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From Wilderness to Light – A Personal Journey

Personal Perspective


Shroff, Maharukh



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When Dr. Mehrborzin Soroushian asked me to contribute an article to the Vohuman website, I wondered in what way I could hope to enlighten the readers with my limited knowledge of the Zarathushti Din. How could I stand my own against the writings of towering scholars like Dr. Jafarey, Kaikhashrov Irani, Dasturji Dhalla, Dr. Farhang Mehr, Dina McIntyre and others, whose articles shine like beacons on that website?  A little voice within (perhaps Seraosha??) told me that the best writings are those that come straight from the heart, and I decided that I would write about my own personal journey towards discovering my religion, more specifically The Gathas. Who knows? Perhaps some other wayward soul like me can benefit from my experience!

I am a Zarathushti by the coincidence of birth - that is I was born of Zarathushti parents. My parents were devout Zarathushtis in the sense that most Parsees in India are.  They had their Navjotes done, they prayed from the Khordeh Avesta every day, they visited Fire Temples regularly, and during the Muktads they had prayers said for their near and dear ones who had passed on. At a very early age my mother took great care to see that I learnt my prayers. By the age of six I was made to recite the Kushti prayers, Sarosh Baj, Diva no Namaskar, the relevant Gah and Atash Niyayesh. The latter two I could read from the Khordeh Avesta.

To anyone observing my recitation, I was a true Zarathushti child of devout Zarathushti parents.  But no one knew that I hated the recitation because I never understood a single word I said. It was a chore I had to perform just like laying the table or folding my clothes! At seven I had my Navjote performed.  For a while it was a thrill to untie and tie the Kushti, but slowly the novelty faded and that became a chore too.

My academic education was at a time when Independent India was slowly evolving and great emphasis was laid on Secularism because the religious divide between the Hindus and Muslims had left its bitter legacy of the Partition of India. There was no religious study in schools as students from all faiths mixed freely. The burden of studies left even less time for the daily prayers, which now dwindled to merely the Kushti prayers and the Sarosh Baj. On days when we visited Fire Temples, I ventured to read the Khorshed Niyayesh, the Meher Niyayesh, and the Mahabokhtar Niyayesh, not because I was feeling particularly religious, but because everyone around was praying and I did not want to be left out!

Of course I knew the names of most rituals……the Jashans, the Baj, the Afringan, the Farokhshi, the Satoom, the Paydasht, the Uthamna etc as I had to attend several of them.  But I knew neither what they meant nor what their significance was.  Worse still, the more I attended them the more I realized the crass commercialism that all these rituals involved. Mobeds raced through prayers at the speed of bullet trains because they had to finish one family’s prayers and move on to the next!  After all they had to earn their livelihood and the more prayers they recited, the more they earned. Rarely have I seen a Mobed praying with devotion during any of these rituals. I also came across people who devoutly visited Fire Temples every day, dutifully chanted prayers before the holy Athra, and yet committed the worst deeds in their lives. Such a scenario brought out the cynic within me and drove me even further away from the Din.

Then came the family years and raising a family left even less time for any meaningful religious endeavour. What I realized was that the only time I felt one with my Maker was when I said my 5-minute Kushti prayers.  As soon as I tried to take the Khordeh Avesta and start reciting from it, my mind wandered. What was the point of reciting prayers when I was thinking of what to cook for lunch? Why was I being a hypocrite? Who was I trying to impress? I did not have to convince anybody, least of all myself, that I was communicating with God! Once or twice I attempted to read translations of the Khordeh Avesta but could not understand how singing praises of various Yazatas and the elements of nature could help me lead a good life or help me grow spiritually.

At the level of the community I witnessed hypocrisy of the worst kind.  All around the world people were championing human rights, denouncing apartheid, and yet our community practiced its own brand of apartheid by not allowing people of other faiths into our fire temples. God forbid if someone did enter, the entire place had to be cleansed because a person from another community is a “pollutant”! If a non-Zarathushti cast his eyes on any of our rituals, they would be rendered worthless! The food consecrated during our prayers could be given to a cow but not to a starving human being! It made me wonder what kind of a God would bestow His divine grace only on the chosen few of the Zarathushti Din and not on millions of other human beings! A man who married a non-Zarathushti could bring up his progeny as a Zarathushti, but a similar choice was denied to a woman!  Worse still was the almost inhuman treatment meted out to a non-Zarathushti woman whose Zarathushti husband or child had died.  She could not even sit in the same room where her husband’s or her child’s last remains were kept and his last rites were being performed, while other Zarathushtis were given that privilege! A menstruating woman was considered “impure” and not allowed to enter a fire temple because dirty bodily fluids were being thrown out of her body, but a man could well be in the holy precincts of a fire temple and blow his nose into a handkerchief! A pregnant woman could not attend the funeral of a near and dear one because the powerful words chanted at the time of death would harm the unborn baby. I could not fathom how the very words of our Prophet in the beautiful Ahunavaiti Gatha, which is recited for the last rites, could harm an innocent unborn child?

Years passed by and the children grew up and left home.  The empty nest syndrome was a time for reflection. One tends to mull over the years gone by, the mistakes made in life and it was then that I felt a compelling need to look “inwards”. But I did not know how. Over the years one of the great joys of my life is reading, and I turned to reading books on spirituality….whatever I could lay my hands on. Little bits and pieces interested me and I even experimented with New Age beliefs for a while. But try as I may, spiritual entities, mystic beings, seances, ghost writing and such other esoteric stuff could not hold my attention for long. However one of the things that greatly helped me was meditation. In the quiet hours of dawn I would close my eyes and feel a oneness with God as I had never felt before in my life.

Then the miracle that I had prayed for happened. The Internet and the Zoroastrian Mailing Lists! On the two mailing lists, I found the profound wisdom of the Gathas from the letters of some our most eminent scholars. Each day I was dumbfounded and totally mortified that people whose names sounded least Zoroastrian (Jafarey, Ronald, Alex, Arthur, Simon) had more knowledge about my religion than I did! Slowly I discovered that not only did they know more, they had “accepted” Zoroastrianism! Their quotes and commentaries on the Gathas opened my eyes to the “Primal Principles of Life” that our Zarathushtra gave us thousands of years ago!

It dawned on me that as with all religions, somewhere over the millennia the main message of the Prophet was forgotten and our religion had become a quagmire of rituals here in India among the Parsees…..a religion so distorted that I could not relate to it at all! 

But the Gathas were different. As I discovered my Prophet’s own words, I found the true religion of Zarathushtra:

  • A religion that teaches me how to live without a long list of dos and don’ts

  • A religion that teaches me that the way to reach God is to become God-like through His own attributes, and that to do so is the only way of worshipping Him.

  • A religion that tells me that evil is a product of man’s wrong thinking and wrong choices and therefore lays the utmost emphasis on the power of the human mind, and exhorts us to live our lives with “Good Thinking”.

  • A religion, which tells me that the only way to find happiness is to give happiness to others.

  • A religion, which grants man the freedom of choice in every situation in life thereby making him and him alone (no Gods, no fate, no stars, no destiny) responsible for his actions and choices….an awesome responsibility.

  • A religion in which Man is a co-worker of God.

  • A religion, which tells me, that life is to be celebrated and lived according to the principles of Righteousness and not renounced in order to reach God.

  • A religion that tells me that life in the material world is as important as that in the spiritual realms.

  • A religion in which men and women are equal in every respect. 

  • A religion in which man is a trustee of all of God’s creation and is responsible for its welfare.

  • A religion which does not distinguish between human beings on the basis of race, color, caste, sex, nationality or any other criteria……. except “Righteousness”

  • A religion that teaches me that God does not need elaborate rituals to be appeased. All He wants is for us humans to work towards eliminating evil, upliftment of the downtrodden, betterment of society and refreshing and renovating the world.

  • A religion, whose message is so universal and timeless that without changing a single word, it is as relevant today as it was when it was founded 3700 years ago.

Today I can honestly say that after being in the wilderness for most of my life, I have found the “Light” of the Gathas. Swami Paramahansa Yogananda has said, “When one is really desirous of finding God, He sends a guru.” Perhaps at this point in my life when the children were gone, the fact that I was like a ship without a rudder made me truly desirous of finding God. And He gave me the priceless gift of the Gathas - the very words of my Prophet.  What better guru could I ask for? 

Now I grab every opportunity to devour every book, every article, every explanation, and several translations of the Gathas. Each day as I study the Gathas I am enchanted by their simplicity and yet affected deeply by their innate subtleties and profound wisdom. But I try to study them not like a scholar or a translator delving into the root of each word. For me each verse is also my prayer, my way of communicating with my God. Therefore deeper meanings and life-truths contained in the verses have more fascination for me than scholarly translations.

My communion with God today is very different from what it was in the past. For the first time in my life I am experiencing the sublime bliss of reciting Zarathushtra’s own words as my prayers.  Reciting Gathic verses with understanding, has given an entirely new meaning to my prayers, for they are now recited with a devotion and reverence which was not present earlier. And these prayers give me a joy that I find difficult to express in words. One of my very favorite verses is Yasna 33.12, which in the past I often recited without understanding, as part of the Atash Niyayesh.  Today as I recite “Us moi uzareshva Ahura” (Arise within me O Ahura!) I feel engulfed by Ahura Mazda’s presence and love.

But this is merely the beginning of my spiritual journey.  I know that it is going to be a long one - till the end of my life, and perhaps even thereafter, because reaching Ahura Mazda’s Haurvatat is an evolutionary process.

Perhaps some readers may identify with me because like me they too are searching for answers, looking for deeper meanings and life-truths. Because like me, they too believe that great Prophets were sent amongst us to teach us the correct way to live and not simply to give us rituals to propitiate Gods. Perhaps they too are weary of muttering prayers and attending rituals they do not understand. I wish to tell them not to grope in the dark any longer like I did. I wish to tell them that they will find everything they ever wanted to know in a little booklet of 17 songs called the “Gathas of Zarathushtra.”

On the other hand there might be readers who think that religion is simply a matter of faith and if there is enough faith, then even prayers they don’t understand, work for them.  They may feel that rituals must be performed for they are an intrinsic part of religion.  To them I say, “Hold on to your beliefs, but ponder with an open mind. Do not use faith as a crutch and allow it to over-ride your good thinking. For then you are misusing the divine faculty of Vohu Mano which the Wise Lord has given you.  Live your life according to the Primal Principles of Life that Zarathushtra gave us. They can only enlighten you and enrich your life!”

A spiritual journey begins with introspection.  It is a discovery of ‘self’ first and sometimes what we are forced to look at, we do not like. But honesty with one’s inner self is of utmost importance here and a desire to change must be willingly embraced. Therefore, ultimately a spiritual sojourn is necessarily a road that must be traversed alone.  Each traveller must find his own path with the unique circumstances of his own life, for there are no pre-set formulas. But we are fortunate in having the sublime wisdom of the Gathas to illuminate our path. With the divine faculty of Vohu Mano we can learn to discern Asha in every situation in life, always keeping in mind Spenta Aramaiti, the spirit of right-mindedness and benevolence, in all our actions. If we can learn to make such enlightened life-choices, then we each can make our humble contribution towards establishing Ahura Mazda’s Khshathra on earth and moving forward step by gradual step towards Freshokereti - the ultimate renovation of existence on earth!