Mystical Aspects of the Baha'i Faith as presented in the Seven Valleys
by LeRoy Jones1998-03
I want to preface my essay with a brief paragraph. I am a bit confused and somewhat concerned with the direction the discussion has taken on the Seven Valleys. There are a couple of ideas that have developed in class discussions that I need to sort out and writing about them is usually the best way. I am surprised at how little the discussion on the Seven Valleys has focused on its mystical nature. For some reason I almost automatically focus on the mystical side of any of the Writings. I do have a one-track mind and I forewarn you that I am probably a bit fanatical in this area. I am concerned that there is too strong a focus on the social aspects of the Faith and too little on the mystical, not simply in class but generally. I will briefly outline some of my reasons in the essay.
Shoghi Effendi has hailed the Seven Valleys as a "treatise that may well be regarded as His greatest mystical composition . . . in which He describes the seven stages which the soul of the seeker must needs traverse ere it can attain the object of its existence." (GPB, 140) Given the preeminence the Guardian places on this work, Bahá'ís would do well to take this tablet very seriously, particularly considering the importance of mysticism to the Bahá'í Faith. I intend to show that the mystical aspects of the Bahá'í Faith are of paramount importance. Since this is likely Bahá'u'lláh's most important mystical work, even though the language is difficult and the number of stages appears arbitrary, we would do well to ponder its message and evaluate our lives in relation to these stages.
First we must establish that the mystical aspects of the Bahá'í Faith are essential to the Cause. Shoghi Effendi stated that " the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling which unites Man with God." (Directives of the Guardian, Page: 86) He goes on to say in this passage that "The Bahá'í Faith, like all other Divine Religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character. Its chief goal is the development of the individual and society." He puts the development of the individual and society within the context of religion that is not only fundamentally mystic, but the mystic feeling is at its very core.
The Guardian further emphasizes the importance of mysticism: "So the Spirit of God reaches us through the Souls of the Manifestations. We must learn to commune with Their Souls, and this is what the Martyrs seemed to have done, and what brought them such ecstasy of joy that life became nothing. This is the true mysticism, and the secret, inner meaning of life which humanity has at present, drifted so far from." (Unfolding Destiny, Pages: 406-407)
What does Shoghi Effendi mean by mysticism? Above the Guardian said that there is a mystic feeling and that this mystic feeling is best achieved through "meditation and prayer." In this last quote he says we can commune with the Soul of Bahá'u'lláh and reach a kind of ecstasy. It may be that there are gradations or types of experience from the more basic type mystic feeling to an almost overpowering ecstasy. With words like communion, feeling and ecstasy it appears this mystical component is experiential. However, to my knowledge, a complete analysis of the types of mystical experience within the context of the Bahá'í Faith is yet to be attempted.
By encouraging meditation the Guardian leads us to what Bahá'u'lláh calls the "inebriating effect" of the Word of God. The Universal House of Justice in the introduction to the Kitab-i-Aqdas denotes a capability of the Wrtings to instill a state of "meditative reverence". Meditating on the words of Bahá'u'lláh has the ability to produce an altered state, if we dare call it that--a kind of inebriation, consisting of reverence and perhaps ecstasy.
The experiential nature of Bahá'í mysticism is further demonstrated when Bahá'u'lláh writes of the true seeker, "Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of rapture, and ecstasy, is kindled within the seeker's heart, and the breeze of His loving-kindness is wafted upon his soul, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being. At that hour will the mystic Herald, bearing the joyful tidings of the Spirit, shine forth from the City of God resplendent as the morn, and, through the trumpet-blast of knowledge, will awaken the heart, the soul, and the spirit from the slumber of negligence." (The Kitab-i-Iqan, Pages: 195-196)
The mystic Herald sounds when one experiences longing desire, passionate devotion, rapture and ecstasy. Then we attain knowledge and certitude. Reaching a precise understanding of these words is difficult. Regardless, the notion of a deep level of experience is certainly portrayed here and reinforces the above statement that by communing with the souls of the Manifestation we can reach a level of ecstasy.
What does all this mean for Bahá'ís as we work to build a New World Order? Above, Shoghi Effendi stated that the purpose of religion is to develop the individual AND SOCIETY. He ties this development to the mystic feeling. The Universal House of Justice has said that transformation is the essential purpose of the Cause. In the Kitáb-i-Iqán Bahá'u'lláh writes of a "mystic transformation", which caused "such spirit and behaviour, so utterly unlike their previous habits and manners, to be made manifest in the world of being. For their agitation was turned into peace, their doubt into certitude, their timidity into courage. Such is the potency of the Divine Elixir, which, swift as the twinkling of an eye, transmuteth the souls of men." (Pages: 156-157)
We see not simply a spiritual transformation but a mystic transformation that completely changed these followers of a previous manifestation. We see these followers reaching a state of certitude, perhaps like the level of knowledge and certitude attained above with the blast of the mystic Herald's trumpet.
