Roj Marespand Mah Meher, 1379 Yz.
Today’s fast paced and chemical-laden life has brought, in addition to the comforts and conveniences of the modern age, new and varied illnesses and disorders that plague most of us. Physical wellness and being fit is high up on most persons’ wish list. This desire for wellness and a disease free existence has spawned a large industry which thrives on people’s insecurities and is the main reason for the introduction of a number of methods and fads which aim to bring wellness and balance in the modern person’s hectic life, for a price of course.
Doctors advise that a daily regimen of some form of exercise or aerobic activity should be an integral part of our life. Keeping in mind the negative effects of modern medicine, the ancient science of Ayurveda, along with its adjunct Yoga, has enjoyed a surge and revival. Several Yoga Acharyas have received worldwide fame and respect for their ability to use this ancient science to cure our modern day illnesses. Even in the western world, Yoga is a hot item and numerous institutes and centres have sprung up to take advantage of this growing interest.
In India, Yoga has been a part of Hindu culture from times immemorial. However, in recent years, there has been a distinct decline in the traditional guru-shishya parampara and a massive increase in the commercial variety of Yoga, including television-friendly Masters who claim to have a cure for every illness enjoying a near cult-like following. Many Parsis have also been attracted to Yoga and there are several Parsi instructors too. In an earlier posting, a reference was made to Ustad Saheb’s prohibition for Parsis following the practice of pranayama. Some readers have asked me to explain this point further and this article tries to go deeper into the phenomenon to understand the basis for this prohibition.
First of all, it is necessary to really understand the meaning of Ayurveda, yoga and pranayama. Ayurveda is a system of health care which originated more than 5000 years ago in India. The Vedic word Ayurveda has two root words–ayu and ved. Briefly, ayu means “life” and ved means “science.” Thus, Ayurveda means “the science of life.” Yoga is the other side of the same coin. Ayurveda brings to Yoga an understanding of how to remain physically and emotionally healthy while on the path to enlightenment. Yoga brings to Ayurveda a deeper purpose for remaining healthy, that purpose being to attain enlightenment.
Pranayama, the yogic art of breathing, comes from the root words prana and ayama. Prana means “life force” and ayama means “expansion, manifestation, or prolongation.” The practice of pranayama therefore is the practice of expanding personal prana so that it harmonizes with the universal prana. This results in oneness or merging of a person’s own consciousness with universal consciousness. Pranayama is breath control on the physical level and prana (life force) control on the subtle level. This is achieved through conscious inhalation (puraka), exhalation (recaka), and retention (kumbhaka) of breath along with focused attention on some particular part or area of the physical or subtle body, such as the heart or sixth chakra (the so-called “third eye”) at the middle of the forehead. These definitions have been taken from [http://www.ayurvedacollege.com/articles/drhalpern/Pranayama_Yoga_Ayurveda]
It is therefore evident that the practice of pranayama is an exercise of manipulating the normal, unconscious breathing into a conscious elongated or prolonged style. This is where the crux of the problem lies for Parsis. The Zoroastrian religion has given a detailed explanation of time – the personal time of an individual, the time periods related to our earth as well as universal time. There is a detailed calculation of man’s personal time in our religion, the fundamental unit of which is called ‘Dum’ – one breath of a normal, healthy person sitting at rest. Multiples of Dum give rise to other units called Swanya, Dakika and Hathra. 18 Hathra make up one day of 24 hours as we know it today.
Every person, when he is born, is allotted a fixed number of Dums which determine his longevity and the age at which he shall die. This number of Dums is immutable and unchangeable. It is of course understood that we do not breathe at a constant rate through the day. The intensity of breathing changes based on the activity we are doing. At rest, a normal, healthy human takes between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. This changes when we undertake any physical exertion such as exercise or labour, or when excited or stimulated. Similarly the breath slows down when a person sleeps. Thus the combination of exertion-related fast breaths and comfort related slow breaths even out the breathing pattern through the 24 hours. Again it must be remembered that this breathing is unconscious and un-manipulated.
However, the practice of pranayama requires an individual to be conscious about his breath, and to regulate it in a particular fashion. Certain exercises require the breath to be inhaled through one nostril and exhaled through the other. Other exercises concentrate on elongating the length of one intake or outtake. Thus a conscious manipulation, elongation or prolonging of the breath is the very core of pranayama. The elongation of breath in a conscious manner has the effect of enhancing the life span of a person and hence goes against the tenets of the religion. But there is a deeper reason for this prohibition.
While the conscious regulation and prolonging of the breath brings valuable physical benefits, (for example prolonged deep breathing is an effective tool to lower high blood pressure instantly), Ustad Saheb has warned Parsis that following these exercises causes immense spiritual regression for a Zoroastrian soul. What is the reason for this? Ustad Saheb explained that the inhalation and exhalation of breath is not merely a physical exercise. Along with the breath we take in and breathe out, there is a Divine Spiritual Energy which accompanies every such breath, which is known as Ushtan – the Divine Life Force. The Ushtan descends from the higher regions of the cosmos and includes the very breath of our Prophet Zarathushtra.
Every Parsi, when he undergoes the Navjote ceremony ties his personal Ushtan with this universal Ushtan of Prophet Zarathushtra. The sacred instruments of the Sudreh and Kusti are the apparatus needed to catch this Ushtan and channelize it into our inner bodies. This is the greatest gift of our Prophet to Zoroastrians. In the same manner, Prophets of other religions have established institutions and methods whereby the life breath of their religion is taken in by the followers of that religion using certain methods or ceremonies. Pranayama is the method designated for followers of Hinduism to assimilate their own Vedic life breath into their personal bodies. As such it is a deeply personal and religious exercise which is meant only for followers of that faith. This is the main reason why in the earlier days, the science and secrets of pranayama were closely guarded and given to disciples by their Masters only after years of practice and training. A Parsi following the practice of pranayama creates disorder within his body by mixing the life force of an alien religion with his own Prophet’s Ushtan.
While the physical breath pumps in the required oxygen into our body and enables life as we know it, the Ushtan which enters the body along with the physical breath causes the progress and spiritual development of the non-physical and spiritual parts of our body. As readers are aware, the human body is composed of 9 parts: 3 physical, 3 ultra-physical and 3 Divine. The flow of Ushtan varies throughout the day and there are certain spiritual exercises which regulate the flow of Ushtan in our body. But the practice of pranayama causes great imbalance in the flow of Ushtan for a Zoroastrian soul. This causes havoc in the 6 non-physical bodies which reside within us and in turn leads to the dilution of the Zoroastrian Khoreh or divine lustre or aura which every Parsi possesses to some extent. These imbalances and dilution in Khoreh cause immense spiritual regression to the Zoroastrian soul which is struggling to achieve its final goal of Frashogard – salvation within the lifespan allotted to it. It is for this deep and very important reason that our late Master Ustad Saheb Behramshah Shroff strongly disapproved of Parsis following the practice of pranayam.
Ustad Saheb advised that the performance of Yogic asanas or exercises in which the various parts and limbs of the body are postured in a particular manner may be followed by Parsis for health reasons. Yogic asanas are well known for providing relief for physical ailments of many kinds, if performed under the constant guidance and supervision of a qualified master. However, Ustad Saheb cautioned Parsis against using pranayama or any form of breath control while performing these exercises or using the Om chant or any other on-Zoroastrian name or Sanskrit manthras or phrases accompanying certain Yogic exercises.
Ustad Saheb further revealed that a person born at a particular time carries with him the influences of certain planets which may be beneficial or malefic. These influences (which change in accordance with the age of the person and the changing positions of planetary influencers in his horoscope) cause the various trials and tribulations which mark our lives. These malefic influences can also manifest themselves in the form of various ailments, diseases and disabilities. For each such difficulty there are specific cures available in the Zoroastrian religion and there is no need to look elsewhere. The practice of Zoroastrian Tarikats and the praying of specific Manthras for relieving the malefic influence of specific planets will cause substantial ease to the affected individual.
But in case a Parsi attempts to follow the religious practices or manthras of any other religion (which may even prove effective in the short run), he will cause substantial disorder within his own body and the Ushtan flow within his sacred bodies will be disrupted. This spiritual regression can take a very serious form, the results of which will become evident to the soul only after death. Ustad Saheb has given a detailed explanation of the plight of souls of persons who follow such un-Zoroastrian practices, which I am unable to pen here.
Thus the maintenance of the Ushtan flow, preservation of the Aipi (subtle atmosphere around our body) and maintaining the Zoroastrian Khoreh are the prime requirements of a Parsi. This is the main reason why our religion has detailed rules regarding what to do when we sneeze, yawn, hiccup or pass wind – there is a particular Nirang or Baj which is to be prayed (for advanced persons) while normal persons are instructed to recite a silent Ashem Vohu prayer after these occurrences! Why would a sneeze or yawn require a Nirang or Baj? Because the excess breath forced out during such occurrences causes an imbalance in the Ushtan flow at that time, which is remedied by the powers of the Baj Manthras.
Similarly the flow of Ushtan becomes almost one third when a person goes to sleep. This diminution in the flow of Ushtan encourages low level evil entities to try and attack the sleeping body and take over nervous system of the sleeping individual. This is manifested in many persons as bad dreams, talking in the sleep, sleep walking and other such undesirable activities. It is for this reason that there is a specific Nirang which every Parsi is required to recite before going to sleep, as well as on waking up. The flow of physical breath and the Ushtan is overseen by three specific Yazatas – Rashne Yazad, Meher Yazad and Sarosh Yazad, who also look after the Zoroastrian soul when the person is asleep.This is also the reason why we have an age-old tradition of performing the Kusti before going to bed and to recite the words ‘Sarosh Yazad Panaah baad!’ just before closing our eyes.
Ustad Saheb had detailed and intricate knowledge of the science of breath analysis – Ilm-e-Nafs. Through this Ilm, Ustad Saheb could calculate the number of Dums expanded by various exercises, such as push-ups, crunches, wrestling, swimming, running etc. as well as physical activities such as drawing water from the well, ploughing, grinding wheat, etc. Based on these calculations and the person before him, Ustad Saheb would prescribe certain exercise and prohibit certain acts to the individual. Alas, we are without his guidance today! But in general, Ustad Saheb has left behind some excellent advice, which has been preserved for posterity by Hakim Rustam Sola Doctor in the Ustad Saheb Memorial Volume.
According to Hakim Rustam Sola Doctor, Ustad Saheb advised that the best exercise for a Zoroastrian soul was the practice of horse-riding. Ustad Saheb explained that when a man rides a horse, the breath and Ushtan flow of the Zoroastrian is immensely aided by the subtle energy forces which emanate from the hair on the neck of the horse. These subtle energies mingle with the Ushtan and breath of the person and not only strengthen the physical breath but also provide excellent support and exercise to the heart, lungs, spine, waist, intestines and kidneys. The combination of benefits available to a Parsi by this exercise is not available in any other form of exercise. Ustad Saheb further revealed that by riding on the back of the horse, the constriction and compression of the pubic areas also regulates and strengthens the functioning of the 13th Chakhra which is situated in that region.
It is for these reasons that the practice of horse-riding and archery were the first skills which were taught to a Zoroastrian child in ancient Iran, along with the practice of speaking the truth – at all times and at all costs.
Dear readers, there is great depth and knowledge in our religion, which is based on the most intricate of sciences far advanced than the physical science we are so proud about today. Unfortunately we Parsis love to mock our own religion and look for cheap and short term alternatives elsewhere. Hordes of Parsis line up in front of temples, mosques, churches and dargahs, or flock to so-called holy men, whose eyes are fastened on the wallets of their ‘devotees’ and physical lust rather than any real spiritual power. Recent events reported in the press of such perverted ‘babas’ should make us aware of the rot which exists in these circles. At the same time, our Agiaries and Atash Behrams remain deserted or witness low traffic. We have a treasure trove of Manthras, Nirangs, Bajs and ceremonies for every ailment and every disease, but we are not ready to follow the strict rules of purity which are essential for the success of any Zoroastrian Tarikat. Then we moan and complain that our prayers have no power! They have the most amazing power – we just do not know how to harness it properly!
Our Prophet Zarathushtra has shown us the way and method to achieve great spiritual strength and physical, mental, financial and spiritual prosperity. Let us come back to our religion and its Tarikats so that we may reap the rich rewards that await a true Parsi soul. In the next post we shall try to understand Ustad Saheb’s advice on the Zoroastrian method of regulating the Ushtan flow and overcoming physical ailments.
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram