Life and death

This is from my commentary on spiritual knowledge. But it includes a passage that I took out in the final version.

What does Baha'u'llah mean by "destruction and death"? The Sufis have traditionally referred to the state of being free as "dying to the world and living in God". Baha'u'llah uses this phrase to open his description of the seventh valley in The Seven Valleys: "This station is the dying from self and the living in God." The idea is that you "die" to the world because you no longer invest your self in it and you "live" in God because you take up a new life in the spiritual realities. The new life in God is the same thing as the traditional Christian concept of being born again. Baha'u'llah explains this in the following passage:

Even as Jesus said: "Ye must be born again." Again He saith: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God?" The purport of these words is that whosoever in every dispensation is born of the Spirit and is quickened by the breath of the Manifestation of Holiness, he verily is of those that have attained unto "life" and "resurrection" and have entered into the "paradise" of the love of God. (Iqan p118)

The passage explains that we are born twice: the first time into the physical world of the flesh and the second time into the spiritual worlds of the Kingdom of God. Baha'u'llah describes those who have been born again as having attained to "life". And he goes on, in the same passage, to state that the opposite is also true: a person who is not born again can be characterised as "dead": "And whosoever is not of them, is condemned to 'death' and 'deprivation.'"

Baha'u'llah explains why the life of the spirit is called "life" and the life of the flesh is called "death". He says that the spiritual life is "true life" because it is eternal and is not overtaken by death: "True life is not the life of the flesh but the life of the spirit" This life knoweth no death, and this existence is crowned by immortality." This contrasts with the life of the flesh, which we share with animals and always leads to death. Therefore, the life of the flesh is referred to as "death". Getting back to the Hidden Word, Baha'u'llah says that if we pass beyond the world of mortality and attain the domain of eternity, we will be freed from destruction and death. Now we can see that he means we will be born into, and live in, an eternal life, which is not subject to death and destruction like our physical life is.

Baha'u'llah also uses the Sufi terminology "asleep" and "awake" to refer to the states of "death" and "life". (eg PHW 30) Once we know that these terms are synonymous, the following enigmatic passage from The Seven Valleys can be unravelled: "O Son, if thou art able not to sleep, then thou art able not to die. And if thou art able not to waken after sleep, then thou shalt be able not to rise after death." (Seven Valleys and Four Valleys pp34-5) If we examine this in light of what we have discussed so far, the meaning becomes clear. "O son, if thou art able not to sleep": we know that "sleep" refers to the state of living in the world and being ignorant of God. "Thou art able not to die": "die" refers to the death that overtakes physical life in this world. The point is that if you do not "live" in the physical world, then your "life" will not be overtaken by death. This is because your "life" is the life of the spirit, which is eternal. "And if thou art able not to waken after sleep": this refers to our inability to wake up from our worldly sleep. "Then thou shalt be able not to rise after death": rising after death refers to the process of rising out of our absorption in worldly life (which is "death"). The point is that if you cannot wake up from your sleep, then you will not rise from your worldly life of "death" to attain to true life.

Go to the original blog entry...