We will experience a sense of joy, peace and delight when we die, the Baha’i teachings say—and so do the thousands upon thousands of people who have had near-death experiences.
Perhaps the most striking, and for our purposes the most significant parallel between Raymond Moody’s near-death experience research in his book Life After Life and the descriptions of death in the Baha’i teachings is the similarity in tone of the total peace and joy that Moody’s subjects experience, and the delight that the Baha’i writings portray as our destiny in the afterlife.
All of Moody’s subjects affirm that after their deaths they did not want to return to physical reality and their physical lives, and many imply that they themselves had a volitional role to play in determining whether or not they would remain in the spiritual realm, or return to their physical existence. Those who stated that they “decided” to return explained that they did so only because they felt an overwhelming sense responsibility to some unfulfilled duty—children to raise or some equally important mission. But all of them uniformly describe the “afterlife” as preferable to this life:
… all I felt was warmth and the most extreme comfort I have ever experienced. – Raymond Moody, Life After Life, pp. 28-29.
I began to experience the most wonderful feelings. I couldn’t feel a thing in the world except peace, comfort, ease—just quietness. I felt that all my troubles were gone … – Ibid., p. 29.
As I went across the line, the most wonderful feelings came over me—feelings of peace, tranquillity, a vanishing of all worries. – Ibid., p. 75.
I didn’t want to go back, but I had no choice, and immediately I was back in my body. – Ibid., p. 76.
When I had this wonderful feeling, there in the presence of that light, I really didn’t want to come back. But I take my responsibilities very seriously, and I knew that I had a duty to my family. So I decided to try to come back. – Ibid., p. 78.
This same sense of joy, exuberance, release, and transcendence is corroborated in numerous passages in the Baha’i writings, but with a significant and consistent qualification:
Every pure, every refined and sanctified soul will be endowed with tremendous power, and shall rejoice with exceeding gladness. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 154.
Every soul that walketh humbly with its God, in this Day, and cleaveth unto Him, shall find itself invested with the honor and glory of all goodly names and stations. – Ibid., p. 159.
Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly, return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved. – Ibid., p. 161.
They that are the followers of the one true God shall, the moment they depart out of this life, experience such joy and gladness as would be impossible to describe… – Ibid., p. 171.
Unlike the implications of Moody’s model that every deceased soul experiences this sensation—even as Kübler-Ross asserted that everyone has the same experience—the Baha’i writings qualify the category of souls that experience this utter detachment and otherworldly delight. The Baha’i writings describe the category of soul which has this sense of release, elation, detachment, and complete joy as consisting of “every pure, every refined and sanctified soul, “every soul that walketh humbly with its God,” “the soul of man that hath walked in the ways of God,” and “they that are the followers of the one true God.”
Of course, it is extremely important to note that Baha’i writings do not imply that this standard is a fixed point of achievement nor a category circumscribed by dogmatic or doctrinaire standards, even as we have noted in discussing the issue of “salvation” in previous essays. Doubtless there are myriad degrees of distinction within this broad category and, we must assume, myriad particularized experiences appropriately designed for each soul.
Nevertheless, we can hardly ignore one conclusion: while we cannot determine precisely who might be appropriately depicted by such appellations or qualifications, we most certainly can admit that we have encountered in our lives individuals for whom such descriptions would not be appropriate.
Indeed, we would be less than honest with ourselves if we did not wonder whether we ourselves could be accurately depicted with these phrases.