Being a good Parsi, even in hospital – part 2

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Roj Dae-pa-Adar Mah Spendarmad, 1381 Yz.

Another issue which arises in these times of crisis is our inability to properly understand the cause and nature of human suffering. I remember an article in the Times of India which was very critical of a modern day Godman. The reporter found it perplexing that hundreds of thousands of believers came to him to get rid of their ills, yet the Baba himself was confined to a wheelchair. But the nature of suffering endured by persons of a higher spiritual caliber and us normal beings is very different. In fact, most spiritually advanced persons go through terrible physical suffering. The examples are endless – from Jesus Christ, to Sri Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, Theresa Neumann… and hundreds of others who made the ills of others go away, yet suffered in their own physical bodies. This is not a coincidence, but rather part of a larger cosmic plan. Advanced spiritual beings, who descend on the earth from time to time have the special ability to understand the collective load of their believers’ many ills and to take these on to their own physical body, keeping certain spiritual laws in mind. Hence their visible suffering.

Our own Master, Ustad Saheb suffered terribly in the last years of his life. Cut off from the protective spiritual gaze of his beloved Sraoshavarez Marzbanji Saheb, Behramshah developed acute diabetes, even slipping into diabetic coma on a few occasions. Due to the high sugar, even the smallest wounds would not heal, causing him terrible pain. As predicted by his Master, Ustad Saheb developed a black cataract in his eyes, which also caused him excruciating pain. The Sahebs of Demavand had given Ustad Saheb a small vial of a cooling paste made of real pearls to be used at this time. But his Master had also told him, that because of his previous obligations, he would not be able to use the paste. Sure enough, the vial disappeared during his extensive travels within India. The Sraoshavarez fulfilled his obligation by handing over the vial to Ustad Saheb. But the unknown end user, who had a past connection and debt due from Ustad Saheb ultimately got his hands on the vial. Due to the advancing cataract, Ustad Saheb lost his vision in his last years.

The Master also suffered from a condition called ‘naaru’ in Gujarati, or Guinea worm infection, the source of which is usually found in the stagnant well water used in those times. This parasitic larvae enters the body through the stagnant water and then after a year mates and develops to a length of almost three feet. It starts moving down from the stomach to the lower extremities of the foot, causing blisters and terrible pain, when the worm exits the body. This extremely painful condition continued to afflict our Master, causing great distress and a level of suffering which cannot be imagined. In those final years, two of the Master’s close disciples, Bahmanshah Hakim and Maneksha Bharucha took great care of Ustad Saheb. They would gently wash his feet, apply any soothing cream or oil and try to relieve his pain as far as possible. As and when a worm began its exit from the leg, they would trap and tie it with string so that it could not go back inside, and then gently coax it out. So touched was the Master by their service that he used to say: ‘even if I were to carve off my skin and fashion a sapat out of it for you, I could not repay the debt I owe you!’

Readers of Frashogard, the point I am trying to make is this: we must learn to distinguish between the physical suffering of us normal humans and the spiritually advanced ones. I make this point specifically because a few of my Behdins came up to  me and asked: ‘how is it that all this happened to you when you pray for and serve the Holy Fire?’ The answer lies in our own past actions. It must have taken some very good deeds in a previous life to be able to serve the Padshah Saheb in this day and age. And it must have been some nefarious activities which resulted in the recent hospitalization. The point is not to look for the why answer, but rather to take it in stride and look at the positive side more than the negative. That I was able to go through the episode relatively quickly, rejoin service and be back to  doing what I like best far outweighs the few days of discomfort and pain. We must remember the golden words of admonition of Dastur Adurbad Mahrespand: ‘it could have been much worse’.

Having discussed the correct mental attitude to develop in times of distress, let us try and analyze the origin of disease and infection.

Modern day hospitals are clean, germ-free and highly sanitized environments. But it needs to be remembered that their sanitation and hygiene extends only to the physical sources of infection. The Zoroastrian religion acknowledges the threats faced from physical infections, but cautions against a more sinister threat – the peril of spiritual infection. The laws of physical purity which exist in our religion, and which are often criticized today as being of a medieval age, are not so much safeguards against physical pollution than the spiritual effluence which lurks everywhere. Our ancient practices of seclusion of women during menses and child-birth, the laws relating to semen discharge in males at night, our many different types of Nahns and related rituals are all properly documented, well-researched and divinely-prescribed practices to help combat the spiritual pollution and resultant infection called Druj that exists in the world.

The Zoroastrian religion identifies 21 different types of Druj, of various degrees of intensity. The names of these spiritual infections are found in our scriptures and also in the Patet Pashemani. The primary weapon that a Parsi Zoroastrian has to combat the spiritual pollution is his Sudreh and Kusti. Our ancient practice of performing the Kusti ceremonial several times during the day – on waking up, after visiting the toilet, before and after the bath, before meals, at each change in the Gah, before sleeping, etc. are not mindless rituals. Rather they are the means of reinforcing and recharging the spiritual strength of our Kusti which gets depleted through the passage of time and our performing certain natural acts like eating, sleeping and visiting the toilet.

The Sudreh and Kusti are our prime means of defense against spiritual pollution. But when spiritual pollution is not kept in check, it engulfs our nonphysical bodies which exist within and outside our physical body. Over a sustained period of such spiritual neglect, our nonphysical bodies become weak. This weakness of the nonphysical bodies is accompanied by the birth and germination of ‘hariri’ – unseen, ultra-physical microbes which carry, transmit and breed even more spiritual contamination. As time passes, the ultra-physical hariri get more and more dense, until finally they achieve physical status, which modern science can see under microscopes and identify through diagnostic tests. These are the carriers of our physical infection – viruses, bacteria and other microbes.

Thus the arising of physical illness is also out of spiritual neglect. This is the reason why so much stress has been put in our religion on purity – both mental and physical. The prime protectors of Sudreh and Kusti must be kept properly energized at all times, so as to preserve and protect our ultra-physical bodies. Modern thinking Parsi ladies may laugh at our practices of seclusion and non-contact, but no amount of advertising of sanitary products can rid the body of the real spiritual danger which is emitted during such periods.

Thus while entering hospital to treat a physical disease or malady, we are assured that the physical environment is such that physical infection is almost made impossible (although it does happen in many cases, despite all these precautions). But what about the spiritual contagion? How do we ensure that the ultra-physical bodies are also taken care of? The invasive nature of modern medicine is such that while physical infection may be minimized, spiritual contagion is in fact higher in hospitals than in our homes. This is the reason why a bath and Kusti is essential after visiting someone in hospital.

For a Parsi Zoroastrian patient being admitted to hospital, the first and most important cardinal rule to remember is: the prime spiritual protectors of Sudreh and Kusti should not be removed from our body. But there are many practical difficulties in ensuring this. We will analyze the various options we can take in this regard in our next post.

[to be continued…]

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram



  1. Dr. Homai Kasad  July 23, 2012

    In the USA, medical centers respect patients’ religious beliefs, and do try to accommodate their requests.
    When I had my head surgery, I was allowed to keep my Sudreh and Kasti on during surgery. My brother also kept his Sudreh /Kasti during his surgery. Unless the surgery is on the the chest or abdomen or the back, Sudreh/Kasti may be allowed. The EKG leads can be placed around them.
    All one has to do is to make a request during a pre-operative visit by the surgeon and/or the anesthesiologist.

  2. Vispi Engineer  July 23, 2012

    I had been to Siemens, Germany, in 1981, on business. During a conversation with a German engineer, I was informed that the ladies who solder electronic components, in the assembly line, are not allowed to solder, and are given administrative work during their monthly periods. The reason being that it was found that during such periods, there were higher chances of bad soldering. Hence, it is not just Zarthushtis who believe this but even a modern engineering company, like Siemens have found this by experience. This is worth noting by those who quote ‘modern science’, to criticize this time proven method of isolation during such periods.

  3. kfkeravala  July 24, 2012

    It is only the artificial ego that suffers. The man who has transcended his false ‘me’ no longer identifies with his suffering. – Terrence Gray(Wei Wu We)