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The Baha’i teachings say that “Whatever objects appear in this world of existence are the outer pictures of the world of heaven.” How can we see, then, what those objects really mean?
Let’s investigate the “exact counterpart” of each of the “objects” that appeared in Abdu’l-Baha’s dream, recounted in the initial essay of this two part series. In the dream, Abdu’l-Baha and Mullá Alí-Akbar—who had already passed on to the next world—“spoke together” and had a very pleasant conversation.
This dream appears like more than just Abdu’l-Baha’s imagination. In a “true dream” like this one, real spiritual communication takes place. As such, this dream that Abdu’l-Baha recounted has profound implications for our understanding of the reality of the next world. If we study it carefully, we can glean at least five of its deepest meanings:
(1) First, as Abdu’l-Baha said: “The very existence of man’s intelligence proves his immortality.” – Paris Talks, p. 93. Baha’is believe that death does not destroy memory and intelligence, although the mechanisms of the brain responsible for encoding memory cease to function upon death. But, somehow, memory is imprinted upon the soul. The soul is intelligent, able to communicate in the next world, and can experience joy, leading a robust and purposeful “second life.” In a prayer for the departed, Baha’u’llah gave us further glimpses into the nature of the next world:
Grant, then, O my God, that Thy servant may consort with Thy chosen ones, Thy saints and Thy Messengers in heavenly places that the pen cannot tell nor the tongue recount.
O my Lord, the poor one hath verily hastened unto the Kingdom of Thy wealth, the stranger unto his home within Thy precincts, he that is sore athirst to the heavenly river of Thy bounty. Deprive him not, O Lord, from his share of the banquet of Thy grace and from the favor of Thy bounty. Thou art in truth the Almighty, the Gracious, the All-Bountiful. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 44.
(2) The soul is alive and healthy, and receives spiritual nourishment, which is described in saying that Mullá Alí-Akbar “appeared larger and more corpulent than ever” and that he had “grown good and stout,” meaning that he was well fed, if not agreeably overweight.
So Abdu’l-Baha’s friend had a healthy diet, presumably of spiritual food, symbolized by its counterpart of physical food. There are, moreover, banquets in Paradise, as indicated by Baha’u’llah, in the prayer for the departed, quoted above. For instance, the Bab told one of his followers, the first Babi martyr: “For you are called to partake of the celestial banquet prepared for you in the immortal Realm.” – as quoted by Nabil, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 87.
We don’t know exactly what such “banquets” in Paradise might symbolize, but since the same language is used in this earthly life, we can infer that these heavenly banquets are experiences of spiritual joy and fulfillment. For instance, Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
As to you, O ye loved ones of God! Loose your tongues and offer Him thanks; praise ye and glorify the Beauty of the Adored One, for ye have drunk from this purest of chalices, and ye are cheered and set aglow with this wine. Ye have detected the sweet scents of holiness, ye have smelled the musk of faithfulness from Joseph’s raiment. Ye have fed on the honey-dew of loyalty from the hands of Him Who is the one alone Beloved, ye have feasted on immortal dishes at the bounteous banquet table of the Lord. This plenty is a special favour bestowed by a loving God, these are blessings and rare gifts deriving from His grace. – Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 9.
(3) The soul progresses throughout the worlds of God, as if on a journey, which may be why Abdu’l-Baha stated: “It seemed as if he had returned from a journey.” Baha’u’llah proclaimed:
In this day whosoever attaineth the good pleasure of the one true God, magnified be His glory, shall be remembered and accounted among the inmates of the all-highest Heaven and the most exalted Paradise, and shall partake of its benefits in all the worlds of God. – Tabernacle of Unity, p. 46.
(4) The soul lives in a pleasant environment, “places” where “the air” is “fresh and sweet, and the “water” is “crystal pure,” where “the landscapes” are “beautiful to look upon,” where “the foods” are “delectable.” Since the soul has no lungs to breathe the fresh and sweet air, and no mouth to drink the crystal pure water or to savor the delectable foods, or eyes to see and enjoy the beautiful landscapes, what might this delightful and encouraging description of the next world represent spiritually? Obviously physical metaphors for a spiritual existence, they describe the blessings we can experience in this earthly life as well, as in this prayer from Baha’u’llah:
From the sweet-scented streams of Thine eternity give me to drink, O my God, and of the fruits of the tree of Thy being enable me to taste, O my Hope! From the crystal springs of Thy love suffer me to quaff, O my Glory, and beneath the shadow of Thine everlasting providence let me abide, O my Light! Within the meadows of Thy nearness, before Thy presence, make me able to roam, O my Beloved, and at the right hand of the throne of Thy mercy, seat me, O my Desire! From the fragrant breezes of Thy joy let a breath pass over me, O my Goal, and into the heights of the paradise of Thy reality let me gain admission, O my Adored One! – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 141.
(5) The soul prepares for Paradise on this earthly plane by leading a spiritual life. When doing so, the soul has a taste of Paradise prior to death. As I demonstrated in my book Paradise & Paradigm, each and every important Baha’i teaching is associated with Paradise imagery:
Paradise allegorizes ideals. These ideals are projected onto heaven. There, in the wish-images of the communal dream, ideals are reified and beatified. … Heaven functions as the impressionistic blueprint of the ideal faith-community. Paradise imagery is then dislocated from the speculative and refocused on Earth. When once the heart is transformed and society reformed, Paradise is realized. In the intersection of eschatology and ethics, in the interplay of ideas and imagery, and as a function of an organizing principle, an overarching paradigm, Paradise becomes utopia. – Paradise & Paradigm, p. 329.
Even though the Baha’i teachings describe Paradise in such lofty terms, all is not bliss. There is still need for spiritual progress, even in the afterlife. In honoring the departed, we pray for the progress of their souls. In the case of our own parents, praying for their progress is a Baha’i duty, a service we can render to our parents in gratitude for their sacrifices for us, which we can never fully repay:
Likewise, parents endure the greatest toil and trouble for their children, and often, by the time the latter have reached the age of maturity, the former have hastened to the world beyond. Rarely do the mother and father enjoy in this world the rewards of all the pain and trouble they have endured for their children. The children must therefore, in return for this pain and trouble, make charitable contributions and perform good works in their name, and implore pardon and forgiveness for their souls. You should therefore, in return for the love and kindness of your father, give to the poor in his name and, with the utmost lowliness and fervour, pray for God’s pardon and forgiveness and seek His infinite mercy. – Some Answered Questions , newly revised edition, p. 267.
Performing this duty has its own rewards, according to the Bab:
It is seemly that the servant should, after each prayer, supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents. Thereupon God’s call will be raised: ’Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense!’ Blessed is he who remembereth his parents when communing with God. – Selections From the Writings of the Bab, p. 94.
The Baha’i writings refer to the holy souls in Paradise as the “Concourse on High.” If your parents are among them, this is what they are doing for you, according to Baha’u’llah:
Verily, We behold you from Our realm of glory, and shall aid whosoever will arise for the triumph of Our Cause with the hosts of the Concourse on high and a company of Our favored angels. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 139.
Dedicated in loving memory of my dear, departed mother-in-law, Ashraf (Rahimpour) Abadi (d. July 18, 2006, North Vancouver, Canada), and originally written for her memorial service on July 20, 2019.