Adaptation from Farid ud-din Attar's The Conference of the Birds (Mantiqu't-Tair)

Oh the one who knows the road, we cannot foresee the end of this voyage, full of dangers and failures and fears. Tell us, how much longer must we strive?

There are only seven valleys through which we must pass; then we will arrive at His House. But, no one knows how the road is, for no one has come back to tell us.

Now we are at the Valley of Wish and Hope. Then we will come to the Valley of Love. The third part of the trip is through the Valley of Knowledge, and the fourth will be the Valley of Seclusion, when we will abandon all needs. The fifth valley we will pass will be so clear and so pure; it is the Valley of Unity and Oneness. The sixth is the most difficult and fearful: the Valley of Awe. And the final station is the Place of Annihilation, where we will no longer be, and there will be no more walking or striving; here, our Lord will take us home with Him, and the drop will become the ocean.

If you really care to know where you are, you must see, in this Valley of Wish and Hope, that every breath incites hundreds of questions, confusions, failures. The giant we thought ourselves becomes a small fly! Alas! We have to walk a long way in this valley, spend years shedding tears and blood, passing from one state to another: one day this, one day that. Is this round thing “a grape” or an “engur” or “uzum?” Instead of touching a thing which we do not know, better to drop it. Better drop everything that we thought we knew and needed. Then when we have nothing left, either in our hands or in our hearts, maybe we will see a tiny light at the end of the road: a light, we hope, from the open door of His Home. Then the wish and hope will multiply a thousandfold; barriers of fire, oceans to cross, become no handicap to the one who has been shown the light. If you say, “I look day and night and do not see the light,” it is not that the light is absent, but that the eyes of wish and hope are closed.

Someone saw Mejnun digging in the dirt. He asked, “Oh Mejnun, what are you looking for in the dirt?”
He answered, “I am looking for Leyla.”
“What would Leyla be doing in the dirt?”
Mejnun said, “Let me look wherever I can, perchance one day, I will find her.”

You, who call yourself a seeker, if you look ahead, straight, up and down, to what is in front of you, you will see that every atom is a Jacob looking for his beloved Joseph. What you need is to persevere and to wait, like you waited sitting in blood for nine months in your mother’s belly. If you need bread, don’t come out; eat the blood. Be patient; your appointed time will come. But when you are brought out, do not wish to return to the safety of the mother’s womb. For whatever you attach yourself to becomes your ideal.

When we will leave the Valley of Wish and Hope, we will enter the Valley of Love. To set foot in that valley, you have to be alive with a thousand lives. This is no place for the walking dead. You have to have a thousand lives, to sacrifice a life at each breath. You have to be brave, you have to be free, you have to be a real human, and you must leave your mind behind. If you look at love with the eyes of your mind, you are blind.

The mind extinguishes the fire of love. If you are given sight from the realms of the unseen, then you will be able to see that all and everything is made of love. When you have the vision of the unseen, there is no longer shade or light, night or day, good or bad, right or wrong, this or that. There is no more doubt, neither yesterday’s memories nor tomorrow’s hope. Someone said “You will see the beloved tomorrow.” Some believed him and waited, but tomorrow never came. The lover’s tomorrow is now, and it is here. That is where he finds his love.

The angel of death came to the prophet Abraham (as), the friend of God. Abraham (as) said to the angel, “I will not give my soul to you. Tell that to your Lord.”
The Lord responded, “If you are truly my friend, give up your life.”
Abraham (as) replied, “Oh my Beloved, you sent your archangel Gabriel as your messenger to help me, when Nimrod threw me into fire; I refused help, and You saved me. Now, how can I give up my soul to Izrail when You gave it to me? If I had a thousand lives they would be my sacrifice to You.” And Abraham (as) went to his Lord in love and happiness.

When there is no longer life, and when you are no longer alive, only then are you with the Beloved. Yearning to know the Beloved, love of the unknown, will lead us to the Valley of Knowledge. It is a vast valley with neither a beginning nor an end. There are so many avenues in that Valley of Knowledge. Each road is meant for someone different, for how could a camel and an ant take the same path? Each will follow his own path. Some will find the mosque; some will be led to a temple of fire. But either in an idol or in the revealed Qur’an, one will find what one yearned for. In that valley, at the end of your appointed path, beneath the idol or the Word, the Truth will shine, though not all who seek will find.

