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What other world for my soul?

Bubbles in the sky

Shortly before he was executed Socrates confided to one of his disciples that there was nothing to fear in death for the friends of knowledge. Indeed, if it is true that the body is merely a tomb for the soul, a form of unconsciousness that is lifted at death, what is there to fear for those who have dedicated their lives to seeking truth and justice?

This belief in a survival of the soul after death is characteristic of most spiritualities. Death is perceived as the separation of the soul from its earthly envelope—a transition, not an end. What other world then does this transition take us to?

For the great monotheistic religions, the world beyond is primarily characterized by a dichotomy between a place of well-being (heaven) and a place of suffering (hell), to be rejoined by those whose lives were spent pursuing good or evil actions, respectively. If, however, as Ostad Elahi suggests, our earthly life is above all an environment for the soul to pursue its perfection, such a binary division of the other world is hardly satisfactory. According to Ostad Elahi, the hereafter is not limited to these two destinations. Upon death, the soul reaches a temporary abode (the interworld) that reflects not only what the soul has done on earth in terms of good or evil, but also, and most importantly, what it has become through the transformation of its own substance. The interworld then designates the new conditions in which the soul will be able to continue its process of perfection.

The interworld

Let us pause for a moment to consider this notion. The term interworld is a translation from the Arabic word barzakh, the place where souls reside after death, awaiting the final judgment. Ostad Elahi addresses the issue of the hereafter in chapter 7 of Knowing the Spirit and describes the interworld as a place in which the soul temporarily resides after death: “(…) the spirit will be transferred and introduced, either immediately or after a delay, directly into the intermediate world.” (Ostad Elahi, Knowing the Spirit, p. 89.)

The interworld is described as an intermediate world, either between two earthly lives, or between earthly life and the spiritual worlds the souls go to after their allotted time to reach perfection has expired.

Either way, the interworld is a place the soul merely passes through—a temporary abode—no matter what living conditions (pleasant or unpleasant) it enjoys there. But it is also a transitory place for the soul, an environment where change is made possible, as the soul is given the opportunity to progress in its process of perfection in optimum conditions: “There, all the necessary means for the spirit that had stopped advancing in its (earthly) process of perfection are prepared and arranged in order to overcome its shortcomings, along with a sufficient period of time and in a way that greatly facilitates its task, without the obstacles and hindrances (of earthly life).” (Ostad Elahi, Knowing the Spirit, p. 89-90.)

The world the soul goes to after death has thus more to offer than heaven (place of pleasure) or hell (place of suffering). It provides an infinite number of possibilities and conditions adapted to the level of each soul. One could almost say that each soul gets its own interworld!

The question of merit

In keeping with the great monotheistic religions, Ostad Elahi recognises that our destiny after death (our living conditions in the interworld) depends in part on the quality of our deeds or, in other words, on the evaluation of our actions according to a divine criterion. This last point is essential, for what matters is not to have performed deeds that were appreciated by our fellow human beings, but rather to have performed deeds that, as B. Elahi puts it, “attracted the divine regard” (see Bahram Elahi, The Path of Perfection, p. 97). It may not be easy to always know which actions will “attract the divine regard”. We can however easily assume that the value of an action will depend on the extent to which it stands in conformity to what is Good—has it contributed to the well-being and joy of others, for example?—but also, and above all, on the intention that governs it. Certain actions have so much value that a single one of them, however unremarkable it may seem, could be enough to “save a soul”. This is what happens to a character in The Brothers Karamazov: the onion she once gave a person in need would have saved her from the flames of hell… if only her greed hadn’t eventually gotten the better of her.

“Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; ‘She once pulled up an onion in her garden,’ said he, ‘and gave it to a beggar woman.’ And God answered: ‘You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.’ The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. ‘Come,’ said he, ‘catch hold and I’ll pull you out.’ And he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. ‘I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.’ As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.”

Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Book 7, Ch.3

These actions “that save” contribute, according to Ostad Elahi, to building up some “savings” or “provisions” for the soul. This expression is quite telling with regard to the influence of our “good deeds” on our situation in the interworld. Taken literally, it would mean that our good deeds increase our “purchasing power” in a way. The idea may seem surprising, and yet it reflects the manner in which Ostad Elahi portrays this other world: a place of which our world is but a pale reflection, and where, consequently and just like here, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. The currency, which can allow us to access a provisional paradise or to be taught certain truths, is constituted of our “good deeds”, those deeds we carried out selflessly here on Earth.

However, while these actions do increase our capital, and this is by no means insignificant, they are not sufficient in themselves to transform what we are. In other words, those who have accumulated positive actions will be able to acquire better living conditions in the interworld, but if they have not, at the same time, taken care of perfecting themselves, they will not be able to enjoy the deeper pleasures related, as we will see, to the understanding of Truths.

The interworld, a mirror of ourselves

In the system presented by Ostad Elahi (see Knowing the Spirit), our destiny after death does not depend solely on the actions we have carried out during our time on Earth. It is more profoundly who we are, that is, the virtues we have developed and the truths we have assimilated, that will determine our destination.

It is truly as if, at the moment of our death, our soul was released into the interworld like a hot air balloon into the atmosphere. Like a hot air balloon pushed upward by buoyancy until its density is equal to the density of the atmosphere, the soul rises in the interworld up to the level corresponding to its degree of assimilation of the truths. The more it assimilates truths and simultaneously develops virtues during the course of its earthly life, the greater its aptitude to attain higher levels in the interworld—higher in terms of knowledge of the Truths and thus higher in well-being, power and freedom.

Indeed, what good would it do for a soul to find itself in a level of the interworld, whose truths it could not comprehend? Very little. That soul would be like a young child taken to university to listen to an eminent specialist, a mathematician for instance, talk about his latest work. It wouldn’t understand a thing. What would be gratifying to some—those who have developed their aptitude to understand—would seem off-putting and uninteresting to that soul. If someone were to speak to it about one of these Truths it knows nothing about, it may not even grasp its veracity. This is because, when we arrive in the interworld, we are the same person we were in this world. If we have not acquired the aptitude to comprehend a particular Truth, when we are faced with this same Truth in the other world, we will be like a blind person faced with a source of light—we won’t see a thing.

Once again, what counts in our preparation of the afterlife is not only doing what is good, but also taking care of the “education of our thought”. Such an education, which is necessary for our soul to mature and thus progress towards its perfection, goes hand in hand with an understanding of the Truths. It enables human beings to move beyond the blind acceptance of dogma and to focus on a spiritual practice whose reasons and effects they are conscious of.

Thus, to the question “what interworld for my soul?” Ostad Elahi responds that the interworld is a mirror in which “everyone sees their own form”. Everyone will then have a tailor-made interworld, reflecting for them what they have capitalized and what they have become. Our level of well-being or suffering and whether or not we will be aware of specific Truths only depend on us: on the Truths we strive to assimilate and the virtues we try to cultivate here on Earth.

Further readings

Worlds and interworlds: revelation or rational hypothesis?

This article is a follow-up on a comment related to the Worlds and interworlds section of the article Ostad Elahi’s thought in 7 points. The question went thus: if our approach to spirituality is to be rational, where should we stand on the issue of worlds and the interworld? [read more]

Worlds, interworlds and successive lives Worlds, interworlds and successive lives

It is a function of true understanding to bring back together the dispersed parts of a whole in a coherent context where they become meaningful. Our earthly life is a case in point. As a brief stage in the course of a long and complex journey, it should be carefully reassessed according to this pattern. [read more]


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12 comments

  1. K. Shahroozi Jun 13, 2016 7:04 pm 1

    A very instructive article. It certainly makes one think twice before talking, acting, and more importantly, think about one’s intention. Thank you.

    1. Lisa Jun 15, 2016 4:49 am 1.1

      Reading this article is certainly a reminder of how we can take care of our thoughts that will then determine our actions, intentions, words and deeds. I am always thankful for such reminders.

  2. Holly Jun 16, 2016 2:06 am 2

    Thank you for the above article. It is truly both awakening and scary yet hopeful! Why scary, because it made me remember and realize the importance of intentions, the importance of positive thoughts and how easy it is to gain spiritual provisions but also to lose them.
    There is one thing I still don’t fully understand: according to Ostad Elahi, can our soul acquire new knowledge in the intermediate world? Or do we simply reside there, in conditions that depend on our spiritual deeds, after we depart from earthly life and until we are positioned in a permanent home or returned to Earth for further learning?
    Are we able to continue perfecting our soul in the intermediate world or not ?
    I would be grateful if others could help me understand the above better.

    1. Merdy Jun 17, 2016 4:33 am 2.1

      Dear Holly,

      The description of this lecture on sound reason (http://www.e-ostadelahi.com/eoe-en/sound-reason-excerpt-no-3-of-a-lecture-by-b-elahi-md/) explains that according to Professor Bahram Elahi, “we are like pupils: our life on earth should be used to obtain the ‘certificates of primary and secondary education’ that will then allow us to go through the higher stages of our process of perfection.”
      So, from what I understand, we are able to continue perfecting our soul in the intermediate world but we should obtain the “certificates of primary and secondary education” to be able to understand what we can learn there. Otherwise, we have to come back to earth. I believe this is explained in more details in The Path of Perfection by Prof. Bahram Elahi.

      Thanks

    2. adissam Jun 18, 2016 11:38 pm 2.2

      This article about the “interworld” may help in answering your question (http://www.e-ostadelahi.com/eoe-en/interworld/)
      I think it gives a good overview of what is developed in Pr. B. Elahi’s work.

      The book “Knowing the Spirit” has been another great reference for me. Ostad Elahi explains in more details what is meant by the “intermediate world” according to the proponents of the process of spiritual perfection.
      Here is an excerpt I’ve found online:
      http://ostadelahi.com/works/publications/knowing-the-spirit/

  3. A. Jun 16, 2016 4:58 am 3

    Over the years I have come to realize that the only purpose in life is the progress of the soul towards perfection, and that everything that happens to me is aimed at this goal. When you look at the way things pan out, you can always tell (in hindsight), that it is useful to the soul’s process of perfection. Oftentimes, I have seen events take strange/unexpected turns, against all odds. With hindsight, I was able to interpret these chains of events as optimal for my progress, i.e to get rid of some flaws and understand some truths: for instance, for many years I have been unable to move up in the hierarchy in the company I work for until I became indifferent to titles/honors and I understood that they had no value.
    This article really helps understanding why spiritual progress is so important and it clarifies Ostad Elahi’s sentence where he says that the interworld is a mirror in which “everyone sees their own form”. It really helps to accept that everything that happens, though it may taste bitter, leads to a sweet result, because it contributes to the soul’s process of perfection.

  4. mahnaz Jun 19, 2016 2:44 am 4

    Thank you for this meaningful article.

  5. yocto Jul 01, 2016 9:47 pm 5

    Lately I have been beating my brain out to understand what all the fuss is about knowledge, comprehension, and understanding the truth. I was thinking: all I really need is to find a spiritual leader who would take my responsibility and let me… basically be me, playing around, doing nothing, enjoying the ride, maybe doing some good deeds here and there. You know like the minions. They found a scientist who took their responsibility, took them in, and they lived together happily. The scientist would do all the work and the minions were working in his lab and just… be minions. They wholeheartedly had faith in the scientist. I have faith too, so why isn’t that enough?

    What is knowledge anyway? Why will it make me happier and better off? What is the state of “supreme bliss” that is worth all this trouble? The only thing that is worth the trouble is being next to Him. Unless being next to him gets boring after a while and you crave for other stuff like knowledge and comprehension and etc.

    1. Saga Jul 03, 2016 6:49 pm 5.1

      Hi Yocto, what a cute analogy. I think if we don’t manage to transform our substance to match His (which involves mercy, compassion, justice etc.), we will not be able to be by His side or part of His ocean. The only way we can understand something such as justice, is to acquire knowledge of justice through in vivo practice until it becomes part of our essence. Also, we have to remind ourselves of why we are here and where we are going. Only then can we realize what we need to do.

    2. kbld Jul 04, 2016 5:06 pm 5.2

      @yocto
      I think if, whenever you understand something, you pay attention to the feeling it gives you, you will understand the value of knowledge and why there is no higher bliss than knowing the Most Wonderful One.

      1. yocto Jul 06, 2016 11:01 pm 5.2.1

        I think I know what you are talking about. Fifteen years ago, I was passing by a nice tall building in a plush neighborhood and talking to Him about how much I would love to work in this building. Ten years later I got what I wanted. Stayed there five years and left with a heavy heart because it turned out to be a hellish place (the building looked really ugly to me from then on). The day I was leaving I thought “wait a minute, the same Him who heard me fifteen years ago, must be the same Him five years ago, and the same Him now, otherwise it would be very confusing. They had to diligently coordinate with each other as to what should happen to me during the course of my perfection. And if at some point the communication fails, things would go chaotic. Imagine what would happen in Universe if there were two or more “One”s!” After that revelation (sort of) I kind of “know” one of the meanings of “One”. But am I happier now as a result? I don’t know.

    3. Lily Jul 18, 2016 1:21 am 5.3

      Very interesting point yocto… You made me reflect about this question a lot as well.
      Two thoughts :

      1) In general, we appreciate things better when we understand their value. Let’s say I was to meet the best mathematician in the world (while I know close to nothing about maths). I guess I would be happy, and honoured, especially if that person had won a nobel prize or something. But I would definitely not be as happy as someone who has been doing research in mathematics for years and is be able to understand what that person has accomplished, how brilliant they are, how they have contributed to research, and so on. So perhaps there’s an analogy to be made here.

      2) I agree that it can be difficult to “feel” whether or not knowing or understanding more makes us happier in general. So maybe it can help to flip the question around and to think instead about the feeling we get when don’t understand something. For example, when I studies abroad for the first time, I took a class with a very famous professor who was supposed to be excellent. The problem was, I didn’t understand the language perfectly yet and he spoke with an accent I wasn’t used to, which didn’t help. I remember sitting in that lecture hall with all the other students, and I remember everyone laughing at things he was saying, and saying how brilliant he was afterwards, while I couldn’t understand a word he was saying! It was horribly frustrating! And I can think of countless examples of situations where lack of knowledge or understanding will create these kinds of terrible feelings (I am sure you can too!). From that feeling of helplessness when the office’s copy machine just won’t work and we have no idea what to do, to simply not knowing what the right choice is when facing an ethical dilemma, or not understanding at all why something unpleasant is happening to us…

      Of course, it’d be nice to have someone give you the answer or tell you what to do, when you know that this person knows better and that you can fully trust them, but I would certainly much rather know for myself! And then feel close to Him, who is All knowing, because my level of knowledge and understanding is getting closer to His, and not merely because I know that He will guide and protect me.

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