How do we get to heaven?
At some time or another, we’ve all thought about what will happen after we die. All of the world’s great religions agree that the human being is more than flesh, blood and bone. Instead, we humans can imagine, envision, create, speculate, reason, reflect, postulate, invent, forgive and so on. We understand these fruits of a higher consciousness to be attributes of a spiritual dimension of our existence – the soul.
But still, we wonder, what will happen when we expire? Where will the soul go? Is there a door to heaven, a spiritual pathway that leads the soul to a place of eternal beauty and bliss? The door to heaven, we might argue, appears in the teachings of our religious tradition; or perhaps, as many Christians believe, the door to heaven vests solely in the person of Jesus Christ. But if only one door to heaven exists, enshrined within the teachings of only one divine personage, then this would mean that the vast majority of human beings—many living today and everyone who lived before the advent of that divine personage—are hopelessly barred from the bliss of everlasting life that heaven promises.
The Baha’i teachings encourage us to consider a more timeless, culturally and demographically transcendent view of heaven; a view that does not bar anyone from its attainment by virtue of the happenstance of one’s birth date or place or religious heritage.
Though we often speak about heaven as a physical place—as though it were a country on the other side of the universe—a purely physical characterization of heaven doesn’t seem possible, for we know the soul is not a physical entity. The soul is a spiritual reality; therefore, heaven must be characterized by spiritual conditions.
The Baha’i Faith views heaven as a spiritual condition of nearness to God, and hell as a spiritual condition of remoteness from God. The soul can experience heaven or hell at any stage of its endless journey. From the soul’s perspective, there is really no afterlife–there is only life manifested in different conditions. Adopting this view of heaven and hell, we can readily understand that the door to heaven is framed by spiritual truths that inspire the soul to ascend to the divine realm. The soul, when it becomes aware of these truths and embraces them wholeheartedly, becomes illumined and enters the Kingdom of God, a heavenly condition of being.
Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Moses, Baha’u’llah and every other divine messenger of God revealed unerring spiritual truths that guide the receptive soul to the threshold of heaven, a spiritual station of nearness to God. In describing the great centers of spiritual truth, Baha’u’llah says:
These sanctified Mirrors…are, one and all, the Exponents on earth of Him Who is the central Orb of the universe, its Essence and ultimate Purpose. From Him proceed their knowledge and power; from Him is derived their sovereignty. The beauty of their countenance is but a reflection of His image, and their revelation a sign of His deathless glory. – The Book of Certitude, pp. 99-100.
At the moment of physical death the soul’s association with the body ends; the body becomes nothing more than a lifeless shell. The soul continues to exist in a spiritual state and condition that words cannot adequately describe:
When the human soul soareth out of this transient heap of dust and riseth into the World of God, then veils will fall away, and verities will come to light, and all things unknown before will be made clear, and hidden truths be understood. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 177.
We cannot adequately describe the condition of the soul after physical life ends. We can conclude, however, that a soul’s nearness to or remoteness from God during its earthly life will in part determine whether or not the soul experiences the life hereafter, for whatever period, as hellish or blissfully joyous:
If it [the individual soul] be faithful to God, it will reflect His light, and will, eventually, return unto Him. If it fail, however, in its allegiance to its Creator, it will become a victim to self and passion, and will, in the end, sink in their depths. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 159.
The Baha’i teachings say the door to heaven is wide open. Every human being has access to this door. Our happiness, fulfillment and sense of purpose during our time on earth and the life to come, depends upon the soul’s degree of illumination by divine Truth:
The Prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying Their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 156-157.