For the 15 years that I have been on donkey and dog email lists, people have been sending condolences to those whose pets have recently died, in the form of a poem called “The Rainbow Bridge.” (Rainbow Bridge) While some, thankfully, find the image comforting despite getting teary whenever they re-read it, we are left with the same question we started with. How do we truly know?
How do the Writings of the Baha’i Faith approach the question, then, and what conclusions can we draw from this guidance?
Shoghi Effendi, the late Guardian of the Faith, wrote to a believer: “Your letter clearly indicates that you are familiar with the teachings of the Faith, which state that the animal spirit is not immortal. As you are seeking some consolation, however, over the loss of your pet dog, you may recall the following statement of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Some Answered Questions: “The exaltation of the animal world is to possess perfect members, organs and powers, and to have all its needs supplied…. But real prosperity for the animal consists in passing from the animal world to the human world...”
When asked about the individual persistence of the animal’s personality after death, 'Abdu'l-Bahá said: “Even the most developed dog has not the immortal soul of the man; yet the dog is perfect in its own place.”
In 1995 the Universal House of Justice wrote: “For an animal, the joys and realities of life are basically physical and emotional. It neither possesses, nor can it understand, the spiritual reality of a human being. The world it inhabits is perfectly attuned to its needs and level of existence. If it were to be transported to a purely spiritual world, it would be deprived of all that it knows and values.”
So, the animal accepts life and death as they come to it, without question. Dusty didn’t lose any sleep wondering whether he would accompany his human companion through all the worlds of God. As my elderly cocker spaniel gazed at me with absolute trust, when I held her while a vet mercifully ended her life. The Universal House of Justice also says, however:
“As for a human soul who has known and loved an animal – those experiences, as memories, have become a part of his or her eternal life. This, indeed, is what happens to our relationship to all material things. They will eventually be dispersed, so all the physical beauties of this world will ultimately remain only in our memories; but, as such, they constitute an enrichment of our lives which will continue to develop in the spiritual worlds.”
Reflection on these statements coupled with my own experiences with both human and animal deaths in my own life resulted in an epiphany while talking to a friend who was mourning for her cat. In brief, it is clear from studying Baha’i and other scriptures, as well as science, that when a human dies, nothing of the person’s material life goes along with the departing human soul. Not an atom, not a quark, not a gluon. Yet Baha’i teachings as given above plus in numerous other sources make it clear that the human soul is immortal, that we retain our memories in the next world, and that our station there will be decided in large part by our spiritual development while we were on earth. Those who have loved one another here will continue on together “through all the worlds of God”, as Baha’u’llah stated when He declared that His beloved wife Navvab would be His consort through “all the worlds of God”. It appears that those who spent little time developing spiritual capacity in this world will be at a low level in the next, so low that to those above it appear appear unpleasant. A bit hellish, perhaps.
Thus, the love, comfort and experiences shared together by a human and an animal are imprinted into the human’s soul. One analogy might be that these emotional bonds are etched into the spirit as data is recorded on a DVD. And so the spirit reality of the animal individual becomes a part of the human’s immaterial being, to endure as long as the human cherishes it.
Here’s a blog about my relationship with an old mule who showed up at my place in need one morning: Train Wreck Brays