Note: this is an early draft of an article, submitted by the author,
which later appeared in an edited form in the Journal of Bahá'í
Studies 6:1 (1994). Copyright restrictions apply.
This article intends to explore some of the seemingly abstruse concepts exposited by Bahá'u'lláh in "The Four Valleys." The first three Valleys are described as three aspects of the spiritual path to be trod by any human being, so that he/she may acquire knowledge of God, as realization of the self, through the use of his/her capacities of willing, knowing, and loving respectively. The fourth Valley is interpreted as describing the lofty and unattainable condition of the Manifestations of God, and as such, as offering a hint of the glory of the goal of perfection towards which human beings should strive, albeit assured that such a perfection will never be theirs.
L'auteur de cet article cherche à explorer quelques-uns des concepts plutôt abstrus exposés par Bahá'u'lláh dans <
>. L'article décrit les trois premières vallées comme étant trois aspects du cheminement spirituel que tout être humain doit faire pour parvenir à la connaissance de Dieu, alors vu comme la réalisation du soi par l'utilisation des capacités humaines que sont la volonté, la connaissance et l'amour. La quatrième vallée est interprétée comme étant une description de la condition élevée et inatteignable propre aux Manifestations de Dieu et, à ce titre, elle fournit un indice de la glorieuse nature de la perfection à laquelle devraient tendre les êtres humains, tout en sachant que jamais ils ne sauront atteindre pareille perfection.
Este escrito propone hacer exploración de conceptos al parecer recónditos expuestos por Bahá'u'lláh en "Los Cuatro Valles". Los primeros tres Valles se perciben como tres aspectos del sendero espiritual que deberá ser caminado por el ser humano, de tal manera que el o ella pueda adquirir conocimiento de Dios, al conocerse a sí mismo mediante el ejercicio de sus facultades de empeño decisivo, disposición de conocer, y voluntad de amar, respectivamente. El Cuarto Valle se interpreta como una relación referente a la condición encumbrada e inalcanzable de las Manifestaciones de Dios, y que, dado lo anterior, vislumbra la gloria de la meta de perfección hacia la cual los seres humanos deberían esforzarse, asegurados al mismo tiempo que ese nivel de perfección nunca lo poseerán.
When Mírzá Husayn-`Alí from Núr, known as Bahá'u'lláh, composed His short but profound mystical treatises "The Seven Valleys" and "The Four Valleys," He was living in Baghdád where He had been exiled in 1853 by Násiri'd-Dín Sháh who feared him because of the spiritual ascendancy Bahá'u'lláh had been gaining throughout the Shah's empire. In the early years of his exile, Bahá'u'lláh had retired on Mount Sar-Galú in Kurdistán, where he lived in seclusion for two years (from 10 April 1954 to 19 March 1856). During that period, while leading the life of a darvísh, He was in contact with eminent Sufi leaders, with whom He weaved an intense dialogue upon themes of interest for their School, thus becoming renowned as a sage.
His advice was sought by spiritual seekers. His answers to their questions were mostly given verbally but sometimes took a written form. Among these written answers are the two epistles entitled "The Seven Valleys" and "The Four Valleys." The former, addressed to Shaykh Muhíyi'd-Dín, judge of Khániqayn, is a real treatise, which "may well be regarded as His greatest mystical composition (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By 140)." The latter, a treatise of lesser dimension and importance, is a written answer to the learned Shaykh `Abdu'r-Rahmán-i-Karkúkí, the head of the mystic Khálidíyyih confraternity of Kurdistán. These letters, written in the late 1850s and addressed to two different Sufi leaders of that time, are deliberately conceived in a ciphered language that, albeit suited to their addressees, may prove difficult for anyone unfamiliar with themes and idioms typical of that mysticism. This paper intends to explore some of the seemingly abstruse concepts exposited by Bahá'u'lláh in "The Four Valleys".
Bahá'u'lláh announces His intention of writing a treatise on the stages of the heart at the very end of "The Seven Valleys," which he presents as a description of "the seven stages which the soul of the seeker must needs traverse ere it can attain the object of his existence (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By 140)." Whoever has entered into the seventh Valley, the Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness, has certainly reached a very important turning-point in his/her spiritual life. That seeker has begun to learn how to forget his/her limited personal self, how to concentrate his/her human capacities on the Self of God, the Divine Manifestation on earth, and how to submit his/her will to the Will of God as expressed by the Manifestation, through a wholehearted adherence to God's Laws.
And yet Bahá'u'lláh says that although this Valley is reckoned by them "who soar in the heaven of singleness and reach to the sea of the Absolute ... as the furthermost state of mystic knowers (`arifán)," and the farthest homeland of the lovers (`ashiqán)', nevertheless it is just "the first gate of the heart's citadel, that is, man's first entrance to the city of the heart ... (madíniy-i-qalb)" (Valleys 41). If the inner meanings of the word heart (Arabic: qalb; Persian: dil) are considered, this statement will become clearer: submission to the Manifestation of God through a strict adherence to divine laws is the indispensable prerequisite for anyone who wants to start exploring the mysterious expanses of his/her heart, the seat of his/her inner Self.
Bahá'u'lláh goes on to announce that "the heart is endowed with four stages (chihar-i-rutbih)" and promises to describe them, "should a kindred soul be found" (Valleys 41). "The `.Four Valleys" is just this promised description.
The epistle begins with an exquisitely flourished prologue, which is not a mere homage to the classical Persian epistolary style. It also conveys at least two important spiritual concepts. The first one is that "faithfulness is a duty on those who follow the mystic way ... [and] the true guide to His Holy Presence" (Valleys 48). "Faithfulness" translates the Arabic istiqámat, which conveys also the idea of "perseverance." It also has the same root as the Arabic word istiqámuwá, mentioned in the quranic verse quoted immediately after, and translated as "those ... who go straight to Him" (Valleys 48). A similar idea is also expressed in other words in the Valley of Love: "... if he [the wayfarer] strive for a hundred thousand years and yet fail to behold the beauty of the Friend, he should not falter" (Valleys 5). The second concept is that "it is contrary to the usage of the wise to express My regard anew ..." (Valleys 48). A similar concept is also expressed in The Hidden Words: "The wise are they that speak not unless they obtain a hearing, even as the cup-bearer, who proffereth not his cup till he findeth a seeker, and the lover who crieth not out from the depths of his heart until he gazeth upon the beauty of his beloved" (34-35).
At the end of his prologue, Bahá'u'lláh abruptly introduces his main theme: "Those who progress in mystic wayfaring (samavát-i-sulúk) are of four kinds (chihar táyifih)" (Valleys 49). He presents them as wanderers who traverse four different Valleys, described as spiritual stations (maqám, rutbih). In each of these Valleys he describes "grades" (martibat) and "qualities" (alámat), as though implying that in each Valley the mystic wayfarer will continuously and gradually move towards his/her intended goal.
The travelers are called with different names in each of the Valleys: "travelers" (sálikán) in the First and in the Second, "loving seekers" (`áshiqán, literally: lovers) in the Third, and "mystic knowers" (`arifán) in the Fourth. They differ from each other because they have chosen different spiritual goals. Bahá'u'lláh describes each of these goals through a divine attribute: "the goal of the Intended One" (ka`biy-i-maqsúd)', "the dwelling of the Praiseworthy One" (hujrihy-i-mahmúd)', "the precincts of the Attracting One" (bayt-i-majdhúb)," and "the beauty (the beauteous countenance) of the Beloved" (tal`at-i-mahbúb), in each of the four Valleys respectively.
In reality these goals are but one and the same: God Himself, as manifested in four of His infinite attributes. But for the wayfarers, their aiming at different attributes of God implies different attitudes. In fact each of these stations "appertaineth" to a different spiritual reality: "the self" (nafs) or more exactly "the Self of God" (nafsu'lláh), "the primal reason" (`aql) and "the beauty of love" (tal`at-i-`iu>shq) in the first three Valleys, "the apex of consciousness (`arsh-i-faw'ád) and the secret of divine guidance" (sirr-i-rashad) in the Fourth. Apart from the Fourth Valley, which seems precluded to any human being, the others seem not to be mutually exclusive.
If we reflect on the meanings of these spiritual realities, we may find a possible key to at least partially understand the meaning of each Valley. The purpose of human life is to know God. To know God means to know His Manifestation. To know God's Manifestation implies to be willing and able to express, in the form of spiritual ideas, feelings, words and deeds, the inner reality of one's true self, through a faithful adherence to God's laws. Therefore these three Valleys may be seen as three aspects of the spiritual path to be tread by any human being, so that he/she may acquire knowledge of God, as realization of the self. In each Valley a different instrument is described through which the object of the spiritual quest may be attained. The first Valley, which is the station of the "self," may be viewed as the spiritual path wherein knowledge of God is being searched through a correct use of will. The second Valley, which is the station of the "primal reason," may be viewed as the spiritual path wherein knowledge of God is being searched through a correct use of the capacity of knowing. The third Valley, which is the station of the "beauty of love," may be viewed as the spiritual path wherein knowledge of God is being searched through love. Thus these three different kinds of spiritual wayfarers may be seen as three different aspects of any human being in his/her process of learning how to use inner capacities of willing, knowing and loving respectively, while pursuing the purpose of life: the knowledge of God. And these three Valleys may be viewed as descriptions of what is required for these inner capacities to be developed and of what happens while they grow within the hearts of the seekers.
A first question arises: Is there any hierarchical meaning in the order wherewith these three Valleys are described? From the study of the writings of Bahá'u'lláh knowledge seems to be preeminent upon will and love. And yet in this epistle, knowledge is dealt with after will. One of the reasons why knowledge has been postponed to will may be that these three Valleys describe the condition of souls who already had the experiences described in "The Seven Valleys." Therefore those souls has already used their power of knowing in order to perform their highest act of will, i.e., turning themselves towards the True Beloved. Only then they were enabled to proceed towards a more complete development of their capacities of knowing, loving and willing.
The first spiritual quality that comes to mind while reading these words is "assertiveness," as clearly defined by Linda Kavelin Popov: "Being assertive means to be positive and confident ... being aware that you are a worthy person created by God. You have your very own special gifts. Only you have your unique combination of qualities" (Virtues Guide 61).
In fact Bahá'u'lláh states that this station belongs not to any "self" (nafs) whatsoever, but to "The Self of God (nafsu'lláh) standing within Him with laws" (Valleys 50). Here the conditions are described under which the self, as concupiscible soul (an-nafsu'l-ammára), may be changed into a well-pleasing self, i.e., a "soul at rest" (an-nafsu'l-mut.ma`inna) (Qur'án 12:53; 89:27). These are the conditions under which the self as "individuality," that is, as a potential nucleus of divine individual qualities within a person, may grow into an actual heavenly entity, a spiritually mature human being.
First of all the self should be loved. The seeker should be conscious that he/she is not merely a clever animal but is a being endowed with a spiritual potentiality of greatness and nobility. The seat of this potentiality, which is the core of the seeker's individuality, is his/her inner essence, and may be viewed as his/her archetype. It is often metaphorically called "heart," the true self. In the physical plane of existence, the seeker should learn to love and to know this reality, by learning how to produce, through the instrumentality of his/her body and his/her "natal self," the thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds worthy of its exalted station (`Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation 310).  The material qualities of the natal or carnal self (an-nafsu'l-ammára) should be metaphorically killed, as Abraham's "four birds of prey," and replaced by the divine qualities of the spiritual self (an-nafsu'l-mutma`inna). Bahá'u'lláh writes in one of his Tablets: "All that which ye potentially possess can ... be manifested only as a result of your own volition" (Gleanings 149). Therefore this stage could possibly be viewed as the stage of human will.
The beginning of this station "is the realm of conflict," the conflict typical of a human being who is still unable to properly use his/her psychophysical entity, in order to produce spiritual thoughts, feelings, words and deeds, mainly because he/she has not yet made a definite choice between the material world from which he/she was born and the spiritual worlds towards which he/she is, albeit yet unconsciously, moving. But God is ready to assist him/her in this choice, in his/her striving towards the perfection of the Self. God shows to him/her signs both in the outer and in the inner worlds, so that he/she may be able to recognize their real meaning: doors opened towards the knowledge of God. A deep philosophical concept is involved in this statement. There is a correspondence between the inner and the outer worlds. Both of them are characterized by an intrinsic order and rationality. But whereas order and rationality are necessary in the outer world, they are the result of a conscious act of volition in the inner world of man. And yet there is in this inner world a potentiality of order and rationality that enables man to identify these attributes, and thus to know and to understand them.
The inner signs may be the same divine qualities God vouchsafed to each human being when He created him. The outer signs are the worlds of creation themselves. But the greatest of all those signs is the Manifestation of God, through whose guidance man can attain to the recognition of the truth that "there is no God but Him" (Valleys 51).
If the qualities of the self must be fully realized, we on the one hand should learn how to "read the book of [our] own self" (kitáb-i-nafs) (Valleys 51), i.e., our own personal qualities. On the other hand, we should never "forget God" (Valleys 52), i.e., we should always adhere to the divine laws, as expressed through the Manifestation of God. Self-knowledge on the one hand and knowledge of God on the other seem to be the indispensable prerequisites for the true realization of the self. The most important quality for these two goals to be attained is self-effacement (mahv). Only if the traveler will be able to leave self behind, together with any passion and desire arising therefrom, will he/she be able metaphorically to fling himself into the waves of the Sea of Grandeur, wherein will be discovered concealed pearls of divine wisdom.
This experience seems very similar to that of the traveler passing through the Valley of Love and entering the Valley of Knowledge. Also there "must the veils of the satanic self (nafs-i-shaytání) be burned away," so "that the spirit may be purified and cleansed ..." (Valleys 11). While so doing, the traveler will experience many conflicts between the spiritual and the material side of his/her soul, i.e., our dual nature. But at the end, will the traveler "behold the mysteries of the Friend and attain to the lights of the Beloved" (Valleys 11, 17). It is then that "the throne of splendor" (`arsh-i-jalál) (Valleys 50) will be attained.
This is only an inadequate attempt to understand part of the truth enshrined within this precious jewel. But what about feelings and experiences related to this Valley? Is the first Valley that condition when we human beings try to surmount an obstacle hindering us from expressing a divine quality or a feeling constraining us into an attitude of selfishness? It is then that we realize how difficult is to forget attachments, habits, cherished ideas, and to jump into the sea of life. This huge sea is both attracting and frightening. And like the grammarian of the tale (Valleys 51), we often dwell and hesitate on its shores, looking sometimes in envy to others who, like the mystic knower, are already swimming among its waves. Only when we are willing to accept the Will of God, whatsoever it may be, can we seize the opportunities of life, at whatever level of our existence. It is the struggle of decision, of the choice, whatever it may be. And yet it is indispensable to know how to choose, or we will remain motionless on the shores of the sea of life. By far the greatest help in the choices that life requires is to have chosen our supreme Object of love. This is the most important choice: the Beloved. Whoever forgets or denies God will come to nothing. His heart will fall prey to anguish and fears, because real self will have been forgotten, and the great obscurity of the ignorance of self will fill him/her with suspicion, fright and despair. But if the initial conflict is overcome, then action itself will bestow its inner gifts of joy. And what about the results in practical life? They seem to be but in His hands and as such to be accepted.
While describing this Valley, Bahá'u'lláh says how knowledge may be attained: knowledge is a gift of God. That is why "to search after knowledge is irrelevant ..." (Valleys 53): it is only through fear of God and through God's bounty that hearts will be enlightened. The required effort then is that minds may be taught "the science of the love of God! [literally: may be brought to the School of the Merciful (dabíristánu'l-Rahmán)]" (Valleys 52). Being steadfast in the love of God and detached from "merchandise" and "traffic" (Valleys 53); that the heart may be prepared and "be worthy of the descent of the heavenly grace" (Valleys 54); relying on God's assistance and submitting to God's will, with the assurance that "guided indeed is he whom God guideth ..."these are the prerequisites for anyone who wants to reap the fruits of true knowledge. And when those prerequisites will have been fulfilled, then will God bestow the bounty of knowledge at God's own pleasure. The details of this process are illustrated through a verse from the Súrih of the Cave, wherein says Bahá'u'lláh "the mystery treasured in this plane is divulged ..." (Valleys 53).
The path is not smooth; the traveler will experience "trial and reverse." But at the end "the bounteous Cup-Bearer" will "give him to drink of the wine of bestowal from the merciful vessel" and in this exhilaration, from "the lowest abyss" the wayfarer will be drawn "to the summit of glory" (Valleys 53, 54, 53). In fact the traveler, having attained "the true standard of knowledge" (Valleys 53), will be free from tests and will experience that return to God which Bahá'u'lláh assures us to be possible even during this earthly life.
The idea of knowledge, as it emerges from the study of this Valley, seems quite different from the current idea of knowledge. Knowledge here is not intended as mere intellectual knowledge, which, albeit important and useful, may be the cause of pride and conceit. It is not this partial knowledge that will appease the heart. It is not comprehending a reality that cannot be comprehended in its wholeness that will save a person from the lowest abyss of his/her existence. The knowledge Bahá'u'lláh describes is something else. It is the knowledge that makes the heart fearful and mindful of its Creator, submitted to the Creator's will. That knowledge is light, a safeguard from tests. It is the knowledge of the Lord and of one's true self. There is but One Teacher from Whom such knowledge will be learned and Who manifests the Primal Reason, the Divine, Universal Mind. His School is the best one, because it is the School of God the Merciful (dabíristánu-l-Rahmán). It is pursuing this kind of knowledge that, in the metaphor of the Súrih of the Cave, light will leave "the left" of a "feeble brain" and rise above the "right" of an exhilarated heart (Valleys 52-53). In that condition, a human being will adopt a true standard of behavior. Life will be easier and freer from tests for him/her and for those nearby. Otherwise intellectual knowledge alone, with the sense of accomplishment, of superiority that sometimes it implies, can be a real trap for the deceived heart. It may be a cause of pride and vainglory, of great test for a person and for those about him. In later writings, however, Bahá'u'lláh dwells on the theme of knowledge at greater length, explaining how both intellectual and inner knowledge are praiseworthy, but intellectual knowledge is subordinated, in its importance as for its results, to spiritual knowledge.
The description of this Valley is reminiscent of the description of the Valley of Love in "The Seven Valleys." The prerequisites are the same: First of all the self should be forgotten. "Leave thyself behind, and then approach Me" (Valleys 55). Even reason should be abandoned, and love's "lunacies seventy-and-two" (Valleys 54) should be accepted. There is but one thing to do: to advance forthwith towards the Beloved.
Detachment seems the most important quality so that the spiritual capacity of love may be used in the best way and the lover may attain the supreme object of desire: the Attracting One. Detachment from the self implies unconditional obedience to the commandments of God, as exemplified by the "companions of the Cave" (Valleys 55), who preferred to seclude themselves in an obscure cave, where death would have been their undoubted lot, rather than sacrificing to the pagan gods. Detachment from the self implies a spirit of sacrifice, wherefore no battle is too difficult or unwelcome when "fought in the cause of the Beloved" (Valleys 55)." It implies detachment from "the reign of reason" (Valleys 55) and a willingness to accept any apparent insanity in the search of the pleasure of the Beloved.
All these nonsenses can the seeker accept, because of entering the "Tavern where the wine they buy and sell" (Valleys 56). the seeker has read the words of the Friend, has drunk them as a pure wine, and has become exhilarated. The seeker has gazed upon the face of the Beloved and therefrom has learned all he/she had to learn. The world of creation, here symbolized through "His musky hair," and the world of human knowledge, here epitomized as Avicenna's "Cyclic Scheme" (Valleys 56), are but an introduction to the knowledge that can be acquired through the Beloved. It is then that "the mote of knowledge in [his] spirit" is able "to escape desire and the lowly clay" and the "drop of wisdom" of the cleansed soul can at last "merge with [God's] mighty sea" (Valleys 57).
Love--a magical word. Romanticism has tinged the idea of love with a hue of outer beauty that is often untrue. Therefore sometimes people are in love with love itself and yet wholly ignorant of its often challenging reality. Love is difficult; it is hard to love, hard to be loved. There is in this act a resemblance to death itself. To accept or to give love means to renounce a part of oneself. That is why love is crazy and blind. How will a living being accept an experience reminiscent of death? And yet the awareness of death and life is such as to change according to the level of inner experience one has reached. Is not death sometime the beginning of life?
To love means to be conscious of, and to surrender to, a powerful, irresistible attraction towards the Beloved. Only motion towards the Beloved brings peace to the heart. Any other experience is utterly irrelevant. Love demands a nearness, which appeases the longing heart, only when it is so close as to imply a complete identification between the lover and the Beloved. It is like a humble drop of water merging with the mighty sea.
Only the power of this attraction enables "these loving seekers" to accept such detachment as nearness requires. In their effort to reach the Beloved, they forget everything: self, reason, human ties. It is then that a battle, with all its ensuing pain, may appear as a "beauty's bower" (Valleys 55). It is then that the stony path of love will be accepted in its sometimes outwardly repelling aspects. But at the end of this path an inner joy is waiting, arising from the abandonment of "the lowly clay" with all its hindering weight and from the longed for reunion with "the mighty sea" (Valleys 57).
To summarize the first three Valleys: in the first Valley, the self, with its aspiration to realize its hidden potentialities and to become similar to the Self of God, requires the capacity of willing, intended as willingness to turn towards the True Beloved, willingness to choose a course of action, to determine which thoughts, feelings, words, deeds to manifest in this earthly life so that the self may be transformed into a divine, angelic identity. In the second Valley, reason, in its yearning to acquire knowledge of outer and inner reality, requires the guidance of a divine universal mind that will "teach it the science of the love of God" (Valleys 52). The acceptance of this guidance is the secret to acquiring a real and sound knowledge. No book is necessary. What is required is submission to the Will of God, in the assurance that God is omniscient and omnipotent, and reason can but bow before God. This is the essence of such a fear of God as will fling wide opened the doors to real and sound knowledge. In the third Valley, love, in its aspiration of immersing itself in the Sea of the Attracting One, requires the capacity of surrendering to the Beloved, whatever the price, in the assurance that this surrender is the essence of all joy.
The spiritual adventures described in these three Valleys differ from each other only in their details: the major themes are common to all three. The traveler starts from a condition of conflict and trial, from which emergence will only be possible if the traveler initiates the independent action of cleansing the heart, through submission to the Will of God. Thus, if with God's assistance, the wayfarer will reach the goal of selflessness, wherein will he/she experience a condition of contentment and joy.
As to the initial condition of conflict and trial, in the first Valley Bahá'u'lláh writes that "at the beginning this plane is the realm of conflict (mahall-i-jidál), ..."; in the second Valley: "On this plane, the traveler meeteth with many a trial (talátum) and reverse (tamátám)"; and in the third Valley: "... and to them beauty's bower differeth not from the field of a battle (maydán-i-jidál) fought in the cause of the Beloved (dar sabíl-i-mahbúb, literally: upon the path of the Beloved]." And moreover: ""The pain of Thee (jawr-at) hath firmly barred the gate of hope (dar-i-umíd) as well" (Valleys 50, 53, 55, 56).
The need of human independent action is described with the following words. In the first Valley, Bahá'u'lláh writes: "One must, then, read the book of his own self (kitába'n-nafs), rather than some treatise on rhetoric," a concept that is elaborated in "the story ... of a mystic knower (`árif-i-iláhí) who ... straightway flung himself into the waves,..." suggesting to his wavering companion: "`Be nothing, then, and walk upon the waves'." In the second Valley, Bahá'u'lláh reminds that "... a man should make ready his heart (dil) that it be worthy of the descent of heavenly grace, ...'. In the third Valley, Bahá'u'lláh says that "the denizens of this plane speak no wordsbut they gallop their chargers" (Valleys 51, 51-2, 54, 55). In the second Valley, Bahá'u'lláh quotes the following verse from the Qur'án: "`For the like of this let the travailers travail'" (37:59, quoted in Valleys 54).
This required ation is mainly in the direction of cleansing the heart. In the first Valley, Bahá'u'lláh counsels the wayfarer: "`Kill these four birds of prey', that after death the riddle of life may be unraveled," and quotes from the Qur'án: "`Oh, thou soul which are at rest, Return to Thy Lord, well-pleased, and pleasing unto Him ... '" (89:27-30, quoted in Valleys 50). In the second Valley, Bahá'u'lláh points out that "... a man should make ready his heart that it be worthy of the descent of the heavenly grace ..." And in the third Valley, Bahá'u'lláh quotes a prayer by Rúmí: "... Grant that the mote of knowledge in my spirit (dharrihy-i-`ilmí kih dar ján-i-man ast) / Escape desire and the lowly clay (va rahán-ash az havá va kháq-i-past)" (Valleys 54, 57), clearly requesting that the heart may be cleansed.
This cleansing of the heart may be obtained only through a wholehearted submission to the Will of God. In the first Valley, Bahá'u'lláh says: "... this station appertaineth to the selfbut that self which is `The self of God standing within Him with laws' (nafsu'lláhu qa`imatun fíhi bi'l-sunan)," and: "This is the plane of the self that is well-pleasing unto God" (nafs-i-mardíyyih)" (Valleys 47) and suggests: "`And be ye not like those who forget God ...'" (Qur'án 59:19, quoted in Valleys 52). In the second Valley, Bahá'u'lláh thus admonishes the seeker:
Wouldst thou that the mind should not entrap thee?
Teach it the science of the love of God! (gúsh girash dar dabíristání al-Rahmán darár)
(Literally: take hold of it, and bring it to the School of the Merciful) (Valleys 52).
Whereas in the third Valley He quotes the example of the companions of the Cave described in the Qur'án as them who "speak not till He hath spoken; and ... do His bidding" (21:27, quoted in Valleys 55).
The goal of selflessness is clearly indicated in the first Valley with the following words:
The death of self (mahv) is needed here, not rhetoric (nahv):
Be nothing (mahví), then, and walk upon the waves (Valleys 52).
In the second Valley, the companions of the Cave are again mentioned as examples of selflessness: "`Men whom neither merchandise nor traffic beguile from the remembrance of God' (dhikru'lláh) ..." (Qur'án 24:37, quoted in Valleys 53) and the following verse of the Qur'án is quoted: "`Verily we are from God, and to Him shall we return'" (Qur'án 37:59, quoted in Valleys 54). In the third Valley, Bahá'u'lláh quotes a tradition: "Hence, one of the Prophets of God hath asked: `O my Lord, how shall we reach unto Thee?' And the answer came, `Leave thyself behind, and then approach Me'" (Valleys 55).
However, for the goal of selflessness to be attained, the help of God is required. Bahá'u'lláh explains this concept, quoting once more a number of verses from the Qur'án: "`Hereafter We will show them Our signs in the regions of the earth, and in themselves, until it become manifest unto them that it is the truth'..." (Qur'án 41:53, quoted in Valleys 51) in the first Valley; "`Guided indeed is he whom God guideth; but for him whom He misleadeth, thou shalt by no means find a patron'" (Qur'án 18:16, quoted in Valleys 53) in the second Valley; "`There is no power or might save in God, the Protector, the Self-Subsisting'" (Qur'án 18:37, quoted in Valleys 57) in the third Valley.
And at last Bahá'u'lláh describes the final condition of joy and contentment attained by the seeker, when He writes that the first Valley "endeth in attainment to the throne of splendor" (arsh-i-jalál) and quotes the Qur'án: "And enter thou My paradise" (89:30, quoted in Valleys 50). He says moreover that the second Valley "conferreth the true standard (mízán)of knowledge, and freeth man from tests (páyán-i-imtihán: end of tests)" (Valleys 53). And in the third Valley, Bahá'u'lláh quotes the following prayer:
Grant that Thine ancient gift, this drop of wisdom, (dharrihy-i-`ilmí)Thus, if the starting points and the spiritual realities to which these three Valleys are ascribed are different, their courses do not seem so far from each other. A prerequisite is common to the three of them: forgetting the self by leaving behind anything the self has acquired which does not conform to the divine Will, by being ready to do anything so that the Beloved's will may be realized, and by becoming the Beloved's willing, conscious and loving instruments.
Merge with Thy mighty sea (daryáhy-i-khísh (Valleys 54).
Human beings differ from one another, and different human beings may privilege one or the other aspect of the willing, knowing and loving capacities of their soul. And yet, the fulfillment of the purpose of human life requires an harmonious development of all these capacities. This is why it seems likely that each human being must have an experience of each of these three Valleys. Otherwise growth could be unbalanced.
The opening words of the description of this Valley announce that it is different from the others. In those Valleys Bahá'u'lláh spoke of goals to be searched for, or of precincts within which "the loving seekers wish(ed) to live," but here He describes "mystic knowers" (`arifán) "who have [already] reached to the beauty of the Beloved One ..." Their "station is the apex of consciousness and the secret of divine guidance." (Valleys 54, 57) Beyond this no one can go.
Bahá'u'lláh says very clearly that no human being can fully understand this condition. It is a "bottomless" and fathomless sea; "it is the blackest of nights ..." (Valleys 58). And even those who know its secrets will explain them only if they will meet true seekers, albeit they are conscious that by so doing they will be persecuted even to death. But in this stage there is no fear, neither of pain nor of death: there are only "full awareness," "utter self-effacement" and complete detachment (Valleys 60).
It is while Bahá'u'lláh describes this condition that he makes what Bausani defined as Bahá'u'lláh's "confession" (Saggi 472) of divinity, having caught, like the Jacob of old, "the fragrance of His garment blowing from the Egypt of Bahá" (Valleys 59), Bahá'u'lláh is ready to obey "the duty of long years of love" and give the announcement of his lofty station, so "that land and sky may laugh aloud today, / And it may gladden mind and heart and eye (Valleys 60).
Such is the self-effacement in this station, that even love is perceived as "a veil betwixt the lover and the beloved," and as a shroud that will lessen the joy of nearness to such a "beauty's rose" (Valleys 60). Was not in fact the Manifestation of God described as "the Primal Veil of God" a Veil above which "ye can find nothing other than God ..." (The Báb, Selections 131)?
Bahá'u'lláh defines this Valley as "the realm of Absolute Command (`alam-i-amr)" (Valleys 60), which among the divine kingdoms described by Islamic mystics is the realm wherein the Divine Manifestations abide invested with Their full authority over all created things.
He describes "the exalted dwellers in this mansion" as kingly personages sat upon "the Throne of the Ancient of Days ... in the Empyrean of Might within the Lofty Pavilion," wielding "divine authority" and bearing "a kingly sceptre," issuing their commands and bestowing "gifts according to each man's deserving" (Valleys 60-61). Their condition is that of perfect peace. And yet they are in continuous activity and proffer an incorruptible food and a delicate draught that confer knowledge, love, faith and power to anyone who partakes of them.
Bahá'u'lláh describes other qualities of this Valley as the Great Infallibility, astonishment, and poverty. The Great Infallibility (`ismat), the intrinsic attribute of the Manifestations of God, will be exhaustively explained by Bahá'u'lláh in later Writings. Bahá'u'lláh dwelt on astonishment (hayrat) and poverty (faqr-i-baht) in "The Seven Valleys" (31-41).
Webster's dictionary defines astonishment as "the state ... of one who is astonished" and "astonish" as "to strike with a sudden sense of surprise or wonder especially through something unexpected or difficult to accept as true or reasonable" (135). Saccone, while commenting upon the word hayrat within the context of `Attar's poem "The Language of the Birds" (Mantiqu't-Tayr), writes:
Hayrat (astonishment, perplexity) is `a feeling of dismay or perplexity in front of a situation which appears as having no way out, or in front of incompatible truth on the rational level. It is the ultimate crisis of a mind which meets with its own limits' (T. Burckardt, Letters of a Sufi Master). In his "Description of the Valley of Wonderment," `Attár speaks about hayrat as the mental condition of anyone who has seen what he does not know and makes every effort so that he may remember, a conception reminiscent of Platonic anamnesis. Astonishment is also a term which describes the psycological condition of anyone who ignores the divine unity and is confused by the multiplicity of phenomena.
Elsewhere he writes:
Astonishment (hayrat) presupposes a `reminiscence' of a lost communion of the soul with the divine, takes on the form of an irreversible crisis of estrangement from the phenomenal world and of an initial awareness of an urgent `return.'
Therefore it seems that in Islamic tradition astonishment is viewed as an inner feeling of bewilderment which comes upon anyone who is going through "a psychological reversal, that is also an overthrow of common values, typical of any mystical experience" (Saccone, Verbo degli Uccelli 229, n. 19), wherefore suddenly the concrete (matter) becomes unreal and the abstract (the spiritual) becomes concrete. Thus any previous perspective is reversed, and any relation is cut short with anyone who did not go through the same experience.
The concept of poverty in Islam is thus commented upon by Bausani:
The concept of poverty is very ancient in Islám and goes back to the very frugal and sober ways of the Prophet himself, because of his direct contact with the simple customs of the Arabs of the desert. According to a famous, frequently quoted by mystics, hadît., he said al-faqru fahrí (`poverty is my vaunt'). However, Faqr was often interpreted as a metaphor, namely as not having any personal merit, being nothing, the poorest of all the poor ones in front of the supreme wealth of the Wealthy One; however orders of true faqír do exist ... . (Author's translation of L'Islam 93)
Because of these qualities, the Manifestations of God enjoy the perfect nearness to God, and may be identified with God: "they see with His eyes, ear with His ears" and if they "say `Be', ... it is ..." (Valleys 63).
At the end of his explanation of this exalted station, Bahá'u'lláh reminds his addressee that all He said is but "a single Point" (Valleys 63) when compared to a whole discourse. The mystery of their station is bound to remain unveiled to human eyes.
In the conclusion of his short but precious epistle, Bahá'u'lláh returns to the flourished style of the prologue. And yet he also conveys other important meanings. He reminds his addressee that "Love's secrets" are better said "some other way" (Valleys 64). Inner realities can be better conveyed through images and metaphors, as Bahá'u'lláh actually did in his epistle. Moreover, they can be said only to a certain extent. Beyond this it is impossible to proceed, both for the incapacity of the addressees and also for the lofty station of the Lord, defying any attempt of describing His greatness. As Bahá'u'lláh concludes his epistle: "Far be the glory of thy Lord, the Lord of all greatness, from what they affirm of Him" (Qur'án 37:180, quoted in Valleys 65).
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 In the exposition of this commentary any expressed idea is offered only as a possible interpretation. The meanings of words and sentences are always intended as one of their many possible meanings. Albeit such locutions as "It seems that when Bahá'u'lláh said so and so, he may have expressed the idea that ...", or "This is one of the meanings of such and such words written by Bahá'u'lláh ..." would clearly convey the exact intention of this author, nonetheless, their continuous repetition would have hindered the flow of the text. For this reason, they are not always explicitly expressed. From now on they are always implied.
 As to the word mystic knowers (`arifán), it is interesting to note that this Arabic word has the same root as the word `irfán, which can be translated as "inner knowledge." The Valley of Knowledge is vádíy-i-`irfán. Therefore, `árifán could be those seekers who have acquired "inner knowledge," the knowledge of the heart. As to the meaning of `árif in the Islamic philosophical thought, Alessandro Bausani describes the `árif as "the gnostic who considers the whole philosophy as a mere introduction to a fulfilling `vision' which is utterly unknown to our modern philosophy and perhaps also to the purest Aristotelism of Averroës" (Persia Religiosa 215).
 This concept is explained by W.S. Hatcher, who writes: "A close examination of the psychology of the spiritual growth process as presented in the Bahá'í writings indicates that the proper and harmonious functioning of our basic spiritual capacities depends on recognizing a hierarchical relationship among them. At the apex of this hierarchy is the knowing capacity" ("Concept of Spirituality" 19-20). W.S. Hatcher confirms his statement through a passage by Bahá'u'lláh: "First and foremost among these favors, which the Almighty hath conferred upon man, is the gift of understanding" (Gleanings 194).
 From the point of view of comparative religion, these three valleys may be compared to the three ways of achieving salvation from suffering (Moksha) described by Hinduistic religions: the way of deeds (Karma-márga), the path of enlightenment (Jñána-márga), and the path of love and worship (Bhakti-márga).
 "Natal self" is a locution `Abdu'l-Bahá uses to describe humankind's animal nature, with its natural emotions, which may be gratified and nurtured until it becomes the governor of human life or which may be educated and transformed into an instrument for humankind's divine nature, that it may express its divine qualities in the form of spiritual thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds.
 In "An Analysis of The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh," W.S. Hatcher describes "the ongoing and eternal encounter between God and humanitybetween us and the One who created us." He says that "As humans, we encounter or experience the divine in at least three ways. First, through the orderly, regular, and lawful character of the physical universe, we encounter God as Creator ... Second, we encounter God through the Person of the various Manifestations or Revelators who have appeared in history. These are the founders of the great religions, the divine Messengers ... Third, we experience God as an indwelling spirit within our own hearts" (75). He adds then: "...by instituting on earth the Administrative Order of the Bahá'í Dispensation, God has made available to humankind an entirely new experience of Himselfthe experience of the divine presence within a collective institution whose members are ordinarily endowed human beings" (Hatcher, "An Analysis" 89-90).
 Words of ancient wisdom ring back in the ears. Krishna's answer to doubtful Arjuna who was asking him why should he act, was: "...always perform the action that must be performed, free of attachments [to its results, a.n.] ..." (Baghavad-Gitá 3:19).
 `Abdu'l-Bahá commented on this theme: "Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning .... The reason for this is that the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned. If, however, the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light" (Selections 135-36).
 Bausani writes that in the Persian poetical cyphered language the "`Tavern' [is] a symbol of esoterical knowledge" (Persia Religiosa 307). Of course "esoterical knowledge" may be here intended as "inner or spiritual knowledge". It should be observed, moreover, that a "Tavern" is a forbidden and immoral place in the Islamic world, in view of the quranic prohibition of drinking alcohol. Therefore the idea of the insanity of lovers is here stressed.
 In the original text these sentences convey deeper philosophical allusions than in the English version. The sentences "wield divine authority" (ulúhíyyat mí-namáyand) and "bear a kingly sceptre" (rubúbíyyat mí-farmayand) clearly refer to the "mystic knowers" abiding in this station as partakers of the station of ulúhíyyat, which may be translated as "Godhead," and of rubúbíyyat, which may be translated as "Lordship."
 See for example Tablets 108-9, as well as Kitáb-i-Aqdas, para. 47, 183. `Abdu'l-Bahá explains that "infallibility" of the Manifestations of God means that "whatever emanates from Them is identical with truth, and conformable to reality," that "They are not under the shadow of the former laws," and "Whatever They say is the word of God, and whatever They perform is an upright action" (Some Answered Questions 173).
 Saccone in `Attár, Verbo degli Uccelli 156, n. 4; 209, n. 27. The concept of astonishment is not extraneous to the earliest Christian tradition. Clement of Alexandria (second-third century) ascribes to Jesus Christ the following statements: "Whosoever is astonished will reign" (Stromata 2:9) and: "Whosoever seeks out will not stop until he has found. As soon as he finds, he will be astonished, and inasmuch as he is astonished, he will reign. And as he will have attained unto the kingdom, he will rest" (Stromata 5:14).