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Spirituality

The Harvest of Creation: We Each Have One Life to Live

David Langness | May 28, 2024

PART 4 IN SERIES Reincarnation

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | May 28, 2024

PART 4 IN SERIES Reincarnation

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Every prophet and holy messenger promises to return. Symbolically, that sequential cycle of prophetic guidance from the Creator resembles the turning of the seasons, the Baha’i teachings say:

The divine Prophets are as the coming of spring, each renewing and quickening the teachings of the Prophet Who came before Him. Just as all seasons of spring are essentially one as to newness of life, vernal showers and beauty, so the essence of the mission and accomplishment of all the Prophets is one and the same.

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Are the prophets actually one and the same, in a literal sense? Are Krishna and Buddha and Moses and Christ and Muhammad and Baha’u’llah the same individual soul, just reincarnated in each revelation? When scripture says the holy messengers will mysteriously “return,” what does that really mean?

In his writings, Abdu’l-Baha gave us a clear and rational response to those questions:

Briefly, a return is indeed referred to in the Holy Scriptures, but by this is meant the return of the qualities, conditions, effects, perfections, and inner realities of the lights which recur in every dispensation. The reference is not to specific, individual souls and identities.

It may be said, for instance, that this lamplight is last night’s come back again, or that last year’s rose hath returned to the garden this year. Here the reference is not to the individual reality, the fixed identity, the specialized being of that other rose, rather doth it mean that the qualities, the distinctive characteristics of that other light, that other flower, are present now, in these. Those perfections, that is, those graces and gifts of a former springtime are back again this year. We say, for example, that this fruit is the same as last year’s; but we are thinking only of the delicacy, bloom and freshness, and the sweet taste of it; for it is obvious that that impregnable center of reality, that specific identity, can never return.

“ … that specific identity … can never return,” Abdu’l-Baha points out with both spiritual and scientific certainty. Here’s the logic: this material world, as the Baha’i writings posit, is a mere reflection of the next existence, the spiritual world: “Know thou that the Kingdom is the real world, and this nether place is only its shadow stretching out.” The Baha’i teachings also maintain that “The law of God is one; the evolution of existence is one; the divine order is one. All beings great and small are subject to one law and one order. Abdu’l-Baha said “… the material world corresponds to the spiritual world,” and that principle of unity suffuses the Baha’i writings.

For Baha’is, this means that the material world and the next world are one — not separate, but unified:

… the world of existence is a single world, although its stations are various and distinct.

… the center of the Sun of Truth is in the supernal world—the Kingdom of God. 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.

The Baha’i teachings assure us that this temporary and transitional physical existence we live in for a short while will soon propel each person’s life into a wider and more spacious reality, the eternal spiritual realm. We will all eventually transcend this illusory physical place and migrate to its source — a joyous, wonderful deliverance from our suffering on this plane of existence — what the Baha’i teachings refer to as “the harvest of creation.” 

Abdu’l-Baha characterized our material suffering as yet another proof that reincarnation does not exist:

When thou lookest about thee with a perceptive eye, thou wilt note that on this dusty earth all humankind are suffering. Here no man is at rest as a reward for what he hath performed in former lives; nor is there anyone so blissful as seemingly to pluck the fruit of bygone anguish. And if a human life, with its spiritual being, were limited to this earthly span, then what would be the harvest of creation? Indeed, what would be the effects and the outcomes of Divinity Itself? Were such a notion true, then all created things, all contingent realities, and this whole world of being—all would be meaningless. God forbid that one should hold to such a fiction and gross error.

For just as the effects and the fruitage of the uterine life are not to be found in that dark and narrow place, and only when the child is transferred to this wide earth do the benefits and uses of growth and development in that previous world become revealed—so likewise reward and punishment, heaven and hell, requital and retribution for actions done in this present life, will stand revealed in that other world beyond. And just as, if human life in the womb were limited to that uterine world, existence there would be nonsensical, irrelevant—so too if the life of this world, the deeds here done and their fruitage, did not come forth in the world beyond, the whole process would be irrational and foolish.

Know then that the Lord God possesseth invisible realms which the human intellect can never hope to fathom nor the mind of man conceive. When once thou hast cleansed the channel of thy spiritual sense from the pollution of this worldly life, then wilt thou breathe in the sweet scents of holiness that blow from the blissful bowers of that heavenly land.

RELATED: Why Am I Here?

For Baha’is, then, the whole concept of reincarnation functions as a metaphor rather than a physical reality. The Baha’i teachings affirm that we each undergo repeated “rebirths” along the spiritual path as we move from one stage of development and maturation to another — and in a way, every one of those transitions represents the shedding of a former state of being for a more expansive and aware stage of life.

After all, as Abdu’l-Baha concluded in his explanation of reincarnation in Some Answered Questions

… this material world is not of such worth or advantage that one who has been freed from its cage should seek once again to be caught in its snare. No: By God’s eternal grace the true capacity and receptivity of the human reality is made clear and manifest through traversing the degrees of existence and not through recurrence and return. When the shell is opened but once, it is made plain and clear whether it conceals a shining pearl or worthless matter. When a plant has grown but once, it puts forth either flowers or thorns: It need not grow again. Apart from this, advancing and moving through the worlds in a direct line and according to the natural order is the cause of existence, and moving against the natural order and arrangement of things is the cause of extinction. The return of the spirit after death is incompatible with the natural movement and contrary to the divine order.

Thus it is in no wise possible to attain existence through returning: It is as if man, after being freed from the world of the womb, were to return to it.

This spiritual reassurance and confirmation, expressed throughout the Baha’i teachings, can offer at least two great gifts to everyone: it can put our minds at ease about our eventual fate; and it can help us understand that we have one life to live, both in this world and the world to come.

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