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Light after Death:
The Baha'i Faith and the Near-Death Experience

by Alan Bryson

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Chapter 10

The Transformation

The All-loving God created man
to radiate the Divine Light,
and to illumine the world
by his words, action, and life
'Abdu'l-Bahá

In his book, "The Light Beyond", Raymond Moody discusses the transforming effect which the NDE has on the lives of those who have experienced it. Many Bahá'ís can readily identify with the impact that the NDE can have on people's lives, since the Bahá'í teachings seem to affect a similar transformation.

Most NDE research indicates that the individual (after the NDE) moves away from the confines of narrow, sectarian, and dogmatic religion. Organized religion gives way to a search for true spiritual fulfilment. They realize that the essence of true religion is love and unity.

ONE UNIVERSAL FAITH

A NDE subject interviewed by Margot Grey's in her book, "Return From Death" relates:

"I was raised in the Church of England, but since my experience I have become non-denominational. I now feel all religion is basically the same and I think there should be a world religion which would put an end to the religious divisions and problems that this causes." 1

In the Bahá'í view there is, in reality, only one religion which has been continually renewed. 'Abdu'l-Bahá used this analogy:

"The religion of God is one religion, but it must ever be renewed...When thou dost plant a tree, its height increaseth day by day. It putteth forth blossoms and leaves and luscious fruits. But after a long time, it doth grow old, yielding no fruitage any more. Then doth the Husbandman of Truth take up the seed from that same tree, and plant it in a pure soil; and lo, there standeth the first tree, even as it was before." 2

'Abdu'l-Bahá explained that many of our problems result from not properly understanding the sacred texts:

"If the Holy Books were rightly understood, none of this discord and distress would have existed, but love and fellowship would have prevailed instead." 3

FINDING THE TRUTH IN ALL RELIGIONS

The Bahá'í Faith teaches that we need to concentrate on the spiritual essence of religion and not on outward practices. 'Abdu'l-Bahá speaking on this subject once said:

"We should, therefore, detach ourselves from the external forms and practices of religion. We must realize that these forms and practices, however beautiful, are but garments clothing the warm heart of the living limbs of Divine truth. We must abandon the prejudices of tradition if we would succeed in finding the truth at the core of all religions."

" Unless we make a distinction in our minds between dogma, superstition and prejudice on the one hand, and truth on the other, we cannot succeed. When we are in earnest in our search for anything we look for it everywhere. This principle we must carry out in our search for truth."

"Science must be accepted. Light is good in whatsoever lamp it is burning! A rose is beautiful in whatsoever garden it may bloom! A star has the same radiance if it shines from the East or from the West. Be free from prejudice, so will you love the Sun of Truth from whatsoever point in the horizon it may arise! You will realize that if the Divine light of truth shone in Jesus Christ it also shone in Moses and in Buddha. The earnest seeker will arrive at this truth." 4

THE PROBLEM OF OUTWARD TRAPPINGS

"Look around and see how the world of today is drowned in superstition and outward forms!"

"Some worship the product of their own imagination: they make for themselves an imaginary God and adore this, when the creation of their finite minds cannot be the Infinite Mighty Maker of all things visible and invisible!"

" ...Today, men have grown into such adoring attachment to outward forms and ceremonies that they dispute over this point of ritual or that particular practice, until one hears on all sides of wearisome arguments and unrest. There are individuals who have weak intellects and their powers of reasoning have not developed, but the strength and power of religion must not be doubted because of the incapacity of these persons to understand. " 5 — 'Abdu'l-Bahá

THE PURPOSE OF THE PROPHETS

If you read the sacred texts of the various religions with a spiritual eye you will readily see that they emanate from a common source. Bahá'ís are taught that the beliefs of all peoples can, with a few exceptions, be traced back to divine inspiration, moreover, they consider the station of all the Prophets of God as being equal.

"God sent His Prophets into the world to teach and enlighten man, to explain to him the mystery of the Power of the Holy Spirit, to enable him to reflect the light, and so in his turn, to be the source of guidance to others. The Heavenly Books, the Bible, the Qur'án, and the other Holy Writings have been given by God as guides into the paths of Divine virtue, love, justice and peace." 6 — 'Abdu'l-Bahá

GOD IS INTERESTED IN YOUR HEART

Of course true religion has never consisted of splitting theological hairs. This is aptly expressed by one of Moody's subjects who, prior to his NDE, had studied at a seminary:

"A lot of people I know are going to be surprised when they find out that the Lord isn't interested in theology. He seems to find some of it amusing, as a matter of fact, because he wasn't interested at all in anything about my denomination. He wanted to know what was in my heart, not my head. " 7

Bahá'u'lláh taught that the Prophets of God reveal themselves in order to release latent spiritual qualities which are present in each person. Their Divinely inspired words, like spring showers on hardened seeds, bring forth fruit in the hearts of those who are receptive. Bahá'ís are specifically charged by Bahá'u'lláh with the responsibility of working to eliminate religious intolerance:

"The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. That the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion. These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are the rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated."

