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The Bahá'í Concept of Heaven
The Bahá'í Faith teaches that life is eternal, that the soul begins at conception and lives forever, that it is part of this physical world only for a short time before moving on. So, where does it go after death? What is the Bahá'í concept of heaven, and how does one get there?
"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." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 241
Most religious teachings are pretty clear about how to get into heaven, or at least, what believers must do to go. Living a godly life by practicing virtuous attitudes and behavior are the core of beliefs, but traditions have added much more over time. Bahá'u'lláh explained that although there has only ever been one God, the guidance given has expanded over time, as mankind has developed greater understanding. The basic spiritual teachings--who is God, what is mankind, and how do they relate--have been relatively unchanging, but the laws to assist with daily living vary with the receptivity of the people and the exigencies of the time. Those, with the man-made additions and traditions, are why there appears to be more than one religion in the world.
Heaven for Bahá'ís is therefore not a place, but rather, a state of being. It is not a reward for good behavior or withheld as punishment. The immortality of the soul guarantees its continuance after physical death, but the state of that soul will vary with how well it has learned and grown spiritually while on Earth. The closer it has come to God, the happier it will be. Great remorse is also possible, regret and unhappiness with the results of bad [ungodly] decisions, which mean that soul is distanced from it Creator.
Christ, when explaining the state of the soul after death, used some very concrete images to help people of His time understand an abstract concept. He used mansions and a life of ease, which most of His listeners had never experienced in this life, to define the happiness of a sanctified soul upon dying. And he expressed the pain of regret and remorse felt by the sinful by comparing their agony to the fires of Hell--which happened to be the dump at the edge of the town in which He was speaking that day. Bodies of people too poor to afford burial were often tossed out there to burn with the rest of the trash. An attention-grabbing image!
So, if Heaven (and Hell) are not physical places, how do Bahá'ís imagine them? When asked how anyone could recognize a non-material, non-physical place, 'Abdu'l-Bahá [son of Bahá'u'lláh and appointed interpreter of His teachings] explained, "O thou who seekest the Kingdom of heaven! This world is even as the body of man, and the Kingdom of God is as the spirit of life. See how dark and narrow is the physical world of man's body, and what a prey it is to diseases and ills. On the other hand, how fresh and bright is the realm of the human spirit. Judge thou from this metaphor how the world of the Kingdom hath shone down, and how its laws have been made to work in this nether realm. 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." - Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 192
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