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

by Alan Bryson

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Chapter 7

Ineffability

Another common element of the NDE identified by Raymond Moody is the inability of individuals to convey such an experience with mere words. They appear to have been exposed to a form of existence which is outside the bounds of our shared experience. Adjectives and their superlatives fail to impart the experiences of a journey into a realm which transcends the concepts of time and space as we know them. Moreover, according to NDE subjects, communication, knowledge, vision and movement are all fundamentally different than anything we know. 1

Once again let us take the example of love. Once we've experienced it, it is easy to share thoughts and experiences, however, how could you communicate with a highly intelligent robot who had never experienced love. If you gave it the dictionary, it would read:

Love (luv) n. 1. a deep and tender feeling of affection for or attachment or devotion to a person or persons.

That would then prompt the next question. What are tender feelings? And so on. Similarly, if you've ever had a deeply moving spiritual experience and felt the presence of God, no one can ever convince you that God doesn't exist. However, when you try to convey such an experience to someone who rejects the concept of God and the soul, you will quickly see how vital "shared experience" is to communication.

Bahá'u'lláh described most eloquently the inadequacy of language for imparting spiritual truths.

"How great the multitude of truths which the garment of words can never contain! How vast the number of such verities as no expression can adequately describe, whose significance can never be unfolded, and to which not even the remotest allusions can be made!" 2

This is especially evident in a number of Bahá'u'lláh's writings about the soul. He imparts knowledge of a realm beyond space and time, and He alludes to the soul as, "a mystery among His mysteries." Because of our lack of experience the spiritual world appears as a paradox. How can one move and be still at the same time, indeed, now can one move and be placeless? These are mysteries which according to Bahá'u'lláh, "none but the pure in heart can comprehend."

"Up from thy prison [of self] ascend unto the glorious meads above,
and from the mortal cage wing thy flight unto the paradise of the Placeless."
(Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words)

"Verily I say, the human soul is, in its essence, one of the signs of God, a mystery among His mysteries. It is one of the mighty signs of the Almighty, the harbinger that proclaimeth the reality of all the worlds of God. Within it lieth concealed that which the world is now utterly incapable of apprehending...In several of Our Tablets We have referred to this theme, and have set forth the various stages in the development of the soul. Verily I say, the human soul is exalted above all egress and regress. It is still, and yet it soareth; it moveth, and yet it is still. It is, in itself, a testimony that beareth witness to the existence of a world that is contingent, as well as to the reality of a world that hath neither beginning nor end." 3

Normally we make a clear distinction between the physical world and the spiritual world. We perceive the physical world through the senses and we "sense" the spiritual world in an intuitive fashion. A young woman who had a NDE reported that she had asked the Being of Light where he came from, to which he responded that he had always been present, she simply hadn't been able to see him. You will recall that 'Abdu'l-Bahá confirmed that we are in the midst of the spiritual world, but that we are simply incapable of perceiving it. Could it be that the Prophets of God distinguish themselves from the rest of humanity, among other things, by virtue of the fact that they are acutely conscious of the spiritual world while actively living in the physical world?

It's interesting to note the references to light in all the Scriptures of the world religions:

"Suppose a thousand suns should rise together into the sky: such is the glory of the Shape of the Infinite God."
(Krishna from the Bhagavad-Gita)

"He goes forth to find his Lord, that light-giver, who is greatest."
(Krishna from the Bhagavad-Gita)

"I am the radiant sun among the light-givers:
This is my Infinite Being; shall the sun lend it any light-or the moon, or fire?
For it shines self-luminous always."
(Krishna from the Bhagavad-Gita)

"The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life. "
(The Old Testament, Psalms 27:1)

"Lord lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us."
(The Old Testament, Psalms 4:6)

"The Light of His wisdom is measureless, all conditional forms without exception are enveloped in the dawning Light; therefore take refuge in the True Light. Buddha declared that all things embraced by His Light are freed from all forms of being and non-being. Take refuge in the One who is universally enlightened. Nothing can be compared to His Pure Light; the result of encountering this Light destroys all causative bondage; so take refuge in Him who is the Ultimate Haven. The radiance of His Light of Truth surpasses all, so He is called the Buddha of Pure Light; Those who are embraced in the Light are cleansed form the dirt of causative bondage and attain emancipation. However far His light illumines, love penetrates, the joy of faith is attained, so we are told...He is known as the Buddha of the Light of transcendental wisdom because He dispels the darkness of ignorance...As there is a constant flow of Light, He is known as the Buddha of Constancy; because of perceiving the power of light with uninterrupted faith, we are born in the Pure Land...As His wondrous Light transcends form and description, He is known as the Buddha of Inexpressible Light; His Light has the power to enlighten all beings..." (from the Buddhist Religion, excerpt from Shinran's Songs to Amida)
"The wisdom of the Perfect One (Buddha) is the sun of the mind. His radiancy is glorious by day and night, and he whose faith is strong will not lack light on the path to Nirvana where he will inherit bliss everlasting." (from the Buddhist Religion, Parables & Stories)
"I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
(Jesus Christ, The New Testament, John 8:12)
"O mankind! Now hath a proof from your Lord come unto you, and We have sent down unto you a clear light. As for those who believe in God, and hold fast unto Him, them he will cause to enter into His mercy and grace, and will guide them unto Him by a straight road." (Muhammad, The Qu'rán, Surah V 175-176)
"I am the guiding Light that illumineth the way. I am the royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty. I unfold the drooping wings of every broken bird and start it on its flight." (from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh)

In the Bible we read that Moses received the Ten Commandments from a Burning Bush. Could it be that Moses tried to impart the appearance of a Being of Light to his people in terms they could imagine?

"For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?"
(Moses, The Old Testament, Deuteronomy 5:26)

"Every discerning eye can, in this Day, perceive the dawning light of God's Revelation, and every attentive ear can recognize the Voice that was heard from the Burning Bush." (from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh)

In the following passage Bahá'u'lláh mentions ineffability. I'll leave any further speculation to the reader.

"One day of days We repaired unto Our Green Island. Upon Our arrival, We beheld its streams flowing, and its trees luxuriant, and the sunlight playing in their midst. Turning Our face to the right, We beheld what the pen is powerless to describe; nor can it set forth that which the eye of the Lord of Mankind witnessed in that most sanctified, that most sublime, that blest, and most exalted Spot. Turning, then, to the left We gazed on one of the Beauties of the Most Sublime Paradise, standing on a pillar of light, and calling aloud saying: 'O inmates of earth and heaven! Behold ye My beauty, and My radiance, and My revelation, and My effulgence. By God, the True One! I am Trustworthiness and the revelation thereof, and the beauty thereof... I am the supreme instrument for the prosperity of the world, and the horizon of assurance unto all beings."

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    1 see "Life After Life", by Raymond Moody p25-26 Bantam Books
    2 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh p.176
    3 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. see pages 158-162
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