What’s my purpose? What’s the purpose in being alive? These are two questions I often hear! Many people struggle with this question and never find an answer, because they are looking in the material realm; and not in the spiritual.
As Bahá’ís we’re lucky because the Bahá’í Writings tell us clearly! The purpose of this life is to prepare us for the next life:
One must remember that the purpose of this life is to prepare the soul for the next. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 359)
There are 5 ways to accomplish this:
1. To know God and to be obedient to His commandments:
The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence. To this most excellent aim, this supreme objective, all the heavenly Books and the divinely-revealed and weighty Scriptures unequivocally bear witness. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 70-71)
If we accomplish this, we will be in paradise:
Whoso hath recognized the Day Spring of Divine guidance and entered His holy court hath drawn nigh unto God and attained His Presence, a Presence which is the real Paradise, and of which the loftiest mansions of heaven are but a symbol. Such a man hath attained the knowledge of the station of Him Who is “at the distance of two bows,” Who standeth beyond the Sadratu’l-Muntaha. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 70-71)
If we don’t, we will have condemned ourselves to the misery of remoteness and the nethermost fire, no matter what our earthly life might look like.
Whoso hath failed to recognize Him will have condemned himself to the misery of remoteness, a remoteness which is naught but utter nothingness and the essence of the nethermost fire. Such will be his fate, though to outward seeming he may occupy the earth’s loftiest seats and be established upon its most exalted throne. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 70-71)
The short obligatory prayer reminds us of our purpose every day when we say it:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3)
2. To attain our share of the flood of grace which God pours forth for us:
The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. Let none, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle. The portion of some might lie in the palm of a man’s hand, the portion of others might fill a cup, and of others even a gallon-measure. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)
3. To carry forward an ever-advancing civilization:
All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. Say: O friends! Drink your fill from this crystal stream that floweth through the heavenly grace of Him Who is the Lord of Names. Let others partake of its waters in My name, that the leaders of men in every land may fully recognize the purpose for which the Eternal Truth hath been revealed, and the reason for which they themselves have been created. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214)
4. To acquire the virtues we’ll need in the next world:
Just as a baby in womb doesn’t know why it’s developing arms, legs, eyelashes etc; we can’t understand why we need to develop virtues for the next world either. We have to take it on faith, trusting that, just as it became apparent soon after birth, it will become clearly apparent in our next birth too:
As the child in the womb does not yet know the use of its members, it does not know what its eyes are for, neither its nose, nor ears, nor tongue — so also it is with the soul on earth. It cannot understand here the uses and powers of its spiritual gifts, but directly it enters the eternal kingdom, it will become clearly apparent. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers 9, p. 48)
While the baby is in the womb, there are certain things which must be properly developed, or the baby will be handicapped in this world. Similarly, we must develop certain qualities in this world, or we will be handicapped in the next:
As it is not yet shown while the child is in the womb of its mother, what its condition will be, whether it will have all the gifts of God or not, whether it will be perfect in all its members or not, whether it will be blind, or deaf, or dumb—but afterwards, when it enters the world, then it becomes clearly apparent if it is defective or not—so it is with the soul in this present state. Its perfection or its lackness is not understood until it enters the heavenly kingdom; then it is clearly seen, and then the soul understands whether or not it is lacking in the gifts of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers 9, p. 47)
To put it another way:
In this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix by acquiring forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so, likewise, the indispensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world. What is he in need of in the Kingdom which transcends the life and limitation of this mortal sphere? That world beyond is a world of sanctity and radiance; therefore, it is necessary that in this world he should acquire these divine attributes. In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that eternal life ready for him. That divine world is manifestly a world of lights; therefore, man has need of illumination here. That is a world of love; the love of God is essential. It is a world of perfections; virtues, or perfections, must be acquired. That world is vivified by the breaths of the Holy Spirit; in this world we must seek them. That is the Kingdom of everlasting life; it must be attained during vanishing existence. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226)
What are the virtues that are important?
The virtues and attributes pertaining unto God are all evident and manifest, and have been mentioned and described in all the heavenly Books. Among them are trustworthiness, truthfulness, purity of heart while communing with God, forbearance, resignation to whatever the Almighty hath decreed, contentment with the things His Will hath provided, patience, nay, thankfulness in the midst of tribulation, and complete reliance, in all circumstances, upon Him. These rank, according to the estimate of God, among the highest and most laudable of all acts. All other acts are, and will ever remain, secondary and subordinate unto them. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 290)
That world beyond is a world of sanctity and radiance; therefore it is necessary that in this world he should acquire these divine attributes. In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that life eternal ready for him. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 63)
That divine world is manifestly a world of lights; therefore man has need of illumination here. That is a world of love; the love of God is essential. It is a world of perfections; virtues or perfections must be acquired. That world is vivified by the breaths of the Holy Spirit; in this world we must seek them. That is the Kingdom of life everlasting; it must be attained during this vanishing existence. (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 63-64)
Man is born naked and when dead he is also naked. He brings nothing with him to this world, and when he departs he cannot take anything physical with him to the next. But whatever he has given to the Cause of God while on this earth, his time, his labours, his resources, as well as his services to his fellow human beings, these he can take with him to the spiritual realms. This is one way of transforming something which belongs to the world of matter into the spiritual worlds of God. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 78)
So from these quotes we see that in this world, we need to develop:
purity of heart while communing with God
resignation to whatever the Almighty hath decreed
contentment with the things His Will hath provided
patience and thankfulness in the midst of tribulation
complete reliance, in all circumstances, upon God
the knowledge and love of God
the breaths of the Holy Spirit
time, labour, resources
service to our fellow man
We won’t understand how these qualities will be needed till we get to the next world:
For just as the effects and the fruitage of the uterine life are not to be found in that dark and narrow place, and only when the child is transferred to this wide earth do the benefits and uses of growth and development in that previous world become revealed—so likewise reward and punishment, heaven and hell, requital and retribution for actions done in this present life, will stand revealed in that other world beyond. And just as, if human life in the womb were limited to that uterine world, existence there would be nonsensical, irrelevant—so too if the life of this world, the deeds here done and their fruitage, did not come forth in the world beyond, the whole process would be irrational and foolish. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 184)
How can we acquire those things? Through:
the knowledge of God
the love of God
severance from this world
sanctity and holiness
By what means can man acquire these things? How shall he obtain these merciful gifts and powers? First, through the knowledge of God. Second, through the love of God. Third, through faith. Fourth, through philanthropic deeds. Fifth, through self-sacrifice. Sixth, through severance from this world. Seventh, through sanctity and holiness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226)
If we do these things, we will enjoy everlasting existence and more:
But if he possesses the knowledge of God, becomes ignited through the fire of the love of God, witnesses the great and mighty signs of the Kingdom, becomes the cause of love among mankind and lives in the utmost state of sanctity and holiness, he shall surely attain to second birth, be baptized by the Holy Spirit and enjoy everlasting existence. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226)
If we don’t, we will surely be deprived of eternal life!
Unless he acquires these forces and attains to these requirements, he will surely be deprived of the life that is eternal. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226)
5. To Bear and Endure
In the Fire Tablet, we learn that we were created to “bear and endure”! This suggests that we can’t expect life to go our way; or to be easy!
Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds. (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 218)
As long as there is life on earth, there will also be suffering!
As long as there will be life on earth, there will be also suffering, in various forms and degrees. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 280)
The reason is to advance our minds and spirits; draw us closer to God; and help us acquire virtues:
‘Does the soul progress more through sorrow or through the joy in this world?’ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.—‘The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most.’ (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178)
This takes us back to know and worship God – since our suffering reminds us to turn to God.
How can we achieve our purpose in life?
One way is through work!
