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Question: If there is a “heaven” in Baha’i religion, how would you get there? Is there something you must do? Or is everybody able to enter it no matter what?
Baha’u’llah teaches that the concepts of heaven and hell do not represent material places, but rather states of being that we can experience here in this physical world — and in the next life. Which of those conditions we inhabit depends entirely upon us, and upon the grace of God.
The Baha’i concept of “heaven” or paradise isn’t really at all like the concept of heaven I was brought up with in the churches we attended. The Baha’i teachings do not portray heaven as a place you go if God approves of you, or if you believe in a particular doctrine or church or system.
Instead, Baha’u’llah equates heaven with nearness to God, and hell with remoteness from God.
In the Baha’i view, we have choices to make here on this plane of existence about what sort of people we become and what spiritual qualities (or animal vices) we develop. If we strive to develop Godly qualities (love, forgiveness, trustworthiness, justice, etc) we will nourish and grow the spiritual faculties that allow us to thrive in the next life. If we don’t develop them, we will not thrive there – instead, we’ll entire the next life with significant spiritual handicaps.
More to the point, if we don’t develop them, we won’t thrive spiritually here either. Nor will we help others to thrive.
My personal take on it is that it’s like the laws of physics. If you attempt to break one of these physical laws, you may suffer a rude awakening. Step off the roof of a building and gravity will kick in — you may end up with a broken leg. Buddha said that “Hatred does not cease by hatred; hatred ceases by love. This is an eternal law.” The other Divine Teachers also teach that love is the first law. If we break this spiritual law of gravity, then something else may end up broken — a friendship, a family, a community, a nation, our own spirit. Breaking such a law has consequences. I watch those consequences play out every day on the news. I see them every day when I talk to people who have become twisted by hatred for other human beings. I think that’s a good definition of hell.
Baha’u’llah also says that people have different capacities for spiritual growth:
The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. Let none, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle. The portion of some might lie in the palm of a man’s hand, the portion of others might fill a cup, and of others even a gallon-measure. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8.
Jesus talked about the “narrow gate” that leads to eternal life: “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14). That narrow gate, in context with His words, is this commandment that He gives right before He warns how narrow that gate is. It exists in the scriptures of every revealed religion: “… whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7: 12)
So we don’t worship God because we desire “heaven” or we fear “hell”. The Bab wrote:
Worship thou God in such wise that if thy worship lead thee to the fire, no alteration in thine adoration would be produced, and so likewise if thy recompense should be paradise. Thus and thus alone should be the worship which befitteth the one True God. Shouldst thou worship Him because of fear, this would be unseemly in the sanctified Court of His presence, and could not be regarded as an act by thee dedicated to the Oneness of His Being. Or if thy gaze should be on paradise, and thou shouldst worship Him while cherishing such a hope, thou wouldst make God’s creation a partner with Him, notwithstanding the fact that paradise is desired by men. – Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 77-78.
Baha’is don’t believe that only Baha’is “go to heaven”, but simply that Baha’u’llah has the teachings of God for this age — just as Christ had the teachings necessary to take the people He was given to teach to the next stage of their development. Baha’u’llah puts it this way:
The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 213.