Roj Khorshed Mah Fravardin, 1380 Yz.
On 16th June, 632 AD, Yazdegard, son of Shaharyar ascended the throne of Iran as the 29th King of the Sassanian dynasty. As was the custom in those days, the Imperial Calendar was reset, with the year of the new King’s ascension to the throne marking the beginning of the new calendar. It was a tragic reign, marked by defeats, one after the other, culminating in the disastrous battle of Nehavand in 642 AD, which forever ended one of the world’s most powerful empires and established Arab rule over Persia. The hunted emperor fled from city to city, till his betrayal and killing in Merv in 651 AD. After his death, the empire disintegrated further and religious persecution and oppression increased to such levels, that about 200 years later, a group of chosen Parsis made that eventful journey to the shores of India to establish a new Parsi Kingdom. They were led by a spiritually advanced soul whose majesty and radiance we cannot even begin to fathom. Since they had not a land they could call their own, and none who could be King, their spiritual leader, Dasturan Dastur Nairyosangh Dhaval, enshrined the new Atash Behram Saheb at Sanjan and called Him Iranshah – the King of Iran – and the King of their, and our hearts.
A few days ago, we Parsis celebrated the onset of the New Year, marking 1380 years since Yazdegard ascended the throne of Iran. Yet how many of us remembered the sad facts of his life or relived the pain and anguish of our ancestors who gave all they had just in order to preserve, protect and perpetuate their religion? How many of us understand the meaning behind those two initials Yz (always wrongly written as Y.Z.)? In the midst of our celebrations and gluttony how many offered a prayer of thanks to the Creator for settling us in a land we can call our own and which offers us full freedom to practice our faith? Over the last two years, readers of the Frashogard blog have begun to realize the depth and beauty of our faith. But what should readers of Frashogard do in the current year? What kind of resolutions should they make and attempt to keep? I present here a wish list of what I could like readers of the blog to undertake.
Awakening a sense of identity
Let every Parsi feel and live the life of a true Parsi. Parsi identity lies not in eating and merriment, but in the putting on of the sacred vestments of Sudreh-Kusti and Topi. I see members of our community (specially youngsters and ladies) take off the sacred clothes at the slightest instance. Playing football? Going to the gym? Wearing something which reveals more that it covers? Just taking a walk? Going to a Navjote or wedding reception? Off comes the Sudreh! WHY? FOR WHAT? Have we become so morally and spiritually bankrupt that we view the sacred gift of our Prophet to us as a burden or a fashion embarrassment? Our ancestors were taxed, tortured, exploited, raped and killed for daring to wear the Sudreh Kusti! And we, in the security of our adopted land feel ‘ashamed’ to put on these vestments? These are not clothes or symbols! They are the result of our spiritual journey and the culmination of our good deeds! How can we just chuck them off?
Resolution 1: I shall always have on the sacred vestments of Sudreh and Kusti at all times. I will try and cover my head as far as possible, specially at home and while eating.
Practicing the faith
Parsis spend a great deal of time arguing and fighting endlessly about religion, but spend very little time in practicing it! Religion is not philosophy of the arm chair kind! The core of religion is in practicing its commandments. Unless we start practicing religion, we will never develop the faith and belief system which is so important and vital to our survival. Endlessly questioning age old practices, equating religious commandments with human or social laws, giving up those traits which make us what we are, all these and more makes us increasingly secular and less Parsi. There is no shame in being Parsi and being open and vocal about it. The basic principles of the religion are not good thoughts, words and deeds, as parroted by many Parsis, (as if other religions don’t say that) but the recital of Avesta, practice of Tarikats and showing faith and devotion towards Ahura Mazda and His Prophet Zarathushtra.
Resolution 2: I shall set apart 30 minutes every day to recite Avesta, visit a Fire Temple or light and maintain a Divo at home, or study more about our religion.
Truth, fair dealing and moral courage
The bedrock of any religion is Truth. But the Zoroastrian faith goes beyond that. The Avesta says that the heart, the mind and the tongue must be in unison and harmony. Let what is in your heart be in your mind, and what is in your mind be on your tongue. This is a dangerous but exhilarating practice and a superb exercise to control the ever wandering mind. We live in a society based on pretences and make believe. Every one gives an impression of being something or someone they are not. People say things they never mean and do not reveal their true feelings. Those who try to go against this untruth are often labelled as rude. But speaking the truth, even though it may be painful or embarrassing is a fundamental Zoroastrian trait. The Greek historian Herodotus, writing 2500 years ago says that the Persians were famous for teaching their children three things: speaking the truth, horse riding and archery. One may have a six-pack body or bulging muscles, or great intelligence, but they are all useless without the moral courage to speak the truth, at all costs. An easy way of avoiding lying or being economical with the truth is to speak less! The more we speak the more likely we are to lie, sometimes without even realising it!
Resolution 3: I shall endeavour to speak the truth at all costs, and to maintain the unity of my heart, mind and tongue.
