The Lover

by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis
Original Language Persian/Farsi

'A lover', said the hoopoe, now their guide,
'Is one in whom all thoughts of self have died;
Those who renounce the self deserve that name;
Righteous or sinful, they are all the same!
Your heart is thwarted by the self's control;
Destroy its hold on you and reach your goal.
Give up this hindrance, give up mortal sight,
For only then can you approach the light.
If you are told: "Renounce our Faith," obey!
The self and Faith must both be tossed away;
Blasphemers call such action blasphemy --
Tell them that love exceeds mere piety.
Love has no time for blasphemy or faith,
Nor lovers for the self, that feeble wraith.

-- from The Conference of the Birds, Translated by Afkham Darbandi / Translated by Dick Davis

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Here Attar's spiritual guide, the hoopoe, tells us how to become a true lover of God, that we may successfully journey along the spiritual path.

"A lover," he tells us, "Is one in whom all thoughts of self have died." Often statements like this by spiritual teachers are interpreted as meaning that we should think of the well-being of others before our own. That can be a profound approach to life, one that awakens both compassion and lessens the stranglehold of the little self, but there is more to be understood...

The start is to challenge the small self's hold upon the awareness ("Your heart is thwarted by the self's control; / Destroy its hold on you and reach your goal."), but the end is when we see there has never been anything there to struggle against ("Give up this hindrance, give up mortal sight, / For only then can you approach the light.")

When we can truly say that "all thoughts of self have died," it is not that we work hard to control the self, it is when the very notion of a self is seen to be illusory (a "feeble wraith") and not a real or lasting thing at all.

Attar's hoopoe proclaims something even more shocking: "If you are told: 'Renounce our Faith,' obey!" For traditionalist societies, this sounds like blasphemy. How then can Attar throw the accusation back in his critics' faces by stating, "Blasphemers call such action blasphemy"?

For Attar and most deep mystics, "love exceeds mere piety." In other words, when, naked, free from self, we truly encounter Love, that is the heart of all religion. Theologies, rituals, and traditions are meant to lead us to that foundational ground, that encounter with Love. Would you give up the destination for the map? Nonsense! Merely following the rules of religion without understanding their purpose only leads to rigidity and a hard heart. People who do so, imagining themselves pious, are the true blasphemers.

Love simply is. And It is everywhere, encompassing all opposites. It is not concerned with the religious dualities of "blasphemy or faith," "righteous or sinful." These are human distinctions. When we carefully examine them, we discover that at a certain point in spiritual development these distinctions can reinforce the ego-self. Don't misunderstand me: They help along the way, by strengthening those essential aspects of the self required for the journey. But they too eventually become traps for the ego, allowing you to assert, "I am righteous and others are not." It becomes a form of pride, a buttress for the false vision of separation, a way to reinforce the blocks to all-embracing Love.

When we excavate beneath piety and spiritual practice, in the process losing separation and self, that's when we may just discover the secret wellspring of Love. Returning to those rising waters again and again, we finally know what real worship is. Then we can truly say we have become "a lover."



Recommended Books: Farid ud-Din Attar

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems The Conference of the Birds
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The Lover