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
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
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!
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
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
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! ▲