Baha'is see earthly life as a test run
By STEPHEN KARNIK
The writings of the Baha'i faith offer a wealth of insight and information about the reality that awaits each of us after death. Baha'is believe in the existence of a separate, rational soul for every human being. The soul does not die when the body does; it endures everlastingly.
Entry into the next life has the potential to bring great joy. Just as the womb constitutes an important place for a person's initial physical development, the physical world provides the matrix for the development of the individual soul.
Accordingly, Baha'is view life as a sort of workshop where we can develop and perfect those qualities that will be needed in the next life. The degree to which we progress in these efforts will establish the foundation for our continuing progress on our eternal journey.
It is this understanding that shapes how Baha'is deal with their own mortality as well as the passing of a loved one. While Baha'is view the transition from one realm of existence into another as a positive one, filled with hope and expectation, it is still natural to mourn the loss of a family member or friend.
Baha'i writings offer consolation for those who are grieving, as in this passage regarding the loss of a child: "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."
For Baha'is funerals are generally simple, dignified events without a prescribed ceremony; prayers for the deceased are offered. This is the only occasion where Baha'is engage in congregational prayer.
Baha'is express their respect for the individual by carefully preparing the body for burial through a process of ablutions and wrapping of the deceased in fine cloth. A burial ring is placed upon the finger of the deceased as a symbolic gesture, with an inscription testifying to their belief and trust in God. Baha'i laws also require an individual to be buried no more than an hour's travel from where they passed away.
Stephen Karnik is chief administrative officer of the Baha'i International Community, a non-government organization that works with the United Nations.
©Copyright 2000, Bergen Record Corp.