You should also endeavour to engage in some useful occupation, or by training yourself to have such an occupation, as work in itself another means at our disposal, in accordance with our Teachings, to draw nearer to God, and to better grasp His purpose for us in this world. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 282)
And another, of course is through prayer – specifically the Short Obligatory Prayer:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3)
How has this helped you understand your purpose? How will knowing this change your life? Post your thoughts below!
Soul. The immortal part of man, as distinguished from his body; the moral and emotional nature of man, as distinguished from his mind; the vital principle which moves and animates all life. – New Websters Dictionary
Soul. The spiritual part of a human being. – Canadian Oxford Dictionary
Thou hast asked Me concerning the nature of the soul. Know, verily, 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. It is the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, to cleave to His truth, and to bow down in adoration before Him. If it be faithful to God, it will reflect His light, and will, eventually, return to Him. If it fail, however, in its allegiance to its Creator, it will become a victim to self and passion, and will, in the end, sink in their depths. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, LXXXII, pp. 158-59
Scientific philosophy has demonstrated that a simple element (‘simple’ meaning ‘not composed’) is indestructible, eternal. The soul, not being a composition of elements, is, in character, as a simple element, and therefore cannot cease to exist. The soul, being of that one indivisible substance, can suffer neither disintegration nor destruction, therefore there is no reason for its coming to an end…. – Abdu’l-Baha, “The Evolution of the Spirit”, Paris Talks, p. 91
The soul that with a strong and constant calm
Takes sorrow and takes joy indifferently,
Lives in the life undying! That which is
Can never cease to be; that which is not
Will not exist. – HinduText from the Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter II
Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth. Afterwards, however, the individuals will vary according to what they acquire of virtues or vices in this world…. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 190
When the human soul soareth out of this transient heap of dust and riseth into the world of God, then veils will fall away, and verities will come to light, and all things unknown before will be made clear, and hidden truths be understood.
Consider how a being, in the world of the womb, was deaf of ear and blind of eye, and mute of tongue; how he was bereft of any perceptions at all. But once, out of that world of darkness, he passed into this world of light, then his eye saw, his ear heard, his tongue spoke. In the same way, once he hath hastened away from this mortal place into the Kingdom of God, then he will be born in the spirit; then the eye of his perception will open, the ear of his soul will hearken, and all the truths of which he was ignorant before will be made plain and clear. – `Abdu’l‑Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l‑Baha, p. 177
It is through the power of the soul that the mind comprehendeth, imagineth and exerteth its influence, whilst the soul is a power that is free. The mind comprehendeth the abstract by the aid of the concrete, but the soul hath limitless manifestations of its own. The mind is circumscribed, the soul limitless. – `Abdu’l‑Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 337
The Holy Spirit it is, which, through the mediation of the Prophets of God, teaches spiritual virtues to man and enables him to attain Eternal life. It is evident that the souls receive grace from the bounty of the Holy Spirit which appears in the Manifestations of God, and not from the personality of the Manifestation. – Abdu’l‑Bahá, The Divine Art of Living, p. 43
Thou didst write of afflictive tests that have assailed thee. To the loyal soul, a test is but God’s grace and favour; for the valiant doth joyously press forward to furious battle on the field of anguish, when the coward, whimpering with fright, will tremble and shake. So too, the proficient student, who hath with great competence mastered his subjects and committed them to memory, will happily exhibit his skills before his examiners on the day of his tests. So too will solid gold wondrously gleam and shine out in the assayer’s fire. It is clear, then, that tests and trials are, for sanctified souls, but God’s bounty and grace, while to the weak, they are a calamity, unexpected and sudden. – `Abdu’l‑Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l‑Baha, p. 181-82
O My servants! Could ye apprehend with what wonders of My munificence and bounty I have willed to entrust your souls, ye would, of a truth, rid yourselves of attachment to all created things, and would gain a true knowledge of your own selves – a knowledge which is the same as the comprehension of Mine own Being. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, CLIII, p. 325
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? – Matthew, Chapter 16, Verse 26
As to the soul of man after death, it remains in the degree of purity to which it has evolved during life in the physical body, and after it is freed from the body it remains plunged in the ocean of God’s Mercy. – Abdu’l‑Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 66
Recommended Reading for additional information on the theme of the Nature of the Soul
A comment on Bahá’í Forums the other day caught by attention and got me thinking. The post read: “The Dark Night of the Soul is a phase which people who have come to spiritual maturity go through, when they feel utterly forsaken by God, absolutely miserable, with no “nice feelings”, no comfort, no pleasure from faith or good works. It is complete, excruciating spiritual, emotional and mental agony”.
