Introduction to the Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys
date of original: 1952
Religion can be reasonable without losing any of its fire. True religion avoids magic trappings and pays attention to man’s hope for a more abundant life. Armed with the shield of faith, we can free this earth from the curses of ruinous war, abject poverty, needless disease, and tyranny. Too much stress on images and rituals has snapped the vitality of man’s faith in God. Bahá’ís believe that “the world of humanity is walking in darkness because it is out of touch with the world of God.” Men have placed their trust in the false gods of racialism, nationalism, and communism, and they have spurned the God of love, justice, and mercy.
Bahá’ís testify to the excellence and the ennobling influence of all the Prophets. Their goal is the union of all peoples in one universal cause, one common faith. The Prophet of God comes to earth and dwells among men “to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.” Obedience to the Prophet is the mainspring of human progress. The Divine Messenger can heal the world’s sickness and bring the people into “one fold” with “one shepherd.” Figs are not borne of thistles. Many committees and councils have worked hard for religious harmony but World War II supplied the spectacle of Protestants fighting Protestants and Catholics killing Catholics.
1.The Founders of the great religions had two missions. One was to clear the path to God from the débris piled up by man. The other was to give the directions needed for social progress. Each gave the same basic teachings of faith in one God, the law of love, the brotherhood of man, and the life eternal. The urgent need of our day is a just world order and the chief aim of every Bahá’í is to promote the oneness of mankind.
The Bahá’í Faith is an independent world religion, not a sect or offshoot of an existing creed. It came into being in Shíráz, Persia, the night of May 22, 1844. ‘Alí Muḥammad, a descendant of Muḥammad, stunned His young guest, Mullá Ḥusayn, by declaring Himself to be a Messenger of God. He assumed the title of Báb or Gate. Like John the Baptist, He claimed to be the Herald of One greater than Himself. Beyond this, He claimed to be an independent Prophet with authority to change existing religious practices and to reveal prayers and laws. His message would be supplanted by that of “Him Whom God shall manifest.”
The Báb was born in Shíráz, Persia, the city of the poets Ḥáfiẓ and Sa‘dí, on October 20, 1819. As a child, His goodness and innate knowledge amazed His teacher. Later, his sense of probity and justice as a merchant set a standard for the business community.
The years following the Báb’s Declaration were filled with turmoil. In a single year, the ferociously fanatical and ignorant Persian Muslims murdered 4,000 adherents of His Cause. The first to believe in Him was shot from ambush; His greatest disciple, Quddús, was torn to pieces in the public square of Bárfurúsh (Bábul). Ṭáhirih, the most outstanding woman Bábí, was the first woman’s suffrage martyr. Bravely and defiantly she cried out to her captors, “You can kill me as soon as you like but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.” The remnant of the 313 believers who had sought refuge in the Fort of Shaykh Ṭabarsí near the Caspian Sea faced enslavement; the Prince had treacherously violated his pledge to set them free and let them return home unharmed.
Among the Báb’s many books, some written while a prisoner in the mountains of Ádharbayján, the most important are the Persian Bayán and the Arabic Bayán. The former was translated into French by A. L. M. Nicolas, the Persian-born French consul at Tabríz who was fascinated by the life and teachings of the Prophet of Shíráz.
It was for the love of Bahá’u’lláh, the Glory of God, that the Báb sacrificed His life. His dramatic martyrdom took place in the windswept barracks square of Tabríz at noon on July 9, 1850.
The central figure in the second period of Bahá’í history was Bahá’u’lláh, the One foretold by the Báb. He was born in Ṭihrán, Persia, on November 12, 1817. His given name was Ḥusayn-‘Alí; later he assumed the title Bahá’u’lláh, meaning “Glory of God.”
Ḥusayn-‘Alí was of a noble, respected, and wealthy family. A career in government service was open to Him but He was not interested in politics. His kingdom was not of this world. Turning His back on a life of luxury, He early championed the Cause of the Báb. He knew that this action would lead to privation, suffering, and persecution for Himself and His loved ones. The blow fell in August 1852 when He was incarcerated in the Black Pit of the capital of Persia. In this underground dungeon, He was surrounded by thieves and murderers and the heavy chains and fetters cut into His flesh. Amidst the horror, agony, and gloom of this place, the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh was born. The “Most Great Spirit” appeared to Him in a dream and on every side was heard these words: “Verily, we shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by Thy pen. Grieve not for that which hath befallen Thee, neither be Thou afraid, for Thou art in safety. Ere long will God raise up the treasures of the earth—men who will aid Thee through Thyself and through Thy name, wherewith God hath revived the hearts of such as have recognised Him.”
