Currently in my Indigenous Knowledge class we are putting together a ceremony and as part of the group each of us has a theme to consider and reflect on it through the ceremony. The theme I have chosen is Mutual Recognition. I will be setting the story of “The Conference of the Birds” to the above music. Find out more by clicking on the title.
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. The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represent 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.
The story recounts the longing of a group of birds who desire to know the great Simorgh, and who, under the guidance of a leader bird, start their journey toward the land of Simorgh. One by one, they drop out of the journey, each offering an excuse and unable to endure the journey. Each bird has a special significance, and a corresponding didactic fault.
The guiding bird is the hoopoe, while the nightingale symbolizes the lover. The parrot is seeking the fountain of immortality and the peacock symbolizes the “fallen soul”.The birds must cross seven valleys in order to find the Simorgh: Talab (Yearning), Eshq (Love), Marifat (Gnosis), Istighnah (Detachment), Tawheed (Unity), Hayrat (Bewilderment) and, finally, Fuqur and Fana (Selflessness and Oblivion from worldly cares).
These represent the stations that a Sufi or any individual must pass through to realize the true nature of the universe. Within the larger context of the story of the journey of the birds, Attar masterfully tells the reader many didactic short, sweet stories in captivating poetic style. Eventually only thirty birds remain as they finally arrive in the land of Simorgh – all they see there are each other and the reflection of the thirty birds in a lake – not the mythical Simorgh. It is the Sufi doctrine that we are not separate from the universe, rather together with nature we represent the totality of existence. The thirty birds seeking the Simorgh realise that Simorgh is nothing more than their transcendent totality. The idea of being connected together as a complete whole within is an idea intrinsic to most interpretations of Sufism.
As the birds realize the truth, they now reach the station of Baqa (Subsistence) which sits atop the Mountain Qaf.I have created a little booklet, which includes a selection of poems by Farīd ud-Dīn Attar.