[ I was invited to contribute to
the FEZANA Journal my impressions and opinions on this rather personal and
contentious subject matter of the very mode of one’s religiosity.
Professor Kaikhosrov D. Irani was the Guest Editor. Limiting myself to my
own life experiences in a rather strict Zarathushti upbringing, I have
tried to project my views hoping they may appear impartial, unbiased and,
perhaps, also objective to the reader. I have
abstained from quoting chapter and verse.
Here it is, courtesy of the Editor of the Journal]
When trying to discuss the nature
of a commitment to the Faith (an acceptance, which requires no proof,
evidence or, some may say, even justification), we are really talking of
the very mode of religiosity experienced and lived by the
Zarathushti Faithful. This being an important influence in life and
an intensely personal matter (an Individual Consciousness)
it is certainly not easily amenable, as a subject matter, to argument and,
perhaps, even to open discussion. However, since I have committed myself
to write on the subject I am obliged to take the liberty of airing briefly
my impressions. But I would prefer to abstain from quoting chapter and
During my work and in my travels I have not
met two Zarathushtis recognizing (or, at least, apparently showing) an
identical mode of religious Consciousness in their life experiences.
There appear to remain some inherent differences, sometimes, even in
members of the same household. Why may this be so? Let us try to
identify briefly the reasons for the differences.
In ancient times there was no separation
between what we, now, recognize to be different disciplines. There
existed knowledge, which was disseminated by word of mouth and
incorporated the wisdom and techniques of the times. The distinctions
emerged when several disciplines were formulated and identified.
The nature of the acceptance of the Faith by the Faithful
remains essentially abstract in its very core. It is, often, a fusion of
a ‘described’ view of life, as it should be seen
(imbibed from early life in the household and community) and a ‘prescribed’
way of life, as it ought to be led (influenced mainly by
experiences in early life in the household and community).
The ‘described’ view of life
comes as naturally to the trusting infant as the ‘mother tongue’ through
the subtle input of the ten senses. The innocent trust may become somewhat
questionable as the child experiences extraneous influences in school and
in the company of peers. It may become further abraded as the inquiring
mind begins to think for itself and to exert its discriminatory
The intrinsic core values of a ‘prescribed’
way of life (expected of the Faithful by the near and dear ones,
the peers and the community) are influenced to a major extent by moral
principles, too. They may, at times, represent ethical rules of propriety
for guidance, requiring or rejecting certain types of thoughts, words or
actions as being morally correct or incorrect.
Need for Justification
The attempt at the justification of either the
fusion of the described view and the prescribed way of life within the
Faith or of a careful inquiry and reasoning into the
Prophet’s teaching is a matter for each individual mind. As we have noted
before, where there is Faith some may argue that, since no proof or
evidence is needed, there should be no reason for justification either.
Let us, now, look at the question of careful inquiry and reasoning.
In other words let us think individually, each one of us separately,
without showing bias to either line of thought.
A religious belief (and its practice)
exists in the Individual Consciousness of the Faithful, who
may develop a frame of mind / an attitude about its ‘correctness’ or
otherwise. There is enough evidence to show that certain deeply emotional
(sometimes, traumatic and intense) life experiences do govern the nature
of the commitment. The display of a fundamental stubbornness of one’s
adherence to such ‘correct’ beliefs (orthodoxy) and to such ‘correct’
practices (orthopraxy) is often taken as being the quality of a deeply
devout person - perhaps, rightly so in most circumstances.
A tradition (with its social
interaction), on the other hand, carries a definite legitimacy.
One becomes obliged to respect it individually as well as during social
interaction, which makes it essentially an integral part of the
Communal Consciousness. There was, obviously, a historical period
in time when the tradition, in the course of Communal existence,
commenced. Its initial purpose, that of evoking a feeling of devotion and
of establishing social continuity and solidarity within the community was,
at that point in time, very crucial. During another historical period in
the vastness of evolutionary time its initial purpose, somehow, did not
appear just as crucial and relevant. It, then, appeared as if it had
outgrown its usefulness. Indeed, it gradually faded away, not by
refutation but by disuse over the long periods of time, as the generations
There are many glaring examples: - The
widespread use of the Zarathushti ‘topi’ or ‘mathubanu’ or similar
appropriate headdresses in daily life, without which one would have
been labelled a non-Zarathushti only a generation ago (particularly in the
rural towns), is hardly worn in modern daily life. When worn, the
headdress is generally discarded as soon as the ceremonial prayers are
over. During the 5-6 day period of the last World Congress in Houston
(among the 2200 Zarathushti ladies and gentlemen, barring the respected
Mobeds) I can remember seeing only a few delegates with an appropriate
Zarathushti head dress outside the time of the prayer ceremonies. Another
valid example is the use of copper wires instead of the Barsom Twigs
(Avestan: Baresman) during the prayer rituals. The reason given is an
apparent ‘helplessness’ from the non-availability of the Barsom Plant,
although there has been no particular plant clearly identified in the
religious texts as a Barsom Plant.
There are many more examples of
evolutionary disuse: - 1. ‘The
repeated taking of the Baj’, commencing with every new task or event
in daily life. 2. The gradual extinction of the Pahlavi language
and script in favour of the Gujarati and Modern Persian languages
and scripts. 3. The slow change to and adoption of some
customs and way of life of the host populations. 4. The (heated
exchanges we are going through regarding the) replacement of the
traditional household living flame or fire by incandescent light, etc.
I do maintain a ‘divo’ (an oil-lamp) but will my siblings continue the
practice? The discarding of such extremely pious practices has occurred,
not because they are not ‘correct’ practices any more but because they
have gradually ceased to be ‘justifiably acceptable’ in daily life during
the slow and persuasive process of evolutionary time.
Remembering that the fusion of a described view
and a prescribed way of life attempts to justify human existence and to
bring an iota of significance to the Faithful, let us delve further into
this topic. The nature of a belief does not always lie in a
statement of facts (as in other disciplines - say history, science …) but
in the inner, sometimes, unquenchable quest of the believer’s mind,
which may be faced with the obligation of a commitment to accept the
belief, perhaps by taking a view of life from a different plane.
When viewed from such a plane each
Individual Consciousness becomes truly worthy of tranquil thought
rather than of mere factual acceptance. Religious texts are replete with
a special set of literal facts admixed with commentaries and even literal
interpretation. A strict adherence to facts without a clear direction can
only lead to persistent discord, promoting confusion in inquiring human
minds and an inconsistent Communal Consciousness.
Somewhere in this maze, the communal purpose
of generating devotion or evoking a feeling of social continuity and
solidarity in the community is lost. It is not possible to enforce
uniformity, idealism and idealistic perfection in a spiritual sense.
Until the end of time, each human heart will be born to remain vigorously
individualistic and deeply personal, only to yield subconsciously to the
rigors of time itself. Those, in power, who have tried to impose
legislation and to implement it by force, have realized this does not
work. Ideals and blue prints aimed at a utopia can never bring about a
change of heart. The new thinking of reformists always appears
distrustful because the old thinking has taken deep root in the mind and,
therefore, appears safe. Still, the inevitable force of a slow and
persuasive evolutionary change added to the natural human striving to
redress and equalize the imbalance will continue. Human history has shown
that those who lack the motivation to adjust and progress through mutual
respect have, ultimately, managed to reform through cooperation enforced
through fear, interference as well as imposition.
In other Faiths (which, incidentally have
followers in the tumultuous millions) such occurrences have led to a
break-up of the followers, who have separated from the mainstream and
formed their own new denominations, which, then, have been quickly
absorbed within the millions. With only a few
thousand left on this good earth we, the Faithful, the guardians of the
most ancient of all Faiths on earth, would hardly be able to sustain any
1) Irani K. D., Religious
justification and contemporary knowledge, pp.
56-73, Journal of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay, No. 53, 1986.
2) Kerr, S.,
The Philosophical concept of Consciousness in Zarathushtra’s teachings.
Paper (by invitation) for the Third International Conference at the K. R.
Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay, on “Indo-Persian Cultures: Their
character and impact on Civilisations”, Jan. 6-9, 2000; pp. 354-369 of
the Proceedings, Mumbai, May 2001.
3) Kerr, S.,
The Universality of his Thoughts: a Philosophical overview. Paper
(by invitation) read - The 2nd World Zoroastrian Youth
Congress, July 1997. FEZANA Journal, pp. 30-32, Vol. XI, No. 1, 1998.
Article appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of the FEZANA journal under the
guest editorialship of professor Kaikhosrow D. Irani.