Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An Intro to Four

So I'm sitting in a café the other day, reading the Four Valleys with my wife. We begin reading it aloud, and she comments that she'd like to skip the intro and go right to the first valley. She's not that interested, she said, in Baha'u'llah's use of the stylistic letter writing of the day, even though she knows He uses it to good effect.

I just stare at her, over the top of my glasses, and begin to smile.

"Do you remember what happened the last time we 'skipped' sacred text?"

The last time was over fifteen years ago when we were looking at the compilation on consultation. I sort of skipped over a small passage that was just chock filled with the "this-of-one-that"s, and she stopped me. "You're skipping over sacred text", she chided. Don't do that, was the unspoken comment that followed. And so we looked even more closely at that passage, found all sorts of amazing hidden gems within it, and, long story short, we ended up getting married.

Long story short, we decided to look a bit more closely at this introduction to the Four Valleys.

Now, at this point, I have a choice. I can either copy the whole thing, almost 3 pages of printed text, or I can just copy it at the bottom. My inclination is to copy it here, and go through section by section with annotations underneath. What do you think?

Ok. Thanks.

There it is, at the bottom of this article. And so, dear Reader, I would encourage you to read it first, or just kind of skip along with me, if you have a hard copy.

As you know from the notes in the book, He is using a classic style of Persian writing which emulates the Jewish mother: "You never write. You never phone. What have I done wrong?" It appears on the surface, to be a classic guilt trip.


Come on. I just can't imagine Baha'u'llah doing that, so there must be something more.

What would happen if we read this not merely as a simple introduction in a common Persian style, but instead as a purposeful clue to the rest of the book? I mean, that seems more worthy of the Baha'u'llah I know and love.

"I am wondering why the tie of love was so abruptly severed, and the firm covenant of friendship broken"? What if He is serious? What if this love was actually broken? And what of this covenant? If we read this as a factual statement, as opposed to a mere poetical exercise in stylism, then could He be alluding to humanity abandoning God? Could He be referring to our failure to hold firm to the Eternal Covenant?

Did His devotion ever lessen? Did God's deep affection for us ever fail? Of course not. And yet isn't it true? Haven't we forgotten Him and blotted Him from our thoughts?

When I read this as a simple but loving chastisement, then this whole introduction takes on a completely new meaning for me.

The very next quote, "What fault of Mine hath made thee cease thy favors" suddenly makes me ask that very question of myself. Why have I abandoned my true love for God? Am I truly saying my prayers, with sincere and heartfelt devotion? You see, this whole introduction places me in the stance of asking many questions, as I am sure it is meant to do. There is a reason that almost every sentence here has been a question.

"Is it that We are lowly and thou of high degree?" Oooh. That's hitting a bit below the belt, isn't it? Has our ego gotten so out of control that we feel we know better? That we are better? Do we actually see ourselves higher than God?

Or better yet, have the difficulties involved in being a sincere person of religion become too difficult in our modern society? Has that single arrow driven us from the battlefield? If so, then we would do no better than to recall the importance of faithfulness. Over and over again, in these few lines, He tells us to go straight on this path. Then, just in case, He reminds us that He is doing as He was bidden, and bringing this message, "Whether it give thee counsel or offense."

Over and over, throughout history, God has sent us these Messengers, whether or not we care to listen to Them. This is the same message, in a single line, as can be found in the opening couple dozen paragraphs of the Kitab-i-Iqan. Over and over, these Messengers are sent to us, and They deliver this message, no matter the response. But, like the Messengers of old, Baha'u'llah is giving us a new message. He is abrogating all the old laws, and bringing in a new dispensation. "This new love hath broken all the old rules and ways."

From here, He talks about this new love, and how it is wiping away all the old standards of love from the past. When I think of the heroes of the early days of the Faith, both Baha'i and Babi, this line seems even more poignant. With the advent of the Bab, and remember Baha'u'llah had not yet declared His Station at this time, it seems as if the very definition of a hero of religion has taken on a completely new meaning, a higher meaning.

