|The Story Of
Avicenna and Attar's Birds
The Persian philosopher and physician, Avicenna (Ibn Sina) wrote
mystical 'recitals' three of which, form a cycle that lead to
spiritual progress. One of the recitals, "The Recital of the Bird,"
tells the story of a Bird who embarks on a journey to meet a King.
The Bird has to reach a certain level of consciousness, with the
help of other birds, in order to free itself from bonds. The journey
covers valleys and nine mountains or Nine Heavens after which, the
city of the Spiritual Angels is visible. It is here that the King
can be found.
Farid-uddin Attar, also Persian, wrote a mystical epic titled, "The
Conference of the Birds." It has a similar theme to Avicenna's
recital, and follows the same line of thought. In this epic, thousands
of Birds from this world travel for several years, over valleys and
mountains, in order to meet the King called, 'Simurgh.' Along the way,
several die and only Thirty Birds (translated in Persian literally
means, Si-murgh; si = 30 and murgh = bird) finally arrive at the Ninth
Heaven, but only catch a glimpse of the King. When they look within
themselves and realize their faults, thus recognizing themselves, then
they see the face of the eternal Simurgh who is merely a reflection of
themselves. In other words, Thirty Birds see Thirty Birds!
It is not surprising that both authors; Avicenna and Attar, use the
Bird as a symbol, since it is often used and heard of in mystical
experiences. The Sufis share the beliefs of the Greek philosopher,
Plato, and believe that the soul perceives itself as a winged being or
the Image of the Self is a winged being. The wing is seen to be the
most divine among corporeal things, and when the soul is fully winged,
it is said to soar upwards and thus becomes the ruler of the universe.
So both authors use the Bird to represent the Image of the Self. The
moral behind the stories is... in order to find oneself, one has to
Note: I wrote the above after reading, "The Recital of the Bird" by
Avicenna and "The Conference of the Birds" by Attar - translated by