaj himself, the great mystic revolutionary who was executed for heresy in Baghdad in 922. As any reading of Conference of the Birds will reveal, Attar's own mystic philosophy was fierce and scornful of all rational or dogmatic authority; it comes as no surprise, then, that he offended the religious authorities of his day, was tried for heresy himself, and had his property looted, probably in the late 12th century. What happened to him then is unclear. All we know is that he died, old, back in Neishapur, in or around 1220.

Whatever Attar's actual Sufi status, there can be no doubt about his importance to the unfolding of Sufi mysticism; he is the pivotal figure in Sufi poetry between Sanal in the 12th century and Rumi in the 13th. Aflaur, Rumi's hagiographer, maintains that Rumi met Attar in Neishapur as a child. It is possible. Rumi and his family fled from the Mongols, and left their home in Balkh in Afghansiava in 1217. Aflaur claims Attar was so amazed by the brilliance, purity, and precocity of the young Rumi that he prophesied, This boy will open a gate in the wall of love and throw a fire on the hearts of all mystic lovers. For his part, whether he met him in person or not, Rumi admired Attar and his work—especially, it seems, Conference of the Birds—profoundly and extravagantly. In his Diwan Rumi wrote,

I am the Master of Rumi whose words are perfumed with sweetness. But in everything I say I am only the servant of Attar.

Rumi's son, Sultan Valad, maintained in The Secret Word that Sanal was Rumi's eyes and Attar his soul.

It is not hard to see what permanently moved and enchanted Rumi in Conference of the Birds. It is a brilliantly executed allegory of the mystical journey, a work in which, as in Rumi's own odes and Mathnawi, supreme literary excellence and spiritual depth of instruction intermingle and serve each other, effortlessly and seamlessly, and with great originality.

The allegorical framework of Conference of the Birds has the stark, luminous simplicity of Islamic calligraphy. The birds of the world gather together to look for a king and are instructed by one of the birds, a hoopoe, that the Simurg lives far away and that the journey to him is fraught with dangers. At first, the birds are thrilled, but as they begin to understand how harsh and demanding the journey to the Simurg will inevitably be, they start to make excuses. One by one, the birds—and the different types of human being each represents—start to proffer their excuses. The nightingale claims he cannot tear himself away from his obsession, the rose. The peacock argues that he is quite unworthy of

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  • (5/5)
    I was drawn to this book first because I noticed Peter Sis was the illustrator and second because the title reminded me of another book by the Grimm's (I think) called The Battle of The Birds. I read it and
  • (3/5)
    So... It's kind of hard to give this only three stars because it's such a classic. But much of this was a resounding, "Meh," for me.

    Granted, it's all themes and genres I'm not drawn to: mysticism, religion, epic poetry, lots of slavery and other (now) anachronistic morality, and over-wrought love imagery: -3. But it does capture a certain world view (and a certain historical and cultural place), so 1. It's a world classic, so for better or worse: 2. Certain passages were really lyrical, rhythmic, etc. (big nod to the translators): 2, maybe 3 (I'll round up.)
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)

    2 pessoas acharam isso útil

    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.

    2 pessoas acharam isso útil

  • (3/5)
    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.