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.
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.
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.
definition is left up to each individual.
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.
Appeared in the 3000
year anniversary of Zoroastrianism (UNESCO declaration) special issue of
HAMZOR (publication of the World Zoroastrian Organization) issue 3, 2003,