The Valley of Contentment
Baha’u’llah stresses that freedom from want paves the way to contentment. The description of the Valley of Contentment finds similarities in Buddhist thinking, and also in philosophy, as when Plato spoke of lack of contentment being the root of all problems, such as competition and greed. The Seven Valleys describes want as attachment to the physical world; and longing as the inclination exclusively towards the love of God and the acquisition of His attributes. In the Valley of Contentment, Baha’u’llah quotes the Qur’an: “God will compensate each one out of His abundance,” and stresses the Baha’i belief in God’s abundance as the true source of contentment:
O friend, till thou enter the garden of such mysteries, thou shalt never set lip to the undying wine of this Valley. And shouldst thou taste of it, thou wilt shield thine eyes from all things else, and drink of the wine of contentment; and thou wilt loose thyself from all things else, and bind thyself to Him, and throw thy life down in His path, and cast thy soul away. – The Seven Valleys, pp. 30-31.
Baha’u’llah contrasts the outward view with the inward, stating that this valley focuses on “inner significances” and “inner meaning.” In this valley, God becomes the focal point for ambition and desire. The seeker relates to God from a position of humility—also the ideal way to relate to other human beings.
The Valley of Wonderment
In this valley, once the traveler undergoes a state of confusion and bewilderment, he experiences the state of wonderment. This state of wonderment produces a condition of awe, when the seeker witnesses “the ocean of grandeur.” Baha’u’llah states that many mysteries and myriad wisdoms are deposited within the world of creation. Reflection on these mysteries and the works of God can lead the true seeker to experience this numinous sense of astonishment. One of these astonishing phenomena—the dream and the mysteries concealed therein—can provide mystical insight and spiritual comprehension. Baha’u’llah concluded that:
God, the Exalted, hath placed these signs in men, to the end that philosophers may not deny the mysteries of the life beyond nor belittle that which hath been promised them. – Ibid., p. 33.
The Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness
In The Seven Valleys Baha’u’llah defines poverty as being “poor in the things of the created world,” “whether it be outer wealth or personal opinions,” and “rich in the things of God’s world.” This he likens to the idea of a hollow reed from which the pith of self has been blown, so that we may become pure channels for God’s love and attributes. The idea of emptying oneself has a long tradition among the Sufis, who regard material possessions as burdens that hinder us from knowing God. In much the same way, Baha’u’llah defines “poverty” as the seeker’s lack of attachment to material things—even while actively engaging in improving the social life of civilization. A divine economy will come about when poverty is defined as “detachment from all else save God.” Detachment, however, does not imply severance from or indifference to the world.
Throughout this spiritual journey, The Seven Valleys establishes a foundation for further dialogue between the Baha’i Faith and the world’s mystical traditions. It alludes to two main ways to discover or verify the spiritual truth: one is “internal,” starting with faith as a loving relationship with God—a personal journey through the teachings of the prophets of God. The other is “external,” a reverse of the above process, working one’s way back to the Source, or God; seeing the external world and asking, ¨What could be causing this order and unity?
The first, internal path is more mystical or faith-based, and the second, external path is more experience-based. The Seven Valleys seems to be an effort to synthesize these two models, one reinforcing the other, forming a holistic circular pattern. Hence, the mystical journey needs to relate ethereal experiences to worldly practices. Likewise, inner processes must be translated into social action.
Baha’u’llah describes the valleys of search, love and knowledge as domains of limitation. The middle valley of unity is perceived as the journey through which the first three valleys begin to bear fruit. The first three valleys are concerned with external objects, but once one reaches the valley of contentment, attaining the presence of God requires an internal trajectory.
The Seven Valleys emphasizes that progress in a spiritual journey depends upon the volition of the seeker and the confirmations of God. The process itself is not strictly linear and may transcend the limitations of time and space. Baha’u’llah wrote:
… these journeys have no visible ending in the world of time, but the severed wayfarer–if invisible confirmation descend 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. – Ibid., p. 40.