LIFE & RELIGION:
FROM WOMB TO THE TOMB
Is life, especially religion, a meaningless humdrum of chaos and confusion?
By Adil J. Govadia
Swami Chinmayananda once said, “Religion is to be understood essentially as a Science of Living, so that we can cull out of it a set of desirable values of life, upon which we can rebuild wisely our day-to-day existence”.
So what exactly is religion and how is it different from philosophy? While philosophy explains life and provides us with healthy values of our life, religion, in its intrinsic part, gives us pattern to train ourselves to fulfill the promises of philosophy. Therefore, philosophy lived in our day-to-day life is called religion.
The Prophet, Seers and the Savants of the yore were not mere scientists meddling with material equipments. They were men with giant-wisdom observing life as a whole, in the canvas of their own mind and intellect, to study the great theme of LIFE, in a spirit of pure detachment. By Life I don’t mean life of a given period of history, but LIFE in its totality, gushing out through the channels of ages. Our religion and prayers are nothing but the sum-total of their unanimous conclusions and wisdom-truths passed down the ages.
According to Vedanta, a philosophy, however great, cannot of its own accord bless any generation. The knowledge of the fact that Tylenol can cure headache is not sufficient to eliminate the pain. The medicine has to be first procured and then swallowed and later has to get assimilated in the system for the right results. Same principle applies to Zarathushtrian religion and philosophy: a community is happy, only to the degree to which it, in its behaviour and transaction of life, attunes itself to its intellectually accepted philosophical truths.
In today’s modern age of science and logic, the followers of the Zarathushtrian religion are at the cross-roads, torn apart by those born in an age of blind-belief in the great philosophic declarations of the ancient text books and the seekers of modern knowledge.
Ironically, both extremes of the community are speaking more or less the same language, that is, preservation of the great religion. However, with a major difference: that is, the modern knowledge seekers cannot and do not want to understand the so-called dead language of the scriptures. And therein lies the secret of our despair with the religion: our incapacity or ignorance to understand the great seers when they discuss true spiritual contents.
It is indeed sad and calamitous to experience splits in the community, all in the name of religion. Today, we have as many groups in the community as the population itself: the Traditional Thinkers and the Radicals, the Orthodox and the Reformists, the pro-Inclusion and the Exclusionists, the Traditional Scholars and the Reformist Scholars, the Parsi and the Zarathushtrians, the Progressive Thinkers and the Bigoted Thinkers-------. Each group claims to live in an age of perfect intellectual awareness and scientific precision and therefore feel privileged to pull the other group down by proving his point. So much so that most of us are not prepared to accept even the well documented declarations of the Prophet, however great the Prophet maybe, or however revered the learned Dastoors maybe, unless our so-called logical reasoning is convinced of the religious teachings and feel completely satisfied of the given explanations!
No wonder our age is branded as an age of atheist and the secular because we dare to question and we do so openly, at times naively, but many-a-times cunningly and with intentions to deceive and incorporate changes much against the dictates and tenets of the religion. Unfortunately, faith in our age-old traditions and rituals has been replaced by the so-called ‘intellectual arguments’, thereby introducing possible deceptions in the name of ‘researched knowledge’ which contribute in twisting the immature minds of our young and old alike.
The indifference to Zarathushtrian religion is not so much due to the futility or hollowness of the science of religion as such, but due to our own incapacity to understand the deeper meaning of our ancient scriptures and the self-discipline it dictates to maintain purity of the highest order. The new ways of thinking is somehow neither able to accommodate nor understand the ancient ideas of religious discipline and reality, as it is always in search for short cuts. It is indeed a paradox that a community whose contribution is far too great in relation to their small numbers, in almost every field of human endeavour, finds itself in a void so far as their religious and ethical values are concerned.
It is sad that every “old” established tradition, custom or convention is looked down upon by many of us as something that is unworthy of an ‘intellectual’ being. As a youngster, born in an ‘athornan’ (priestly) family whose forefathers were also practicing mobeds (priests), I distinctly remember the religious self-discipline my parents followed and encouraged us to practice. My father always stated that like a doctor would say there are no diseases but only persons who are diseased; similarly, in matters related to religion there are no opinions, only opining persons. There cannot be two opinions to religious dictates that are revealed by the great Prophets and sosyants (savants).
It may come as a surprise to many but never have my parents or any of my relatives who practiced priesthood have ever stepped into a restaurant for fear of ‘breaking’ their ‘barshnoom’ (sacred bath undertaken for spiritual purity and to maintain their sacred ‘karsh’). And if they did by chance, for whatever reason, they would not perform any religious ritual till such time they undertake the ‘barshnoom’ once again. Today, to the ‘intellectual thinkers’ of our community, the above practice would look absurd, nonsensical and torturous.
I also remember my father’s religious self-discipline in not traveling by public transport as far as possible, but if he did undertake travel by a bus or a train he would go through the ritual of ‘nahan’, since serving the Paadshah Saheb (consecrated fire) necessitates a discipline of self-purification through prescribed Zarathushtri tarikats (rituals). There were no short cuts then as they are none today, but the thinking pattern of individuals has changed radically.
Speaking of maintaining purity, there used to be an Irani restaurant in Mumbai at the corner of Princess Street and Anjuman Atash Behram, frequented by many Parsis and the mobeds (priests) serving at the nearby Atash Behrams and Atash Adarans. The owner, an Irani gentleman, used to personally serve “gulabi-chai” exclusively to the Parsi community, and especially to the mobeds. The mobeds never entered the restaurant in order to maintain ritualistic purity but the Irani owner, respecting and understanding the need to maintain spirituality of the mobeds, served them tea on the road. The tea was prepared personally by Mr. Irani and served in special pink cups and saucers, hence the name “gulabi-chai” whereas the general public was served tea in white cups prepared by the cooks. The pink cups and saucers were personally washed and dried by Mr. Irani himself. So much for maintaining religious purity with complete faith and dedication!
Why is it that we Zarathushtrians of the new age are always in a reactive mode of challenging the religious tarikats (dictates)? If the Laws of biology, physics and astronomy do not change even after ages, if His workshop has the same old models of eyes, ears, heart or kidney, then why not the Laws of religion and morality, as revealed by the Prophet, Seers and Saints, continue to remain eternal and orthodox?
Even the movement of heavenly bodies seem to follow an old timetable, correct to the split-second, so why should the ‘new intellectual’ civilization despise or reject the religious tradition and discard them as ‘old’ and ‘unworthy’ to pursue in the present times? Why must they endeavour to demolish the very foundation of our great religion by whipping false public propaganda against the religion?
The absurdity with which some suggestions are made, all with “good intentions” to bring reforms in the religion, is, at times, appalling. While one section of the community wants the confinement during menses be lifted and they be allowed to partake in all religious ceremonies, the other section of the community is actually questioning the need to have Navjote ceremony performed at all!! Yet another section of the community is bickering about why the elevated title of ‘Dastoor’ cannot be awarded to a few mobeds in the North America as well, especially those who have served the community exceptionally well, so what if they have encouraged conversion and performed juddin (non-Parsis) Navjotes!?! In fact, one of the Mobeds, a ‘sampurna mobed’, is married to a juddin himself!!
The need of the hour is to first look inward in oneself to see areas that require reformation before we can reform our religion. Self-control and self-education are the two selves that constitute SELF-DISCIPLINE. Before we decide to self-govern our religion let us first try and govern our lower selves, which is full of egotism, greed and conceit. Individual uniqueness must take precedence over personal wants; and just as mere impulse is not inspiration, mere knowledge of worldly things is not wisdom, mere craving is not will and impulsive lust is not true love, similarly blind likes and dislikes in religious matters do not bespeak of true human character.
Many Zarathushtrians, ignorant and ill educated of religious teachings, often seem to feel in their self-congratulatory vanity of
ill-digested knowledge, that the different paths for self-development available in our religious literature are themselves very weak and lack in conviction. It is comparable to the beggar who was allowed to use the king’s palace, complained of the inconveniencies, which the palace had to offer with the innumerable rooms and halls provided to him! Sadly so, often the modern Zarathushtrians tend to condemn his religion by false accusations of it being “too exhaustive” or “the prescribed Laws of purity are too stringent.” To add to the confusion, our true scholars of the religion are unable to have a common consensus on any of the religious translations thereby adding fuel to the ignited fire of doubt and reform.
What else but ignorance alone can parade such shameless audacity? If a chariot is drawn by four wild horses, each in it’s own wild strength pulling in four different directions, the unharnessed powers will not only disallow the chariot to proceed to it’s goal, but will wreck it completely into multiple pieces. Same parable can apply to the Zarathushtrian religion today: the push and pull from all corners and directions will destroy and disintegrate the very fabric of our great religion.
Instead, only if we could inculcate a farmers approach to the subject of religion and it’s preservation, it would help in management of the religion. Like an experienced farmer, we are required to discover the sap that runs in the core of the seemingly dead tree and collectively make efforts to revive the tree by loosening the soil at the roots, nourishing it with regular supplies of manure and by cautiously trimming a few branches to reduce unnecessary burden. However, one cannot save the tree by either uprooting it or by bringing in external parasites to grow on the tree in hopes of grooming fresh life!! If done intelligently, certainly the tree of our religion can be redeemed, trimmed and revitalized with the nourishing salt of understanding and the true waters of sincere knowledge seeking, and then a true and revealed religion like Zarathushtrianism can never die. It has withstood, thrived and survived for nearly 8000 years and will continue to do so for times immemorial.
It reminds me of us as little children learning to sow seeds in the garden. Impatience always got the better of us as we frequently dug out the seed to view it’s growth but replaced it rather disappointed at the slow change. Ultimately, the semi-sprouted seed was so damaged that days of labour was rendered fruitless. This is typical of us Zarathushtrians; impatience in terms of time and space has limited our growth in matters related to religion. If we constantly tinker with our religion and our traditions, which brook no interference, we are, for sure, inviting future failures.
What is lacking today is the abiding faith, the fundamental dependence on the Creator, which has sustained the community through good and the bad times. We call ourselves advanced and intellectual in many aspects than our worthy ancestors but are quick to express ‘rights’ in matters related to religion.
We all agree that there is a Divine Plan in everything, be it in the movement of planets or in the system of award and retribution to the soul. So also, taking birth in a particular religion is in accordance to the Divine Plan and Divine Blessings of Dadar Ahura Mazda. So why does one have to challenge the Divine Plan by encouraging conversion? Especially so, when we know that the right to interfere with religious rites and rituals is no part of academic freedom. Instead let us continue to follow the path of truth that is laid down by our revered Paigamber Saheb and was followed, against all odds, by our forefathers. We need to learn from our past, and as history has taught us,induced modernity can (and will) destroy a lot faster the great past of our great religion and indeed history will demonstrateyet again as regards who committed crimes on whom in destroying the age-oldcustoms, rituals, and traditions of Zarathushtra!
It takes million years for a rain forest to grow but less then a month for the modern man to destroy it!! So much for modernity and progress! It has taken over 1300 years to nurtureour sacredfire in UdwadaAtash Behramwith rigorousreligious tarikats and 'pav-mel-ni kriya' (highest liturgy), but, if the'modernization' of our religion continues at the present pace, aided and supported by the self-professed'learned and the scholarly' of the modern times, it will takeless then a few months or even a few weeks to put that sacred flame out and replace it with gas burners, all in the name of progress! AMEN!
We have several examples from history like the Incas of South America or the Aborigines of Australia or the Red Indiansof North America orSanthals of Madhya Pradesh or other such lost tribes of the world where a similaraggressive stance and pattern was adopted bythe white manin destroying the culture and customs ofindigenous and ancient race!
It is indeed lugubrious that in the name of modernity and 'scholarly' knowledge,a handful of aggressorsare hell bent to destroy the age-old traditions, customs, rituals and peaceful harmony of Zarathushtra’s followers by spreading incorrect pronouncements which are bound to be proved wrong but, unfortunately, after a considerable damage is done to the religion. It appears that our community is divided by a kind of lunacy and reminds me of the story of a VIP who was invited to inaugurate a block in a mental hospital for the criminally insane. As the VIP was shown around, he noticed from the balcony overlooking the yard that there were several dangerously criminal inmates milling around and there were only two armed guards manning them. The VIP was alarmed and enquired, “What would happen if all the inmates got together and attacked the two guards?”
The Superintendent merely laughed, “That can never happen, for lunatics never unite!” he assured the VIP.
I only hope and pray that may the story not apply to our community and may we always stay united and strong in our faith for the religion and in Zarathushtra’s teachings.
Adil J. Govadia.
Chapters of the Saga
Saga of the Aryans Home Page
Traditional Zoroastrianism Home Page
How to get the Saga in book form