A Zoroastrian Educational Institute



HomeArticlesAuthorsBook ReviewCommunityLibraryProminentsRegisterStoreArticle SubmissionAbout Us




Zoroastrianism: A Vision of the Future[i]

Effective Living
Gathic Illustration


Dinshaw, Farishta Murzban

Related Articles:
Related Links:





Would the first followers of Zarathushtra, if they were to see our world today, understand our lifestyle, our technology and the ensuing moral dilemmas any more than we can imagine what issues our descendants will be facing in the centuries to come? A heritage going back several millennia has its merits, but it also has its drawbacks. The comfort and security in the repetition of familiar beliefs and rituals sometimes shared with ancestors across time lines are therapeutic and, as such, are fundamental to the human need for identity, for belonging, for continuity. However, when these rituals and their accompanying beliefs stand in the way of progress, they need to be debated and discussed, openly, reasonably and without descending into personal attacks. The truly unfortunate thing is that when our community engages in debate, either at congresses or over the Internet, it is generally over peripheral issues that do not deal with the growth of the soul. We need to reclaim our “faith” –  not as a blind and uncritical acceptance of doctrine perpetuated by a handful of priests and scholars, but as a joyful celebration of life, as a testament to the uniqueness of the human ability to think, as a resolve to work towards the ideals of a daena vanghuhi or a well-informed conscience, first revealed by a man way ahead of his time.  

Zarathushtra Spitama lived four thousand years ago, long before the possibility of using technology to procreate life in a lab or replacing one person’s heart with that of another was even a gleam in the eye of a science-fiction writer. He lived at a time when the concept of travelling amongst the stars was as much a tale of sorcery and magic as the notion of buying sliced bread from an all-night convenient store around the corner. So one would not expect the words he preached then to have significance to our lifestyle choices today, or for that matter, those made in the unknown future. And yet they do.  

The first prayer I learned as a child was the Ashem Vohu.  It is in Avesta, an extinct language for all practical purposes. When I was seven, I liked it because it was short, just twelve words, which helps when you’re reciting in a language you don’t understand. Today, when I read it with meaning, I am awestruck by its beauty.  It says that Asha – purity, integrity, righteousness – is the best choice, and that happiness comes to the person who is righteous for its intrinsic value, and not for any reward or praise, here or hereafter.

A devil’s advocate wouldn’t need a triple-digit IQ to trot out the example of a freedom fighter versus traitor and ask, “Righteous by whose definition?”  This is where the tricky part comes into play; the part that makes me so incredibly proud to be a Zoroastrian.

The definition is left up to each individual.

In the Gathas, the hymns he composed, Zarathushtra says, “Hear the best with your ears and ponder with a bright mind. Then each man and woman, for his or herself, select either of the two [choices].”  No authoritarian being from high above telling us what to do at the penalty of eternal damnation. No edicts, no commandments. However, because of the immutable laws of the Universe, this freedom comes with accountability. We are responsible for our choices and must face the consequences. Laws of physics follow predictable patterns. For every action, there is a reaction; you reap what you sow; what goes around comes around. We have to understand that the same is true in the moral world.

This is why Zarathushtra expects us to “make wide the vision of our minds” before making a decision.  The idea is to consider facts and circumstances, to make informed decisions, and not ones based on self-interest or greed or convenience or the predictions of telephone psychics. He is also very clear that our responsibility does not end with the betterment and growth of just ourselves. Each person has a collective responsibility. We are responsible for the promotion and maintenance of an equitable and progressive social order, in our communities and in the world. According to Zarathushtra, the purpose of our existence is to be among those who renew and invigorate the world, to be among those who help the world progress towards perfection. But a perfect world depends on more than individuals making responsible decisions. It depends on creating a climate of respect and acceptance when individual choices differ. And in that lies the true challenge of living a life according to Asha – today, and any day in the future.

[i] Appeared in the 3000 year anniversary of Zoroastrianism (UNESCO declaration) special  issue of HAMZOR (publication of the World Zoroastrian Organization) issue 3, 2003,  pps. 34-35.