The purpose of religion is to develop the individual and society which, is reinforced by the Universal House of Justice's declaration that transformation is the essential purpose of religion. Bahá'u'lláh speaks of a mystic transformation, which leads to certitude. Not only the foundation, but the very core of religion is the mystic feeling. Apparently the entire process of changing the individual and mankind is tied to mysticism--what Bahá'ís would consider the mystic feeling or level of spiritual communion we reach with the soul of Bahá'u'lláh. Through meditation and prayer we can reach a state of reverence and ecstasy which is at the heart of the transforming process. This experience of passionate devotion is further underscored as the Universal House of Justice encourages "the cultivation of a sense of spirituality, that mystic feeling that unites the individual with God". (Three Year Plan 1993) They want us to cultivate this mystic feeling as though it is something we must nurture and care for. Evidently we should pursue this feeling and the transformation it endows.
Obviously sitting around most of each and every day in prayer and meditation is not what the Bahá'í Faith is about. However, too much activity, regardless of the motives is not sufficient either. Bahá'ís must strike a balance between service and prayer. What that balance is and what we do to attain it will likely have tremendous impact on the realization of our individual and collective goals as Bahá'ís.
Considering the crucial importance of our mystical nature it would seem critical to heed the council of the Seven Valleys, which the Guardian said, is likely Bahá'u'lláh's " greatest mystical composition." He also said that the Seven Valleys describes the seven stages which the soul "MUST NEEDS TRAVERSE" before it can attain the "object of its existence." Apparently these seven planes contain critical lessons or levels of awareness that are essential to our progress. Otherwise, why would Shoghi Effendi so strongly stress their importance?
Perhaps the number seven is somewhat arbitrary being based on Sufi tradition. Bahá'u'lláh could likely have delineated ten stages, or fourteen, or whatever. Dissecting our spiritual progress, if that is what's happening here, could continue ad infinitum into smaller and smaller steps or planes. In fact it could go the other way to fewer levels. For example, it appears Bahá'u'lláh describes two and perhaps three distinct levels within the Seven Valleys, the planes of limitation of the first three valleys and the planes of oneness which are the last four. (SV 17,21) He also says of the last three levels, that the tongue cannot describe them. (SV 30) Perhaps the Valley of Unity is a transitional plane, which enables passage from the sphere of limitation to the more transcendent realm of oneness. That would allow for three spiritual levels that could conceivably be some sort of superstructure for the others--whether they are seven or whatever.
As interesting as this kind of speculation is, it may not be much more valuable than debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. What is important is each individual's personal efforts-- to study, meditate and apply these pages to their own lives. Understanding mystical endeavor is not easy. Bahá'u'lláh said in the Arabic Hidden Word # 66 that he hinders us from loving Him. "Ye shall be hindered from loving Me and souls shall be perturbed as they make mention of Me. For minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me." To penetrate the veil between us and our Beloved requires serious and ardent effort--continued effort. As Bahá'u'lláh says in the Valley of Search, the steed of this valley is patience. We must continue no matter what the obstacle. Through God's grace, lasting effort will be rewarded. Search and effort are the keys. Learning is of very secondary importance. Mystical pursuit is not intellectual pursuit, although the mind and reason can play a part.
The promises Bahá'u'lláh makes to those who persist are couched in such metaphorical language that at first it is seemingly impossible to understand. Many feel that he is talking about the next world after we die. That could be, however, as He states while discussing the Fifth Valley, "Although to outward view, the wayfarers in this Valley may dwell upon the dust, yet inwardly they are throned in the heights of mystic meaning; they eat of the endless bounties of inner significances, and drink of the delicate wines of the spirit." (SV 30) These souls dwell upon the dust of the earth, yet, inwardly they have attained a mystical level, which allows them to ignore the difficulties and problems of this material world--they are detached.
Because of the importance of Bahá'u'lláh's mystical writings, the Seven Valleys hold a distinctly important place in the tablets of Bahá'u'lláh. With continued effort and practice at understanding one becomes increasingly comfortable with the veiled language in these mystical writings. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing Bahá'ís both collectively and as individuals is to maintain a patient effort to unravel and comprehend the mystical utterances of Bahá'u'lláh. We have yet to develop the expertise and collective wisdom needed to mine the wealth from these words without getting too caught up in the technicalities of language and ideas. The important thing is not what you learn but where it takes you.