[The article is based on two illuminating
lectures delivered by Professor Kaikhosrov D. Irani to large audiences in
“The Enlightenment”, an intellectual
movement, which became influential as late as the 18th century
in Europe, was a pursuit centered on confidence in the human
capacity for thought and judgment. Its roots, in fact go much, much
further. It was believed that human reason could be used to combat
ignorance, superstition and tyranny and to build a better world.
Accordingly, if we are permitted to think free from the interference of
mythology, magic, social and political pressures for or against
maintaining something or other, we are capable of comprehending,
evaluating and acting rationally and responsibly. It follows that beliefs
must be rational and actions must be principled, i. e. rationally
accepted. It is well known that religious beliefs are accepted on faith,
not reason. The ‘Enlightenment attitude’ demands that what is accepted on
faith not be contrary to rational belief - that religious beliefs move
beyond the miraculous myths and stories.
Traditionally, religions provide stories
around the lives of their founders and their teachings. From these there
emerge various religious visions. In most modern religions the following
two are present: - A View of the World and a Way of Life.
From the Enlightenment point of view, if these two find acceptance in the
consciousness of the believer, it can provide a sense of
significance and purpose to the believer’s life. Without a direction for
a way of life a religious belief is functionless. Immanuel Kant
formulated the requirements for the religious faith thus:
Belief without a vision of
the nature of existence is blind.
Belief without a commitment
to a way of life is empty.
The remarkable insight of Zarathushtra fits
very clearly into this mode of thought. He asks his followers to (i)
view the world as a conflicted world, meant to be perfect, orderly and
harmonious, but suffering the contamination of evil and (ii) strive to
transform any situation of evil, disturbed harmony, injustice or suffering
and bring it in accord with Asha - Righteous Order; which we are capable
of realizing with our God-given Vohu Mana - Good Mind. Good human beings
striving to promote the good, bring about with the help of social
intelligence, the good society. And, gradually, as such a society comes
into existence, human beings reap the benefits of the life of Righteous
Order. A good society is established to provide and ensure 1) the
satisfaction of humans through their self-realization and 2) the
maximization of justice (minimizing undeserved benefits as well as
burdens). It further strives to balance these demands with insight and
with the recognition of the limitations of this imperfect world.
Some religious traditions,
beliefs and practices prevail with no concern for their rationality and on
the grounds of their traditionalism only. Frequently, commentaries
written in some sacred book is accepted only because ‘that is the word of
God’. The recognition of that is a distinctly non-Enlightenment attitude
but ultimately it is still the believer’s decision. The extraordinary
transformation that Zarathushtra generated in the history of human thought
consisted of two significant ideas: 1. faith is not a matter of
membership or affiliation to a group but a matter of
personal conscience arrived at through individual choice and, 2.
faith is primarily and essentially a commitment to a moral life
- a life dedicated to perfecting society. But one must feel
surprised, perhaps with sadness, that not only is
this not widely known among Zarathushtrians, but also neither is it
generally expounded by those responsible for the transmission of his
The most valuable
possession every human being can ever have is Individuality,
a combination of a physical being (Tanu) and a spiritual component, the
soul (Urvan); this gives us a unique personality deserving of dignity
and respect. The Self of the Individual is the seat of consciousness
and self-consciousness, hence, of thought, feeling and judgment. Thus
persons, and only they as individuals, sensitive to values and reflective
about options, are the ones that generate and maintain a just society. A
just society, in return, promotes the realisation of individual goodness
and happiness of its members. A good society is one where practices are so
regulated that the interests of individuals are not trampled upon
indiscriminately, only minimally curtailed. Human beings live in
collective structure and their values lie in a balance of interests with a
structure so constructed that we minimise the interference of the
satisfaction of one interest upon the satisfaction of another. Arranging
such a social order - what we call the Righteous Order - not only needs
humans of goodwill, i. e. those who seek the promotion of Asha, but also
needs deep understanding of social relations. There is a significant
passage in the Gathas (Yasna
48, verse 5): "Let those who know how to rule
well, and not the evil rulers, rule us! Let them rule us with wisdom and
skill, O Armaiti!"
Zarathushtra’s Religion ‘Veh-din’ is the
religion of commitment, constant striving and responsibility. It is
not a religion of comfort and certainly not a religion of renunciation.
Often, it is common for religious persons to view religion as a technique
of offering prayers of praise and glorification and asking, in return,
various gifts and boons e. g. health, wealth, success or the satisfaction
of some hope or aspiration or, sometimes, even the discomfiture of an
enemy. This is a very primitive religious conception of offering and
asking. It is child-like in simplicity and does not respect human
dignity. Its pathetic picture of human self-respect is often blurred by
attempts at making such practices appear beautiful. It is such pretence
that the ‘Enlightenment attitude’ attempts to deflate.
view of the world and a striving for promoting the Righteous Order,
which Zarathushtra asks us to adopt upon illumined reflection, presents
a noble picture of the human spirit and respect for human reason and
freedom. And in doing so, he was, perhaps, the earliest proponents of
the Enlightenment Theology in human history.
A believer takes himself to be able to
recognize a wrong, whether it is in
individual relations or in the functioning of society. In the theology of
Zarathushtra we are taken to have the capacity for such discernment. But
this needs to be developed by appropriate moral direction and guidance.
Thus, insightful moral education is not a matter of providing
prescriptions of what to do and not to do. The Gathas are totally free of
prescriptions. What is to be taught is the notion of the 'Good', i.e.
what is right - the Righteous Order, not in its universal totality, but in
its embodiment in every human situation – to be ‘just’. And
this each one of us can recognize because we have the God-given Good Mind
(Vohu Mana) for that task. And where it is violated, we
recognize that there is a moral flaw, our consciousness being equipped to
do so, benumbed with large doses of self-interest and selfishness.
The holy Pontiff, Adarbad Mahrespand emphasized: ‘Let there be no
one who fails to recognize the face of injustice’.
As humans advance in moral intelligence, the
ability of Vohu Mana promotes a society of Righteous Order, which
continues to actualize. And such a progressive society then leads to the
moralizing of humans and brings them to a state of enlightened happiness,
Ushta. Such is the ethical stance and cosmic optimism of Zarathushtra's
message to humanity.
Qaddimi Ruz Fravardin, Mah Dae YZ 1372 (May 6, 2003)
Appeared in the 3000 year anniversary of Zoroastrianism (UNESCO
declaration) special issue of HAMZOR (publication of the World
Zoroastrian Organization) issue 3, 2003, pps. 43-45.