Light after Death:
This work is not an official endorsement of the Near Death Experience (NDE) by the Bahá'í Faith, rather, it is simply one individual's comparison of the NDE with the teachings of the newest of the world religions. There is, nonetheless, an astounding similarity between the two which can, without exaggeration, be termed uncanny.
Despite all that mankind has discovered about the origins and size of the universe, most of us still think of ourselves as being at the center of things. Similarly, our concept of time is generally reduced to the span of time it takes our planet to complete eighty revolutions around our sun. The possibility of life after death, however, compels us to think of such lofty concepts as eternity and the immortality of the soul. In order to put all this into a proper perspective, it might be useful to review some of what we've learned about the universe and our place in it.
The known universe consists of untold billions of galaxies, each containing many billions of stars. The galaxy in which we find ourselves, the Milky Way, is believed to contain well over 100 billion stars. Its diameter is about 100,000 light years (5,880,000,000,000,000,000 miles). The nearest known star, Alpha Centauri C, is over 4 light years from earth. Our sun is a rather average star about 32,000 light years from the center of our galaxy and it completes an orbit every 225 million years. About 4.5 billion years ago our sun and its nine planets are believed to have been formed from the stardust of an interstellar cloud.
When we look in the other direction and delve into the subatomic world, we eventually reach a stage in which the distinction between matter and energy disappears, beckoning a strange and exotic world in which untold possibilities are shrouded by our current lack of understanding. If, for example, we accept the Big Bang theory we maintain that the mass of every single galaxy, each with its billions of suns, planets and unimaginable amounts of dark matter, was at one point compressed into something smaller than the size of an atom! Indeed, our unimaginably grand universe is a source of awe and wonder on every conceivable level.
When we examine our own roots we find that the first hominid is believed to have appeared a mere 10 to 14 million years ago. Sometime around 2.5 to 1.6 million years ago Homo habilis, with an estimated brain size of 750 cc, appeared. Homo sapiens , with a brain size of 1400 cc, are thought to have emerged about 300,000 years ago. Modern Homo sapiens have been traced back 40,000 years. Of course, this estimated timeline is constantly changing as fresh discoveries are made, but it's clear that in a cosmic sense we have just arrived in our obscure corner of the universe.
Modern Homo sapiens, with a brain size of up to 2000 cc, have been graced with an intelligence which vastly exceeds the evolutionary requirements placed upon us by our environment. This fact, in and of itself, raises some intriguing questions and seems to hint, at least to some, at a cosmic plan. Allan Sandage, the noted astronomer, once remarked:
"Out of the big bang has come a non-chaotic system, because otherwise, cause and effect, which surely exists, would be impossible. The design that one sees in the universe may be completely natural as an outcome of the differential equations, but the mystery is why is the world describable in terms of differential equations, and it is! That's the answer physics gives. All students...are mystified by the recipes that the great scientists have found, and the universe works by those recipes. The universe we observe is not a chance phenomenon."
Humans possess the ability to laugh, to cry and to systematically build upon the achievements of previous generations. Although other creatures may be endowed with certain abilities not found in humans, man's intelligence has enabled him to augment his own natural endowments to a remarkable degree. Not only can man fly, he's even managed to safely leave his home planet and then return. Why is this possible, and why are we here? How might one answer these questions? The founder of the Bahá'í Faith addressed these points often in His writings:
"The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence. To this most excellent aim, this supreme objective, all the heavenly Books and the divinely-revealed and weighty Scriptures unequivocally bear witness." 1
The purpose of endowing man which the gift of intellect is explained in this manner:
"First and foremost among these favors, which the Almighty hath conferred upon man, is the gift of understanding. His purpose in conferring such a gift is none other except to enable His creature to know and recognize the one true God--exalted be His glory. This gift giveth man the power to discern the truth in all things, leadeth him to that which is right, and helpeth him to discover the secrets of creation." 2
As we've discovered the secrets of creation, we've also learned that our own sun will eventually burn out rendering our planet uninhabitable. Escaping otherwise certain extinction would surely be a compelling reason to endow our species with the such intellectual capacity. Thus, not only have we discovered that our planet is doomed to extinction, but, equally important, we humans have been given the aptitude to develop technologies which in due time will enable us to inhabit other solar systems. This being the case, would it make sense for individual humans to spend a short time on Earth and then vanish into annihilation? Or would a divine plan ensure that not only would the species survive the death of its planet, but the individual would survive the death of his or her physical frame?
If we believe that a Supreme Being created and sustains the universe, then the answer is clear. But if one rejects the idea of a divine cosmic plan, considering life a fortuitous interaction of random elements over eons of time, then the concept of an afterlife might not appear especially logical.
An afterlife requires that consciousness survives the disintegration of the physical body. This is certainly a difficult pill for someone to swallow who believes that individuality and consciousness are a chemical process brought about by the interaction of 100 billion neurons in the brain. Many "rational" thinkers have thus attributed the universal belief in immortality to a psychological defense mechanism. In their view man's inability to deal with his own annihilation compels him to believe in immortality in order to overcome his fear of death. Admittedly, it's a rational theory, but is it a categorical explanation for the belief in a life after death?
Mankind has now reached a stage of medical advancement in which millions of individuals have been resuscitated after having had a near-death-experience (NDE). There appears to be some sort of universally shared experience among the majority of these individuals. This fact has been acknowledged even by various rational thinkers, for example, Dr. Carl Sagen. Sagan in his book, Broca's Brain, Reflections on the Romance of Science, attempts to find a rational solution for such occurrences. Sagen postulates that the NDE is merely a reliving of the birth experience. Sagen goes on to pose the question, "If religions are fundamentally silly, why is it that so many people believe in them?" His explanation is that religions also resonate with birth, the one primal experience common to all. According to Dr. Sagen's symbolism, the finger of God in Michelangelo's painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is an obstetrical finger, baptism is a metaphor for amniotic fluid, and so on.
On the surface, Sagen's explanation seems plausible and would account for the universal nature of the NDE, regardless of religious or cultural background. The infant is whisked through the dark tunnel (birth canal), emerges in a room filled with light and encounters a loving being (the mother or mid-wife). While it's true that the infant's 100 billion neurons are in place as are the trillion glial cells, the problem is that the hard wiring of the brain hasn't advanced far enough to allow the degree of perception called for by Sagen's explanation. Life experiences and sensory stimulation after birth are responsible for the connections between dendrites and axons which later allow humans to perceive and encode experiences. In any case, it's interesting how readily elaborate theories are spun to gainsay even the possibility of the existence of a spiritual dimension.
To their credit not all scientists are predisposed against the existence of a reality beyond that which we currently understand. For twelve years Dr. Candace Pert was in charge of biochemical brain research at the National Institute of Mental Health. She discovered, among many other accomplishments, the opiate receptor and numerous other peptide receptors in the brain and body. She makes the point that in current scientific tradition "soul" is a four-letter word, a remnant of the agreement reached between Descartes and the Roman Catholic Church. According to Pert:
"...there's a form of energy that appears to leave the body when the body dies. If we call that another energy that just hasn't been discovered yet, it sounds much less frightening to me than 'spirit'. Remember, I'm a scientist, and in the Western tradition I don't use the word 'spirit'." 3
As much as we would all like to have a definitive answer to the question of whether there is life after death, there is no guarantee that we will ever be able to physically prove the existence of an immortal soul. However, the universal belief in something greater than ourselves, the universal belief in immortality, and the NDE appear to be signs pointing towards a spiritual dimension. The Bahá'í teachings give the following explanation:
"God, the Exalted, hath placed these signs in men, to the end that philosophers may not deny the mysteries of the life beyond nor belittle that which hath been promised them. For some hold to reason and deny whatever the reason comprehendeth not, and yet weak minds can never grasp the matter which we have related, but only the Supreme, Divine Intelligence can comprehend them..." (Writings of Bahá'u'lláh)
I assume the majority of those reading this book are familiar with the work of Raymond Moody or Kenneth Ring. This book isn't intended as a substitute for their documented research on this subject. Although you need not be acquainted with their work in order to enjoy this book, I feel it would undoubtedly enhance your evaluation of the subject in question.
As an undergraduate I read Raymond Moody's book, "Life After Life" while studying at the University of Nevada, Reno and was struck by the similarities between the Bahá'í teachings and the NDE. As a member of the Bahá'í Student Association I suggested to the other members that we hold a panel discussion on the topic of LIFE AFTER LIFE. One day I casually mentioned to my calculus instructor that we were looking for a room on campus to hold the event. She confided to me that many years previously she had had an out of body experience. She had experienced cardiac arrest and had watched the resuscitation efforts of two physicians and a nurse on her own body from a corner of the room near the ceiling. She remembered one saying, "Give it up, she's gone." The other continued his efforts and exclaimed, "She's too damn young to die!" It's worth mentioning that she was a rock solid rationalist, as discriminating and analytical as one might expect someone in her profession to be.
After the panel discussion a mature and well-spoken woman stood up and said her sole reason for coming that evening was the possibility of meeting someone else who had had such an experience. She was a secretary to one of the college deans, who spoke of her NDE with conviction and integrity. The experience of these two people gave me a very tangible indication that the phenomenon researched by Moody was indeed credible.
Nonetheless, how can one logically maintain that the individual can survive physical death? Keeping in mind the incredible complexity of life, the immense size of our universe, and the elegance of physical laws, can one rationally contend that matter was simply present and that through its random interaction life appeared and evolved of its own volition? Personally I feel the answer is no, a creation presupposes a creator, and it's certainly possible that the creator fashioned a spiritual reality in addition to the physical world. We should always keep in mind that describing creation and physical reality by means of physical laws, mathematical formulae and scientific theory does not preclude the existence of God in any way. Thomas Jefferson, although no friend of organized religion, wrote to John Adams:
"So irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent that, of the infinite numbers of men who have existed thro'all time, they have believed, in the proportion of a million at least to Unit, in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe. Surely this unanimous sentiment renders this more probable than that of the few in the other hypothesis. ... Of the nature of this being we know nothing."
