Afterlife and Salvation

The Baha'i scriptures assert that there is life after death; indeed the whole purpose of human life in this world is a preparation for that life. Human beings have only one lifetime on this earth and the purpose of this life is to acquire spiritual virtues in preparation for the next life, which is a purely spiritual life, and so these spiritual virtues will only fully come into their own in that next life.

The Baha'i scriptures teach that human life in this world is like that of the embryo in the womb, which is developing arms, legs, eyes, and ears that are of little use in that world of the uterus. It is only when it dies to that world and is born into this world that it is able to use these organs fully. Similarly, human beings are instructed by the Manifestations of God to develop certain virtues. Humans cannot entirely understand the reason for this now but if they were to fail to develop these virtues, they would be born into the next world handicapped, just as an embryo that fails to develop arms or legs or eyes is handicapped when it is born into this world.

Life after Death

In the beginning of his human life man was embryonic in the world of the matrix. There he received capacity and endowment for the reality of human existence. The forces and powers necessary for this world were bestowed upon him in that limited condition. In this world he needed eyes; he received them potentially in the other. He needed ears; he obtained them there in readiness and preparation for his new existence. The powers requisite in this world were conferred upon him in the world of the matrix so that when he entered this realm of real existence he not only possessed all necessary functions and powers but found provision for his material sustenance awaiting him.

Therefore, in this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix by acquiring forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so, likewise, the indispensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world.

What is he in need of in the Kingdom which transcends the life and limitation of this mortal sphere? That world beyond is a world of sanctity and radiance; therefore, it is  necessary that in this world he should acquire these divine attributes. In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find  all that is needful in that eternal life ready for him.

(From a talk given by 'Abdu'l-Baha in New York in July 1912 and published in 'Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 225-6.)

According to the Baha'i scriptures, human beings have neither the vocabulary to discuss nor the conceptual ability to understand the spiritual world that permeates this reality and to which humans go after death. It is therefore only possible to speak of it in terms of metaphors and analogies such as the one above. In general, however, these scriptures portray a picture of gradual spiritual progress after death attaining, eventually, the presence of God. Part of the reason that the nature of the afterlife is hidden from humans may be because, as Baha'u'llah states, if humans were to understand its nature, they could not bear to remain in this world. It is for this reason that Baha'u'llah writes that He has made death a "messenger of joy" and that human beings should not fear death. Suicide, however, is prohibited in the Baha'i Faith.

The souls of those who have died can have a positive influence on this physical world, encouraging the progress and advancement of the people of this world. According to the Baha'i teachings, however, there is no evil influence from the souls of those who have died; because of their spiritual disabilities, evil souls have no ability to influence this world. Baha'is are also discouraged from trying to contact the dead (for example, through mediums). This is an obstacle to the spiritual development of both those who are alive and those who are dead.

There is no concept of a state of salvation in the Baha'i teachings; rather salvation is a process. The process of acquiring spiritual virtues makes us more and more fit to enter the next world. The main aim of life should be to perfect these spiritual attributes; the more these are perfected, the closer humans become to God. And it is this closeness to God that is the heaven or paradise referred to in the scriptures of all religions. Failing to develop these virtues means humans separating themselves from God, and that is hell. Thus heaven and hell are not distinct places; they are spiritual conditions both in this world and in the after-life. Human progress along this path occurs partly as the result of the individual's own efforts and partly due to the grace of God during this life. After death, progress is mostly from the grace of God, but human beings can assist this progress by praying for those who have died.

A consequence of holding to this view of salvation as a process is that human beings are in no position to judge each other. A person may appear to be very far advanced on the spiritual road, but may be traveling very slowly or have stopped, and is thus blameworthy in the sight of God. Another person may not appear to be very advanced but may be making rapid progress. Furthermore, Baha'u'llah warns that it is even possible at the hour of death for someone to gain faith and attain a high spiritual station and conversely for another to lose faith and fall from a high spiritual station to a low one.

Baha'u'llah's words about the Hour of Death from the Kitab-i-Iqan

He should not wish for others that which he doth not wish for himself, nor promise that which he doth not fulfil. With all his heart should the seeker avoid fellowship with evil doers, and pray for the remission of their sins. He should forgive the sinful, and never despise his low estate, for none knoweth what his own end shall be. How often hath a sinner, at the hour of death, attained to the essence of faith, and, quaffing the immortal draught, hath taken his flight unto the celestial Concourse. And how often hath a devout believer, at the hour of his soul's ascension, been so changed as to fall into the nethermost fire. Our purpose in revealing these convincing and weighty utterances is to impress upon the seeker that he should regard all else beside God as transient, and count all things save Him, Who is the Object of all adoration, as utter nothingness.

Study Questions:
     1.     Explain the analogy that Baha’is use to explain the afterlife.
     2.     Why do Baha'is believe that we should not fear death?
     3.     How do Baha’is explain the concept of salvation?
     4.     Why, according to the Baha'i teachings, can we not judge the spiritual station of others?

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