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The Four Kinds of Love

February 12, 2014, in Articles > Baha'i Life, by

“I Love You.” It’s a phrase that is often thrown around very loosely, and come February each year on Valentine’s Day, these three words give people around the world an excuse to pamper one another with gifts, flowers, jewels and dinner promises. Of course there is nothing wrong with showing your loved ones a token (or two) of your appreciation, but I think it is equally important for us to use this time of year (or any time of year for that matter) to re-evaluate the word “love.” Is it really only about airy-fairy, lovey-dovey sentiments, or is there a deeper meaning to this four-letter word?

Abdu’l-Baha in fact spoke about there being four kinds of love in Paris Talks1, and so I thought I would explore each of these in a little more detail in a bid to reflect on the true meaning of love.

There are four kinds of love. The first is the love that flows from God to man; it consists of the inexhaustible graces, the Divine effulgence and heavenly illumination. Through this love the world of being receives life. Through this love man is endowed with physical existence, until, through the breath of the Holy Spirit—this same love—he receives eternal life and becomes the image of the Living God. This love is the origin of all the love in the world of creation.

Baha’u’llah says that God “loved thy creation, hence I created thee.”2 The reason for our existence is simple – God loves us. For our life, for our family, for our surroundings we can thank God. Everything we live and breathe has been created because of His love for us, and I think that beats all the material gifts in the world!

The second is the love that flows from man to God. This is faith, attraction to the Divine, enkindlement, progress, entrance into the Kingdom of God, receiving the Bounties of God, illumination with the lights of the Kingdom. This love is the origin of all philanthropy; this love causes the hearts of men to reflect the rays of the Sun of Reality.

Every morning and every evening when I bow down to God in humble supplication, I am expressing my love for Him. With everything I do for this Cause – whether I’m teaching a children’s class, hosting a devotional meeting or teaching the Faith – I am expressing my love to God. I can’t think of any more meaningful way for an individual to show their love for any being than contributing to the betterment of the world.

The third is the love of God towards the Self or Identity of God. This is the transfiguration of His Beauty, the reflection of Himself in the mirror of His Creation. This is the reality of love, the Ancient Love, the Eternal Love. Through one ray of this Love all other love exists.

I have always grappled with the meaning behind this kind of love and I’d love to hear your thoughts. The love of God towards His Identity? What does that look like? My (limited) understanding is that this kind of love is linked very closely to the first kind, but instead of God loving us as beings, He loves the qualities that are inherent within us. We are as mirrors, and the more we polish ourselves (by developing our spiritual qualities), the more we reflect God and his attributes and that is what He loves. These same qualities can, of course, also be seen in everything that God has created – whether human or not.

The fourth is the love of man for man. The love which exists between the hearts of believers is prompted by the ideal of the unity of spirits. This love is attained through the knowledge of God, so that men see the Divine Love reflected in the heart. Each sees in the other the Beauty of God reflected in the soul, and finding this point of similarity, they are attracted to one another in love. This love will make all men the waves of one sea, this love will make them all the stars of one heaven and the fruits of one tree. This love will bring the realization of true accord, the foundation of real unity.

This is the love I have for my fellow human beings – for my husband, my parents and my children. The reason for this love is attributed to God. We see the beauty of our Creator in one another and are therefore united in love. When we talk about the unity of mankind, we must realise that this cannot come about without this fourth kind of love.

Abdu’l-Baha then goes on to talk about the love which can sometimes exists between individuals but which should not be confused with the fourth kind of love. He says:

But the love which sometimes exists between friends is not (true) love, because it is subject to transmutation; this is merely fascination. As the breeze blows, the slender trees yield. If the wind is in the East the tree leans to the West, and if the wind turns to the West the tree leans to the East. This kind of love is originated by the accidental conditions of life. This is not love, it is merely acquaintanceship; it is subject to change.

Today you will see two souls apparently in close friendship; tomorrow all this may be changed. Yesterday they were ready to die for one another, today they shun one another’s society! This is not love; it is the yielding of the hearts to the accidents of life. When that which has caused this ‘love’ to exist passes, the love passes also; this is not in reality love.

This is what most people think of when they hear the word “love.” But my understanding is that this ‘love’ is temporary and should not trump the other kinds, as is often seen in today’s society. Since this love does not have a spiritual foundation, it is “merely fascination”, “acquaintanceship” and is “subject to change”. Placing undue emphasis on it would be the same as placing undue emphasis on the amount of money in one’s bank account. There’s lots there one day and none there the next, so it’s not worth dwelling on.

So while millions of people around the world rummage around to try and find their loved ones the perfect gift this Valentine’s Day, I say, why don’t we instead show God how we love Him? For the gifts He bestows on us every day definitely deserve to be reciprocated. Whether we show our love for Him by serving our immediate family members or those in our neighbourhoods, let’s make sure it’s spiritually motivated!

I’d like to know, what are your thoughts on the four kinds of love?

  1. Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks UK Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1972 eleventh edition reprint, p.179–181 []
  2. Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah, US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1985 reprint, p.4 []
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Dellaram is a Baha'i, wife, and mother of three, who works as a freelance journalist and copywriter in her hometown of Ballarat, Australia. She is passionate about building community and loves the thrill that comes with op-shopping!

Discussion 7 Comments

Thank you Dellaram.

I think “The third is the love of God towards the Self or Identity of God” is similar to love of man for man which is same as love of self. As Christ said, “the first commandment is love thy Lord with all thy heart and second is love thy neighbour as thyself.”

It’s not unusual that Abdul-Baha bases His words on Baha’u’llah’s.

“The journeys in the pathway of love are reckoned as four:

From the creatures to the True One; from the True One
to the creatures; from the creatures to the creatures; from the True One to the
True One.”
Baha’u’llah, From Seven valleys p 25

I find the Seven valleys very sweet and gratifying. Baha’u’llah says after all these are only words and things of this world are relative.
Also, I believe the Four valleys are these same four in a very allegorical language.


Hooshang (February 2, 2014 at 6:16 AM)

Dear Dellaram

Happy, happy Valentine’s Day

Given your wise words surrounding love number four the number two love takes on overarching importance vis-a-vis love as manifest in mere mortals. I’d never noticed until your post the link between love and faith: “The second is the love that flows from man to God. This is faith,…”
in a sense ergo ‘love’ now becomes like the ‘faith’ referred to below in a famous New Testament extract below.

Both the Master and Baha’u’llah in the two extracts cited in Baha;i Blog list and expand on the various kinds of love whereas Abdu’l-Baha actually nails a description of love for the first time in religious history or in any literature as far as I can work out:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá on Love

“Know thou of a certainty that Love is the secret of God’s holy Dispensation, the manifestation of the All-Merciful, the fountain of spiritual outpourings. Love is heaven’s kindly light, the Holy Spirit’s eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul. Love is the cause of God’s revelation unto man, the vital bond inherent, in accordance with the divine creation, in the realities of things. Love is the one means that ensureth true felicity both in this world and the next. Love is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soul. Love is the most great law that ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycle, the unique power that bindeth together the diverse elements of this material world, the supreme magnetic force that directeth the movements of the spheres in the celestial realms. Love revealeth with unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe. Love is the spirit of life unto the adorned body of mankind, the establisher of true civilization in this mortal world, and the shedder of imperishable glory upon every high-aiming race and nation.”

Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1982), p. 27.

Precise depictions beginning and ending in words as to how love may be defined, as distinct from stories about love, are rare in religion, perhaps because their usefulness passes. Paul’s timeless and moving description in Corinthians 1:13 primarily states what love is not, “looking through a glass, darkly” to cite an oft quoted rendition of the same text in the famous King James version . (‘When I was a child I spake (sic) as a child.’)

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Some Bahá’í understandings will help: Faith is conscious knowledge followed by action. Faith and belief differ: I believe a small foldable chair will take my 70 kilos; by sitting on it I show faith. Spirituality is love in action. With no need of help from philosophers we all recognize Paul the Apostle’s love as “kind and patient” and understand nature in its essence too but who, other than the Return of Christ can adequately pen descriptions for the next generations?

I’m no expert and this is not my main study so please weigh in with corrections

Baha’i love from the Paul who is far from apostleship

Paul Desailly

Paul Desailly (February 2, 2014 at 9:27 AM)

Thank you Hooshang and Paul for your insights on the concept of ‘love’!

Hooshang – I’m so glad you brought that verse to my attention! I never picked up that Abdu’l-Baha’s words were further exploring what Baha’u’llah had revealed in the Seven Valleys!

Paul – I found reading that passage from the Bible alongside that from Abdu’l-Baha really fascinating. They are so similar in their descriptions of love. To me, both Abdu’l-Baha and Paul are referring to love, in its true essence, as God! Thank you for your reflections 🙂

Della V.

Della V. (February 2, 2014 at 10:51 AM)

I thank you, Dellaram, for your essay. I am a former resident of Ballarat Australia back in the 1970s, from 1976 to 1978; I leave the thrill of op-shopping to my wife, I might include your essay, in the form of a link, at this sub-section of my website, if that is acceptable:


RonPrice (February 2, 2014 at 5:26 AM)

Wow Ron! What a small world! I’m sure we share many common friends. My family pioneered here from Melbourne in the mid 90s and now I am raising a family of my very own in this goldrush town! Ballarat has some great op-shops, who would want to leave?

Including this post should be completely fine. Thanks for your kind words and for getting in touch 🙂

Della V.

Della V. (March 3, 2014 at 11:55 AM)

I like all the words that written in bahhai
I am so happy to know about god, and sience.
All the principles are good for me and wish to be happy in all
Areas in life!
God is kind to everybody.


jito (March 3, 2014 at 5:23 PM)

Thanks for the posts and wisdom shared. Does anyone know a source of Abdu’l
Baha admonishing to avoid exposing youth to love atories? Inthought I read one but can’t find it. If it exists it might be as some can promote a superficial
transitory idea of romance

Tania Nordli

Tania Nordli (October 10, 2017 at 8:51 PM)

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