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A reader asked:

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!