FARID-UD-DIN ATTAR- Classical Sufi Author
“Attar has roamed through the seven cities of love while we have barely turned down the first street.”
said Rumi about the Persian poet Farid-ud-din Attar.
Attar is one of the most famous mystic poets of Iran. His works were the inspiration of Rumi and many other mystic poets. The name ‘ATTAR’ means herbalist, druggist and perfume seller.
Accounted as one of the greatest poets of Persia, Farid ud-Din Attar, was born in Nishapur (also the birth place of Omar Khayyam), in north-east Iran around 1120 A.D.
Most of what is known about him is legendary, even his death at the hands of Mongol invaders in the early part of the thirteenth century.
According to Dawlatshah Khwaja Fariduddin Attar was once sitting in his shop, when an unsightly fakir came by and started staring at all the fancy glass bottles full of perfumes. The way he marveled at the opulence of the store made Attar uneasy and Khwaja ordered the fakir to leave.
Looking the owner and the well-stocked shop over, the fakir said, “I have no difficulty with this, pointing to his ragged cloak, to leave; but I am just wondering how are you, with all this, planning to leave!”
Surprised, Fariduddin Attar replied : ‘My soul will leave my body the same way that your soul will leave yours’.
To this, the faqeer said ‘My soul will leave like this’. Then he recited the Kalma and lay down on the ground. When Fariduddin tried to gently shake him, he realized that the faqeer’s soul had indeed left his body.
This made such an impression on Attar that he left his shop and became a pupil of the famous shaikh Bukh-ud-din and began to study the Sufi system of ideas.
He went on pilgrimage to Mecca and traveled extensively throughout the region, seeking wisdom in Rey (near Tehran), Egypt, Damascus, Turkestan (southern Russia) and India, , before finally returning to his home city of Nishapur where he settled and kept his daru-khana (a word in Persian meaning perfume or drug store). It was here that he wrote his poems. Aṭṭār speaks of his own poetry in various contexts, stating that that the effort of poetical composition threw him into a state of trance in which he could not sleep.
About thirty works by Attar survive, but his masterpiece is the Mantic at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds). In this collection, he describes a group of birds (individual human souls) under the leadership of a hoopoe (spiritual master) who determine to search for the legendary Simurgh bird (God). The birds must confront their own individual limitations and fears while journeying through seven valleys before they ultimately find the Simurgh and complete their quest. The 30 birds who ultimately complete the quest discover that they themselves are the Simurgh they sought, playing on a pun in Persian (si and murgh can translate as 30 birds) while giving us an esoteric teaching on the presence of the Divine within us.
Not You but I, have seen and been and wrought. . . .
Who in your Fraction of Myself behold
Myself within the Mirror Myself hold
To see Myself in, and each part of Me
That sees himself, though drown’d, shall ever see.
Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wander’d into Darkness wide
Return and back into your Sun subside.”
Farid ud-Din Attar was apparently tried at one point for heresy and exiled from Nishapur, but he eventually returned to his home city and that is where he died. A traditional story is told about Attar’s death. He was taken prisoner by a Mongol during the invasion of Nishapur. Someone soon came and tried to ransom Attar with a thousand pieces of silver. Attar advised the Mongol not to sell him for that price. The Mongol, thinking to gain an even greater sum of money, refused the silver. Later, another person came, this time offering only a sack of straw to free Attar. Attar then told the Mongol to sell him for that was all he was worth. Outraged at being made a fool, the Mongol cut off Attar’s head.
Whether or not this is literally true isn’t the point. This story is used to teach the mystical insight that the personal self isn’t of much real worth. What is valuable is the Beloved’s presence within us — and that presence isn’t threatened by the death of the body.
Don’t be dead or asleep or awake.
Don’t be anything.
What you most want,
what you travel around wishing to find,
lose yourself as lovers lose themselves,
and you’ll be that.
(“Looking For Your Own Face” as translated by Coleman Barks)
At another place, he writes:
Lost in myself
I know not where
a drop that rose
from the sea and fell
and dissolved again;
that stretched itself out
when the sun
I have no news
of my coming
or passing away–
the whole thing
than a breath;
ask no questions
of the moth.
In the candle flame
of his face
I have forgotten
all the answers.
In the way of love
there must be knowledge
so I have become
both a dullard
and a sage…
Some other words by Farid-ud-din Attar from various works:
- How long then will you seek for beauty here?
Seek the unseen, and beauty will appear.
- I shall grasp the soul’s skirt with my hand
and stamp on the world’s head with my foot.
I shall trample Matter and Space with my horse,
beyond all Being I shall utter a great shout,
and in that moment when I shall be alone with Him,
I shall whisper secrets to all mankind.
- The Sea
Will be the Sea
Whatever the drop’s philosophy.