"Gird up the loins of your endeavor, O people of Bahá , that haply the tumult of religious dissension and strife that agitateth the peoples of the earth may be stilled, that every trace of it may be completely obliterated."

" ...The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship...So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. The one true God, He Who knoweth all things, Himself testifieth to the truth of these words."

"Exert yourselves that ye may attain this transcendent and most sublime station, the station that can ensure the protection and security of all mankind..."

" Consort with all men, O people of Bahá , in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and good-will. If it be accepted, if it fulfil its purpose, your object is attained. If any one should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him. Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding..." 8

BECOMING A BAHÁ'Í

'Abdu'l-Bahá cautioned the Bahá'ís:

"Do not distress or deny anyone saying, 'He is not a Bahá'í.' He will be known by his deeds." 9

Indeed, it's easy to call yourself a Bahá'í, but in order to become a Bahá'í in reality you have to undergo a transformation of spirit. Those who have had a near-death-experience know that words alone don't suffice, one's deeds are the only baggage which he or she will take on the final journey. 'Abdu'l-Bahá left this guidance for Bahá'ís concerning what it means to be a follower of the Light:

"All over the world one hears beautiful sayings extolled and noble precepts admired..."

"But all these sayings are but words and we see very few of them carried into the world of action..."

"But Bahá´ís must not be thus; they must rise above this condition. Actions must be more to them than words. By their actions they must be merciful and not merely by their words. They must on all occasions confirm by their actions what they proclaim in words. Their deeds must prove their fidelity, and their actions must show forth Divine light."

"Let your actions cry aloud to the world that you are indeed Bahá´ís, for it is actions that speak to the world and are the cause of the progress of humanity."

"If we are true Bahá´ís speech is not needed. Our actions will help on the world, will spread civilization, will help the progress of science, and cause the arts to develop. Without action nothing in the material world can be accomplished, neither can words unaided advance a man in the spiritual Kingdom. It is not through lip-service that the elect of God have attained to holiness, but by patient lives of active service they have brought light into the world."

"Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble. Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute! "

"This is the work of a true Bahá'í, and this is what is expected of him. If we strive to do all this, then are we true Bahá´ís, but if we neglect it, we are not followers of the Light, and we have no right to the name."

"God, who sees all hearts, knows how far our lives are the fulfilment of our words." 10

WHAT IS THE BAHÁ'Í MESSAGE?

It would be wrong to imply that Bahá'ís aren't interested in spreading their message. They are indeed, but what exactly is the Bahá'í message? Shoghi Effendi (see overview of the Bahá'í Faith) wrote a very succinct explanation of what Bahá'ís believe and the transformation which the Bahá'í Faith seeks to achieve. It's especially fitting within the context of this book to note that he described Bahá'ís as, "wayfarers whose goal is the Celestial City, and whose home the Country of never-failing joy and brightness."

"The Bahá'í Faith upholds the unity of God, recognizes the unity of His Prophets, and inculcates the principle of the oneness and wholeness of the entire human race. It proclaims the necessity and inevitability of the unification of mankind, asserts that it is gradually approaching, and claims that nothing short of the transmuting spirit of God, working through His chosen Mouthpiece in this day, can ultimately succeed in bringing it about. It, moreover, enjoins upon its followers the primary duty of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all manner of prejudice and superstition, declares the purpose of religion to be the promotion of amity and concord, proclaims its essential harmony with science, and recognizes it as a foremost agency for the pacification and the orderly progress of human society. It unequivocally maintains the principle of equal rights, opportunities, and privileges for men and women, insists on compulsory education, eliminates extremes of poverty and wealth, abolishes the institution of priesthood, prohibits slavery, asceticism, mendicancy, and monasticism, prescribes monogamy, discourages divorce, emphasizes the necessity of strict obedience to one's government, exalts any work performed in the spirit of service to the level of worship, urges either the creation or the selection of an auxiliary international language, and delineates the outlines of those institutions that must establish and perpetuate the general peace of mankind." 11

"The Faith of Bahá´u´lláh has assimilated, by virtue of its creative, its regulative and ennobling energies, the varied races, nationalities, creeds and classes that have sought its shadow, and have pledged unswerving fealty to its cause. It has changed the hearts of its adherents, burned away their prejudices, stilled their passions, exalted their conceptions, ennobled their motives, coordinated their efforts, and transformed their outlook. While preserving their patriotism and safeguarding their lesser loyalties, it has made them lovers of mankind, and the determined upholders of its best and truest interests. While maintaining intact their belief in the Divine origin of their respective religions, it has enabled them to visualize the underlying purpose of these religions, to discover their merits, to recognize their sequence, their interdependence, their wholeness and unity, and to acknowledge the bond that vitally links them to itself. This universal, this transcending love which the followers of the Bahá'í Faith feel for their fellow-men, of whatever race, creed, class or nation, is neither mysterious nor can it be said to have been artificially stimulated. It is both spontaneous and genuine. They whose hearts are warmed by the energizing influence of God's creative love cherish His creatures for His sake, and recognise in every human face a sign of His reflected glory."

"Of such men and women it may be truly said that to them "every foreign land is a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land." For their citizenship, it must be remembered, is in the Kingdom of Bahá´u´lláh. Though willing to share to the utmost the temporal benefits and the fleeting joys which this earthly life can confer, though eager to participate in whatever activity that conduces to the richness, the happiness and peace of that life, they can, at no time, forget that it constitutes no more than a transient, a very brief stage of their existence, that they who live it are but pilgrims and wayfarers whose goal is the Celestial City, and whose home the Country of never-failing joy and brightness."

"Though loyal to their respective governments, though profoundly interested in anything that affects their security and welfare, though anxious to share in whatever promotes their best interests, the Faith with which the followers of Bahá´u´lláh stand identified is one which they firmly believe God has raised high above the storms, the divisions, and controversies of the political arena. Their Faith they conceive to be essentially non-political, supra-national in character, rigidly non-partisan, and entirely dissociated from nationalistic ambitions, pursuits, and purposes. Such a Faith knows no division of class or of party. It subordinates, without hesitation or equivocation, every particularistic interest, be it personal, regional, or national, to the paramount interests of humanity, firmly convinced that in a world of inter-dependent peoples and nations the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole, and that no abiding benefit can be conferred upon the component parts if the general interests of the entity itself are ignored or neglected."

"Small wonder if by the Pen of Bahá´u´lláh these pregnant words, written in anticipation of the present state of mankind, should have been revealed: 'It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizen.' And again, 'That one indeed is a man who today dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race.' 'Through the power released by these exalted words,' He explains, 'He hath lent a fresh impulse, and set a new direction, to the birds of men's hearts, and hath obliterated every trace of restriction and limitation from God's Holy Book.' " 12

LOVE THE FIRST SIGN OF FAITH

Raymond Moody relates that NDE subjects sense the supreme importance of love--a boundless, universal and unconditional love which also manifests itself in a sense of interconnection to all creatures. That same boundless and universal love is the requirement for becoming a true Bahá'í.

"A man may be a Bahá'í in name only. If he is a Bahá'í in reality, his deeds and actions will be decisive proof of it. What are the requirements? Love for mankind, sincerity toward all, reflecting the oneness of the world of humanity, philanthropy, becoming enkindled with the fire of the love of God, attainment of the knowledge of God and that which is conducive to human welfare."

"...Associate most kindly with all; be as one family; pursue this same pathway. Let your intentions be one that your love may permeate and affect the hearts of others so that they may grow to love each other and all attain to this condition of oneness."

"The world of humanity is filled with darkness; you are its radiant candles...It is exceedingly debased; you must be the cause of its exaltation...According to the teachings of Bahá´u´lláh you must love and cherish each individual member of humanity."

"The first sign of faith is love. The message of the holy, divine Manifestations is love; the phenomena of creation are based upon love; the radiance of the world is due to love; the well-being and happiness of the world depend upon it. Therefore, I admonish you that you must strive throughout the human world to diffuse the light of love. The people of this world are thinking of warfare; you must be peacemakers. The nations are self-centered; you must be thoughtful of others rather than yourselves. They are neglectful; you must be mindful. They are asleep; you should be awake and alert. May each one of you be as a shining star in the horizon of eternal glory. This is my wish for you and my highest hope." 13 — 'Abdu'l-Bahá

