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The last of the four valleys of the seeker’s path, which Baha’u’llah describes in the final section of his book, focuses on the “apex of consciousness.” To describe that selfless, elevated, fully conscious stage of human development, Baha’u’llah uses the Persian word “Mahbub”—which simply means “the Beloved,” a mystical reference to God:
If the mystic knowers be of those who have reached to the beauty of the Beloved One (Mahbub), this station is the apex of consciousness and the secret of divine guidance… this is the station of God’s immutable decree, His foreordained mystery…
Verily, the wayfarer who journeyeth unto God, unto the Crimson Pillar in the snow-white path, will never reach unto his heavenly goal unless he abandoneth all that men possess…
This is the realm of full awareness, of utter self-effacement. Even love is no pathway to this region, and longing hath no dwelling here; wherefore is it said, “Love is a veil betwixt the lover and the beloved.” Here love becometh an obstruction and a barrier, and all else save Him is but a curtain. – Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 57.
Baha’u’llah employs the idea of the Beloved to describe the end goal of all search after truth; and to summarize the combination of the three previous valleys—search, reason and love. This fourth valley represents the station of true consciousness, ultimate awareness and mystic knowledge. It summarizes, enfolds and embraces the three previous valleys. It also represents the final stage of full maturity in both spiritual and psychological terms:
There is a consensus among psychologists who study such subjects that people develop their concept of who they are, and of what they want to achieve in life, according to a sequence of steps. Each man or woman starts with a need to preserve the self, to keep the body and its basic goals from disintegrating. At this point the meaning of life is simple; it is tantamount to survival, comfort, and pleasure. When the safety of the physical self is no longer in doubt, the person may expand the horizon of his or her meaning system to embrace the values of a community — the family, the neighborhood, a religious or ethnic group. This step leads to a greater complexity of the self, even though it usually implies conformity to conventional norms and standards. The next step in development involves reflective individualism. The person again turns inward, finding new grounds for authority and value within the self. He or she is no longer blindly conforming, but develops an autonomous conscience. At this point the main goal in life becomes the desire for growth, improvement, the actualization of potential. The fourth step, which builds on all the previous ones, is a final turning away from the self, back toward integration with other people and with universal values. In this final stage the extremely individualized person–like Siddhartha letting the river take control of his boat–willingly merges his interests with those of a larger whole. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, pp. 221-222.
This fourth step on the journey, called post-conventional, principled, self-actualized or integrated by the psychologists and philosophers, allows the boundary between self and others to fade, shift, and ultimately start to disappear. When the self fully actualizes, when your inner being begins to accurately perceive its reality, then it also begins to understand its true function. At that point, the self recedes in importance, because the love it feels for others, for humanity as a whole, grows so powerful.
When the seeker transcends self and seeks a greater level of unity, then unity demands action. This stage takes us past the limitations of the self and calls us to a higher evolution of our being; toward the development of an altruistic inner ability to look at the big picture and devote ourselves to the greater good. Transcending the boundaries of the self, it allows us to see and move past its restricted borders.
This stage of development allows us to move beyond not just the self, but all the limiting conditions of the self, growing from the specific to the universal. It offers us clear, direct, and honest connection with others beyond your circle of family, friends, and relationships for the benefit of the world. It involves getting your hands dirty in the service of an ideal. It means giving something back. It allows us to express our love for the Creator by loving the entire creation. It calls on us to fight past our own personal spiritual battles to the realization of larger and more important ones. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that this point in our psychological and spiritual development defines the beginning of real life:
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity. Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others? – The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 17.
Adopting a kinder, more altruistic focus at this stage of life means striving to develop the inner spiritual attributes of compassion, caring, and justice. “This is the realm of full awareness,” Baha’u’llah wrote to describe the fourth valley, “of utter self-effacement.” – p. 60.
People use the phrase “becoming spiritual” all the time, but feeling love for others can only achieve reality when it becomes active rather than passive. This fourth valley, Baha’u’llah wrote, “is the land of mercy, not the realm of distinction.” – p. 61. In this valley, beyond the description of any words, the only distinctions that count are pure sincerity and deeds that reflect the merciful attributes of God.
When we get to this valley, we start to approach the inner state which the true heroes of humanity attained; and we consciously begin attempting to emulate the examples of the prophets and founders of the world’s great Faiths, their love for the whole human race embodied by lives of selfless action.