— LETTER TO OUR YOUTH # 2 —
DOES THE "FREEDOM OF CHOICE" APPLY TO CONVERSION?
I was very glad to learn from some of you that you liked my earlier "letter to our youth" (‘Jame,’ 29-9-96) on whether the Gathic Freedom of Choice can apply to intermarriage. Thanks! Encouraged by this feedback, I thought you might find it useful to have this second letter from me on whether the Freedom of Choice can apply to conversion. So here goes!
The genuine Free Choice as first revealed to mankind by Asho Zarathushtra in the holy Gathas (Yasna 30-2), has been transmuted by some mysterious experiment of heterodox alchemists into a licence for "Free Choice Unlimited," which misleads people into exercising their unrestrained instincts and uninhibited free will to indulge in un-Zarathushtrian activities such as conversion and intermarriage. This alchemy also provides vast scope to heterodox pundits to chop and change the religion of Zarathushtra in any way convenient to heterodox ideology.
Hand in hand with this mischievous "carte blanche" goes the seductive argument that man can easily exercise his free choice correctly. As explained by a certain champion of heterodoxy: "How to make a correct choice? Ahura Mazda has put in each and every one of us VOHU MANAH, the faculty of right mind." Well, let’s see whether this artful argument is really as easy or valid as it sounds!
Vohu Manah is the "Good Mind" ("vohu" = good; "manah" = mind), one of the Amesha Spentas (literally, the "Holy Immortals"). These exalted spiritual Entities personify the divine qualities of Ahura Mazda, and they may also be envisaged as the divine "rays" emanating directly from the Supreme Godhead. Vohu Manah is one of these "rays" and thus the Divine Mind of Ahura Mazda Himself.
I’m sure you’ll agree that it is the height of arrogance and ignorance to attribute the purity-perfect Divine Intelligence to the puny and imperfect mortal mind of man, or to fancy that Vohu Manah is always awake and active in us. Man is made in the image of God, but man is not as yet God!
Yes, the human mind has the potential to attain the perfected state of Vohu Manah, but it is only after aeons of spiritual evolution that the soul of man reaches perfection and can aspire to knock at the gates of heaven. Yes, the seeds of Vohu Manah lie in man’s mind, but they do not sprout until man uplifts his spiritual consciousness and showers them with the waters of Piety and Righteousness. Yes, man must constantly strive to work towards cultivating Vohu Manah, but he cannot yet dare to flatter himself that he has made the Divine Mind his own. Yes, man must exercise his mental faculties, but without tall claims to infallibility. But no, Vohu Manah does NOT appear at every beck and call of the unillumined mind, and cannot be conjured up by the non-saintly mortal with just a snap of the fingers!
This is precisely why all religions provide a long list of commandments, laws, maxims, prescriptions, proscriptions, rules and regulations, as guides to making the RIGHT choices. Just think about it. Would these ready-made guidelines need to be provided at all if our minds were capable of divine levels of discrimination to make all decisions correctly, or if Vohu Manah were to come to our rescue every time we called? Unfortunately for us all, Frasho-kereti is still far, far away!
As non-sainted human beings we should humbly recognize that the rational thinking of our mortal minds is bogged down in the world of duality with a mixture of the DUAL MENTALITIES of good and evil. For ordinary people like us, the potentiality of Vohu Manah, the GOOD Mind, CO-EXISTS with the potentiality of Aka Manah, the BAD Mind (refer Gatha Yasna 32-3, 33-4 and 47-5). This is why, when he offers the Freedom of Choice to mankind, our Prophet advises that the mind should be ILLUMINED ("soochaa mananghaa"; G.Y. 30-2) BEFORE the act of choosing takes place, for ONLY THEN can the RIGHT choice ("eresh veeshyaataa"; G.Y. 30-3) be made. If our heterodox friends can guarantee that all of us act with "soochaa mananghaa" all of the time, we would be quite willing to concede their point of "Free Choice Unlimited"!