But then, in those last two paragraphs, He seems to explain just what it is He is hoping to do with this little volume. He mentions that He has heard that the recipient has traveled to these different places for the purpose of teaching. This, as you can imagine, is a praiseworthy activity. How often, in the Baha'i Writings, do we see high praise for those who travel and teach? Quite often, I can tell you. Far more times than I care to quote here.

It is then that He offers this man a bit of advice. "Those who progress in mystic wayfaring are of four kinds. I shall describe them in brief, that the grades and qualities of each kind may become plain to thee."


Why would He do this?

As I'm sure you are aware, dear Reader, I don't actually know. This is just my own opinion, my own thoughts on this little book, and nothing official.

It seems to me that He is trying to help this man become a more effective teacher. "I understand you want to go and teach. Here are the four types of people who actually make progress on that mystic path." He doesn't say that there are only four types of people in the world, but instead points out that there are only four that actually make progress. The rest of us, presumably, are standing still, or maybe even going backwards. And really, as a teacher, why would you even bother with those other types? You can only teach those who want to learn. Anything else is a waste of time and effort. Shoghi Effendi, over and over, emphasizes this point. We want to be effective in our work, and not just work for the sake of working.

To be effective, one of the best things we can do, when teaching the Cause, is to be very aware of the state of our listener. Here, these four phenotypes are most useful. There are four types of people who actually want to learn, He seems to say, and here is how they learn.

All of a sudden this book is no longer just a small mystical volume from the Pen of Baha'u'llah, but is now a very useful short treatise on how to be an effective teacher.


There are four types of people in the world who want to learn, and here is the method of reaching each of them.

When you identify the method of learning for an individual, you can be a more effective teacher for them.

Now, when I go back to those four Valleys, I can see a greater use for each of them. Sure, they help me see in which Valley I journey, but they also make me more aware of which Valleys my friends move in. And remember, none of them are bad. Sure, the first three have their limitations, but they are all viable and reasonable paths towards God. The hardnosed scientist has just as much chance of finding God through his method of investigation as the spaced out hippy does with theirs. We cannot, in good conscience, condemn any path that leads someone towards God.

And for that, I am so immensely grateful.

I'm also grateful to my wife who allowed our conversation to go back and look at this intro a little bit more than she originally wanted. I'm curious what will come of it.

* * * * *

He is the Strong, the Well-Beloved!

O light of truth, Hisám-i-Dín, the bounteous,
No prince hath the world begot like unto Thee!

I am wondering why the tie of love was so abruptly severed, and the firm covenant of friendship broken. Did ever, God forbid, My devotion lessen, or My deep affection fail, that thou hast thus forgot Me and blotted Me from thy thoughts?

What fault of Mine hath made thee cease thy favors?
Is it that We are lowly and thou of high degree?

Or is that a single arrow hath driven thee from the battle? Have they not told thee that faithfulness is a duty on those who follow the mystic way, that it is the true guide to His Holy Presence? “But as for those who say, ‘Our Lord is God,’ and who go straight to Him, the angels shall descend to them….”

Likewise He saith, “Go straight on then as thou hast been commanded.” Wherefore, this course is incumbent on those who dwell in the presence of God.

I do as bidden, and I bring the message,
Whether it give thee counsel or offense.

Albeit I have received no answer to My letters and it is contrary to the usage of the wise to express My regard anew, yet this new love hath broken all the old rules and ways.

Tell us not the tale of Laylí or of Majnún’s woe—
Thy love hath made the world forget the loves of long ago.
When once thy name was on the tongue, the lovers caught it
And it set the speakers and the hearers dancing to and fro.

And of divine wisdom and heavenly counsel, [Rúmí says]:

Each moon, O my beloved, for three days I go mad;
Today’s the first of these—’Tis why thou seest me glad.

We hear that thou hast journeyed to Tabríz and Tiflis to disseminate knowledge, or that some other high purpose hath taken thee to Sanandaj.

O My eminent friend! Those who progress in mystic wayfaring are of four kinds. I shall describe them in brief, that the grades and qualities of each kind may become plain to thee.

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