The Baha’i writings portray the pure joy and utter delight souls experience upon being released from their associative or indirect relationship with physical experience:
To hold that the spirit is annihilated upon the death of the body is to imagine that a bird imprisoned in a cage would perish if the cage were to be broken, though the bird has nothing to fear from the breaking of the cage. This body is even as the cage and the spirit is like the bird: We observe that this bird, unencumbered by its cage, soars freely in the world of sleep. Therefore, should the cage be broken, the bird would not only continue to exist but its senses would be heightened, its perception would be expanded, and its joy would grow more intense. In reality, it would be leaving a place of torment for a delightsome paradise; for there is no greater paradise for the grateful birds than to be freed from their cage. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 262.
As we read this powerful passage, we also encounter related passages in the Baha’i writings that indicate why this sense of release and relief are qualified. For while these passages, taken out of context, do not seem to deny that a pleasant afterlife experience would not be available to souls who do not meet these qualifications, other passages in the Baha’i writings clearly indicate that unpleasant afterlife experiences do await some souls, at least in the initial stages of that experience. Therefore, to have a valid understanding of the Baha’i paradigm, we need to comprehend the basis for such a negative experience.
The unmistakably clear implication of Moody’s study of near-death experiences in his book Life After Life is that all alike receive a uniformly blissful experience in the afterlife—and yet such is not the case, not only as portrayed in the Baha’i writings, but because even a single alternative experience reported by Moody might have indicated a totally distinct paradigm—one that Moody might have neglected to emphasize because his initial purpose was to corroborate and share the positive pattern, an understandable objective.
But the fact is that Moody himself does acknowledge in his first work that at least one consistent alternative model exists. Relatively unnoticed in a final section on “miscellaneous questions” is a significant and unexpected observation by the author. He notes that those who had the near-death experience as the result of attempted suicide seemed to have a uniformly negative experience:
I do know of a few cases in which a suicide attempt was the cause of the apparent “death.” These experiences were uniformly characterized as being unpleasant.
As one woman said, “If you leave here a tormented soul, you will be a tormented soul over there, too.” In short, they report that the conflicts they had attempted to escape were still present when they died, but with added complications. In their disembodied state they were unable to do anything about their problems, and they also had to view the unfortunate consequences which resulted from their acts.
A man who was despondent about the death of his wife shot himself, “died” as a result, and was resuscitated. He states:
I didn’t go where [my wife] was. I went to an awful place. . . . I immediately saw the mistake I had made. . . . I thought, “I wish I hadn’t done it.”
Others who experienced this unpleasant “limbo” state have remarked that they had the feeling they would be there for a long time. This was their penalty for “breaking the rules” by trying to release themselves prematurely from what was, in effect, an “assignment”—to fulfill a certain purpose in life. – Raymond Moody, Life After Life, p. 143.
Moody’s reference to an “unpleasant limbo” experienced because of “breaking the rules” has a profound impact on the entire validity of what Life After Life seems to imply and was largely accepted by its readership to imply with regard to the central paradigm the book discusses.
Clearly there is not merely one category of experience after all, something that even variations with the positive model indicate. More to the point, there is at least one category of experiences that is not positive.
Accountability for Your Life
These alternative negative paradigms are alluded to in the Baha’i writings, as well as in the scriptures of all other religions. They have tremendous importance insofar as the portrayal of the overall afterlife experience is concerned. Succinctly stated, there emerges in this alternative category of experience an explicit relationship between our performance in the physical part of our lives and what we will experience in the continuation of our lives in the afterlife, at least in the initial stages of that experience.
This observation or axiom is quite different from the paradigm posited by Kübler-Ross in her statement that all receive the same joyous experience—that a Hitler and a Mother Theresa receive the same reception and treatment after death. It would seem that God (the “Being of Light,” as the subjects often allude to this sense of a guide) does judge us, or perhaps more accurately stated, causes us to be capable of judging or assessing ourselves.
This alternative experience, then, is not really an aberration, a deviation from the norm that Moody, Kübler-Ross, and others describe. Indeed, this implication that there is an explicit relationship between how we perform in this life and what we experience in the continuation of our lives would seem to corroborate statements by some of Moody’s subjects—that after the NDE, they came to believe that this life is an “assignment,” that tests in this life fulfill “a certain purpose in life,” and that the initial afterlife experience is an appropriate response to the evaluation of one’s efforts.