|As in the world's other religions, the Bahá'í concept
of life after death is deeply integrated into teachings about the nature of the soul and
the purpose of this earthly life.
Bahá'u'lláh confirmed the existence of a separate, rational soul for every human. In
this life, He said, the soul is related to the physical body. It provides the underlying
animation for the body, and is our real self.
Although undetectable by physical
instruments, the soul shows itself through the qualities of character that we associate
with each person. The soul is the focal point for love and compassion, for faith and
courage, and for other such "human" qualities that cannot be explained solely by
thinking of a human being as an animal, or as a sophisticated organic machine.
The soul does not die; it endures
everlastingly. When the human body dies, the soul is freed from ties with the physical
body and the surrounding physical world and begins its progress through the spiritual
world. Bahá'ís understand the spiritual world to be a timeless and placeless extension
of our own universe--and not some physically remote or removed place.
Entry into the next life has the
potential to bring great joy. Bahá'u'lláh likened death to the
process of birth. He explains: "The world beyond is as
different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in
the womb of its mother."
The analogy to the womb in many ways
summarizes the Bahá'í view of earthly existence. Just as the womb constitutes an
important place for a person's initial physical development, the physical world provides
the matrix for the development of the individual soul. Accordingly, Bahá'ís view life as
a sort of workshop, where one can develop and perfect those qualities which will be needed
in the next life.
"Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul
of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly return and be gathered to the
glory of the Beloved," Bahá'u'lláh wrote. "By the
righteousness of God! It shall attain a station such as no pen can depict, or tongue can
In the final analysis, heaven can be seen
partly as a state of nearness to God; hell is a state of remoteness from God. Each state
follows as a natural consequence of individual efforts, or the lack thereof, to develop
spiritually. The key to spiritual progress is to follow the path outlined by the
Manifestations of God.
Beyond this, the exact nature of the
afterlife remains a mystery. "The nature of the soul
after death can never be described," Bahá'u'lláh writes.