O my heart, if you wish to arrive
at the begining of understanding,
To each atom there is a different door,
and for each atom there is a
different way which leads to
the mysterious Being,
of whom I speak.
In this vast Ocean the World
is an Atom, and the Atom a World.
Who knows which, is of more value here,
the Cornelian precious stone,
or a mere pebble?
The faraway king of all the birds, the Simurgh, lets fall a magnificent feather at night, in the center of China, by it’s mere presence, the Chinese great wise scholars, on seeing this single feather knew of this magnificent but mysterious bird, and it’s fame spread all over, therefore the saying:
“Seek knowledge even as far as China.”
Tired of their age-old anarchy, the birds resolve to go in search of him. They know that their king’s name Simurgh, means thirty birds; they know his palace is located on the Qaf mountain, the circular mountain that surrounds the earth.
Mount Qaf in Arabic tradition is a mysterious mountain renowned as the “farthest point of the earth” owing to its location at the far side of the ocean encircling the earth. It is also the only place in this world where the Roc will land.
They embark upon the nearly infinite adventure. They pass through seven valleys or seas; the name of the penultimate is Vertigo; the last, Annihilation. Many pilgrims give up; others perish. Thirty, purified by their efforts, set foot on the mountain of the Simurgh. At last they gaze upon it: they perceive that they are the Simurgh and that the Simurgh is each one of them and all of them. In the Simurgh are the thirty birds and in each bird is the Simurgh.
The poem was written around 1200 by the Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar.
About thirty works by Attar survive, but his masterpiece is the mantiq at-Tayr (The Conference 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 Simurgh. The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represents a human fault which prevents human kind from attaining enlightenment.
“He who would know the secret of both worlds will find that the secret of them both is Love.”
The hoopoe tells the birds that they have to cross seven valleys in order to reach the abode of Simurgh. 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.
“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 Simurgh. 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 Simurgh 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.
Now, this book was recommended to me by Adam, a friend of mine over 35 years ago, and had it in my hands many times at the bookstore, and read just snippets of it, I am fastidious, and particularly with books, and want the best translation, and the best format, and was not satisfied with the stuff available at the time, so, then just took it out of the library and read it.
I just bought it a few days ago, compromising as usual, I may buy another one, by a different translator.
It was one night while soaring in the Chinese sky,I heard people talk of a great bird that flew by,
Called Simurgh, the greatest bird alive,
Who dwells on Mount Qaf, where he is said to thrive,
Upon a giant mountain unlike any other seen, covered with trees.
Beyond Samarkand, across seven valleys and seven seas.
Jorge Luis Borges admired Attar’s Simorgh tremendously, comparing it to Dante’s Eagle in Canto XVIII of the Paradiso—another composite bird, made up of just kings flying around Jupiter in aquiline formation. Borges preferred the Simurgh as the more cohesive, integrated figure; however, in Attar’s poem, the Simorgh’s integration is also the birds’ disintegration:
Their life came from that close, insistent sun And in its vivid rays they shone as one.
There in the Simorgh’s radiant face they saw
Themselves, the Simorgh of the world – with awe
They gazed, and dared at last to comprehend
They were the Simorgh and the journey’s end.
They see the Simorgh – at themselves they stare,
And see a second Simorgh standing there;
They look at both and see the two are one,
That this is that, that this, the goal is won. Then, as they listened to the Simorgh’s words,
A trembling dissolution filled the birds–
The substance of their being was undone,
And they were lost like shade before the sun;
Neither the pilgrims nor their guide remained.
The Simorgh ceased to speak, and silence reigned.
There is admirable economy in the birds’ quest, Borges noted—“the searchers are what they seek.” Yet also in this climax is the sense of consumption, mortality, illusion.
If you haven’t read it, do it by all means.
“The 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 beams.”