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Journey of the Soul
Journey of the Soul
by John S. Hatcher

However knowledgeable we may become about the divine origins
of our cosmos, however confident about the spiritual destiny of
humankind on this small planet, we will never escape one
abiding concern --- each of us quickly passes from this earthly
existence. Consequently, whatever guidance religion can provide
to help us conquer the challenges of our daily lives, possibly the
greatest comfort it can offer is some assurance that our physical
existence has a purpose, that somehow our earthly life, so
fleeting and fragile, is preparing us for something more
The Baha'i Faith has an amazing amount of information to
impart about the reality that awaits us after death. It is a vision
that offers consolation, as well as a power to invigorate our lives
here and now because it explains the relevance of our
performance in this life to what we will experience in the
continuation of our lives beyond physical reality.
For example, the Baha'i writings assert that our physical
experience is unique. We get no second chance, no reincarnation,
because we do not need it. Our brief life, however chaotic and
unjust it may sometimes seem to us, is capable of providing us
with the spiritual tools we will need to continue our progress in
the next world. In fact, the principal importance of this life is that
it prepares us for that next stage of our existence. In the same
way that our gestation in the womb prepares us for participation
in this life, so this life prepares us for entrance into the spiritual
realm. Therefore, our experience in the physical world is not an
end in itself. It is a period of preparation for our further growth
and development beyond this life.
From the Baha'i view, then, the journey of the soul is a process of
endless growth and infinite possibilities. In this respect the
Baha'i belief about the afterlife differs significantly from some
other views, particularly those which assert that the afterlife is
but a reflection of this life, a final judgment --- we spend eternity

The Journey of the Soul
in paradise if we have done well or in hell if we have not. In
contrast, the Baha'i writings tell us that our lives are never static,
never finished or completed. Even in the next world we will
continue changing and developing. For while our soul will never
change its essence --- never become something other than a
human soul --- our souls are infinitely perfectible. By nature, we
are in the process of becoming, and we always will be.
The encouraging part of this Baha'i belief in the eternal progress
of the soul is the promise of endless growth and change. The
intimidating part of this belief is that we are given only one soul
to work with for the rest of eternity. Whether we like ourselves or
not, we are stuck with ourselves forever. This belief alone should
prompt us to pay careful attention to our progress in this
physical life. Furthermore, since the Baha'i writings further
affirm that we will be born into the afterlife with the same
spiritual condition we have at our body's demise, we would do
well to seize every opportunity we have in this life for spiritual
development so that our second birth may be a felicitous
The Baha'i writings also describe some important features of the
transition to the next stage of our existence. Baha'u'llah says that
at the point of death, when the soul ceases to associate with the
body we will evaluate our lives: "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."1
Baha'u'llah exhorts us to evaluate our lives on a daily basis, to
bring ourselves "to account each day" before we are "summoned
to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and
thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds."2
After death, when our souls have ceased to associate with our
physical bodies, we will experience emotions appropriate to the
progress we have made in our spiritual development. Baha'u'llah
tells us that "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, while they that live in error
shall be seized with such fear and trembling, and shalt be filled
with such consternation, as nothing can exceed."3
But what will happen after our initial experience in the afterlife?
The Baha'i writings hint that, among other things, we will meet

The Journey of the Soul
other souls, continue to learn, and generally participate in the
work of the divine world. Yet, exciting and encouraging as these
assurances are, the Baha'i writings note that in this life we are
permitted to know relatively little about the existence that awaits
us. One reason for this concealment is that words are inadequate
to portray spiritual reality. Baha'u'llah observes: "The nature of
the soul after death can never be described, nor is it meet and
permissible to reveal its whole character to the eyes of men."4  He
also says 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."5
Another important reason for this concealment is our need to
focus attention on the objectives of this life. To know what awaits
us might render us incapable of abiding this life, as many of
those who have had "near death" experiences seem to confirm.
Baha'u'llah explains that, were we shown what awaits the souls of
those who at the hour of death are "sanctified from the vain
imaginings of the peoples of the world," our "whole being" would
"instantly blaze out" in our great longing to attain "that most
exalted, that sanctified and resplendent station."6
Of course, the Baha'i writings are not exclusively concerned with
matters of life after death. The scope of the teachings of the
Baha'i Faith is remarkable, touching on all manner of subjects to
help us deal intelligently with the daily affairs of our present
condition --- from laws of personal conduct and comportment to
the most wide ranging issues of global peace and the governance.
But underlying and giving meaning to every aspect of the Baha'i
teachings is the belief in a spiritual reality. Put simply, at the core
of Baha'i belief are the teachings about the existence and destiny
of the human soul, a spiritual essence the reality of which we can
only vaguely understand in this life: "Know, verily, 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."7
We can understand certain properties of the soul, as well as
certain laws governing its progress. What is more, acquiring such
knowledge can have a dramatic effect on how we think about
ourselves and how we conduct our lives. For example, the Baha'i
writings observe that the human soul is an emanation from God,
an essence which assumes its beginning or identity at conception

The Journey of the Soul
when the soul begins its association with the body. Once begun,
the soul is eternal. It is not dependent on the existence of the
Neither is the soul's progress impaired by infirmities of mind or
body. Baha'u'llah says, "Know thou that the soul of man is
exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or
mind."8 These impairments do not hinder the soul's progress
because the soul is not in the body. The soul associates with the
body in much the same way that a light becomes apparent in a
mirror or a television signal becomes perceptible through a
receiver. If a mirror becomes dirty or obscure, it loses the
capacity to reflect light clearly, but the light is still resplendent.
Likewise, if a television receiver is in disrepair, we may not be
able to see a program, but we know that the signal from the
station has not been adversely affected by the malfunctioning
Since we communicate through physical means in this stage of
our existence, we may have trouble understanding someone
whose soul must communicate with us through a dysfunctional
body, whether that impairment be an emotional, a mental, or a
physical infirmity. But when the association between the soul
and the body ceases at death, the soul is released from this
relationship and manifests the true powers of its condition.
According to Baha'u'llah, "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."9
Thus, while the association between the soul and the body is
extremely important for our spiritual development, spiritual
progress also takes place in other ways, even if our progress
seems encumbered in this life. For example, the Baha'i writings
assure us that for those who die prematurely, who are physically
or mentally impaired, or who for other reasons might not be able
to use adequately the physical stage of existence, other means for
development and enlightenment will be provided in the next
stage of life.
The reason progress can take place in the afterlife is simple. All
the powers that distinguish us as human beings --- reason,

The Journey of the Soul
memory, abstract thought, inventiveness, willpower --- are
properties of the soul, not the body. Some scientists theorize that
the essential capacities of the human reality are nothing more
than the powers of a highly evolved brain. The Baha'i writings
assert that all distinctive human powers are functions and
faculties of the soul. The brain may channel the soul's will into
specific acts, but memory, thought, decisions, willpower, and
identity itself all derive from the soul.
All of the assertions in the Baha'i writings about the nature and
eternal life of the soul may provide us with some degree of solace
and encouragement as we go about the business of living our
mundane lives, but they also lead us to one unavoidable
question. If we are essentially spiritual beings and if our purpose
in this life is to prepare us for our birth into a purely spiritual
reality, why would an all-powerful, all-loving God ordain that we
begin our eternal lives in an environment that often seems
calculated to prevent or impede our spiritual development?
The Baha'i writings respond that we derive a number of
important benefits from the physical stage of our eternal
spiritual journey. Physical life is important because the soul
takes its beginning here, develops the initial concepts of
spirituality here, and initiates the eternal process of spiritual
growth here. Physical reality is the first classroom for the
foundational growth and development of the soul. It is here that
we develop the capacity to recognize our spiritual nature and to
exercise the responsibility we have for promoting our own
progress. It is in this context that Baha'u'llah assures us "every
man hath been, and will continue to be, able of himself to
appreciate the Beauty of God, the Glorified. Had he not been
endowed with such a capacity, how could he be called to account
for his failure?" Since everyone can recognize spirituality in some
form, Baha'u'llah asserts that "the faith of no man can be
conditioned by any one except himself."10
Of course, we may well wonder how we could be expected to
extract spiritual insights and develop spiritual attributes from
our physical experience without some assistance, and the Baha'i
writings assure us that all the help we need is provided for us. In
this workshop for the soul, this classroom that is physical reality,
God has provided us with perfect teachers --- the Manifestations of
God Who appear periodically in history to provide us with the

