Roj Khorshed Mah Sherevar, 1382 Yz.
A few days ago I received an email from an old friend residing in the USA. This elderly gentleman had a distinguished banking career and after retirement, got introduced to the Zoroastrian religion and its esoteric side, Khshnoom. Like many other students of Khshnoom, my friend also came to the realization that this lifetime was not enough to even begin to understand the mysteries of our religion. Moreover, there was the feeling of having missed out, since he came to know of Khshnoom very late in his life. In addition, as he read more and more, he became increasingly aware of how deep the esoteric foundations of our religion go, and how just reading about religion (or debating, or worse, fighting about it) does not make one a good Parsi. The essence of Zoroastrianism lies in the practice of its tenets, its age old traditions and the great Path of Tarikats (Spiritual Disciplines) which open our inner bodies and put us firmly on the path to salvation.
This is where the real difficulty arose. As my friend read about the different Tarikats that a good Zoroastrian is supposed to follow, he was in a quandary. The more he read, the more confused he became, the confusion added to his growing frustration until he could not bear it any more. In a lengthy and emotional mail, my friend complained that ‘his soul would never go to heaven!’ and that Ahura Mazda and Zarathushtra were purposely ‘making it impossible for us to live in the modern world!’ In the same breath, my friend theorized that maybe Ahura Mazda and Zarathushtra were not at fault but it was the religious teachers who had complicated it all, letting their ‘fertile minds’ pile on ‘tons and tons of ideas’, all to ‘bolster their ego!’ His mail ended with the fervent plea that we should enlighten him on ‘what would be the most important Tarikats to follow for a Zarthoshti in the present wonderful and at the same time impossible world in the USA.’
I do hope my readers will excuse this somewhat long introduction to the topic. But the truth is, that many, if not all of us have felt, at some point of time in our life, that things are getting too complicated and wished that our religion could be just too easy and simple to understand and follow. After all, how difficult can it be with good thoughts, good words and good deeds, huh? And all this talk of Tarikats and Hasti and Nisti and Chinvat… it’s all too confusing, bawa.
Let me tell you a small story of a very early disciple of our Master, Ustad Saheb Behramshah Nowroji Shroff, called Mr. Rustomji Ratanji Hakim. As a young boy, Rustomji was one day sent out on an errand by his father, to get some snuff (Tapkhir, in Gujarati) for him. The young lad skipped his way to the nearby house where the snuff was ground from roasted tobacco leaves and other ingredients, handed over the money and was given some of the pungent powder, wrapped in a piece of paper.
On coming home, Rustomji helped his father empty the snuff into his snuff box
and was about to throw away the paper when his eyes fell on to some design on the page. As he opened out the creased paper, he saw that it contained a magic square – an old trick of arranging some words in a box in such a way that the same sentence could be read in many different ways at the same time. The very center of the box had the letter L, and arranged around it were many series of letters, which spelt out the sentence ‘Love truth above all’, a total of 270 times.
It was only some years later, when Rustomji came into contact with Ustad Saheb and began following him, that he realized the true import of this small sentence of 17 letters. His Master explained to Rustomji the inner reason behind this sentence, and it became his motto in life. So taken in was the young Rustomji by this magic square that he kept the tattered and scruffy paper with him till the day he died, rightly believing it to be some great treasure he had found. At the very end of his life, he divulged this paper to Ervad Phiroze Masani, the Editor of Frashogard and ace disciple of Ustad Saheb, who printed the same in volume 4 of the Frashogard magazine and thereby preserved it for posterity. Here is an image of that magic square.
Readers of Frashogard may ask, how is this connected to my friend’s email of anguish? It is, because this short sentence is indeed, the very answer to his question: ‘which is the most important Tarikat to follow for a Zarthoshti in the present wonderful and at the same time impossible world in the USA.’ Here is something that does not require you to wear something special, does not come in between your social life, you can keep using the most modern implements and gizmos, no need to curtail any other activity – just speak the truth. But will this really help? Is there any guarantee that by speaking the truth my friend’s great quest for his ‘soul to reach heaven’ would finally be attained?
Now it is time for another story, set many hundreds of years ago, in Sassanian times. In those tumultuous times when the Zoroastrian empire was about to break down and vanish forever, a pious and spiritually advanced Zoroastrian Abed called Farog-i-Behram lived on the fringes of society, mainly spending his life in the secluded regions of Iran and venturing out into the open areas only when really needed. His piety and his Amal (Spiritual Power) of Behram Yazad made Farog-i-Behram a much venerated figure of those times. At the other end of the spiritual spectrum, lived a man, whom we shall call Mehlli, for convenience (although we do not have his real name). Now Mehlli was a well known and respected member of society, living a seemingly perfect life. But unknown to all, Mehlli was leading a double life. As day turned to night, Mehlli turned into a total wastrel, a man of the basest passions. Wine, women and song were his nightly routine. His precious active (and somewhat sober) time was spent in imagining all the wonderful and exciting things he would do once the sun went down.
Living a life far removed from Zoroastrian ideals, Mehlli once came across the saintly figure of Farog-i-Behram. As many of our so-called leaders of today who lead duplicitous lives, Mehlii too did not think very highly of the Dasturs of that time. As he saw the pious Abed, he decided to play a trick on him. Appearing very contrite and serious in front of the godly Farog-i-Behram, Mehlli asked him: ‘O devout Farog-i-Behram! I am very much troubled by all the vile deeds I have done in the past. I feel the need for my redemption. Can you show me the true path of recovery? But there is only one condition – I will not give up my hedonistic life style. I cannot give up my debauchery, do not ask me to stop drinking, or visiting areas of ill-repute or gambling away my little income. Can you show me the way, O pious one?’
The pious one could of course see through and through Mehlli’s duplicity. Without any hesitation, Farog-i-Behram smiled and replied: ‘My dear Mehlli, definitely I can show you the path to salvation. And it is a very simple path to follow. Please continue with your existing lifestyle, drink as much as you like, indulge in all your passions, but I will grant you your redemption. There is only one condition I put on you, and from which you must never waver: always speak the truth. Whenever someone asks you anything, speak the truth, whenever you are called to give advice, speak the truth. Whenever you are faced in a difficult situation, speak the truth. Even in a compromising situation, you will not falter, you will speak the truth. Give me your word that you will never lie, and I guarantee you your salvation.’
The wily Mehlli thought: ‘what a wonderful (and stupid) thing the pious one says! I can continue with all my bad habits and still earn salvation! All I have to do is speak the truth. How difficult can that get! Bowing deeply in front of the devout Farog-i-Behram, Mehlli gave his word that he would never lie again. With a smile and a blessing, Farog-i-Behram left.
As daylight slipped away and darkness spread across the town, crafty Mehlli changed into his other persona. He went to the tavern and began his drinking. As he moved from one tavern to the other, he suddenly came face to face with a close friend, who immediately asked: ‘Mehlli, what are you doing out at this late hour? Where were you? And where are you off to?’ Mehlli’s face flushed with shame, but he remembered his promise to Farog-i-Behram. ‘I was out drinking at the tavern down the street and now I am going to that wonderful lady’s house…’ as his friend looked at him in wonder, Mehlli stumbled along, his face red with shame. A few steps later, he met another friend, who asked the same question. Feeling even more embarrassed, Mehlli kept his promise to the Wise Abed and disclosed his illicit activities.
Just before he could enter the entertainment house, he was noticed by another friend and the same episode was repeated. Awash in shame and humiliation, Mehlli decided to avoid the house of ill-repute and go home. On his way home, he came across one more friend: ‘O Mehlli, where were you out at this late hour, are you going home?; With deep humiliation, Mehlli replied: ‘I was out drinking, then I was about to enter the house of the Lady of Many Guiles, but changed my mind and now I am proceeding home…’
As he staggered home, a deep realization dawned on Mehlli. He recognized that if he wanted to keep the promise given to Farog-i-Behram, he would have to change his ways. Otherwise he would become not only the object of ridicule in society, but everyone would avoid him at all costs. That night, Mehlli took another vow – to not give in to his bad habits. Of course he was not successful right away. But as time passed, his determination grew, no doubt aided by the hidden blessings of the sage, and over a period of time, Mehlli became a changed person. Through his remarkable reformation, Mehlli was able to awaken the spiritual bodies which had lay dormant in him for so many years. Through the awakening of his conscience and through the practice of truth – for truth’s sake, Mehlli was able to control his physical senses and thereby begin his slow but steady journey towards redemption.
Readers of Frashogard, the moral of this story is applicable even today. Many Parsis seem to be very confused at what to follow and what not to follow. They do not have time for studying religion, leave alone practicing it. They are so steeped in the material society that they do not want to let go of any modern day conveniences. Even a moment’s discomfort is not acceptable to them. Yet they claim to want to be true Parsis. This is not today’s phenomenon. This has existed for hundreds of years. When Ustad Saheb appeared in public, many well-known figures as well as common Parsis approached him with their problems and asked for help. In the Ustad Saheb Memorial Volume, Dr. Saheb Framroze writes these very poignant words: ‘Ghadi ghadi evan ne puchvama avtu hatu ke Saheb, Khudane hamo kem pugiye? Kem nejat melaviye? Tyare tunk ma kehta ke: sachi zamir rakho, pachi maddo pukht thay tyare aap-o-aap samaj padshe.’ ‘Time and again the question was put to him: Saheb, how can we reach God? how can we attain salvation? Then he (Ustad Saheb) would reply in short: ‘Keep your mind and tongue firmly on the truth, once the Spiritual Faculty is developed, then you will yourself understand what to do.’
Readers of Frashogard, there can be no more simpler message. Stick to the truth at all costs, even if it means being embarrassed, becoming insolvent, losing all you love, letting go of all you have accumulated. When you stand up to say the truth, your shirt will stick to the back with all the perspiration as the body trembles with the upcoming debasement. Even then, speak the truth. The question is, does any one of us have the real guts to do this? I challenge my friend in the USA and all readers of Frashogard to try and put this into practice. But first, please be truthful to yourself. When the time comes to speak the truth do not let your mind waver, do not try to justify speaking a lie, do not try to back away from what you have got yourself into. Speak the truth, own up and face the consequences.
The deep humiliation and embarrassment this will cause will act as a spiritual speed-breaker the next time you try to commit a sin. The mind will immediately go back to the humiliation you faced when the lie was uncovered. Thus the mind will shirk from committing the folly again. This is how bad habits are broken, how indulgences are given up and how lives are reformed.
In the next post, we shall examine this issue in even greater detail. Those who fear being confused may skip the post! Just remember the golden words: Love truth above all.
May you be worthy enough to live a life of Truth.
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/birminghammag/7976404736/”>Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>