There is an intensive and ongoing campaign, using high profile stars like Aishwarya Rai, asking people to donate their eyes (cornea) after death. Various associations even send volunteers from house to house asking people to sign up forms which declare their intention to donate their eyes post death. Due to the high incidence of lifestyle diseases there is a long waiting list for people who need various organ transplants, like liver, kidney or even hearts. Also, due to the unavailability of cadavers (whole human bodies) for teaching medical students the art of surgery as well as for research, many institutions are requesting people to donate their entire bodies after death for medical research.
Many Parsis believe that there is nothing wrong in donating various body parts such as the eyes (cornea), kidneys or liver either during life or after death.
They consider such a donation as a great act of charity gaining much merit for them. Several Parsis use the argument that our religion always believes in charity and even the act of putting the body in the Dokhma for the vultures is an act of charity. As such, what is the difference between feeding the body to the vulture and giving the organs to some needy person?
In addition to the levels of religious ignorance being extremely high in our community, there is also an amazing lethargy to find out anything about the religion. Parsis will think of something and then arrive at a decision based on their imperfect (or sometimes complete absence) of understanding of our religion. We are also easily swayed by advertising campaigns or the words of other people who may be high up on the ‘social’ ladder. Yet they will not ask their own High Priests or learned scholars about these facts.
So does the Zarathushtrian religion allow donation of body parts? The answer is an ABSOLUTE NO. Why? Please read further.
Firstly, one can give away something only if it belongs to oneself. The 70-80 year old life of a human is not to be viewed in isolation. It is a minuscule part of a very long journey undertaken by the Ruvan (more correctly Urvan), ‘soul’ to reach a state of perfection and unite with its maker Ahura Mazda.
As part of this journey, the Ruvan is given various helpers and aids to enable it to complete its mission in the fastest possible time. The main aid is the Fravashi or Guiding Force which stays with it at all times and tries to guide the Ruvan on to the right path. The other important aid is the Baodangh or Divine Wisdom which keeps on growing as the Ruvan progresses.
As part of its mission, the Ruvan passes through our Earth for a limited time. For this mission, the Ruvan is given a ultra-physical core (known as Keherp) as well as a physical body (known as Tanu). These two aids comprise the physical body as we see it. After a specific time, and as part of the Ruvan’s ongoing progress, the physical body loses its ability to regenerate itself. This is known as death (rather the correct term is passing away, since it shows the continuality of the process).
As the Ruvan moves out from its physical shell to begin its further onward journey, it is necessary that the aids given to it in this lifetime (namely the physical body and the ultra physical body) should be returned to their maker. How is this done? The prayers of the Geh Sarna ritual do the work of cutting the link between the Ruvan and the physical body. The first three day’s Sarosh ceremonies succeed in securing the safety of the Ruvan from the evil spirits which may attempt to kidnap it in a vulnerable state. The placing of the physical body in the Dokhma and its eating by the vultures and subsequent excretion through the vulture’s digestive system breaks up the physical body to its basic parts (Anasers). The ceremony of Daham Yazad on the dawn of the fourth day and the Sun’s rays then lift these basic parts and pass them on to Ahura Mazda ( not directly but this is a highly simplified version). The specific Talesam of the Dokhma, which was created by the performance of the Tana ceremony during its construction secures the release of the ultra-physical parts. Finally, the Pad Ruz ceremony (called Uthamna) on the dawn of the fourth day lifts the Ruvan and sends it on its onward journey to Chinvat and beyond.
You will now realize the folly of giving away any organ or donating the body by a Parsi. Such an act would cause IRREPARABLE harm to the Ruvan of the deceased. It will halt the onward progress of the Ruvan in a very retrograde manner, and put a spoke in the wheels of the ongoing march to Frashokereiti. It is beyond the power of any words to describe the spiritual harm this act can cause. Kindly avoid taking this step out of misplaced sense of charity. Like I said, one can only give away that which belongs to us. Clearly from the above, it is seen that nothing in our body belongs to us. So we cannot “donate” anything. It would be more akin to stealing.
Secondly, we need to understand that our misplaced act of “charity” may actually be putting a spoke in Nature’s work. Parsis believe in the concept of action-reaction. The present state of a person is totally due to his/her past deeds. While a blind person certainly does require our help and understanding, we cannot play the part of God and try and restore his vision. That prerogative belongs only to God. We can definitely help him in other ways, such as improving his economic standing or getting a good job for him.
Thirdly, the parts given to us by God are for our own use. Could you understand the implications of a person misusing the eyesight given by your “gift” of a cornea? Would not some part of the evil committed by using that organ also flow back to its original owner? We cannot totally absolve our self of that responsibility. And even though the donation may happen after our death, the ill effects would have to be borne by the Ruvan, thereby halting its own progress.
Finally, some Parsis believe that the existing conditions at Dungerwadi and the absence of vultures has resulted in the failure of the Dokhmenashini system. They therefore feel that is is better to go for some other method of disposal such as donating the body to medical research. While it is absolutely true that the absence of vultures has somewhat damaged the system of Dokhmenashini, from the above discussion we can now realise that the Dokhmas are not only for the disposal of the dead body. They are also the engines which will fuel the onward journey of the soul. Even though the vultures may not be present, the primary agent – the Sun is still available in abundance. also the Talesam of the Dokhmas (although damaged by the criminal acts of photography and entry of un-authorised persons into the Dokhma) is still working and is the only thing which will enable the Ruvan to rise on the dawn of the fourth day after death and begin its flight to Chinvat. Hence the irregular working of the system today is not an excuse to take the law into our own hands. We are aware that a large part of the money we pay as taxes is wasted by corrupt officials and bureaucracy – does that mean that we have a right to stop paying taxes? No. And the same argument works for the Dokhmas. The system is bleeding, but we have to carry on with it till the arrival of the Saviour.
In conclusion, therefore, please do not let public campaigns and good looking stars sway our minds. Following the tenets of our religion is more important than any other thing. A hasty step or indiscretion can result in a nightmare for us after death.
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram