The Seven Valleys according to ‘Attar


The Valley of the Quest

When you enter the first valley, the Valley of the Quest, a hundred
difficulties will assail you; you will undergo a hundred trials. There,
the Parrot of heaven is no more than a fly. You will have to spend
several years there, you will have to make great efforts, and to change
your state. You will have to give up all that has seemed precious to
you and regard as nothing all that you possess. When you are sure that
you possess nothing, you still will have to detach yourself from all
that exists. Your heart will then be saved from perdition and you will
see the pure light of Divine Majesty and your real wishes will be
multiplied to infinity. One who enters here will be filled with such
longing that he will give himself up completely to the quest symbolized
by this valley. He will ask of his cup-bearer a draught of wine, and he
has drunk it nothing will matter except the pursuit of his true aim.
Then he will no longer fear the dragons, the guardians of the door,
which seek to devour him. When the door is opened and he enters, then
dogma, belief and unbelief–all cease to exist.

The Valley of Love

The next valley is the Valley of Love. To enter it one must be a
flaming fire–what shall I say? A man must himself be fire. The face of
the lover must be enflamed, burning and impetuous as fire. True love
knows no after-thoughts; with love, good and evil cease to exist.

But as for you, the heedless and careless, this discourse will not
touch you, your teeth will not even nibble at it. A loyal person stakes
ready money, stakes his head even, to be united to his Friend. Others
content themselves with what they will do for you tomorrow. If he who
sets out on this way will not engage himself wholly and completely he
will never be free from the sadness and melancholy which weigh him
down. Until the falcon reaches his aim, he is agitated and distressed.
If a fish is thrown onto the beach by the waves it struggles to get
back into the water.

In this valley, love is represented by fire, and reason by smoke. When
love comes reason disappears. Reason cannot live with the folly of
love; love has nothing to do with human reason. If you possessed inner
sight, the atoms of the visible world would be manifested to you. But
if you look at things with the eye of ordinary reason you will never
understand how necessary it is to love. Only a man who has been tested
and is free can feel this. He who undertakes this journey should have a
thousand hearts so that he can sacrifice one at every moment.

The Valley of Understanding

After the valley of which I have spoken, there comes another–the
Valley of Understanding, which has neither beginning nor end. No way is
equal to this way, and the distance to be travelled to cross it is
beyond reckoning.

Understanding, for each traveller, is enduring; but knowledge is
temporary. The soul, like the body, is in a state of progress or
decline; and the Spiritual Way reveals itself only in the degree to
which the traveller has overcome his faults and weaknesses, his sleep
and his inertia, and each will approach nearer to his aim according to
his effort. Even if a gnat were to fly with all its might could it
equal the speed of the wind? There are different ways of crossing this
Valley, and all birds do not fly alike. Understanding can be arrived at
variously–some have found the Mihrab, others the idol. When the sun of
understanding brightens this road, each receives light according to his
merit and he finds the degree assigned to him in the understanding of
truth. When the mystery of the essence of beings reveals itself clearly
to him, the furnace of this world becomes a garden of flowers. He who
is striving will be able to see the almond in its hard shell. He will
no longer be pre-occupied with himself, but will look up at the face of
his Friend. In each atom he will see the whole; he will ponder over
thousands of bright secrets.

But, how many have lost their way in this search for one who has found
the mysteries! It is necessary to have a deep and lasting wish to
become as we ought to be in order to cross this difficult valley. Once
you have tasted the secrets you will have a real wish to understand
them. But, whatever you may attain, never forget the words of the
Koran, “Is there anything more?”

As for you who are asleep (and I cannot commend you for this), why not
put on mourning? You, who have not seen the beauty of your Friend, get
up and search! How long will you stay as you are, like a donkey without
a halter!

The Valley of Independence and Detachment

Then there comes the valley where there is neither the desire to
possess nor the wish to discover. In this state of the soul a cold wind
blows, so violent that in a moment it devastates an immense space; the
seven oceans are no more than a pool, the seven planets a mere sparkle,
the seven heavens a corpse, the seven hells broken ice. Then, an
astonishing thing, beyond reason! An ant has the strength of a hundred
elephants, and a hundred caravans perish while a rook is filling his

In order that Adam might receive the celestial light, hosts of
green-clad angels were consumed by sorrow. So that Noah might become a
carpenter of God and build the ark, thousands of creatures perished in
the waters. Myriads of gnats fell on the army of Abraham so that the
king would be overthrown. Thousands of the first-born died so that
Moses might see God. Thousands of people took to the Christian girdles
so that Christ could possess the secret of God. Thousands of hearts and
souls were pillaged so that Muhammad might ascend for one night to
heaven. In this Valley nothing old or new has value; you can act or not
act. If you saw a whole world burning until hearts were only shish
kabab, it would be only a dream compared to reality. If myriads of
souls were to fall into this boundless ocean it would be as a drop of
dew. If heaven and earth were to burst into minute particles it would
be no more than a leaf falling from a tree; and if everything were to
be annihilated, from the fish to the moon, would there be found in the
depths of a pit the leg of a lame ant? If there remain no trace of
either of men or jinn, the secret of a drop of water from which all has
been formed is still to be pondered over.

The Valley of Unity

You will next have to cross the Valley of unity. In this valley
everything is broken in pieces and then unified. All who raise their
heads here raise them from the same collar. Although you seem to see
many beings, in reality there is only one–all make one which is
complete in its unity. Again, that which you see as a unity is not
different from that which appears in numbers. And as the Being of whom
I speak is beyond unity and numbering, cease to think of eternity as
before and after, and since these two eternities have vanished, cease
to speak of them. When all that is visible is reduced to nothing, what
is there left to contemplate?

The Valley of Astonishment and Bewilderment

After the Valley of Unity comes the Valley of Astonishment and
Bewilderment, where one is a prey to sadness and dejection. There,
sighs are like swords, and each breath a bitter sight; there, is sorrow
and lamentation, and a burning eagerness. It is at once day and night.
There, is fire, yet a man is depressed and despondent. How, in his
bewilderment, shall he continue his way? But he who has achieved unity
forgets all and forgets himself. If he is asked: “Are you, or are you
not? Have you or have you not the feeling of existence? Are you in the
middle or on the border? Are you mortal or immortal?” he will reply
with certainty: “I know nothing, I understand nothing, I am unaware of
myself. I am in love, but with whom I do not know. My heart is at the
same time both full and empty of love.

The Valley of Deprivation and Death

Last of all comes the Valley of Deprivation and Death, which is
almost impossible to describe. The essence of the Valley is
forgetfulness, dumbness and distraction; the thousand shadows which
surround you disappear in a single ray of the celestial sun. When the
ocean of immensity begins to heave, the pattern on its surface loses
its form; and this pattern is no other than the world present and the
world to come. Whoever declares that he does not exist acquires great
merit. The drop that becomes part of this great ocean abides there for
ever and in peace. In this calm sea, a man, at first, experiences only
humiliation and overthrow; but when he emerges from this state he will
understand it as creation, and many secrets will be revealed to him.

Many beings have missed taking the first step and so have not been able
to take the second–they can only be compared to minerals. When aloe
wood and thorns are reduced to ashes they both look alike–but their
quality is different. An impure object dropped into rose-water remains
impure because of its innate qualities; but a pure object dropped into
the ocean will lose its specific existence and will participate in the
ocean and in its movement. In ceasing to exist separately it retains
its beauty. It exists and non-exists. How can this be? The mind cannot
conceive it.

Farid al-Din Attar (1142-1220)

[Translated by C. S. Nott]

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