So that one perfect man will obtain all knowable secrets, a million people will be lost in the wilderness seeking knowledge. Oh seeker, do not ever stop or retrace your steps. Do not ever say: “I found it,” even if you reach the throne. Say rather: “I want more.” If you cannot know your Lord and you are kept apart, then mourn. Shed tears of desperation, scream in pain. Perchance someone will hear your laments and come to hold your hand.

There is someone all the way in China who has turned into stone like a sculptured fountain; tears pour from his stone eyes. As the teardrops fall on the ground, they also turn into stone. If a drop of those tears could fall on a rain cloud, from the pain it contains, not a drop of rain would fall upon the earth. That one who has turned into stone had the purest soul and the truest of tongues, and his name was Knowledge. But he turned into stone due to the disregard and the ungratefulness of the heedless and the heartless. If you have it in your heart, go and seek him even in China.

Then we will arrive at the Valley of Seclusion. Seven oceans seem like a lake here. Seven hells are like a spark fallen on frozen land. The eight paradises have no meaning here, for there is neither meaning nor purpose. The ant on the path is given the strength of a giant. To light the candle, to see the way in the hand of Adam, a million angels turn like moths fallen on fire. So that Noah (as) would build his ark, a million lives drown in the flood. To teach Abraham (as) the Truth, a million mosquitoes swarm upon Nimrod’s hoards. To untie the tongue of Moses (as), a generation of babies are killed. Millions have to seek the Lord so that Jesus (as) can find Him. Millions of souls are pillaged so that Muhammad (saws) is raised on his Night Journey. There is neither old nor new, neither past nor future. When a million are here, and the sun rises, only the shadow of a blade of grass is missing. If a million stars fall it is as if a leaf has fallen. If both the unknown universe and the hereafter are lost, a simple piece of sand will be missing.

Oh my companions on the path to Truth, open the eyes of your heart, look at where you are; where is the part, where is the whole? Where are Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus (as) and the beloved of the Lord (saws)? Where have the sons and daughters of Adam gone? Where are the seas, the mountains, the skies of yesteryear? If you take all the suns, the moons and the stars, they are but a dream, a mirage. What difference does it make if you and others live or die? It is not easy to cross this Valley. No one has returned to tell us how far away its end lies. We cannot give up and stop, but to continue to run is also futile. To keep going or to give up is the same. Only if you keep walking, you hear Him calling, “Come!” So keep going.

Keep striving. But do not count on anything. What are we working for? So that perchance we will find what is worthy to work for. What is it that we are striving for? Perhaps we will be shown that which has to be done. Understand that you are alone. Either sing joyful songs or mourn. Everything turns into stone, either into a diamond or into a dry piece of bone. Oh Soul! Open your seven wings and rise over your flesh and bone, and fly over the Valley of Loneliness. Leave yourself, for “you” and “He” creates duality, the unforgivable sin. Enter into the Valley of Oneness.

No matter how numerous and varied, everything is united in the Valley of Oneness. If everyone who entered here would raise their heads, it would be as one single self. There is no multitude anymore. All are counted “one times one is one, ad infinitum”. But do not confuse this oneness with the One and Only God. Here, there is neither before the before, nor after the after. As there is no before nor after, between the two there can be nothing. Someone asked a knowledgeable one: “Tell me, what is all this existence?”
And he said, “It is like Moses’ burning bush; to others it is a bush of many leaves, while to Moses, it is one ball of fire from which the Lord speaks.” The flame burns all into ashes and nothing exists. All is not Him, but from Him and within Him, yet the Lord is none of it and free from it. While you think you exist, there is right and wrong and the path seems unending. When you realize you are nothing, you are where you are bound to be, where there is no duality. He made you and all creation from nothing. Oh! If we could have remained nothing!

