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

by Alan Bryson

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Chapter 3

The Realm of Light

"Deprive me not, O my Lord, of the splendors of the light of Thy face, whose brightness hath illuminated the whole world. No God is there beside Thee, the Most Powerful, the All-Glorious, the Ever-Forgiving." Bahá'u'lláh

"And they swim in the sea of the spirit, and soar in the holy air of light..." Bahá'u'lláh

"Believe thou in God... yearn thou to ascend into the Heaven of the Universal Light... and let thy face be bright with the fire of God's love." 'Abdu'l-Bahá

Individuals who have experienced an extremely deep near-death-experience report that they entered a realm of light. In this realm they are enveloped in peace and love which is manifested as an extremely bright light, the effulgence of which defies description. Conventional perceptions of time and space lose all meaning in these new surroundings. Although lacking a physical body, they report heightened sensory perception, especially vivid colors. Some report wondrously beautiful music, a celestial symphony. While there they encounter loved ones and other beings who are described as luminous.

One of Moody's subjects recounts:

"All of a sudden I was just somewhere else. There was a gold-looking light, everywhere. Beautiful. I couldn't find a source anywhere. It was just all around, coming from everywhere. There was music. And I seemed to be in a countryside with streams, grass, and trees, mountains. But when I looked around--if you want to put it that way--they were not trees and things like we know them to be. The strangest thing to me about it was that there were people there. Not in any kind of form or body as we know it; they were just there."

"There was a sense of perfect peace and contentment; love. It was like I was part of it. That experience could have lasted the whole night or just a second...I don't know." 1

Margot Grey in her book "Return From Death, an exploration of the near-death experience", investigates the occurrence of the NDE in Great Britain. She cites a case which closely parallels the previously quoted account:

" I became aware at some point that I was having a very unusual experience. I found myself in a place full of radiant light. It's quite unlike anything you could possibly imagine on this earth. The light is brighter than anything you could possibly imagine. There are no words to describe it. It was so happy, it's impossible to explain. It was such a feeling of serenity, it was a marvelous feeling. The light is so bright that it would normally blind you, but it doesn't hurt one's eyes a bit." 2

Our natural inclination would be to call this heaven, in fact, Carl Sagen credits ancient survivors of NDEs as the source of humanity's conceptions of heaven. For many people heaven is deeply rooted in childhood memories and Sunday school lessons. We should be careful, however, not to neglect the explanation of those who have had a NDE, who caution that human language is utterly inadequate for describing the Realm of Light. Attempts to describe something which is placeless and timeless can never fully succeed. The key to gaining some insight into the Realm of Light is to recognize that the spiritual dimension isn't necessarily "up there", rather we need to understand that we too are part of the spiritual world.

"The inability of the materialistic mind to grasp the idea of the Life Eternal is no proof of the non-existence of that life. The comprehension of that other life depends on our spiritual birth!" 3
"Although the spirit is hidden from view, still its commandments shine out like rays of light upon the world of the human body. In the same way, although the Kingdom of heaven is hidden from the sight of this unwitting people, still, to him who seeth with the inner eye, it is plain as day." 4

Where is heaven?

According to the Bahá'í teachings:

"The outer expression used for the Kingdom is heaven, but this is a comparison and similitude, not a reality or fact, for the Kingdom is not a material place..." 5

"... the souls of the children of the Kingdom, after their separation from the body, ascend unto the realm of everlasting life. But if ye ask as to the place, know ye that the world of existence is a single world, although its stations are various and distinct... 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." 6

The Bahá'í teachings also confirm that in the Realm of Light the soul assumes a heavenly form, rather than a physical body, however, individual reality is preserved.

"The answer to the third question is this, that in the other world the human reality doth not assume a physical form, rather doth it take on a heavenly form, made up of elements of that heavenly realm." 7

"It is manifest that beyond this material body, man is endowed with another reality which is the world of exemplars constituting the heavenly body of man...This other and inner reality is called the heavenly body, the ethereal form which corresponds to this body." 8

Do we find any allusions to a realm of light in the Bahá'í writings? The following is a letter of condolence written by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to a bereaved mother on the loss of her son. In it he touches upon several aspects of the NDE. The mother is assured that her son has left a dark and gloomy world and is now in a divine realm bathed in light, ever joyous and assured of reunion.

"Although the loss of a son is indeed heartbreaking and beyond the limits of human endurance, yet one who knoweth and understandeth is assured that the son hath not been lost but, rather, hath stepped from this world into another, and she will find him in the divine realm. That reunion shall be for eternity, while in this world separation is inevitable and bringeth with it a burning grief."

"Praise be unto God that thou hast faith, art turning thy face toward the everlasting Kingdom and believest in the existence of a heavenly world. Therefore, be thou not disconsolate, do not languish, do not sigh, neither wail nor weep; for agitation and mourning deeply affect his soul in the divine realm."

"That beloved child addresseth thee from the hidden world: 'O thou kind Mother, thank divine Providence that I have been freed from a small and gloomy cage and, like the birds of the meadows, have soared to the divine world--a world which is spacious, illumined, and ever gay and jubilant. Therefore, lament not, O Mother, and be not grieved; I am not of the lost, nor have I been obliterated and destroyed. I have shaken off the mortal form and have raised my banner in this spiritual world. Following this separation is everlasting companionship. Thou shalt find me in the heaven of the Lord, immersed in an ocean of light.' " 9

In a similar letter 'Abdu'l-Bahá specifically refers to a hastening to realm of light. Cautioning us not to question God's wisdom, he used the analogy of a gardner whose plans are unkown to his plants.

