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Notes:

Seven Valleys (Haft Vádí):
Wilmette Institute faculty notes

by Iraj Ayman

1999
The opening paragraphs of the Seven Valleys is a Khutbih (Praise of God and His Messenger) in Arabic. This is the classical style, in the Islamic literature, of starting a book or an epistle by such praises. Bahá'u'lláh uses a number of expressions that have very deep and rather long background in the Islamic and particularly in the Sufi literature. Almost for every word of this Khutbih there is plenty of materials in the commentaries on Qur'an and Hadiths as well as in the mystical literature of Persian and Arabic. Here is a very brief explanation of some of its symbols.

1. Why seven valleys? What's their order?

You have raised a question which is asked quite often: The number and order of the valleys in the Seven Valleys and how they can be passed through. May I offer some information in this respect:

The stages in the wayfarer journey towards ultimate object, God, varies in number and names in various sources in Sufi and Bahá'í literature.

Bahá'u'lláh in Jawahiru'l-Asrár (Jewels of Mysteries), revealed prior to Íqán, in Baghdad, mentions six valleys. There is no mention of the valley of Knowledge. Also the sixth valley in the seven Valleys is the fourth valley in Jawahiru'l-Asrár and the fifth valley in the Seven valleys is the last, sixth, valley in Jawahiru'l-Asrár.

Attar's Mantiqu't-Tayr which amongst the Sufi sources is the closest to the Seven Valleys although having seven valleys but the order of the valleys are not exactly the same as in Bahá'u'lláh's Seven Valleys. The number of stages or valleys in Sufi literature varies from as few as five (e.g. Attar's Mosibat Námih) to as many as ten in KHájíh 'Abdu'l-lah Ansári's Manázilu'l-Sayerin (The Stages of wayfarers). This is because some of these stages in some sources are considered to be the same or having common characters, for example: Knowledge and Love in Attar's Musibat Námih are presented in that manner. It is interesting to know that Khájih 'Abdu'l-lah Ansári maintains that the ten stages (that he calls them ten fields) contain one thousand stations!

It becomes clear that expressions such as valley, field, sea, and station are common nouns not proper nouns. Bahá'u'lláh towards the end of the Seven Valleys says' "These journeys have no visible ending in the world of time, but the severed wayfarer — if invisible confirmation descends upon him and the Guardian of the Cause assist him — may cross these seven stages in seven steps, nay rather in seven breaths, nay rather in a single breath, if God will and desire it." And in the Hidden Words (Persian section No.: 7) He says, "Thou art but one step away from the glorious heights above and from celestial tree of love. Take thou one pace and with the next advance into the immortal realm and enter the pavilion of eternity. Give ear then to that which has been revealed by the pen of glory."

This is an allusion to a famous saying of Halláj, an early and highly renowned Muslim mystic, and to famous poem by Saná'i, a leading Persian Sufi poet. Another renowned Sufi leader, Imám Muhammad Ghazali, in his famous book, Bahru'l-Haqiqih (The Sea of Truth), clearly mentions that these seven stages could be traversed in seven steps or even in seven breaths or even in one breath.

"Step" or "pace" has special spiritual connotation. Bahá'u'lláh has stated that the meaning of step or pace in this context is "Tavaj-joh", paying attention or concentrating (Má'idih Ásimáni, Vol.8, p.22). In the Kitáb-i-Íqán, He says:

"O my brother! Take thou the step of the spirit, so that, swift as the twinkling of an eye, thou mayest flash through the wilds of remoteness and bereavement, attain the Ridván of everlasting reunion, and in one breath commune with the heavenly Spirits. For with human feet thou canst never hope to traverse these immeasurable distances, nor attain thy goal. Peace be upon him whom the light of truth guideth unto all truth, and who, in the name of God, standeth in the path of His Cause, upon the shore of true understanding." (Bahá'u'lláh: The Kitáb-i-Íqán, Page: 43)

Thus, it becomes clear that first of all referring to seven or so stages in the Seven Valleys as specified by Bahá'u'lláh in the same book is," the stages that mark the wayfarer's journey from the abode of dust to the heavenly homeland are said to be seven." In other words Bahá'u'lláh is using what has been said by others as a vehicle to convey His message. Second, these stages are beyond the realm of space and time. They are spiritual conditions. Third, they do not have fixed number, name or order. Fourth, one may be in any one of those stages when he/she starts his/her journey. Fifth, one can start from any one of those stages. Sixth one can do the whole journey in one breath.

I hope this brief explanation could clarify the point for you that we should pay attention to the main message of the Seven Valleys which is the necessity of absolute detachment and complete dedication as recommended to the true seeker in the Kitáb-i-Íqán rather than getting entangled in the labyrinth of valleys and seas that Sufis have created!

2. LUMINOUS BOOK

Luminous Book is a translation for "Kitáb-i-Mubin". This expression was first used in Qur'an (26:2 and 28:2) as a reference to that book. However in the literature of mysticism in Islam it means "the perfect man" (Insán-i-kámil) i.e. Manifestation of God, and also "the Primal Wisdom" ('aql-i-avval).

Shoghi Effendi has translated this expression differently and has used a variety of terms: the Unerring Book (Íqán), Lucid Book, and distinct writing (ESW); luminous Tablet, and God's perspicuous Book (Gleanings).

Bahá'u'lláh in one of His Tablets calls the totality of everything in this world as His Luminous Book (Majmu'i-ye Alwáh-i-Mubárakih, p323).

Luminous Book in the first page of Seven Valleys refers to the "Perfect Man" or the "Manifestation of God".

3. SEA and OCEAN OF DIVINE ESSENCE

The term in the original Arabic text of this page which is translated into "sea" and "ocean" is "BAHR" meaning sea. "Bahr" in the literature of mysticism refers to the Essence and to the infinite attributes of God. Sometimes "seven seas" is used instead of "seven valleys" as the stages of the journey of the wayfarer or seeker. The "Sea of Divine Essence" (Bahru'l-Huviyyeh) refers to God. "The first sea which hath branched from the ocean of Divine Essence" is a refernce to Manifestation of God (Bahá'u'lláh). Bahá'u'lláh in one of His Tablets uses the expression of "the Most Great Sea" as reference to His own manifestation.(Athar-i-Qalam-i-A'lá, Vol.7 p. 46)

4. FIRST MORN

"The first morn which hath glowed from the Horizon Of Oneness." Morn or morning is another expression in Sufi literature. It is taken from Qur'an (XI:81 and CVIII: 1 & 2). In Sufi language it refers to oneness or unity" or "the light of unity". This again refers to the Manifestaion of God.

5. FIRST SUN

Bahá'u'lláh has revealed a Tablet as a commentary on the word SUN (Tafsír-i-Súrah Vash-Shams). Amongst a number of connotations of this word in the Scriptures He particularly identifies it as a reference to the Manifestation of God.

6. THE FIRST FIRE

This is a reference to verses 35 and 36 of Súrah núr(Light) in Qur'an. The difference is that in Qur'an the Lamp is mentioned first and then fire but in the Seven Valleys Fire is "lit from the Lamp of Preexistence." In Sufi literature the Manifestation of God is referred to as the Lamp and the fire is the light which emanates from that Lamp. In the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh fire (náR) is used to convey a large variety of connotations almost over thirty different meanings! is because of the limitation of the language for conveying various concepts revealed to the Manifestation.

7. AHMAD

Bahá'u'lláh mentions the three names of AHMAD, MUHAMMAD and MAHMUD in this order. These are the three stations Bahá'u'lláh provides for the Founder of Islam. They are references to the three levels or realms of existence as explained by Bahá'u'lláh in His commentary on the word SHAMS (Sun) in His tablet, Tafsír-i-Vash-Shams. According to Islamic tradition Ahmad refers to the Promised One who follows the dispensation of Muhammad. According to Islamic mysticism Ahmad leads to AHAD (the ONE which is one of the names of God).

In short the first paragraph of the Seven Valleys is in praise of God and the second paragraph is in praise of His Manifestation. Seven Valleys was revealed before the open declaration of the mission of Bahá'u'lláh and in response to the questions of a great Muslim Sufi. Therefore Bahá'u'lláh has used an allegoric language to present the station of the Manifestation of God and indirectly alluding to His Own station.

8. Question: What is the significance of the FIRSTNESS and LASTNESS in the Valley of Knowledge, and the four worlds and pathways and divine states in the Valley of Unity?

Answer:

"Knowledge" in the English translation is used to convey the meaning of "Ma'refat". Ma'refat comes from the same root as Irfán (inner or spiritual insight and understanding). The lover in the story is the wayfarer whose final object, from the very beginning is reaching the beloved. Therefore if the wayfarer has proper spiritual insight, the first (the onset of difficulties and tribulations) is the last (reaching the beloved) because a true lover asks and desires tests and difficulties to prove the true love for the beloved and getting to the presence of the beloved. In other words enduring difficulties has the joy of achieving the desired object.

9. REALMS IN THE VALLEY OF UNITY:

The Valley of UNITY is the realm of ONENESS and is beyond the realm of limitations. This is when one achieves an inner or spiritual knowledge of the Supreme Being. It may have three levels and the people, according to their level of awareness and understanding, may be in four different worlds or states of insight.

In order to appreciate what is meant by the three planes or levels and the four worlds in the Valley of Unity a good example is a lamp with multicolor lampshade. One can be conscious of and attracted to the light itself, or to the radiation or shining of the light which comes through the lamp, or the lamp, i.e., a particular colored light coming through the multicolor lampshade.

These are the three different planes:
  1. Plane of Oneness: See nothing but the sun itself. The Light
  2. Realm of Limitations: Gaze upon the effulgence of the light Radiance or illumination
  3. Grades of Self: See only the multi-colored globes. The light through the lampshade.
Four worlds refers to the above three states of spiritual insight plus the world of "ignorant people of the day who have no portion of the radiance of Divine Beauty": i.e., They are Completely Veiled: See no light in the lamp.
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