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Zarathushtrian Perspective on the Spiritual Needs of the Senior Citizens [i]

Effective Living
Religion & Science

Bagli, Ervad Dr. Jehan


Presented at 12th North American Congress Chicago July 6  2002

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The process of ageing is a miracle. 

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.”

- Albert Einstein

Ageing may not be the most desirable, in the physical sense, but for those interested in understanding the physiological  processes, it is best described as a miracle.

The word aging is closely intertwined with health. It is a   phenomena that affects all, living, and has a profound influence on   well-being of the individual. A natural consequence of ageing is the slowing down of the rates, of most body processes of  growth and repair. This  follows the immutable law, of the Zarathushtrian concept of Asha.

 Human body possesses an enormous force to heal itself. Illness and disability are not always the inevitable part of growing old, but  sometimes they become dominant  largely due to slowdown of the innate healing and weakening of the immune responses.

The word health is derived from the old Saxon root   ‘Hale’, meaning ‘whole’. A healthy person is generally recognized as a ‘whole person’. this ‘wholeness’ of an individual constitutes a harmony of several factors, such as, the physical health, the intellectual and emotional health, and most importantly -the mental/spiritual health.   Any discussion on health in relation to ageing must necessarily consider all these aspects.  It is important to stress that the spiritual health and the mental state has a profound influence on the physical component.

The  slow  down of repair and healing can be assisted and augmented through therapeutic supplements and other means that work in harmony with nature. The major objective during the eldering must be directed towards the improvement of the quality of life to maintain the independence of the lifestyle.

The efficacy of the therapeutic regimen, is dependent largely on the mind set (vohu manah) of the individual. The question we need to address is, Can spirituality help augment the quality of life?

This is an important question throughout life in general, however, it takes on a very special significance with eldering in particular. At a time when the nature is moving to retard health, how can spirituality help?  Spirituality is inextricably intertwined to connectedness or oneness that makes a person complete or whole.

The ‘wholeness’ of health resides in harmonizing the physical with the ‘spiritual within’. The existential spirituality for the ageing, is to remain connected, firstly, to the innate divinity and then to relate that oneness to the spiritual Reality of the people on the same  stage of life.

Spiritual eldering is not a narrowly religious evolution. It is a search for the divine that can unite people across the borders of diverse faith affirming the importance of the elder  years.

Zarathushtrian theology is unequivocal about the presence of the spiritual, as a part of the human constitution. Recognition of this scriptural fact through the acts of prayer, meditation and related means of relaxation experiences, can generate; through strength of ‘will’ - spenta aramaiti - a calm, fresh and peaceful state of vohu manah to stimulate imagination, creativity, and synthesis of ideas even at that later stages of life.      

In eldering, the emphasis is more on ‘being than on doing’. Being, is to find the peace from within. Life in the material world, does not always school us for that aspect of existence. It is the spiritual satisfaction gained through innate peace, and its inherent strength, that can more than make good for the retarding of the physical, and add the much needed incentive to the quality of life.

It is the function of spiritual counselor to direct the ageing elderly to understand and to recognize the immanent divinity, and to help fulfill their spiritual needs. The counselor themselves must first come to terms with the understanding of the  problem.  

With proper guidelines one can evolve the love and compassion needed first to accept oneself and gradually radiate the same goodness to the family, to the friends, to the community and to all the  lives they touch in the universe.           

The value of the quality of life, of elders is an outcome of the self health-care, coupled with their spiritual well-being.  A high level of positivism in these two areas can go a long way to compensate for physical weaknesses. 

In contrast, a void in spiritual strength, at a time when physical frailty tend to dominate, can cause the negative perceptions to take control. This can result in isolation, depression, lack of mobility and of independence; that  can lead to overall deterioration of the physical.

Eldering is not a static state. It is a process of evolution, and one has to work at it. On this continent, we have excellent organizations that are dedicated to the spiritual dimensions of ageing and conscious living.  Through proper guidance, these late stages of life can become the harvesting time of ones life’s wisdom. The  experiences of youth can be transformed into a legacy for the future generation.

In his bookModeren Man in Search of SoulCarl Jung has said, “Human being will certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty …if this longevity had no meaning for the species to which he belongs”.

This late stage of aging can be converted into, a sage-ing process. The elders, in evaluating their successes and mistakes can distill the wisdom they have gained through years of experiences and direct it to healing, and work of ‘forgiveness’. They can share, what they have learnt in this ‘school of life’ to make a contribution to the Global Consciousness.

The process of spiritual eldering, can begin in midlife, as that is the period, when mind has a tendency toward the spiritual aspect of living.  That is time to take count of our spiritual assets, as one is contemplating retirement. This helps for a smooth transition from the autumn, to the winter of ones life.

To take an analogy from Zarathushtrian festivals, that is the time for PAITISHAYA Gahambar, -a time to harvest the fruits of life’s work, and to experience the joy that can be radiated to the younger  generation.

This reminds me of what I read once in Fortune magazine about  Lee Ioacocca the ex-CEO of Chrysler corporation. A man who gets $20,000 for an after dinner talk, who has a house in Palm Spring, one in New York, and one on French Riviera. He found his life falling apart after the dissolution of his third marriage. He wrote “ You can plan everything in life, and then the roof caves in on you, because you haven't done enough thinking about who you are? or what you are? and what you should do with the rest of your  life?”

It is a well established fact, that the sooner you invest in your  IRA the better the return. Well so it is also with your SRA – the Spiritual Retirement Account.

It is never too early to start, identifying your spiritual needs in life, live with them and to nurture them. The sooner you do that, the sooner you will perceive the evolution  of  a self, that matures in breadth and depth, and before you know you will have rich spiritual legacy set aside for your  elder years.

Ageing is the time to learn to listen to the inner voice, the intuition, Zarathushtrian theology identifies that, as  –SRAOSHA. For we learn more from listening than from talking. It is the time, to direct ones thinking to refresh and renovate the world as Asho Zarathushtra teaches us in his Gathic hymns Ys.30.9 and 34.15.           

It is the responsibility of the clergy to be fully aware of the  needs, to accept the mortality of the physical and to guide the elderly through  the contemplative techniques to face up to this Ultimate Reality. 

Harmony between the physical and spiritual self is a consequence of the expansion of the conscious mind to encompass  its sub-conscious level. That   is the state of HAURVTAT. Contemplative practices of prayers and meditation are the tools to expand ones consciousness, to cultivate the inner calm and to breed wisdom in the winter years to reach that state.

To accept, that the very source of Wisdom, as Mazda, is within and that one can work in partnership with that divine force, to review ones life, and come to terms with growing older, is the ideal path to  inner peace.

In conclusion, let me leave you with the words of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi,, professor emeritus of Temple University and founder of the Spiritual Eldering Institute. In his book ‘ Aging to Saging’   he says,

“Every life matters immensely; every well-lived and completed  life helps in healing the world.”

“Elders are the jewels of humanity that have been mined from the earth, cut in the rough, then buffed and polished by the stonecutter’s art into precious gems that we recognize for their enduring value and beauty. 

We sense their radiance in our youth, but we cannot contain it.  It requires a lifetime’s effort to carve out the multifaceted structure that can display our hidden splendor  in all its glory.”   

So it helps immensely, to shape the rough within you, as early as possible to be able to radiate the spiritual enlightenment in ones later years.

[i] This paper is based on the lecture delivered by Dr. Bagli at the 12th North American Zarathushtrian congress held in Chicago, Illinois, July 4-7, 2002 under the title “SPIRITUAL NEEDS OF SENIOR ZARTATHUSHTIS”