The Journey of the Soul
precise guidance we require, whether as individuals seeking our
soul's progress or as the collective body of humankind intent on
the advancement of world civilization.
Yet, perfect educators that They are, these Divine Teachers do
not impose themselves on us. They exemplify human virtue in
their own conduct. They exhort us to follow them. They provide
us with specific laws to help us use well this opportunity for
development. In other words, it is not sufficient that we merely
recognize the Prophets or simply marvel at their exemplary lives.
If we are to benefit from their instruction, we must demonstrate
our recognition of their divine station and purpose through
obedience to instructions They bring us. So it is that for the
Baha'i, belief becomes fully realized only through deeds, because
our spiritual development is only theoretical until we
demonstrate our understanding in action. Stated another way,
belief is not achieved by withdrawing from the world but by
enthusiastically contributing to the progress of human society.
This social aspect of the soul's journey derives from the fact that
we are by definition social beings. Because each of us is an
integral part of one organic body politic, our individual wellbeing
is inextricably related to the health of the entire human
family. In this sense, we function much as does a cell in the
human body. The cell could hardly afford to think of its own
well-being as having much meaning apart from the well-being of
the body that it serves. Because the body provides the cell with a
necessary environment, the self-interest of the cell is inextricably
bound up in the body's health. Likewise, we can hardly attend to
our own soul's progress without simultaneously being concerned
about the health of the society in which we live, and Baha'u'llah
affirms that human society on our planet has now evolved into
one global community: "The earth is but one country, and
mankind its citizens."11
In general, then, the Baha'i writings teach that physical reality is
not a separate or lesser creation, but rather an expression of the
spiritual world in concrete terms, an artistic or poetic form
created by God for the purpose of human instruction. There is
nothing abhorrent or demeaning about physical reality or our
appropriate use of it because the physical world is nothing less
than the outward or visible aspect of the unseen spiritual world:
the "spiritual world is like unto the phenomenal world. They are

The Journey of the Soul
the exact counterpart of each other. Whatever objects appear in
this world of existence are the outer pictures of the world of
There is much more to say about the Baha'i teachings on the
nature of the soul and its journey through the worlds of God.
Indeed, this subject is endlessly fascinating because it elicits
within us the most weighty questions we can pose about our
reality as human beings: What are we? What are our origins?
What is our destiny individually and collectively? What part do
we play in our own spiritual advancement? What effects do our
actions in this life have on our experience in the world beyond?
How does a loving God care for those who endure suffering,
injustice, deprivation, abuse, and disability in this life? How does
a just God respond to those who have perpetrated injustice,
violence, and the myriad other shameful acts that give pain to
others? What is the fate of those who blatantly ignore their own
spiritual reality? What is the destiny of humankind on this
planet? Will we encounter our loved ones in the world beyond?
Will we continue to learn? Will we have access to books and
learned souls? Will we have goals to achieve, a purpose? Will we
have any sort of free will?
The Baha'i writings help us discover answers to these and many
other heartfelt questions, answers that can play an important
role in helping us face meaningfully a life that sometimes does
not seem to make much sense. The answers are never dogmatic.
They are sometimes veiled. They always require something
important from us --- the willingness to abandon our
preconceptions, the daring to open our hearts and minds, the
determination to set aside sufficient time for meditation and
prayer, and the resourcefulness to apply rigorously our most
subtle faculties of reason, creativity, and imagination.

Copyright  ©1999 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'i's of Canada
Publisher: Baha'i Canada Publications, 7200 Leslie St., Thornhill, Ontario L3T 6L8
ISBN 0-88867-124-5
1. Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah. (Wilmette. Illinois: Baha'i
Publishing Trust,1985), p.171.
2. Baha'u'llah, The Hidden Words. Translated by Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette, Illinois:
Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1959), Arabic, no.51.

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3. Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, p.171.
4. Ibid. p.156.
5. Ibid. p.157.
6. Ibid. p.156.
7. Ibid. p.158-9.
8. Ibid. p.155-4
9. Ibid. p.154.
10. Ibid. p.145.
11. Ibid. p.250.
12. Abdu'll-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace:Talks Delivered by Abdu'l-Baha
during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, comp. Howard MacNutt,
2d ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1982), p.10.
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