PRAISE to the Holy Creator, who has placed his throne upon the waters, and who has made all terrestrial creatures. To the Heavens he has given dominion and to the Earth dependence; to the Heavens he has given movement, and to the Earth uniform repose.
He raised the firmament above the earth as a tent, without pillars to uphold it. In six days he created the seven planets and with two letters he created the nine cupolas of the Heavens.
In the beginning he gilded the stars, so that at night the heavens might play tric-trac. With diverse properties he endowed the net of the body, and he has put dust on the tail of the bird of the soul. He made the Ocean liquid as a sign of bondage, and the mountain tops are capped with ice for fear of him. He dried up the bed of the sea and from its stones brought forth rubies, and from its blood, musk. To the mountains he has given peaks for a dagger, and valleys for a belt; so that they lift up their heads in pride. Sometimes he makes clusters of roses spring from the face of the fire; Sometimes he throws bridges across the face of the waters. He caused a mosquito to sting Nimrod his enemy who thereby suffered for four hundred years. In his wisdom he caused the spider to spin his web to protect the highest of men. He squeezed the waist of the ant so that it resembled a hair, and he made it a companion of Solomon; He gave it the black robes of the Abbasides and a garment of unwoven brocade worthy of the peacock.
When he saw that the carpet of nature was defective he pieced it together fittingly. He stained the sword with the colour of the tulip; and from vapour made a bed of water-lilies. He drenched clods of earth with blood so that he might take from them cornelians and rubies. Sun and Moon — one* the day, the other the night, bow to the dust in adoration; and from their worship comes their movement. It is God who has spread out the day in whiteness, it is he who has folded up the night and blackened it.
To the parrot he gave a collar of gold; and the hoopoe he made a messenger of the way. The firmament is like a bird beating its wings along the way God has marked out for him, striking the Door with his head as with a hammer. God has made the firmament to revolve — night follows day and day the night. When he breathes on clay man is created; and from a little vapour he forms the world.
Sometimes he causes the dog to go before the traveller; sometimes he uses the cat to show the way. Sometimes he gives the power of Solomon to a staff; sometimes he accords eloquence to the ant. From a staff he produces a serpent; and by means of a staff he sends forth a torrent of water. He has placed in the firmament the orb of the proud, and binds it with iron when glowing red it wanes.
He brought forth a camel from a rock, and made the golden calf to bellow. In winter he scatters the silver snow; in autumn, the gold of yellow leaves. He lays a cover on the thorn and tinges it with the colour of blood.
To the jasmine he gives four petals and on the head of the tulip he puts a red bonnet. He places a golden crown on the brow of the narcissus; and drops pearls of dew into her shrine. At the idea of God the mind is baffled, reason fails; because of God the heavens turn, the earth reels. From the back of the fish to the moon every atom is a witness to his Being. The depths of earth and the heights of heaven render him each their particular homage. God produced the wind, the earth, the fire, and blood, and by these he announces his secret. He took clay and kneaded it with water, and after forty mornings placed therein the spirit which vivified the body. God gave it intelligence so that it might have discernment of things. When he saw that intelligence had discernment, he gave it knowledge, so that it might weigh and ponder. But when man came in possession of his faculties he confessed his impotence, and was overcome with amazement, while his body gave itself up to exterior acts.
Friends or enemies, all bow the head under the yoke which God, in his wisdom, imposes; and, a thing astonishing, he watches over us all. At the beginning of the centuries God used the mountains as nails to fix the Earth ; and washed Earth’s face with the water of Ocean. Then he placed Earth on the back of a bull, the bull on a fish, and the fish on the air. But on what rested the air? On nothing. But nothing is nothing — and all that is nothing. Admire then, the works of the Lord, though he himself considers them as nothing. And seeing that His Essence alone exists it is certain there is nothing but Him. His throne is on the waters and the world is in the air. But leave the waters and the air, for all is God: the throne and the world are only a talisman. God is all, and things have only a nominal value; the world visible and the world invisible are only Himself.
There is none but Him. But, alas, no one can see Him. The eyes are blind, even though the world be lighted by a brilliant sun. Should you catch even a glimpse of Him you would lose your wits, and if you should see Him completely you would lose your self.
All men who are aware of their ignorance tuck up the flap of their garment and say earnestly: ‘O thou who art not seen although thou makest us to know thee, everyone is thou and no other than thou is manifested. The soul is hidden in the body, and thou art hidden in the soul. O thou who art hidden in that which is hidden, thou art more than all. All see themselves in thee and they see thee in everything. Since thy dwelling is surrounded by guards and sentinels how can we come near to thy presence? Neither mind nor reason can have access to thy essence, and no one knows thy attributes. Because thou art eternal and perfect thou art always confounding the wise. What can we say more, since thou art not to be described!’
O my heart, if you wish to arrive at the beginning of understanding, walk carefully. 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. To know oneself one must live a hundred lives. But you must know God by Himself and not by you; it is He who opens the way that leads to Him, not human wisdom. The knowledge of Him is not at the door of rhetoricians. Knowledge and ignorance are here the same, for they cannot explain nor can they describe. The opinions of men on this arise only in their imagination; and it is absurd to try to deduce anything from what they say: whether ill or well, they have said it from themselves. God is above knowledge and beyond evidence, and nothing can give an idea of his Holy Majesty.
O you who value the truth, do not look for an analogy; the existence of this Being without equal does not admit of one. Since neither the prophets nor the heavenly messengers have understood the least particle, they have bowed their foreheads on the dust, saying: ‘We have not known thee as thou must truly be.’ What am I then, to flatter myself that I know Him?
O ignorant son of the first man, the Khalif of God on earth, strive to participate in the spiritual knowledge of your father. All creatures that God draws out from nothingness for their existence prostrate themselves before him. When he wished to create Adam, he made him go out from behind a hundred veils, and he said to him, ‘O Adam, all creatures adore me; be adored in your turn.’ The only one who turned from this adoration was transformed from an angel into a demon. He was cursed and had no knowledge of the secret. His face became black and he said to God: ‘O thou who art in possession of absolute independence, do not abandon me.’
The Most High replied: ‘You who are cursed, know that Adam is both my steward and the king of nature. Today go before him, and tomorrow burn for him the ispand.’ When the soul was joined to the body it was part of the all: never has there been so marvellous a talisman. The soul had a share of that which is high, and the body a share of that which is low; it was formed of a mixture of heavy clay and pure spirit. By this mixing, man became the most astonishing of mysteries. We do not know nor do we understand so much as a little of our spirit. If you wish to say something about this, it would be better to keep silent. Many know the surface of this ocean, but they understand nothing of the depths; and the visible world is the talisman which protects it. But this talisman of bodily obstacles will be broken at last. You will find the treasure when the talisman disappears; the soul will manifest itself when the body is laid aside. But your soul is another talisman; it is, for this mystery, another substance. Walk then in the way I shall indicate, but do not ask for an explanation.
In this vast ocean the world is an atom and the atom a world. Who knows which is of more value here, the cornelian or the pebble? We have staked our life, our reason, our spirit, our religion, in order to understand the perfection of an atom. Sew up your lips and ask nothing of the empyrean or the throne of God. No one really knows the essence of the atom — ask whom you will. The Heavens are like a cupola upside down, without stability, at once moving and un-moving. One is lost in contemplation of such a mystery — it is veil upon veil; one is like a figure painted on a wall, and one can only bite the back of one’s hand.
Consider those who have entered in the way of the Spirit. Look what has happened to Adam; see how many years he spent in mourning. Contemplate the deluge of Noah and all that patriarch suffered at the hands of the wicked. Consider Abraham, who was full of love for God : he suffered tortures and was thrown into the fire. See the unfortunate Ishmael offered up in the way of divine love. Turn towards Jacob who became blind from weeping for his son. Look at Joseph, admirable in his power as in his slavery, in the pit and in prison. Remember the unhappy Job stretched on the earth a prey to worms and wolves. Think of Jonah who, having strayed from the Way, went from the moon to the belly of the fish. Follow Moses from his birth: a box served him for a cradle, and Pharaoh exalted him. Think of David, who made himself a breast-plate and whose sighs melted the iron like wax. Look at Solomon whose empire was mastered by the Jinn. Remember Zacharias, so ardent with the love of God that he kept silent when they killed him; and John the Baptist, despised before the people, whose head was put on a platter. Stand in wonder at Christ at the foot of the cross, v/hen he saved himself from the hands of the Jews. And finally, ponder over all that the Chief of the Prophets suffered from the insults and injuries of the wicked.
After this, do you think it will be easy to arrive at knowledge of spiritual things? It means no less than to die to everything. What shall I say further, since there is nothing more to say, and there remains not a rose on the bush ! O Wisdom! You are no more than a suckling child; and the reason of the old and experienced strays in this quest. How shall I, a fool, be able to arrive at this Essence; and if I should arrive, how shall I be able to enter in by the door? O Holy Creator! Vivify my spirit! Believers and unbelievers are equally plunged in blood, and my head turns as the heavens, I am not without hope but I am impatient.
My friends! We are neighbours of one another: I wish to repeat my discourse to you day and night, so that you should not cease for a moment to long to set out in quest of Truth.
Excerpt from: The Conference of the Birds (Manṭiq-uṭ-Ṭayr) by Hazrat Faridi-ul-Din Attar (r.a) Translation 1954 by C. S. Nott