Many of the people I encounter every day have a vague notion of heaven and hell, but as they grow closer to the end of their lives they find themselves slightly unsettled about their future. Although the exact nature of the afterlife will always be hidden, the Bahá’í Writings offer more specific information than any other Dispensation and I’m happy to share some of my favorite understandings with you here.
The existence of the soul:
First we know that we have a soul, which is brought into existence at the moment of conception . . .
You have raised the point about the time of the appearance of human soul. You are quite right in your deduction in this regard, as our teachings clearly confirm that the soul of man comes into being at conception. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345-346)
. . . and stays with us through all the worlds of God.
The soul is not a combination of elements, it is not composed of many atoms, it is of one indivisible substance and therefore eternal. It is entirely out of the order of the physical creation; it is immortal! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 91)
God has made a mighty promise that our souls will continue to progress after our physical death; and they will endure forever:
And now concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death. Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 155-156)
The effect of our lives on the world, after we pass on is also very great:
O living flame of heavenly love! Thine heart hath been so fired with the love of God that from ten thousand leagues afar its warmth and radiance may be felt and seen. The fire lit by mortal hand imparteth light and warmth to but a little space, whereas that sacred flame which the Hand of God hath kindled, though burning in the east, will set aflame the west and give warmth to both the north and the south; nay, it shall rise from this world to glow with the hottest flame in the realms on high, flooding with light the Kingdom of eternal glory. Happy art thou to have obtained so heavenly a gift. Blessed art thou to be favoured with His divine bestowals. The glory of God rest upon thee and upon them that hold fast unto the sure handle of His Will and holy Covenant. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 205)
Two kinds of life:
There are two kinds of life – the physical life which must come to an end; and the spiritual life, which is never-ending:
The first life, which pertaineth to the elemental body, will come to an end, as hath been revealed by God: “Every soul shall taste of death.” But the second life, which ariseth from the knowledge of God, knoweth no death, as hath been revealed aforetime: “Him will We surely quicken to a blessed life.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 47-48)
Know then that “life” hath a twofold meaning. The first pertaineth to the appearance of man in an elemental body, and is as manifest to thine eminence and to others as the midday sun. This life cometh to an end with physical death, which is a God-ordained and inescapable reality.
That life, however, which is mentioned in the Books of the Prophets and the Chosen Ones of God is the life of knowledge; that is to say, the servant’s recognition of the sign of the splendours wherewith He Who is the Source of all splendour hath Himself invested him, and his certitude of attaining unto the presence of God through the Manifestations of His Cause. This is that blessed and everlasting life that perisheth not. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 47-48)
It’s hard to understand a life without end, so this might give us some idea:
Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 19)
We know our soul continues to ascend through “all the worlds of God” but just like a baby in the womb can’t know about this world, we can’t know about the next:
Concerning the future life what Bahá’u’lláh says is that the soul will continue to ascend through many worlds. What those worlds are and what their nature is we cannot know. The same way the child in the matrix cannot know this world so we cannot know what the other world is going to be. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 204)
How long will we live? We will last as long as God, Himself, will last:
If such be the blessings conferred on all created things, how superior must be the destiny of the true believer, whose existence and life are to be regarded as the originating purpose of all creation. Just as the conception of faith hath existed from the beginning that hath no beginning, and will endure till the end that hath no end, in like manner will the true believer eternally live and endure. His spirit will everlastingly circle round the Will of God. He will last as long as God, Himself, will last. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 140)
What about resurrection? According to the Bahá’í teachings, the term “resurrection” has several shades of meaning. None of them, however, involve the raising of physical bodies. We believe that through the resurrections of the Manifestations, the Cause of God is exalted and unbelievers are raised to eternal life in the higher degrees of purity of the Kingdom of God.
The resurrections of the Divine Manifestations are not of the body. All their states, their conditions, their acts, the things they have established, their teachings, their expressions, their parables, and their instructions have a spiritual and divine signification, and have no connection with material things. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, old ed., p.119)
Christ’s resurrection was a spiritual one, rather than a raising of His physical body; and came about when His disciples became assured and steadfast; began to serve His Cause; spreading His divine teachings, putting His counsels into practice, and arising to serve Him:
…we say that the meaning of Christ’s resurrection is as follows: the disciples were troubled and agitated after the martyrdom of Christ. The Reality of Christ, which signifies His teachings, his bounties, his perfections, and his spiritual power, was hidden and concealed for two or three days after his martyrdom, and was not resplendent and manifest. No, rather it was lost; for the believers were few in number and were troubled and agitated. The Cause of Christ was like a lifeless body; and, when after three days the disciples became assured and steadfast, and began to serve the Cause of Christ of Christ, and resolved to spread the divine teachings, putting his counsels into practice, and arising to serve him,… his religion found life, his teachings and admonitions became evident and visible. In other words, the Cause of Christ was like a lifeless body, until the life and bounty of the Holy Spirit surrounded it. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, old edition, p.119-121)
What is the Day of Resurrection? We’re in it now, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says resurrection is the recognition of the Manifestation of God for this day:
It is the same with the spiritual cycles of the Prophets — that is to say, the day of the appearance of the Holy Manifestations is the spiritual springtime; it is the divine splendor; it is the heavenly bounty, the breeze of life, the rising of the Sun of Reality. Spirits are quickened; hearts are refreshed and invigorated; souls become good; existence is set in motion; human realities are gladdened, and grow and develop in good qualities and perfections. General progress is achieved and revival takes place, for it is the day of resurrection, the time of excitement and ferment, and the season of bliss, of joy and of intense rapture. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 74)
Reincarnation and Past Lives
Though the fact of “Return” is mentioned in the Divine Books, by this is intended the return of the qualities, characters, perfections, truths and lights, which re-appear in every age and not of certain persons and souls:
Though the fact of “Return” is mentioned in the Divine Books, by this is intended the return of the qualities, characters, perfections, truths and lights, which re-appear in every age, and not of certain persons and souls. For example: If we say this lamp is the return of that of last night, or that the last year’s flower hath returned in the garden, in this sense the return of the individual, or identity, or personality is not meant; nay, rather, it is intended that the same qualities and states existing in that lamp or flower, which are now seen in this lamp or flower, have returned. That is, the same perfections and virtues and properties which existed in the past springtime have returned during this present springtime. For instance: When one says, these fruits are the same as those of last year; in this sense, he hath reference to the freshness and delicacy of the fruit, which hath returned, although there is no doubt that the identical fruit of last year hath not returned. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 392)
In the material world, everything must either go forward or retreat. In the spiritual realm there is no retreat possible, all movement is towards a perfect state.
In the world of spirit there is no retrogression. The world of mortality is a world of contradictions, of opposites; motion being compulsory everything must either go forward or retreat. In the realm of spirit there is no retreat possible, all movement is bound to be towards a perfect state. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 89)
Just as a baby in the womb is born into this world; we are born into the next. There would be no benefit for a baby to return to the womb:
Had the life and growth of the child in the womb been confined to that condition, then the existence of the child in the womb would have proved utterly abortive and unintelligible; as would the life of this world, were its deeds, actions and their results not to appear in the world to come. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 392)
Just as we were physically born from our mothers into this world, we must be born again from this world of nature into the life of the divine Kingdom:
Man is first born from a world of darkness, the matrix of the mother, into this physical world of light. In the dark world from whence he came he had no knowledge of the virtues of this existence. He has been liberated from a condition of darkness and brought into a new and spacious realm where there is sunlight, the stars are shining, the moon sheds its radiance, there are beautiful views, gardens of roses, fruits and all the blessings of the present world. How did he attain these blessings? Through the agency of birth from the mother. Just as man has been physically born into this world, he may be reborn from the realm and matrix of nature, for the realm of nature is a condition of animalism, darkness and defect. In this second birth he attains the world of the Kingdom. There he witnesses and realizes that the world of nature is a world of gloom, whereas the Kingdom is a world of radiance; the world of nature is a world of defects, the Kingdom is a realm of perfection; the world of nature is a world without enlightenment, the Kingdom of spiritual humanity is a heaven of illumination. Great discoveries and revelations are now possible for him; he has attained the reality of perception; his circle of understanding is illimitably widened; he views the realities of creation, comprehends the divine bounties and unseals the mystery of phenomena. This is the station which Christ has interpreted as the second birth. He says that just as ye were physically born from the mother into this world, ye must be born again from the mother world of nature into the life of the divine Kingdom. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 332)
Why would we want to return to a world filled with calamities, injuries, trials and difficulties?
Have the friends of God found such enjoyments and repose during their existence on this visible earth, that they might wish to have their return renewed and repeated constantly? Are all these calamities, injuries, trials and difficulties of the once coming not sufficient for them that they should wish a repeated life in this world? Hath this cup been of such sweetness that they should long for it successively and repeatedly? (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 392)
No! The only reward we seek is our meeting and visit in the Kingdom of El-Bahá; our only desire is to attain the Supreme Height; our only wish is the immortal blessing and eternal gift:
No! the friends of the Beauty of El-Bahá never seek any recompense or reward except the meeting and the visit in the Kingdom of El-Bahá; and they never walk but in the valley of desire to attain the Supreme Height. They only wish the immortal blessing and the eternal gift, which are sanctified above the worldly understanding. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 392)
Think about it: There isn’t a soul alive who lives in such tranquillity in this world, that this is a reward for good deeds in a former life; and no soul is so happy here, that this world is the fruit of his past pain:
Because, when thou lookest with the iron sight, thou wilt find that all mankind is suffering in this earthly world; there is no one in such tranquillity that this state might have been a reward for his good deeds in a former life and there is no soul so happy that this might be the fruit of his past pain! Had the life of a man in his spiritual being been only confined to his life in this world, the creation would have proved useless; the divine qualities would have no result and effect; nay, all things, created beings and the world of creation would have proved abortive. I ask pardon of God for such false imaginations and for such errors! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 392)
How has this helped you understand the life to come? Post your comments below!