Thirty birds

The parrot in a cage

In the world vision of Sufis, and in particular in the work of the great Sufi mystic Sohravardi, the soul of a human being is compared with a bird living in a cage, a magnificent parrot from the

Indies, the native land of parrots.

Why this comparison?

The soul, like the bird, is by nature capable of flying in the heavens; it is even capable of flying not only in this worldís sky, but in ìthe heavensî of the other world as well, the invisible world, where souls severed from their body after death or simply during the dream stage of slumber dwell.

Contrary to the physical body, the soul is not subjected to gravity; a soul outside its body will tend to float in the air and to be carried by magnetic currents, just like the sea birds we see taking advantage of the ascending winds to easily lift themselves upward in order to dominate the sea and scrutinize its vastness in search for some fish.

Likewise, the soul outside its body being no longer limited by gravity or the five senses has an infinitely vaster vision of the world that surrounds it.

The cage is the physical bodyís symbol; similar to the bird living in captivity in a cage, the soul is prisoner of a physical body too. At birth, the soul, originally from the pre-physical world, symbolized in the Sufi imagery as the Indies, falls into the body like the bird being trapped into a cage that it will not leave consciously before its death.

When the cage is worn out, the bird can leave it for good, rich with all the experiences that it will have lived in this condition of locked bird: it is death, the end of the physical body that lets the soul free to travel in the vast world of souls.

However, during physical life, the individual acquaints with himself as somebody physically alive.

He becomes identified with his body: it is as if the parrot was so used to being in a cage that he identified with it, speaking about his cage as if it was itself.

After death, the soul leaves the body without hope of return, but it is so used to having a body which in the majority of the cases it continues to think of itself as a of physical being; itsappearance is misleading, because the soul takes on the exact shape of the body in which it lives during its physical life; this is why, if we meet a relative in a dream, he generally looks the same as in normal life: we are talking about a meeting between two souls outside their body, but these two souls have exactly the size and characteristics of the physical body which, in the meantime, is sound asleep deep in its bed; and since the transition óthe passage from the waking state to the state of dreamó is completely unconscious, the mental is incapable to make the difference between these two states, which explains why we generally are not aware in our dreams that we are dreaming!

And it is the same after death: we generally are not aware that we died, and we continue to argue and to behave as if we were alive!

For a clairvoyant who is observing somebody in agony, death translates into a duplication: While the physical body is laying, he can see his duplicate raising slightly from the body, then being suddenly expelled to float slowly in one or two meters above the corpse; this soul, which is sometimes called ìastral duplicateî has, as has been said earlier, the appearance of the deceasedís body, with the same clothing and the same size, but it is of a different, subtle nature, and a particular brilliancy: it vibrates at frequencies that are superior to the physical objects, where from its capacity to cross walls and to fly in the air, even if it has no wings, like the angels who have wings only in popular imagery!

Consciousness is transferred automatically at the time of death into this astral duplicate, which is now the only vehicle of the soul: the bird has left its cage, it is now necessary for it to become used to its new freedom, after having become aware of its new status. This can seem obviousbut it is not because we are mostly unaware of the death process.

In time, which by the way does not have the same value at all in the world of the soul as in the physical world, the soul-bird will eventually realize that it no longer has a cage and that its fate isto pursue its path in the other world.

Yet, the soul-parrot has not completed its evolution because it has left its cage; it must continue it, as a free bird, in order to try to reach the soulís most evolved state, to become what Sufi mythology calls a ìSimorghî, a large mythical bird whose Persian name means ìthirty birdsî.

Indeed, the bodyís death does not mean that the soul is perfect and has completed its evolution.

Far from it! Physical death is even almost painless and transparent for the soul, which does not even realize it, as we said earlier, just like breaking the cage generally does not hurt the bird who inhabits it.

The soul then arrives into the other world, which shall henceforth be its new dwelling, exactly in the state of development in which it was during its earthly life, no more and no less.

Now the fact of possessing a physical body is for a soul an exceptional opportunity of progress and substantial evolution, an evolution towards a superior state which is, or rather should be, the real purpose of any human soul: the state symbolized by the big bird Simorgh. This evolution is concretely demonstrated by the development of the soulís latent faculties, which need only be brought into being through an appropriate undertaking, by a ìrefiningî or a purification of the soul in question, which corresponds to the progressive mastery of the instincts and the drives stemming from manís animal nature, in order to leave free reign to the blooming of the divine nature which slumbers deep within each one of us, just like the fruit slumbers in a latent and virtual state in the tree and even in the seed which has just been sowed: for one hundred seeds sowed in a single field, how much will yield sturdy trees carrying juicy and sweet fruits years later? It all depends on the care brought to the gardening, watering, sun exposure, protection against insects, and, in summary, on the chances the gardener will give, by his work, to his seed to prosper or not: it is thus up to us so to cultivate our internal garden, our soul which is our most precious good, so that one day it bears fruit. 

