If you’ve lost a friend or a loved one, you already know about the different emotions such a loss can trigger.
Perhaps it is relief; perhaps it is anguish or grief; perhaps it is shock. Sometimes, though, death is a joyful occasion.
Varying accounts come from those who have had Near Death Experiences (NDEs). While the majority are positive, some have had unpleasant and negative experiences. Christians would call these states “heaven” and “hell”. What the NDE reveals is that life, in some sort of form or existence, does not stop when the body does:
To hold that the spirit is annihilated upon the death of the body is to imagine that a bird imprisoned in a cage would perish if the cage were to be broken, though the bird has nothing to fear from the breaking of the cage. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 262.
The prophets of bygone religions have come to explain to us as much as we are capable of understanding. Each one seems to add a further understanding to this big question of what happens when we die. These religions presuppose the existence of the physical body and the spiritual soul.
To overview a few: Judaism differs in its teachings: some believe that nothing happens at death until God decides on the Resurrection, while others believe they will experience Moses teaching the Torah (“heaven”) or not (“hell”). Buddhism believes in a kind of reincarnation where the soul is in a constant journey for perfection until it reaches Nirvana. Muslims view death as the continuation of life on a spiritual plane, as something natural, but not without God’s judgment or review of the life lived on a physical plane (states of “heaven” or “hell”).
The nature of the soul after death can never be described, nor is it meet and permissible to reveal its whole character to the eyes of men. The Prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying Their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 156.
From this, one of our goals in this life is to become pure, sanctified, and detached. A tall order, indeed!
Baha’u’llah tells us something astonishing about those who do attain to a state of purity, sanctity, and detachment:
The light which these souls radiate is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like unto leaven which leaveneth the world of being, and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. – Ibid.
The progress of the world? The arts and wonders of the world? The Baha’i teachings seem to reveal an interconnectedness between the physical and spiritual worlds, telling of a very positive influence that these pure, sanctified, and detached souls may have on the physical world.
Apparently, after physical death we take on a spiritual form:
When the soul attaineth the Presence of God, it will assume the form that best befitteth its immortality and is worthy of its celestial habitation. – Ibid., p. 157.
Just as the baby in the womb develops eyes that it cannot use, we must develop “spiritual eyes” for use in the next phase of our existence. Baha’u’llah affirms: “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.” – Ibid.
The Baha’i teachings refer to the soul in various ways, calling it “one of the signs of God,” “a mystery among His mysteries,” “the harbinger that proclaimeth the reality of all the worlds of God.” Baha’u’llah further acknowledges:
Know, verily, that the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel. It is the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, to cleave to His truth, and to bow down in adoration before Him. If it be faithful to God, it will reflect His light, and will, eventually, return unto Him. If it fail, however, in its allegiance to its Creator, it will become a victim to self and passion, and will, in the end, sink in their depths. – Ibid., pp. 158-160.
To answer the question, “What happens when we die?”, according to Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i teachings, it is this:
Thou hast, moreover, asked Me concerning the state of the soul after its separation from the body. 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. By the righteousness of God! It shall attain a station such as no pen can depict, or tongue describe. The soul that hath remained faithful to the Cause of God, and stood unwaveringly firm in His Path shall, after his ascension, be possessed of such power that all the worlds which the Almighty hath created can benefit through him. Such a soul provideth, at the bidding of the Ideal King and Divine Educator, the pure leaven that leaveneth the world of being, and furnisheth the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. Consider how meal needeth leaven to be leavened with. Those souls that are the symbols of detachment are the leaven of the world. Meditate on this, and be of the thankful. – Ibid., p. 160.