I’ve certainly been there several times and I’m sure many of you have too!
Life frequently goes in directions that aren’t pleasing to us, but Bahá’u’lláh tells us it shouldn’t matter:
If, however, for a few days, in compliance with God’s all-encompassing wisdom, outward affairs should run their course contrary to one’s cherished desire, this is of no consequence and should not matter. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 10)
He promises better days ahead, both in this world and the next:
O my servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will no doubt attain. (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 69)
Nothing lasts forever. Everything in nature has its own cycle. The seasons are a good example. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains each:
At one time it is the season of spring; at another it is the season of autumn; and again it is the season of summer or the season of winter. In the spring there are the clouds which send down the precious rain, the musk-scented breezes and life-giving zephyrs; the air is perfectly temperate, the rain falls, the sun shines, the fecundating wind wafts the clouds, the world is renewed, and the breath of life appears in plants, in animals and in men. Earthly beings pass from one condition to another. All things are clothed in new garments, and the black earth is covered with herbage; mountains and plains are adorned with verdure; trees bear leaves and blossoms; gardens bring forth flowers and fragrant herbs. The world becomes another world, and it attains to a life-giving spirit. The earth was a lifeless body; it finds a new spirit, and produces endless beauty, grace and freshness. Thus the spring is the cause of new life and infuses a new spirit.
Afterward comes the summer, when the heat increases, and growth and development attain their greatest power. The energy of life in the vegetable kingdom reaches to the degree of perfection, the fruit appears, and the time of harvest ripens; a seed has become a sheaf, and the food is stored for winter.
Afterward comes tumultuous autumn when unwholesome and sterile winds blow; it is the season of sickness, when all things are withered, and the balmy air is vitiated. The breezes of spring are changed to autumn winds; the fertile green trees have become withered and bare; flowers and fragrant herbs fade away; the beautiful garden becomes a dustheap.
Following this comes the season of winter, with cold and tempests. It snows, rains, hails, storms, thunders and lightens, freezes and congeals; all plants die, and animals languish and are wretched.
When this state is reached, again a new life-giving spring returns, and the cycle is renewed. The season of spring with its hosts of freshness and beauty spreads its tent on the plains and mountains with great pomp and magnificence. A second time the form of the creatures is renewed, and the creation of beings begins afresh; bodies grow and develop, the plains and wildernesses become green and fertile, trees bring forth blossoms, and the spring of last year returns in the utmost fullness and glory. Such is, and such ought to be, the cycle and succession of existence. Such is the cycle and revolution of the material world. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 73-74)
We love spring, summer and even the early parts of fall, but when we’re in winter, most of us find it difficult, if not impossible to believe that spring will follow. Winter feels so dark and cold, it’s hard to imagine feeling good again. The dark night of the soul is like winter, with all its attendant death and relentless tests.
Without the proper attitude, it’s easy to slide into depression and we become weak and unable to think clearly:
But when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of life seem to elude our grasp, the eyes of our spirits fail to discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 109)
It’s important that we understand the purpose of tests and to know that God has sent them to us for the perfection of our souls.
You are encouraged to continue to keep in mind the spiritual dimension of your struggles. We are assured by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the following words: “The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes. That is why, in all times, the Prophets of God have had tribulations and difficulties to withstand. The more often the captain of a ship is in the tempest and difficult sailing the greater his knowledge becomes. Therefore I am happy that you have had great tribulations and difficulties… Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have sorrows. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. XIV, No. 2, p. 41)
We’re not alone in our suffering. Even the Prophets of God suffered:
As we suffer these misfortunes we must remember that the Prophets of God Themselves were not immune from these things which men suffer. They knew sorrow, illness and pain too. They rose above these things through Their spirits, and that is what we must try and do too, when afflicted. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 297)
In the Tablet of Ahmad, we’re asked to:
Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 210)
One way to remember is to consider that Bahá’u’lláh was clearly having His own “dark night of the soul” when He wrote the Fire Tablet, pouring out His pain to God. One of the opening lines is:
Those who are near unto Thee have been abandoned in the darkness of desolation: Where is the shining of the morn of Thy reunion, O Desire of the worlds? (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 213)
In the middle of your “dark night” I’m sure you too feel abandoned in the “darkness of desolation”!
The Dark Night separates the wheat from the chaff. Those who cannot endure it, may lose faith altogether.
Many of those who drift away from the Cause do so for the reason that they had ceased to go on developing. They became complacent, or indifferent, and consequently ceased to draw the spiritual strength and vitality from the Cause which they should have. Sometimes, of course, people fail because of a test they just do not meet. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)
It’s easy to say we believe, but much harder to prove it:
It is easy to approach the Kingdom of Heaven, but hard to stand firm and staunch within it, for the tests are rigorous, and heavy to bear. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 274)
So what will get us through these tests?
Trust God and the process:
Whatever hath befallen you, hath been for the sake of God. This is the truth, and in this there is no doubt. You should, therefore, leave all your affairs in His Hands, place your trust in Him, and rely upon Him. He will assuredly not forsake you. In this, likewise, there is no doubt. No father will surrender his sons to devouring beasts; no shepherd will leave his flock to ravening wolves. He will most certainly do his utmost to protect his own. If, however, for a few days, in compliance with God’s all-encompassing wisdom, outward affairs should run their course contrary to one’s cherished desire, this is of no consequence and should not matter. (Baha’u’llah, Fire and Light, p. 10)
Be patient and composed, trusting in God’s grace:
When calamity striketh, be ye patient and composed. However afflictive your sufferings may be, stay ye undisturbed, and with perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God, brave ye the tempest of tribulations and fiery ordeals. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 73)
Grin and bear it is God’s advice to Bahá’u’lláh in the Fire Tablet!
Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 218)
Turn towards God and cling to the Writings:
Our intent is that all the friends should fix their gaze on the Supreme Horizon, and cling to that which hath been revealed in the Tablets. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 10)
Understand that it’s not forever and we will emerge more spiritual and closer to God.
The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls; so it is to this we must look—to becoming more spiritual, drawing nearer to God, no matter what our human minds and bodies go through. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 297)
The post concludes: “At the end of the experience the person is purified from all attachments to emotion, sense, feeling and thoughts. It is the ultimate state of union with God wherein they rest in Him devoid of any “great feelings” or pleasures or sense perceptions or emotions in a state of imperturbable Nothingness.” Indeed Bahá’u’lláh tells us:
After scaling the high summits of wonderment, the wayfarer cometh to the valley of true poverty and absolute nothingness. This station is the dying from self and the living in God, the being poor in self and rich in the Desired One. (Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 35)
Surely seeing the end in the beginning, will make going through it all worthwhile!
What helped you get through your own “dark night”? Post your comments here:
Why is the soul so much more important than the physical body? Are there any Baha’i quotes on the spiritual being vs physical being?
What a great question!
First of all, we need to understand that we’ll never completely understand the nature of the soul, though the Bahá’í Writings give us lots of clues:
The nature of the soul after death can never be described, nor is it meet and permissible to reveal its whole character to the eyes of men. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 156)
We know the soul wasn’t created out of atoms and elements as was the body:
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, p. 91)
We know that the soul came into being at the same time as the physical body:
The same is true of the soul. It comes into being at the time of conception, it gradually acquires divine qualities, but there comes a time when it has to produce its fruit. Not until the soul reaches this point can it be said to have fulfilled its destiny. This can happen when, following the above principle of male and female interaction, the soul assumes the function of the female and establishes a spiritual intercourse with another agency. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 17)
But while the soul is attached to the body, it’s not in the body:
The soul, like the intellect, is an abstraction. Intelligence does not partake of the quality of space, though it is related to man’s brain. The intellect resides there, but not materially. Search in the brain you will not find the intellect. In the same way though the soul is the resident of the body, it is not to be found in the body. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 128)
Because the soul didn’t come into the body, it doesn’t need to stay attached to the body at the time of death:
Second, the rational soul, meaning the human spirit, does not descend into the body — that is to say, it does not enter it, for descent and entrance are characteristics of bodies, and the rational soul is exempt from this. The spirit never entered this body, so in quitting it, it will not be in need of an abiding-place: no, the spirit is connected with the body, as this light is with this mirror. When the mirror is clear and perfect, the light of the lamp will be apparent in it, and when the mirror becomes covered with dust or breaks, the light will disappear. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 238)
We know that the body is subject to illness and weakness, but the soul is not affected by these:
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 remaineth unaffected by any bodily ailments. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 153-154)
We know that the soul never changes, no matter what happens to the body:
Consider how the human intellect develops and weakens, and may at times come to naught, whereas the soul changeth not. For the mind to manifest itself, the human body must be whole; and a sound mind cannot be but in a sound body, whereas the soul dependeth not upon the body. It is through the power of the soul that the mind comprehendeth, imagineth and exerteth its influence, whilst the soul is a power that is free. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 337)
The soul only makes forward progress:
But with the human soul, there is no decline. Its only movement is towards perfection; growth and progress alone constitute the motion of the soul. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 89)
We won’t know the uses and powers of the soul until we get to the next world:
As the child in the womb does not yet know the use of its members, it does not know what its eyes are for, neither its nose, nor ears, nor tongue — so also it is with the soul on earth. It cannot understand here the uses and powers of its spiritual gifts, but directly it enters the eternal kingdom, it will become clearly apparent. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers 9, p. 48)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá uses the analogy of a mother not knowing if her baby (in the womb) will be healthy or handicapped until after it’s born, and says that the soul is like that:
As it is not yet shown while the child is in the womb of its mother, what its condition will be, whether it will have all the gifts of God or not, whether it will be perfect in all its members or not, whether it will be blind, or deaf, or dumb — but afterwards, when it enters the world, then it becomes clearly apparent if it is defective or not — so it is with the soul in this present state. Its perfection or its lackness is not understood until it enters the heavenly kingdom; then it is clearly seen, and then the soul understands whether or not it is lacking in the gifts of God. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers 9, p. 47)
Just as we developed things inside the womb which were not needed inside the womb, but without which we are handicapped in this world, the same is true of our time on this earth. We need to develop good qualities here, which we’ll need in the next world, even though they might not seem so important here.
We know that the good we do in this world will be carried forward into the next:
We read in the sacred writings that ‘all good works are found again’ [ i.e. — All good actions bring their own reward]. Now, if the soul did not survive, this also would mean nothing! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 89-90)
Acquiring virtues is a good way to develop “the good” we do in this world:
The virtues and attributes pertaining unto God are all evident and manifest, and have been mentioned and described in all the heavenly Books. Among them are trustworthiness, truthfulness, purity of heart while communing with God, forbearance, resignation to whatever the Almighty hath decreed, contentment with the things His Will hath provided, patience, nay, thankfulness in the midst of tribulation, and complete reliance, in all circumstances, upon Him. These rank, according to the estimate of God, among the highest and most laudable of all acts. All other acts are, and will ever remain, secondary and subordinate unto them. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 290-291)
The days of our physical body are numbered, but this is not true of the soul:
If your days on earth are numbered, you know that everlasting life awaits you. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 111)
We don’t need our physical bodies in the next world:
As at the time of death, the real and eternal self of man, his soul, abandons its physical garment to soar in the realms of God, we may compare the body to a vehicle which has been used for the journey through earthly life and no longer needed once the destination has been reached. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 201)
But the soul survives the death of the body:
In all religions the belief exists that the soul survives the death of the body. Intercessions are sent up for the beloved dead, prayers are said for their progress and for the forgiveness of their sins. If the soul perished with the body all this would have no meaning. Further, if it were not possible for the soul to advance towards perfection after it had been released from the body, of what avail are all these loving prayers, of devotion? (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 89)
And it continues on to infinity:
Divine perfection is infinite, therefore the progress of the soul is also infinite. From the very birth of a human being the soul progresses, the intellect grows and knowledge increases. When the body dies the soul lives on. All the differing degrees of created physical beings are limited, but the soul is limitless! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 89)
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. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 155-156)
We can’t understand the next world, any more than a foetus could understand this world:
The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 157)
There are many mysteries surrounding our physical death and the soul’s return to God, and they are kept that way because if we understood, it would provoke extreme reactions:
The mysteries of man’s physical death and of his return have not been divulged, and still remain unread. By the righteousness of God! Were they to be revealed, they would evoke such fear and sorrow that some would perish, while others would be so filled with gladness as to wish for death, and beseech, with unceasing longing, the one true God — exalted be His glory — to hasten their end . . . As to those that have tasted of the fruit of man’s earthly existence, which is the recognition of the one true God, exalted be His glory, their life hereafter is such as We are unable to describe. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 344-345)
The best condition for the soul at the hour of death is to be sanctified from the vain imaginings of this world:
Blessed is the soul which, at the hour of its separation from the body, is sanctified from the vain imaginings of the peoples of the world. Such a soul liveth and moveth in accordance with the Will of its Creator, and entereth the all-highest Paradise. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 155)
If it attains this station, Baha’u’llah promises:
The Maids of Heaven, inmates of the loftiest mansions, will circle around it, and the Prophets of God and His chosen ones will seek its companionship. With them that soul will freely converse, and will recount unto them that which it hath been made to endure in the path of God, the Lord of all worlds. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 155)
If the soul has walked in the ways of God in this world, it will attain a very high station in the next world:
Thou hast, moreover, asked Me concerning the state of the soul after its separation from the body. Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly, return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved. . . It shall attain a station such as no pen can depict, or tongue describe. The soul that hath remained faithful to the Cause of God, and stood unwaveringly firm in His Path shall, after his ascension, be possessed of such power that all the worlds which the Almighty hath created can benefit through him. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 161)
It will have a transforming influence on this world, particularly on the arts and wonders of the world:
Such a soul provideth, at the bidding of the Ideal King and Divine Educator, the pure leaven that leaveneth the world of being, and furnisheth the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 161)
I’d like to conclude with a brief passage from Baha’u’llah:
Know then that “life” hath a twofold meaning. The first pertaineth to the appearance of man in an elemental body, and is as manifest to thine eminence and to others as the midday sun. This life cometh to an end with physical death, which is a God-ordained and inescapable reality. That life, however, which is mentioned in the Books of the Prophets and the Chosen Ones of God is the life of knowledge; that is to say, the servant’s recognition of the sign of the splendours wherewith He Who is the Source of all splendour hath Himself invested him, and his certitude of attaining unto the presence of God through the Manifestations of His Cause. This is that blessed and everlasting life that perisheth not: whosoever is quickened thereby shall never die, but will endure as long as His Lord and Creator will endure. The first life, which pertaineth to the elemental body, will come to an end, as hath been revealed by God: “Every soul shall taste of death.” But the second life, which ariseth from the knowledge of God, knoweth no death, as hath been revealed aforetime: “Him will We surely quicken to a blessed life.” (Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 47-48)
There is so much more that can be said, but I hope by now you can see why the soul is more important than the body!