And the main part of this internal work, this particular gardening, should be achieved during physical life. Being attached to a physical body brings circumstances particularly favorable to the development of the faculties of the soul. The body acts a little like a greenhouse that allows for a notably faster and surer development of fruits than in their natural environment.

Still, in order to be fast and correct, without risk of false maneuver that could compromise the result, or possibly damage the young shoot, this evolution should be achieved under the responsibility and the judicious guidance of an experimented gardener: for the soulís development, this connoisseur is the Master, the spiritual guide who knows, for every particular case, the shortest path towards the sought after state of Simorgh, who knows the obstacles of the way and who can help circumvent or overcome them.

After death, the soul meets the invisible world which corresponds to its degree of evolution, but as we have already said, its journey has not necessarily ended: it will be able to continue to evolve if it is helped by superior spirits óthe gardeners of our storyó who will attract it upward by force of spiritual attraction but, without physical support, this evolution is much less fast and more arduous: that is why it is advisable not to waste time and to work during our physical life, immediately, on the evolution of our soul, which is the most serious subject there is, because it determines our eternity, and we are probably unknowingly foolishly wasting an incredible opportunity ìto earn our Paradiseì: let us get to work so that in a few years the caged parrot may become an immortal, all-knowing and brave Simorgh, a worthy inhabitant of the spiritual heavens.

The quest for Simorgh

The Persian poet Attar, in his famous text ìThe Language of Birdsî, tells the story of the hoopoe, a small orange-colored bird indeed fitted with a hoopoe of feathers on its head, which holds a particular place in the Sufi symbolism as a messenger of king Salomon, a bird of good omen, in charge of bringing the good news and guiding others on the right path:

One day, tells Attar, the hoopoe gathered birds to exhort them to take the road with it in search of the great king of birds, the famous ìSimorghî, whose dwelling place is a very high mountain called ìQafî; The hoopoe told them it knew the road leading to the top of the mountain of Qaf and the multitude of birds started following the hoopoe. But the temptations along the road were numerous, and many birds had only a very weak motivation to climb the mountain, a field of flowers to be gathered, a fresh cool and quiet river to quench thirst and rest, big trees providing shade and protection. At each stopping place, part of the group of travelers lingered, held back by the material allurements of the places they went through, and the company of traveling birds gradually diminished. A great majority of them, too attached to the earthly business, found various excuses not to follow the main group of the real ìtruth searchersî genuinely eager to meet their king.

Upon arrival at the kingís, atop of the mountain of Qaf, there were only thirty birds left!

These thirty birds then found themselves in front of a large mirror and noticed that the Simorgh was their own reflection in this mirror: what they had come to look for on top of the mountain of

Qaf was in fact themselves, transformed by the journey!

Whence the explanation of the word ìSimorghî which, in Persian, means ìthirty birdsî.

That bird story is a perfect allegory of the soul’s journey outside the body on the road of substantial evolution, up to the state of perfection reached at the end of the path: Many start their journey on a guideís calling, but almost as many more or less quickly give up, enticed by the things of this world and thus temporarily or definitively diverted from the path of the evolution of their soul. The guide finally leads only a meager number of followers up to the mountain of evolution; the path is difficult and specked with obstacles, which quickly divert most of them and which only the most motivated resist: they are the close circle of the followers who surround the guide óthe hoopoe of the parabolaó like the apostles following Jesus on the mountain roads of Galilee.

Nevertheless, this climb transforms those who persevere on the path. They undergo a substantial irreversible evolution, characterized by the hatching of the faculties of the soul, by the vision of always higher spiritual worlds, by the widening of their field of the consciousness, and by the acquisition of a mode of direct knowledge of the world that surrounds them, whether from the visible or the invisible world.

When, after long years of efforts, they reach their goal, they realize, like the birds of the poet Attarís parabola, that the purpose was exactly to transform themselves: they were looking for divinity outside themselves, somewhere in the highest spiritual heavens and they realize that this divinity was hidden in the deepest of their heart. They realize that the path of substantial evolution precisely allowed to attain this divinity, with which they are now united. They now have a direct, untranslatable knowledge by words of this divinity well beyond what the five physical senses can perceive.

In this ultimate stage of his spiritual evolution, not only the mystic has seen God, but he has himself become God: the thirty birds themselves are the Simorgh, the very object of their quest!