The angels have bowed down to you and drowned

by Farid ud-Din Attar

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

The angels have bowed down to you and drowned
Your soul in Being, past all plummet's sound --
Do not despise yourself, for there is none
Who could with you sustain comparison;
Do not torment yourself -- your soul is All,
Your body but a fleeting particle.
This All will clarify, and in its light
Each particle will shine, distinctly bright --
As flesh remains an agent of the soul,
You soul's an agent of the sacred Whole.
But "part" and "whole" must disappear at last;
The Way is one, and number is surpassed.
A hundred thousand clouds above you press;
Their rain is pure, unending happiness;
And when the desert blooms with flowers, their scent
And beauty minister to your content;
The prayers of all the angels, all they do,
All their obedience, God bestows on you.

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

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Isn't that a striking opening couplet?

The angels have bowed down to you and drowned
Your soul in Being, past all plummet's sound...


We are drowned, but in Being, in the Real. We are past sound, in a place of soundlessness. And we find ourselves dropping through great depths, measuring like a plummet weight. Perhaps we are even going beyond our ability to measure.

When we are finally confronted with the vision of Being, when the soul is "drowned" so that the Eternal utterly surrounds and fills us, we are brought to a place of utter stillness and silence. This is not so much an absence of sound as it is a pristine quietness of the awareness. You may still be conscious and coherent, but there is no vibration in the mind. It is as if the entire audience of a concert hall has fully settled down, no whispers, no coughs, no shuffling in the seats, complete silence and attention, finally ready to hear the symphony in all its subtlety and beauty.

But "part" and "whole" must disappear at last;
The Way is one, and number is surpassed.



But let's back up for a moment... Why are the angels bowing down to you? In Islamic tradition, God insists that the angels bow down to his new creation -- Adam, humanity. The angel Iblis (Satan) refuses, and this is what sparks his rebellion.

This story is confusing and even a bit shocking. Christianity, especially Catholicism, views angels as being much higher in the heavenly hierarchy than humanity, so why would God insist that they bow down to humans? Satan's refusal sounds kind of reasonable, given the obvious imperfections of humanity.

Here is one possible way to understand the story: Human beings exist on many levels. At our spiritual core, we are fundamentally one with the Eternal. When we see this clearly, to bow down is to honor God. But the nature of Satan/Iblis is to see only the outer rind of creation. In Adam he sees only the limited physical body and the fallible ego personality, and refuses to bow.

Satan's initial failure is not exactly malice or even willfulness, it is blindness. All of the other failures follow from not seeing clearly.

Coming back to our poem, this is why Attar tells us not to belittle ourselves in our own minds--

Do not despise yourself, for there is none
Who could with you sustain comparison;
Do not torment yourself -- your soul is All,
Your body but a fleeting particle.
This All will clarify, and in its light
Each particle will shine, distinctly bright --
As flesh remains an agent of the soul,
You soul's an agent of the sacred Whole.


He is saying not to get caught in Iblis's blindness, which leads to disappointment and hatred. Instead, recognize that we are each, at our center, part of the Whole, an expression of that immense Being of light and bliss and unity. This is our true nature and our true Self.

What's more, no action, no thought can sever us from that Being. The worst we can do is blind ourselves, and reinforce the delusion of separation. We can go down dark paths in life and do terrible things, but that doesn't really change our nature, it just mars the surface. No matter how lost an individual has become, there is always a path back to the Heart, and that is never tarnished.

And when the desert blooms with flowers, their scent
And beauty minister to your content;
The prayers of all the angels, all they do,
All their obedience, God bestows on you.



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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