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What do we leave behind when we make our transition to the next world?
Obviously, we don’t take anything physical or material with us—our souls only carry the spiritual attributes we’ve managed to develop in our short sojourn here on Earth. We leave everything else behind. The homes we worked so hard for; all of our prized physical possessions; the money we were able to save; all of that stays here, and soon belongs to others. As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you:
Rejoice not in the things ye possess; tonight they are yours, tomorrow others will possess them. Thus warneth you He Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Informed. Say: Can ye claim that what ye own is lasting or secure? Nay! … What advantage is there in the earthly things which men possess? That which shall profit them, they have utterly neglected. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 138.
Of course, we also leave behind our children and their children—our namesakes, our progeny and our true legacy. If we raised, trained and educated them properly, they can carry on the family’s honor and pass it to the next generations.
In essence, then, what we leave behind is our good name:
It is clear that life in this fast-fading world is as fleeting and inconstant as the morning wind, and this being so, how fortunate are the great who leave a good name behind them, and the memory of a lifetime spent in the pathway of the good pleasure of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 69.
When we serve others selflessly, when we practice love, kindness and altruism, our good name endures. Think of the heroes of humanity, and ponder their legacies. What did Christ or Buddha or Moses leave behind?
Consider not the present condition, but rather foresee the future and the end. A seed in the beginning is very small, but in the end a great tree. One should not consider the seed, but the tree and its abundance of blossoms, leaves and fruits.
Consider the days of Jesus, when there was only a small body of people, and then observe the great tree which grew from that seed and what an abundant fruit it produced. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 410.
That’s why the Baha’i teachings ask everyone to “look with eyes of faith into the future:”
Lift up your hearts above the present and look with eyes of faith into the future! Today the seed is sown, the grain falls upon the earth, but behold the day will come when it shall rise a glorious tree and the branches thereof shall be laden with fruit. Rejoice and be glad that this day has dawned, try to realize its power, for it is indeed wonderful! God has crowned you with honour and in your hearts has He set a radiant star; verily the light thereof shall brighten the whole world! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 69.
These Baha’i teachings show us how to develop hope for the future in our hearts. If we dedicate our lives to seeding the Earth with love, kindness and compassion, and express those feelings in actual deeds that help humanity, those actions will grow the seed of hope into a fruitful tree. Rather than concentrating on the tiny seed, we can foresee the outcome:
Work for the sake of God and for the improvement of humanity, without any expectation of praise and reward. The present (is always) unimportant, but we must make our present so filled with mighty and altruistic deeds as to assume significant weight and momentous importance in the future. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, pp. 195-196.
For Baha’is—who believe in not only the future but also in an eternal, unending life for every awakened human soul—working for the sake of God and the improvement of humanity means dedicating ourselves to knowing and loving our Creator and committing ourselves to building a global civilization:
All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214.