No greater mystery exists than the world beyond – but, like most mysteries, we do have a few clues about the nature of the afterlife.
The teachings of all the great Faiths refer to the existence of the human soul and its journey through this world and the worlds to come. The Baha’i writings give us more hints, indications, and insights as to what to expect. In those writings, we glean enough knowledge in this life to help us prepare for the next life. We learn that the hereafter, to a large extent, greatly depends on the here-and-now.
Full disclosure of life in the world beyond is neither possible nor desirable. That life, the Baha’i teachings tell us, is impossible to understand. Even if we were able to understand it, too much information would excite such great longing to experience that realm so as to tempt suicide, as Baha’u’llah states:
If any man be told that which hath been ordained for such a soul in the worlds of God, the Lord of the throne on high and of earth below, his whole being will instantly blaze out in his great longing to attain that most exalted, that sanctified and resplendent station. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 156.
To really know is to do. Knowledge should serve as a guide for enlightened actions. Without following through on what we know, such knowledge is for naught, if it produces no results. Although true as a general principle, this is especially true when it comes to the necessity for each of us to prepare for the world beyond.
What each of us does in the present, in fact, affects our future – not only in this life, but in the afterlife as well. Although there’s a world of difference, the afterlife, after all, represents a continuation of this life. This is all the more reason to think about the world beyond while we are still living in the present world.
If one of the primary purposes of life is spiritual progress, the same applies in the life to come. The two are related – intimately interrelated, in fact – with the quality of the afterlife depending, in large measure, on the quality of this earthly life.
Material progress has its merits and demerits, but the Baha’i teachings define spiritual progress as the growth of spiritual awareness, including the love and “fear” (in a positive sense of what not to do) of God, but also the acquisition of godly virtues, as expressed in goodly deeds, in the path of service to others – and in the interest of advancing civilization, to the extent that each of us can contribute our part, to the best of each of our God-given abilities.
Progress in the world beyond, according to the Baha’i teachings, depends on: (1) the grace and bounty of God; (2) the intercession and prayers of other human souls; (3) significant contributions and charitable deeds which are offered in its [the soul’s] name; and (4) discoveries experienced by the soul.
1. The grace and bounty of God: Abdu’l-Baha explained, in answer to the question “Through what means can the spirit of man—the rational soul—progress after departing from this mortal world?:
The progress of the human spirit in the divine world, after its connection with the physical body has been severed, is either  purely through the grace and bounty of the Lord,  or through the intercession and prayers of other human souls,  or through the significant contributions and charitable deeds which are offered in its name. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 334 [numbering added].
Here, the ways in which the soul is assisted in this progress by the grace of God, by the intercession of the Concourse on high and the prayers of the people here on Earth below, and/or philanthropic gifts or deeds done in memory of the departed, is not explained as to how this occurs. In a sense, the “how” is not as important as the “why.” After all, it’s the progress that counts, not how it occurs.
2. The intercession and prayers of other human souls: We can all pray for the spiritual progress of departed souls, and the Baha’i teachings say that prayer helps those souls advance spiritually in the world beyond.
3. Significant contributions and charitable deeds which are offered in its [the soul’s] name: This is the third way in which the spiritual progress of a departed soul may be assisted. In response to a question, Baha’u’llah states the soul rejoices in the present for the good that is done both past and present:
After relinquishing the body, that is to say, after the soul hath been separated from the body, it hasteneth to the abode hereafter …
Verily, We say: The soul is gladdened by goodly deeds and profiteth from the contributions made in the path of God. – Baha’u’llah, The Tabernacle of Unity, p. 63.
In the hereafter, the soul rejoices in contemplating past deeds and contributions performed here on Earth – but also rejoices in goodly deeds and contributions, also performed here on earth, but in the name and memory of that departed soul. Presumably, that happiness imparted to the soul somehow aids its progress, although we don’t know how.
4. Discoveries experienced by the soul: This is the fourth way in which the spiritual progress of a departed soul may be assisted, according to the following statement by Abdu’l-Baha:
As to thy question regarding discoveries made by the soul after it hath put off its human form: certainly, that world is a world of perceptions and discoveries, for the interposed veil will be lifted away and the human spirit will gaze upon souls that are above, below, and on a par with itself. It is similar to the condition of a human being in the womb, where his eyes are veiled, and all things are hidden away from him. Once he is born out of the uterine world and entereth this life, he findeth it, with relation to that of the womb, to be a place of perceptions and discoveries, and he observeth all things through his outer eye. In the same way, once he hath departed this life, he will behold, in that world whatsoever was hidden from him here: but there he will look upon and comprehend all things with his inner eye. There will he gaze on his fellows and his peers, and those in the ranks above him, and those below. — Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 170–171.
The soul’s “perceptions and discoveries” presumably assist in the spiritual progress of that soul.
Further to the previous article (“What Will We Do In the World Beyond?” Part 3 in Series: The World Beyond), note also that the world beyond is also part of this world, but is hidden from our purview and perception:
Those souls who are pure and unsullied, upon the dissolution of their elemental frames, hasten away to the world of God, and that world is within this world. The people of this world, however, are unaware of that world, and are even as the mineral and the vegetable that know nothing of the world of the animal and the world of man. – Ibid., pp. 194–195.