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How does your spirit know? To attain that deep inner certitude, the Baha'i teachings say, a seeker must walk the valley of knowledge.
The Valley of Knowledge
In his book The Seven Valleys, the Arabic word for knowledge which Baha’u’llah used to describe this valley—ma’arifat—conveys the meaning of cognition through inner faculties. Baha'u'llah identifies the goal of this valley as seeking the truth, having certitude, apprehending divine wisdom, and seeing God’s justice in all things. The traveler in this valley must fear God, possess a pure heart, open one’s inner eyes, show love in the face of wrath, be content with God’s will, and see the end in the beginning: “He beholdeth justice in injustice, and in justice, grace.” – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 12.
This statement, and the story of the lover in this valley, demonstrates that what might appear to be unjust in man’s narrow perspective, can later become divine justice actually meant for his benefit. To illustrate this mystical truth, Baha'u'llah narrates the story of a lover in search of his beloved. While on his search, a watchman chases the lover away. The fleeing lover comes to a garden wall, scales the wall, and out of despair and fear, throws himself down into the garden—where he finds and beholds his beloved. He cries out:
O God! Give Thou glory to the watchman, and riches and long life. For the watchman was Gabriel, guiding this poor one; or he was Israfil, bringing life to this wretched one! – Ibid., p. 14.
Indeed, his words were true, for he had found many a secret justice in this seeming tyranny of the watchman, and seen how many a mercy lay hid behind the veil. Out of wrath, the guard had led him who was athirst in love's desert to the sea of his loved one, and lit up the dark night of absence with the light of reunion. He had driven one who was afar, into the garden of nearness, had guided an ailing soul to the heart's physician.
Now if the lover could have looked ahead, he would have blessed the watchman at the start, and prayed on his behalf, and he would have seen that tyranny as justice; but since the end was veiled to him, he moaned and made his plaint in the beginning. Yet those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, because they see the end in the beginning, see peace in war and friendliness in anger. – Ibid., pp. 14-15.
Baha'u'llah's reasoning in seeing the end in the beginning may be seen as a critique of linear thinking, giving way to holistic comprehension. It can also explain the uniting of inner and outer knowledge, or the unity of potentiality (the beginning) and actuality (the end). Baha’u’llah, further elaborating on this concept, wrote:
Such is the state of the wayfarers in this Valley; but the people of the Valleys
above this see the end and the beginning as one; nay, they see neither beginning
nor end, and witness neither ‘first’ nor ‘last.’ Nay rather, the denizens of the
undying city, who dwell in the green garden land, see not even ‘neither first nor
last’; they fly from all that is first, and repulse all that is last. For these have
passed over the worlds of names, and fled beyond the worlds of attributes as
swift as lightning. - Ibid., p. 15.
The Valley of Unity
Unity, a key concept in both Sufi traditions and in the writings of Baha’u’llah, asks us to see all things as one. The Seven Valleys provides a distinctive context for the spiritual seeker to recognize oneness and unity in all things. Disunity creates contradiction, division, and conflict. Human beings imagine these divisions due to our limited perception; however, God’s world is pure oneness. The seeker, Baha’u’llah advises us, must pierce the veils of plurality; ascend into singleness; see with the eye of God; hear with the ear of God; know “all is from God” and see only oneness; be as a polished mirror, separate from all save God; and possess far-sighted vision.
Baha’u’llah rejects the concept of anthropomorphism as an extreme understanding of unity that may lead to erroneous thought. The anthropomorphic view believes that God is literally in everything, but Baha’u’llah argues that God is “above ascent and descent, entrance and exit.” – Ibid., p. 23. He further asserts that:
… no man hath ever known Him; no soul hath ever found the pathway to His Being. Every mystic knower hath wandered far astray in the valley of the knowledge of Him; every saint hath lost his way in seeking to comprehend His Essence. – Ibid., p. 23.
Baha’u’llah concludes that all references to the knowledge of God must be interpreted as the knowledge of the prophets of God—the pure mirrors that reflect the Sun of Reality. Baha’u’llah in his later works elaborates further on the concept of the prophet of God, and in The Seven Valleys he alludes to himself as a new prophet of God, a “nightingale” who will “recount the mysteries of God” for all humanity.
But God is not man, and man cannot become God. In The Seven Valleys and his other mystical works, Baha’u’llah establishes a hierarchical order, then redefines unity as a unity of process, which traverses throughout all the hierarchical levels of reality. Even though this plane is limited, spiritual seekers are able to have transcending experiences; however, they go through this spiritual journey with the aid of the prophet of God. In other words, mystical experience is intrinsically tied to the successive appearance of religious dispensations and the stages of human spiritual development. That means the mystical phenomenon is continuous and progressive, finding its ultimate meaning in the fulfillment of God’s promise of human redemption and the actualization of a just global civilization.