Where Do We Go When We Die?

I’m at an age where a lot of my friends are passing away, and their friends and family are asking questions like “Where do we go when we die?” and “What happens next?”  

One of my friends is so obsessed with this that he’s been listening to a lot of podcasts on near-death experiences. As a Baha’i, I wondered how I could help ease his heart and share some of what I’ve learned from the Baha’i teachings about the journey we all take at the end of our physical existence.

The question of what happens when we die has forever intrigued humanity, with various religions and belief systems offering their own interpretations. The Baha’i Faith has a unique perspective on the afterlife that differs from many traditional concepts, and the Baha’i writings offer many powerful analogies to explain what death really means.

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The one that makes the most sense to me is comparing death to a baby in the womb. Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote that: “The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.” 

The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, elaborated on this question in a 1943 letter written on his behalf:

Abdu’l-Baha gave the wonderful example of the relation of this life to the next life being like the child in the womb; it develops eyes, ears, hands, feet, a tongue, and yet it has nothing to see or hear, it cannot walk or grasp things or speak; all these faculties it is developing for this world. If you tried to explain to an embryo what this world is like (it) could never understand- but it understands when it is born, and its faculties can be used. So we cannot picture our state in the next world. All we know is that our consciousness, our personality, endures in some new state, and that that world is as much better than this one as this one is better than the dark womb of our mother was.

While in the womb, the embryo spends a period of time developing everything it will need to survive in this world. If there’s a glitch along the way in any system, the baby will be somewhat handicapped in this world. The Baha’i Faith teaches that one of the purposes of this world is to acquire the spiritual virtues that we will need in the next existence – truthfulness, love, forgiveness, acceptance, detachment, etc.  We do this by passing through many tests and difficulties here in this physical life. If we don’t develop them in this life, we will again be handicapped in the next world.  

In a speech he gave in New York in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha explained:

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.

Just as the baby outgrows the world of the womb, so too do we outgrow this earthly life, and inevitably move to a much more spacious world.  Let’s have a look at how Abdu’l-Baha comforted a mother whose child had recently died:

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.

After death, the Baha’i teachings say, we will be held accountable for our deeds and actions during this life. The Baha’i writings do not portray this judgment as a punitive or harsh process but as an opportunity for spiritual growth and transformation – which continues throughout the eternal lives of our souls. We see this in the accounts of those who’ve experienced near-death experiences, too.  

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While we’re focused on acquiring the virtues here that we’ll need in the next life, we can call ourselves to account each day, committed to making each day better than the day before. In that way, we will grow spiritually, have a better life in this world, and avoid unpleasant surprises on our own personal judgment day.  

Another unique Baha’i perspective on the afterlife, which differs from many traditional concepts, is the possibility of reunion with loved ones. Baha’is believe that relationships formed on Earth can continue and even deepen in the spiritual realms beyond our physical existence. The Baha’i writings describe the nature of these relationships as being based on spiritual affinity and love, rather than the physical bonds that exist in the material world. So how will we see them if we don’t have eyes? In a talk he gave in London, Abdu’l-Baha explained:

The question was then asked as to how it would be possible with no material bodies or environment to recognize different entities and characters, when all would be in the same conditions and on the same plane of existence. Abdu’l-Baha said if several people look into a mirror at the same moment, they behold all the different personalities, their characteristics and movements; the glass of the mirror into which they look is one. In your mind you have a variety of thoughts, but all these thoughts are separate and distinct. Also you may perhaps have hundreds of friends; but when you call them before your memory you do not confuse them one with another: each one is separate and distinct, having their own individualities and characteristics.  

While the Baha’i teachings contain much more information on the journey of the soul from one state to another, and on what the next world will be like, I hope this will perhaps be enough information to share with my friends as a start. I don’t want to overwhelm them! For now, it’s enough to know my ending, and yours will be a wonderful and fascinating new experience in the journey of the soul. There’s a much bigger adventure waiting with all the friends I’ve lost, and I am grateful!  

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