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)
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)
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”)
- 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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