Maybe those who face death without fear—the people we usually call heroes—know something we don’t about the afterlife.
Interestingly, this fearlessness when facing death is reflected in and somewhat corroborated by the collected accounts of people who have acquired such knowledge through what is commonly referred to as the NDE (Near Death Experience)—an account by an individual who has been clinically dead but who, after being revived, describes in detail the experience of what they believe to be a glimpse of the afterlife.
One of the best known early compilations of these experiences was Raymond A. Moody’s Life After Life, published in 1975. In this work he discusses how the subjects who had undergone the NDE speak of an inner peace and a fearlessness about life as a consequence of what they perceive to be their personal experience in the afterlife.
These subjects no longer seem worried about the prospect of death itself.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in her book Death: the Final Stage of Growth, indicated as a result of her observations from dealing with terminally ill and dying patients that an accurate understanding of death would reveal nothing to fear in the transition to another stage in our continuing existence:
Death is the final stage of growth in this life. There is no total death. Only the body dies. The self or spirit, or whatever you may wish to label it, is eternal …
Death, in this context, may be viewed as the curtain between the existence that we are conscious of and one that is hidden from us until we raise that curtain. – p. 166.
The Baha’i teachings offer us the exact same point of view:
… the life of the Kingdom is the life of the spirit, and that it is eternal and sanctified above time and place, even as the human spirit, which is placeless. … the world of the Kingdom is sanctified above all that can be seen by the eye or perceived by the other senses, such as hearing, smell, taste or touch. …
It follows clearly from these explanations that man is immortal and everlasting. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 280-281.
The Baha’i teachings reassure us that raising that curtain will be a joyous journey of new delight and discovery. When someone asked Abdu’l-Baha “How should one look forward to death?” he answered:
How does one look forward to the goal of any journey? With hope and with expectation. It is even so with the end of this earthly journey. In the next world, man will find himself freed from many of the disabilities under which he now suffers. Those who have passed on through death, have a sphere of their own. It is not removed from ours; their work, the work of the Kingdom, is ours; but it is sanctified from what we call ‘time and place.’ Time with us is measured by the sun. When there is no more sunrise, and no more sunset, that kind of time does not exist for man. Those who have ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, yet there is no real separation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 95.
But even if we are assured that further existence awaits us, our fears are not assuaged unless we are also confident that such an existence will inevitably be a positive one. For if there is even a possibility that it will not be, if we continue in much the same condition that we now experience, then if we are not content with life in general or with ourselves in particular, we might, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, feel “… the dread of something after death,/ The undiscover’d country from whose bourn/ No traveller returns.” Like Hamlet, we might decide that it is better to cling to this life, to “bear those ills we have/ Than fly to others that we know not of.”
Our primary concern, then, is the nature of that afterlife experience as it relates to our physical lives—the correlation between our physical performance, the metaphorical acting out of spiritual attributes, and our eternal well-being. For if there is a causal relationship, naturally our feelings about the physical plane of existence would be profoundly affected by this knowledge, as would be our anticipation of our future existence in the spiritual realm:
Some men’s lives are solely occupied with the things of this world; their minds are so circumscribed by exterior manners and traditional interests that they are blind to any other realm of existence, to the spiritual significance of all things! They think and dream of earthly fame, of material progress. Sensuous delights and comfortable surroundings bound their horizon, their highest ambitions centre in successes of worldly conditions and circumstances! They curb not their lower propensities; they eat, drink, and sleep! Like the animal, they have no thought beyond their own physical well-being. It is true that these necessities must be dispatched. Life is a load which must be carried on while we are on earth, but the cares of the lower things of life should not be allowed to monopolize all the thoughts and aspirations of a human being. The heart’s ambitions should ascend to a more glorious goal, mental activity should rise to higher levels! Men should hold in their souls the vision of celestial perfection, and there prepare a dwelling-place for the inexhaustible bounty of the Divine Spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 98-99.