Life After Death
Baha'is believe human beings are a unique form of creation. If we look at the world of existence, it is evident that there are different levels of creation. The lowest form of existence is the mineral kingdom like rocks etc, then the vegetable kingdom which possess all the qualities of the mineral kingdom but importantly has the power of growth and a spirit. Animals additionally have all the 5 senses and can be trained to some extent. Interestingly within these different kingdoms, there are many different levels as well eg. coal and diamonds or ants and elephants!
So what is different about human beings? Human beings are a special form of creation because they possess a rational soul. Unlike an animal for example they can be held to account for their actions. No matter how much we try to train a cat not to hunt a beautiful bird, it would not be correct to punish the cat for carrying out its instinct.
What is a rational soul? Imagine a human being as a lamp shining in a mirror, the mirror representing the physical body and the lamp our rational soul. The lamp's existence is wholly independent of the mirror but it has an association with the mirror that lasts from conception until our physical death. The relationship is similar to love and the heart, there isn't physical proof of a connection. In this analogy note that even if the mirror or physical body is impaired, it does not affect the lamp or the health of the soul.
What is the purpose of the soul? Baha'u'llah has given a beautiful analogy that uses science and religion to help explain spiritual mysteries. The analogy for the soul in this world is the foetus in the womb of its mother. Remember on conception, the human embryo starts life with just a single cell, but has the potentiality to become a fully grown human being! Its purpose in the womb is to develop physical faculties so that when it is born to this world, it is not physically impaired and can enjoy a good quality of life. Note that in the womb, the foetus does not need to walk, eat, hear or see, but if it does not develop those faculties, it will be detrimental to its future. In the same way, the soul has amazing latent potential from conception and the purpose for our souls in this world is to develop spiritual qualities that we will need in the spiritual worlds.
What are spiritual qualities? These are the virtues of God. Could it be possible when we understand that human beings were created in God's image that this related to the soul's ability to acquire to an extent some of the virtues of God? Forgiveness, patience, generosity, compassion, unconditional love for creation to name but a few. There is also one quality that human beings can acquire that is particularly special - humility. Nowadays, even children are taught to exert themselves above others, but this is contradictory to an important virtue for our soul, it is unique because God cannot possess it, a gift you can acquire that the recipient doesn't already possess in many times the quantity. Like the attraction of opposites, this virtue is a powerful force between the soul and its creator.
Where does the soul come from? The soul is created on conception and comes from the worlds of God. Therefore when we pass from this earthly existence our bodies return to the world of dust but our souls continue their journey into the spiritual realms for eternity. Remember that our soul is a mystery, in the same way that we cannot truly understand our soul, we also cannot comprehend the essence of God. A lower form of existence cannot possibly perfectly understand a higher form of existence.
What happens after death? This physical life is extremely important for the development of our souls. We can only take good things with us to the next worlds, that is because bad things don't have an existence. Darkness is just the absence of light, it does not have a source, poverty is the absence of riches and so on. Imagine a person with a wealth of deeds, their lamp could in fact be like a crystal chandelier and their soul possessed with great capabilities. We could imagine the opposite as being a rusty old light bulb perhaps! However there is a twist, the ultimate purpose of our lives is to recognise our creator, by far the easiest way to accomplish this is through his manifestations or messengers' revelations, preferably His most recent. As soon as we have a belief, our lamp becomes lighted and connected to electricity. When the rusty old light bulb is switched on, we cannot see so much of the dust anymore, mainly the bright light is shining and covering up the condition of the bulb to a large extent. The chandelier on the other hand is beautiful but never achieves its true splendour without being switched on, wouldn't that be a shame! Ultimately of course our aim is to be beautifully shining lit chandeliers.
In the next world, we keep our individualities, our memories, consciousness and comprehension, are aware of the realities of souls around us, above and below us, can associate freely with those around and below. The closest glimpse we have of the next world is our dream state. Interestingly, when human beings are in this state their physical faculties are practically switched off and scientifically their brain activity is the lowest! In our dreams, we are able to associate, travel (in no time), past present and future and experience feelings and emotions or even solve problems. In fact, this physical world appears very restrictive in comparison just like the womb world for the foetus compared to this vast world we live in. Provided we have tried our best for our souls' development in this world, we should look forward to the next world:
And now concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death. 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. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 155-156)