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Conference of the Birds: Philosophical Analysis
Transcript of Conference of the Birds: Philosophical Analysis
In the Conference of the Birds, Attar of Nishapur constructs a metaphysical tale with tangible, understandable symbols. Each species of bird represent a different sin or personality. The hoopoe guides these birds spiritually and physically to bind themselves to the will of God through selfless annihilation. However, every bird has reasons for not embarking on the Way, which are countered by the leader (hoopoe) through Sufism as well as anecdotes. The Way represents the trials and tribulations that one such as a Sufi must undergo in order to realize God.
Relation to Islam
Throughout this entire work, Attar masterfully describes the nature of Islam in a metaphoric way through items easily visualized such as birds. Every anecdote and aspect of the story has its aspects in Islamic tradition. Most importantly, the very nature of the format and pictures presented are based in Attar's Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam focusing on intrinsic value. The Way is the Sufi's life, filled with trials and tribulations, in order to attain the realization to view and understanding the universe. The end of it being the annihilation of oneself into the universe merging one's own energy with it returning your drop to the "ocean of Truth." The end of the story is significantly profound with the birds realizing that the universe is not an external thing but one of intrinsic value being in everyone as the Simorgh was the Si morgh (30 birds).
Below I will describe how each species is symbolic for the types of hindrances that prevent men from reaching enlightenment:
Nightingale: The lover who believes that it is painless love that is the essence of life.
Parrot: The fool who only seeks immortality instead the truth of the Way.
Peacock: The fallen man who sided with evil conspiring to return to the paradise.
Duck: The pious fool who believes that comfort denotes piety.
Patridge: The miser who only revels at material wealth instead of the wisdom of the Way or the Simorgh.
Homa: The vane, self-important man who believes that power is more important than wisdom or love.
Hawk: The subservient man who revels in serving the souls of lesser rulers than the Simorgh.
Heron: The despairing man who lives in sorrow on the edge of a force he cannot fathom or control.
Owl: The treasure-seeking fool who believes that gold is the only true noble pursuit not bordering on blasphemy.
Finch: The feeble, hypocritical bird who believes that he is too weak to stand in front of the Simorgh
In Sufism, the goal of the masters is to attain enlightenment through the annihilation of oneself with the universe. In this story, the birds guided by their leader, the hoopoe, seek out their mystical ruler, the Simorgh by traversing the Way, a treacherous path symbolic of a Sufi's
. At the end of the book, the thirty birds remaining reach the palace of the Simorgh only to find a reflecting pool in which they see themselves. Through this scene, Attar is demonstrating that God or the universe is not external but intrinsic to all life as we are our own Simorgh. (Note: Si morgh means 30 birds in Farsi)
Through this story, the hoopoe is describing the power that is love. In the story, the highly religious and influential Sheikh Sam'an falls in love with a Christian girl who tries to make him live as vagrant by renouncing his ties to Islam. Finally, she is persuaded by the angels that her actions were unjust returning to the sheikh begging for the light of Islam. The hoopoe uses this story to show that love and pain are indistinguishable on the Way.
The Dervish and the Princess
Through this story, the hoopoe is countering the excuse made by the nightingale to refuse the Way. The nightingale believes that his love is only for the rose, which breathes life into him. However, the hoopoe states that there was once a dervish who at first glance fell in love with beautiful princess. His love ruled him making him become a vagabond in front of her door. Finally, the princess states that she only glanced at him because of his stupidity and ignorance. The story shows how love is insensitive and easily misguided.
Through this story, the hoopoe is countering the excuse put forth by the Homa believing himself to be to important to seek out the Simorgh. The hoopoe states how vanity and self-importance are evils that exist in you like a suppressed storm. In the story of King Mahmoud, a man meets the king in the afterlife and questions his emotions. The king states that after death he has realized how inconsequential he is and that his vanity caused him to believe he was an equal to any deity. Finally, King Mahmoud curses the Homa for spreadign his wings over his kingdom making him king.
While on the Way, the birds are awestruck and terrified by the power that is the complete austerity of their journey. The hoopoe then proceeds to describe to them the story of Sheikh Bayazid who once looked out into the desert night terrified of its complete desolation. A voice then responds telling of how only the worthy may look upon the kingdom of the stars and their light.
One of the last to hesitate at the thought of the quest, the heron describes his despair and his complex relation to the sea. The heron says that even though his beak cannot taste its water, his rage would rise if a single drop was lost. The hoopoe then describes of how once a hermit asked of why the ocean seemed as if it was boiling. Its answer was that it was disgrace and lonely pain for the loss of its "one" that causes it to be tumultuous at times.
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