Roj Dae-pa-Meher Mah Tir, 1384 Yz.
[A note to overseas readers of Frashogard: On 17th November 2014, Dasturji Khurshed of Udvada, in his address to community members gathered at the Sanjan Memorial to observe Sanjan Day, made a plea for Parsis to donate their organs. This plea was given headline publicity by the Jame Jamshed in its issue dated 23rd November. A rejoinder to Dasturji Khurshed’s views was sent by me to Jame and appears in today’s edition. It is reproduced below for the benefit of all Parsis.]
Dasturji Khurshed’s appeal on Sanjan Day to Parsis to join other Indians in Organ Donation is most noble and noteworthy. Dasturji’s enthusiasm for this movement arose from his being moved to tears while performing the Navjote of a visually impaired Zoroastrian child. As such, Dasturji’s motives for his pronouncement are worthy of appreciation.
But the important point to consider is this: Is Dasturji Khurshed voicing his personal opinion or is he pronouncing a religious opinion, given his position as a High Priest of the Udvada 9 families Anjuman? If Dasturji clarifies that this is his personal opinion then he is entitled to have it. But if he is making a religious pronouncement then the same has to be examined with what is written in the scriptures and the spirit of the Avesta, along with an examination of the long standing traditions and precepts (revered in the Avesta as Dareghayao Upayanayao) of our community.
Before we examine the doctrinal position, let us consider the issue in a rational manner, which is much in vogue today. The central focus of organ donation is the concept of charity, of giving away what is ours to another, less fortunate member of society. The important point to make here is that charity can be done only with that which is ours, not that which belongs to someone else. If my neighbour is a very rich man I cannot appropriate his wealth and distribute it to the poor and call it charity. That would be akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul. The moot question is this – is the human body ours, or does it belong to God?
Secondly real charity does not lie in giving away something when we no longer need it – real charity means giving away something even though we may need it. Those public personas and film stars who proudly proclaim their signing organ donation forms, if they were really charitable, would give away their organs whilst living! Why do you need two kidneys when the body can do with one? Why not give away one eye and live with the other? If even 20% of the global population did so, the waiting list for organ transplants would disappear!
The concept of organ donation in a Zoroastrian context is far from charity and more like robbing Pesi to pay Rusi. The human body we have is not our own. It is given to us by Ahura Mazda, in a sacred covenant. The body and its faculties are to be used for one purpose – to advance the soul in its spiritual progress and to take creation one step closer to salvation – Frashogard. Once the destined time span of an individual is over, the body – along with all its parts, is to be returned to Ahura Mazda in the way directed in the scriptures – by exposing the body to sunlight and vultures, in a specially constructed and ritually consecrated religious institution called the Dakhma, along with certain specific ceremonies and rituals.
It is worth remembering that the Zoroastrian religion states that the human body is formed of nine parts – three physical – (Tanu, Gaetha, Azda), three ultra-physical (Keherp, Ushtan-Ap, Tevishi) and three spiritual (Ruvan, Baodangh and Fravashi). All these nine parts have to be returned to Ahura Mazda in a specific way. The physical parts are taken care of by sunlight and the birds. The ultra-physical bodies are taken care of by the spiritual circuits (Pavi, Talesum) of the Dakhma, which are created when the Dakhma Tana ceremony is performed. The spiritual bodies are returned to the Creator through the agency of the three days’ prayers in honour of Sarosh Yazad. Thus the Zoroastrian religion takes a holistic view of the body. We cannot take one part and graft it in another. All the parts have to be returned using a specific roadmap.
Let us now come to the long standing traditions and precepts of the community. It is a well-known fact that in case any part of the human body is amputated or severed, it is never thrown away but is always consigned to the Dakhma, after performing the Geh Sarna ritual. Even today, there are several instances where amputated legs or arms are being consigned to the Dakhma in this manner. This long standing tradition shows that the Zoroastrian religion considers every part of the body as sacred and belonging to Ahura Mazda, and therefore necessary to return to the Creator through the designated manner.
Another tradition in the community is our extreme aversion to post-mortems, since the process involves taking out of various organs as well as a general destruction of the inner body parts. Readers may recall the sterling services of the late Dervish Irani as well as BPP trustee late Rustam Tirandaz who would immediately go wherever a suspicious Parsi death was noticed and try their maximum best to avoid the post-mortem, except in cases where something criminal was involved.
As soon as death occurs, the human body starts decomposing. This physical decomposition is accompanied by a spiritual contagion called Druj Nasu – the demon of (spiritual) pollution. The Zoroastrian religion enjoins, and tradition is very strict, that the Sachkar ceremony, which creates a spiritual protective rink around the physical body and limits the spread of the spiritual contagion, should be performed as soon as, and preferably in the same Gah as the person’s demise. Once the Sachkar ceremony is performed, none except the Nassehsalars can touch the body. Thus to take a physical organ out of a dead body, which is now categorized as Nasu, and to fit it in another, live body, causes spiritual havoc.