Benjamin Jowett, 1817-93, a classical scholar and translator of Plato wrote, "You must believe in God, in spite of what the clergy say." In this regard the Bahá'í teachings confirm Jefferson's and Jowett's views:
"Consider then, how all the peoples of the world are bowing the knee to a fancy of their own contriving, how they have created a creator within their own minds, and they call it the Fashioner of all that is--whereas in truth it is but an illusion. Thus are the people worshipping only an error of perception."
"But that Essence of Essences, that Invisible of Invisibles, is sanctified above all human speculation, and never to be overtaken by the mind of man...His is another realm...The utmost one can say is that Its existence can be proved, but the conditions of Its existence are unknown." 4
Our creator, the Supreme Being, the Great Spirit, generally referred to as God, has, through a series of divinely inspired messengers, given us the knowledge than man possesses an immortal soul. This book deals primarily with the teachings on life after death of the latest of these messengers, Bahá'u'lláh, 1817-92, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith. Moody documented parallels from ancient sources, e.g. Plato's Republic, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and The Bible, to various aspects of the NDE. The teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, however, represent the first conclusive and comprehensive affirmation of the entire core experience of the NDE by an established world religion. The Bahá'í teachings specifically refer to a realm of light, a Being of Light, a life review, a reunion with friends and loved ones, and the continuation of learning and knowledge in the spiritual dimension. Additionally, the Bahá'í teachings closely parallel the spiritual transformation which many who have had a NDE report, i.e. a de-emphasis of dogma and doctrine, an emphasis on the unity of mankind, service to others, the unity of science and religion, and a recognition that all religions, in their true form, are one in essence.
You will notice that this book contains very little commentary. The Bahá'í writings concerning life after death, written over 100 years prior to Moody's LIFE AFTER LIFE, require little interpretation or explanation. Moreover, this book is intended as an extension of the on-going research on the NDE and not as an introduction to the Bahá'í Faith. The following chapter will provide a very brief overview of the Bahá'í Faith after which we can turn our attention to the truly remarkable parallels between the NDE and the newest world religion.
The author wishes to express his gratitude to the following publishers for granting permission to quote from their works:
Mockingbird Books Inc., Reflections on Life after Life, by Raymond A. Moody
Penguin Books Ltd., Return from Death. An Exploration of the Near Death Experience, by Margot Grey (Arkana, 1988), copyright Margot Grey, 1988
Random House, Inc., The Doctor and the Soul, by Viktor Frankl (First Vintage Books Edition March 1973).
George Ronald Oxford, Bahá'u'lláh, The King of Glory by H.M. Balyuzi (1980)
Bahá'í Publishing Trust of India, Bahá'í Holy Writings
Bahá'ís hold all of the great religions to be divine in origin and progressive in nature. In the Bahá'í view Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh are divine intermediaries of equal station, linking humanity to a common Creator. All of them propagated teachings which restated the same basic spiritual truths, adapting them to the needs and circumstances of the ages in which they were revealed. While confirming past religions, the Bahá'í Faith advances a claim to be the faith for a modern age. Currently there are over 5 million Bahá'ís worldwide residing in over 120,000 different locations and representing over 2000 different ethnic groups. The Bahá'í Writings have been translated into more than 800 languages and according to the Britannica Yearbook it is geographically the most widely diffused of the world religions after Christianity. On May 27, 1972 the Bahá'í International Community was accredited in consultative status with the United Nations. Some of the fundamental principles of the Bahá´í Faith include:
The unbiased and independent investigation of truth.
The elimination of all forms of prejudice.
The awareness of the unity of religious truth and a recognition that each of the world religions was tailored to the needs of a particular age and people.
An affirmation that religion cannot be at odds with science and reason.
The adoption of a universal auxiliary language to be taught in all the schools of the world along with the mother language.
Universal compulsory education.
The equality of woman and man.
The elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty.
The establishment of a world federation of nations.
The establishment of a world court to peacefully settle disputes between and among nations.
Disarmament and the establishment of world peace based upon a common mutual security agreement.
In addition the Bahá'í Faith has neither priesthood nor clergy, correspondingly, it has only a few simple rites and ceremonies which are expressly mentioned in its religious texts, e.g. an obligatory daily prayer, a marriage ceremony and a specific prayer to be used at funerals. While the Bahá'í Faith has clear and profound tenets and principles, it shuns any attempt to enshroud them with any form of rigid and exclusive dogmas.
On May 24, 1844 Samuel Morse opened the door to world communication when he transmitted the first telegraphic message, "What hath God wrought!" !" On the previous day, nearly halfway around the world an even more momentous event occurred. A young Persian who assumed the title of the Báb (the Gate) proclaimed the imminent appearance of the Messenger of God foretold in the scriptures of the major world religions. His purpose, He declared, was to prepare mankind for the advent of the promised one. He proclaimed:
"I am the Mystic Fane which the Hand of Omnipotence hath reared. I am the Lamp which the Finger of God hath lit within its niche and caused to shine with deathless splendour."
He entreated His followers:
"You are the witnesses of the Dawn of the promised Day of God. You are the partakers of the mystic chalice of His Revelation...Purge your hearts of worldly desires, and let angelic virtues be your adorning...Scatter throughout the length and breadth of this land, and, with steadfast feet and sanctified hearts, prepare the way for His coming. Heed not your weaknesses and frailty; fix your gaze upon the invincible power of the Lord, your God, the Almighty."
Transformed by the grandeur of His words and the resplendence of His person, His disciples set out with selfless devotion and undaunted spirits. The Báb's message was rapidly diffused throughout Persia due to the selflessness of their motives and the radiance of their spirits.
Lord Curzon, the 19th Century historian wrote:
"If Bábism continues to grow at its present rate of progression, a time may conceivably come when it will oust Muhammadanism from the field in Persia." Lord Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, vol. 1. p. 503 (Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1892)
Cognizant of the repercussions which this movement boded for their privileged position, the forces of authority combined to extinguish this new light. In 1850 the Báb was executed in the public square of Tabriz before the gaze of 10,000 onlookers. Over 20,000 of His followers were subsequently massacred in a wave of persecution instigated by the Muslim clergy.
Just as the beheading of John the Baptist, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the persecution of His followers failed to stifle Christianity, the religious and civil authorities of Persia were thwarted in their attempt to hamper the spread of the Báb's message. Indeed, not only did such unmitigated cruelty and opposition fail to eradicate the Bábi Movement in Persia, rather it attracted the attention of Western observers who spread its message beyond the boarders of Iran:
In 1889 Professor E.G. Browne writing in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society deemed the Bábi movement, "a religious body which appears to me to constitute one of the most remarkable phenomena of the present century." Further he considered it, "destined to leave a permanent mark in the world." (Art. VI-The Bábis of Persia)
Dr. J. Estlin Carpenter regarded it as, "...the most remarkable movement which modern Muhammadanism has produced..."
The French historian, A.L.M. Nicolas wrote of the Báb, "his life is one of the most magnificent examples of courage which it has been the privilege of mankind to behold...He sacrificed himself for humanity, for it he gave his body and his soul, for it he endured privations, insults, torture and martyrdom...Like Jesus, he paid with his life for the proclamation of a reign of concord, equity and brotherly love."
A young Persian nobleman, Bahá'u'lláh, sacrificed His wealth and position to follow the Báb. At the tender age of 27 the young family father who had until then busied himself with philanthropic pursuits suddenly embarked on course which would result in forty years of imprisonment and severe persecution. A neck which had grown accustomed to the texture of silk was abruptly placed in chains whose galling weight left him scarred for life. In 1853 He was imprisoned in a subterranean dungeon known as the Black Pit, which had originally served as a water reservoir for one of the public baths in Tehran.
"We were consigned for four months to a place foul beyond comparison. As to the dungeon in which this Wronged One and others similarly wronged were confined, a dark and narrow pit were preferable. Upon Our arrival We were first conducted along a pitch-black corridor, from whence We descended three steep flights of stairs to the place of confinement assigned to Us. The dungeon was wrapped in thick darkness, and Our fellow-prisoners numbered nearly a hundred and fifty souls: thieves, assassins and highwaymen. Though crowded, it had no other outlet than the passage by which We entered. No pen can depict that place, nor any tongue describe its loathsome smell... God alone knoweth what befell Us in that most foul-smelling and gloomy place!" (From the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh.)
Under these circumstances He received an intimation that He was the Promised One Whose appearance the Báb had foretold. He recounts:
"I was but a man like others... when lo, the breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of all that hath been. This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-knowing... This is but a leaf which the winds of the will of thy Lord, the Almighty, the All-Praised, have stirred. Can it be still when the tempestuous winds are blowing?... His all-compelling summons hath reached Me, and caused Me to speak His praise amidst all people. I was indeed as one dead when His behest was uttered. The hand of the will of Thy Lord, the Compassionate, the Merciful, transformed Me."
"Can anyone speak forth of his own accord that for which all men, both high and low, will protest against him?"
Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet founder of the Bahá'í Faith, proclaimed that the pivotal issue for the current age is the recognition of the oneness of mankind. He predicted that the unrestrained growth of secular material civilization would result in chaos and an array of problems of global proportions. According to His teachings the appearance of justice and unity among mankind is the key to solving such problems as human degradation, environmental exploitation, economic inequities, nationalism, racism and religious fundamentalism.
To be able to fully appreciate the extraordinary insight with which His revelation is endowed one needs to reflect on the age in which Bahá'u'lláh appeared. The mid-nineteenth century was a time of unbridled nationalism and militarism, instituitionalized racism, sexism, colonialism, and virtually unrestrained worker exploitation. In like manner, the gap between religion and science was growing ever wider. When we continue to narrow our focus with respect to place, we encounter in nineteenth century Iran, the birthplace of the Bahá'í Faith, a religious climate of unrivalled bigotry, intolerance and fanaticism. One can hardly conceive of a more fitting place to demonstrate the transforming power of a fresh revelation. What greater proof of the prophetic power of the Bahá'í Revelation could be imagined than the fact that an individual reared in nineteenth century Persia could proclaim that Faith in God should be expressed through service to humanity, aided by scientific knowledge, built upon a foundation of love, justice, tolerance and reason, tempered with wisdom, and dedicated to the unification of humanity?
In order to stifle Bahá'u'lláh's ever growing influence, He was tortured, imprisoned and finally exiled to the Holy Lands in 1868. The renowned orientalist of Pembroke College, Cambridge, Professor Edward Granville Browne (not a Bahá'í) was received in Bahji (Bahá'u'lláh's residence near Akká) in 1890 and left us the following account:
"So here at Bahji was I installed as a guest, in the very midst of all that Bábism accounts most noble and most holy; and here did I spend five most memorable days, during which I enjoyed unparalleled and unhoped-for opportunities of holding intercourse with those who are the very fountain-head of that mighty and wondrous spirit which works with invisible but ever-increasing force for the transformation and quickening of a people [the Persians] who slumber in a sleep like unto death. It was in truth a strange and moving experience, but one whereof I despair of conveying any save the feeblest impression. I might, indeed, strive to describe in greater detail the faces and forms which surrounded me; the conversations to which I was privileged to listen, the solemn melodious reading of the sacred books, the general sense of harmony and content which pervaded the place, and the fragrant shady gardens whither in the afternoon we sometimes repaired; but all this was as nought in comparison with the spiritual atmosphere with which I was encompassed..."
As he was one of the few Westerners to come into the presence of Bahá'u'lláh, his pen portrait is of inestimable historical value:
"... my conductor paused for a moment while I removed my shoes. Then, with a quick movement of the hand, he withdrew, and, as I passed, replaced the curtain; and I found myself in a large apartment, along the upper end of which ran a low divan, while on the side opposite to the door were placed two or three chairs. Though I dimly suspected whither I was going and whom I was to behold (for no distinct intimation had been given to me), a second or two elapsed ere, with a throb of wonder and awe, I became definitely conscious that the room was not untenanted. In the corner where the divan met the wall sat a wondrous and venerable figure ... The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one's very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow, while the deep lines on the forehead and face implied an age which the jet-black hair and beard flowing down in indistinguishable luxuriance almost to the waist seemed to belie. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!"
"A mild dignified voice bade me be seated, and then continued: -'Praise be to God that thou hast attained!... Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile... We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment...That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled- what harm is there in this?...Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the 'Most Great Peace' shall come...Do not you in Europe need this also? Is not this that which Christ foretold?...Yet do we see your kings and rulers lavishing their treasures more freely on means for the destruction of the human race than on that which would conduce to the happiness of mankind...These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family...Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind...' "
"Such, so far as I can recall them, were the words which, besides many others, I heard from Behá. Let those who read them consider well with themselves whether such doctrines merit death and bonds, and whether the world is more likely to gain or lose by their diffusion."
Bahá´u´lláh instructed His followers to turn to His eldest son, ´Abdu´l-Bahá, for guidance after His passing. At the age of nine ´Abdu´l-Bahá, in the company of his father, began a life of exile and imprisonment which was to last until the age of sixty-four. After over fifty years as an exile and a prisoner ´Abdu´l-Bahá was released from captivity by a general amnesty granted after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Shortly thereafter, at the age of sixty-seven, he travelled to Europe and North America to proclaim the message of Bahá´u´lláh to the peoples of the West. Although deprived of a formal education ´Abdu´l-Bahá exhibited an almost supernatural knowledge and wisdom which, coupled with a saintly character and a demeanour described as majestic yet exceedingly humble, seldom failed to win the respect of those with whom he came in contact--from the mission poor to the university president. His words are not divine Revelation and thus are not considered equal in rank to those of Bahá´u´lláh, however, according to Bahá´u´lláh, they do possess equal validity. Professor Edward Granville Browne left us with this description of ´Abdu´l-Bahá.
"Seldom have I seen one whose appearance impressed me more. A tall strongly-built man holding himself straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long black locks reaching almost to the shoulder, broad powerful forehead indicating a strong intellect combined with an unswerving will, eyes keen as a hawk's, and strongly-marked but pleasing features-such was my first impression of 'Abbás Effendí, 'the master' as he par excellence is called by the Bábís. Subsequent conversation with him served only to heighten the respect with which his appearance had from the first inspired me. One more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muhammadans, could, I should think, scarcely by found even amongst the eloquent, ready, and subtle race to which he belongs. These qualities, combined with a bearing at once majestic and genial, made me cease to wonder at the influence and esteem which he enjoyed even beyond the circle of his father's followers. About the greatness of this man and his power no one who had seen him could entertain a doubt."
In his will and testament ´Abdu´l-Bahá appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. From 1921 until 1957 he guided the affairs of the steadily growing Bahá'í World Community and helped solidify the administrative institutions outlined in the writings of Bahá´u´lláh and ´Abdu´l-Bahá. Shoghi Effendi's other contributions to the Bahá'í Faith include his translations of the Sacred Writings from Persian and Arabic into English (plus the account of the early history of the faith written by the historian Nabil) as well as his own history of the development of the Bahá'í Faith. In addition he established the World Centre of the Bahá'í Faith in Haifa, Israel, acting simultaneously as architect, project manager, landscaper, diplomat and the administrative head of the Bahá'í World Community. His writings are not held in the same rank as those of Bahá´u´lláh or ´Abdu´l-Bahá, but their validity is explicitly attested by ´Abdu´l-Bahá.
In the year 1963 the Universal House of Justice was established, the institution envisioned by Bahá´u´lláh to guide the affairs of the Bahá'í Community and to rule upon matters not specifically addressed in the Sacred Writings. It is currently composed of nine members who are democratically elected by the members of the Bahá'í Spiritual Assemblies of the nations of the world, who gather every five years in Haifa, Israel for this purpose. The seat of the Universal House of Justice and the World Centre of Bahá'í Faith are situated on Mount Carmel in Israel.
The phenomenon of the NDE has only recently gained widespread public attention. This is a direct result of the publication of Dr. Raymond Moody's international best-seller, "LIFE AFTER LIFE". As a graduate student Moody listened to the experience of a physician who had been pronounced dead of double pneumonia and later revived. He recounted being out of his body, being in a realm of light which emanated love, and witnessing a review of his life. Sometime later one of Moody's own students mentioned that he had been resuscitated after having nearly died. Moody asked him to describe the experience and was surprised that the young man's story was remarkably similar to that of the physician. This was the spark which ignited Moody's interest in the NDE, a term which he coined in "LIFE AFTER LIFE". Thereafter he began to compile case studies of people who had been clinically dead and subsequently "brought back to life".
"LIFE AFTER LIFE" was written after Moody had interviewed over one hundred such persons. Although no two reported experiences where completely identical, there were certain elements which commonly occurred. Moody identified these elements as constituting the "core" experience of the NDE. The following description of an NDE is based on the "core" experience identified by Moody and confirmed by several researchers in this field.
An accident victim is delivered to an emergency room following an automobile accident. He has lost considerable blood and is in severe pain. At some point he loses consciousness. Suddenly something strange occurs. He begins watching doctors and nurses working frantically on someone on an operating table. A sense of confusion overcomes him as he realizes that he is looking at his own seemingly lifeless body. He is outside of his physical body somewhere near the ceiling of the emergency room. He cries out, but no one takes any notice. He observes a doctor yelling at a nurse for handing him the wrong medication. She in turn is so upset that she drops a sterilized pan on the floor.
At this point he hears a loud ringing noise and is whisked through a dark tunnel. In the distance he discerns a source of light towards which he is rapidly approaching. He then finds himself in a realm of light. It is indescribably beautiful. A sense of love and joy permeates everything. He is no longer in pain. He attempts to find the source of the light, but can't. Suddenly he senses the presence of someone. He is in the presence of a Being of Light.
Thoughts rather than words are exchanged, he is asked by the Being if his life had been worthwhile. Various stages of his life are vividly portrayed for his review. He evaluates his own life, he isn't judged by the Being of Light, nonetheless, all of his emotions and motives are clearly evident to the Being of Light--there are no secrets in His presence.
He is aware of the presence of other beings and recognizes loved ones and friends who have previously died. Although he no longer has a material body, he does have a unique spiritual identity and is able to perceive sights, thoughts, sounds, etc.. Colors are especially vibrant in the radiant light of his new environment. Despite the intensity of the light, it doesn't hurt his eyes.
At a some point the Being of Light or a loved one informs him that his time on Earth wasn't completed and he is to return to the physical world. He expresses a desire to remain in this radiant existence, but in a flash he finds himself back in his material body.
Later he speaks with a nurse about the experience. She tells him it was due to the medication he had been given. He also tries to speak with his doctor, who brushes it aside saying he had simply hallucinated. When he mentions his experience to his family he can sense they are uncomfortable. He feels they are concerned about his sanity. Thereafter he resolves never to speak of his experience again.
The experience, however, does have a profound effect upon him. He has been spiritually transformed. Formerly he had been active in his church and had held the beliefs of his denomination to be the only true path. Now he is no longer "religious" in a dogmatic sense, rather he has become spiritual. He realizes that many of the aspects of religion which he had formerly considered important are merely superficialities. Although he enjoys his physical surroundings, he places little value on material possessions. Love and compassion towards his fellow man are the treasures with which he is now concerned. From his life review he realizes that these are the elements of true religion. He also recognizes the importance of learning and the joy which it can bring. Lastly, he no longer fears death, he views the material body as a bird views its cage. He knows that upon his physical death he will soar in another realm.
Over the past twenty some years Dr. Moody has interviewed thousands of people who have had experiences similar to the above description. He has written three highly entertaining and successful books about this subject: "LIFE AFTER LIFE", "REFLECTIONS ON LIFE AFTER LIFE", and "THE LIGHT BEYOND".
In 1980 Dr. Kenneth Ring published "LIFE AT DEATH: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience". Dr. Ring devised a method of questioning NDEers and compiled a statistical analysis of the interviews of 102 such people. He, like Moody, found the NDE to be overwhelmingly positive in nature, moreover, he found that the NDE is independent of religious beliefs. Dr. Ring admits that contact to thousands of persons who have had an NDE has changed his life.
"Studying NDEs has made me believe this. If you examine them, the experience underlies many of the great religions of the world. What is the basic message that the NDEer comes away with? That knowledge and love are the most important things. It is the formal religions that have added all the dogma and doctrine."
"Dealing with NDEs has also changed the way I feel about life after death. In fact, I never use that phrase anymore. Instead, I think there is only life. When the physical body no longer functions, the spirit leaves and goes on living." 1
The highly respected Gallup Poll Organization conducted an eighteen month survey on life after death employing strict sampling methods and statistical procedures. The results were published by George Gallup, Jr. in 1980 under the title, "Adventures in Immortality". Gallup found that over 8 million persons in North America have had a NDE. Undoubtedly his findings have established the NDE as a verifiable phenomenon, worthy of study and consideration.
The following table is based upon Gallup's statistical analysis of those persons who reported having had a NDE:
Out of body 26%
Accurate visual perception 23%
Audible sounds or voices 17%
Feelings of peace, painlessness 32%
Light phenomena 14%
Life review 32%
Being in another world 32%
Encountering other beings 23%
Tunnel experience 9%
Precognition 6 %
Does the NDE prove the existence of an afterlife? Obviously it does in a subjective sense, i.e., if one personally has had such an experience, he or she might be apt to accept the NDE as proof of life after death. For those who haven't had such an experience, the existence of life after death ultimately remains a question of faith. That being said, if you've had the opportunity to listen first hand to someone who has had a NDE, it's a very gripping experience. For the sake of example, imagine that you're unsure of the existence of love, after all, it hasn't been scientifically demonstrated. Then you are given the opportunity to look deeply into the eyes of a mother holding her new born child for the first time. It might not be conclusive proof for you, but you might be inclined to believe in love. I think of the NDE in that way, it's not conclusive evidence, but I'm inclined to accept it as an intimation of things to come.
Then there are numerous confirmed cases of individuals who have accurately reported occurrences which happened in the treatment room during the time that they were "dead", i.e. without vital signs. Even blind patients have been reanimated and described to their physicians what color ties they were wearing. That's rather difficult to dismiss. However, no one should be faulted for possessing a degree of healthy skepticism. It only becomes an issue when bias clouds one's thinking.
Not surprisingly the NDE seems to threaten those whose belief system can't incorporate such a phenomenon. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. wrote in the foreword to "LIFE AFTER LIFE" that Moody should expect criticism from two groups: the religious and the scientific communities.
Obviously someone whose livelihood depends on guiding a flock in the observance of various ceremonies and rituals which promise salvation only to those who practice them, might well feel threatened by research which indicates that God is considerably more magnanimous and loving than they have given Him credit for being. Yet I would ask them to consider the almost boundless love of a mother for her child. Shouldn't we then expect God's capacity to love to be infinitely greater than that of his creatures?
At the other end of the spectrum are scientists who can't accept that a Supreme Being created and sustains the universe. Perhaps the image of God which they encountered in their youth prevents them from accepting the idea of a Supreme Being. Regardless, the existence of a soul simply has no place in their mind set. Since the existence of the soul or the NDE is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to quantify, Western science deems it unworthy of serious consideration.
Viktor E. Frankl, M.D., noted author, psychoanalyst and victim of the Nazi concentration camps, learned in a dramatic manner that man indeed has a soul. In his wonderful book, "The Doctor & the Soul" we read:
"Freud once said: 'Try and subject a number of very strongly differentiated human beings to the same amount of starvation. With the increase of the imperative need for food, all individual differences will be blotted out, and, in their place, we shall see the uniform expression of the one unsatisfied instinct.' But in the concentration camps we witnessed the contrary; we saw how, faced with the identical situation, one man degenerated while another attained virtual saintliness." 2
This prompts the age old question, "If there is an all powerful God, how can he allow such suffering?" Although this is a very interesting question, a suitable answer would be outside the theme of this book. Nevertheless, it is interesting to read what Frankl, someone who suffered through the ultimate nightmare, wrote of his experience:
"... he himself can no longer understand how he was able to survive the imprisonment. Henceforth he enjoys the precious feeling that after all he has experienced and suffered, there is nothing left in the world that he need fear... For a good many men learned in concentration camp, and as a result of concentration camp, to believe in God again." 3
Thus we see that many of those who have truly suffered don't blame God for their suffering. They realize the limits of their material body and the strength of their immortal soul. In times of trouble the soul finds its way back to God. How could such a thing as a concentration camp come into existence? According to Frankl:
" I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment--or, as the Nazi liked to say of "Blood and Soil." I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientist and philosophers." 4
This shouldn't be construed as a condemnation of science which, simply stated, is the systematized knowledge of nature and the physical environment. History has shown, however, that science devoid of morality and ethics is equally as dangerous as religion opposed to knowledge and reason. I maintain that both of these groups, clergy and scientists, could gain a great deal by reflecting on the message offered to us by those who have had a NDE.
"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
"I have turned my face unto Thee, O my Lord! Illumine it with the light of Thy countenance. Protect it, then, from turning to any one but thee." Bahá'u'lláh
"O Lord, enlighten my sight by beholding Thy lights in this dark night... open before my face the doors of Thy heaven, so that I may see the light of Thy glory..." 'Abdu'l-Bahá
Undoubtedly one of the most striking aspects of the near-death-experience is the encounter with a Being of Light. A person in the presence of the Being of Light is transfigured; he is enveloped by a feeling of profound serenity. The Being of Light is perceived as the personification of pure and universal love. Raymond Moody states, "People with a Christian background often describe Him as God or Jesus. Those with other religious backgrounds may call him Buddha or Allah. But some have said that it's neither God nor Jesus, but someone very holy nonetheless." 1
In the presence of this Being, were thoughts rather than words are exchanged, understanding is total and complete. One's former actions and motives are made transparent; one's soul is exposed and his innermost being is penetrated. Time and space lose all meaning in His presence. One is made to realize that life on earth was lived for a purpose. Lovingly one is made to see the result of one's actions upon others. Together with this Being one evaluates a thoroughly realistic review of one's life, perceived as a three dimensional vision, which takes but an instant. Those who reach this stage are so captivated by the warmth and love which this Being emanates that they lose all desire to return to their former existence.
In 1858 Bahá'u'lláh pitched his tent on the banks of the Tigris River and revealed "The Hidden Words" which he himself referred to as, "... that which hath descended from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old. We have taken the inner essence thereof and clothed it in the garment of brevity...".
Many a chilled heart has been set aglow by the power and majesty of "The Hidden Words". As you read them, judge for yourself if they weren't sent to us from the "realm of glory".
I have made death a messenger of joy to thee.
Wherefore dost thou grieve?
I made the light to shed on thee its splendor.
Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom?
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic)
O SON OF SPIRIT!
With the joyful tidings of light I hail thee: rejoice!
To the court of holiness I summon thee;
abide therein that thou mayest live in peace for evermore.
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic)
O SON OF MAN!
The light hath shone on thee ...
and the spirit of enlightenment hath breathed ... in thy heart.
Wherefore, free thyself from the veils of idle fancies
and enter into My court,
that thou mayest be fit for everlasting life
and worthy to meet Me.
Thus may death not come upon thee,
neither weariness for trouble.
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic)
O SON OF MAN!
Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not;
wherefore fearest thou thy perishing?
Thou are My light and My light shall never be extinguished;
why dost thou dread extinction?
Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not;
thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn.
Abide then in thy love for Me,
that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory.
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic)
O HEEDLESS ONES!
Think not the secrets of hearts are hidden,
nay, know ye of a certainty that in clear characters
they are engraved and are openly manifest in the holy Presence.
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Persian)
O SON OF MY HANDMAID!
Didst thou behold immortal sovereignty,
thou wouldst strive to pass from this fleeting world.
But to conceal the one from thee and to reveal the other
is a mystery which none but the pure in heart can comprehend.
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Persian)
O SON OF THE SUPREME!
To the eternal I call thee,
yet thou dost seek that which perisheth.
What hath made thee turn away from Our desire
and seek thine own?
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic)
O OFFSPRING OF DUST!
Be not content with the ease of a passing day,
and deprive not thyself of everlasting rest.
Barter not the garden of eternal delight
for the dust-heap of a mortal world.
Up from thy prison ascend unto the glorious meads above,
and from the mortal cage
wing thy flight unto the paradise of the Placeless.
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic)
O COMPANION OF MY THRONE!
... Live then the days of thy life,
that are less than a fleeting moment,
with thy mind stainless, thy heart unsullied, thy thoughts pure,
and thy nature sanctified, so that, free and content,
thou mayest put away this mortal frame,
and repair unto the mystic paradise
and abide in the eternal kingdom for evermore.
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Persian)
O SON OF BEING!
With the hands of power I made thee
and with the fingers of strength I created thee;
and within thee have I placed the essence of My light...
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic)
O SON OF SPIRIT!
My claim on thee is great, it cannot be forgotten.
My grace to thee is plenteous, it cannot be veiled.
My love has made in thee its home, it cannot be concealed.
My light is manifest to thee, it cannot be obscured.
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic)
O SON OF MAN!
My eternity is My creation, I have created it for thee.
Make it the garment of thy temple.
My unity is My handiwork; I have wrought it for thee;
clothe thyself therewith,
that thou mayest be to all eternity
the revelation of My everlasting being.
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic)
O SON OF MAN!
Write all that We have revealed unto thee with
the ink of light upon the tablet of thy spirit...
("The Hidden Words", Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic)
In the open radiance of His glory He standeth before you.
His voice summoneth all the holy and sanctified beings
to come and be united with Him.
Happy is he that turneth thereunto;
well is it with him that hath attained,
and gazed on the light of so wondrous a countenance.3
The references to "light" in the Bahá'í Writings are far too abundant to be extensively quoted within the scope of this book. God is frequently referred to as the source of light, and light is often alluded to as love. Even the name Bahá'í is connected to light. Bahá'u'lláh translated into English means, "The Glory of God" or "The Splendor of God". Bahá 'í means a follower of Bahá or "Glory" or "Splendor". The precise meaning of splendor is: great luster or brightness; brilliance. Glory means: radiant beauty or splendor; magnificence; the bliss of heaven; a circle of light. Thus, quite literally, Bahá 'ís are followers of a heavenly light.
Once during an interrogation by civil authorities Bahá'u'lláh was repeatedly asked to formally state his name and country of origin. He replied, "It is more manifest than the sun." After the question was posed once again, this time with obvious deference, he responded mightily, "My name is Light of God, and My country Light. Be ye apprized of it." 4
Bahá'u'lláh taught that the founders of all the world religions were one in their essence and that God,
"hath caused those luminous Gems of Holiness to appear out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all men..."
"... every time the Prophets of God have illumined the world with the resplendent radiance of the Day Star of Divine knowledge, they have invariably summoned its peoples to embrace the light of God through such means as best befitted the exigencies of the age in which they appeared..." 5
In the book of Matthew in the New Testament we read of the appearance of Jesus before a group of His disciples. Obviously they were spiritually awakened by Jesus and were thus able to see Him transfigured as the Light.
"And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him." 6
Interestingly, we have an account of Mirzá Áqa Ján, the first believer to have recognized the station of Bahá'u'lláh. He too saw with the eye of the spirit.
"How shall I ever describe that voice and the verses it intoned, and His gait, as He strode before me! Methinks, with every step He took and every word He uttered thousands of oceans of light surged before my face, and thousands of worlds of incomparable splendor were unveiled to my eyes, and thousands of suns blazed their light upon me." 7
The Bahá'í teachings use an analogy to demonstrate the essential unity of the Prophets of God. If, for the sake of example, we think of God as the Sun, we can think of the rays of light as the Holy Spirit. Then imagine that every created being in the universe is capable of reflecting the light of the Holy Spirit to a limited degree. Periodically, Beings are made manifest, who are absolutely pure, the equivalent of a perfectly polished mirror. When one looks at them, he sees a perfect reflection of the Sun. Although it isn't the actual Sun, it is a perfect reflection of the image of the Sun. Thus when we see the Sun reflected in Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, or any of the Prophets, the Sun is the same. This is the basis of the unity of God and His Prophets. There is only one Sun, even if it appears in numerous mirror each with a different shape.
The important consideration is that the source of all light is God, the Most Great Light:
"Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God, inasmuch as within every atom are enshrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that Most Great Light." 8
"These sanctified Mirrors, these Day Springs of ancient glory, 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. They are the Treasuries of Divine knowledge, and the Repositories of celestial wisdom. Through them is transmitted a grace that is infinite, and by them is revealed the Light that can never fade..." 9
The Bahá'í teachings explain that differences in the Prophets or Manifestations of God are due to the spiritual capacity of humanity at various stages of its development, and not because of any weakness on the part of the Prophets. Moreover, the point is made that all the Prophets shared a common mission:
"Know thou assuredly that the essence of all the Prophets of God is one and the same. Their unity is absolute...They all have but one purpose; their secret is the same secret. To prefer one in honor to another, to exalt certain ones above the rest, is in no wise permitted. Every true Prophet hath regarded His Message as fundamentally the same as the Revelation of every other Prophet gone before Him. If any man, therefore, should fail to comprehend this truth, and should consequently indulge in vain and unseemly language, no one whose sight is keen and whose understanding is enlightened would ever allow such idle talk to cause him to waver in his belief."
"The measure of the revelation of the Prophets of God in this world, however, must differ. Each and every one of them hath been the Bearer of a distinct Message, and hath been commissioned to reveal Himself through specific acts. It is for this reason that they appear to vary in their greatness..."
"It is clear and evident, therefore, that any apparent variation in the intensity of their light is not inherent in the light itself, but should rather be attributed to the varying receptivity of an ever-changing world. Every Prophet Whom the Almighty and Peerless Creator hath purposed to send to the people of the earth hath been entrusted with a Message, and charged to act in a manner that would best meet the requirements of the age in which He appeared. God's purpose in sending His Prophets unto men is twofold. The first is to liberate the children of men from the darkness of ignorance, and guide them to the light of true understanding. The second is to ensure the peace and tranquillity of mankind, and provide all the means by which they can be established." 10
The Life Review
You'll recall that in the presence of the Being of Light one is guided through a review of his life. Most of those reporting a NDE which included a life review, describe it as overwhelmingly positive, due to the gentle loving guidance of the Being of Light. There have been, however, some reports of negative life reviews. NDE researchers point out that someone who has had a positive experience is more apt to recount it than some who might carry a sense of shame. The Bahá'í teaching allow for both.
Bring thyself to account each day
ere thou art summoned to a reckoning;
for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee
and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.11
"It is clear and evident that all men shall, after their physical death, estimate the worth of their deeds, and realize all that their hands have wrought. I swear by the Day Star that shineth above the horizon of Divine power! They that are the followers of the one true God shall, the moment they depart out of this life, experience such joy and gladness as would be impossible to describe..." 12
What can the Hitler, Stalin and other oppressors expect? They too shall learn of what their hands have wrought and will be correspondingly repaid for their deeds.
"Know ye that the world and its vanities and its embellishments shall pass away. Nothing will endure except God's Kingdom...The days of your life shall roll away, and all the things with which ye are occupied and of which ye boast yourselves shall perish, and ye shall, most certainly, be summoned by a company of His angels to appear at the spot where the limbs of the entire creation shall be made to tremble, and the flesh of every oppressor to creep. Ye shall be asked of the things your hands have wrought in this, your vain life, and shall be repaid for your doings. This is the day that shall inevitably come upon you, the hour that none can put back."13
Bahá'u'lláh alluded to the heavenly station of a mother's son who, as an early Bahá'í, was murdered for his beliefs:
"On her be My blessings, and My mercy, and My praise, and My glory. I Myself shall atone for the loss of her son--a son who now dwelleth within the tabernacle of My majesty and glory, and whose face beameth with a light that envelopeth with its radiance the Maids of Heaven in their celestial chambers, and beyond them the inmates of My Paradise, and the denizens of the Cities of Holiness. Were any eye to gaze on his face, he would exclaim: "Lo, this is no other than a noble angel!" 14
And referring to one who attains the Light of True Paradise, Bahá'u'lláh revealed these words:
"...the daystar of the unfading beauty of his Lord will at all times shed its radiance upon him, and he will shine so brightly that no one shall bear to gaze at him." 15
Where is the effulgent light of Thy reunion, O Well-
Beloved of such as are wholly devoted to Thee?
Thy Paradise is My love;
thy heavenly home, reunion with Me.
Another important and reassuring aspect of the NDE is the reunion with friends, relatives and loved ones in the Realm of Light. Although they no longer have a physical body as we know it, they do possess a recognizable individuality. Their presence can be sensed as well as seen. They seem to be present to offer assurance and loving support during this transitional phase, or sometimes to counsel the "newcomer" about returning to "this life". In any case, it is generally a joyously loving reunion. This aspect of life after death is especially well documented in the Bahá'í Writings.
Many of those who have had a NDE report that in the spiritual dimension there is an astounding degree of interconnectedness and mutual awareness. Bahá'u'lláh taught that our associations will be so intimate that we will experience near total unity.
"And now concerning thy question whether human souls continue to be conscious one of another after their separation from the body. Know thou that the souls of the people of Baha ... shall associate and commune intimately one with another, and shall be so closely associated in their lives, their aspirations, their aims and strivings as to be even as one soul." 1
On another occasion He intimated some of the rewards awaiting the soul which has been faithful to God. Not only will such a soul encounter friends and loved-ones, but such souls will be sought out by the Prophets of God. Indeed, according to Bahá'u'lláh if we were aware of that which awaits such a soul we would be totally consumed with longing for such an exalted station.
"And now concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death. Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving-kindness and bounty. The movement of My Pen is stilled when it attempteth to befittingly describe the loftiness and glory of so exalted a station. The honor with which the Hand of Mercy will invest the soul is such as no tongue can adequately reveal, nor any other earthly agency describe. Blessed is the soul which, at the hour of its separation from the body, is sanctified from the vain imaginings of the people of the world. Such a soul liveth and moveth in accordance with the Will of its Creator, and entereth the all-highest Paradise. The Maids of Heaven, inmates of the loftiest mansions, will circle around it, and the Prophets of God and His chosen ones will seek its companionship. With them that soul will freely converse, and will recount unto them that which it hath been made to endure in the path of God, the Lord of all worlds. If any man be told that which hath been ordained for such a soul in the worlds of God, the Lord of the throne on high and of earth below, his whole being will instantly blaze out in his great longing to attain that most exalted, that sanctified and resplendent station..." 2
'Abdu'l-Bahá explains that feelings of love and attraction are carried over into the spiritual world. There will be no separation in physical terms, even though two individuals occupy different spiritual stations. He explains that they will, however, be cognizant of their difference of station.
"As to the question whether the souls will recognize each other in the spiritual world: This fact is certain; for the Kingdom is the world of vision where all the concealed realities will become disclosed. How much more the well-known souls will become manifest. ... Likewise, will they find all the friends of God, both those of the former and recent times, present in the heavenly assemblage."
"The difference and distinction between men will naturally become realized after their departure from this mortal world. But this distinction is not in respect to place, but in respect to the soul and conscience. For the Kingdom of God is sanctified (or free) from time and place; it is another world and another universe. And know thou for a certainty that in the divine worlds the spiritual loved ones will recognize one another, and will seek union with each other, but a spiritual union. Likewise, a love that one may have entertained for anyone will not be forgotten in the world of the Kingdom, nor wilt thou forget there the life that thou hadst in the material world." 3
O God! leave them not to themselves,
but guide their steps by the light of knowledge,
and cheer their hearts by Thy love.
In "Reflections on Life After Life" Raymond Moody reports that subsequent to his initial research he encountered several people who had been given a glimpse into a dimension of knowledge which vastly exceeds anything which we know of on earth. All of them had difficulty trying to convey this particular experience. In any case, they describe a realm where all knowledge, past, present and future is instantly and completely accessible. The spoken or written word is unnecessary, one needs only to pose a question mentally or express an interest and the appropriate knowledge is instantaneously supplied. It's described as an automatic process, desired knowledge flows to the conscious mind.
Some might equate heaven with streets lined with gold, but being given access to universal knowledge is certainly a vastly superior gift. Many people have spent their lives penetrating the secrets of creation and posing questions which no earthly agency can adequately answer. What a wonderful and reassuring vision, to know that God will allow us a glimpse behind the mysteries of the universe.
This phenomenon, as you may by now suspect, is also alluded to in the Bahá'í Writings. Exactly how were the great pyramids constructed? What was it like to hear Jesus preach the sermon on the mount? The Bahá'í teachings promise that we will be made aware of life's mysteries. According to 'Abdu'l-Bahá:
"The mysteries of which man is heedless in the earthly world, those will he discover in the heavenly world, and there will he be informed of the secrets of the truth; how much more will he recognize or discover persons with whom he has been associated. Undoubtedly, the holy souls who find a pure eye and are favored with insight will, in the kingdom of lights, be acquainted with all mysteries, and will seek the bounty of witnessing the reality of every great soul. They will even manifestly behold the beauty of God in that world." 1
Further 'Abdu'l-Bahá's explains that intellectual capacity and knowledge progress continuously:
"Divine perfection is infinite; therefore, the progress of the soul is also infinite. From the very birth of a human being the soul progresses, the intellect grows and knowledge increases. When the body dies, the soul lives on. All the differing degrees of created physical beings are limited, but the soul is limitless!..."
"In the world of the spirit there is no retrogression. The world of mortality is a world of contradictions, of opposites; motion being compulsory, everything must either go forward or retreat. In the realm of spirit there is no retreat possible; all movement is bound to be toward a perfect state. Progress is the expression of spirit in the world of matter. The intelligence of man, his reasoning powers, his knowledge, his scientific achievements, all these being manifestations of the spirit, partake of the inevitable law of spiritual progress and are, therefore, of necessity, immortal."
"My hope for you is that you will progress in the world of spirit, as well as in the world of matter, that your intelligence will develop, your knowledge will augment, and your understanding be widened." 2
One point, however, should be clearly made. Although the Bahá'í Writings speak of an eternal progression of the soul and the intellect, one will never fully understand God and His creation.
"As to thy question concerning the worlds of God. Know thou of a truth that the worlds of God are countless in their number, and infinite in their range. None can reckon or comprehend them except God, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.... Verily I say, the creation of God embraceth worlds besides this world, and creatures apart from these creatures. In each of these world He hath ordained things which none can search except Himself, the All-Searching, the All-Wise. Do thou meditate on that which We have revealed unto thee, that thou mayest discover the purpose of God, thy Lord, and the Lord of all worlds. In these words the mysteries of divine wisdom have been treasured." 3
"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." 4
If it is true that we are to be given a wealth of knowledge in the next life, Raymond Moody rightly asked the following question:
"One thing I wonder. I've spent a lot of my life seeking knowledge, learning. If this happens, isn't that sort of thing rather pointless?"
His subject gave an interesting reply, pointing out that knowledge, especially knowledge which can be used to serve mankind, is absolutely worth seeking:
"No! You still want to seek knowledge even after you come back here. I'm still seeking knowledge... It's not silly to try to get the answers here. I sort of felt that it was part of our purpose...but that it wasn't just for one person, but that it was to be used for all mankind. We're always reaching out to help others with what we know." 5
The similarity of the answer above to the following passages from the Bahá'í Writings is nothing short of astounding.
"Knowledge is as wings to man's life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words...In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory, of bounty, of joy, of exaltation, of cheer and gladness unto him." 6
"As to thy question regarding discoveries made by the soul after it hath put off its human form: Certainly, that world is a world of perceptions and discoveries, for the interposed veil will be lifted away...once he hath departed this life, he will behold, in that world, whatever was hidden from him here: But there he will look upon and comprehend all things with his inner eye." 7
Moody's subjects also make the point that knowledge should be tempered with wisdom. One said, "But I pray for wisdom, wisdom more than all."
In the following passage Bahá'u'lláh again emphasizes the importance of using knowledge to serve mankind, in addition, He cautions against a misuse of the intellect.
"Exert your utmost endeavour that ye may develop such crafts and undertakings that everyone, whether young or old, may benefit therefrom. We are quit of those ignorant ones who fondly imagine that Wisdom is to give vent to one's idle imaginings and to repudiate God..."
In a prayer from 'Abdu'l-Bahá we are encouraged to lead spiritual lives, to guide our fellowman, to forcefully pursue knowledge and wisdom, and to live life to the fullest:
"They became through Thy most great favor stars shining on the horizon of guidance, birds singing in the rose-gardens of immortality, lions roaring in the forests of knowledge and wisdom, and whales swimming in the oceans of life."
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."
Darkness hath been chased away by the dawning light
of the mercy of thy Lord, the Source of all light.
The breeze of the All-Merciful hath wafted,
and the souls have been quickened in the tombs of their bodies.
So great is the abundance of material in the Bahá'í Writings relating to the soul that any explanation on my part is completely superfluous. Again in this chapter you will notice that the theme of ineffability is touched upon.
" Man--the true man--is soul, not body; though physically man belongs to the animal kingdom, yet his soul lifts him above the rest of creation. Behold how the light of the sun illuminates the world of matter: Even so doth the divine light shed its rays in the kingdom of the soul. The soul it is which makes the human creature a celestial entity!" 'Abdu'l-Bahá 1
"All praise and glory be to God Who, through the power of His might, hath delivered His creation from the nakedness of nonexistence, and clothed it with the mantle of life. From among all created things He hath singled out for His special favor the pure, the gem-like reality of man, and invested it with a unique capacity of knowing Him and of reflecting the greatness of His glory. This twofold distinction conferred upon him hath cleansed away from his heart the rust of every vain desire, and made him worthy of the vesture with which his Creator hath deigned to clothe him. It hath served to rescue his soul from the wretchedness of ignorance."
" This robe with which the body and soul of man hath been adorned is the very foundation of his well-being and development. Oh, how blessed the day when, aided by the grace and might of the one true God, man will have freed himself from the bondage and corruption of the world and all that is therein, and will have attained unto true and abiding rest beneath the shadow of the Tree of Knowledge!" Bahá'u'lláh 2
" Thou hast asked Me concerning the nature of the soul. Know, verily, that the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel. It is the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, to cleave to his truth, and to bow down in adoration before Him. If it be faithful to God, it will reflect His light, and will, eventually, return unto Him... "
"Thou hast, moreover, asked Me concerning the state of the soul after its separation from the body. Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly, return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved. By the righteousness of God! It shall attain a station such as no pen can depict, or tongue describe. The soul that hath remained faithful to the Cause of God, and stood unwaveringly firm in His Path, shall, after his ascension, be possessed of such power that all the worlds which the Almighty hath created can benefit through him..." Bahá'u'lláh 3
"As to those that have tasted of the fruits of man's earthly existence, which is the recognition of the one true God, exalted be His glory, their life hereafter is such as We are unable to describe. The knowledge thereof is with God, alone, the Lord of all worlds." Bahá'u'lláh 4
In order to avoid a possible misunderstanding, the Bahá'í teaching don't relegate believers and non-believers to the realms of "heaven" or "hell" in ,for example, the fundamentalist Christian sense. All souls will move on to a common spiritual world, however, their spiritual development on this earthly plane will determine the degree of their spiritual reality in the next world. "Hell" is not so much a "place" as it is a state of mind, or more precisely, a state of spiritual deprivation. One needn't die in order to be in "hell" or "paradise"; as spiritual beings we can occupy these states while in our bodies.
"In the same way, the souls who are veiled from God, although they exist in this world and in the world after death, are in comparison with the holy existence of the children of the Kingdom of God, nonexisting and separated from God." 'Abdu'l-Bahá 5
"The rewards of the other world are peace, the spiritual graces, the various spiritual gifts in the Kingdom of God, the gaining of the desires of the heart and the soul, and the meeting of God in the world of eternity. In the same way the punishment of the other world--that is to say, the torments of the other world--consist in being deprived of the special, divine blessings and the absolute bounties, and falling into the lowest degree of existence. He who is deprived of these divine favors, although he continues after death, is considered as dead by the people of truth." 'Abdu'l-Bahá 6
"As to the soul of man after death, it remains in the degree of purity to which it has evolved during life in the physical body, and after it is freed from the body, it remains plunged in the ocean of God's mercy.!
"From the moment the soul leaves the body and arrives in the heavenly world, its evolution is spiritual, and that evolution is: The approaching unto God."
"...The soul does not evolve from degree to degree as a law--it only evolves nearer to God, by the mercy and bounty of God." 'Abdu'l-Bahá 7
Bahá'u'lláh assures us that all souls:
" ...are, one and all, well aware of one another's state and condition, and are united in the bonds of intimacy and fellowship. Such a state, however, must depend upon their faith and their conduct. They that are of the same grade and station are fully aware of one another's capacity, character, accomplishments and merits. They that are of a lower grade, however, are incapable of comprehending adequately the station, or of estimating the merits, of those that rank above them. Each shall receive his share from thy Lord. Blessed is the man that hath turned his face towards God, and walked steadfastly in His love, until his soul hath winged its flight unto God, the Sovereign Lord of all, the Most Powerful, the ever-Forgiving, the All-Merciful."
" The differences and distinction between men will naturally become realized after their departure from this mortal world. But this distinction is not in respect to place 9 , but in respect to the soul and conscience. For the Kingdom of God is sanctified (or free) from time and place; it is another world and another universe."
