November 20, 2013

Does Soul Survive Body? – by Louis G. Gregory

Does soul survive body? This question has at times puzzled sages as well as peoples of lesser rank. What we know as death is so common that man, even in early life, is impressed with the certainty that mortal existence must sooner or later end. He soon discovers that his body is subject to the changes, decay and ultimate dissolution which attend all other earthly objects. But does his inner being, variously called soul, mind or spirit, really perish with the body as seems to be true? Assurance of life beyond the grave will in this day bring solace to millions who are concerned not only with their own fate, but that of loved ones of all ages who often prematurely cross the great divide. It was an eminent Greek who observed that it is usual during peace for sons to bury their fathers; but in war time fathers bury their sons. In such an unprecedented time as this, not only fathers and sons, but entire families, fellow citizens of great cities and nationals of vast areas, are forced to take their last journey in such numbers and under such tragic conditions as inspire awe. And so the eternal question presses as never before for an answer. And the answer, by divine favor, is now made complete.

The fact that religious devotees in all ages, whether in primitive stages of culture or highly developed, have believed in immortality is in itself impressive. Such people, whether their religious connections be formal or not, doubtless constitute an overwhelming majority of mortals. The probative value of this would not be impressive to the logician, falling into the category of the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem. It is however one often used by lawyers in court and sways both judges and jurors. Some of our greatest statesmen who have moulded the people’s will, have yet in times of great emergency, been led to make wise decisions by that selfsame will, indeed they have but voiced that will -- acted that will. This however is not a proof in itself of immortality, because people believe it and because to most mortals, life would be meaningless without it. Mass beliefs often err.

The belief in immortality has its foundation in the lives and teachings of the most eminent Beings that have ever appeared among mankind. These are the founders of the great Religions of the world, the Prophets of God. These not only proclaimed the truth but embodied the truth. Their tremendous influence throughout the ages is not only venerated by their followers but admitted by students of history and sociology who are not of their faith. They are the supreme authorities appearing among mortals and although living at times remote from each other and in different parts of the earth, they have without exception given their followers assurance of the joys of a heavenly home, this a reward for virtue and fidelity upon earth. They were the mouth-pieces of God upon earth. If we acknowledge the greatness of their stations, sustained as they can readily be by both logic and science as well as spiritual proofs, we must also acknowledge that theirs was a clear and perfect vision of life both upon this plane and those of the worlds beyond. The sunshine establishes its reality without the need of formal proof. Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Zoroaster, etc., each and all taught immortality. Their sacrifices and endurance in the path of God are also among the most wonderful signs of it.
Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and other ancients believed in immortality. Cicero, greatest orator of Rome, hailed a belief in it as a solace of his old age. Mindful of the scepticism of his day, with a sense of humor, he reminded his contemporaries that if the soul were not immortal, those who now thought so would not be able to banter him about his credulity in another world. If however it were true, he would later have the joke upon his fellow mortals who now disbelieved. We now know through ‘Abdu’l-Baha that Socrates, who was so serene in the presence of death, owed his composure and strength of character to the influence of the Hebrew Prophets whose teachings he discovered when in Palestine. A modern mystic, Swedenborg, has given vivid and realistic visions of life hereafter. But even though himself a great scientist, he offers not scientific evidence to support his visions, however wonderful and no doubt true. A few years ago a great American journal had a symposium on immortality, with doctors of philosophy, divinity and science among the contributors. Some were agnostic, others believing, but they were almost unanimous in saying that such a thing could never be proven.

But now mankind is blessed with a new Revelation. It floods the entire horizon with light. Not only is the assurance of past Prophets reaffirmed and fortified, but in the majestic Words of Baha’u’llah and the interpretations of the Center of His Covenant, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, rational and scientific proofs appear to convince even the agnostic and sceptic should they present attentive ears.

Baha’u’llah gives this assurance:

“O Son of Worldliness! Pleasant is the realm of being, wert thou to attain thereunto; glorious is the realm of eternity, shouldst thou pass beyond this mortal world; sweet is the holy ecstacy, if thou quaffest the mystic chalice from the hands of the celestial Youth. Shouldst thou attain this station thou shalt be freed from death and perdition, from toil and sin.”

The evidences of immortality are found in His Books and those of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Although these proofs are rational and scientific, they yet come from a source of the highest inspiration. Their appeal is thus to mind and heart, with full assurance. Some of them are briefly stated as follows:

1. There is such a thing as immortality in matter. Any material thing that cannot be divided is indestructible and therefore must endure forever. But all material things as we study their makeup, can be divided. But there comes an end to divisions when we reach the very smallest elements combined. These ‘Abdu’l-Baha designates primordial elements. Since these cannot be divided they last forever, forming new combinations when their present communities are destroyed. Man’s body is composed of such elements, as is true of all other material substances. But the soul of man is a sole or single element, indivisible, and hence indestructible. Psychologists generally teach the essential unity of the human soul. Unity being an innate and inseparable quality of the soul, this is the first scientific proof of is immortality.

