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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 recognize oneself!

Note: I wrote the above after reading, "The Recital of the Bird" by Avicenna and "The Conference of the Birds" by Attar - translated by C.S. Nott.