Man’s freedom to choose is a freedom, NOT a licence. The non-illumined mind is more than likely to make the WRONG choices, especially in our materialistic, hedonistic times. This is why Asho Zarathushtra also warns us that along with the freedom to choose man has to simultaneously accept the responsibility of shouldering the adverse consequences of his wrong choices too ("akem akaai"; G.Y. 43-5).
What makes our heterodox friends so sure that for every flash of Vohu Manah, there will not be two of Aka Manah? The proof of the pudding, as they say, lies in the eating. Just look around you with open eyes!
Take a good hard look at the appalling state of the world in our own time. Almost never before in history has there been such a horrific and profligate century. The happy result of our "Free Choice Unlimited," yes? Nearly ten million battle deaths in the First World War, and 15.6 million in the Second. But that is the tip of the iceberg — please add 39.2 million civilian deaths to the latter alone. Entire races sought to be wiped out. Hatred, brutality, greed. Our "correct choices," yes? Hundreds of million men, women and children allowed to live in abject misery at sub-human levels, racked by hunger and ravaged by disease. An entire planet put into jeopardy, with its ecology all but wrecked and the continued existence of life itself seriously in question. Our "right free choices," yes? Look closely at the qualitative standard of living. The Drug Culture. The Permissive Society. Morality dying, strangled by Licence. Evildoing. Vice. Corruption. Roguery. Depravity. Homosexuality, lesbianism, AIDS, "free love," single parenthood, child pornography, child sex. All teetering on the brink of epidemic levels. The joys of "Free Choice Unlimited," yes? Religion turned topsy-turvy, abandoned by the faithless or twisted by the self-interested for personal convenience and self-justification. Our own ethno-religious heritage, preserved by untold generations with untold sacrifice and untold faith, brought to a pass where our very identity and survival now hang by a thread.
This is not cynicism. It is realism. Just pick up your daily newspaper and count for yourselves how many "right choices" you can spot, compared to "wrong choices." Judge for yourselves whether man’s mentality is soaring towards divinity or sinking into bestiality. And then assess the heterodox proposition that modern man’s mind is ticking in unison with Vohu Manah, the Divine Mind.
CONVERSION is the breaking of a consecrated covenant with a religion. It is a breach of faith and the betrayal of one’s own religion. In the heterodox doctrine, however, it is considered the epitome of "right choice." And pulling an ace from the sleeve in a remarkable sleight of hand, the doctrine’s cardinals flash it in the face of the world, brazenly broadcasting that Asho Zarathushtra himself has provided mankind with a "freedom of RELIGIOUS choice" in his Gathas! But just wait a minute and we’ll find out how quickly that ace turns into a joker.
ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like a "freedom of RELIGIOUS choice" exists anywhere in the holy Gathas, and there is NO reference in there, direct or indirect, to any "choice of RELIGION." Even a nodding acquaintance with the Gathas should bear this out. Besides, the question cannot even arise, because the other great religions of the world had not yet seen the light of day in the remote era of Asho Zarathushtra. To call a spade a spade, it is all purely and simply a fiction of heterodox enthusiasts, manufactured and marketed with surpassing subtlety and professional packaging in order to canvass credibility for their conversion mania. (Though it is said that an untruth repeated often enough assumes the garb of truth, it is hard to believe that even one of our most eminent jurists, known for his acumen, seems to have been taken in by the heterodox hoax of "free religious choice"!)
What DOES exist in the Gathas is the pristine Freedom of MORAL Choice. This first appears in the second verse of Gatha Yasna 30. For an appreciation of this Choice within its true Gathic context, it will be enough to examine below, either in whole or in part as may be relevant, just the first four verses from the total of eleven that are contained in Chapter 30. (Note: Literal translation by Dr. Irach Taraporewala, ‘The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra,’ Bombay 1993 reprint. All emphases mine.)
ÀIn the very first lines of the very first verse, Asho Zarathushtra indicates that the overall scope and context of Chapter 30 is the epochal doctrine of THE TWO SPIRITS OF CREATION, THE TWO MAINYUS OF GOOD AND EVIL: "Now to those eager shall I speak of the Two, who are created by Mazda —all this teaching is for the wise ... " (G.Y. 30-1).
ÁIn the second verse, Asho Zarathushtra reveals THE FREEDOM OF CHOICE: "Listen with your ears to the highest Truths, consider them with your mind illumined, before deciding between the Two Paths; man by man, each for his own self ... " (G.Y.30-2).
ÂIn the third verse, it becomes evident that the Choice has nothing at all to do with choosing between one religion and another, because Asho Zarathushtra DEFINES THE TWO SPIRITS AS THE MORAL OPPOSITES OF GOOD AND EVIL AND MAKES IT ABSOLUTELY CLEAR THAT THE CHOICE IS BETWEEN THESE TWO ONLY: "Now, in the beginning were these Two Spirits ... these Two show themselves as Good and Bad; and of these Two the Wise rightly do choose, but not so the Unwise" (G.Y. 30-3).
ÃLikewise, in the fourth verse it becomes evident that the Choice has nothing at all to do with the followers of one religion as against the followers of another religion, because Asho Zarathushtra makes it absolutely clear that the demarcation he is making is EXCLUSIVELY BETWEEN THE FOLLOWERS OF UNTRUTH ("DREGVANTS") AS AGAINST THE FOLLOWERS OF TRUTH ("ASHAVANS"), WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE TWO OPPOSING SPIRITS OF GOOD AND EVIL: "And now when these Two Spirits together did foregather, they created first of all Life and Not-Life; and thus Creation’s purpose shall be fulfilled — the worst for the Followers of Untruth, but for the Follower of Truth the Best state of Mind" (G.Y.30-4).
How much clearer can it be that the Choice between the "Two Paths" is set wholly and solely within the ethical context of the "Two Spirits" of Good and Evil? Or that the "Two Paths" are the Path of Good and the Path of Evil and that mankind must "choose" BETWEEN "THESE TWO" ONLY? Or that the genuine Freedom of Choice is therefore exclusively a MORAL choice?
It is man’s first duty to choose wisely between the eternal ethical alternatives of Righteousness and Unrighteousness, Right and Wrong, Good and Bad. These diametric opposites are represented in the Zarathushtrian doctrine by the mutually exclusive pair of Spanyaa and Angra, the two Mainyus, Spirits, Mentalities, Forces or Energies of creation. These Two are the basis for morality in human life, and the basis for the workings of the cosmos as well.
Asho Zarathushtra exhorts each and every one of us to make the right moral choice between the Path of Truth ("Life") and the Path of Untruth ("Not-Life") through the exercise of our free will under the control of the "mind illumined." By making man aware of his Freedom of Moral Choice, Asho Zarathushtra made him the architect of his own destiny for the first time in human history. But at the same time, our holy Prophet reminds us that freedom and responsibility go together — man must be ready to bear the consequences of his chosen mode of life: "the worst for the Followers of Untruth, but for the Follower of Truth the Best state of Mind."
It is beneath contempt that so pristine an ethical conception has been twisted into an argument for religious floor-crossing! By what mental jugglery or tortured argument can Asho Zarathushtra’s authentic Freedom of MORAL Choice be torn out of its ethical context of the Two Mainyus and repackaged as a fake "freedom of RELIGIOUS Choice"? Where’s the ambiguity? Where does the matter of religion enter the picture? Where does the question of conversion arise?
The JUGGLERY may be sought to be justified on the plea that Gatha translations differ. But that is just eyewash. No translation can ever change the utter clarity and firmness with which our Prophet sets the Choice in its moral context of the Two Mainyus. Any deductions that conflict with this fundamental factor have to be viewed as misinterpretations or fabrications. This can be proved in no better way than by allowing a heterodox scholar, a self-styled "ratu" (saviour!) and a practitioner of conversion, to paint himself into a corner with his own published words — as follows.
"Hear the best with your ears and ponder with a bright mind. Then each man and woman, for his or her self, select either of the two (THE BETTER AND BAD MENTALITIES). Awaken to this doctrine of ours before the Great Event (of Choice) ushers in." (Note: Emphasis mine.) This is the translation of Gatha Yasna 30-2 as provided by the scholar himself — including the words contained in the brackets.
We take special note of the specific indication, given by him in brackets, that the selection is to be made between the "better and bad mentalities," in what is a clear (and correct) allusion to the Two Mainyus of Good and Evil. We do not query the rest of the translation, despite a reservation or two which does not affect our present discussion. We take it as correct. So far so good.
But we gasp in amazement when we find that in almost the same breath this scholar informs us that Gatha Yasna 30-2 is "the famous stanza of the ‘CHOICE OF RELIGION’ "! And we take another gasp when he proceeds to talk about people "who make the RIGHT CHOICE and JOIN the Good Religion"! (Note: Emphases mine.)
Witness the wild leap of imagination between the scholar’s objective translation and his subjective commentary — a case of gross inconsistency! What kind of tom-foolery is this? Pray tell, what on earth does "making the right choice and joining" the Zarathushtrian religion have to do with anything, when, according to his own translation of this Gathic verse, the only choice that Asho Zarathushtra offers to mankind is the choice of joining either the "better mentality" or the "bad mentality"?
But it is not our job to sort out these inconsistencies on behalf of the scholar. Our job is to take the inconsistencies as they are, and see where they logically lead.
After correctly recognizing that the only choice of selection given by our Prophet is between the "better and bad mentalities," if you still insist on calling this a "choice of religion" and invite people to "make the right choice and join the Good Religion" of Zarathushtra, one and only one logical conclusion follows: the other religion from which you are converting to Zoroastrianism is BAD!
The following GATHIC SYLLOGISM exposes and destroys the mischievous heterodox hoax of "Free Religious Choice" sought to be hung around the neck of Asho Zarathushtra’s immaculate revelations in Chapter 30 of the holy Gathas:
ÖIF YOU DECLARE THAT YOU CAN CONVERT FROM RELIGION ‘X’ TO ZOROASTRIANISM UNDER THE AUTHENTIC GATHIC TERMS OF REFERENCE (VIZ., THE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE AND DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSITE TWO MAINYUS OF GOOD AND EVIL), THOSE VERY SAME TERMS OF REFERENCE WOULD SIMULTANEOUSLY COMPEL YOU TO MAKE THE BLASPHEMOUS AND ABSURD DECLARATION THAT RELIGION ‘X’ IS EVIL. Õ
Thus the heterodox ace turns into a joker; the swan’s white paint wears off and reveals the ugly duckling. Insulting other religions by brazenly claiming that the "right choice" consists in converting to Zoroastrianism, and insinuating that other religions are in the grip of the "bad mentality," is utterly reprehensible and alien to the Zarathushtrian ethos and a wanton slur on the holy name of Zarathushtra. Such odious misinterpretations or fabrications are the inevitable result of tinkering with the holy scriptures and trying to twist the genuine Freedom of Moral Choice into a phony "freedom of Religious Choice" in a bid to ride the lame hobby-horse of conversion.
+The Gathic Freedom of Choice is man’s MORAL choice between the two Paths of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong. It is not a "Free Choice Unlimited" for catering to one’s instincts and doing whatever one likes, nor is it a "Free Religious Choice" for floor-crossing between religions. The Choice is a matter of Morality, and the holy Gathas of holy Zarathushtra are the supreme expression of supreme ethics.
My dear young friends, please be fully aware that your holy Prophet’s magnificent teaching of the Freedom of Choice has been mercilessly vandalized and twisted by certain interested parties for propping up their un-Zarathushtrian notions of conversion, mixed marriages, cremation, and so on. Please don’t allow the wool to be pulled over your eyes with the slick and persuasive propaganda that’s going on!
RONI K. KHAN
[Published in ‘The Jam-e-Jamshed Weekly’ on 03 August 1997]
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