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A Healing Vision

Gathic Illustration

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“Unto you, O Creator, the Soul of Mother Earth complained thus:  Wherefore did you create me?  Who gave life to me?  Anger, rapine, outrage, plunder, aggression and violence are present everywhere.  There is no protector for me, except Thee.  Therefore, reveal to me a saviour who could show me a way out of this difficulty.” [1]

Nearly four thousand years later, does not the Soul of Mother Earth still utter the same cry?  Since the tragedies of September 11th, 2001, and in the fury of anger and fear that have followed,[2] how far do we honestly believe we have advanced in the last four thousand years?  Where the world is not churning in confusion and superstition, it seems to be turning in desperation to false hopes and lies.  We need to think again.  We need to think clearly.  We need to think, period.

Let’s begin our journey with a story from long ago.  About the time the last of the great ice ages began to descend upon the earth, the spirits of two children left their young bodies.  They were buried together in their favourite place to play, a promontory where two crystalline streams came together in a forest.  Their band would come to this place year after year.  On a crisp, clear day, the immense ice cap could be seen in the distance, creeping closer from the northlands with every cycle of the sun.  Now, this community so loved these two children that they buried them in the warmest clothing lavishly adorned with some six thousand ivory beads and jewels.  The youngest of the two, a girl of only about nine or ten years of age, was perhaps a little more favoured than the older boy.  But, just like the boy, she had in her possession slender ivory lances and ivory spears to accompany her to the next hunting ground.[3]  

Compared with our present day, the ice age could hardly be considered a time of great prosperity.  Indeed, it was a time of much hardship and suffering, but it was a time when human life was still a great rarity on the face of Mother Earth.  Survival of human life was precious.  It was a time when the lives of children were as important as those of adults.  It was a time when both women and men were respected and treated as equals.  It was a time when an entire community could mourn the death of a young girl and boy as a major loss, even though neither was yet of an age to make any notable achievement amongst their people, or rise to a high social status on their own.  It was a time when every soul counted for something. 

Even in the most “advanced” of nations today, this level of perception is virtually nonexistent, wiped out by a swiftly increasing and demanding population that leaves little room for such considerations.  We have come to a place in time where the life of a particular child, dear as it may be to its parents and immediate family, may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and the life of a child who also happens to be a girl is readily disposable in far too many quarters.  Perhaps we can console ourselves a little by saying that advanced societies have an array of programs for children, while those which remain backward do not.  Unfortunately, that’s just not saying a whole lot.  

The family members of these children of the ice age who managed to survive may have been –  literally – the ancestors of many of us alive today.  It was a very long time ago, and thousands upon thousands of generations of human beings produce millions upon staggering millions of offspring.  In the interim, we ask what we have accomplished, and how we honour those who have come before us.    

Today, we are deeply concerned about terrorism, the war on terrorism, airport security, international affairs, unemployment, the stock market, Enron, and the Olympics.  Really now, with all this going on, can we imagine our society stopping to think about the “Soul of Mother Earth?”  Many might take a moment to argue that our concerns today mean basically the same thing, that the language of how we express the same concerns has simply changed.  Perhaps that is true to a certain extent, but to a certain extent it is not.  In part, language shapes the way we think, and that is exactly what we must do at this time:  think. 

Avestan gęush urvâ is translated variously as “Soul of Mother Earth,” “Soul of the Living Earth,” “Soul of the Kine (our sacred herds and folk),” “Ox-soul,” etc.  In the context of the Gathas, the words evokes the sense of a unified spirit of life present in a balanced, natural, fertile community of which humankind is a part.  Most cultures have few such phrases in their pallette today; therefore, the concepts themselves fade from everyday experience.[4]  Instead, the vast majority of expressions of the present age are comparatively pallid, neutral or ambiguous, the products of language used to express a astonishing array of dilute, sterilized thoughts.  As knowledge grows in technically advanced societies, there is an increasing need to be specific about everything.  In doing so, many of the elements of language most useful to describe richly broad concepts are displaced.  The result of this language gap leads to still more difficulty and confusion in dealing with the big picture. 

Advances in technology guarantee that we can communicate faster and in more ways than ever before.  Effective communication today means the internet and PowerPoint[5] presentations.  With the most common world languages today having vocabularies greater than a hundred thousand words apiece, we are rarely at a loss for words.  Impressive as this progress is, we cannot conclude that we are any closer to knowing what we are talking about.  Moreover, billions babble all at once.  How does one think with all this noise in the background?

To the conflicts, to the pain, to the anger, there came an answer to the Soul of Mother Earth.  It came in a brilliant revelation to the Prophet Zarathushtra, the core of his teachings crystallized in the familiar verses,

“Listen with your ears the highest truth, consider them with illumined minds carefully and decide each man and woman personally between the two paths, good and evil.  Before ushering in of the great day, the day of judgment, arise all of you and try to spread Ahura’s words (Zarathushtra’s message).

The twain spirits which appeared in the world of thought in the beginning were good and evil in thoughts, words and deeds.  The wise will choose rightly, but the unwise shall not do so and shall go astray.” [6]  

Thousands of years ago, this was the promised way out of difficulty for the Soul of Mother Earth.  Perhaps more importantly to our present age, it is the promised way out of the problems of today.  We are called on to think about each and every situation and act rightly, and in the end there are no shades of gray.  What is not good is evil, what is not right is wrong, what is not true is a lie.  Each of us is called upon to choose the path of good at all times.[7]  Anything else leads to unhappiness, not only to ourselves as individuals, but to the Soul of Mother Earth.

Impatient to get on with our self-improvement program, one of our first impulses is usually to make up lists of what is good and what is not.  This time around, before jumping into that, let’s take a moment to think.  If we review the tragedies of September 11th and what has followed since that time, what perhaps disturbs us most is the great suffering of many, many people – far too many people.  For an overwhelming majority, the suffering is wholly undeserved, and lamentations and tears have again flooded our earth. 

Professor Kaikhosrov Irani submits that society is responsible for the undeserved suffering of its members.  In the ideal condition,[8] no one stands to gain through the deprivation or suffering of another.  Obvious that our society has been and still is far from this today, the organizing power of society must bring about through law, social structure, or by some other practice a condition in which no one’s advantage is dependent upon the suffering of another.[9]   Professor Farhang Mehr further articulates that "freedom of man and freedom of choice lie at the foundation of Zarathushtrian tradition — a freedom which should be exercised through wisdom and rationality, and in accordance with the Truth, the law of Asha." [10]  Difficult as it is to admit that we have not yet achieved these ideals in thousands of years, we must proceed to chart a course for the future.

Jesus of Nazareth, whose conduct of life was a lucid message of love to humankind, nevertheless instructed his followers to “say ‘Yes’ when you mean ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ when you mean ‘No.’  Anything beyond that is from the evil one.”[11]  In other words, difficult as situations may be, we are advised that, when we speak, we should do so clearly and truthfully. 

Based on the aforementioned ideas, I wish to share a few of my thoughts in more detail.  Those responsible for sparking the tragedies of September 11th clearly had come up with a plan to produce gain for themselves while causing others to suffer.  In choosing to disregard the most fundamental principles of social justice, their actions can readily be discerned to be evil in thought, word, and deed.  Some people, still bathing in false religiosity and ignorance, have gone so far as to say that God[12] ordained the deaths of all those who died on that fateful day.  That outrageous blasphemy is renounced on the grounds that, though we may gain a few glimpses from time to time from revelations of prophets throughout the ages, not one of us can presume to know the will of God.  We are on one of many planets that orbits around a star in elliptical fashion, and every day our planet spins about once on its axis, and we believe we understand enough of the laws of physics to know quite a bit about how it happens.  However, not one of us knows why it happens, why it was created this way – we haven’t a clue as to why the laws of physics work as they do.  We don’t yet know the answer to a question as simple as why we happen to be where the Creator put us.  We would do better to think before talking about things we know nothing about. 

Many claim this war is not a religious war, but I beg to differ.  As far as those who perpetrated it in the first place are concerned, it most certainly is a religious war.  Among other hints about it, they came right out and said so.  The religion they follow is not to be confused with Islam at all, regardless of what they might say, but it is a religion nonetheless.  The rest of us may not want to be involved in a religious war, but let’s not water down the situation, either.  If a religion stands for that which is good, and that religion is compelled to fight the actions of some zealots who are actively promoting evil, then this is definitely a religious war.  How we choose to conduct the fight is another matter, yet another subject of concern that challenges our senses of civility and our interpretation of what is good, and particularly what is good for the Soul of Mother Earth.   

Terrorism is not alone in its quest for gain at the expense of others.  Many other interests have plans to add more for their members at great expense to others and, in this connection, we are not limited only to branded terrorists.  Left unbridled, entire governments, nations, and communities are prone to do the same in a nightmare of contradictions.  Not to be hypocritical, many religions yield quite a dirty history on this point, too.  In the end, Zarathushtra’s visionary message is correctly directed first to each and every person:  each individual must make proper choices, because an individual who chooses very badly can wreak havoc on the face of the earth.

What does one make of the Afghanistan of a few months ago?[13]  Tragically, this was a country in chaos from decades of wars and poverty, earthquakes and landmines.  Sad as it is, this fails to provide the slightest excuse that what meager bounty Afghanistan produced was reserved for the pleasures of a handful of men, certainly not its women or children,[14] virtually all of whom were condemned to crude lives of atrocious disrespect, encouraged through flawed government pronouncements with quasi-religious overtones. 

This was not the ice age.  After twenty-five thousand years of progressive civilization, we somehow managed to create a few places far worse, and Afghanistan is not alone.  Some countries in central Africa and southern Asia are so badly ravaged by disease, hunger, war, corruption, malevolence, and lack of education that governments have no idea where to start.  Poverty flourishes even in the most prosperous of nations.            

Indeed, the entire world has a lot of building and rebuilding to do.  Developed regions can look forward to more than a few years of emergency shipments of food, clothing and medicines to the less fortunate.  In time, buildings and airports and roads and entire cities can be put back together again.  Eventually, women will regain their status in society, and children will no longer serve as military conscripts or be sold into slavery.  Order will someday be restored, justice will prevail, and we will be happy again.   

The souls lost on the tragic day of September 11th and since were not lost in vain.  Rather, new beginnings have been catalyzed for a fresh, new world.  This time around, let us take time to think before acting.  Let us help one another to resist evil before it has a chance to grow into war.  Let us instruct each other to choose the path of good.  Let us pause to honor those who have gone before us, those souls from just a few months ago, to the ancient ones from the ice ages and beyond.  Let us make every living soul count for something and, this time, let us listen to the Soul of Mother Earth.  For, in spite of our dreadful failings of the past, we have every reason to be cheerful and optimistic about the future to come.  

[1] Ys. 29:1, Gathas:  the Holy Songs of Zarathushtra, trans. Mobed Firouz Azargoshasb (Publication of the Council of Iranian Mobeds of North America, 1980).

