Within the Seven Valleys, Bahá’u’lláh distinguishes three particular stations, or maqámát: The station of limitation (tahdíd), comprising the first three valleys; the station of unity (tawhíd), covering the next three valleys; and the station of annihilation of self and eternity in God (faná az nafs va baqá bi-lláh). In what follows, I’ll talk in terms of both these stations, and the Valleys that constitute them.
Bahá’u’lláh writes that the stages of the wayfarer’s journey consist in the progression of his vision: “Thus it hath been made clear that these stages depend on the vision of the wayfarer.” What is this a vision of? My thought is just this: The Seven Valleys depicts the believer’s spiritual progression in terms of his capacity to recognize, accept, and attach himself to the Manifestations of God.
In the station of limitation, the believer’s relationship to the Ancient Beauty consists of his awareness of the Being’s manifestation at a particular time, and in a particular society. That is, the individual may have discovered the person of Christ, or Muhammad, or Bahá’u’lláh.
At this beginning, when the believer’s journey has just begun, he is searching. In order to recognize the Divine nature of the Manifestation, he must put aside all cultural and intellectual understandings, whatever might prejudice His perception of the qualitative difference between the Writings and Person of the Manifestation of God, and those of ordinary men.
Once he first recognizes the Object of his search, he instantly falls in love with It, despite have no knowledge of the Beloved’s depth and subtleties. The concept of “love at first sight” does not require knowledge of the one loved, and there are many stories of people falling in love with each other before they have even learned each other’s names. So it is that a person might read the writings of the Báb, and declare His undying belief on the spot, though He knows nothing else about the Báb or the scope of His Mission.
Through love we attach ourselves to the one that we love, and hold on despite the hardship and confusion that will result as our lives are being turned upside down in the face of these transformative ideas. At the same time, God puts to test those who claim to be His lovers: “Do men think when they say `We believe’ they shall be let alone and not be put to proof?” The lover is the one who loves not only despite the pain, but for whom pain is identifying with the joy of communion.
At last the lover acquires knowledge of the One he loves, and begins to perceive the wholeness, and unity, and perfection of that Being. He sees how all ideas are harmonized, how conflicting ideas express the same meaning, and how the harshest of Laws is in fact a benefit. That is, he perceives not only the Glory, but also the Wisdom, of the Manifestation of God. If the word of the Manifestation begets war, this is in fact the foundation of peace; in the wrath of God, he perceives the most sincere friendship.
However, all of this transpires still within the realm of limitation, because the believer has not yet transcended the particular to arrive at the real truth of the Ancient Beauty. It is like comprehending an abstruse mathematical concept, but not yet seeing how that idea pervades and explains a whole host of other concepts different yet adjacent to it.
In the valley of unity, the believer examines the cell, but perceives the whole organism; he studies an atom, and understands how universes are made; he reads a letter, and from its words perceives the mind and intent of its author.
In this station, all of the Manifestations are understood as a single Being, the way that the Sun, no matter what season, or time of day, has always been, and will always be, the same Sun. “For they are all but one person, one soul, one spirit, one being, one revelation.” (Kitáb-i-Íqán) In this station, the Writings of one Manifestation lead directly to the others, and They are all in perfect harmony and accord. Although one sees by a candle at night, and the sun during the day, in both cases he sees by light and light alone.
Freed from the limitations of concrete perception, the believer is now freed to explore the abstract and limitless. In this station, there is no thing but which leads to his contentment; no atom that is not a remembrance of His Lord; no word which is not a token from His true Beloved. This station is the true paradise, because one is never apart, and at each moment he lives in a continual state of prayer.
However, despite the profound universality of this station, there is still the inherent friction of the believer’s own identity with that of His Beloved. He has not yet seen the reflection of the “Simurgh” within the “sí murgh”. His vision still originates from a meager pair of eyes, and he does not yet see wholly with the eye of God.
In this final station, the self, which binds man’s awareness to the meager sphere of his own powers of conception, is sacrificed at the altar of His Will, and thus the soul is freed roam throughout the heavens of His Purpose. As Bahá’u’lláh writes: “For whatever the creatures have is limited by their own limits, and whatever the True One hath is sanctified therefrom…”
In this station, the sickness and sadness of all are felt, and the joy of anyone is the believer’s own joy. The unity of God’s creation is witnessed without bound or limitation, and “the high heavens are in no conflict with the lowly earth.” There are no longer words such as “He” and “thee”; there has only ever been Him, the Ancient of Days, the One alone Beloved.
Thus we see a progression from the lowest point, where the Manifestation of God is seen as a man like any other; and the highest point, where His Reality becomes the believer’s own sight and mind. In this station, if one accepts His Law, and commits his entire essence to its fulfillment, then one has arrived at the gates of the Eternal City.
Can all of this happen within this world? I believe so. It is not a journey of the soul from place to place; it is the unwrapping of our hearts from the dense veils of limitation, debarring us from perceiving that Perfect Sun shining in the midmost heart of creation:
How strange that while the Beloved is visible as the sun, yet the heedless still hunt after tinsel and base metal. Yea, the intensity of His revelation hath covered Him, and the fullness of His shining forth hath hidden Him. Even as the sun, bright hath He shined, But alas, He hath come to the town of the blind!