The Baha’i teachings say the purpose of life is two-fold: to prepare for our life in the next world, and to improve this world.

But how—and why–can we try to work towards our life in the next world and try to improve this one at the same time?

Abdul-Baha explains that just as a baby prepares for life in this world while it is in the mother’s womb, we prepare for our life in the next world while we live here on earth:

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. – Abdul-Baha, Foundations of World Unity p. 63.

This means we can see the world as our spiritual training ground.

The Baha’i writings also say that we should regard the world as almost nothing:

…the whole world, in the estimation of the people of Baha, is worth as much as the black in the eye of a dead ant. – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 82.

However, at the same time, the Baha’i writings also urge us to be concerned with the world:

Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. – Baha’u’llah, The Tabernacle of Unity, p. 19.

Preschool-teacherSo should we devote ourselves to others’ well-being in this world; or our own spiritual progress in the next world?

The two, Baha’is believe, have an intimate connection. Through engaging in improving this world, we purify and prepare ourselves for our life in the next world. In fact, no one can fully prepare ourselves for the next world in isolation. A life lived on a mountain top, though tranquil and serene, will not exercise enough of our spiritual muscles, which we will depend upon in the next world. Though meditation and contemplation, and time alone are essential parts of a spiritual life, the evolving, growing soul also needs direct engagement with other people.

But where should our intention be in this? Should we devote ourselves to the betterment of the world in order to purify ourselves? Or should service be an end in itself?

In regards to worshiping God, the Bab wrote:

That which is worthy of His Essence is to worship Him for His sake, without fear of fire, or hope of paradise. Although when true worship is offered, the worshiper is delivered from the fire, and entereth the paradise of God’s good-pleasure, yet such should not be the motive of his act. – The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 78.

I think we can apply this approach to worship to our service for others, as well. Our efforts to better the world work best when they emerge as a completely selfless act devoted to others, not to ourselves.

At the back of our minds, we already know that helping others also assists us in our individual progress–but when we act, consciously focused on serving others, that can gradually recede in importance, until we can act with complete selflessness and detachment from our own concerns.

There is definitely a mysterious connection between this physical world in which we live, and the spiritual world which we will enter. If we consciously work towards making progress in both of these worlds, we can realize that in essence it is one spiritual journey, from here to the beyond:

O son of my handmaid! Didst thou behold immortal sovereignty, thou wouldst strive to pass from this fleeting world. But to conceal the one from thee and to reveal the other is a mystery which none but the pure in heart can comprehend. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 36.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

3 Comments

characters remaining
  • Jul 16, 2015
    EPHESIANS 4:1-16 PORTRAYS THE NECESSITY OF EQUIPPING THE MEMBERS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST WITH HEAVENLY KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM THAT THEY MIGHT BE UNITED AND BE LEAD TO WORK TOGETHER FOR THE COMMON GOOD...
    LET THY WILL BE DONE O LORD, HERE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN...
    • Oct 05, 2015
      The coming of Baha'u'llah is the answer to the prayer that for 2000 years you have invoked: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."
      "Night hath succeeded day, and day hath succeeded night," Bahá'u'lláh has revealed, "and the hours and moments of your lives have come and gone, and yet none of you hath, for one instant, consented to detach himself from that which perisheth. Bestir yourselves, that the brief moments that are still yours may not be dissipated and lost. Even as the swiftness of lightning your days shall pass, and ...your bodies shall be laid to rest beneath a canopy of dust. What can ye then achieve? How can ye atone for your past failure?"
      Read more...