Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Conference of The Birds (Maqāmāt-uṭ-Ṭuyūr) by Farid ud-Din Attar- Book Review

'The first stage is the Valley of the Quest;
Then Love's wide valley is our second test;
The third is Insight into Mystery,
The fourth, Detachment and Serenity-
The fifth is Unity; The sixth is Awe,
A deep Bewilderment unknown before,
The seventh Poverty and Nothingness-
And there you are suspended,motionless,
Till you are drawn- the impulse is not yours-
A drop absorbed in seas that have no shores.'

I heard about this book when it was mentioned during a lecture by Wayne Dyer. He said that it was a fable about the birds who set forth to meet God but when they got to their destination after a violent journey, they found nothing but a mirror, reflecting who they had become during the journey. The knower and the known became one by virtue of that journey. That description intrigued me so I decided to read the book. Before I started reading, I was expecting the description of the journey to be the main chunk of the book. I was wrong. and I am glad that I was wrong. And the reason for not describing the journey in detail, Attar explains in the description of the valley of Bewilderment, is that each of the birds had to travel their own journey that is different from the rest. I saw Rumi in that explanation who once said,' Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.'Sure enough, I found during my research that Attar was a major inspiration for Rumi. Some even claim that Rumi met Attar but it is disputed. They might have not met physically, but you can see the spiritual union if you read both of them.

'The Conference of the Birds' can be looked upon as an epic that accurately describes the Sufi tradition in South Asia. The birds (disciples) need a guide Hoopoe ( spiritual master) if they were to reach Simurgh (God) by traveling through seven valleys (Trials). According to the Sufi tradition, no one can reach God with out a teacher. That teacher holds unquestionable authority and the disciple has to obey everything, even if the instruction goes directly against the teachings of the faith. The spiritual masters teach that this is the only way to overcome ego or nafs as they call it in Persian.

Before the journey starts, the Hoopoe has to convince the other birds to make the journey. So he lets them pour out their deepest fears regarding the journey and then answers the inherent questions in those insecurities through fables. The symbolize another popular tradition is Sufism, that is teaching through fables and stories. The same tradition was found in the West, an example of whom is Canterbury Tales. In fact, there were stark similarities as well as differences between The Conference of The Birds and Canterbury Tales which might as well symbolize the similarities and differences between East and the West. The epic was a form of instruction in both East and The West but what was instructed is something very interesting to observe in both cases.

The end of the epic again is something very significant. It speaks of the presence of God in each of us. Access to that presence is denied to us because of the false self that we have created, that dictates us about who we are and who we are not. That false self or ego is the mirror reflection of the customs and traditions of the society. That ego has fears and subsequently the pride which is used to cover those fears. Most of the fables included in this book are directed towards showing the falsehood of these integral parts of the ego. The way to overcome these twin forces is something upon which both the East and the West agrees. Love. To be more precise from the Eastern side; the journey of love, towards love, with love. 'Love Conquers All' as Chaucer said. If I reflect upon my life, I find that what stops us from setting out on a journey is fear and pride in unequal proportions. But what annihilates that mixture is the force of love about whom Attar says, 'the impulse in not yours'. If the impulse is not ours, then I would say that the presence of God makes itself felt through that impulse. The end seems to signify that we don't reach our Beloved. We become that Beloved during our reaching.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Broken Bridge


Knowing you is similar
To walking on a bridge at night
That is known to carry passengers
To the other side,
Yet some of the planks that constitute it
Are broken and misplaced,
To reveal the surging river below
That finds its voice
(A voice that is seldom heard in its entirety)
By being constrained and hindered
By the time tested, uneven stones
(Is that not how we create
something of our own; something that is
rarely seen or acknowledged?)

The music of that voice is created
In three different, closely distant layers
The stream travelling from an altitude
Hits the rock, so sure of the power it possesses
Only to find a part of it
Lost, Displaced and left behind
Stopped by the rock.
That is the first sound
The sound of loss, defeat and loneliness.

The left behind part is then endorsed 
On to the same rock, by the forth coming wave
Thus producing the second sound,
Of not letting those belonging to the same tribe as you
To be left behind, helpless in the face of a foe
The sound of hope, inevitable after loss
is thus produced.

The waves again, both old and new
Breathing, travelling in the unity they created
Tide over the rock 
Thus producing the sound of triumph

The symphony of the waves is thus created. 

It's easy to let what's unfolding beneath 
Surging, violent and impatient,
To stop you from observing 
Of what is so still above
The mountains hiding behind the darkness
Created by the clouds embracing the moon.

The silhouette of those hiding mountains
is still; laughing perhaps
At the music of the perpetual violence being created below.

The broken bridge exists
Between the silhouette of the still mountains above
And the raving river below
And I stand on that bridge 
Wanting to know you; and You. 

you (You) exist at a point in distance
Where the cloudy dark sky
Unites the broken waves and the quiet mountains

But stopping me from going there,
From knowing something so majestic
Is something as naive 
as a bunch of broken planks
scattered all over the bridge

I can't life my head to explore that point
Without fearing to misplace my foot 
On one of those planks
and fall in darkness
So out of fear and lack of faith 
I decide to follow the instinctive way
To keep myself safe on that bridge
Rather than to submerge myself intimately 
With that point in the distance
The point where sky unites the broken waves and the quiet mountains
And not fearing if I trip
And become a part of the music below

I stand on that bridge
Getting your (Your) glimpses
But I am shunned from entirety 
Existing at that mystic point
For I lack the faith,
The faith to be intimate.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

No god but God

The time stood undiscovered
And life was yet to be created 
God stood there
Unknown, Ununderstood, 
He saw in forsight, His creation
With the life He was about to bestow
The life that was to search for Him
And know Him
and that would unite
the knower and the known.

He decided to separate a part of Himself,
and put it in that creation
So that that part,
may return to Him, searching
understanding, knowing Him along the way

Perhaps He forgot
That His part was also Him
Through and through
That wanted to be known rather than to know
and wanted to created 
A world of his own
That would fight in his name
and kill 
Wanting a prophet in that world
To worship and adore him
To talk with him when he does not want to 
To spend restless nights, chanting his name
To die in his name

God in his quest to be known
Created countless other gods
Who believe all but one thing,
That there is no god but God!