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The Freedom to Choose
and the Moral Responsibility 
to make the right choice

Effective Living

Dr. Mehrborzin Soroushian



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No other religious tradition emphasizes the central importance of freedom of choice, and the need for each human being to assume responsibility for his or her choices, more than the religious doctrine of Zarathushtra.

In the Gathas, the religious hymns that he composed as the founding text of his religion, Zarathushtra describes how he came to select Ahura-Mazda as the Lord of Wisdom and light.  He makes it very clear that this was a selection he made; it was not made for him, and the basis for his selection is also of great significance. He goes on to point out the need for each individual to use his or her judgment and select his or her path in life consistent with Asha (the natural law of righteousness), as well as excluding wrong life-paths.

Ample examples can be found in the Gathas of Zarathushtra that highlight individuals’ freedom to choose, and their responsibility to make the right choice. In Zoroastrian teaching, making choices at every step of life is not considered a privilege but a duty to be exercised in our daily lives. The ideal is to bring about enlightenment and harmony. In our lives, we are constantly reminded of the need to choose and to make the right choice.

Given the emphasis on making the right(eous) choice at every step of our life, the question becomes: how do we go about determining and making that ultimate choice?  If there is only one right choice in accordance with Asha, how is it possible for various individuals who have many different minds and attitudes, and who are faced with different circumstances in their lives, to arrive at the same final choice? For instance, one person’s fight for freedom and liberation would be viewed by another person as a campaign of terror and destruction.

This question is easier asked than answered.  The complexity of the matter has made the answer to this relatively simple question elusive and difficult to grasp.  To unravel the puzzle, we can turn to more evidence from the compositions of the prophet himself.  A revealing clue can be found in Yasna 34.13 (I.J.S. Taraporewala’s free English translation).

The Ahura, of Vohu Man,
That One Path hast Thou pointed out to me,-
The ancient Teaching of all Saviors,-
That good deeds done for their own sake lead far;-
This Teaching leads mankind to Wisdom true,
That single Prize of Life-Thyself the Goal.   Path, O

The assertion that doing good for the sake of good and for no other reason is central to understanding this moral issue. As the Zoroastrian Scriptures indicates, we are asked to champion righteousness, truthfulness and all other outward manifestations of goodness, not because of the reward we may get, or because it will reflect well on us, but to do so for the sake of goodness itself and for no other reason.

Sa'adi, the Iranian poet of the middle ages, in a metaphorical way conveys the same idea in his poetic composition, though he does make a reference to the reward one could expect to receive.

"You do good, and throw it in the river


And Izad will give it back to you in  mid-desert"

The Gathic evidence lends itself to the idea that the reward for goodness is in doing good itself.  If we believe that goodness is its own reward, then our self-interest shouldn’t interfere in any way with our decisions when faced with moral or ethical problems. Only our perception of what is right and righteous should guide our actions. If we eliminate our self-interest in moral choices, and just focus on what is right for the situation, then our individual differences shouldn’t matter – right will always prevail.

Moral and ethical situations, though, are complex. Many factors and considerations come into play. The ideal is harmony and happiness for humankind, and the cause is Truth. When it comes to determining what best serves that ideal and that cause, Zarathushtra answers in his Gathas:

Whatever words and deeds are noblest, best,
Teach me, O Mazda, make my life express,
Through Love of Fellow-man, through Search for Truth,
The yearnings and the prayers of my heart;
Renew, Ahura, through the strength to Serve,
My Life, and make it as Thou wishest – TRUE.

The ability to be considerate of the welfare of others, and to distance oneself from mere self-interest when it comes to making moral decisions, is clearly alluded to in the following two stanzas in which prophet Zarathushtra  poses the question and perceives the answer in his consciousness. The use of the term “love” accentuates the need to promote welfare, harmony and happiness for all when it comes to choosing the righteous path.  

Thou art Divine, I know, O Lord Supreme,
Since Good found entrance to my heart through Love;
Love asked me: “Who art thou? and whose thy life?
“What path thy choice, when doubts assail thy heart?
“Betwixt thy brother’s, who stands next to thee,
“And thine own profit what course shall be thine?”    

(I, Zarathushtra, replied)
I am Zar’thushtra, vowed to Love and Good,
Opposed with all my heart to all Untruth,
Bringing unto the Righteous Joy of Life;
Thus of Thy Strength Infinite I’ll partake,
And for all time Thy devotee will be,
And, Mazda, weave my hymns for Thee alone.

Another critical aspect of making the right decision is to consider all relevant factors and set of circumstances contemporary and historical surrounding the subject of the rendering of the righteous decision.  The need to consider all factors is clearly alluded to by the use of  “Make wide the vision of my mind” in Yasna 33.13 (Dinshah Irani’s translation) quoted below.

With Thy divine grace, O Lord
Make wide the vision of my mind;
Make manifest Thy everlasting attributes,
Make known the blessings of Thy Kingdom of Heaven

and the joyous recompense of the Good Mind,

O Holy Armaity, inspire our consciousness with the ultimate Truth

When everyone can commit him- or herself to such ethical ideals, humanity will become engaged in promoting happiness and prosperity for everyone, consistent with righteousness. Only then can perfect bliss be realized.  That is indeed the noble goal for all of us, and it will come about as more individuals realize the importance of action based on the moral duty to make the right(eous) choice at every step of  their lives.