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Zoroastrianism and Humanity, best days yet to come?[i]


















When I am asked to go and speak to people who want to know more about our religion, I find myself at times justifying my enthusiasm – I say and sincerely believe that ours is a religion highly relevant to the day and age we live in.

Fascinating then, that we also claim it to be the oldest spiritual and ethical teaching formulated into a monotheistic belief system.

And it is therefore all the more convincing to me that there is an eternal truth and unchanging wisdom within our teachings that allows it be applied to all times without appearing inappropriate.

A religion needs to have a wisdom that is dynamic and not fixed by a dogma that may have fitted one age but not another.

The ultimate purpose of any religion cannot be merely to enslave its followers as so many seem intent on doing to the detriment of the real underlying message.

Surely the function of religion is to inspire people to become more sensitive to the needs and feelings of the rest of the planet, - humans, animals, plants and land, - so that a greater good for all mankind can be achieved. At the same time religion should implant an awe and reverence for the beauty of the natural environment, its immaculate order and rhythm, and its many myriad manifestations.

To be able to arrive at such appreciation we would need a system.  We speak of purity of thought, word and deed as our mantra, as the way to be truly fulfilled Zoroastrians.  Easy to say but actually how do we get there?  How can we make the conscious choice of the path of Asha - purity/righteousness which would lead us towards such a saintly state of being.  I say saintly advisedly, because quite frankly anyone claiming to have already achieved this state of purity in thought and word and deed must indeed be out of the ordinary and already in a state of sanctitude or merely be extremely arrogant.

It is no coincidence that we regard light or its source, fire, as awesome.  The concept of light is used metaphorically almost synonymously with purity and truth.  It is said by those engaged in meditation that we need an inner light to clear the mind and to see the truth which leads to happiness.  It is the power of this inner energy which can be used to clear the intellect in order to choose one’s path and to discern right from wrong.  This is known as spiritual knowledge which is the power of peace within oneself – the uncluttering of the self to arrive at this clear insight.  It offers a way of understanding that leads us to realise that love and happiness emanates from service to others.

And of course this is precisely what a useful religion should be doing.  It should offer its followers a system to achieve happiness on earth while increasing the general good for humanity.  Service to others, through acts of kindness in a multitude of ways is a tried and tested way of achieving personal internalised pleasure and  satisfaction, while also benefiting humanity.  Our prayer Ashem Vohu tells us unequivocally that happiness is for that person who pursues the path of Asha, not because s/he expects a returned favour but for its own sake.  Here then is the specific exhortation to humans to do everything in their power to achieve happiness for themselves – this in itself is not a selfish aim.  It is the purpose of every mortal.  Why otherwise bother to go through the voyage of life, if not to maximise the joy of living while alive?  However, we are told that the best way to maximise this joy, is by serving humanity – a satisfying collateral to the pursuit of happiness.

So how are we going to find the way to make our conscious choice of right over wrong, of service to others rather than to be pre-occupied with self, and thus having made the right choice ultimately to benefit humanity?  The answer is known to us:  we are given the tools – we have the ability to tune into Vohu Manah which is the clear thinking alluded to above.  Vohu Manah is achieved by many different routes – but engaging in horticultural/agricultural pursuits is one of the traditional Zoroastrian ways which allows productive work while contemplating the wonders of nature.  It is a form of meditation involving physical activity whereas some other disciplines prefer stationary meditation.  Through solitary work in harmony with nature, we not only take pleasure in the results of our effort – after all what can beat the pleasure of a beautiful and scented flower for example, or of fresh vegetables to eat which we have ourselves produced – but also through this sort of pursuit we have time to ourselves to get back in touch with the basic elements s which make life possible:  earth, water, sun and air.

Our future lies with our ability to work with nature, and not against it.  How arrogant does mankind have to be to actually believe that we can continue to abuse the planet and not one day have to pay the price?  The future survival of humans must surely depend on our humility in acknowledging that the global climate change, the pollution of the air, the shortage of water and many other associated difficulties are issues that cannot be glossed over.  We must face the reality before us – our selfishness, indifference, and arrogance have led to the problems facing humanity globally. 

Zoroastrians therefore have over-arching reasons to be at the forefront of consciousness- raising.  We all carry social responsibility towards the future of the planet’s wellbeing.  There is no doubt about it – the biggest challenges certainly now lie ahead of us, we can really make an impact with this sort of message and thus hopefully make a meaningful contribution in improving the prospects of humanity.  I would like to think our best days are yet to come.  Will we rise to the challenge?

[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. 30-31.