Saturday, October 15, 2016

Spirituality: The Attarian Stages of Spirituality.

Sheikh Farid ud-Din Attar was a Persian Sufi poet. His real name is Abu Hamid bin Abu Bakr Ibrahim. He was from Nishapur, a major city of medieval Khorasan- which is in the northeast of Iran. It is to be noted that Nishapur also the birth place of Omar Khayyam.

The date of birth of Attar is not clear. The manuscript of the epic Mantiq ut-Tayr certifies that it was completed in CE 1177, in his later age. From this, it is assumed that he was born in a year with in the period CE 1120-1157. Modern scholars, however, expressed an opinion that he was born in the first half of the twelfth century, around CE 1120.

There is little information on the formative life of the poet other than he was the son of a prosperous pharmacist and that he received an excellent education in medicine, Arabic, and Theosophy at a Madrasa attached to the shrine of Imam Reza at Mashhad. According to his own Mosibat Nameh (Book of Afflictions), as a youth, he worked in his father's pharmacy where he prepared drugs and attended patients. Upon his father's death, he became the owner of his own store.

Work in the pharmacy was difficult for young Attar. People from all walks of life visited the shop and shared their troubles with him. Their poverty, it seems, impacted the young poet the most. One day, it is related, an unsightly fakir visited the shop. The way he marveled at the opulence of the store made 'Attar uneasy; he ordered the fakir to leave. Looking the owner and the well-stocked shop over, the fakir said, "I have no difficulty with this", pointing to his ragged cloak, "to leave; but you, how are you, with all this, planning to leave!"

The fakir's response affected Attar deeply. He pondered the fakir's reply for many days and, eventually, decided to give up his shop and join the circle of Shaykh Rukn al-Din Akkaf of the Kubraviyyah order. His new life was one of travel and exploration, very much like the fakir who had inspired him. For a long time, he traveled to Ray, Kufa, Mecca, Damascus, Turkistan, and India, meeting with Sufi shaykhs, learning about the Tariqah, and experiencing life in the Khaniqahs.

When finally he felt he had achieved what he had been seeking in travel, Attar returned to Nishapur, settled, and reopened his pharmacy. and devoted himself in healing and in writing. With the knowledge and collected information, he compiled a book Tadhkirat al-Auliya, Attar's initial contribution to his new world contains all the verses and sayings of Sufi saints who, up to that time, had not penned a biography of their own.

Attar's works fall into three categories. First are those works in which mysticism is in perfect balance with a finished, story-teller's art. The second group is those in which a pantheistic zeal gains the upper hand over literary interest. The third are those in which the aging poet idolizes the saint, Ali. During this period there is no trace of ordered thoughts and descriptive skills. 

Attar at Nishapur
One of Attar's major poetic works is called Asrar Nameh (Book of Secrets) about Sufi ideas. This is the work that the aged Shaykh gave Jalal al-Din Rumi when Rumi's family stayed over at Nishapur on its way to Konya, Turkey. Another major contribution of Attar is the Elahi Nameh (Divine Book), about zuhd or asceticism.

It is said, Rumi and many Sufi poets inspired by his poems. Rumi says: "Attar was the spirit, Sanai his eyes twain, And in time thereafter, Came we in their train". It is said that Rumi gets a company of Attar in his Childhood though some scholar dismissed this as baseless information.

At one point, when Attar residing in his town, he was charged with blasphemy. Why he was charged with will be clear when we read his epic Manṭiq-uṭ-Ṭayr. But he was charged not for that book but for his another poem. However, he was exiled and his properties confiscated. EG. Browne in his book "A Literary History of Persia" (Vol. 2, p.509) noted that this kind of penalty for a spiritual poet at that period was not unexpected at all.

However, Attar returns in Nishapur from his exile before his death sometime between CE 1193-1235. According to one of the primary authors of his biography, it was CE 1229 (or April, CE 1221), when the aggressive Mongolian under Timur Lung on a rush in a  great violence and terror that led to occupy them Baghdad and surrounding regions. Attar was 100 yrs or more at that time.

When the Mongol brutally invade Persia, Attar captured in his home town Nishapur by a Mongol soldier and he was taken, prisoner. In the meantime, a man submits a petition for his release in exchange for one thousand silver coins. The Mongol astonished with the high exchange rate of an old man and Attar advised him not to sell him at that price. The Mongol take his advice with a thought that he is precious and decline to sell him with that price.

But later it was only one who showed interest to buy Attar and agreed to pay in exchange for him just a sheaf of straw. In that time Attar advice him to sell him with that price as in fact it was his real value. The soldier was surprised and then he was mad with rage when he realized that he was fooled by Attar. He immediately beheaded him by the sword. This is the traditional story of his death.

However, many people deny this story, stressing the point that it is an attempt to draw an image of a tragic death of an old poet in the hands of a brutal and barbaric Mongol soldier, that attempts to draw the image. True or false, whatever it may be, this story is used to teach the mystical insight that the personal self isn't of much real worth. What is valuable is the Beloved's presence within us -and that presence isn't threatened by the death of the body.

Attar killed in April CE 1221 when he was at the age of 78. Today, his mausoleum is located in Nishapur. It was built by Ali-Shir Nava'i in the 16th century and later on underwent a total renovation during Reza Shah the great in CE 1940.

!! Strive to discover the mystery
before life is taken from you.
If while living you fail to find yourself,
to know yourself,
how will you be able to understand
the secret of your existence
after you die?

Attar was famous for his works Mantiq ut-Tayr. where his expertise playing on a pun in Persian while giving us an esoteric teaching on the presence of the Divine within us. This book states that the seven Stages of Spirituality as:

    Talab: The stage of Quest,
    Eshq: The stage of Love,
    Marifat: The stage of Understanding,
    Istighnah: The stage of Independence and Detachment,
    Tawheed: The stage of Unity,
    Hayrat: The stage of Astonishment and Bewilderment,
    Fuqur and Fana: The stage of Selflessness and Oblivion in God.

The Valley of the Quest:
"When one enters the first valley, the Valley of the Quest, a hundred difficulties will assail him; He will undergo a hundred trials. There, the Parrot of heaven is no more than a fly. He will have to spend several years there, he will have to make great efforts, and to change his state. He will have to give up all that has seemed precious to him and regard as nothing all that he possesses. When he is sure that he possesses nothing, he still will have to detach himself from all that exists. His heart will then be saved from perdition and he will see the pure light of Divine Majesty and his real wishes will be multiplied to infinity. He will be filled with such longing that he will give himself up completely to the quest symbolized by this valley. He will ask of his cupbearer a drought of wine, and he has drunk it nothing will matter except the pursuit of his true aim. Then he will no longer fear the dragons, the guardians of the door, which seek to devour him. When the door is opened and he enters, then dogma, belief, and unbelief--all cease to exist."

The Valley of Love:
"The next valley is the Valley of Love. To enter it one must be a flaming fire--what shall I say? A man must himself be fire. The face of the lover must be inflamed, burning and impetuous as fire. True love knows no after-thoughts; with love, good and evil cease to exist.

"But as for you, the heedless and careless, this discourse will not touch you, your teeth will not even nibble at it. A loyal person stakes ready money, stakes his head even, to be united to his friend. Others content themselves with what they will do for you tomorrow. If he who sets out in this way will not engage himself wholly and completely he will never be free from the sadness and melancholy which weigh him down. Until the Falcon reaches his aim he is agitated and distressed. If a fish is thrown onto the beach by the waves it struggles to get back into the water.

"In this valley, love is represented by fire, and reason by smoke. When love comes reason disappears. Reason cannot live with the folly of love; love has nothing to do with human reason. If you possessed inner sight, the atoms of the visible world would be manifested to you. But if you look at things with the eye of an ordinary reason you will never understand how necessary it is to love. Only a man who has been tested and is free can feel this. He who undertakes this journey should have a thousand hearts so that he can sacrifice one at every moment."

The Valley of Understanding:

"After the Valley of Love, there comes another--the Valley Understanding, which has neither beginning nor end. No way is equal to this way, and the distance to be traveled to cross it is beyond reckoning."