In Dasturji’s own 9 family Anjuman there are a few customs and traditions which go against the concept of organ donation. Even today, the priests of the 9 families who tend the sacred Iranshah cannot undertake this onerous responsibility if their body contains any foreign object. This includes dental fillings and implants, metal screws, plates and prosthetics used in orthopaedic surgery, corneal implants and of course, transplanted organs. If Dasturji Khurshed welcomes organ donation then should the rules relating to Mobed Sahebs tending the Iranshah Fire also be relaxed?
The Udvada Anjuman also has strict rules regarding what type of bodies can be consigned to the Dakhmas in their jurisdiction. About 15 years ago, a Parsi of a very orthodox family residing in North America passed away there. It was his desire that his body should be consigned to the Dakhma at Udvada. All arrangements were made and the body reached Mumbai airport. Before it could be shifted to Udvada, certain Priests of the Udvada Anjuman raised objections on spiritual grounds. Because the body had been embalmed abroad, and the internal organs removed, and also because nearly ten days had passed from the day of death to the arrival of the body in Mumbai, the Priests considered the body as ‘Riman’ – spiritually unclean and refused to allow the body to be consigned to the Dakhma at Udvada. Despite many requests and phone calls from influential persons, the Priests did not relent. Ultimately, the body was consigned to the Dakhma at Mumbai.
Dasturji Khurshed may be unaware of this incident as it took place before he inherited his family’s Dasturi ‘Gaadi’. But given the Udvada 9 families Anjuman’s rules regarding Riman bodies, is Dasturji Khurshed correct in exhorting Parsis to consider organ donation? Will his Anjuman allow bodies of Parsis who have accepted organ transplants to be consigned to the Dakhma at Udvada?
I am very happy to see that Dasturji Khurshed is a man easily affected by his emotions. His heart is in the right place. As a human, these are sterling qualities. But when one assumes the position of Dastur, then one cannot let one’s emotions rule his judgement. The position of the Dastur is very senior and has spiritual ramifications. Even today, no priest can undergo the sacred Bareshnum Nahn, which is the foundation of all Zoroastrian rituals, without taking the name of the current Dastur and holding him as witness and as a descendant of the Prophet Zarathushtra. As such, a Dastur has to rule, in matters of religion, from what the scriptures direct, not under the influence of emotions or pulling of heartstrings.
Being a Dastur is not a popularity contest, it is a crown of thorns to be worn with dignity, humility and extreme piety. At times, despite overwhelming public opinion, the Dastur has to state what is given in the scriptures and what is mandated by our long-standing traditions, not by what current whims and fancies are prevalent. In this respect I would humbly request Dasturji Khurshed to follow the example of Pope Francis, who despite incredible pressure from the LGBT movement, has stood firm in his ruling that the Church considers marriage only between a man and a woman and does not grant that privilege to same-sex unions.
The world we live in is full of seeming inequality. Why is a child born blind, or crippled or horribly malformed? Why do certain individuals enjoy life despite living a far from righteous existence while those who try to follow the true path are often harassed and defeated? These inequalities seem so because of our limited vision. Our vision is limited to one life of 70-90 years. We have no remembrance of our past lives and no idea of our future. But the Zoroastrian religion believes in the law of action and rightful reaction – akem akai vanghuhim ashim vanghove – good to the good, evil for the evil doer. But Nature’s timeline for giving the just retribution for a sin much exceeds one human life span. Hence the perfectly just Divine Organization comes across as iniquitous and unfair to our limited human vision.
It is for this reason that Prophet Zarathushtra asked Ahura Mazda in the Gathas – ‘Tat thwa peresa, eresh moi vaocha Ahura’ – this do I ask Thee, O Ahura, give me the True Answer.’ The point is not that Zarathushtra expected Ahura Mazda to lie to Him, but Zarathushtra asked for a vision which goes beyond the limited human vision – He asks Ahura Mazda to reveal to Him the Reality – not the apparent reality which we see with our limited eyesight. Thus Dasturji Khurshed was correctly moved while performing the Navjote of a visually impaired child. But when Dasturji’s vision expands to be able to grasp the Universal Truth and Reality, he will also understand God’s reasons for the way things are as they appear.
What is the meaning of the word ‘Dastur‘? It means one who holds the hand (‘dast’) of the faithful and leads them towards God. But in making the provocative statements on Sanjan Day, Dasturji Khurshed has committed a grievous error and is leading the faithful towards eternal damnation. It would be only right if Dasturji Khurshed reconsiders his views, consults the elders of his Anjuman and sets the record straight that the Zoroastrian religion does not encourage organ donation. In doing so, he would prove his spiritual stature and make the community look up to him.
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram