The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
The soul comes from without into the human body, as into a temporary abode, and it goes out of it anew it passes into other habitations, for the soul is immortal. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. – J.K. Rowling
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. – Jim Elliot
“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” — Steve Jobs (Jobs’ biological sister Mona Simpson reported these being Jobs’ last words before he died.)
Are you ready to die?
Every day, everyone on Earth wakes up one day closer to their death. Despite that inescapable fact, isn’t it strange that we rarely do anything about it? We tend not to give it much thought until it becomes imminent. We avoid contemplating death and what it means, considering its ramifications or taking any real substantive action to prepare for it. We plan and get ready for every life event: school, work, marriage, children, and our physical retirement—but we tend to ignore the preparations we need to make to live a happy, fulfilling eternal life. Death waits for all of us, and we don’t want to admit it, face it or prepare for it. Psychologists call that outlook the denial of death, and it seems almost universal in most cultures.
Oh, sure, we might make a will or buy burial insurance or briefly wonder whether anyone will miss us when we’re gone—but those actions chiefly concern the living, those who remain here after we’ve made our journey to the next world.
Actually preparing for our inevitable transition while we’re still alive involves a much more substantive process. It requires daily attention to the inner spiritual development of the soul, the growth of the attributes and qualities necessary for full awareness and capacity in a non-physical reality. Real preparation, the Baha’i teachings advise us, means beholding “the immortal outlook:”
Glory and abasement, poverty and wealth, trouble and tranquillity, all shall pass away, and ere long all the inhabitants of the earth shall return to the tomb. Therefore every possessor of insight must behold the immortal outlook… through the Bounties of the Eternal Sovereign, he may enter into the everlasting Kingdom and rest under the shade of the Tree of Command. – Baha’u’llah, quoted in Star of the West, Volume 2, p. 6.
Only by improving spiritually as well as materially can we make any real progress, and become perfect beings. It was in order to bring this spiritual life and light into the world that all the great Teachers have appeared. They came so that the Sun of Truth might be manifested, and shine in the hearts of men, and that through its wondrous power men might attain unto Everlasting Light. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 63.
Baha’is view this lifelong process of maturation and spiritual development as an exact analogue to the process of physical growth. Everyone starts as a tiny embryo in the mother’s womb, and gradually we develop the arms and the legs, the eyes and the ears we will need after birth. Those physical attributes don’t develop instantly—they take time to grow, unfold and advance. In the same way, Baha’is believe, our slow attainment of the kingdom of everlasting life “must be attained during this vanishing existence:”
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.
What is he in need of in the Kingdom which transcends the life and limitation of this mortal sphere? That world beyond is a world of sanctity and radiance; therefore, it is necessary that in this world he should acquire these divine attributes. In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that eternal life ready for him.
That divine world is manifestly a world of lights; therefore, man has need of illumination here. That is a world of love; the love of God is essential. It is a world of perfections; virtues, or perfections, must be acquired. That world is vivified by the breaths of the Holy Spirit; in this world we must seek them. That is the Kingdom of everlasting life; it must be attained during this vanishing existence. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 225-226.
Growing those spiritual arms and legs and eyes and ears, the Baha’i teachings say, is the main task we each have to accomplish while we’re here on Earth.
While we’re here in this plane of existence, we have the free will to progress spiritually, to develop our inner attributes and to open our hearts to love, radiance and spirituality. When we do those things here, we prepare our souls for the conditions of the afterlife—for our eternal retirement.