The doctrine we can obtain clearly from the
Gathic verses is what one might call a 'Religious Vision'. By that we mean
that the religious conception offers not stories about gods, nor
prescriptions imposed by God, nor again God's will manifested in history.
The religious vision, here, is a 'View of the World', i.e. a perspective
from which one may view the world such that it leads one to a 'Way of
Life' .The fusion of the two constitutes a religious vision.
The Gathic vision portrays the world in
radically moral terms, that is, it sees a good world contaminated with
evil. The 'good' here is taken to be the perfect design of the world,
called Asha, the Truth. This, the ideal truth, is the divinely
given good, acting in accordance with which is 'Right Action'. One who
chooses to live thus is called an ashavan. Any individual can live such a
life, since we are all equipped with the 'Good Mind' (Vohu Mana)
which is the intrinsic power to reveal to us how Asha applies to
any situation. Thus acting to implement Asha, as disclosed by
Vohu Mana is the resulting ideal way of life.
This is what Zarathushtra asked humanity to
live by. It is the Mazdayasni faith he preached. Of course, religious
institutions usually embrace more than religious vision; they develop
rituals and social practices, often based on legendary histories and
myths, cosmogonic and historical.
Rituals developed naturally, some having
a clear ritualization of the religious vision, and some not. For example,
the initiation (navjote) ritual is one where the initiate declares
his/her choice of the worthy way of life- a life of good thought, word and
deed. Similarly, the marriage ceremony over and above being a declaration
of mutual commitment to each other, is also a joint commitment to
When you look at one of the high rituals of
the Zarathushtrian church -the Yazeshne ceremony -the recitation of the 72
ha's of the Yasna are recited when the haoma juice is extracted,
the relation of the ritual to the original vision is quite obscure. This
ceremony of high sanctity has been maintained by an inviolable tradition,
because of the historical association with the pre-Zarathushtra concept of
religiosity involving haoma, even though the ritual is unrelated to
the vision of Zarathushtra. It will thus be performed less and less, and
may in time disappear, which would be a loss. Hence one should attempt to
preserve at least that part of the Yasna that is related to the original
The principle for evaluating tradition,
obvious to all rational human beings is this: the primary focus of the
faith must be clearly recognized and explicitly preserved, as well as the
ideals that emerge from it. Rituals and social practices must be seen to
be related to the articulation, veneration, or reinforcement of the
primary articles of faith.
Notice what is, and what is not being
suggested. Not the abandonment of ritual or social practice, nor
replacement of the same, but their adaptation so that they may become
significant to the contemporary mind and conscience, and in that form,
live in the minds and hearts of believers. Rituals and social practices
must live as meaningful and pleasant aspects of one's life, and not become
the repetitive residues of an uncomprehended past.
The application of the principle of adaptation
to social practices .of the religious group evokes divisive discourse.
This is because the Zarathushtrian community after the loss of its empire
had to live in a tribal society framework, both in Iran and in India. The
tribal feature of the religious outlook implies that a person requires a
religion by birth. This may well have been the case with Iranians of the
pre-Zarathushtra period, as it was with the Vedic Indians.
By contrast, Zarathushtra offers his message
to humanity. According to him the religious vision is accepted by the
believer, a human being, upon reflection and an explicit act of choice.
This, of course, is no secret. It is declared by each initiate at that
ceremony in the recitation of the Jasa me avanghahe Mazda. Nowhere
in the scripture is the universality of the faith denied or compromised
the least bit.
Now, if a person accepts the vision of
Zarathushtra and considers himself/herself a believer in that faith, such
a relation is one between the believer and God. The crucial social issue
is this: How should such a person be received by the Zarathushtrian
community, i.e., have him/her be welcomed, allowed, or excluded from
participating in its ritual life?
As far as I can see, to disallow such a person
is contrary to the position of the theology, and violating the intent and
spirit of Zarathushtra. I know, however, that there are some members of
the community who would disagree. That could be only on grounds of
traditionality, even though it runs counter to the theology! Here we see
the pernicious manifestations of traditionalism; the maintaining of the
tradition even when it has run amok.
In the atmosphere of cross winds of opinions,
what is, or what should be the commitment of a Zarathushtrian?
This is how I construe the teachings of the
prophet, who calls upon us in social situations to be "healers of
existence." Instead of repeating one's position, one should try to justify
it, not by involving just tradition, but by formulating the core of the
prophet's teaching, and examine which policy alternative is consistent
with it. The discussion is to be governed by understanding and reason (Vohu
Mana) and with exchange of reasons and insights (Spenta Armaiti).
This, I take it, is Hukhta, exchange in good words.
These individual and social attitudes .and
resolutions may be taken rationally to be what this writer considers the
Paper appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of the FEZANA journal