"Thou hast asked Me whether man, as apart from the Prophets of God and His chosen ones, will retain, after his physical death, the selfsame individuality, personality, consciousness, and understanding that characterize his life in this world. If this should be the case, how is it, thou hast observed, that whereas such slight injuries to his mental faculties as fainting and severe illness deprive him of his understanding and consciousness, his death, which must involve the decomposition of his body and the dissolution of its elements, is powerless to destroy that understanding and extinguish that consciousness? How can anyone imagine that man's consciousness and personality will be maintained, when the very instruments necessary to their existence and function will have completely disintegrated?"
" Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind. That a sick person showeth signs of weakness is due to the hindrances that interpose themselves between his soul and his body, for the soul itself remaineth unaffected by any bodily ailments. Consider the light of the lamp. Though an external object may interfere with its radiance, the light itself continueth to shine with undiminished power. In like manner, every malady afflicting the body of man is an impediment that preventeth the soul from manifesting its inherent might and power. When it leaveth the body, however, it will evince such ascendancy, and reveal such influence as no force on earth can equal. Every pure, every refined and sanctified soul will be endowed with tremendous power, and shall rejoice with exceeding gladness."
"Consider the lamp which is hidden under a bushel. Though its light be shining, yet, its radiance is concealed from men. Likewise, consider the sun which hath been obscured by the clouds. Observe how its splendor appeareth to have diminished, when in reality the source of that light hath remained unchanged. The soul of man should be likened unto this sun, and all things on earth should be regarded as his body. So long as no external impediment interveneth between them, the body will, in its entirety, continue to reflect the light of the soul, and to be sustained by its power. As soon as, however, a veil interposeth itself between them, the brightness of that light seemeth to lessen."
" ...The soul of man is the sun by which his body is illumined, and from which it draweth its sustenance, and should be so regarded." Bahá'u'lláh 11
"Souls are like unto mirrors, and the bounty of God is like unto the sun. When the mirrors pass beyond all coloring and attain purity and polish, and are confronted with the sun, they will reflect in full perfection its light and glory. In this condition one should not consider the mirror, but the power of the light of the sun, which hath penetrated the mirror, making it a reflector of the heavenly glory." 'Abdu'l-Bahá 12
"From the sweet-scented streams of Thine eternity give me to drink, O my God,
and of the fruits of the tree of Thy being enable me to taste, O my Hope!
From the crystal springs of Thy love suffer me to quaff, O my Glory,
and beneath the shadow of Thine everlasting providence let me abide,
O my Light!"
"Drape thyself in whatever manner pleaseth Thee
in the silken Vesture of Immortality, and put on,
in the name of the All-Glorious, the broidered Robe of Light...
suffer not the servants of God to be deprived
of the light of Thy shinning countenance."
Once the soul comes into existence it is eternal, no longer bound by the restrictions which apply to the material world. As we have already shown, both NDEers and the Bahá'í teachings maintain that the soul retains an identifiable individuality. Those who have had a NDE cherish life, but, because they have the assurance of the immortality of their soul, they are no longer fearful of physical death. Indeed, they learn that the spiritual dimension is nothing to fear, on the contrary, the realm of light is a paradise sanctified from material concerns and concepts such as time and space. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, speaking of the immortality of the soul, once said:
"The whole physical creation is perishable. These material bodies are composed of atoms; when these atoms begin to separate, decomposition sets in; then comes what we call death. This composition of atoms, which constitutes the body or mortal element of any created being, is temporary. When the power of attraction, which holds these atoms together, is withdrawn, the body, as such, ceases to exist."
"With the soul it is differest. The soul is not a combination of elements; it is not composed of many atoms, it is of one indivisible substance and, therefore, eternal. It is entirely out of the order of the physical creation; it is immortal! "
"Scientific philosophy has demonstrated that a simple element is indestructible, eternal. The soul, not being a composition of elements, is, in character, as a simple element, and, therefore, cannot cease to exist."
"The soul, being of that one indivisible substance, can suffer neither disintegration nor destruction; therefore, there is no reason for its coming to an end. All things living show signs of their existence, and it follows that these signs could not of themselves exist if that which they express or to which they testify had no being. A thing which does not exist can, of course, give no sign of its existence. The manifold signs of the existence of the spirit are forever before us."
"The traces of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the influence of His divine teaching, is present with us today, and is everlasting."
" ...Consider the aim of creation: Is it possible that all is created to evolve and develop through countless ages with this small goal in view--a few years of a man's life on earth? Is it not unthinkable that this should be the final aim of existence?"
"The mineral evolves till it is absorbed in the life of the plant; the plant progresses till finally it loses its life in that of the animal; the animal, in its turn, forming part of the food of man, is absorbed into human life."
" Thus, man is shown to be the sum of all creation, the superior of all created beings, the goal to which countless ages of existence have progressed."
"At the best, man spends fourscore years and ten in this world--a short time indeed!"
"Does a man cease to exist when he leaves the body? If his life comes to an end, then all the previous evolution is useless; all has been for nothing! Can one imagine that creation has no greater aim than this?"
"The soul is eternal, immortal."
"Materialists say, 'Where is the soul? What is it? We cannot see it, neither can we touch it.' "
"This is how we must answer them: However much the mineral may progress, it cannot comprehend the vegetable world. Now, the lack of comprehension does not prove the nonexistence of the plant!"
"To however great a degree the plant may have evolved, it is unable to understand the animal world; this ignorance is no proof that the animal does not exist! "
"The animal, be he ever so highly developed, cannot imagine the intelligence of man; neither can he realize the nature of his soul. But, again, this does not prove that man is without intellect, or without soul. It only demonstrates this, that one form of existence is incapable of comprehending a form superior to itself."
"...Why did Christ Jesus suffer the fearful death on the cross?"
"Why did Muhammad bear persecutions? "
"Why did the Bab make the supreme sacrifice, and why did Bahá'u'lláh pass the years of His life in prison? "
"Why should all this suffering have been, if not to prove the everlasting life of the spirit? "
" ...The inability of the materialistic mind to grasp the idea of the life eternal is no proof of the nonexistence of that life."
"The comprehension of that other life depends on our spiritual birth! "
"My prayer for you is that your spiritual faculties and aspirations may daily increase, and that you will never allow the material senses to veil from your eves the glories of the heavenly illumination." 1 — 'Abdu'l-Bahá
"Know that, although the human soul has existed on the earth for prolonged times and ages, yet it is phenomenal. As it is a divine sign, when once it has come into existence, it is eternal. The spirit of man has a beginning, but it has no end; it continues eternally. In the same way the species existing on this earth are phenomenal, for it is established that there was a time when these species did not exist on the surface of the earth. Moreover, the earth has not always existed, but the world of existence has always been, for the universe is not limited to this terrestrial globe. The meaning of this is that, although human souls are phenomenal, they are nevertheless immortal, everlasting and perpetual; for the world of things is the world of imperfection in comparison with that of man, and the world of man is the world of perfection in comparison with that of things. When imperfections reach the station of perfection, they become eternal. This is an example of which you must comprehend the meaning." 2 — 'Abdu'l-Bahá
"You question about eternal life and the entrance into the Kingdom. 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; it is sanctified from time and place. It is a spiritual world, a divine world, and the center of the Sovereignty of God; it is freed from body and that which is corporeal, and it is purified and sanctified from the imaginations of the human world. To be limited to place is a property of bodies and not of spirits. Place and time surround the body, not the mind and spirit. Observe that the body of man is confined to a small place; it covers only two spans of earth. But the spirit and mind of man travel to all countries and regions--even through the limitless space of the heavens--surround all that exists, and make discoveries in the exalted spheres and infinite distances. This is because the spirit has no place; it is placeless; and for the spirit the earth and the heaven are as one since it makes discoveries in both. But the body is limited to a place and does not know that which is beyond it."
" ...The meaning of eternal life is the gift of the Holy Spirit, as the flower receives the gift of the season, the air, and the breezes of spring. Consider: This flower had life in the beginning like the life of the mineral; but by the coming of the season of spring, of the bounty of the clouds of the springtime, and of the heat of the glowing sun, it attained to another life of the utmost freshness, delicacy and fragrance. The first life of the flower, in comparison to the second life, is death. "
"The meaning is that the life of the Kingdom is the life of the spirit, the eternal life, and that it is purified from place, like the spirit of man which has no place. For if you examine the human body, you will not find a special spot or locality for the spirit, for it has never had a place; it is immaterial. It has a connection with the body like that of the sun with this mirror. The sun is not within the mirror, but it has a connection with the mirror. "
" In the same way the world of the Kingdom is sanctified from everything that can be perceived by the eye or by the other senses--hearing, smell, taste or touch. The mind which is in man, the existence of which is recognized--where is it in him? If you examine the body with the eye, the ear or the other senses, you will not find it; nevertheless, it exists. Therefore, the mind has no place, but it is connected with the brain. The Kingdom is also like this. In the same way love has no place, but it is connected with the heart; so the kingdom has no place, but is connected with man."
"These explanations show that man is immortal and lives eternally. For those who believe in God, who have love of God, and faith, life is excellent--that is, it is eternal; but to those souls who are veiled from God, although they have life, it is dark, and in comparison with the life of believers it is nonexistence. "
"...In the same way, the souls who are veiled from God, although they exist in this world and in the world after death, are, in comparison with the holy existence of the children of the Kingdom of God, nonexisting and separated from God." 3 — 'Abdu'l-Bahá
The All-loving God created man
to radiate the Divine Light,
and to illumine the world
by his words, action, and life
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
"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
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 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.
And those souls whose inner being is lit by the love of God
are even as spreading rays of light, and they shine out
like stars of holiness in a pure and crystalline sky.
Obviously we have no way of knowing if all those who claim to have had a NDE are truthful, or if they have embellished their claims. This is especially true now that the NDE has been so widely chronicled. Fortunately, Raymond Moody collected appreciable research prior to the publication of "Life After Life", which introduced most of us to the phenomenon of the NDE. The "core experience", by its pervasive nature, appears to me to be worthy of especially close consideration. When we consider the "core experience" it is noteworthy that it is so uniquely loving--diametrically opposed to many of the common notions such as physically burning in hell, or "heaven" being the limited domain of the members of certain religions or denominations.
