The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
We all live in this physical universe now, but many believe that we will eternally exist in a spiritual world after this life. In his writings, Baha’u’llah asks us to be mindful of that life in the spiritual world to come:
Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty.
With such a glorious destiny ahead of us, does that mean we should not focus on the present moment at all, and place all of our attention on the future? Mindfulness of the moment is an important practice in many spiritual traditions. Does it have a place in a life devoted to the future?
To answer that question, let’s look at why the Baha’i teachings emphasize the importance of focusing on our life in the next world.
From a Baha’i perspective, the spiritual world represents the ultimate reality, while this material world is but a shadow of it. That spiritual world, the Baha’i writings say, is superior to the world we inhabit now.
Just like we prepared for this physical existence by developing all of our senses and faculties in the womb, this material world serves as the means to develop the spiritual faculties we will need to fully experience life in the next world. Those spiritual faculties are defined by the vast array of virtues we all inherently possess within, such as, kindness, truthfulness, and love. We each have all of these qualities as potentialities that need to be developed and activated through faith and good deeds. In the book Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha said:
Entrance into the Kingdom is through the love of God, through detachment, through sanctity and holiness, through truthfulness and purity, through steadfastness and faithfulness, and through self-sacrifice.
Although we should constantly be aware that our true life begins after our physical death, and that we need to prepare for that life by developing our inner characters and doing good deeds in this life, this is not the motivation behind these deeds. We do not show kindness to others just to gain a future benefit for ourselves. That would not be kindness at all – it would be mere make-believe. We show kindness for others by expressing real love for them from the bottom of our hearts, for the sake of that person, not ourselves. Likewise as the forerunner of Baha’u’llah, the Bab, said, we worship God for Him, not ourselves: “Fire and paradise both bow down and prostrate themselves before God. That which is worthy of His Essence is to worship Him for His sake, without fear of fire, or hope of paradise.”
Here, paradoxically, we remember our ultimate destiny in the next world and know what will take us there, but when we engage in the act of doing good deeds in the present, we forget that future world, at least to a degree or in a sense. In the present we only focus on the deed at hand, not what we could potentially get out of it.
Here we find mindfulness.
While doing good deeds, we are focused on the present. We may even lose ourselves in a state of flow. We do not calculate every move we make as a strategic step towards our ultimate aim, though deep down we may understand each deed provides such a stepping stone.
This seems to suggest that our lives should be spent with a simultaneous focus on the present and the future. During the time we’re engaged in service to the world, we can be mindful of each action we take, present to each moment. But in our times of reflection, we can take a step back and remember our spiritual destiny, reflecting on past actions and what we might do to evince better ones as we progress.
The Baha’i teachings urge us to take time out at least once a day to reflect on our actions that day. This can be a time to frame those actions in an eternal perspective and assess the measure of their nobility.
This nuanced focus on the past, present, and future gives meaning and purpose to our lives. While we fully and mindfully engage in the present moment, our actions become even more meaningful and rich when we understand them as steps towards our eternal destiny. Equally important, that process can help us remember that our actions can also be steps away from that destiny, if they are done out of selfishness or malice. By setting a course towards nobility and acting with sincerity, we can live each moment with purpose.