"The death of that beloved youth and his separation from you have caused the utmost sorrow and grief; for he winged his flight in the flower of his age and the bloom of his youth to the heavenly nest. But he hath been freed from this sorrow-stricken shelter and hath turned his face toward the everlasting nest of the Kingdom, and, being delivered from a dark and narrow world, hath hastened to the sanctified realm of light; therein lieth the consolation of our hearts."

"The inscrutable divine wisdom underlieth such heartrending occurrences. It is as if a kind gardener transferreth a fresh and tender shrub from a confined place to a wide open area. This transfer is not the cause of the withering, the lessening or the destruction of that shrub; nay, on the contrary, it maketh it to grow and thrive, acquire freshness and delicacy, become green and bear fruit. This hidden secret is well known to the gardener, but those souls who are unaware of this bounty suppose that the gardner, in his anger and wrath, hath uprooted the shrub. Yet to those who are aware, this concealed fact is manifest, and this predestined decree is considered a bounty. Do not feel grieved or disconsolate, therefore, at the ascension of that bird of faithfulness; nay, under all circumstances pray for that youth, supplicating for him forgiveness and the elevation of his station." 10

On another occasion 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote of the importance of the life to come and of the inevaiable reunion in the realm of light.

"Be not grieved at the death of thy respected husband. He hath, verily, attained the meeting of His Lord at the seat of Truth in the presence of the potent King. Do not suppose that thou hast lost him. The veil shall be lifted, and thou shalt behold his face illumined in the Supreme Concourse. Just as God, the Exalted, hath said, 'Him will we surely quicken to a happy life.' Supreme importance should be attached, therefore, not to this first creation but rather to the future life." 11

In 1912 'Abdu'l-Bahá , while speaking of the sinking of the Titanic, related that the victims journey from a dark material world to the radiant world of God was similar to the infant's journey from the womb to the outside world. As we have seen, Sagen used this same analogy in 1974 to account for the near-death-experience, but 'Abdu'l-Bahá employed this convincing metaphor to convey a powerful spiritual message.

"...When I consider this calamity in another aspect, I am consoled by the realization that the worlds of God are infinite; that though they were deprived of this existence, they have other opportunities in the life beyond, even as Christ has said, 'In my Father's house are many mansions.' They were called away from the temporary and transferred to the eternal; they abandoned this material existence and entered the portals of the spiritual world. Forgoing the pleasures and comforts of the earthly, they now partake of a joy and happiness far more abiding and real, for they have hastened to the Kingdom of God. The mercy of God is infinite, and it is our duty to remember these departed souls in our prayers and supplications that they may draw nearer and nearer to the Source itself."

"These human conditions may be likened to the matrix of the mother from which a child is to be born into the spacious outer world. At first the infant finds it very difficult to reconcile itself to its new existence. It cries as if not wishing to be separated from its narrow abode and imagining that life is restricted to that limited space. It is reluctant to leave its home, but nature forces it into this world. Having come into its new conditions, it finds that it has passed from darkness into a sphere of radiance; from gloomy and restricted surroundings it has been transferred to a spacious and delightful environment. Its nourishment was the blood of the mother; now it finds delicious food to enjoy. Its new life is filled with brightness and beauty; it looks with wonder and delight upon the mountains, meadows and fields of green, the rivers and fountains, the wonderful stars; it breathes the lifequickening atmosphere; and then it praises God for its release from the confinement of its former condition and attainment to the freedom of a new realm. This analogy expresses the relation of the temporal world to the life hereafter--the transition of the soul of man from darkness and uncertainty to the light and reality of the eternal Kingdom. At first it is very difficult to welcome death, but after attaining its new condition the soul is grateful, for it has been released from the bondage of the limited to enjoy the liberties of the unlimited. It has been freed from a world of sorrow, grief and trials to live in a world of unending bliss and joy. The phenomenal and physical have been abandoned in order that it may attain the opportunities of the ideal and spiritual. Therefore, the souls of those who have passed away from earth and completed their span of mortal pilgrimage in the Titanic disaster have hastened to a world superior to this. They have soared away from these conditions of darkness and dim vision into the realm of light. These are the only considerations which can comfort and console those whom they have left behind." 13

During another talk, 'Abdu'l-Bahá explained that just as an infant perpares itself for life outside the womb, so too must man prepare himself on this material plane for his spiritual existence.

"Therefore, in this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix by acquiring forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so, likewise, the indispensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world."

"What is he in need of in the Kingdom which transcends the life and limitation of this mortal sphere? That world beyond is a world of sanctity and radiance; therefore, it is necessary that in this world he should acquire these divine attributes. In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that eternal life ready for him."

"That divine world is manifestly a world of lights;
therefore, man has need of illumination here."14

_________________________________

    1 "Reflections on Life After Life" by Raymond Moody, Bantam Books p.16
    2 "Return From Death, an exploration of the near-death experience" by Margot Grey, Arkana Books, p.46
    3 Paris Talks, p. 94
    4 Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 194
    5 Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, p. 190
    6 Selections from the Writings of ´Abdu´l-Bahá, pp. 193-195
    7 ibid.
    8 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, pp. 109-110
    9 Selections from the Writings of ''Abdu'l-Bahá
    10 Selections from the Writings of ''Abdu'l-Bahá
    11 ibid.
    12 The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ''Abdu'l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912
    13 ibid.
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