To have experienced a NDE is to have witnessed a spiritual dimension outside of our shared reality. Through this experience one's view of God, love, unity, humanity, dogma and death undergoes a purifying transformation. As we have seen, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá proclaimed a spiritual reality in great detail which is thoroughly analogous to much of what has been reported about the NDE. Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed, as did a long line of Divine Messengers before him, "I am the guiding Light that illumineth the way." 1 Those who immerse themselves in the ocean of His revelation also experience a transformation in their views of God, love, death, unity and humanity.
A true Bahá'í, like those who have experienced a NDE, is a follower of the Light. Those who have experienced a NDE offer us a compelling reason to re-evaluate the way we lead our lives. In a spiritual sense, those who have been truly transformed by the word of God are also capable of meeting the Being of Light. Consider 'Abdul-Bahá 's words:
"Those souls that, in this day, enter the divine Kingdom and attain everlasting life, although materially dwelling on earth, yet in reality soar in the realm of heaven. Their bodies may linger on earth, but their spirits travel in the immensity of space. For as thoughts widen and become illumined, they acquire the power of flight and transport man to the Kingdom of God." 2
"Well is it then with that countenance that reflecteth the splendor of the Light of the Beloved One! The Lord be praised, thou hast been illumined with this Light, hast acquired the pearl of true knowledge, and hast spoken the Word of Truth." 3
It is worth mentioning that the Bahá'í Faith appeared at a time when slavery existed in the United States, prior to compulsory education, 75 years before John T. Scopes was tried for teaching evolution in the public schools of Tennessee, over 70 years before American women's right to vote was anchored in the constitution, and 70 years before the founding of the first League of Nations. Bahá'u'lláh appeared among the fanatical Muslims of Iran in the 19th century and proclaimed the equality of women, forbade slavery, annulled differences of race and nationality, called for universal compulsory education for boys and girls, declared the unity of science and religion, called for the establishment of a world federation of nations, a universal auxiliary language, and for the establishment of the Most Great Peace. The Bahá'í teachings on life after death are not the product of someone from the East riding the coattails of NDE researchers, rather they are the authentic sacred literature of a religion founded over a century ago.
The Bahá'í teachings call for a personal spiritual transformation. Our collective spiritual transformation, reflecting the light of divine guidance, is the basis for establishing God's Kingdom on Earth, that which has been promised in the scriptures of the religions of the world. This is the goal towards which Bahá'ís are expected to work, and for which they pray:
"O Thou kind Lord! Thou hast created all humanity from the same stock... all are illumined through the light of Thy Providence...
O Thou kind Lord! Unite all. Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home. May they all live together in perfect harmony.
O God! Raise aloft the banner of the oneness of mankind.
O God! Establish the Most Great Peace...
Gladden our hearts through the fragrance of Thy love. Brighten our eyes through the Light of Thy Guidance..." — 'Abdu'l-Bahá
HOW SHOULD WE LOOK FORWARD TO DEATH?
"How does one look forward to the goal of any journey? With hope and with expectation. It is even so with the end of this earthly journey. In the next world, man will find himself freed from many of the disabilities under which he now suffers. Those who have passed on through death have a sphere of their own. It is not removed from ours; their work, the work of the Kingdom, is ours; but it is sanctified from what we call 'time and place'. Time with us is measured by the sun. When there is no more sunrise, and no more sunset, that kind of time does not exist for man. Those who have ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, yet there is no real separation." 4
Bahá'u'lláh taught we are spiritual creatures and that our material existence is an opportunity to develop spiritually. Life is full of problems, trials and difficulty in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense life is full of challenges and opportunities. So take heart, and reflect on these words:
"Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain." 5
References in the Bahá'í Writings to the Realm of Light were sufficiently documented in the preceding chapters, yet such references were by no means exhausted. This appendix should allay any remaining doubts concerning the Bahá'í concept of the spiritual world. More than a mere allusion taken out of context, the Realm of Light is an integral aspect of the Bahá'í teachings which is vividly and repeatedly described.
'Abdu'l-Bahá's recollections of the lives of numerous early Bahá'ís were collected and published in a book entitled, "MEMORIALS OF THE FAITHFUL". He tenderly recounted how the lives of these early believers were so galvanized by the Bahá'í teachings that they sacrificed home, health, material comforts and often their lives in order to share their vision with their fellowmen. In the following excerpts 'Abdu'l-Bahá's intention was not to speak of life after death, rather he simply described the spiritual state of departed friends. Nonetheless, his depiction of the realm of light is inarguably clear.
May God welcome him into the Paradise of reunion, and shelter him forever in the realm of the righteous, submerged in an ocean of lights. p. 5
...his soul gave up this life and fled to the eternal one; passed into the Heaven of abiding reunion and was immersed beneath an ocean of light. Upon him be most great mercy, plenteous bounty, and every blessing, as the ages and cycles roll on. p. 23
He escaped from the prison of this world, and pitched his tent in a wide and spacious land. May God ever keep him close and bless him in that mystic realm with perpetual reunion and the beatific vision; may he be wrapped in tiers of light. p. 38
May they be immersed in tiers of light, close beside their Lord, the Mighty, the All-Powerful. p. 41
Today, under the shadowing mercy of God, he dwells in the bright Heavens. He communes with the birds of holiness, and in the assemblage of splendors he is immersed in light. p. 47
And at a time when they were offering thanks with all their heart, they hurried away from this world and entered the other; they escaped from this cage and were released into the garden of immortality. Upon them be the mercy of God, and may He be well pleased with them. Unto them be salutations and praise. May God bring them into the Realm that abides forever, to delight in the reunion with Him; to bask in the Kingdom of Splendors. p. 63-64
With his heart on fire, his eyes raining tears, he struggled weakly to move about; so his days went by, and always, he longed to make his exit from this rubbish heap, the world. At last he broke away from the torment of his loss, and hurried on to the Realm of God, and came to the assemblage of Divine splendor in the Kingdom of Lights. p. 66
What a holy being he was, how great a man! He could not bear the separation very long, but died, and hastened onward to the world of lights, to the assemblage where the beauty of God is unveiled. p. 75
... at the end he stripped off the garment of flesh and with his unclothed spirit took flight to the realm of the All-Merciful. He was transported out of this dark life into the shining air, and was plunged in a sea of lights. p. 79
He walked the ways of love; he was known to all for steadfast loyalty and pure intent. May God fill up reunion's cup for him in a fair country, make him to enter the everlasting Kingdom, and console his eyes with beholding the lights of that mysterious Realm. p. 84
... he gambled away his life in his yearning after the Light of the World. May God give him to drink of a brimming cup in the everlasting gardens; in the Supreme Assemblage, may God shed upon his face rays of light. p. 86
Finally, when I was absent, he left this darksome, narrow world and hastened away to the land of lights. There, in the haven of God's boundless mercy, he found infinite rewards. p. 101
And then, severed from all save God, irresistibly drawn by the gentle gales of the Lord, he rose out of this dark world to the land of light. p. 116
Later, in Sidon, he fell ill. Unable to make the journey to 'Akká , in perfect acquiescence and contentment he ascended to the Abhá Kingdom (Kingdom of Paradise), and was plunged in the ocean of lights. p. 118
Praise be to God, at the last, close by the Shrine of the B b, he hastened away in light to the Abhá realm... p. 129
And thus it came about that he offered up his life for his tender Companion, and hastened away, out of this dark world to the country of light. p. 131
May God lift him up to the highest Heaven, to the fellowship of glory. May God bring him into the land of lights, the mysterious Kingdom, the assemblage of the splendors of the mighty, all powerful Lord. p. 134
He turned his back on this heap of dust, the world, and hurried away to the country of light. He broke out of this cage of contingent being and soared into the endless, placeless Realm. p. 138
But his body had become enfeebled from the earlier hardships, and all the suffering, and his faculties had deteriorated; so that ultimately he fell ill, beyond hope of remedy; and hot far from Bahá 'u'lláh, and shadowed by His protection, he hastened away from this least of worlds to the high heavens, from this dark place to the land of lights. p. 143
At last, serene and happy, rejoicing in the tidings of the Kingdom, he soared away to that mysterious land. There he was loosed from every sorrow, and in the gathering-place of splendors he was immersed in light. p. 153
She rose up into the shadowing mercy of God and was plunged in an ocean of light. p. 175
She hastened away from this dust gulf of perdition to an unsullied country; packed her gear and journeyed to the land of lights. p. 185
In one of His more mystical writings, Bahá'u'lláh penned, "The Tablet of the Holy Mariner". The Mariner has seen behind the mystic veil to the spiritual realm and his ark is the covenant of God. The "angelic spirits" are invited to enter and sail on the "Seas of Light".
O Holy Mariner!
Bid thine ark of eternity appear before the Celestial Concourse,
Launch it upon the ancient sea, in His Name, the Most Wondrous,
And let the angelic spirits enter, in the Name of God, the Most High,
Unmoor it, then, that it may sail upon the ocean of glory,
Haply the dwellers therein may attain the retreats of nearness in the everlasting realm.
Having reached the sacred strand, the shore of the crimson seas,
Bid them issue forth and attain this ethereal invisible station,
A station wherein the Lord hath in the Flame of His Beauty appeared with the deathless tree;
Wherein the embodiments of His Cause cleansed themselves of self and passion;
Around which the Glory of Moses doth circle with the everlasting hosts;
Wherein the Hand of God was drawn forth from His bosom of Grandeur;
Wherein the ark of the Cause remaineth motionless even though to its dwellers be declared all divine attributes,
O Mariner! Teach them that are within the ark that which we have taught thee behind the mystic veil,
Perchance they may not tarry in the sacred snow-white spot,
But may soar upon the wings of the spirit unto that station which the Lord hath exalted above all mention in the worlds below,
May wing through space even as the favoured birds in the realm of eternal reunion;
May know the mysteries hidden in the Seas of Light.