[2] On September 11th, 2001, four commercial jetliners in the air over the United States were seized by terrorists.  A highly coordinated attack aimed two of the four jets into the World Trade Center in New York, creating an inferno that killed thousands; another jet crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, destroying part of the building and killing nearly two hundred, while the fourth jet plunged to the ground in Somerset County in Pennsylvania, killing all on board.  Less than two hours had passed, but before the day was over, the massive twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, and many firefighters and police died in rescue operations.  A federal investigation identified members of the al-Qaeda network as the people responsible for these calamities.  Their leaders, Osama bin Laden in particular, were thought to be in Afghanistan under the protection of the Afghan government, the Taliban.  While nations from all over the world immediately expressed their condolences to the families of victims of the tragedy, the United States strained heavily under massive transportation and security problems.  For a number of countries, however, sympathy began to fade soon after the United States vowed a “war on terrorism” not only against terrorists as individuals, but also against those governments harbouring terrorists.  The United States nevertheless managed to pull together sufficient strategic alliances to launch intense air strikes and ground operations in Afghanistan in an attempt to rout out the al-Qaeda terrorists and dislodge the oppressive Taliban government.  The Taliban is out of power for the time being, but the masters of terrorism remain unaccounted for as of this writing.  Virtually unknown to many Americans as they remain largely self-absorbed and insulated from what goes on in the greater international community, the September 11th tragedies and the events that have since followed have led to a deep and dangerous polarization among nations.  Perhaps weary and tired, many Americans take some comfort in rationalizing the attacks on the United States as largely symbolic, and stop short at that point.  Many continue to overlook the clear intent on the part of the terrorists to destabilize the world’s oldest, most prosperous, most generous, free and secular republic to a state of bedlam and anarchy from which it would be unable to recover.  History will eventually show neither the muddled, chaotic pseudoreligious zeal of this plague of terrorists, nor the incomparable retaliatory military and economic might of the United States, necessary as it may be at this time, will dare to gaze upon the face of Truth.

[3] This is a personal narrative about the Paleolithic archaeological site of Sungir found near Vladimir, Russia, in 1955, and the technical details are in accord with the scientific facts of the site.  The burial site is currently dated to 25,500 years before the present.  For more information on this site, see Soffer, O., “Sungir:  A Stone Age Burial Site,” in Burenhult, G., The First Humans, vol. 1: Human Origins and History to 10,000 B.C. (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1993), pp. 138-139.

[4] The people of the Avesta advanced many unique concepts, but gęush urvâ was not among them; the concept is far more ancient.  When Western Europeans began their aggressive colonization of the Americas, this idea was deeply entrenched in Native American customs.  Having much greater impact than any specific disagreements, misunderstanding of this far-reaching idea led to immense strain between the cultures, with the final result that Native American tradition has been virtually annihilated in most parts of the Americas today.  That the people of the Avesta and Native Americans would share this idea is not surprising at all, for thousands of years ago the ancestors of both lived in reasonably close proximity in the Orient.  

[5] PowerPoint is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.

[6] Ys. 30:2-3, Gathas:  the Holy Songs of Zarathushtra, trans. Mobed Firouz Azargoshasb (Publication of the Council of Iranian Mobeds of North America, 1980).

 [7] The “choice” between good and evil is rhetorical is these verses.  The Gathas clarify that, in fact, the only right choice is the path of good.

[8]   In Zarathushtrian terminology, Asha.

[9]   Irani, K.D., "The Idea of Social Justice in the Ancient World," in Irani, K.D., and Silver, M.A., “Social Justice in the Ancient World” (Westport Connecticut:  Greenwood Press, 1995), pp. 4-5.

[10]   Mehr, F., "Social Justice in Ancient Iran," ibid., p. 77.

 [11] Bible, Mt. 5:37.  Though seldom discussed in Christian thought, the pacifism of Jesus often stopped just short of physical violence.  He appears to have fought evil at every turn, and especially loathed hypocrisy.

[12] “God” is used herein in approximate reference to the Supreme Being known as Ahura Mazda in the Avestan literature, Ormazd in Pahlavi, Allah in Qur’anic literature, etc.   

[13] This article was submitted for publication in Feb. 2002.

[14] The status of women and children in society is a recurrent theme in this article, largely because of the author’s view that full equality among women and men, along with kind, respectful treatment of children, are among the most accurate indications of a just, healthy, moral and good society.