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Written in the Sufi tradition in response to the questions and inquiries of a judge and Sufi spiritual leader in the city of Khaniqin, Baha’u’llah composed The Seven Valleys in 1860 in Baghdad, Iraq.
The Seven Valleys follows the structural composition and symbolism of The Conference of the Birds by Faridu’d-Din Attar, but adds new interpretations and meaning to Attar’s Sufi mysticism. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, described The Seven Valleys as Baha’u’llah’s “greatest mystical composition.” Baha’u’llah’s eldest son and appointed successor, Abdu’l-Baha stated that book is a “guide for human conduct,” and said the meaning of The Seven Valleys affirms that “nothing is more fruitful for man than the knowledge of his own shortcomings.” – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 242.
Baha’u’llah’s mystical treatise lists seven valleys, which symbolize the stages of spiritual development:
- The Valley of Search
- The Valley of Love
- The Valley of Knowledge
- The Valley of Unity
- The Valley of Contentment
- The Valley of Wonderment
- The Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness
In The Seven Valleys, Baha’u’llah wrote that the seeker’s quest for union with God requires a powerful internal desire to search for knowledge and truth. That spiritual love of God, or truth, constitutes the guiding force that signifies both detachment and love.
Once an intellectual understanding combines with the love of God, the sincere seeker of truth can then attain true knowledge. The result of that true knowledge—unity—creates contentment, peace, and satisfaction, leading the seeker to experience a sense of awe or wonderment at the glory of God and His creation. Ultimately, The Seven Valleys suggests, seekers of truth come to realize that they know nothing compared to the vastness of the universe and the depth of spiritual insight. Finally, they understand the need to be absorbed into God’s knowledge and achieve the humble but exalted station of true poverty and absolute nothingness.
The Valley of Search
The main prerequisites of this valley—patience, purity of heart, and readiness to sacrifice everything in order to achieve reunion with God—are necessary because the path is not steady and the journey may test the strength and intention of the seeker. True seekers must also cleanse the heart from every distraction, and from identification with and imitations of the traditions of the past.
Furthermore, the spiritual journey may not attain its goal without sacrifice in love for and reunion with the Creator. Baha’u’llah identifies the qualities of the true seeker as having complete servitude to God; possessing a cleansed heart, which represents the wellspring of divine treasure; turning away from blindly following the dogma and traditions of forefathers; seeking out weighty matters and mysteries with intense ardor and zeal throughout the search; and entering into the realm of the spirit. He summarized the action of the seeker in the valley of search in these words:
On this journey the traveler abideth in every land and dwelleth in every region. In every face, he seeketh the beauty of the Friend; in every country he looketh for the Beloved. He joineth every company, and seeketh fellowship with every soul, that haply in some mind he may uncover the secret of the Friend, or in some face he may behold the beauty of the Loved One. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 7.
The Valley of Love
In this valley, Baha’u’llah retells a story from the Bible—a story of renunciation and severance from all save God, the Beloved. It is the story of Joseph, and his father Jacob. In the Bible, Joseph symbolizes forgiveness, fortitude under trials and tribulations, and detachment from all worldly desires. When Jacob pondered Joseph’s disappearance, he cried so hard that he went blind. Although his sons told Jacob that Joseph had died, in his heart, he always believed that Joseph was still alive. Later, when a piece of Joseph’s shirt was brought to Jacob, confirming his knowledge that Joseph still lived, he regained his sight.
Accordingly, Baha’u’llah refers to this valley as “the heaven of ecstasy,” “the world-illuming sun of yearning,” and “the fire of love” that if ablaze “burneth to ashes the harvest of reason.” Baha’u’llah wrote that the traveler in the valley of love undergoes yearning, ecstasy, pain and suffering, which come to all who search with diligence and sincerity.
In this section of the book, Baha’u’llah quotes a poem by Rumi that says, “Love’s a stranger to earth and heaven too; in him are lunacies seventy-and-two…” Thus, the valley of love stresses detachment from all worldly thoughts, and the casting aside of all things, so that “the veils of the satanic self be burned away at the fire of love.” – Ibid., p. 11.