Eradicating religious ignorance
Most members of our community have extremely scant knowledge about their religion and its practices. Religious ignorance is so widespread and prevalent that even simple practices are forgotten or twisted out of belief. Foremost amongst the religious ignorance is the lack of knowledge of how to perform the Kusti – the very bedrock of every Parsi’s faith. This is coupled with the total absence of proper pronunciation while reciting Avesta. How many Parsis can demonstrate and count the 21 separate words of the Yatha Ahu Vairyo prayer? (come on, try it now! Check the results with a Khordeh Avesta and see if you could get the 21 words right!) The Yatha is the most important Sacred Word of God. It existed before Creation and was recited by Ahura Mazda, whereupon creation began. It is the single most powerful Manthra we have and can be prayed at any time, in any condition. Yet I hear over 90% of persons praying the Yatha wrongly (including many priests, sorry to say). How can we treat this greatest gift of Zarathushtra to us in this kind of casual and flippant manner? The same story applies to the 12 word Ashem Vohu prayer. Most Parsis have not even heard of the 15-word Yenghe Hatam – the third most powerful Manthra. There is no shame in reciting prayers from a Khordeh Avesta. Indeed it is preferable to use the Khordeh Avesta so that we don’t make an inadvertent mistake. It is an extremely good practice to have a personal copy of the Khordeh Avesta so that one develops an affinity with its pages and the Manthras therein. This copy must be kept carefully in a pure and clean place and handled with extreme care and devotion. Remember, even priests performing the most sacred ceremony of our religion – the Nirangdin, make use of the sacred book at certain parts of the ceremony. When these highly qualified priests have to take the help of the book, what shame can there be in a normal person holding the Khordeh Avesta and reciting the prayers, even if they be the Yatha and Ashem?
Resolution 4: I shall make a conscious effort to develop good Avesta pronunciation. I will be able to count the separate words of the three most important Manthras.
Avoiding simple sins
The prevalence of religious ignorance makes us commit very common but serious sins. The most common amongst these is the practice of walking barefoot. A Parsi cannot walk barefoot – at any time – period. This practice is more prevalent in Agiaries and Atash Behrams, when people take off their footwear before entering the main Kebla room. Our Master, Ustad Saheb Behramshah Shroff, explained that the body has its own personal circuit which runs constantly through the body. This circuit, which has the ability to attract the Divine Blessings which are showered on the earth at all times by the Cosmic Administration, is maintained by the proper performance and maintenance of the Kusti. When a person walks barefoot on the direct ground, the personal circuit is “grounded” by the Earth’s own, more powerful circuit.
Hence the feet should be covered in such a way that there is an indirect connection between the earth and the body’s personal circuit, but at the same time avoiding total absence of contact with the earth. In simple terms, use of footwear like a leather sapat, or a copper sheet covered wooden pavri, or thick cotton socks is necessary at all times. Rubber footwear should be avoided since rubber is a total non-conductor and hence insulates the body’s circuit from the geo-circuit. In Agiaries and Atash Behrams, when the footwear is removed prior to entering the Kebla room, care must be taken to ensure that the naked foot does not touch the ground, but falls on the carpet directly. An easier way to ensure this is to have thick cotton socks on so that a mistake is avoided.
Similarly, when family prayers are recited at Agiaries and you are asked to offer Loban at the end of the ceremony, 99% of Behdins take off their footwear where they are sitting and then walk barefoot to the carpet where the prayers were recited. This is very wrong. The footwear must be removed only at the edge of the carpet and then the naked foot placed on the carpet directly. (Unfortunately, even some priests take off their footwear some distance away and then walk barefoot to the carpet. This is totally wrong and nullifies their Kusti, and therefore any prayers they do. Panthakys of Agiaries must take steps to educate their priests and Behdins in this regard.)
The third Karta of the Patet Pashemani list some of the sins which can be easily avoided including
- interfering in the good work being done by others;
- to blame someone wrongly or unjustly;
- to lead another on to a (known) wrong path; to offer wrong or materialistic advice;
- to break the trust reposed in you by another;
- to disregard the wishes or will of an elder;
- to abuse, disrespect or otherwise harm cattle – which bears the load of creation;
- to waste good food or any natural produce; gluttony;
- disregarding the poor and hungry, in spite of being sufficiently well of;
- to not properly dispose off the dead parts of the body such as hair, nails, excreta – to mix them with water or otherwise wrongly dispose them;
- to walk barefoot or bareheaded
There are many more serious offences which need to be avoided but the above are instances of things which can be easily avoided and borne in mind.
Resolution 5: I shall try and avoid committing simple sins so as to ease the already heavy load on my soul.
Avoiding religious infidelity
I have written earlier on the practice of religious adultery which is very prevalent within our community. It is not wrong to respect other faiths and their leaders – it is indeed commendable and desirable. But it is certainly improper and wrong to keep photographs of these leaders or idols (idol worship is a great sin in our religion) on the religious stands or altars in our house – right next to (or in some cases above) the picture of our revered Prophet Zarathushtra. It is OK to visit an architectural marvel contained within a temple or cathedral but it is improper to partake of any religious offering like Prasad which is consecrated food – in the same manner as we do not give consecrated Chasni fruits or sweets to non-Parsis.
The practice of Yoga as a health exercise is commendable. But the practice of pranayama, or the chanting of any alien Manthras is strictly prohibited. I have dwelt on this at length in another post. It is not advisable or desirable to ask for favours and boons from any local deities or god men or other such entities. Keep your faith in Ahura Mazda and His Divine Will. Ahura Mazda can never wish ill for any of His Creation. He certainly does not wish ill of you. But there are certain phases in our lives when we HAVE to face difficulty and pain. It happens to everybody – good or bad (more often to the good though, in this age). The way to handle it is to be resolute, be patient and remember the golden words – THIS TOO SHALL PASS. IT COULD HAVE BEEN MUCH WORSE.
Resolution 6: I shall avoid the practice of religious infidelity and not fall into the trap of exchanging short term gains for long term pains.
Bothering about what others think
We must try to live life on the terms set by our religion and the Prophet. In doing so, there may be times when one gets caught up in the thought “what will others say?” So many Parsis come up to me and complain that when they try and live a life in sync with the teachings of our religion, the greatest opposition comes not from outsiders, but from family members themselves. “ay to gando thai gayoch”, “bo bhannar gannar thai gayoch”, “vari roj Agiary sanu javanu?” etc are the various comments which some have had to hear (and worse sometimes).
Someone tries to wear a correct length Sudreh but is worried about the strange glares that greet him when he performs the Kusti at the Agiary or at home. Someone tries to cover his head at most times and he gets corny remarks in the passing. Someone adopts the use of Taro and people imagine him “stinking”. When I gave up a corporate job and took up full time priesthood, there were many naysayers, nitpickers and snide remarks. Many were outright hostile, while some were amused: ‘let’s see how long he lasts’. They are still waiting.
But in religious matters, it pays (a lot) to develop a thick skin. A cardinal rule which the student on the spiritual path must follow is: “Stop bothering about what others think.” We cannot live our life on rules and precedents set by an artificial and superficial society, full of pretences, make-believe and hypocrisy. We must learn to live our life on Zoroastrian principles, even though it may cost us a few so-called friends or acquaintances. We must learn to put our principles above our pretences.
The menace of inter-community marriages is a real problem. Yet I see many Parsis, who may be against inter-community marriages, happily attending the reception and other functions. WHY? By joining in the “festivities” of a spiritually and religiously immoral and illegal act, you are also guilty of a spiritual sin. We must develop a principle to not attend such events – no matter how close the person getting “married” is to us. It is our way of showing our disgust, repulsion and disapproval of the act. Many years ago, when such instances were very few, there used to be a social boycott against such members. Today, unfortunately, every one attends these functions. A true Parsi, whose love for his religion and Prophet is greater than any societal pressure or pretences will never attend such a farce.
Resolution 7: Stop bothering about what people will think of you – start bothering about what your soul will think of your actions on the Chaharum (fourth day after death).
Keeping the faith
In today’s times of rampant materialism, when evil seems to be winning over good, when the pious are prosecuted and the wicked lead a good life, it is easy to lose faith or become cynical or feel hopeless. Doomsayers are predicting the extinction of the community and advocating “reforms” – medicines which are worse than the disease they attempt to cure. But unknown to all these so-called community workers and misguided persons – the community is not going to die out. It will deplete in numbers, but it will never die out. Far behind the scenes, there are great, advanced souls who are working for the revival and resurgence of our community. The Abed Sahebs of Demavand, who sent out their message of optimism to the Parsis through Ustad Saheb Behramshah Nowroji Shroff are our real protectors and preservers. They will never let us down. What will let us down is our weak faith and inability to discipline our lives. Where would be without these majestic and lofty souls!
My fellow hum-dins! No scheme of the Parsi Punchayet will save us, no great Trustee and their parties and dinners will rescue us, no government reservation will uplift us, no increase in the number of houses will solve our community’s problems! The only thing which will save us and lead us to the path of salvation is the constant chanting of our Avesta prayers, sticking to our age-old traditions, and unflinching faith in our Prophet Zarathushtra and His Authorized Descendants – the Hidden Masters of Demavand!
The advent of the Promised Saviour, Shah Behram Varzavand draws near. Before that happens there will be many cataclysmic events throughout the world. The whole world order will change – those who are proud today of their wealth and prosperity will be reduced to poverty. In such difficult times, there will be many tests of the faith of Parsis. But we must stand firm and wait. As John Milton rightly wrote: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Resolution 8: “I shall never waver in my faith in the religion and Prophet Zarathushtra. May every day bring us one day closer to the advent of Shah Behram Varzavand!”
My dear Hum-dins! Let this sitting 1380 Yz. be the year of your own spiritual renaissance and the beginning of a new journey towards experiencing the beauty and majesty of our faith. May we all deserve to be called Parsis.
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram