Conference of the Birds Summary
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Life from a Bird’s Perspective
Conference of the Birds: Introduction
Conference of the Birds is an epic poem, considered a masterpiece of the Persian Literature written by Farid Ud-Din Attar. Many years after being written, Peter Sis, a writer mostly known for his children's books, adapted the poem in a beautifully illustrated book (2013). The main story is about thousands of birds flying on a tiring journey over oceans and lands in search of a king. In order to find the king, the birds must fly past seven valleys. Namely, the valley of quest, love, understanding, detachment, unity, amazement, and death. In this paper, we will mostly focus on the valley of understanding, love, and death.
The journey starts with the following quote from Hoopoe:
"We have a king, a true king who has the answers that we need. Our leader is called Simurgh, the Great Bird, and lives on Mt. Kaf, in the mountain range that wraps around the earth. Our king is so close and yet far away from us because we are far from Simorgh. Let us go at once and find the Great Bird. I know where to look” (Attar, 1177).
The second valley in the book and the first one we are going to analyze is the valley of love. In the valley of love, the seeker must leave all his knowledge and rational thinking, and unite with love, which is the burning fire in all of us. This is not as easy as it sounds. Because in order to embrace love, one must abandon everything negative he has towards it. Any doubt, any uncommitted attitude will take the person farther from reaching it. If we try to look at things around us with eyes of reason, we can neither understand love, nor the necessity of it. This is no different from the human journey of life. When someone we know falls in love, we have trouble understanding his/her actions, but the same happens to us when we find someone we love. It is a blinding arrow that makes a person happier than he ever was at the cost of reason, and no matter how hard it is to be in love with someone, we can seldom regret it afterward.
The valley right after love is the valley of understanding. This valley was portrayed as a negative place in the book (“The Conference of the Birds,” 2019). The birds were lost and disoriented, flying over a path that can not be measured. There was one road for each pilgrim; therefore, no one could know the route traveled by another. The birds that reached the end realized that true knowledge comes to those who can stay awake. One should always keep going without rest because sometimes the exit can only be reached by those who endure. Most of the time, our hardest choices require us to leave our comfort zone. As hard as it may seem at the time, without pushing ourselves to our natural limit, we can never expect a significant change—this part of the book blends in with life itself. 'There was no time now, no beginning or end. Only flying.’
The last and arguably the most important valley is the Valley of Death. The core of this valley is the constant inability to remember. When someone sees himself in the vast ocean of existence, he also sees both the significance and the insignificance of life. In our minds and hearts, we are all rare and important beings. However, the existence of death completely changes this perspective. If a man does not have faith after death or a strong belief, the idea of turning into nothing terrifies him. In the book, inside the valley of death is nothing but a mystery. Just like death itself, it is a state of anxiety until we fully embrace it.
Towards the end of the book, we see a handful of birds approaching Mt. Kaf. After passing all of the valleys, they are exhausted, and their wills are almost broken. To explain what the birds have suffered is impossible. Most of the birds deserted the quest or beaten by fear, thirst, or hunger. When they come to Mt. Kaf, a voice talked with the 30 birds left in the flock. The birds were rejected rudely, but instead of feeling down and quitting, they remembered their long journey up until Mt. Kaf. Their love for their king was the same the moth had for the flame. There, curtains of light parted, and birds saw a holy light. They saw the face of their king Simurgh, in a bright, shiny mirror. Once they got closer, they realized that the reflection they are seeing is their own. Just then, they have realized, Simorgh was actually "si morgh," which means "thirty birds" in Persian. When you see the face of the Beloved, you will always see yourself.
Conference of the Birds: Conclusion
After all, when we look at this story, we are the birds. We all have our own ideas, our own anxieties, fears, and troubles as we live with our version of the truth. Just like the 30 birds, even though we may travel the same road, the journey will be different for each one of us. The truth we take for granted is not something unchangeable. On the contrary, it evolves with us. This is a story about us, humans. It is the story of the soul going back to its origin, and everyone has a different Simorgh, we just have to explore it first.
Attar, F. ud-D. (1177). Accessed on Wikipedia.com
Sís Peter, & ʻAṭṭār Farīd al-Dīn. (2013). Conference of the birds. New York: Penguin Books.
The Conference of the Birds, a dazzling Persian Sufi poem . (2019). Accessed on March 1, 2020, from https://faena.com/aleph/articles/the-conference-of-the-birds-a-dazzling-persian-sufi-poem/
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