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Baha’u’llah’s Seven Valleys: the Mystical Journey Towards the Light

Thomas von Lutterotti | Apr 24, 2023

PART 2 IN SERIES Transcending Reason, Exploring God

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Thomas von Lutterotti | Apr 24, 2023

PART 2 IN SERIES Transcending Reason, Exploring God

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

During my earliest exploration of the extensive Baha’i writings, I soon came across The Seven Valleys, one of the most important mystical books written by Baha’u’llah

This intensely powerful brief book, written during his two-year seclusion in the remote mountains of Kurdistan, stunned my consciousness. For me, the references in The Seven Valleys to the world of the transcendent ideas of the Sufis generated an impulse to look more closely at this Islamic school of mystics.

The image of life’s journey through seven valleys of character formation to the goal of all being, the encounter with the divine, forms a central element in the Sufi world of thought. The important Persian lyricist and Islamic mystic Fariduddin Attar from the 12th century described it masterfully in his great poem The Conference of the Birds, which still enjoys the rank of a national epic in Iranian culture. Filled with numerous metaphors and parables, the poem’s framing narrative describes the arduous journey of all birds – the metaphor for individual souls – which Attar suggests is worth taking upon oneself to reach the ultimate knowledge.

RELATED: Walking a Mystical Path through The Seven Valleys

Attar’s epic poem describes the way to the metaphorical God-bird Simurgh – the Phoenix of myth and legend – and leads through the valley of searching with its hundred difficulties; through the valley of love full of fire; through the valley of God-knowledge without beginning and end; through the valley of needlessness and detachment without claim and meaning; through the lonely valley of unity; through the sorrowful valley of amazement and confusion; and finally through the almost indescribable valley of poverty and perishable-ness. In the end of Attar’s poem, of the thousand birds that set out on the journey, only thirty reach their destination and experience the following:

The sun of majesty sent forth its rays, and their souls shone, and in the reflection of their faces these thirty birds (si-murgh) of the outer, visible world beheld the Simurgh of the inner, invisible world. This so astonished them that they no longer knew whether they were still themselves or whether they had become the Simurgh. Finally, in a state of contemplation and reflection, they realized that they were the Simurgh, and that the Simurgh was the thirty birds. When they looked at the Simurgh, they saw that they really had the Simurgh before them; and when they turned their gazes upon themselves, they realized that they themselves were the Simurgh. And when they perceived both at the same time, themselves and Him, they became certain that they and the Simurgh formed one and the same being. No one in the whole world has ever heard of a miracle equal to this.

The duality dissolves, because according to this image, in the Sufi conception, the Godhead is in us, and we are the Godhead. In a small-minded way this can be interpreted as blasphemous – because of course the creatures can never become the Creator – but in a freer spirit one can see in it the ultimate solution of all seemingly unanswerable questions of life. 

In The Seven Valleys Baha’u’llah takes up the image of the mystical wandering from the work of Attar, but reveals a completely new text, which clearly differs from that of the poet and brings entirely new contents and numerous quotations from the Qur’an. In addition, Baha’u’llah gives the seventh valley the distinctive name “The Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness.” At the end of the work, he describes the compensation we can receive for the necessary hardships endured on the path of life. In doing so, he does not speak of a final mystical unification with the Creator God, as the Sufis do, because according to an impressive image from the Baha’i teachings, man can at best approach the mirrors of light – that is, the revelators, prophets, or manifestations – but never become the light of God itself. 

RELATED: The Seven Valleys: A Road Map for Life’s Eternal Journey

Thus, The Seven Valleys describes as the final goal a de-emptying, a not-having-to-be-anymore as soon as we have reached this level of closeness to God. What a wonderfully relieving thought! Baha’u’llah wrote:

This station is that of dying to the self and living in God, of being poor in self and rich in the Desired One. Poverty, as here referred to, signifieth being poor in that which pertaineth to the world of creation and rich in what belongeth to the realms of God … 

Whoso hath attained this station is sanctified from all that pertaineth to the world. Wherefore, if those who have reached the ocean of His presence are found to possess none of the limited things of this perishable world, whether earthly riches or worldly opinions, it mattereth not. For that which is with His creatures is circumscribed by their own limitations, whereas that which is with God is sanctified therefrom … 

This is the station wherein the multiplicity of all things perisheth in the wayfarer; and the divine Countenance, dawning above the horizon of eternity, riseth out of the darkness; and the meaning of “All on the earth shall pass away, but the face of thy Lord” is made manifest …. 

And when thou hast attained this highest plane and most exalted degree, then shalt thou gaze on the Beloved and forget all else …. Thou hast given up the drop of life and drawn nigh unto the ocean of the Well-Beloved. This is the goal thou didst seek; God grant thou mayest attain thereunto.

More concisely, Baha’u’llah expressed a similar thought in The Hidden Words: “If thou lovest Me, turn away from thyself; and if thou seekest My pleasure, regard not thine own; that thou mayest die in Me and I may eternally live in thee.

God’s light is not in some distant heaven, but wholly here within us, in life and in death – this is the profound truth mysticism tells us.

This article first appeared on the German language Baha’i-inspired site Perspektivenwechsel-Blog.

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