The parrot: Seeker of eternal life from the “Conference of the Birds”





The parrot  Seeker of eternal life:

 What good is immortality Spent in a cage?”





The “Conference of the Birds” is a 12th-century Sufi poem by Attar of Nishapur, that is a timeless parabol of the mystical quest for the Truth. It features the hoopoe, a spiritual guide figure, leading the birds on a perilous search for their King, the mythical Simorgh. Each bird in turn makes an excuse for not setting out, until at last they are all ready to take part. The parrot symbolizes false immortality, and would rather stay safe in her cage than  live forever. Read here the Conference of the Birds

From the “Conference of the Birds” by Attar of Nishapur

“Welcome, O Parrot ! In your beautiful robe and collar of fire, this collar is fitting for a dweller in the underworld but your robe is worthy of Heaven. Can Abraham save himself from the fire of Nimrod? Break the head of Nimrod and become the friend of Abraham, who was the friend of God. When you have been delivered from the hands of Nimrod put on your robe of glory  and fear not the collar of fire.


Then came the Parrot with sugar in her beak, dressed in a garment of green, and round her neck a collar of gold.

The hawk is but a gnat beside her brilliance; earth’s green carpet is the reflection of her feathers, and her words are distilled sugar.

Listen to her: ‘Vile men whose hearts are iron have shut me in a cage, so charming am I. Held fast in this prison I long for the source of the water of immortality guarded by Khidr. Like him I am clothed in green, for I am a Khidr among birds.

I should like to go to the source of this water, but a moth has not strength to lift itself to the Simurgh’s great wing ; the spring of Khidr is enough for me.’







The Hoopoe replied: ‘O you who have no idea of felicity !

He who is not willing to renounce his life is no man. Life has been given to you so that for an instant you may have a worthy friend. Set out upon the Way, for you are not an almond you are only the shell. Join the company of worthy men and enter freely in their Way.’









The parrot stepped forward and said, “I am the Khidr (a) of all the birds and desire the water of immortality.

The Hoopoe replied, “Foolish parrot, you wear the robe of green but you are not worthy of the robe of Khidr (a).  You will not achieve your true quest by seeking the water of life but by following with us on the way to the Pool of Paradise, the true source of all waters and all life.

“Come dear Parrot come and see if you can follow us beyond the junction of the Sea of Mercy and the Sea of Wrath, beyond the sinking boat of this life, the crumbled wall of our civilization, and beyond the sacrifice we all must make when we submit our Will to the Will of our creator and murder our own ego.  Come with us Parrot and see if you can even reach as high as our master Musa (a) before ever claiming to be like the unknowable yet all knowing Khidr (a). This life is a snare that all birds must escape to reach our real life.  Bid farewell to this false life dear Parrot and follow us to the ends of this earth.”

The parrot lowered his head to the ground, submitted and followed the Hoopoe on the journey.






….The Hoopoe replied :

‘ We have seven valleys to cross and

only after we have crossed them shall we discover the

Simurgh. No one has ever come back into the world who

has made this journey, and it is impossible to say how many

parasangs there are in front of us. Be patient, O fearful one,

since all those who went by this road were in your state.

‘The first valley is the Valley of the Quest, the second

the Valley of Love, the third is the Valley of Understanding,

the fourth is the Valley of Independence and Detachment,

the fifth of Pure Unity, the sixth is the Valley of Astonishment,

and the seventh is the Valley of Poverty and Nothingness

beyond which one can go no farther.

‘ When you enter the first valley, the Valley of the Quest,

a hundred difficulties will assail you; you will undergo a

hundred trials. There, the parrot of heaven is no more than

a fly. You will have to spend several years there, you will

have to make great efforts, and to change your state. You

will have to give up all that has seemed precious to you and

regard as nothing all that you possess. When you are sure

that you possess nothing, you will still have to detach yourself

from all that exists. Your heart will then be saved from

perdition and you will see the pure light of Divine Majesty

and your real wishes will be multiplied to infinity. One who

enters here will be filled with such longing that he will give

himself up completely to the quest symbolized by this valley.

He will ask of his cup-bearer a draught of wine, and when he

has drunk it nothing else will matter except the pursuit of

his true aim. Then he will no longer fear the dragons, the

guardians of the door, which seek to devour him. When the

door is opened and he enters, then dogma, belief and

unbelief—all cease to exist.’




There was a man, mad from love of God. Khidr said to

him: ‘O perfect man, will you be my friend?’ He replied:

‘You and I are not compatible, for you have drunk long

draughts of the water of immortality so that you will always

exist, and I wish to give up my life. I am without friends and

do not know even how to support myself. Whilst you are

busy preserving your life, I sacrifice mine every day. It is

better that I leave you, as birds escape the snare, so,


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