Roj Ram Mah Bahman, 1386 Yz
I was just about to go to sleep the other day when a Whatsapp message from a friend arrived: ‘Hi, I’m at dinner with cousins at the Yacht Club, love the place, has a lovely old-world charm… good food, but I’m veg for Bahman Mahino…and watching them eat fish…eggs…prawns…salivating, but then mind over matter!’
My friend’s predicament brought to mind a very interesting story recounted by Paramhansa Yogananda in his epic Autobiography of a Yogi. He was at the feet of his Guru, Sri Yukteswar Giri, at their Ashram in Calcutta. It was dusk and the Master was explaining some intricate detail of the Vedas. In this idyllic environment, a mosquito entered, well prepared to destroy the peace and harmony. It silently went and sat on Paramhansa’s thigh and inserted its painful antennae into him and drew the sweet blood! In immediate response, Paramhansa’s hand went up, to strike the offending insect and squish it into oblivion! Suddenly, remembering in who’s presence he was as well as Patanjali’s Yogic teaching of Ahimsa (non-violence), Yogananda stopped the hand from following through with the blow.
Immediately, Yukteswar Giri remarked: ‘why didn’t you finish the job?’ ‘Master! Do you advocate taking life?’ ‘No’, said Yukteswar Giri, ‘but the deathblow already had been struck in your mind.’
‘I don’t understand.’
Effortlessly reading his student’s mind, Yukteswar Giri explained: ‘Patanjali’s meaning was the removal of the desire to kill. This world is inconveniently arranged for a literal practice of Ahimsa. Man may be compelled to exterminate harmful creatures. He is not under similar compulsion to feel anger or animosity! All forms of life have an equal right to the air of Maya. The saint who uncovers the secret of creation will be in harmony with its countless bewildering expressions. All men may approach that understanding who curb the inner passion for destruction.’
What the great Master was trying to explain to Yogananda was this: Ahimsa doesn’t mean mere non-violence in act. It means removing the very thought of hurting anyone. Just the thought of killing the mosquito was akin to squishing it. The man who sets upon the religious path, on the road to Frashogard, has not only to remove the physical non-violence from him but also exterminate even the germination of the idea of violence in his mind. When he reaches that stage, the wondrous beauty of God’s creation becomes apparent to him and he understands the right of every creature – even one that brings disease and pain – to its existence.
In the same way, as many Parsis struggle their way through Bahman Mahino, we seem to be missing the real essence of the religion. The right thing to do is not to starve oneself of his regular diet of meat and fowl, but to eradicate the very desire for that diet. To sit at a table with others and look longingly at their plates and then reconcile, unhappily, to the self-set discipline is not really following the principle of Bahman Mah.
But when the mind recoils at the horrific nature of cruelty that we bring to bear upon other aspects of creation so that we may enjoy our steak and chips; when the mind hears the silent screams of the mute creatures who are put on the assembly line of destruction to arrive, dressed and packaged beautifully as ready-to-eat morsels; when the mind understands the dreadful reaction, known in the Gathas as geush morenden – the last wish of the dying animal that Nature and God bring to bear upon those who have killed it the full face of divine retribution…it is then that the real essence of Bahman Mah is achieved.
Our Master, Ustad Saheb Behramshah N. Shroff explained this curious belief of Bahman Mah and vegetarianism thus: That the various Tarikats of the Zoroastrian religion have different levels of importance, depending on the times we live in. The Master explained that in times of the Zoroastrian monarchy, when Zoroastrianism was the state religion and the entire resources of the empire were at the disposal of the Magi, in such an age, vegetarianism was a viable option. Those were the days of Zoroastrian farmers, tilling the land with Zoroastrian Manthras, harvesting crops in accordance with the Fasal Gahambars. In such times, the output of the country contained within it the fragmented Anasers of our own souls. Such a diet, cooked in a Zoroastrian way and partaken of with Zoroastrian Baj prayers, really succeeded in arousing the feeling of Gospandi – selflessness and helped in collecting our lost fragments and making us whole.
But in today’s times, when there is no Zoroastrian monarchy, when plants and vegetation are themselves subject to horrific modification and violence using chemical fertilizers, genetic mutilation and grossly mechanised farming, the output does not contain any of the soul fragments, nor is it of goodness-inspiring vibrations. Khshnoom explains this is the reason that even communities which are strictly vegetarian, yet have an unhealthy level of business violence and unethical behaviour. If vegetarianism really led to people living better lives, such glaring examples would not be present.
Thus, Ustad Saheb gave the middle path – eat whatever you like, but speak the truth. And if truth has not been spoken, stand up and declare it so and seek repentance.
The practice of abstinence in Bahman Mah is a faint reminder of the glorious days of the Zoroastrian monarchy and an attempt to harness our own rampaging thoughts. Whether fowl or fish or eggs is ‘allowed’ in not of relevance. What is important is to tame our animal instincts, which threaten to lead us to baser passions and rise above the many temptations of modern life and become truly Bahman-like: selfless and willing to give up all we have for the benefit of another. That is the true essence of Bahman and Gao-Spenta. May we all achieve that stage soon!
Ervad Marzban J. HathiramShare