Friday, November 18, 2011

The Four Valleys

I'm gonna take a break today. I was going to write a bit about that prescription the Divine Physician prescribed for today, but it's really just too heavy for me, and I feel like a spiritual wimp today. Maybe I strained a spiritual muscle this past weekend. Who knows?

Besides, there is so much going on in the news with the Occupy movement today that it is difficult to separate the spectacle from the substance. So, nope. Sorry. Not going to do it today.

Instead, I'm going to go with something that sort of crossed my mind this morning. On Facebook, someone commented that they were reading the little prayer book, "Blessed is the Spot", to their child, and that they loved it. But, they, the child, felt that the valleys and the land were not really worth mentioning. Gotta love kids. My comment was that without the valleys, there would be no mountains. (And without the land, well... you can just sort of fill in the blank from there.)

That sounded kind of profound to my spiritually wimpy ears, so I thought I would go with it.

Oh, not with that lame comparison, but with the idea of Valleys, capitalized. Four of them.

You may recall a fun little article I did a while ago about the Seven Valleys (one of my personal favorites), and I have long wanted to do something similar with the Four Valleys, but just never quite got around to it. Until today.

To start, let me make a completely non-scientific observation that will certainly raise many eyebrows, and probably evoke a flurry of e-mails. I've noticed that among those people I know, there is a fairly clear divide: most of the men prefer the Seven Valleys, while the women generally prefer the Four. Like I said, this is completely non-scientific, and just a personal observation, to which I am sure there are many exceptions. (Hopefully my inbox won't swell so much now.)

Why this would be the case, I'm not really sure. It may have to do with the linear nature of the Seven, and the idea that Four seem to be more like four paths leading to a central point. Who knows.

Anyways. This slender volume begins with an admonition that, while traditional in the sense of Persian literature and letters, hits home a little too closely for my liking. It raises that all-too-traditional sense of guilt, instilled so carefully by my Jewish upbringing in a Christian culture.

But not to fear! Baha'u'llah begins, as is also traditional, with an invocation of some attributes of God: He is the Strong, the Well-Beloved!

And thank God that He uses those attributes. They are, as ever, perfectly suitable for this work. Using my also-traditional method of macro / micro, I see this as a reminder that I do actually have some strength, and that I am loved by God (and my Mother, too, I'm sure).

What follows is a number of quotes asking why the reader, me in this case, has neglected the Writer, Baha'u'llah in this case, while all the time reminding the reader (me) of His (Baha'u'llah's) love. I can only sit here and say, "Yup. Guilty as charged." I'm sure I haven't paid as much attention to God, His Messenger, or generally good things as I should have.

It would be so easy at this point to go into a detailed analysis of all the various quotes He mentions, and so on and so forth, but really, I want to get to the Valleys themselves. You can read the whole Text here, if you want. (And I really encourage it.) (Oh, and this was the best link I could find. All the others have the Seven Valleys first, and you have to do tons of scrolling.)

* * * * *

Ok. Aside time, for a moment. I just re-read the whole text. Yes, that's right. All 18 small pages of it.

You see, this is how I work. I get an idea, write the intro, based on whatever whim I happen to be following at the moment, while keeping the text in mind, and then when I lose steam for the intro, I begin to read the text in question and write about it.

Well, that ain't gonna happen here.

I tried. And failed. Tried again. Failed once more. Gave up for a bit and did a math puzzle on-line (I just love kenken puzzles), and am now trying again. This time my wife is sitting next to me, so I actually have a chance of writing something reasonable.

Anyways, what happened, before she got home, is this: I re-read the text, and made a few notes, and realized that this is just way beyond me. (Must be because I'm a man, as my wife so lovingly pointed out.) (Since I'm reading this aloud as I type, she is now trying to defend that statement by saying that she is merely following my above logic regarding men and women, 7 and 4, and you know the rest.)

What I have so far, now that I'm not being interrupted anymore (dig dig), is this:

Bahá'u'lláh says that he will look into and describe the qualities and grades of four types of people "who progress in mystic wayfaring".

The four are, I think:
Those who journey first in the valley of self transformed to God-pleasing attributes.
Those who journey by rejecting self and patterning their lives after Divine reason.
Those who journey purely by the love of God.
Those who journey in what is termed a "secret" and "bottomless sea."
(These phrases are wonderfully supplied from a Wikipedia article on this Book. Thanks.) (You didn't really think I could sum it up so nicely myself, did you?)

He seems to prefer the last of these, which He seems to consider the highest or truest form of mystic union.

As you can see, this is really way beyond me.

So, what do I usually do when I feel something is way beyond my ken and understanding? I wing it.

It's interesting to note the order in which Baha'u'llah presents these:
Valley 1 - the goal is Maqsud, the Intended One
Valley 2 - the goal is Mahmud, the Praiseworthy One
Valley 3 - it's Majdhub, the Attracting One
Valley 4 - it's Mahbub, the Beloved One

Why? I have no idea.

Now my wife is stepping in and explaining it to me, and I'm typing what she says, as best I can.

She's telling me to look above, see what I already wrote.

In the first Valley, you look at what is within you, and promote the good stuff. This requires conscious intention. The Intended One. (She's so wise.)

In the second Valley, imagine how tough it is to reject self. Not only is it an intention, it requires a sacrifice. It is a great feat of will, steadfastness. The first valley requires effort, but in the second, he sacrifices what is bad, and concentrates, focuses on God's teachings. Is this not eminently praiseworthy?

(I can only sit here in awe as she snarfs down olives and cheese.)

This is a great path, and yet it is not Baha'u'llah's favored one yet. Let's move on.

In the third Valley, it is no longer about themselves. They are no longer the author of their own transformation. It is very reminiscent of some new-born Christians. They say that your actions do not warrant your saving. Only your love of God allows you to change, and it is the Lord that transforms you. It is their love of God that is attracting these divine blessings, what these people would call "salvation". That is why they seek the environs of the Attracting One, so that they can attract these blessings.

So far, it would appear that these goals are all separate, but in reality we know that they are all attributes and titles of God. We may seek God, the Intended One, and Baha'u'llah describes how this works. Or we may seek God, the Praiseworthy, and Baha'u'llah describes this path. Alternatively, we may seek God, the Attracting One, and this is yet another path.

Now, we are given the fourth path that He describes in this Book: the path to God, the Beloved. In this path, we recognize that God loves us, far beyond our comprehension, and that whatever is put in our path is given to us because God loves us. Whatever trials and tests we may face, they are there for our strengthening, to help us increase our capacity.

But in the end, the attributes of God are not God Himself. Even the animist shamen know that there is something beyond the attributes. It is as He says in Gleanings, "If I call upon Thee by Thy Name, the All-Possessing, I am compelled to recognize that He Who holdeth in His hand the immediate destinies of all created things is but a vassal dependent upon Thee, and is the creation of but a word proceeding from Thy mouth. And if I proclaim Thee by the name of Him Who is the All-Compelling, I readily discover that He is but a suppliant fallen upon the dust, awe-stricken by Thy dreadful might, Thy sovereignty and power."

These attributes of God that Baha'u'llah describes here in the Four Valleys are pretty much as far as we can go for now. But we know that there is still more beyond them.

Going back to the fourth one, there is still a nihilistic-type mystery in there. It is so much deeper than what I allude to above. He says that we can't describe it, we can't put words to it, nor picture it, but He does give us some indication. This valley is "the apex of consciousness and the secret of divine guidance."

He goes on and says that this radiant acquiescence, as I describe above, is "the center of the mystery".

If we were all to try to understand this, this "darksome riddle", to analyze it until the trumpet sounds (which for my wife, as a musician, is every day), we would never succeed. Whenever the people asked the Prophet about this, He only answered in mysterious ways: It's "a bottomless sea". It's "the blackest of nights".

(And I wondered why I couldn't write about this. Sheesh.)

If you even try to talk about this valley, they'll nail you to a cross.

And at this point, my wife, too, gives up. "You need another article for this Valley on it's own." Good idea, o light of my life. I completely agree.

As I'm sure my readers will, too.

1 comment:

  1. The Four Valleys at Baha'i Reference Library: