Roj Dae-pa-Adar Mah Bahman, 1378 Yz.
Of the many gifts given to Parsis by their Prophet Zarathushtra, that of the Manthras is one of the most significant. Manthras are the divine words of the Prophet and His appointed disciples which form what we loosely call today the ‘Avesta’. Over the thousands of years that have passed since the time of the advent of Zarathushtra, the great majority of the Manthras have been, unfortunately, lost. What we have left is not more than 5% of the original, which are used for daily prayers as well as the rituals which form the core of the faith. The question is often asked: What is the use of praying in a language we do not understand? Cannot the same prayers be translated in to a common language like English and the same said with more concentration and meaning? Would it not be better if some newer and shorter prayers were introduced? In order to answer these and related queries, it is necessary to firstly understand who man is, what is his role in nature, what is prayer, why does man need to pray and what benefits accrue from praying.
The fundamental characteristic which differentiates man from animals is his brain and the power of reasoning and logic, along with the ability to verbalize his thoughts and articulate them in an orderly manner. These reasoning, cognitive and verbal skills are controlled by the brain, or more popularly, the mind. The functioning of the mind gives rise to thoughts. Thoughts give rise to emotions. Every human is, at all times, involved in a complex mix of thoughts and emotions, which govern his behavior and responses with external stimuli. These interactions determine his overall character and temperament. Unlike animals, whose primary instinct is survival, man’s thoughts and emotions are more complex. His thoughts are shaped and formed by the sensory perceptions which reach his mind through the five senses. These senses, being physical in nature, cause man’s mind to be more involved in the physical phenomena around him. Thus our thoughts are constantly analyzing the physical surroundings and governing our responses to them. Thus the nature of man’s thoughts is, predominantly, short sighted, and more towards instant gratification. In such circumstances, the overall emotion is of taking more from the environment than is necessary for the self, or as is commonly called, selfishness. Since man is a social animal, his thoughts towards his immediate relatives and close associates may be more considerate and compassionate, but overall the material temperament in the most pronounced. It would be therefore, fair to say that our mind is a jumble of thoughts and emotions which are more about self-preservation and selfishness, where the ‘I, me, myself’ factor is predominant.
It is therefore logical to expect that even when thinking of God, man’s mind is constantly in a state of wanting. Even when we bow our heads before the Holy Fire, the mind keeps ready a list of demands and requests, which subconsciously and without even our knowing, keep pouring out. In other words, it would be fair to say that man is a prisoner of his own thoughts, which keep him in a state of permanent longing – of one thing or the other. This is the reason why the ancients coined the Persian word for prayer as ‘Bandagi’, which is derived from ‘bandag’ – slave! Thus even a prayer to God, were it to be composed by man, would include some element of want or desire. But religions and its Prophets have always taught us that the real goal of man is salvation, the merging of the self with the Lord. Thus the end result of our prayers should not be a material goal or a list of requests, but rather the single minded pursuit of salvation of the soul, known as ‘Ruvan bokhtagi’. Given the state of man’s mind as described above, it can be said that it is impossible for man to compose a ‘prayer’ with the salvation of the soul as its ultimate goal.
What is the reason for this? Why is man’s mind so structured as to be incapable of looking at the ultimate goal? The Zarathushtrian religion has answered this beautifully, and we shall analyze this in our next post.
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram