Sufi anecdotes from Fariduddin Attar’s book Tajkerat al-Awliya

Shaikh Fariduddin Attar (1145-1221 C.E.) was a mystic Sufi poet of Iran.  Born in Nishapur, he was initiated into the Sufi lore by Sheikh Mujd-ud-din  of Baghdad.  When he was about forty-five years old, he “saw” the future greatness of a teenage boy Jalaluddin Rumi  who had come to meet him.  He blessed Rumi and presented him with a copy of his work, the Pandnama.  Attar was executed by a soldier after Genghis Khan invaded Persia.  During his lifetime, he wrote over 114 books on Sufism, the most reputed of which is the Tajkerat al-Awliya (Memoirs of the Saints of Iran, Egypt and  Arabia) which documents the lives of about one hundred and forty-two Sufi saints of his era. Selections from this book were translated by Bankey Behari into English.   These are a few noteworthy excerpts from Behari’s book (page numbers follow in parentheses)

Photo: Farid ud-Din Attar’s mausoleum in Iran. Flickr Creative Commons. Click image for source

Value of good company

Shaikh Bu Ali Diqaq was asked, “Will it profit us merely to bear the discourses of saints without acting upon them?” He replied, “Yes, by merely hearing, the desire to meet God automatically develops  in a devotee, and consequently egoism and pride leave him and he becomes cloaked in humility”(1)

(In Hinduism, this is called Satsang.)

Dealing with the fair sex

(from the life of Hadrat Owais Qarni): A beautiful young woman was running one day along the street with her head uncovered, and was complaining about her husband in harsh terms. I told her to cover her head and face. She said, “The love of my husband has made me lose my senses so much that I am not conscious of my body and of my surroundings.  If you had not told me that my head and face were uncovered, I would have never known it. I would have walked like that in the street. However, it is a matter of surprise, O Hasan, that you pretend to be a lover of God, and yet are conscious of everything which crosses your way and retain your senses. What is this love of God like in you? ” (14)

(See also : “Should women dress modestly“)


Hadrat Abu Hazim said, “The things that are I destined to be mine shall  reach me even if I run away from them, and the things which are not destined to be mine, I shall not get them in spite of my best efforts.” (19)

Hadrat Abul Hasan Khirqani said, “The worldlings get what is recorded in their destiny, but the saint receives that which is not mentioned in the scroll of his destiny.  (172)

(See : Karma can be changed)

Do not follow someone mechanically

Bayazid was going on the road when a person started following him, putting every step of his on the foot-marks of Bayazid and began to assert that he was following the saint step by step. Later, he demanded of Bayazid a portion of his leather gown that he might advance spiritually by donning that gifted piece.  Bayazid remarked, “Not to speak of my gown, even if I pulled off the skin of my body and handed it over to you, you would not gain spiritually, until you carried on successfully the spiritual exercises I perform.”(75)

Hadrat Abul Hasan Khirqani said, “Amongst the thousands that tread the path  outlined by the Scripture there is one whose path is followed by the Scripture itself, i.e., every act of his turns into an ordinance of the Scripture.” (167)

Pride in self-effort

Hadrat Bayazid Bistami said, “I learnt that it is only when He confers strength that we can carry on our spiritual practices, so the real Doer of all acts is God.” (78)

(This anecdote addresses a habitual error that we make, wherein we become smug and satisfied after having “succeeded” at gaining a temporary exaltation.  The spiritual experience has to be offered back to the Divine instead of being egoistically appropriated.  For more, see Spiritual ego and Why spiritual experiences do not repeat)

Danger of practicing austerities in seclusion

In the heart of one of Junaid‘s disciples the Devil entered and he started bragging that he had attained to perfection, and association with the saints was not necessary for him. So he started dwelling in solitude.  He proclaimed in the town one day that the angels came every day with a decorated camel and took him for trips to Heaven. When Junaid heard this blasphemy, he went to stay, for a night with him. He asked him to tell the angels when they came to him, “Ye messengers of the Devil, be ye damned”. He did the same in the night when the angels came. The so-called angels and the camel disappeared and he saw that he was seated on a dust-bin and skeletons and skulls of dead beasts were spread about him. He repented and took shelter with his preceptor, Junaid.  Junaid told him, “Solitude for the new entrant in the Path is fatal.  The company of the enlightened preceptor is absolutely necessary.” (116)

(See also : The occult spirits which influence our actions)

Stages in spiritual progress

Hadrat Abul Hasan Khirqani said, “There are three final states in spirituality.   In the first, you consider yourself just as God considers you. In the second state, you become His and He becomes yours. In the third state, you cease to exist and He alone fills thee. (173)

(See also: Stages in the spiritual journey)

You are part of the Divine work

Abul Hasan once prayed to the Lord to withdraw him from the world. The Divine Voice answered, “We have purposely kept thee in the world so that Our friends may come and associate with thee; and he who cannot come to thee may, by merely repeating thy name and talking about thee, gain great spiritual benefit.” (174)

(See also : On collective prayer and meditation )

Living solely on higher energy

Hadrat Abul Hasan Khirqani: When I started fasting the snake-like thing appeared before me but I refused to accept it as it interfered in the direct downpour of the Lord’s grace on me. I prayed to the Lord to confer on me whatsoever he wanted directly and not through the mediation of another. The Lord said, ‘Hereafter you shall be fed without food and shall find thy hunger and thirst satisfied without taking anything.’ And so it has been ever since. I feel I am fed with a thing within my stomach which is invisible to me, but which is sweet as honey and fragrant as the Musk.  The world does not know from where I get food.” (176)

(A dialogue between Sri Aurobindo and a disciple.

Disciple : How is it possible to have such energy without food?
Sri Aurobindo : One draws the energy from the vital plane instead of depending upon physical substance.

For more, see : Man shall not live by bread alone)

Thou shalt not take the name of God in vain

In the first stage it was the wont of Abu Bakr Shibli to fill the mouth of everyone who repeated the Name of the Lord with sugar. His ecstatic state grew and then he would after gold mohurs(coins) to him who would repeat the Name of the Lord before him. When he developed still further, he started carrying a nak sword with him. He would rush to kill anybody uttering the Name of the Lord before him. When asked the reason for such a strange behaviour, he would say,  “First I thought people took the Name of the Lord  genuinely with interest and desire for enlightenment, but then I discovered that they repeated it as a matter of habit, formally and in ignorance.” (184)

Significance of holy places

One day Abu Bakr Shibli was seen rushing with a burning splinter through the streets. People asked him the reason for carrying it.   He replied, “I am going to set fire to the House of God-Kaaba..”  Next day he was going the same way and, on being asked the reason, said, “I am going to set fire to Paradise that people may not love God for the lure of it.”(186)

(from the life of Abu Qasim Nasrabadi): Such was the state of God-intoxication of Nasrabadi that one day in his ecstasy be went to the temple of fire-worshippers (i.e. Zoroastrians) and began to circumambulate it.  The Muslims objected to such heresy. He replied,”I sought Him in Kaaba but found Him not there. I now seek Him here, in the hope that I might find Him here.” Annoyed by that the Muslims turned him out of Naishapur.

Nasrabadi one day saw some pilgrims talking amongst themselves as they were circumambulating the Kaaba.  He started collecting some fuel. People asked him what he meant to do. He replied, “I am going to put Kaaba to fire that thenceforward people might seek God direct, and not through anybody’s mediation. ” (211)

(See also : Significance of places of worship, relics and prayer rooms)

Contradictions in utterances

They asked Shibli how it was that at one time he  said one thing and at another time just the opposite of it. He replied, “Sometimes I am myself,  (ba-khud) and sometimes I am besides myself (be-khud).” (193)

This recalls to mind a remark made by the Mother : “In order to understand and follow Sri Aurobindo’s teaching, one must learn to rise above all possibility of contradiction. That is, to reach the region where contradictions no longer exist. That’s true. You understand, if you take quotations from Sri Aurobindo on a particular subject, you can put side by side things that are the very opposite of each other: he says one thing, then its opposite, then again something different. (Mother’s Agenda, June 7 1967)

Prayer not needed after Enlightenment

Shibli was dying….When people asked him to repeat the Muslim article of faith, the Kalima, ‘there is no god, but God,’ Shibli said, “I see no other, then whom should I deny?” The people remarked that the scriptures ordained that  at the hour of death it should be repeated.. Shibli said, “Know that the Sultan of Love accepts no bribe. Besides,it is surprising that a dead person should advise a living one.” (197)

Ramakrishna Paramahansa said the same thing: “After God-realization one gives up formal worship. I have given up that kind of worship. I used to worship in the Kali Temple. It was suddenly revealed to me that everything is made of pure Spirit – the koshakushi, the altar and the door-frame – everything made of Spirit; men, birds and beasts all made of Spirit. So I began to shower flowers all around like a crazy man. I began to worship anything and everything I saw. 

One day when I was offering bel-leaves on the head of Shiva, it was revealed to me that the vast universe itself, Virat, is Shiva. Then I stopped worshipping the image of Shiva. And when I was picking flowers, it was suddenly revealed to me that every flowering plant is like a bouquet.” (Gospel of Ramakrishna, vol. 3, sec 8, chapter 1)

Different classes and paths

Dinwari said, “There are many classes of worshippers; some worship themselves, others their wealth, some their wives, others their children, others their office and professions whilst some are adherents of Namaz(prayers), fasts and night vigils. One must worship something or the other.  All these are worshippers of their self and follow its behests. They go where their ego carries them. But the real worshipper is one who does not obey the carnal self (nafs) and is always taking it to task.”(202)

There is a pathway which runs between the Beloved and His attributes. He who runs after the attributes, his vision gets veiled but he who rivets his attention on the Lord of the attributes is saved. . . (207)

(Similarly, the Bhagavad Gita in chapter 7, verse 23  states “those who worship the Gods go to the abode of the Gods; those who worship me(the Supreme Divine) come to me”.)

God has created as many ways to reach Him as there are creatures in this world. Everybody can select his path and pursue it according to his capacity and inclination, and thereby attain to perfectfon. (203)

(Similarly, the Bhagavad Gita in Chapter 4, verse 11 states “Whatever path men travel by, they all come to me”)


  1. Farid al-din Attar.  Selections from Fariduddin Attār’s Tajkerat al-Awliya : Memoirs of saints : Parts 1 & 2 / abridged and translated from original Persian by Bankey Behari, Delhi : Taj Company, 1985.

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8 thoughts on “Sufi anecdotes from Fariduddin Attar’s book Tajkerat al-Awliya

  1. Pingback: The Soul – Bird in Persian Sufi Literature «

  2. Pingback: How an Egyptian discovered Sri Aurobindo | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  3. Pingback: शेख शिबली(Sheikh Shibli) « विरासत

  4. HeartToFind

    I am laughing at all of this, posting things about sufizm on a yoga website ? this shows your stupidity … yes like Feriduddin Attar and Ibn Arabi(k.s) state all is the breath of the All Mercifull, but you cannot reach the second door if you dont follow the true path of sufizm( Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet pbuh), i find it very disturbing that you take budist or w/e mystic fake religion stories and then add it up with big muslim sufi scholars like Beyazid i Bistami(k.s), u give examples like Ramakrishna? a devil worshipper lol ? a man whose 3rd eye has opened maybe yes, but like i said if you dont follow the true path u get drunk in the lower dimensions and think it’s the upper … the postwriter should be ashamed putting big sufi scholars like i stated before in the same league as hindi, budist devil worshippers who got lost in the realms of the Djinn …

    Please dont take this as offensive, but DO not put a man with a so called gospel who got in a drunk state and thaught all that he worships is Him in the same league as people who put the basics in sufizm whom muslims all around the world still follow till this day …

    Sufizm has nothing to do with Yoga or other religions, the base of sufizm is following the Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad Mustafa pbuh … do you think he adviced yoga and said it’s all the same ? dont be crazy … keep it on yoga and your fake worshipping leave sufizm alone, you cannot beat Nefs-i-Emmare by not eating or being hard on your ego this will only lead you to the realm of the Djinns who will take you for the fool you are and you wont even notice it because you cannot even recite 1 ayah of the Quran …

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Do not be so quick in your judgement. Instead of assuming that the path you have grown up with is the only “true path”, sometimes it is good to step outside your comfort zone and examine the validity of other systems of thought and practice.

      Are you aware of studies by Carl Ernst ? He found that a Sanskrit text on Tantric Yoga called “Amrita Kunda” (pool of nectar) was translated from the 12th century onwards into Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu. In the process of translation, all invocations to Hindu Goddesses were replaced with Islamic terminology. Copies of this manuscript have been found in many places in the Middle-East including Damascus, Yemen and Istanbul.

      Read this “Islamization of Yoga in the AmrutaKunda translations

      and this “Being Careful with the Goddess: Yoginis in Persian and Arabic”

      It is not possible to draw firm conclusions yet but it is possible that Sufi practices have some commonality with Yogic practices. It is possible that the Persians who had converted to Islam mixed some Yogic practices into their tradition.

      There is a spectrum of opinion out there. There are mainstream Sunni Muslims in Arabic countries who believe that Sufis are not Muslims. And there is growing opinion, especially in the Western countries who have suffered recent terrorist attacks, that Islam is nothing more than a violent and backward seventh century religion. All those people may also laugh at this post.


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