"Understanding, for each traveler, is enduring; but knowledge is temporary. The soul, like the body, is in a state of progress or decline; and the Spiritual Way reveals itself only in the degree to which the traveler has overcome his faults and weaknesses, his sleep and his inertia, and each will approach nearer to his aim according to his effort. Even if a gnat were to fly with all its might could it equal the speed of the wind? There are different ways of crossing this Valley, and all birds do not fly alike. Understanding can be arrived at variously--some have found the Mihrab, others the idol. When the sun of understanding brightens this road each receives light according to his merit and he finds the degree assigned to him in the understanding of truth. When the mystery of the essence of beings reveals itself clearly to him the furnace of this world becomes a garden of flowers. He who is striving will be able to see the almond in its hard shell. He will no longer be pre-occupied with himself but will look up at the face of his friend. In each atom he will see the whole; he will ponder over thousands of bright secrets.

"But, how many have lost their way in this search for one who has found the mysteries! It is necessary to have a deep and lasting wish to become as we ought to be in order to cross this difficult valley. Once you have tasted the secrets you will have a real wish to understand them. But, whatever you may attain, never forget the words of the Koran, "Is there anything more?"

"As for you who are asleep (and I cannot commend you for this), why not put on mourning? You, who have not seen the beauty of your friend, get up and search! How long will you stay as you are, like a donkey without a halter!"

The Valley of Independence and Detachment:
"The there comes the valley where there is neither the desire to possess nor the wish to discover. In this state of the soul, a cold wind blows, so violent that in a moment it devastates an immense space; the seven oceans are no more than a pool, the seven planets a mere sparkle, the seven heavens a corpse, the seven hells broken ice. Then, an astonishing thing, beyond reason! An ant has the strength of a hundred elephants, and a hundred caravans perish while a rook is filling his crop.

"In order that Adam might receive the celestial light, hosts of green-clad angels were consumed by sorrow. So that Noah might become a carpenter of God and build the ark, thousands of creatures perished in the waters. Myriads of gnats fell on the army of Abraha so that that king would be overthrown. Thousands of the first-born died so that Moses might see God. Thousands of people took to the Christian girdles so that Christ could possess the secret of God. Thousands of hearts and souls were pillaged so that Muhammad might ascend for one night to heaven. In this Valley nothing old or new has value; you can act or not act. If you saw a whole world burning until hearts were only shish kabab, it would be only a dream compared to reality. If myriads of souls were to fall into this boundless ocean it would be as a drop of dew. If heaven and earth were to burst into minute particles it would be no more than a leaf falling from a tree; and if everything were to be annihilated, from the fish to the moon, would there be found in the depths of a pit the leg of a lame ant? If there remains no trace of either of men or jinn, the secret of a drop of water from which all have been formed is still to be pondered over."

The Valley of Unity:
"You will next have to cross the Valley of unity. In this valley, everything is broken in pieces and then unified. All who raise their heads here raise them from the same collar. Although you seem to see many beings, in reality, there is only one--all make one which is complete in its unity. Again, that which you see as a unity is not different from that which appears in numbers. And as the Being of whom I speak is beyond unity and numbering, cease to think of eternity as before and after, and since these two eternities have vanished, cease to speak of them. When all that is visible is reduced to nothing, what is there left to contemplate?"

The Valley of Astonishment and Bewilderment:
"After the Valley of Unity comes the Valley of Astonishment and Bewilderment, where one is a prey to sadness and dejection. Their sights are like swords, and each breath a bitter sight; there, is sorrow and lamentation, and a burning eagerness. It is at once day and night. There, is fire, yet a man is depressed and despondent. How, in his bewilderment, shall he continue his way? But he who has achieved unity forgets all and forgets himself. If he is asked: "Are you, or are you not? Have you or have you not the feeling of existence? Are you in the middle or on the border? Are you mortal or immortal?" he will reply with certainty: "I know nothing, I understand nothing, I am unaware of myself. I am in love, but with whom I do not know. My heart is at the same time both full and empty of love."

The Valley of Deprivation and Death:
"Last of all comes the Valley of Deprivation and Death, which is almost impossible to describe. The essence of the Valley is forgetfulness, dumbness, and distraction; a thousand shadows which surround you disappear in a single ray of the celestial sun. When the ocean of immensity begins to heave, the pattern on its surface loses its form; and this pattern is no other than the world present and the world to come. Whoever declares that he does not exist acquires great merit. The drop that becomes part of this great ocean abides there for ever and in peace. In this calm sea, a man, at first, experiences only humiliation and overthrow; but when he emerges from this state he will understand it as creation, and many secrets will be revealed to him.

"Many beings have missed taking the first step and so have not been able to take the second--they can only be compared to minerals. When aloe wood and thorns are reduced to ashes they both look alike--but their quality is different. An impure object dropped into rose-water remains impure because of its innate qualities, but a pure object dropped into the ocean will lose its specific existence and will participate in the ocean and in its movement. In ceasing to exist separately it retains its beauty. It exists and non-exists. How can this be? The mind cannot conceive it."

The thoughts depicted in Attar's works reflect the whole evolution of the Sufi movement. The starting point is the idea that the body-bound souls awaited release and return to its source in the other world can be experienced during the present life in mystic union attainable through inward purification. In explaining his thoughts, 'Attar uses material not only from specifically Sufi sources but also from older ascetic legacies. Although his heroes are for the most part Sufis and ascetics, he also introduces stories from historical chronicles, collections of anecdotes, and all types of high-esteemed literature. His talent for the perception of deeper meanings behind outward appearances enables him to turn details of everyday life into illustrations of his thoughts. The idiosyncrasy of Attar's presentations invalidates his works as sources for the study of the historical persons whom he introduces. As sources on the hagiology and phenomenology of Sufism, however, his works have immense value.

Now we are going to put an end of this article with a poetry of Attar, translated by AJ Arberry.

The Veil
                -Farid ud-Din Attar

We are the Magians of old,
Islam is not the faith we hold;
In irreligion is our fame,
And we have made our creed a shame.

Now to the tavern we repair
To gamble all our substance there,
Now in the monastery cell
We worship with the infidel.

When Satan chances us to see
He doffs his cap respectfully,
For we have lessons to impart
To Satan in the tempter's art.

We were not in such nature made
Of any man to be afraid;
Head and foot in naked pride
Like sultans o'er the earth we ride.

But we, alas, aweary are
And the road is very far;
We know not by what way to come
Unto the place that is our home.

And therefore we are in despair
How to order our affair
Because wherever we have sought,
Our minds were utterly distraught.

When shall it come to pass, ah when,
That suddenly, beyond our ken,
We shall succeed to rend this veil
That hath our whole affair conceal?

What veil so ever after this
Apparent to our vision is,
With the flame of knowledge true
We shall consume it through and through.

Where at the first in that far place
We come to the world of space,
Our soul by travel in the end
To that perfection shall ascend.

And so shall 'Attar Shattered be
And, rapt in sudden ecstasy,
Soar to godly vision, even
Beyond the veils of earth and heaven.

The End.
Not Yet Verified.

Sources: 
Encyclopedia Iranica
Farīd al-Dīn ʿAttar, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, online edition - accessed December 2012.
B. Reinert, "`Attar", in Encyclopædia Iranica, Online Edition
Ritter, H. (1986), “Attar”, Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Ed., vol. 1: 751-755.
"A. J. Arberry, "Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam", Courier Dover Publications, Nov 9, 2001. p. 141
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam's Mystical Tradition" HarperCollins, Sep 2, 2008. page 130:
Iraj Bashiri, "Farid al-Din `Attar"
Tajkerat al-Awliya; pp. 1,6,21
F. Meier, "Der Geistmensch bei dem persischen Dichter `Attar", Eranos-Jahrbuch 13, 1945, pp. 286 ff
Edward G. Browne, A Literary History of Persia from the Earliest Times Until Firdawsi, 543 pp.,
Annemarie Schimmel, Deciphering the Signs of God, 302 pp., Sunny Press, 1994, ISBN 0-7914-1982-7,  (see p.210)
Ritter, "Philologika XIV," p. 63
"Central Asia and Iran". Angelfire.com. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
Fodor's Iran (1979) by Richard Moore and Peter Sheldon, p. 277

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