The Four Valleys again

At the end of the Seven Valleys, Bahá’u’lláh makes a statement about the furthering journeys of the spiritual wayfarer:

They who soar in the heaven of singleness and reach to the sea of the Absolute, reckon this city – which is the station of life in God – as the furthermost state of mystic knowers, and the farthest homeland of the lovers. But to this evanescent One of the mystic ocean, this station is the first gate of the heart’s citadel, that is, man’s first entrance to the city of the heart; and the heart is endowed with four stages, which would be recounted should a kindred soul be found.[^1]

Several authors have concluded that since Bahá’u’lláh wrote another text, titled the Four Valleys, not long after revealing the Seven Valleys, that this shorter book must be the missing presentation of the aforementioned “four stages of the heart”. However, it is my thought that this book considers a different theme than the Seven Valleys, and makes a separate, though related, point.

First, some background is necessary. Both of these books was written to a Sufi recipient, and uses the language of their mystical schools. Among that vocabulary lies a precise distinction between two stages of the soul’s progress toward its Creator: the journey “to” God, which begins with birth into this world; and the journey “in” God, which begins once that is completed. The pivot between these journeys is when the soul reaches the station of baqá, or eternal subsistence in God:

[T]he stations that follow (baqá, subsistence] may be said to be so many stations in the journey in God (fi’lláh) after the traveler has ended the journey to God (ila’lláh).1

Bahá’u’lláh states that the seventh valley – Absolute Poverty and Truth Nothingness – marks the moment when the believer enters into the station of baqá:

This station (maqám) is the dying from self (faná’ az nafs) and the living in God (baqá’ bi’lláh).

Another way to regard this transition is that the seeker ceases the task of searching after God, and commences a process of ever-deepening discovery.

In Gems of Divine Mysteries, which offers a description of spiritual progression comparable to the Seven Valleys, there is a depiction of two valleys beyond that of Nothingness (faná). As might be expected, the first of these valleys is the City of Immortality, which in Arabic is the “city of baqá”:

From this most august and exalted station, and from this most sublime and glorious plane, the seeker entereth the City of Immortality (madínatu’l-baqá), therein to abide forever (`apalá’u’l-baqá).

The reason I point out the pivotal nature of achieving baqá is that the Four Valleys is notably absent any mention of the subject. In fact, many of its statements concern aspects of the journey to God, and not the journey in God. For example:

[First Valley]: Although at the beginning, this plane is the realm of conflict (jidál), yet it endeth in attainment to the throne of splendor.

In both of these statement, the wayfarer suffers torments which arise from the station of limitation (tahdíd), something which those who have realized the Divine Unity (tawhíd) are well beyond. Compare this with the station of Unity as described in Gems of Divine Mysteries:

They that dwell within this Ocean, they that ride upon this Ark, witness no change in the creation of God and behold no differences upon His earth.

How can one who has passed beyond Unity, and beyond Immortality, later be found in the “realm of conflict” or among those who “meeteth with many a trial and reverse”? Yet if the Four Valleys is placed after the Seven Valleys in sequence, this is exactly what is implied.

So what are the Four Valleys, and what is their intent? I do not believe its message is identical with that of the Seven Valleys at all. Whereas the Seven Valleys, and Gems of Divine Mysteries, recounts the soul’s progress through degrees in the journey toward God, the Four Valleys depicts alternates ways this journey may be conducted. And while it may appear that each method is more perfect than the last, they are all acceptable in the sight of God. This idea of “alternate fulfillment” is found also in the Hidden Words:

O Son of Man! Write all that We have revealed unto thee with the ink of light upon the tablet of thy spirit. Should this not be in thy power, then make thine ink of the essence of thy heart. If this thou canst not do, then write with that crimson ink that hath been shed in My path…

  1. Nasr, Seyyed Hossain. (1991). Sufi Essays. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, p.82.