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Spirituality

Walking the Valley of Spiritual Knowledge

Behrooz Sabet | Jun 21, 2017

PART 2 IN SERIES The Seven Valleys: Baha'u'llah's Social Mysticism

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Behrooz Sabet | Jun 21, 2017

PART 2 IN SERIES The Seven Valleys: Baha'u'llah's Social Mysticism

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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.

Baha’u’llah explained:

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.

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Comments

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  • Jun 29, 2017
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    Superb! However, the conclusion that "In other words, mystical experience is intrinsically tied to the successive appearance of religious dispensations and the stages of human spiritual development." may be misunderstood to mean that the Manifestations of God brought different spiritual messages.
    The Baha'i writings record that the Divine Religions, those brought by a Manifestation of God, are of two parts - the spiritual essentials and the secondary social laws. The spiritual elements never change. Hence, the mystical truths offered through the teachings of the Christ are the same as those of Baha'u'llah, with no addition or abrogation. For example, both ...Manifestations of God proclaim that we must be born again to have eternal life.
    Read more...
    • Jun 30, 2017
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      You said "The spiritual essentials are also progressively cumulative." Where is that principle found in the Writings? Thank you.
      It is not possible in a comment to present the concept of the unchanging nature of the spiritual aspects of all divine religions. And links in comments do not work. So, I will offer but one quote: "Those foundations of the religion of God, however, which are spiritual and consist in human virtues, are never subject to abrogation but are eternal and everlasting, and are renewed in every prophetic Dispensation. The second part of the religion of God, which pertains to ...the material world..."
      (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 2014 ed.)
      Read more...
    • Jun 30, 2017
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      You said "The spiritual essentials are also progressively cumulative." Where is that principle found in the Writings? Thank you.
      It is not possible in a comment to present the concept of the unchanging nature of the spiritual aspects of all divine religions but you can refer to http://overmywaders.com/Bahai/Divine_Religion_is_of_Two_Parts.pdf for supporting quotes from the Writings.
    • Behrooz Sabet
      Jun 29, 2017
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      Thank you. The spiritual essentials are also progressively cumulative. Humankind through successive stages of the divine revelation has developed a more refined understanding of mystical truths and has accumulated more knowledge about God and his role in history. Furthermore, the spiritual and social purposes of religion influence each other. As the universal purpose expands, its social framework also needs to be constructed. If the love of country required the social framework of nation building, the love of humanity requires world unity and the establishment of a global civilization. Hence, Baha’u’llah’s dynamic spirituality teaches us that building a just and peaceful ...world lies at the heart of the mystical experience.
      Read more...
  • Jessie Janet Gleason Haworth
    Jun 22, 2017
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    This article was so helpful, especially in understanding the nuance of the definition of which knowledge was being referenced.
    • Behrooz Sabet
      Jun 29, 2017
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      Thank you, Jessie Janet Gleason Haworth.
  • Seire Toure
    Jun 22, 2017
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    This series is amazing, thank you for sharing and deepening our spirits!
    • Behrooz Sabet
      Jun 29, 2017
      -
      Thank you, Seire.
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