In January 1853, Bahá’u’lláh and His family were banished from Persia. He chose Baghdád as the place of exile. The midwinter journey followed a tortuous through the icy mountains of Kirmánsháh westward to the city astride the Tigris. As the years went by, the popularity of Bahá’u’lláh grew and leaders of thought would gather informally around Him along the riverside and seek His views.
He would walk along the Tigris, sometimes resting at a mosque that remains as a witness of those days, and compose The Hidden Words, lovely verses that sum up the essentials of religion. His foremost work in Baghdád was The Book of Certitude. This dealt with the theme of progressive revelation, the doctrine that Prophets reveal teachings according to the needs and capacity of the people. His influence waxed too strong to suit the rulers of Persia and Turkey and they decided to send Him farther from His homeland.Here He declared to His trusted friends that He was the Manifestation of God, sent to earth to bring the long-promised reign of righteousness.
Exile followed in Constantinople and in Adrianople, where Bahá’u’lláh publicly proclaimed His mission. In Adrianople in 1863, He revealed the Tablet to the Kings (Súriy-i-Mulúk), warning the kings of East and West that disobedience to God would lead to their downfall. Later, the most powerful enemy of the Bahá’í Faith, Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh, was assasinated on the eve of his jubilee. Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd II of Turkey, another potent foe, was deposed and imprisoned by the Young Turks.
Bahá’u’lláh was finally exiled in 1868 to the ancient prison at ‘Akká, Palestine, the St. Jean d’Acre of the Crusaders. Even the climate of this pestilential and disease-ridden spot seemed to improve during Bahá’u’lláh’s residence there. In the Holy Land, He wrote the Book of Aqdas, or Most Holy Book. In it He prescribes obligatory prayers, sets the dates for fasting and festivals, and condemns back-biting, idleness, and cruelty to animals. The book forbids the use of opium and alcohol for other than scientific purposes and prohibits slavery, begging and monasticism. It ordains monogamy and interdicts gambling. The writing of a testament is held to be a duty. Every Bahá’í is commanded to obey his government. Among the Bahá’í virtues are spotless cleanliness, chastity, trutworthiness, hospitality, courtesy, and justice.
The only person from the West to visit Bahá’u’lláh was Professor Edward G. Browne of Cambridge University who came in 1890. Here is a sentence from his reverent record of that experience: “No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before One who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain.”
Before His passing in 1892, Bahá’u’lláh wrote a Will and Testament investing His son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, with the authority to interpret His teachings. This son’s given name was ‘Abbás Effendi and He was born in Ṭihrán the very time of the Báb’s Declaration in Shíráz, before midnight on May 22, 1844. He shared prison and exile with His Father. In His early teens, He was asked to comment on a verse in the Qur’án and He produced a literary masterpiece. His outstanding sociological work was The Secret of Divine Civilization.
During a brief period of freedom, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá traveled in Europe, America and Egypt. He journey from coast to coast in the United State from April to December 1912. He lectured in universities, churches, before clubs, and to a great variety of other audiences. Individuals of prominence sought His presence. Dr. David Starr Jordan, eminent scientist and President of Stanford University, predicted, “he will surely unite the East and the West, for He treads the mystic path with practical feet.” His advice was sought by a highly-placed Federal official and He gave this counsel: “You can best serve your country if you strive, in your capacity as a citizen of the world, to assist in the eventual application of the principle of federalism, underlying the government of your own country, to the relationships now existing between the peoples and nations of the world.” In Sacramento, California, He predicted the outbreak of World War I, correctly specifying the year, but He also expressed the hope that “the first flag of international peace” would be upraised in the state, in which the United Nations Charter was later signed. Freedom was the thing He liked best about America. He prophesied, “America will lead all nations spiritually.”
In recognition of long service for international conciliation and public welfare, the British Government conferred knighthood on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at Haifa in April 1920. He passed away in November of the following year. Dr. J. E. Esslemont has paid this tribute to His memory: “He showed that it is still possible, amid the whirl and rush of modern life, amid the self-love and struggle for material prosperity that everywhere prevail, to live the life of entire devotion to God and to the service of one’s fellows, which Christ and Bahá’u’lláh and all the prophets have demanded of men.”
Bahá’ís believe in a Greater Covenant under which God promises always to supply man with a divine messenger, a tree of guidance to show the way forward. In a Lesser Covenant, each prophet foretells the advent of the next messenger, e.g., the prophecy of Jesus Christ about the “Spirit of Truth” who “will guide you unto all truth.” For the first time in the world’s religious history, the Bahá’í Faith implements these Covenants with written provisions for Guardians to preserve the purity and integrity of the Faith. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá appointed His eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the first Guardian of the Faith of God and called him the “Sign of God” on earth. Probably no one was more surprised by this action than Shoghi Effendi. This descendant of both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh was then studying at Oxford University.
The years of Shoghi Effendi’s stewardship have been crowded with manifold projects. Most time-consuming has been his voluminous correspondence with individuals and Bahá’í centers throughout the world. He has personally arranged the international archives at Haifa, Israel, the world headquarters of the Faith. His historical and analytical writings include God Passes By, The Promised Day is Come, and the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. His peerless translations from Arabic and Persian embrace such volumes as The Prayers and Meditations of Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, The Book of Íqán (Certitude), Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, and the Dawn-Breakers of Nabíl.
Shoghi Effendi has regularly edited the international biennial, The Bahá’í World. He has directed action on a wide range of problems.
During the period of the Báb’s ministry (1844-1853), the Faith reached only Persia and ‘Iráq. Eleven countries and territories were added during the ministry of Bahá’u’lláh (1853-1892). The years of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s leadership brought the total to 33, including the United States. First mention of the Faith in America was at the World Parliament of Religion on September 23, 1893. At mid-century, the Faith had penetrated 101 countries and territories and its literature had been printed in sixty languages. Many hundreds of local Assemblies had been formed and there are National Assemblies in the United States; British Isles; Germany and Austria, Egypt and Sudan; ‘Iráq; India, Pakistan and Burma; Persia; Australia and New Zealand; Canada; Central America; and South America.
Fundamental in these teachings is faith in One God and one humanity. Knowledge is the greatest gift of God to man and the search for it must be free and unfettered. Religion and science must work as a team for human benefit. Otherwise, religion deteriorates into superstition and science becomes a Frankenstein monster. Education must be universal and compulsory. A world language, to be chosen democratically, must be taught along with the national tongues in all the schools of the world. Women should have the same chances as men in all fields. The hate-creating prejudices of nation, race, creed, and class must be wiped out. Religion must be the cause of that genuine love that goes beyond mere tolerance. The abolition of poverty is not just a mathematical question; it is a spiritual problem facing all men of good will. There must be work for all with no idle poor and no idle rich. Service is prayer. Honest labor is raised to the rank of worship. Bahá’u’lláh long ago urged the reduction of national armaments. Disputes between nations must be settled by a world court whose compulsorary and final verdict would be sustained by an international force. Force must be the servant of justice.
“The Lord is come! Christ has returned in the glory of the Father!” This is the most startling claim and paramount tenet of the Bahá’í Faith. What proofs are given? Why did not every eye see the Lord of Hosts? The popular mind mistakes the symbol for the reality and confuses poetic truth with practical truth. The Israelites refused to recognise Christ because He did not literally fulfill their expectations that the Messiah would have come from an unknown place, sword in hand, become King of the Jews, and deliver Israel from the Roman yoke. The traditional attitude toward the prediction that “every eye shall see him” is based on the assumption that the earth is flat.
The proofs of Bahá’u’lláh are that His teachings were not learned from men, that His prophecies did come to pass, and that His teaching have created the international Bahá’í Community within which the old hatreds have been replaced by abiding love. The world order of Bahá’u’lláh is the kingdom for which Christians pray, the new Jerusalem. Not the literal-minded but the “waiting servants” who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” are counted on to heed such an appeal and to be the builders of the new world civilisation.
Bahá’ís feel that only a change of heart — conversion in the best sense of the word — will bring lasting peace and justice to the human race.
The Seven Valleys of Bahá’u’lláh may be regarded as the summit of achievement in the realm of mystical composition. This profound essay was written in response to questions of Shaykh Muḥyi’d-Dín, the judge of Khaniqín, a town situated near the Persian border northeast of Baghdád. The judge was evidently a student of Ṣúfí philosophy, a variety of mysticism that appeared in Írán twelve centuries ago as a movement within Islám. The goal of the Ṣúfí was to attain the Presence of God through meditation and prayer, contemplation and ecstacy. A special terminology was developed to explain the stages of spiritual progress. Some Ṣúfís embraced the doctrine that they could approach God directly without assistance from Muḥammad or other Prophets. This view logically led to the tenet that they were exempt from the laws of religion and that for them, even if not for the multitude, conscience was a safe guide. The greatest of the Persian mystics, Jalálu’d-Dín Rúmí and al-Ghazzálí, contested this theory, affirming that only through obedience to the laws of God as revealed by His Messengers could one attain unto the Divine Presence.
Shaykh Muḥyi’d-Dín was doubtless conversant with the writings of the twelfth century Persian Ṣúfí, Farídu’d-Dín ‘Aṭṭár. ‘Aṭṭár was appropriately named as he was a perfumer before becoming a philosopher. ‘Aṭṭár’s most esteemed work was Manṭiqu’ṭ-Ṭayr or Language of the Birds. In it the journey of the soul is traced through Seven Valleys: Search, Love, Knowledge, Detachment, Unification, Bewilderment, and Annihilation. Bahá’u’lláh employed a similar, although not identical, pattern in His Persian Seven Valleys which delineates the seven stages of progress of the soul toward the object of its being. Bahá’u’lláh wrote this work after His return to Baghdád from the mountains near Sulaymáníyyih. The subject is essentially timeless and placeless, the inner verities of religion. The spiritual realities are the same in all the established religions and they constitute the foundation of faith. This is the purport of the declaration of Bahá’u’lláh concerning His Faith: “This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.” The social teaching of the Bahá’í Faith are clearly tailored for the twentieth century and for generations to come and depart markedly from the ethics of past civilizations and religious systems. But the Seven Valleys discusses the kingdom that is not of this world and it does not differ fundamentally from the Sermon on the Mount or from Muḥammad’s description of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
The Seven Valleys teaches that the way to attain the Presence of God is to hearken to the message of the Manifestation of God for today. An ordinary or even an extraordinary human being cannot expect to become a Christ. No man can by taking thought add an inch to his physical height nor can a thistle bear figs. No one can claim to be identical with the Essence of God because no one possesses infinite power, knowledge, ands goodness. But every man, no matter how lowly his origin, can aquire the attributes of God through submission to the divine laws and reflection on the Word of God as revealed by the High Prophets. The individual who arrives at the objective of the mystic quest, the Presence of God, is he who has recognised the Manifestation of God for his day and who by following His instruction has clothed himself with those heavenly qualities that enable him to draw near the Beloved. Such a person will never proclaim himself to be God-like but his actions will speak for him. One recalls the story of the Persian who took his son to a lovely garden where many people had gathered to pray. After an hour of chanting prayers, the boy looked around and observed that may of the worshippers were lost not in prayer but in slumber. He turned to his father and asked, “Are we not better than those who are sleeping instead of praying?” The father simply replied, “You might have been better had you not asked this question.”
In the Valley of Unity, the verses from Rúmí about Khiḍr refer to the story in the Qur’án (Sura 18:71) about the Divine Messenger whom Moses accompanied in pursuit of guidance. They embarked in a ship which the Messenger proceeded to wreck. This action astonished Moses. “What!” said Moses, “hast Thou staved it in so that Thou mayest drown its crew?” Later, the Messenger explained that the vessel “belonged to poor men who toiled the sea, and I was minded to damage it, for in their rear was a king who seized every ship by force.” The incident has a twofold meaning. The first is that the creature should not weigh in his defective scales the actions of his Creator; the second, that a heaven-sent calamity may be providential and merciful.
In the Valley of Wonderment, a line is quoted from Saná’í about the inablity of unaided reason to comprehend the Word of God. The poet asks whether a spider can snare a Pheonix. The Phoenix, a mythical bird with a life expectancy of one thousand years, has figured predominantly in the theology of many peoples. The bird, a solitary creature, was said to have a flute-like beak with a hundred holes, each opening sounding a mystic tone. As death approaches, the Pheonix prepares its funeral pyre, pours forth its tragic song, and kindles the fire with its feathers. As the embers die down to a single spark, a new Phoenix miraculously arises from the ashes. In response to an enquiry, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith has explained that the Phoenix “does not have any connection with the Manifestation but is used poetically to convey the thought of something that is immortal, or that rises from destruction...”
Although the content of the Seven Valleys may appear to be esoteric and somewhat removed from daily living in the real world, there is a broad general application of a practical nature. The guiding principle is that the truly God-intoxicated person will in his behaviour spontaneously demonstrate his devotion to justice, truth, integrity, mercy, and the other holy characteristics inculcated by the Manifestation of the Beloved.
Too often has society suffered from outwardly pious men, pillars of churches and ornaments of communities, who were convinced that they were “saved” and that they could with impunity disregard the basic rules of decent conduct. The “saved” ones thus introduced a double standard of morality, presuming to prescribe different rules for themselves than for the common herd. The self-righteous have been notably unresponsive to the teachings and commands of new prophets. Jesus did not try to save the “righteous,” respected Scribes and Pharisees. He conferred His blessings not on those who were convinced that salvation was theirs but upon sinners who continued to hunger and thirst after righteousness. True mysticism is not the refuge of the scroundrel, or the haven of the self-lover, or the sanctuary of the fugitive from social responsibility. Through the Seven Valleys passes the Chosen Highway that leads to knowledge of God and service to man.
The Four Valleys, an epistle written in Baghdád after the composition of the Seven Valleys, was addressed to the learned Shaykh ‘Abdu’r-Raḥmán of Karkúk, a city in ‘Iráqí Kurdistán. It sets forth four ways in which the Unseen is seen, the four stages of the human heart, and the four kinds of mystic wayfarers in the quest of the Intended One, the Beloved. The four divine states are given in this verse from the Qur’án (57:3): “He is the first and the last, the Seen and the Hidden; and He knoweth all things.”