2. The body of man is limited by time and space. The inner reality is free from such limitations. The body exists sixty or seventy years. The mind or rational soul can concentrate upon present happenings, or with equal ease, events of millions of years ago. It requires time for the body to journey from one place to another; but instantly the mind can traverse the remotest realms of space. Soul and body are not homogeneous. The limitations of the latter do not apply to the former. A philosopher once asked what mind is, answered, “No matter!” When asked what matter was he with equal pungency replied: “Never mind!”

3. The soul is not a part of the body, as indicated by the fact that the loss of a limb does not impair one’s ability to think. ‘Abdu’l-Baha explains that the body reflects the spirit as a mirror reflects the light. This is the only connection, a vital one, however, for the body, because as soon as this connection is broken the body begins to disintegrate. It is therefore the spirit that gives life to the body. This bodily connection also affects the spirit, which through it is likened to a bird in a cage. When the connection is severed the bird is capable of a lofty flight for which in the meantime it should get prepared. The spirit too has its limitations. It may be affected by the animal nature of the body and assume dark qualities. Intelligence, industry and the spirit of faith free the soul from such darkness and aid the certainty of immortality.

4. In the physical world bodies may often be changed at will from one form to another; but it is impossible for any grouping of elements which is called a body to assume two forms at the same time. If a cube is made into a globe such a change is possible only by destroying the cube. But in the mental realm one can proceed from form to form without destruction. The mind can concentrate upon a single object in a room or upon various objects. Singly or simultaneously one can think of one volume or the whole library; of one star or the celestial sphere; of man, two men or mankind. Going from form to form necessitates no destruction. This greater range of power of the inner reality over the outer demonstrates the eternality of the former in contrast to the temporary structure of the latter.

5. Consider the common human experience of dreams. Dream pictures are as vivid and real while in dreamland as are outward forms during waking hours. They are sometimes blurred and meaningless; at other times they may foreshadow coming events. An American statesman during the period of the former world war always slept with pad and pencil at his bedside. From time to time he would awake from a deep sleep and make notations. Problems of state were thus solved. People are sometimes wiser asleep than when awake. Baha’u’llah explains that the power of God which created man has placed such mysteries in his inward being as a sign to him that the true life for him is beyond that of this limited world; that there is a higher plane of existence in which inward powers may find fuller expression. Dreams and visions are truly significant only as they reflect the purity of the heart. Such individual experiences are apparently intended for personal direction, however, rather than for the guidance of one’s fellows, probably to preserve harmony.

6. What is variously called soul, mind or spirit is in reality but one power. These names appear to indicate different functions. The connection between the higher and lower worlds in man seems indicated by soul. The mind, says ‘Abdu’l-Baha, is the rational soul, to which he gives high praise for its capacity and achievements. He also highly evaluates the spirit of faith which enables man to discover divine mysteries. But these various powers adorn one reality. The bounty of the Holy Spirit which is the Reality of the Holy Manifestation, quickens the spirit of man with new life and understanding, teaching him the lessons he should know so as rightly and effectively to serve mankind.

7. The gift of a conscious knowledge of immortality frees man from fear and the gloomy clouds of superstition and fancy that overshadow him. The spirit of true faith and enlightenment appears to recede as religious revelation grows old, leaving man victimized by many heresies and doubts. The resurrection of the physical body and its being reunited with the soul has been adhered to by many religionists when remote from the fountain-head of truth. It is of course illogical and unscientific, and has no basis in reality. Christ said to the repentant thief on the cross: “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” He also said that flesh and blood shall not inherit eternal life. Baha’u’llah in the Book of Assurance[Kitab-i-Iqan] explains the resurrection as the awakening of the souls of men to a deeper consciousness of nearness to the Creator and obedience to His new made laws to set the world in order. ‘Abdu’l-Baha explains that even were it possible to bring a dead man back to life he would assuredly die again, since death and change are inseparable from material bodies. If any references to a bodily resurrection are to be found in the Holy Books they have but a symbolic meaning. The spirit of man attains its second birth through faith. Paul was truly resurrected on his memorable journey to Damascus. Through the Spirit of Baha’u’llah myriads of souls are now recreated in all parts of the world. Their faith in the Eternal has uplifted above the clouds of rancor, superstition and prejudice which blight mankind.

Christ said: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” So wonderful a life gave life to the Christian world. Baha’u’llah in this new day describes the Resurrection as the rise of the Self of God in His universal Manifestation. It is thus that the spiritually dead may arise from their bodily graves to attain newness of life. This truly is the proof of immortality and the hour of victory.

Let us take with us this picture of the great passing:

“A friend asked: How should one look forward to death?

“‘Abdu’l-Baha answered: How does one look forward to the goal of any journey? With hope and expectation. It is even so with the end of this earthly journey. In the next world man will find himself freed from many of the disabilities from which he now suffers. Those who have passed on through death have a sphere of their own. It is not removed from ours: their work of the Kingdom is ours; but it is sanctified from what we call time and space. Time with us is measured by the sun. When there is no more sunrise, and no more sunset, that kind of time does not exist for man. Those who have ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, yet there is no real separation.”

“In prayer there is a mingling of stations, a mingling of conditions. Pray for them as they pray for you.” (World Order, December 1944)