The soul originates from the spiritual worlds of God. It is exalted above matter and the physical kingdom. The individual comes into being when the soul, emanating from these spiritual worlds, becomes associated with the embryo before birth. But this association is far above material relationship such as egress or regress, entry or exit, since the soul does not belong to the world of matter. The relationship is like that of light to a mirror. The light which appears in the mirror is not inside it. The radiance comes from a source outside. Similarly, the soul is not within the body. It has a special relationship to the body and together they form the human being. But this relationship lasts only for the duration of mortal life. When that ceases, each returns to its origin, the body to the world of dust and the soul to the spiritual worlds of God. Having emanated from the spiritual realms to become an individual being created in the image and likeness of God, and capable of acquiring divine qualities and heavenly attributes, the soul will, after its separation from the body, progress for all eternity.
But the condition of the soul after death depends upon the extent to which it has acquired divine virtues in this life. If a child is born without a limb, he will never acquire it after birth and will remain handicapped as long as he lives. Similarly, the soul, if it does not turn to God in this life to become illumined with His guidance, will, though progressing, remain relatively deprived and in darkness.
The soul can take with it only good qualities to the next world. It cannot take bad ones. For bad is only the absence of good, as poverty is the absence of riches. Therefore, an evil person is a soul poor in divine virtues. He carries with him only a small measure of heavenly qualities. But a man who has led a virtuous life in this world carries a much greater measure. Through the bounty of God, however, both these souls will progress, but each on its own level.
In the next life, according to the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, there are different degrees of existence and, as in this life, those on lower levels will not be able to comprehend the attributes and qualities of the souls which dwell in higher realms.
The highest station destined for man is to be illumined by the ‘spirit of faith’, which comes through recognition of the Manifestation of God for the age and through obedience to His commandments. To attain this station is the very purpose for which God created man.
The vision of man in mortal life is greatly restricted. Like a prisoner in his cell who cannot see the vastness, the beauty and the order of a boundless universe which surrounds him, man is limited in his understanding of the spiritual worlds of God. His learning and knowledge, however deep, his intellect, however brilliant, cannot assure his comprehension of spiritual realities. Only through the recognition of Bahá’u’lláh in this day and by turning to Him, as a plant does to the sun, can the heart—the dawning-place of the attributes of God—be illumined. It is then that man can understand the inner meanings of the utterances of Bahá’u’lláh and so be enlightened and drawn to God.
Turning to Bahá’u’lláh is the key to spiritual growth. In his relationship to Bahá’u’lláh, the believer assumes a female role, submitting himself entirely to the will of the Manifestation of God and opening his heart to the influences of His Revelation. Then, as a result of this mystical intercourse, the soul of man may conceive, and eventually give birth to a child which is the ‘spirit of faith’. The ‘spirit of faith’—the fruit yielded by the soul—is especially precious because it is brought into being through the influences of Bahá’u’lláh upon the believer. He imparts to the soul a measure of His own power, His beauty and His light.
Once the ‘spirit of faith’ is born within the soul, it needs nourishment if it is to grow and mature. Again the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh and His Word provide this food. By reading His words and meditating upon them, and immersing himself in the ocean of His Revelation, a man can develop spiritual qualities and his spiritual perceptiveness will grow day by day. His mind will become illumined and even though he may be uneducated or illiterate, he is enabled to understand the inner spirit of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh and to unravel the mysteries enshrined within it.
When the soul attains the ‘spirit of faith’, it grows humble. Humility and self-effacement are the signs of spiritual growth, whereas pride in one’s self and one’s accomplishments is a deadly enemy.
Because of its attachment to this world, the soul is not always illumined with the ‘spirit of faith’. In one of His Tablets, Bahá’u’lláh, addressing His followers, has likened the soul of man to a bird:
Ye are even as the bird which soareth, with the full force of its mighty wings and with complete and joyous confidence, through the immensity of the heavens, until, impelled to satisfy its hunger, it turneth longingly to the water and clay of the earth below it, and, having been entrapped in the mesh of its desire, findeth itself impotent to resume its flight to the realms whence it came. Powerless to shake off the burden weighing on its sullied wings, that bird, hitherto an inmate of the heavens, is now forced to seek a dwelling-place upon the dust.
Attachment to this world can be described as anything which prevents the soul from drawing nearer to God. Bahá’u’lláh has taught that this world and all that is therein is created for the benefit of man. He is entitled to possess all the good things he can earn, and enjoy all the legitimate pleasures that life bestows upon him. But at no time must he become attached to them. Bahá’u’lláh further teaches that man must take a great interest in this life, work for the betterment of this world and assist in the building of a new world order for mankind.
In one of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh has made the following remarks:
Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him. Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from His wondrous bounties. Render thanks and praise unto Him, and be of them that are truly thankful.
On the other hand, Bahá’u’lláh has warned the rich in these words:
O ye that pride yourselves on mortal riches!
Know ye in truth that wealth is a mighty barrier between the seeker and his desire, the lover and his beloved. The rich, but for a few, shall in no wise attain the court of His presence nor enter the city of content and resignation. Well is it then with him, who, being rich, is not hindered by his riches from the eternal kingdom, nor deprived by them of imperishable dominion. By the Most Great Name! The splendour of such a wealthy man shall illuminate the dwellers of heaven even as the sun enlightens the people of the earth!
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v1, p.72)