Jan 23 2013

Farid ud-Din Attar – The angels have bowed down

Published by at 9:51 am under Poetry

The angels have bowed down to you and drowned
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

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


/ Photo by N3T1O /

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.






Farid ud-Din Attar, Farid ud-Din Attar poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Farid ud-Din Attar

Iran/Persia (1120? – 1220?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Farid ud-Din Attar was born in Nishapur, in north-east Iran. There is disagreement over the exact dates of his birth and death but several sources confirm that he lived about 100 years. He is traditionally said to have been killed by Mongol invaders. His tomb can be seen today in Nishapur.

As a younger man, Attar went on pilgrimage to Mecca and traveled extensively, seeking wisdom in Egypt, Damascus, India, and other areas, before finally returning to his home city of Nishapur.

The name Attar means herbalist or druggist, which was his profession. It is said that he saw as many as 500 patients a day in his shop, prescribing herbal remedies which he prepared himself, and he wrote his poetry while attending to his patients.

About thirty works by Attar survive, but his masterpiece is the Mantic at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds). In this collection, he describes a group of birds (individual human souls) under the leadership of a hoopoe (spiritual master) who determine to search for the legendary Simurgh bird (God). The birds must confront their own individual limitations and fears while journeying through seven valleys before they ultimately find the Simurgh and complete their quest. The 30 birds who ultimately complete the quest discover that they themselves are the Simurgh they sought, playing on a pun in Persian (si and murgh can translate as 30 birds) while giving us an esoteric teaching on the presence of the Divine within us.

Attar’s poetry inspired Rumi and many other Sufi poets. It is said that Rumi actually met Attar when Attar was an old man and Rumi was a boy, though some scholars dispute this possibility.

Farid ud-Din Attar was apparently tried at one point for heresy and exiled from Nishapur, but he eventually returned to his home city and that is where he died.

A traditional story is told about Attar’s death. He was taken prisoner by a Mongol during the invasion of Nishapur. Someone soon came and tried to ransom Attar with a thousand pieces of silver. Attar advised the Mongol not to sell him for that price. The Mongol, thinking to gain an even greater sum of money, refused the silver. Later, another person came, this time offering only a sack of straw to free Attar. Attar then told the Mongol to sell him for that was all he was worth. Outraged at being made a fool, the Mongol cut off Attar’s head.

Whether or not this is literally true isn’t the point. 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.

More poetry by Farid ud-Din Attar

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Farid ud-Din Attar – The angels have bowed down”

  1. simonbaghon 23 Jan 2013 at 11:28 pm

    Rumi says

    Attar lovingly covered the love’s seven valley
    but we do linger at the first bend of first alley

    recreated in English by Simon Baghdasarian [Simonbagh]

  2. Madhupranaon 24 Jan 2013 at 10:17 am

    Dear Ivan
    Since long time, I was quite disturbed…there has been lot of failures…lot of struggle goes on every now and then…but while I have seen many who start to disbelieve God, my faith in Him strengthens with every blow….I can’t find the answer to Why??
    While I was reading this poem I was wondering how the lines spoke what I wanted to utter for so long…
    I know however lost I may feel God will still come to me to help me to retrieve my Being…

    “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.”

  3. Pegon 24 Jan 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Hello Ivan, Thank you. Initially, I don’t care for the word obedience in the poem. Its misrepresentation damaged too many. Beyond my issue, I recalled a meditation when I re- membered being the color pink. I was not being pink in this third dimensional reality, actively manifesting pink peptobismal every other beat in this duality. I “be” pink, as in being pink, but not seeing the color but the pure vibration of pink. I got to be pink. This be experience as noun lasted long after my meditation. I can still be pink just thinking about this.

    Third dimensional reality requires us to blink in and out of be a particle, be antiparticle. The constant never changes.

    Much love and blessings, Peg

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