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Universal Elements Forming the Fundamentals 
of the Religion of Zarathushtra

Wisdom of Ages


World Zoroastrain Souvenir Issue, England 1984  

Dasturji Nowruz Homji



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Respected Chairman, my seniors, scholars, my young friends, ladies and gentlemen, when people praise you, doubt their judgment; when people criticize you, doubt your own.  I have never heard criticism about a speaker from the President.  All the same, I thank you Sir, my friend. 

In ‘Doa Nam Setayeshne’ prayer, our religion is described as ‘farhangan farhang’, meaning ‘Teaching of teachings’ or knowledge par excellence.   Mine is not a talk, much less a lecture, mine is a heart to heart talk to my co-religionists.

In the background we see the three letters W.Z.O. but we read Avesta and Persian from right to left, so I read O.Z.W. where ‘O’ is Ohrmazd, ‘Z’ is of course our Lord Zarathushtra, and W for Wisdom.  ‘W’ to me also stands for unity and universality.  Zoroastrians do stand for universality though here and there unity is sometimes at a discount.  If I take ‘W’ for wisdom as two ‘V’s (V and V), it is vision for values.  It is not an academic subject that I am presenting but a teaching which I am living.  For the last thirty years we are concentrating on the Gathas - the Gathas that fall in a ‘Niagara’ of spiritual forces.  Unfortunately we Zoroastrians have not appreciated these Gathas - the strength that they give us, the vision that they develops.  There is an academic word for prayer-it is ‘orison’.  This ‘orison’ is the real prayer that widens our intellectual awareness and deepens our spiritual consciousness.  One ‘Ashem Vohu’ prayer recited understanding first the dictionary meaning and then the meaning relevant to life, will go a very long way than to recite twenty one ‘Ashem Vohu’ mechanically.

My subject for today is the Universal Elements in Zoroastrianism forming the fundamentals of life - the fundamentals of the Zoroastrian religion.  I request you to distinguish between the religion of Zarathushtra and Zoroastrianism.  Many scholars have written on ‘later-Zoroastrianism’ and they call it Zoroastrianism.  There is a difference, a world of difference between the religion of Zarathushtra and the third century Zoroastrianism and between the Gathas and the Vendidad.   Let us know that the late Dastur Dr M. N. Dhalla has done a yeoman service by distinguishing the. periods in his History of zoroastrianism. So please, whenever you read some quotations from the Vendidad, also take care to see that you read quotations from the Gathas.

I live, I assert my living today. I am .003 in the world census. In spire of being .003 in the world census, I keep my head erect in the world and live, simply because of the strength that I derive from the Gathas.  The Gathas teach me: ‘give and survive’. Arbab Guiv has really given me again the strength to say 'O Zoroastrian, what is thy name? My name is Mr Give'. In Bombay, I tell my people there is the 'Dena' Bank in Bombay. Some people prefer dealing with 'Lena' bank and not with 'Dena' bank. The Zoroastrians survive by 'Dena' bank. Of course there is a certain limit to 'Lena' bank. - Some people believe that life is a mission. Others believe that life is out and out a commission. We will not survive if life is out and out a commission.

Life is a mission - so teaches my Master. When I use the word Master I use it with all the emphasis at my command. Unfortunately in Bombay, we see our Zoroastrians believing in other Gurus. It is not a matter of anger but that of distress and pain that we have not appreciated Lord Zarathushtra as our Guru, as our only Guru.

What are these world elements? I call the Gathas, 'Gathao, Spentao, Ratushathrao, Ashaonish, Yazamaide' (We worship the Holy Gathas ruling as pure spiritual teacher). The Gathas are the prophets of ages. The author Duchesne-Guillemin taught me the word 'prophet' embodies two outstanding traits - universality and permanency. The Gathas embody elements of universality and therefore they are entitled to permanency. My ancestors were fully confident of the permanency of Zoroastrianism. Whenever some people are doubtful and dejected and say 'Will Zoroastrians survive after a hundred years or five hundred years?' I reply, the answer is in Chapters 10 and 11 of Visperad-one of our scriptures. These are the chapters I quote. Whenever we talk something weighty, we must talk chapter and verse, not through the hat. 'Stiatascha Daenyao Mazdayashnoish'-(Oh we revere the permanence of the Mazdayasni religion). The permanence of the Mazdayasni religion depends upon observing this excellent religion. But we can only do so if we know what it is. So the study of the Gathas becomes our bounden duty. The latter consists of 17 chapters, 238 stanzas and 895 lines. Study one stanza, three, four or five lines per day, read it, study it, read between the lines and it will effect a change in your personality, I guarantee.

We have studied the Gathas ever since 1935 casually and intensively ever since 1951 and we have agreed with Rev. Dr Mills who was here in Oxford. He said 'I have come to the conclusion after a study of the Gathas for forty years, each syllable of the Gathas is loaded with thought'. Not every line, not every word but every syllable. He said syllable because it is poetry. Because it is poetry, it has survived the ravages of time and the vicissitudes of change. Mohammad lqbal, the famous poet has said in one of his poems 'Younan-o, Misr-o, Roma sub mit gaye jhanse, Koi bat hai ke hasti miti nahi hamari'. He says that Greece and Rome and Egypt are mere words in ancient history. It is some intention of God that there must be some secret why Zoroastrians have survived, in spite of being .003 in the census of the world. And it is our responsibility on this occasion of the World Zoroastrian Conference that we become and live as world citizens. A Zoroastrian is a universalist, he is a world Zoroastrian and a world citizen. He never thinks of his family only; he thinks of the world as his family.

My friends who know Sanskrit know this very fine dictum 'Yatra viswarm bhavati ek needum' (Holiness is unity). This is the motto of Rabindranath Tagore's Shantiniketan University for the last so many years. A Zoroastrian believes in the 'family of nations. The Hindus call it 'Gokula'. The word 'go' in Avesta' is 'gao'. Unfortunately for the last so many centuries of course in the wake of the Pahlavi traditions (and it is Zoroastrianism and not the religion of Zarathushtra) that 'gao' has been translated as 'cow' instead of the 'world' and 'life'. It is heartening to know, that 'the Avestan student in particular and for every Zoroastrian in general that there are two meanings of the word life. One life is any sentient life for which the word is 'gao' and the latter in another context stands for human life. The highest in the scale of evolution is 'Gaya'- you recite in Khorshed Nyaish ‘Nemo Geush Nemo gayehe, Nemo Zarthustrahe Spitamahe'.

If I understand these expressions, I need not have separate religious instruction. I shall be very choosy in presenting to you this fact of universality in Zoroastrianism. I can teach my children 'Look at your religion, look at your noble religion that will  make your life noble'. When I recite in Jasme Avanghe Mazda, 'mazishtacha, vahistacha, sraeshtacha', many say that, 'is not self glorification that you call your noble faith the best, the finest and the noblest?', my reply is 'I will not say it verbally, I will show it in my life' and that would be undebate-able.  No one will be able to say - your life as a Zoroastrian is not the finest and the best, one whose name is Mr 'Give'. If I you believe in giving and very little in receiving, you will come up in the estimation of the world.  The second element that I see is that my religion is infinite. There is no narrow-mindedness in my religion. It becomes so when it is institutionalized. All religions of the world when institutionalized become narrow and then inevitably at the expense of the noble philosophy of life.  In the Bible, John VII, it says (to paraphrase it) 'Ye are so busy with the traditions of men that ye neglect the commandments of God'. It is so true, so true with all religions of the world. After several centuries of the advent of the prophet men revert back to smaller issues of life, ignoring the larger ones. We are today here to emphasize the larger issues of life that make religion a universal one and not confined to narrow issues.

The third element according to Zarathushtra, as expounded in the Gathas is to accept the sinner and not hate him. The Avestan word for the sinner is 'dregvant' and for the righteous person 'ashvant'. I have learnt this as a custodian of religion. Einstein calls us the custodians of religion and he requires of us to be very precise when speaking in the name of religion. When I use the word precise and precision I am reminded of the terms 'razishtayao, chistayao', meaning 'the most upright and divine knowledge' which our religion is.

Three months back I performed a Navjote ceremony of an Iranian girl. That girl of course knew Persian, so when we recited together 'razishtayao, tayao', she was quiet. Then from the seventh word onwards 'Mazda-dhatyao, onyao Daenyao, Vanghuyao, Mazdayasnoish. Din-beh rast va dorost ke Khodae bur khalk ferastadeh' (The excellent religion of Mazda worship which is noble, just, complete and effectual which God has made known for the people of the world) the child began to nod so as to say 'Yes, Dasturji, what you say is quite true'. Because she knew the language, she understood and appreciated the words. For the first time she made me realize that I must also now make every Parsi-Zoroastrian child realize these words and then it can be a red letter day in the life of that child. The Navjote today is a social event, a social gathering. Let us cease to make Navjote a social gathering and let us make it a day of awareness for the young soul.

Unfortunately whenever there is some discord amongst the community, be it in India or elsewhere, it is not religion but it is some 'ism'. It is for this 'ism' that again another Urdu poet has said 'Mun huque nahi shikhata afatme ber rakhna'. ‘Religion never teaches to harbor rancor amongst brothers.’ When I use the word brother, I always tell my people in Bombay that the 'r' in the word brother stands for the right attitude and if it is removed, my brother becomes a 'bother'. Then life suffers because my right attitude to my brother is not in the whole warmth of my family but outside it.

My prophet has taught me another universal element, that religion stands for progress. The word for progress in Gujerati and Sanskrit is 'gati'. There is a phrase in Avesta 'utayuiti tevishim gat toi vasemi' (In truth I crave from you God's desire for perfection and immortality-Yasna 43. I). My religion further teaches me 'fradat-gaethem'. In so many references Zoroastrians read 'Sraoshem ashim'. When you return home, if you recite Sarosh Baj prayer, you will recite 'Sraoshem ashim huraodhem verethrajanem fradat-gaethem, ashavanem ashae ratum yazamaide', meaning 'We worship Sraosha the holy, the beautiful, the victorious, the bringer of prosperity to the world, the righteous of righteousness, the Master'. So I try to imbibe in my life Sarosh, the Divine Intuition and Asha Vahista, the Best Righteousness and thus acquire Khordad, Perfection and Amurdad, Immortality.

In order that my life will be a pleasant continuity from life to life, I look beyond this life and I recite the Gathas. By praying Gathas and contemplating them, I widen my horizon, increase my intellectual awareness and elevate my consciousness to higher planes. The five Gathas are called in Persian 'Panj-bokh'. In the list of names for our children, I saw this name; it was in the Iranian list of names sent to me by an Iranian Zoroastrian friend. The Panj means five and the five that liberates are the Gathas. The Gathas mean songs and these songs enjoin on you to practise goodness in this life' Collectively and individually. I live my life, my Zarathushtrian life, by contributing goodness. To me the word God is synonymous with goodness. If a man says 'I don't believe in God', God doesn't mind whether you believe in Him or not, but please do believe in goodness at all cost. Be good, do good. These are the two lessons of my Sudreh and kusti. Sudreh teaches me 'be good' and kusti teaches me 'do good'. Teach the child to do these two things daily, to think upon these cardinal lessons of life, of be good and do good so that continuity of life and gathering of the spiritual strength from day to day occurs from life to life. All these processes end in the ultimate perfection and immortality of my soul. Immortality is another universal element in my religion. Immortality is nothing but a distant but destined goal of the progressing soul. We have learned this both from the Gathas and from the Farvardin Yasht. Paragraph 58 of the Yasht specifically mentions this. I have chosen these lessons at random to onvince you my friends how the follower of Zoroaster is a universalist. He never believes in narrow confines.

There is a very fine but sad anecdote as far as a custodian of religion is concerned.  It is said about a priest that he prayed to God 'Oh Lord reserve a place for me in Heaven; in it may there be a spare place for my wife'. If such is my prayer in life, if such is my attitude in life, I don't think I can be Mr Give. So selfish an attitude will not make my life 'Utayuiti tevishim gat toi'. 'Gat toi' means for progress. The word for progress is (gat toi' and there is also in the later Avesta 'fradat-gaethem'. I will not go into details but merely mention what every Zoroastrian should believe. A Persian has said 'Vahdak dar zad, kafarat dar shifa' meaning unity in fundamental, diversity in details. The religion of Zarathushtra, this noble faith, teaches me that man has to develop himself from humanity to divinity. That is the progress of man. The six Gahambars in their essence are not festivals only. They are a lesson in the scale of evolution. I only mention this in passing. Zarathushtra taught me in Yasna 31.11 about the making of man. He says 'I gave you reason, I gave you mind'. In Yasna 19, some later Zarathushtrian Apostles tell me 'Mind is man's magnificence'. In the seventeenth century, Descartes, the French philosopher taught 'Cogito, ergo sum', 'I think, therefore I exist'. A Zarathushtrian collegian came to me and asked 'Is there any equivalent of this in Zoroastrian scripture?' I replied pointing out Yasna 31.11 and Yasna 19. In both of them emphasis is laid on reason which should be the guiding principle in a man's life.

This World Body is also concerned with culture. Some forty years back, a Spanish professor taught us this very fine idea. 'Politics is the art of the possible. Economics is the science of the useful and culture is the essence of the worthwhile'. We are all here for culture. Culture, which according to Zarathushtra, means selflessness. Selflessness engenders sweetness. Selfishness engenders bitterness. This is the equation given by Zarathushtra. What a fine universal element to live and to become a world citizen!

A Hindu divine says 'Religion is morality in principle, morality is religion in practice'. Let us all practice this fundamental and universal element in our religion. Men would write about religion, they would fight for religion. They would do anything but live for religion. Let us busy ourselves to live our noble faith and show to the world that Zarathushtra taught us a religion that makes us a world citizen. Lastly, I would say universalism or universality and permanence are the stamps of the Zarathushtrian Gathas. If I live my scriptures from day to day, the stamp on my life will be of permanent universalism for ages to come. It was said of Abraham Lincoln 'Now he belongs to the Ages'. So also because of their fidelity to the teachings of Prophet Zarathushtra let it be said 'The Zarathushtrians belong to the Ages'.

Speech given at the 1st World Conference on Zoroastrian Religions, Culture & History sponsored by the World Zoroastrian Organization and held in London, England, June 29 – July 1, 1984.  Reproduced from World Zoroastrain Souvenir Issue published in 1984 in England.