The Baha'i View on the Soul
Updated: Jul 27, 2019
The Bahá'í writings affirm that
"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." - Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh
Concerning the soul or spirit of human beings and its relationship to the physical body, Bahá'u'lláh explained:
Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind. That a sick person showeth signs of weakness is due to the hindrances that interpose themselves between his soul and his body, for the soul itself remaineth unaffected by any bodily ailments. ... When it leaveth the body, however, it will evince such ascendancy, and reveal such influence as no force on earth can equal ... consider the sun which hath been obscured by the clouds. Observe how its splendor appeareth to have diminished, when in reality the source of that light hath remained unchanged. The soul of man should be likened unto this sun, and all things on earth should be regarded as his body. So long as no external impediment interveneth between them, the body will, in its entirety, continue to reflect the light of the soul, and to be sustained by its power. As soon as, however, a veil interposeth itself between them, the brightness of the light seemeth to lessen.... The soul of man is the sun by which his body is illumined, and from which it draweth its sustenance, and should be so regarded. - Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings
The soul not only continues to live after the physical death of the human body, but is, in fact, immortal. Bahá'u'lláh wrote:
Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. - Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings
In commenting on the immortality of the rational soul, 'Abdu'l-Bahá explained that everything in creation which is composed of elements is subject to decomposition:
The soul is not a combination of elements, it is not composed of many atoms, it is of one indivisible substance and therefore eternal. It is entirely out of the order of the physical creation; it is immortal! - `Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks
Bahá'u'lláh taught that individuals have no existence previous to their life here on earth. Neither is the soul reborn several times in different bodies. He explained, rather, that the soul's evolution is always towards God and away from the material world. A human being spends nine months in the womb in preparation for entry into this physical life. During that nine-month period, the fetus acquires the physical tools (e.g., eyes, limbs, and so forth) necessary for existence in this world. Similarly, this physical world is like a womb for entry into the spiritual world. Our time here is thus a period of preparation during which we are to acquire the spiritual and intellectual tools necessary for life in the next world.
The crucial difference is that, whereas physical development in the mother's womb is involuntary, spiritual and intellectual development in this world depend strictly on conscious individual effort:
The incomparable Creator hath created all men from one same substance, and hath exalted their reality above the rest of His creatures. Success or failure, gain or loss, must, therefore, depend upon man's own exertions. The more he striveth, the greater will be his progress. - Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings
The Bahá'í writings often speak of the bounty or grace of God towards humanity, but explain that an appropriate human response is always necessary for God's grace and mercy to penetrate the human soul and bring about any genuine change within us:
"No matter how strong the measure of Divine grace, unless supplemented by personal, sustained and intelligent effort, it cannot become fully effective and be of any real and abiding advantage." - Shoghi Effendi
Thus, in the Bahá'í conception, salvation is not simply a unidirectional gift from God to us, but is rather a dialogue, a collaborative venture initiated by God but requiring vigorous and intelligent human participation.
Since human nature is spiritual, the essential capacities of women and men are the capacities of the soul. In other words, one's personality, one's basic intellectual and spiritual faculties, reside in the soul, even though they are expressed through the instrumentality of the body for the short duration of earthly life. Some of the faculties that Bahá'u'lláh mentioned as capacities of the soul are
the mind, which represents the capacity for rational thought and intellectual investigation;
the will, which represents the capacity for self- initiated action; and
the "heart," or the capacity for conscious, deliberate, self-sacrificing love (sometimes called altruism).
The Bahá'í teachings confirm that the soul retains its individuality and consciousness after death, and is able to associate with other souls that are drawn together by love.