‘Abdu’l-Bahá says dying is like a journey:
“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.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, pp. 95-97).
I am struck by the fact that I will apparently not be receiving rest or repose. I will be working in the Abhá Kingdom, but with no time and place. The workday seems too long. After all, the job of humanity is endless:
“As the perfections of humanity are endless, man can also make progress in perfections after leaving this world” (`Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 237)
There are three aspects to Reality: 1) the Divine Reality beyond human comprehension; 2) this world of physical reality; and 3) the realm of the Abhá Kingdom, an intermediary world that is totally concealed, yet is a real spiritual existence or world of spiritual reality.
“The intermediary world of spiritual reality is often defined as the world of ‘Command; namely the abode of the creative Divine Word commanding creation... it can be described as the Abhā Kingdom, the kingdom of the most Glorious Name. This is the abode of the souls after death where they meet each other, and enjoy the presence of the Manifestations of God” Death and Dying in the Bahá'í Faith, by Professor Moshe Sharon, Chair in Bahá'í Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).
To recapitulate, I am trying to understand a huge paradox on my hands; somehow there is no time and place, no bodies, but I am on a journey to it (as we all are) and will live in and work in it and “there” meet others including the Manifestations of God.
Bahá'u'lláh said all realms of existence, both the physical and spiritual, are God’s creation. Bahá’u’lláh further asserted the Abhá Kingdom is necessary for the existence of creation and for the appearance of divinity in the world of being. This is the realm of the divine attributes or “Names” of God, which reveal themselves completely in the Manifestations and are displayed in creation according to every thing’s capacity.
It is surprising and refreshing that Bahá'í departs from Judaism, Christianity and Islam on the ideas of reward and punishment awaiting me as the outcome of my actions in this earthly life. All ideas of the joy of Paradise and the fire of Hell are completely absent from the Bahá'í Revelation except as a metaphorical attempt to describe nearness to God or remoteness from God in both this life and in the Abhá Kingdom. Therefore, death is a “messenger of joy….” (Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic #32) It is like a bird’s cage being broken so that the bird (soul) finds freedom (See `Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 228).
In the Bahá'í view, physical life is not a preparation for spiritual existence, but it is a single continuum between the two poles of the physical and the spiritual; the two worlds are not separated from each other, but interwoven together. The only difference being that physical existence is bound by time while the Abhá Kingdom is eternal.
Death does not bring a new body or new life; it is a continuation of this life. It is ONLY the soul ceasing to appear in a physical frame. The caterpillar sheds its earthbound body to transition to a beautiful creature of flight. The work my soul started here, the struggle of spiritual growth and cultivation, will continue on in the next life.
When my body dies, the real me will not. The real me is the soul, which is indestructible, which is the sum total of my personality. It’s who I am. My soul ceases to shine its light on my body, so I must leave behind this flesh which has no identity. It never was me.
Just because my soul will live in the Abhá Kingdom does not mean I will have achieved angelic perfection. Heaven (close to God) for me will be the continuation of the good and pure actions I conducted here, and my hell (far from God) is the continuation of the immoral life that I conducted on earth. I will spare you the juicy details of my morality or lack thereof, and I can not even guess how an immoral life plays itself out in the spiritual world.
There is no true separation of the soul from the loved ones left behind even though to the earthly survivors it seems like a loss. In comparison to the eternity of the Abhá Kingdom my seeming separation from you will be momentary and we will all join together again in “no time at all”.
In the meantime, it is clear from the Writings that there is something the living can do to help the departed. That is, to spiritually grow and cultivate:
- To pray and meditate with concentration;
- To reflect upon Scriptures;
- To fast; and (as `Abdu'l-Bahá abundantly demonstrated)
- to live a life of joyful selfless service, teaching, and kindness towards everyone.
Do those things in the name of the departed and you will help the departed souls who are no longer able to do these things for themselves.
“‘In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty. This sometimes happens in sleep but there is no phenomenal intercourse! That which seems like phenomenal intercourse has another explanation.’ The questioner exclaimed; ‘But I have heard a voice!’ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: ‘Yes, that is possible; we hear voices clearly in dreams. It is not with the physical ear that you heard; the spirit of those that have passed on are freed from sense-life, and do not use physical means. It is not possible to put these great matters into human words; the language of man is the language of children, and man’s explanation often leads astray.’ ”