A study circle is a small group that meets to study the course materials from the Ruhi Institute. This collection contains resources related to study circles, as well as resources to assist anyone with deepening their understanding of the Baha’i Writings.
An Introduction to The Four Valleys by Baha’u’llah
Baha’u’llah’s The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys are often found translated together in English, however, they are two distinct mystical texts, or tablets. I wrote about the significance of The Seven Valleys in this Baha’i Blog article and while both texts “basically convey the same truth” 1, I’d like to share a brief introduction to The Four Valleys in this piece and explore what makes it distinct.
Like The Seven Valleys, this tablet was revealed in Persian around 1857 in Baghdad, several years before Baha’u’llah’s Declaration of His Station, and like The Seven Valleys, the tablet was also revealed to a Sufi mystic. The Four Valleys is an epistle addressed to one of Baha’u’llah’s devoted admirers, Shaykh Abdu’r-Raḥman, the “honored and indisputable leader” of the Qadiriyyih Order of Sufism, who had met Baha’u’llah when He was in Sulaymaniyyih and who had great respect for Baha’u’llah. 2
Sufism is a form of mysticism (you can read about the mystical dimensions of the Baha’i Faith in this Baha’i Blog article or you can watch this talk) and both The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys were revealed in poetic tropes that Sufis would have recognized. While the form was known, the content of both tablets is what makes them priceless.
Both texts offer a road map to the Beloved, God. The Seven Valleys describes a progression through seven stages. Near its conclusion, Baha’u’llah states that “the heart is endowed with four stages” and He promises to describe them further, “should a kindred soul be found”. The Four Valleys is that promise made manifest. 3 It elaborates on four different paths of approach to the Divine, or the four stages of the heart.
David Langness writes:
Baha’u’llah’s Four Valleys represents, for me, a modern model for spiritual search and growth that has long historical reverberations across many spiritual traditions. When He wrote The Seven Valleys, which functioned as a response to an unfriendly Sufi cleric’s challenge to His learning, Baha’u’llah used the traditional seven-step Sufi spiritual structure. This framework, initially drawn in Attar’s Conference of the Birds and later used by Rumi and many others, posits a fairly complex spiritual journey through varying levels of detachment from the physical world and initiation into the numinous.
But Baha’u’llah discarded the traditional Sufi model when He wrote the Four Valleys. In fact, the Four Valleys has always marked for me the point of departure in Baha’u’llah’s corpus of revelatory writing when He ceased thinking and writing as Mirza Husayn Ali and began to write as Baha’u’llah. (see, for example, the two-page section at the end of the Four Valleys, which is devoted to allusions to the nearness of Baha) In this four-step model He reveals an ancient and yet completely new way of seeing the human progression through spiritual search and attainment. 4
Roughly summarized, the four paths, or the four stages of a path towards the Divine described in The Four Valleys are:
Drawing near to God through observance of religious law.
Drawing near to God through reason and intellect.
Drawing near to God through the heart.
Drawing near to God with a combination of observance of religious law, reason and intellect, and the heart. This last stage is considered the highest or truest form of mystic union. 5
They have also been translated and explained as: self, reason, love and the apex of consciousness. 4
Julio Savi explains:
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. 6
According to Bahaipedia.org, Shoghi Effendi requested that Ali Kuli Khan translate The Four Valleys into English and re-translate The Seven Valleys, which he had translated in the early 1900’s. They were translated and approved as a single manuscript, and published together in June 1936. They have appeared together since then: in 1945 a new English translation of The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys was produced by Ali Kuli Khan and his daughter Marzieh Gail. And in 2019 an updated translation was released by the Baha’i World Centre in the compilation The Call of the Divine Beloved. 5 The preface of The Call of the Divine Beloved states: “While those earlier translations contain many exquisite, inspired passages, some changes were required for clarity and accuracy.” The preface concludes with:
May the publication of this volume contribute to a deeper appreciation of the mystical dimensions of Baha’u’llah’s Message and inspire a greater zeal and fervour in raising the celestial call of the Divine Beloved: “For whereas in days past every lover besought and searched after his Beloved, it is the Beloved Himself Who now is calling His lovers and is inviting them to attain His presence.” 7
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.