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The second stage of love or attraction consists of an overwhelming desire and longing to attain the presence of the beloved, the very same condition as the commonplace definition of love itself.
But as Baha’u’llah makes clear in “The Seven Valleys,” this initial stage of enthrallment, while valuable and strategically important, is by its very nature temporary. It should lead us to another stage in our love, or else it will most surely become a source of destruction rather than the beginning of an ever-evolving relationship:
And if, confirmed by the Creator, the lover escapes from the claws of the eagle of love, he will enter the Valley of Knowledge and come out of doubt into certitude, and turn from the darkness of illusion to the guiding light ...
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For this reason Abdu’l-Baha, in discussing the requisites of a process for discovering a marriage partner, advises us that attraction is important — but once that initial attraction has taken place, the couple must then become informed of each other’s inner character to see if the attraction has a foundation based on something more healthy and enduring than sensual allure:
Baha'i marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever.
How Finding a Partner Resembles Finding a Faith
This investigation of character in a personal relationship parallels the acquisition of knowledge of the character and teachings of the manifestation in examining and adopting a deeply-held spiritual belief.
This is accomplished by practices such as examining the extent to which the life and actions of the manifestation comply with his teachings, studying the logic and wisdom inherent in the teachings themselves, exploring the history of the religion, and becoming familiar with the qualities of those who claim to be its adherents. The gradual acquisition of knowledge about those we’re strongly attracted to will inform us if the relationship has a solid foundation and should be pursued, or is based on circumstantial or emotional appeal and should thus be abandoned.
The ultimate objective of this knowledge is conveyed by Baha’u’llah in terms that reverberate throughout the entirety of the Baha'i texts. It is the pervasive concept of learning to discern “the end in the beginning.”
By this enigmatic phrase, Baha’u’llah explains that all knowledge, whether of material or spiritual laws about reality, ultimately leads us to an awareness that the source of all reality is God, and that all creation takes its meaning and purpose according to the degree to which it manifests some attributes or understanding of the Creator.
In terms of romantic love between human beings, we come to appreciate that we are drawn to each other by virtue of our having been created in God’s image. But since God has no physical dimension per se, we also come to realize that all creation is effectively the “temple” of God, the outer expression of His divine beauty. In short, our love of or attraction to any physical form or to any metaphysical concept is, when correctly comprehended, a pathway leading us to the love of the Creator.
So it is that the “end” or objective of all knowledge is the understanding and subsequent love of God.
In this sense, every aspect of physical creation and every experience we have in it are but a means to this end. We are, in effect, being led incrementally to that source from which we emanated as a breath of spirit, as essentially spiritual beings or human souls operating temporarily through an associational relationship with a physical vehicle, the human temple.
Our bodies, our physical edifice that “houses” that essential self, no less exemplify the Creator’s handiwork. In the Qur’an we find the statement that “We have indeed created man in the best of molds,” a passage we might well infer to mean that we are physically appealing creations – that we are created in beauteous forms. Our awareness of our own beauty, our own human form, manifests in obvious or overt terms by any cursory examination of art history. Our most fundamental awe, contemplating our own physical makeup, means that we never grow tired of seeing images of the effulgence of that beauty.
The Valley of Knowledge
Yet how much more amazed we can become by this attraction once we begin to enter this third stage of love, the valley of knowledge. In this stage in the progress of love, we realize that both the primal source of this fascination and its end result lead us to knowledge of the Creator in whose image we are made.
Our attraction to that subtle form of ourselves derives not merely from sexual or biochemical reaction. We actually sense in that complex expression of beauty the form or idea of beauty as a divine attribute. Underlying our love of a concrete expression of a divine attribute is our attraction to a more lofty, abstract expression of that same affection, our love of the concept of beauty itself.
The ultimate source of our affection for all abstract realities — beauty, truth, justice, and the like — is the Creator, or what Socrates called “the Good.”
The Valley of Unity
Baha’u’llah called the fourth stage of love the valley of unity, a subjective rather than a purely intellectual experience of the underlying integrity of creation and the coherence of God’s plan.
In this stage of love, all physical reality is understood as one organic expression of divine reality, and both physical and metaphysical aspects of reality are experienced as an emanation of the one Creator. In “The Seven Valleys,” Baha’u’llah presented several vivid analogies to illustrate this same experience. In this stage of enlightenment — the valley of unity — one realizes that all distinction or variation in creation derives solely from the perspective of the observer. By analogy, various terrains will appear with various hues, textures, and luminescence, even though all are illuminated by the light of the same sun. In other words, all variations appear because of distinctions among that which is illumined, while the light of the sun itself remains constant and without variation.
Once we enter this stage, we sense or experience the essential unity of reality underlying all notions of distinction. In such a condition, concepts of first and last, of seen and unseen, cease to have importance, because all creation is understood to be one organic expression of a single reality, the reality of the Creator. As Baha’u’llah wrote in “The Seven Valleys”:
Then what existence have words, on such a plane, that “first” and “last” or other than these, should be mentioned or described? In this realm, the first is the same as the last, and the last is the same as the first.
Having recognized and experienced this essential unity of creation, the seeker may then attain the fifth stage, the valley of contentment. Baha’u’llah portrayed this and the succeeding mystical stages of “wonderment” and “true poverty and absolute nothingness” in such ineffable ways as to transcend the capacity of language to represent them adequately:
The tongue faileth in describing these three Valleys, and speech falleth short. The pen steppeth not into this region, the ink leaveth only a blot. In these planes, the nightingale of the heart hath other songs and secrets, which make the heart to stir and the soul to clamor, but this mystery of inner meaning may be whispered only from heart to heart, confided only from breast to breast.
Baha’u’llah alluded to the contentment the seeker or lover experiences at this stage in the evolution of the love relationship with several effective poetic passages. In this valley, he wrote, the lover “burneth away the veils of want” and “from sorrow he turneth to bliss, from anguish to joy. His grief and mourning yield to delight and rapture.”