Roj Meher Mah Amardad, 1384 Yz.
My article in response to Dasturji Khurshed’s appeal to community members in favour of Organ Donation received enthusiastic responses from both sides of the debate. However, there has been no response so far from Dasturji himself. In the meanwhile, many have written to me asking various points of clarification. Some important points have also been made by a few writers who have disagreed with my views. These queries and points require to be answered, hence this post.
Some writers have asked for references from the Gathas. It is my humble request to these well-meaning but hasty students to kindly study the Gathas – in the original Avesta language first. Those who may not have the time or the intellectual rigour to do so, can scan through the translations of the Gathas and please let me know the references in the Holy Gathas to wearing Sudreh-Kusti, to performance of the Navjote ceremony, or even to the most often used triad of Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta. There is not a single reference in the Gathas to any of these fundamental pillars of the Zoroastrian Faith. Does it mean that we should stop wearing the Sudreh-Kusti, performing the Navjote and give up on Good thoughts, words and deeds?
Zoroastrians should note and remember that over 90% of our scriptures are lost to the ravages of time and the many plunders of invaders. What we have is very little. The Gathas themselves are not a separate entity but are 17 Chapters amongst the 72 Chapters of the Yasna – which is the fundamental ceremonial scripture. Even though they are worshipped and held in the greatest esteem, the Gathas cannot be viewed in isolation and be considered the be-all and end-all of Zoroastrian Doctrine and Theology. They have to be viewed in a holistic manner, along with the rest of the Avesta scripture which is left with us.
Some writers have commented that since organ donations were not possible in the days of the Prophet Zarathushtra, how could any prohibition be placed on such a procedure. The answer is that it is not necessary for everything to be written in the scriptures. The action has to be viewed in the spirit of the entire scriptures and conclusions drawn from therein. The Zoroastrian religion believes strongly in purity. The concept of Nasu or spiritual contagion, is so strongly emphasised in the Avesta, especially the Vandidad, that the very thought of transplanting an organ is unthinkable. Nasu is created not only when a person dies, but also when he indulges in any un-Zoroastrian activity. This is the reason our religion has a large collection of Bajs and Nirangs which are to be recited even while performing normal bodily functions like going to the toilet, having a bath or cutting nails and hair.
Moreover, a close reading of our ancient history shows that the Zoroastrian Priesthood and the Magi were at the forefront of medicine in those days. The Shah Nameh records the first ‘Caesarean’ birth of Rostam many thousands of years before Caesar, through wine-induced anaesthesia. The numerous wars between Iran and its enemies resulted not only in large scale casualties but also many injuries, which were healed by the Magi-physicians who accompanied the army. Yet it is surprising that in all this, not a single mention is made of an organ transplant or a limb transplant.
Several writers have commented on my point about human suffering. Some have asked for scriptural references for the doctrine of reincarnation. To be very sure, there is no re-incarnation for the Zoroastrian who lives his life as per the rules of Asha and the commandments of Prophet Zarathushtra. The problem arises when man does not follow the rule of Asha and twists scripture to do as he pleases. Definitely for such persons, who are called dregvants in the Avesta, re-incarnation is unavoidable. Yasna (and Gatha) Has 34.15, 34.1, 34.8, 32.5, 34.12 and 49.11 all point to this truth. Perhaps the most potent reference for reincarnation comes in the Dhup Nirang which is recited on the dawn of the fourth day after death, where the Priest clearly instructs the Ruvan that if he has not followed the dictates of the Zoroastrian religion, it will have to ‘come back’ (bi-ayand). However, if its conduct has been good, it will not come back (‘agar na-ayand‘) and happily and swiftly pass into the realms of the Just Meher Yazad.
Some writers have asked as to how Ahura Mazda can punish us when He is called Har-Hamid (All Good Natured). But they conveniently leave out the other names of Ahura Mazda pointing to His role as the Last Judge (Davar), Most Just (Adaro), The Taker of Account (Hamarna) and Un-Forgetful (A-Faremosh). The Lord is Just, and the Lord is Merciful – Ahura Mazda remembers everything and will hold us to account for all that we have done. But He is also our Merciful Redeemer (Bokhtar), in that he will make the burden of our past sins bearable to us. This is the real meaning behind the Gatha line ‘akem akai, vanghuhim ashim vanghove’ – evil to the evil doer, good unto the righteous.
Mr Noshir Dadrewala wrote that just as the body is given to us by God, even the wealth is given to us by God. Hence if the body cannot be donated, how can we do charity with our wealth, which is one of the most prominent features of the Parsi community. What Mr Dadrewala does not clarify is that while the principle of charity is enjoined so strongly in our scriptures as well as the Pahlavi Handarz literature, nowhere, absolutely nowhere, is the principle of charity extended to the human body. Even the final giving away of the body to vultures and Dokhmenashini is not described as an act of charity, but rather it is described as a method of ensuring that none of the elements get polluted.
It is also worthwhile to remember that the wealth of an individual depends much on his own industriousness, coupled of course with the blessings of God. Moreover, the act of charity does not break the rule of akem akai in the same way as engrafting the organ of one into another. In fact, the both are poles apart and cannot be compared at all.
Mr Dadrewala has also mentioned the principle of Ushta Ahmai yahmai Ushta kahmaichit – that is, happiness to him who makes others happy. What Mr Dadrewala does not mention, is that the word Asha is a prerequisite for Ushta – it is only through righteousness that Ushta can occur. Also Mr Dadrewala equates Ushta, which refers to spiritual bliss bordering on ecstasy, to normal human happiness, which is very wrong. Material happiness can never be equated with Ushta. A corrupt industrialist bribes a government servant to get a contract. Both are happy, but is this Ushta? A philanderer cheats his wife and spends the night with a lady of pleasure. Both experience pleasure, but is this Ushta? A rogue priest performs a sham marriage between a Parsi and a non-Parsi. All three are happy, but is this Ushta?
True Ushta can only occur when an act of kindness is done as per the Laws of Asha, righteousness, truth and non-deception. Organ donation can never be as per the Law of Asha, since it goes against the Law of Akem akai. Hence any ‘happiness’ that is realized is purely of a artificial, temporary and material type.
Some writers have viewed the prohibition on organ donation as a general prohibition on any medical procedure to save life. This is incorrect. The Zoroastrian religion actively promotes better health. The Ardibehesht Yasht describes the five types of healers – one who heals by purification, one by law and justice, one through the knife (surgery), one through herbal remedies and finally he who heals through the Sacred Manthras. Among the 101 name of God, the name Bishtarna (remover of maladies) and Tarobish (vanquisher of disease) are well known. In our long-standing oral traditions, the practice of Priests reciting the Ardibehesht Yasht and its Nirang, accompanied by the popular handkerchief ritual to remove fevers and other maladies is also well known.
Therefore, any suggestion that the Zoroastrian Religion enjoins suffering or is against the use of medicine is wrong. Modern practices like blood transfusion can be easily explained and allowed since blood is a renewable source with a very limited time life of around 40 days. (Red blood cells last around 42 days, platelets last only around 5 days, plasma can be frozen for up to a year.) Therefore the process of giving or taking blood transfusions does not carry any religious prohibition. Some amount of spiritual damage does happen however, if a Zoroastrian has taken or given blood transfusion and passes away within the next few days. This should not dissuade one from either taking or giving transfusions. It is of course distinctly clear that practicing Priests who are giving Boi in Atash Behrams or performing Pav Mahel ceremonies would temporarily lose their high status if they went through this procedure. They would have to undergo the purification Bareshnum Nahn and perform Khub to re-enter their specialised service. Even Behdins should have a Sadu Nahn after such a procedure.
Similarly, the modern medical practice of joint replacements, stents, dental and corneal implants, orthopaedic supports can all be easily explained and allowed. The important point to remember is that in case of a joint replacement, the original body part should not be allowed to be thrown away as medical waste but should instead be taken by the relatives of patients and placed in an isolated dry, sunny spot, away from city limits, thereby following the requirement of Khurshed Nigareshni. In my interaction with doctors I was surprised to find out that members of certain Muslim sects also request doctors to handover the original bone parts that are replaced by metal implants.
In conclusion, the debate on Organ Donation needs to be conducted in an un-emotional manner, taking the scriptures and our long-standing traditions as our guide. There are deeper spiritual reasons prohibiting this practice which can place severe roadblocks in the Ruvan’s journey after the physical death. The Zoroastrian religion and its fundamental precepts cannot be changed on the whims or emotions of any individual or on the advances of science and technology.
Some writers have made personal remarks and comments against me and my family in this debate. May Ahura Mazda and His Prophet Zarathushtra shower Their Choicest Blessings on their Ruvans, so that their faith in our religion is re-kindled and they arrive on the Right Path of Asha once again.
Finally, I would like to quote a beautiful passage from Pope Benedict’s speech at his Installation Mass. Speaking about his role and the Papacy, the Holy Father said: “the real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history.”
Similarly, the role of our Vada Dasturjis is not merely to conduct weddings and Navjotes and to be chairmen of community Trusts. They need to lead the community at this time of crisis. They need to articulate what the religion and our scriptures say, not voice their personal opinions. They need to be those we can look up to at a time when the very existence of the community is in question. They need to be shining paragons of virtue, un-sullied by materialism. They need to be strong as light-houses, unfazed by the waves of modernism, the storms of scientific thought and the tempests of so-called humanism. Only then can they be deemed worthy enough to be called ‘Dastur’ – one who will lead the Faithful to Ushta and Frashogard.
May they all rise to this challenge in the coming New Year.
Wishing all readers of Frashogard a happy, prosperous and spiritually uplifting 2015. May the Advent of Shah Behram Varzavand materialize sooner than we expect!
Ervad Marzban J Hathiram