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The life of the individual begins at conception, when the soul associates itself with the embryo. When death occurs, the body returns to the world of dust, while the soul continues to progress in the spiritual worlds of God.
“To consider that after the death of the body the spirit perishes,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said “is like imagining that a bird in a cage will be destroyed if the cage is broken, though the bird has nothing to fear from the destruction of the cage. Our body is like the cage, and the spirit is like the bird…if the cage becomes broken, the bird will continue and exist. Its feelings will be even more powerful, its perceptions greater, and its happiness increased…”1
After its association with the body draws to a close, the soul will continue to progress in an eternal journey towards perfection. Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty.”2
An illumined soul continues to have an influence on progress in this world and the advancement of its peoples. It acts as “the leaven that leaveneth the world of being, and furnisheth the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest.”3
The world beyond, writes Bahá’u’lláh, “is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.”4 Just as the womb provides the environment for a person’s initial physical development, the phenomenal world is the arena within which we develop the spiritual characteristics and capacities that we need for our onward journey. Both here and in the next life, we advance with the assistance of God’s bounty and grace. Also important to the progress of our souls in the next world are the good deeds carried out in our names here on earth, and the sincere prayers of our families and friends.
Seen in this light, death is not to be feared. Bahá’u’lláh refers to it as a “messenger of joy.”5 He states: “Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not; wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished; why dost thou dread extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn.”6
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