LOVE: THE MOST GLORIOUS LIGHT

"Know thou of a certainty that Love is the secret of God's holy Dispensation, the manifestation of the All-Merciful, the fountain of spiritual outpourings. Love is heaven's kindly light... Love is the cause of God's revelation unto man, the vital bond inherent, in accordance with the divine creation, in the realities of things. Love is the one means that ensureth true felicity both in this world and the next. Love is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soul. Love is the most great law that ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycle, the unique power that bindeth together the divers elements of this material world, the supreme magnetic force that directeth the movements of the spheres in the celestial realms. Love revealeth with unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe. Love is the spirit of life unto the adorned body of mankind, the establisher of true civilization in this mortal world, and the shedder of imperishable glory upon every high-aiming race and nation... Strive to become the manifestations of the love of God, the lamps of divine guidance shining amongst the kindreds of the earth with the light of love and concord. All hail to the revealers of this glorious light! "

"I hope that in this nether world thou shalt attain unto heavenly light, thou wilt free the souls from the gloom of nature, which is the animal kingdom, and cause them to reach lofty stations in the human kingdom. Today all people are immersed in the world of nature. That is why thou dost see jealousy, greed, the struggle for survival, deception, hypocrisy, tyranny, oppression, disputes, strife, bloodshed, looting and pillaging, which all emanate from the world of nature. Few are those who have been freed from this darkness, who have ascended from the world of nature to the world of man, who have followed the divine Teachings, have served the world of humanity, are resplendent, merciful, illumined and like unto a rose garden. Strive thine utmost to become godlike, characterized with His attributes, illumined and merciful, that thou mayest be freed from every bond and become attached at heart to the Kingdom of the incomparable Lord. This is Bahá'í bounty, and this is heavenly light." 14 — 'Abdu'l-Bahá

ILLUMINATION

"With hearts set aglow by the fire of the love of God and spirits refreshed by the food of the heavenly spirit you must go forth as the disciples, nineteen hundred years ago, quickening the hearts of men by the call of glad-tidings, the light of God in your faces, severed from everything save God. Therefore order your lives in accordance with the first principle of the divine teaching, which is love. Service to humanity is service to God. Let the love and light of the kingdom radiate through you until all who look upon you shall be illumined by its reflection. Be as stars, brilliant and sparkling, in the loftiness of their heavenly station. Do you appreciate the day in which you live?"

"This is the cycle of the light of His beauty!" 15 — 'Abdu'l-Bahá

TRUE DISTINCTION

Bahá'í teachings pay particular attention to the dangers of materialism. NDE subjects also report a transformation in relation to material considerations, in their view life should be thoroughly enjoyed, but helping others and contributing to society are life's true treasures. In our modern world advertisements, television and movies reflect (or some might say promote) a culture which esteems wealth, affluence, youth and physical appeal. 'Abdu'l-Bahá taught that Bahá'ís should seek another form of distinction:

"I desire distinction for you. The Bahá´ís must be distinguished from others of humanity. But this distinction must not depend upon wealth--that they should become more affluent than other people. I do not desire for you financial distinction. It is not an ordinary distinction I desire; not scientific, commercial, industrial distinction. For you I desire spiritual distinction--that is, you must become distinguished for loving humanity, for unity and accord, for love and justice. In brief, you must become distinguished in all the virtues of the human world--for faithfulness and sincerity, for justice and fidelity, for firmness and steadfastness, for philanthropic deeds and service to the human world, for love toward every human being, for unity and accord with all people, for removing prejudices and promoting international peace. Finally, you must become distinguished for heavenly illumination and for acquiring the bestowals of God. I desire this distinction for you. This must be the point of distinction among you." 16

UNITY

Unity is the true watchword of the Bahá'í Faith. On a grand scale there is world unity , the unity of the religions, the unity of the races and the unity of the sexes. But on an individual scale there is also unity, a realization that we are connected to every created thing and every other human being. In the Hidden Words Bahá'u'lláh revealed these words:

"O Children of Men!"

"Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! "

This is the hallmark of the Bahá'í transformation, the sign of being part of the concourse of light.

_________________________________

    1 Margot Grey, "Return From Death", p. 108 Arkana
    2 Selected Writings of ´Abdu´l-Bahá, p. 52
    3 Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 202
    4 Paris Talks
    5 ibid.
    6 Paris Talks, pp. 61-62
    7 Raymond Moody, "The Light Beyond", p. 49 Bantam Books
    8 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh p. 287-289
    9 Paris Talks
    10 Paris Talks, pp. 79-81
    11 Guidance for Today and Tomorrow, A selection from the Writings of Shoghi Effendi, Bahá' í Publishing Trust, London, 1973 edition. pages 1-10
    12 World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, 196-199
    13 Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 336-337
    14 Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá , p.27-28 & p.206
    15 'Abdu'l-Bahá , "Promulgation of Universal Peace", p.6
    16 ibid. pp. 189-190
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