As long as you think you exist, there will be choices to make: beautiful and ugly, right and wrong, belief and disbelief. When there is you and Him, and you keep calling yourself “I,” thousands of snakes and scorpions sleep with you in your bed. If you move, they will all wake up and turn your life into hell. So give up your bad habits, all your habits; then become like dust and let the wind blow you away. There will no longer be right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, me and you. All is from Him. All is because of Him. All is in Him. There is nothing but Him.

When we are lost in the Valley of Oneness, in the Valley of Awe, even the cognizance of being lost will be lost. All is pain and yearning; at every breath a thousand blades of sharp swords are falling; from every pore we will be bleeding. We will turn into a frozen flame. We will not know where we are. The love in our hearts will be overwhelming, but who is that one we are loving? What was all a dream becomes reality, a thing we have never seen.

A king who owned the whole world had a most beautiful daughter. She had princely suitors, as many as the hairs on her head. Her beauty blinded the ones who looked upon her face, like people who stare at the sun. One day a slave in the palace saw her by chance. He himself was as beautiful as the princess. His heart stopped; he lost his mind. He fell in love. The princess had seen him too; she too fell in love with the slave. She lost her appetite for life; with the flame of yearning she began melting like a burning candle. How could the beloved only daughter of the Sultan of the world love a lowly slave?

She thought: “If I declare my love to him, he might misunderstand, might think himself a sultan and destroy himself. But if I can attain my wish, and have my love in my arms without his knowing, he will be mine.” She secretly sent a messenger to him, offering him a sweet wine, which he could not resist. It made him pass out; he was brought to her senseless, and was laid down on a throne. When he woke up in the middle of the night, he found himself in a palace, smelling of musk, with sweet music playing. With his beloved lying next to him, his body burnt in flames, his soul flew to his lips but his tongue was tied. In awe, and motionless like the dead, tears of joy poured from his eyes. The princess also was crying tears of blood, shedding them upon the lips she kissed, the cheeks she caressed. All that he could do was watch in amazement through a cloud of tears. Then in shock, he thought he had died. The slave was brought back to his place as senseless as he had left it. When he returned to consciousness, he felt all empty, as if he had lost himself. What he had seen with his eyes open, no one had seen even in dreams. He had no tongue to describe what he had seen. While he had seen everything, he had seen nothing. Everything was evident, yet it was secret. Neither was he able to forget it nor to remember it. He had seen beauty the like of which no one had ever seen, a light compared to which the Sun was but a spark. He felt that he had seen that way before that night, but could not recall when. He felt neither alive nor dead, and nothing mattered any more. Like that slave in love, Oh, the one in the Valley of Awe, do not ask where to go next or what to do. You have done enough for now. Now there is no need. Wait, your wish will come to your feet.

In the Valley of Annihilation, when you will stretch out your hand to hold the Hand offered to you, you will find that you do not have a hand. You are deaf, dumb, and blind, and without any memories. And there is no return. Thus who could ever talk about it? A little fish asked his father, “What is this sea, which everybody is talking about?”
The big fish answered, “Only the fish who leave the sea know it, my son, and they cannot tell.”

One night the moths gathered and started talking about what they wished for most, and decided that one amongst them should fly away and bring them news of the fire. One moth flew away, saw a flame from a distance, and recorded its description, as he saw it, in his notebook. Amongst the moths there was one who could not fly, but who had knowledge, and it said that what they wished for was not what the moth reported. Yet another moth flew out, and found the candle whose flame the former moth had seen. It fluttered around and under the candle, and even felt the heat. It too came back and reported, but the old moth with singed wings said, “No, that isn’t it.” They all came to gaze upon the distant flame. Then the moth who knew chose a moth amongst moths: brave, heedful, who knew what to do and how to submit. It flew directly into the flame, burning and turning into flame itself. And the old moth said “Now it knows.”

Oh lover! Lift the veils of selfishness hiding the Beloved and find the flame of Sacred Light. If you burn and annihilate yourself, the Holy Qur’an’s soul will find in you a body in which to become alive.

Adapted from Hd. Farid ud-din Attar’s Mantiqu't-Tair,

by Shaykh Tosun Bayrak el-Jerrahi

Jumadal-’Ula 1421 August, 2000