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Everything grows in stages—so why would the soul be any different? Just like our bodies do, our souls mature as they attain a series of developmental levels.
Baha’u’llah’s The Four Valleys revolves around a four-level hierarchy of personal and spiritual growth. Unlike he did in The Seven Valleys, though, Baha’u’llah didn’t name each stage of growth in The Four Valleys. For me, I think of every one those four valleys as having a particular focus or purpose, with each level taking its theme from its opening line:
- and finally, the apex of consciousness.
I call the first valley, centered around Baha’u’llah’s emphasis on self-discovery, the valley of self. Why? Because in the first valley, Baha’u’llah says “… this station appertaineth to the self …”
“On this plane,” he continues, “the self is not rejected but beloved; it is well-pleasing and not to be shunned.” (The Four Valleys, p. 50.) The first valley, which corresponds with the initial valley of search in Baha’u’llah’s Seven Valleys—and the first stage of all the perennial philosophy models of spiritual growth—focuses on the discovery of self as the starting place for all spiritual attainment.
Here, Baha’u’llah encourages the seeker to study the map of his own soul, and to look within for the deep understanding which guides all search:
This is the plane of the self that is well-pleasing unto God …. One must, then, read the book of his own self, rather than some treatise on rhetoric. – Ibid., pp. 50-51.
As you can see, this valley also represents the central Baha’i principle that asks each person to conduct their own independent investigation of truth.
I think of the second valley as the stage of reason, because in its opening line Baha’u’llah writes “… this is the station of primal reason …” (Ibid., p. 52.)
In The Seven Valleys, Baha’u’llah uses the word reason almost interchangeably with the word knowledge. All of the four-level cosmologies use some variant of this concept of knowledge or the discovery of logic and reason to describe the opening of our rational facility, the higher mind and the human intellect, to spiritual search and the promptings of the soul. Accordingly, I call this stage the valley of reason or the valley of knowledge. In the second valley, the newly-discovered self transcends its self-awareness, supplanting it with a broader consciousness which allows it to see beyond the boundaries of the first valley, and into the mysterious heart of mystical symbols and signs.
The third of the four valleys, it seems to me, could be called love. In the third valley, Baha’u’llah wrote that:
… no soul may dwell on this Kingly Throne save the beauty of love … On this plane, neither the reign of reason is sufficient nor the authority of self. – Ibid., pp. 54-55.
Baha’u’llah emphasized the attainment of love and pure affection for the Eternal in the third valley, after the stages of search for self and growing self-knowledge. This stage focuses on the great yearning of human hearts and souls for beauty, transcendence and connection with the Creator. Baha’u’llah clearly says that “This realm is not to be pictured in words,” and spends most of the short duration of his description of the third valley quoting from the Qur’an and Rumi’s Mathnavi: “The lover’s teacher is the Loved One’s beauty.” In this stage of human development, the valley of the beauty of love, the heart takes precedence.
The next valley, and the final one in this mystical cosmology, couples full spiritual awareness with true understanding and humility. Baha’u’llah calls the fourth valley “the apex of consciousness and the secret of divine guidance,” and “the realm of full awareness, of utter self-effacement.” He says that “Astonishment here is highly prized, and utter poverty essential.” This fourth valley can be compared to the final stage of spiritual development in The Seven Valleys, called “the valley of true poverty and absolute nothingness:”
This station is the dying from self and the living in God, the being poor in self and rich in the Desired One. Poverty as here referred to signifieth being poor in the things of the created world, rich in the things of God’s world. For when the true lover and devoted friend reacheth to the presence of the Beloved, the sparkling beauty of the Loved One and the fire of the lover’s heart will kindle a blaze and burn away all veils and wrappings. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 35.
This idea—the full transcendence of the self, a highly-developed consciousness that recognizes the majesty and glory of God, while striving for selflessness and self-effacement—resonates with the Buddhist concept of nirvana, which literally means “non-drawing”, as a fire ceases to draw. It also corresponds with the Hindu idea of nirguna, which means “without qualities”; or the mystical Jewish theory of ‘en-sof, the “not-finite.”
In Baha’i terms, we could refer to this final stage of human development as the valley of the apex of consciousness.