TB-SV0

The Seven Valleys (Hadt Vadi) of Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Baha'-Allah(1817-1892)

هفت وادی

An Introduction and Translation with Occasional Notes

Part 01

Last revised January 2006

Stephen N.  Lambden  

Now under revision and completion 2014

 

Study of and meditation upon The Seven Valleys (Haft Vádi ; henceforth SV ) of Baha'-Allāh has formed an important part of my spiritual life for over thirty years. The classic translation of `Alī Kuli-Khān and Marzieh Gail (= AKK) has always been very dear to me and remains so. My purpose in sharing this provisional re-translation, with some doctrinal and philological notes, is to register the tentative results of my own study of, and musings upon, the SV. I have attempted to translate from a stance that takes some account of modern academic trends in the English translation of Islamic mystical (Sufi) texts as well as Bahā'ī translation style established by Shoghi Effendi.[1] I obviously remain indebted to the translations of the SV by AKK and Marzieh Gail as well as to that of the "Disciple of `Abdu'l-Baha'", Hippolyte Dreyfus (1873-1928 CE). A selection of my gradually accumulated notes will be gradually  set forth below with a view to their being corrected, and / or supplemented by others more qualified to translate and comment upon Baha'-Allah's mystical masterpiece.

The SV is basically a Sufi-Bābī revelation of Baha'-Allāh which follows an important mystical literary genre; the "seven valleys" of the spiritual journey towards God (see 01:7 commentary [forthcoming]). No detailed introduction to Sufism (Islamic mysticism) can be set down here. There exist numerous introductory overviews and general books devoted to this subject. (2) It must suffice to note that Annemarie Schimmel, prefacing a brief article Islamic mysticism, Sufism, gives an excellent, succinct, though necessarily limited, definition of Islamic mysticism: "Mysticism is that aspect of Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. It consists of a variety of mystical paths that are designed to ascertain the nature of man and God and to facilitate the experience of the presence of divine love and wisdom in the world." [3]  Islamic mysticism, however, like its Babi-Baha'i expressions, cannot always be defined as a search for "unity" with God in any direct, complete or pantheistic sense.

        In the SV Bahā'-Allāh informs its recipient, Shaykh Muḥyī al-Dīn of Khāniqān (Iraq), of new dimensions of the meaning of the path to God. The Sufi path is set forth in the light of Bābī [proto-Bahā'ī] theological and ethical teachings. Sufi teachings which might detract from faith in the supreme quṭb ("Axis"), maẓhar-i ilāhī  (the Manifestation of God), are subtly modified.

    Many examples of Bābī and Bahā'ī scripture exhibit marked Sufi influence. Typically Sufic terminology and hermeneutics permeate certain of the writings of the Bāb including, for example, his Qayyūm al-asma' and Risala Dhahabiyya . So too, many alwāḥ  of Bahā'-Allāh especially early, pre-1863 CE  Tablets such as Az bagh-i ilāhī   (From the Divine Garden)  and the Lawḥ-i ḥaqq ("Tablet of the Ultimately Real"). Qur'ānic exegesis in Bābī-Bahā'ī scripture is  often hermeneutically  Sufi oriented. Bahā'ī ethics are likewise markedly Sufi in tone as is evident in the Kalimāt-i maknūnih  ("The Hidden Words").

        In the 19th century Middle East a number of Sufis became Bahā'īs and contributed to the spread of the Bahā'ī  Faith. During the Edirne (Adrianople) and West Galilean (`Akkā' = Acre) periods of his ministry (after 1866 or so) Bahā'-Allāh to some extent came to view mystical esotericism (bāṭinī  tendencies) -- over indulgence in such arcane interests as kimiya (alchemy, ultimately forbidden), and jafr ([loosely] gematric prognostigation with disfavour. [4] Sufism yet remains one of the most important Islamic doctrinal streams that have informed the Babi-Bahā'ī revelations.

    The modern Bahā'ī Faith, however, is not merely neo-Sufi. It is only peripherally and in certain doctrinal areas Sufi oriented. To some extent following early Shaykhī and other Islamic perspectives the Bab and Bahā'-Allāh sometimes explicitly rejected Sufi doctrines. Like Shaykh Amad al-Aḥsā'ī (d.1826 CE.), for example, the Bab so championed the transcendent unknowability of God, an apophatic theology that pantheistic and monistic understandings of waḥdat al-wujūd ("oneness of Being"), were explicitly rejected as can be seen in his Persian Ṣāḥīfa-yi `adliyya  ("Equitable Tract ") (late 1847-early 1847, 16),  Risāla Dhahabiyya  (Treatise for the Dhahabiyya Sufi[s]) and numerous other major and minor writings.  Traversing the seventh of the SV (faqr-i haqīqī va fanā')  Bahā'-Allāh similarly stated that "the mystic wayfarer leaveth behind him the stages of the oneness of Being and of witnessing (waḥdat-i wujūd va shuhūd) and reacheth a [mystical] oneness (waḥdat) that is sanctified above these two levels [of oneness] (dū maqām)" (AQA. 3:133).

        During his two year withdrawal in Iraqi Kurdistan (1854-1856)  Bahā'-Allāh came into contact with leading figures of various important and widespread Sufi orders (cf. GPB:122); more specifically, with members of

  • (1) the Naqshbandiyya order founded by  Bahā' al-Dīn Muhammad Naqshband (1317-1389 CE);
  • (2) the Qādiriyya order, founded by `Abd al-Qādir Jīlānī [Gīlānī] (c. 1077-1165 CE) and adherents of
  • (3) the Khālidī order founded by Baha' al-Dīn Khālid al-Shahrazūrī  (1776-1827 CE.), a sub-brotherhood of the Naqshbandī order.

       Bahā'-Allah commented orally on "abstruse passages" of the massive magnum opus of the Great Shaykh, Shaykh Muḥyī al-Dīn ibn al-`Arabī (1165-1240 C.E.), the al-Fuṭḥāt al-makkiyya  ("Meccan Illuminations")  and composed several important Arabic and Persian poetical Sufi-style writings, i.e. al-Qaṣīda al-warqā'iyya ("The Ode of the Dove") and Saqī az ghayb-i baqā'  ("The Cupbearer of the Unseen Eternity").

    Whilst living in Baghdad between 1856 and 1863 Bahā'-Allāh continued to come into contact with and respond to visiting Sufis belonging to the abovementioned (and possibly other) Sufi orders. In one of his Tablets concerning esoteric factions (ahl-i bāṭin) he refers to Qādirī Sufis and to an ascetic episode which he witnessed in Baghdad (Ma'idih 4:31).  `Abd al-Qādir Jīlānī [Gīlānī]'s tomb is situated in Baghdad which was a major centre for a number of Sufi groups.

    The SV of Bahā'-Allāh is a largely Persian epistle written in response to a letter received from a certain Shaykh Muḥyī al-Dīn, a qaḍī  ("judge") of Khāniqān  which is situated near the Iraqi-Persian border to the northeast of Baghdad. This Shaykh was evidently a leading member of a Sufi order who, in his letter to Bahā'-Allāh, alluded to his having attained an elevated spiritual condition, that of fanā' ("passing away") from worldly reality, the mystical "death" of the lower self  and subsequent baqā', indicative of a permanent "subsistence" in mystical eternality (see note on 03:4). Exactly which Sufi order he belonged to is not directly stated in the SV or in other Bahā'ī sources known to the present writer. Internal evidence could be taken to suggest that he was, like the recipient of the Four Valleys, a prominent member of the Qādīrī Sufi order (the abovementioned order founded by `Abd al-Qādir Jīlānī [Gīlānī]). [5]

        Written in the classical form of the `Seven Valleys' [6] this significant item of Bahā'ī scripture is obviously responsive to  such Sufi texts as the Manṭiq al-ṭayr ("The Conference [ Logic] of the Birds") which is also, according to some manuscripts, entitled the "Seven Valleys"  of Farīd al-Dīn `Aṭṭār (1140-1221 CE.). Within it Bahā'-Allāh sets forth, from the Sufi-Bābī perspective, the various stages which mystic wayfarers might go through in their quest for the ultimate passing away, the mystical nullification of the lower self (fanā').

        As will be demonstrated, the SV is significantly influenced by both Shī`ī and Sufi theological perspectives as well as by Bābī doctrine. Many lines within it could be understood in varying ways depending upon whether it is primarily viewed from a Shī`ī, Sufi, Bābī or modern Bahā'ī perspective, not that it is always possible to distinguish these vantage points.

    The provisional retranslation  below is influenced by developed Bahā'ī doctrine though not, I hope, so as to obscure its probable original Sufi-Bābī meaning. The notes and commentary below only touch the surface of the many possible senses within the SV. Established Sufi terminology is identified and commented upon as is recognizably central Bābī language.

On one occasion `Abdu'l-Bahā' summed up the ethical significance of the SV when he stated :  "It is my hope..that you may search out your own imperfections and not think of the imperfections of anybody else. Strive with all your power to be free from imperfections. Heedless souls are always seeking faults in others. What can the hypocrite know of others' faults when he is blind to his own? This is the meaning of the Seven Valleys. It is a guide for human conduct".  [7]

        In his God Passes By (1944) Shoghi Effendi refers to the Seven Valleys as Baha'-Allah's "greatest mystical composition", a composition "in which He describes the seven stages which the soul of the seeker must needs traverse ere it can attain the object of its existence" (GPB:140). Without at this point going into details, the Seven valleys (haft vadi ), whic be viewed as  religious, "spiritual" or ethico-mystical states of being, commence with the "Valley of Search" (ṭalab) and culminate in the seventh "Valley of [mystical] Poverty (faqr-i ḥaqīqī ) and the Spiritual Death of the limited self (va fanā)" (see on 01:7 [forthcoming]).

        The exact date of the SV is unknown. It was apparently some time after Baha'-Allah's return from Iraqi Kurdistan (Sulaymaniyya) to Baghdad i.e. after 19 March 1856, thus most probably around1857-1858 (1274-1275. A.H.). [8]

Manuscript texts of the Seven Valleys

Unpublished manuscript copies of the Persian text of the SV can be found in a variety of locations. Manuscript versions include:

  • (1) Iran National Bahā'i Manuscript Collection [= INBMC], Majmu`a-yi āthār-i qalam-i a`lā, Qudrat 133 Badī`, Vol. 33:101-133 .
  • (2) INBAMC Vol. 35 Majmu`a-yi āthār-i qalam-i a`lā, Qudrat 133 Badī`/  Jamāl 133 Badi`,  293ff.
  • (3) British [Museum] Library MS. Or. 3116 =  Kremer, no. 126, fol. 67-77 ( see Rieu 1895:7).

Printed texts of the Seven Valleys

The largely Persian text of the SV has several times been printed. It is to be found, for example, in

  • (1) Haft  vadi, Chahar vadi, Cairo 1332/ 1913-14,
  • (2) Āthār-i qalam-i a`lā vol.3. MMMA [BPT]: Iran 121 Badi`/  1965-6 CE. (Reprinted, New Delhi : nd.) pp.92-137 -- It is this text which has been translated below. [9]
  • (3) The Persian Text of the SV and the Four Valleys , along with a German and an English translation, is published in, [Bahá'u'lláh] Haft-Vádí. Chihár-Vádí [ sic] The Seven Valleys. The Four Valleys Die sieben Täler. Die vier Täler. (Hofheim-Langenhain: Bahá'í Verlag 1988 = 145 Badi` (ISBN 3-87037-941-3).The Persian text occupies Pt.3 pp.1-66 [end of vol. Persian pagination], the German Pt.1 pp. 1-54, and the English Pt.2 pp. 1-55. The translation is that of AKK + Gail and the German a translation of the English.

Although the SV is often found in the original Persian or in English translation along with the Four Valleys ( Chahar vadi) of Bahā'-Allāh  they are two entirely distinct works. In a communication of Shoghi Effendi printed at the beginning of the later editions of the AKK + Marzieh Gail translation of the SV we read:

" Seven Valleys and Four Valleys should be regarded as independent Tablets, as they were revealed to different persons."

While the SV was addressed to a Shaykh Muhyi al-Din the Four Valleys was written sometime later for the Qadiri Sufi leader Shaykh `Abd al-Rahman (GPB:122; also of  Karkuk in Iraqi Kurdistan?).

European Translationd of the Seven Valleys [10]

    As far as I am aware the earliest western language translation of the SV was that of the first French Baha'i Hippolyte Dreyfus (1873-1928 C.E.),[11] Les Sept Vallées, Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1905. It is his translation which is included in H. Dreyfus and M. Habib-Ullah Chirazi [= Mirza Habīb Allāh Shirazi] trans. ...Haft Vadi ( Les Sept Vallées).. [Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1905 (116 pp.). The same translation is likewise published in the first volume of Dreyfus' three volume compilation of his French translations of Tablets of Baha'-Allah, L'Oeuvre de Baha'u'llah  (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1923)  vol. 1 pp. 25-60

The Dreyfus translation has been many times republished; including one edition brought out by the American Bahá'í Publishing Committee : Wilmette, Illinois, 1944 [3+1;5-44 pp.]. In 1933 the ex-Baha'i Julie Chanler translated with the advice of Mirza Aḥmad Sohrab, Dreyfus' French translation of the SV into English: Julie Chanler (trans.), Seven Valleys (New York: New History Foundation) 1933 [37 pp.]. The second European translation of the SV was the 1906 English translation of Ali Kuli-Khan (c. 1879-1966), [12] The seven valleys revealed by Baha'U'llah at Bagdad, in answer to questions asked by Sheikh Abdur Rahman, [sic] a great Mohammedan mystic Sufi leader, Bahai Publishing Society, Chicago 1906, [55+1 pp.]. Another edition of this translation was published by the Chicago Bahai Publishing Society between 1906 and 1914 [n.d.] and yet again in 1914 [1, 55, 1 pp.]. It was also published by the New York Baha'i Publishing Committee in 1936 & 1937 [60 pp.]. There were doubtless other printings as well. It is, furthermore, partially or fully published in, among Baha'i publications:

(1) Eric Hammond (Ed),The Splendour of God, Being Extracts from the Sacred Writings of the Bahais (Wisdom of the East Series, London, John Murray, 1909 (1st. Ed.), pp. 53-84 -- including extracts from `Alī Kuli Khan's 1906 translation, a brief introduction, and some notes.

(2) Horace Holley (Ed), Bahá'í Scriptures.. Brentano's New York 1923, 2nd Ed., Baha'i Publishing Committee New York 1928  pp. 159-171.

(3) An early `unpublished' attempt at commenting on this English translation, it may be noted here, is mentioned in the American National Union Catalogue: Pre-1956 Imprints , Vol I. p. 503; namely,

`H.B. Hasting, Seven Valleys. An attempt at an interpretatio[n] for western readers of some of the oriental imagery of seven valleys, by Abdel Baha Based on a translation by Ali Kuli Khan, 1905 Washington, printed as MSS [not published] by H.B.H. [Autograph note on cover title = " H.B.H. Hasting '91 (Harv.)] 1934. [Has autograph annotations and corrections]. Pamphlet 16 pp. Colophon: Printed by Sidney H. Hastings, Saugus, Mass. (Label pasted over: Abdel Baha, in cover title, reads: Baha'U'llah.)' [sic].

(4) Yet another, even earlier work, very loosely oriented around Baha'u'llah's SV in English translation, and expressive of the American cultic milieu from which certain American Baha's of the early period entered the Baha'i movement, is W.W. Harmon's, The Seven Principles of the Microcosm and the Macrocosm applied to the disclosures of Baha'o'llah in the Book of the Seven Valleys, arranged for students by W.W. Published by the author 1915 (59 pp.). `Abdu'l-Baha' had apparently encouraged Harmon to write a book on `Divine Illumination' (in America in August 1912) and subsequently approved of his book which bore this title in a letter to him dated April 20th 1914 (refer, Harmon, 1915a p.8). His Seven Principles.. was written shortly after his Divine Illumination and contains a fair amount of occult and metaphysical speculation the like of which led certain prominent American Baha'is to accuse him of heterodoxy or of violating the Baha'i covenant.

    A revised edition of Ali Kuli-Khan's 1906 translation of the SV, accomplished with the aid of his daughter Marzieh Gail, was published in 1945 along with Bahā'-Allāh's Four Valleys (Chahār vādī). It has gone through numerous printings, e.g.

Ali-Kuli-Khan & Marzieh Gail (tr.), The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, Wilmette, Illinois, Bahā'ī Publishing Committee 1945, 1948, 1952, 1954... [ 62 pp.]

        Certain printings of this revised edition contain a 28 page introduction by Robert L. Gulick, Jr. This introduction to the revised translation was itself revised and printed in editions published subsequent to 1975. Once again this revised translation has again been printed in a large number of compilations of Baha'i sacred writings.[13]

        A 3rd revised edition of the AKK-Gail translation appeared in 1978 and 1984..1986, etc published by the Baha'i Publishing Trust (Wilmette, Illinois, xiii [again with a shorter revised introduction by R. Gulick Jr] 65 pp. A largely identical 4th revised edition was published in 198?/91 by the same publishers.

        The Oxford (England) based OneWorld Publications Ltd. has recently published The Seven Valleys of Bahá'u'lláh (Oxford: OneWorld Publications Ltd. 1992). This is basically another edition of the AKK+Gail translation (4th ed. pp.13-35) with slight `revisions', a new six page introduction (pp.5-11) and appended notes (92 Notes [pp.59-81] largely as in the AKK+Gail American editions with a `Preface to Notes' [pp.59-60]).

The U.K. Bahá'í Publishing Trust has likewise included the AKK + Gail 4th edition of the SV of Bahá'u'lláh in its commemorative centenary publication series "Nightingale Books" (= The Seven Valleys [London:] Nightingale Books, 1992) with a new very brief introduction and seventy five, occasionally revised, footnotes (cf. on these recent printings the review section below).   

Endnotes to be added

هفت وادی

The Seven Valleys of Baha'-Allah, A new translation from the Arabic and Persian  with occasional Notes

Stephen N.  Lambden.

Prolegomenon 01. [14]

 

 بسم اللّه الرّحمن الرّحيم

[1]

الحمد للّه الّذی اظهر الوجود من العدم

Praise be to God who hath caused Being (al-wujud) to be  made manifest from non-being (al-`adm);

[2]

 و رقم علی لوح الانسان من اسرار القدم

 

inscribed upon the tablet of  humankind (lawh al-insan) something of the ancient mysteries (asrar al-qidam)

و علّمه من البيان ما لا يعلم

[3]

and taught him that which he knew not of the Exposition (al-bayan).

[4]  

[As an archetypal Perfect Man or Manifestation of God]

و جعله كتابا مبينا  لمن آمن و استسلم

He made Him a Perspicuous Book (kitab an mubin an) unto such as believed and surrendered themselves;

[5]

 و اشهد خلق كلّ شئٍ فی هذا الزّمان المظلم الصّيلم

caused Him to witness the creation of all things in this black and ruinous age

[6]

و انطقه فی قطب البقاءِ علی اللّحن البديع فی الهيكل المكرّم

and to speak forth from the Apex of Eternal Subsistence (qutb al-baqa')  with a Wondrous Voice in the Illustrious Temple.

[7]

 ليشهد الكل فی نفسه بنفسه فی مقام تجلّی ربّه بانّه لا اله الا هو

This to the end that all may testify within themselves,  through soulful experience at the level of the theophany of their Lord (tajalli rabbuka),  that there is none other God save Him.

[8]

 و ليصل الكل بذلك الی ذروة الحقائق حتّی لا يشاهد احد شيئاً  الا و قد يری اللّه فيه

All souls may assuredly accomplish this and thus win their way to the Summit of Spiritual Realities such that none shall witness a single thing but that they shall see God therein.

 

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