The Conference Of The Birds

A Tale Of The Journey Towards God

1177 Attar Farīd al-Dīn | 2017 Sholeh Wolpé

5 Stars
Painting by Habiballah of Sava (ca. 1600)

The Great Simorgh Within

17 May 2023

A magnificent tale that touches the very depths of your heart, that's what this beautifully written poetic masterpiece is. It is composed in the form of wonderful parables that narrate how a group of mystic birds overcome their greatest obstacles on the path toward their King, a mythical bird called the Great Simorgh. The main point Attar tries to convey is that this journey towards the Simorgh is actually a metaphor for an internal journey, and the only way to reach the end is by diving into your own psyche and spiritual essence.

The key is to meditate, fast, and focus on the level of resonance that characterizes divine love. This divine love is often mentioned by people who have experienced a near-death experience (NDE). I found the following statement by Attar to be the most important advice in the entire book.

"Emerge from your confusion, find the inner seat of your humanity. There, a single breath will fill you with the answer to a hundred mysteries."

I would interpret this as follows: "To bring clarity to your life, sit still and find your inner self by focusing on your breath. This will help solve many mysteries that lie within you." Yes, it is true. This simple yet incredibly effective action alone may help you find inner peace, and who knows, even enlightenment.


  • Paperback:‎ 384 pages
  • E-book: 384 pages
  • ISBN-10:‎ 0393355543
  • ISBN-13:‎ 978-0393355543

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"The Conference of the Birds" by Attar is a deeply spiritual piece of Persian literature. It is seen as a crowning achievement of Sufi thought. The narrative tells an epic journey undertaken by the birds of the world, who are led by the hoopoe. Their quest is to find the Simorgh, a mythical bird considered to be their sovereign.

The journey takes the birds across seven valleys, each symbolizing a step on the Sufi path: Search, Love, Knowledge, Detachment, Unity, Bewilderment, and Poverty and Annihilation. Each valley presents its own set of trials and tribulations, metaphorically representing human weaknesses, misconceptions, and spiritual obstacles. Many of the birds drop out, revealing the challenges in transcending individual ego and desires on the journey towards divine truth.

When the birds reach the end of their quest, only thirty remain. They discover a profound truth: these birds, all together are the Simorgh (Si means thirty, and morgh means bird in Persian). This final twist represents a powerful exploration of the mystical journey towards enlightenment and divine unity. The story culminates in the realization that the divine is not an external entity to be sought, but rather lies within. This emphasizes the significance of self-discovery and inner transformation in the path to enlightenment.

Important learnings and insights

  1. Journey towards Self-discovery
    The allegorical journey of the birds symbolizes the human quest for self-discovery. The hardships faced along the way represent our internal struggles and fears that prevent us from recognizing our true potential and divine essence.
  2. Transcendence of Ego
    The birds that drop out of the quest symbolize individuals who are not ready to let go of their ego and personal desires. Attar suggests that one must transcend the ego and worldly attachments to truly encounter the divine.
  3. Inner Transformation
    The realization of the remaining thirty birds that they are, in fact, the Simorgh underscores the importance of inner transformation. It is a potent symbol for the idea that divinity or enlightenment is not an external force to be sought, but a state of being to realize within oneself.
  4. Unity with Divine
    The journey of the birds encapsulates the Sufi concept of unity with the divine, often termed as 'tawhid.' The realization that they themselves are the Simorgh represents achieving this state of spiritual oneness.
  5. Seven Stages of Spiritual Path
    The seven valleys represent the stages of the spiritual journey, each offering a unique insight. The challenges encountered in each stage serve as metaphors for different facets of human existence and spiritual progression, from the initiation of the search to the final annihilation of self in the divine.
  6. Importance of Spiritual Guide
    The hoopoe bird, acting as a guide for the other birds, represents the necessity of a spiritual guide or teacher (Sheikh or Murshid in Sufi tradition) who has already traversed the path and can help seekers on their spiritual journey.
  7. Perseverance and Faith
    Another crucial insight from "The Conference of the Birds" is the importance of perseverance and unwavering faith in the spiritual journey. As depicted through the challenging journey of the birds, the path towards enlightenment is fraught with obstacles and difficulties. Many give up, unable to see the journey to its end. Those who persevere, however, guided by their faith and commitment, ultimately achieve the coveted unity with the divine. This underscores the message that spiritual enlightenment demands dedication, patience, and resilience, alongside a deep, unshakeable faith.

61 significant notes

View these notes on Goodreads

  • 1%The parables in this book trigger memories deep within us all. The stories inhabit the imagination, and slowly over time, their wisdom trickles down into the heart.
  • 1%we each tread a path according to our own capacity. It evolves as we evolve. Those who are trapped within their own dogma, clinging to hardened beliefs or faith, are deprived of the journey toward the unfathomable Divine, which Attar calls the Great Ocean.
  • 1%Attar believes that suffering destroys the ego. And since suffering is born out of love, love is also the destroyer of ego. When the ego is annihilated, the inner eye blinks open.
  • 1%Attar, Sheikh Farīd-Ud-Dīn, (1145–1220 CE), was born in Nishapur (Nīšāpūr), a city in the northeast region of Iran.
  • 1%The Conference of the Birds (Manteq al-Tayr) is an allegorical poem about our human struggle, both physical and spiritual.
  • 2%The central idea in the Sufi movement is that the soul, in the prison of the body, awaits release. Once freed, it returns to the source which is the Creator. This reunion can be experienced while we are still bound by the body through looking inward and through purification.
  • 2%The birds of the world, representing the mystics, gather and acknowledge the Great Simorgh as their King. Simorgh is a mysterious bird who dwells in Mount Qaf, a mythical mountain that wraps around the world.
  • 2%The great and perilous journey is led by the Hoopoe, a bird mentioned in the Quran as Solomon’s‡ trusted messenger.
  • 3%the Beloved is like a great ocean that does not turn away any soul. Some arrive at it as pure drops of water, enter, are absorbed, and become one with the Ocean; others arrive trapped inside themselves, egos intact, and enter the welcoming Ocean as well. However, they sink to its depths and remain there, knowing only themselves, never the Ocean.
  • 4%Do not read it as the psychoanalytical ego, minted by the nineteenth-century neurologist and father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Here, ego does not equal identity. The term used in this book comes from the Latin root, ē'gō, meaning “I,” “the self that feels, acts, or thinks.” It is our lower self, the upholder of self-righteousness and self-proclaimed truths.
  • 4%Although all paths eventually lead to the Beloved, the annihilation of the ego shortens the path to the Source.
  • 4%Regarding the Divine, the Source can arguably stand for God, Allah, Jehovah, Dios, Jah, or any other Supreme Being by any other name worshipped by various faiths of the world. All these words point to a single Supreme Being and are proxies for an entity or an idea that runs deeper than language.
  • 4%If you are a fish living in the sea, you can only understand the sky if its reflection becomes part of the water.
  • 9%No one can describe Simorgh, not even pure spirits. No mind can fathom that Great One who leaves awestruck and dumb both Reason and Soul.
  • 9%Don’t presume the road is short! Many oceans and deserts lie between the Beloved and us. Only the brave can be Wayfarers in the Path, for the journey is long and the waters deep.
  • 10%each bird also feared embarking on such a long and distant voyage. Therefore, despite their eagerness, each came up with an excuse to stay.
  • 12%If you seek a home, seek it near the Beloved. What use is a home without the Beloved close by? If you live by anything other than the Almighty, you will be cast out, even if you are Adam.
  • 14%My kingship was a fantasy; it was false, for how can one claim dominion over a handful of dust? The only true sultan is the World-Keeping Sovereign. Such a lofty station befits only the Creator.
  • 15%If a king is rivaled in greatness in his kingdom, how then can he call himself king? Simorgh is the only true Sovereign; no one can match the Simorgh in majesty.
  • 16%If your heart is flawed by love of gold, you will enter eternity with a face ugly with greed.
  • 18%Since no one has the capacity to see the Beloved’s face, that Gracious One has given us a mirror to gaze at the reflection of that resplendent Face. That mirror is the heart. Look for the Beloved there.
  • 20%When you liberate yourself from all you believe and don’t believe, that’s when your ego disappears. Only then will you deserve this journey, only then will you deserve its mysteries.
  • 20%If a hundred tests rain down on you, don’t panic; expect them on this hard journey.
  • 20%The sheikh held learning and wisdom inseparable from actions, and he was privy to ancient knowledge as well as to new discoveries and mysteries.
  • 24%love’s foundation is infamy. Whoever shies away from it is unschooled, green and crass in heart and head.”
  • 25%Truth must be listened to by the heart and the soul, not by what is fabricated from water and clay. The battle between the ego and the heart flares hotter by the hour. Wail, mourn, and lament the sorrow it brings.
  • 26%Our Glory’s sanctuary emanates such light that it keeps away the sleeping ones. Souls wait a long time before one in a hundred thousand is granted admittance.”
  • 33%Body is not separate from the soul; it’s a part of it. Soul is not separate from the universe; it’s a part of it.
  • 33%Purify yourself in your devotion and you will arrive at your destination—albeit slowly.
  • 33%Your ego is like a wild dog. Feed it and you’re a wavering fool.
  • 35%“Ragged fellow, which one of us is worthier, you or I?” The Sufi replied: “To claim superiority is not our way—he who praises himself is an ignorant man
  • 36%So long as you keep company with the wild dog of self, there’s no chance in hell the devil will leave you be. The devil’s charm is your own. Yes, you are your own devil inside yourself.
  • 36%If you lose yourself for a crumb to this void, how can you hope to find meaning anywhere or in anything? If you pine for such nothingness all life long, then you yourself must be worth a hundred times less than nothing.
  • 36%Look away from lust for possessions or no Divine breath will grace you. Look away now! Be brave and you’ll be free.
  • 41%Love of insight and divine knowledge is not love of form and face— that is nothing but feral lust-play. All beauty perishes, eventually. This sort of love is humanity’s undoing.
  • 42%In a world full of hands that clutch swords, there is nothing within reach but regret.
  • 43%In the end, death comes even to the phoenix and scatters its ashes to the wind.
  • 44%Go search for your soul’s mysteries before your life expires. If you fail to find yourself while you’re alive, how can you know your soul after death?
  • 44%Nothing is permanent. Attach your heart to even one thing and you’ve stripped it of sweet life.
  • 48%Stop exaggerating your importance, boasting of what a good servant you are. Your authenticity comes clear when tested. Take the test—find out.
  • 49%When death comes, tell me, how much of your property can you carry on your wings?
  • 51%The brave Wayfarers of the Path don’t seek or receive justice, though they themselves offer it often.
  • 52%He did good, but now you are about to do evil. Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. That so-called infidel has shown fidelity and loyalty; where is yours?
  • 56%Don’t be deluded by the phantasmal light of your ego. Stay vigilant.
  • 56%Do not be deceived by that false light. You are not the sun. Behave as what you are— an atom. Don’t assume you are more.
  • 58%If you keep looking for flaws, how will you be able to spot the Unseen? Free yourself from the defects of this world, rejoice in the love of the Absolute Invisible.
  • 59%Start keeping tab on your own shortcomings and you won’t have time to find fault in others.
  • 64%When you descend into the Valley of the Quest, expect trials and tribulations. They will plague you at every turn.
  • 66%You need patience in this quest. Not everyone is a patient seeker. Not until the quest appears inside you will you know the scent of longing in your blood. But if your quest moves to the outside of you, even if it is toward the Divine, it will remain immature and unripe.
  • 66%Whatever keeps you from the Path is an idol and will convert you into an idol worshipper.
  • 70%Emerge from your confusion, find the inner seat of your humanity. There, a single breath will fill you with the answer to a hundred mysteries.
  • 70%Keep vigil at night and fast during the day, until yearning for knowledge surfaces within you.
  • 71%Let love engulf you and you’ll quickly find the key that unlocks both worlds. If you are weak, you’ll become strong; if you are strong, you’ll become a bottomless ocean.
  • 73%The outward existence of this complex kaleidoscopic world is just like the forms and images on that tray: nothing.
  • 75%If you occupy yourself with your ego, your life will be lived in their hellish company. But if you rid yourself of the snakes and scorpions one by one, you’ll sleep sweetly inside the earth.
  • 80%When your inner self dissolves into selflessness, you’ll transcend both good and evil. When no good or bad remains in you, you’ll become a true lover, deserving of annihilation by love.
  • 85%All that you have known, all that you have seen, were illusions, all of it. Nothing you have said or heard was actually so. The valleys you traversed were in Me, the bravery you displayed was Mine.
  • 86%Not until your life is rejected by the Divine can you find acceptance in the Almighty’s court. Not until you learn humility in your annihilation can you attain baqa, everlasting life.
  • 88%Leave asceticism, forget piety! It’s pain you must seek, longing and experience.
  • 90%Disengage from the mind to learn the wisdom of spiritual faith, for if you learn love in the realm of philosophy, you’ll never know love in the dominion of the soul.
  • 92%The Beloved says, “Enter, you are worthy of the Way,” to one who has harvested oceans from tears, and, “Leave, you have no business here,” to eyes that do not know blood-tears.