The majority in India, Pakistan, and United States is familiar with the present conditions that are detrimental to the success and survival of our future generation. There are several factors that influence degradation and deterioration of our condition at the religious front and the people responsible for it are no one else but our own. Ignorance of our religious customs, traditions and rituals is the prime cause of all inconsistencies in the Zoroastrian community. Our religious authorities are not sure of their actions and judgement and command no respect in religious matters. Some power-hungry, WEALTHY intellectuals are practicing hypocrisy in the name of religion. Our prayers, priests and rituals are treated as age-old, meaningless inheritances that are compensated by growing number of Zarathustris accepting other religions.
The trend started by local influences continues as Zarathustris keep searching for non-Zoroastrian religious beliefs to resolve their materialistic aspirations. To defend these inconsistencies, a small group of orthodox people is trying to preserve and propagate esoteric meaning and application of our scriptures opposing inter-faith marriages and intrusion by foreign scholars in our religious matters. On the other end, our faithful North American Mobed Council is keeping themselves busy convincing, God knows who, to accept a confused version of our identity by getting consent from, as worded in their last minutes of the annual meeting, the "institution in India" which is well-known for its fallacy and limitations. Today, majorities who can apply their conveniences with an explanation of intellectual acceptance or common sense can very well compromise our religious customs, rituals and traditions.
In the midst of these socio-religious controversies, our society has deprived the young generation of their familiarity with our religion. The way people are treating our scriptures and ritual-based religious contents, it is FAR from reality to even HOPE that our future generation will preserve that in its entirety and, recognize themselves as the followers of Mazdayasni Zarathusti Religion. Do we have a chance to lead our next generation in the twenty-first century? The answer lies in how effectively we deal with the following problems facing the entire Community.
1. Ignorance of faith and its effect on society
The contemporary condition of our community is nothing but a SHAME and DISGRACE. Religious customs, traditions and rituals have NO MEANING for the majority. Sudreh-Kusti is no more respected as spiritual tools to shield oneself from "druj" from within and external environment. Our high priests have their own version of practicing our religion. On the Western Hemisphere, our community is enjoying privileges of practicing our religion far more `intellectually superior' than our Asian groups in terms of compromises and intellectual excuses to replace our traditional rituals and traditions. Our wedding, Navjote and death ceremonies, which have intrinsic value in its performance, have been celebrated and openly propagated as social functions inviting non-Zoroastrians to witness these occasions. A typical Parsee response would be "What is wrong in inviting non-Zoroastrian in such ceremonies?" And our high priests will favor that opinion by distinguishing ceremonies that can be done in Pav-Mahal and those that can be performed at any clean place. In reference to this age-old controversy on allowing non-Zoroastrians in our rituals, I wish one could realize the composition of Mathras and its vibrationary effect on "Zarathusti make-up" and how it effects his/her physical and spiritual body in the presence of a non-Zoroastrian. Here I would like to remind everyone that one couldn't master the composition of our Avesta Mathras and its applications by earning Doctorate degree from Harvard, Columbia or Stanford University. If that is true then, there is no need for our prophet to come to Geti just to let us know His commandments. Our high priests or any of those European scholars could have composed our prayers explaining tarikats, rituals and ceremonies.
My dear Zarathustris, our religion is not that simple to understand and practice. Our prayers are not just literal composition involving behavior of various creations of Ahura-Mazda and stories of so-called mythical characters in Iranian history. It has allegorical meanings and explanations that go beyond human imagination and understanding. Though we could understand some parts of HIS divine plan, we can never have wisdom to understand His original version. That is why HE is a creator and we are His creation, but some of our so-called intellectuals and foreign scholars are trying to prove it the other way round.
Establishing community associations, organizing congresses, social functions and family gathering are healthy sources of developing links among various groups around the world. However, it does not guarantee preservation of our religious traditions, rituals and practices in its true form. It does not help our next generation to practice and recite our sacred prayers in correct pronunciation. It does not help them to understand what they are expected to do when they visit Agiary, Atash-Behram or just kindle fire at home. It does not help them to understand their spiritual identity and mission of their soul in this material world. It does not give them a chance to know the Alaats given to us by Asho Zarathustra to defend ourselves from 'harmful elements' on this planet. It does not help them to know the resources required in case of any unforeseen incident happen in their family. It does not help them to help themselves by reciting prayers for their benefit in material and spiritual life.
My dear Zarathustri, our religion is based on rituals, ceremonies and religious traditions. If we cannot maintain them in its entirety without getting it corrupted by our materialistic aspirations, there is no need to call ourselves the followers of Mazdayasni Zaratosti Religion. There is no need for an initiation ceremony or prayer book in your house when you don't believe nor have faith in our religion to practice our Mathras and Tarikats.
Our common sense tells us - those who know nothing, do not miss anything but, those who know something have obligation to share among all. This statement is in reference to those religious philosophers and authors of numerous orthodox publications who are intentionally left ignored by our society. We have few learned priests in India and elsewhere who also adds to this list of people, however our so-called faithful, caretakers like B.P.P. W.Z.O., FEZANA, N.A.Z.C. and N.A.M.C. feels no obligation to highlight their presence in our community. Besides, scattered society and ignorance of religion are unfavorable factors in getting consensus on religious matters. My dear Zarathustris, leave your common sense, ego and intellectual judgements behind to understand our religious philosophies and literatures. Remember, one day our Urvaan will need ONLY Mathras and Kriya's to "travel" through those mystic layers of spiritual transformation.
2. Influence of other faith and religious practices
Today, non-Zoroastrian beliefs are openly practiced and propagated in our community. Besides, different cultures, traditions, and teachings of non-Zoroastrian scholars have always influenced our community. Idols of Saibaba, Meherbaba and other saintly individuals and religious idols prominently displayed in Zoroastrian house are a common site. It is also common among Zarathustris to make charities to Hindu Temples, Churches, and roadside worship places than to be charitable for the maintenance of Agiary and Atash-Behram. The missing factor among all is ignorance of Zarathusti religion. The decreasing number of devotees visiting our sacred Agairy and Atash Behram and very few wearing Sudreh Kusti and recite Mathras in correct pronunciation are perfect examples of a trend leading to downfall of our faith in the years to come. If one knows the meaning and process of consecration of Atash Adaran or Atash Behram fire, and how many Yazasne's and Vendidad's were performed on that land, it would be most unlikely to convince oneself to be faithful to Zarathusti religion. Obviously, one has to have the knowledge of what Yazasne and Vendidad is all about and, what role does Atash Adaran and Atash Behram plays in his/her life. A person's wit in professional field like medicine, law or business will not qualify him/ her to provide answers in religious matters, neither it inspires someone to read and write articles in religious philosophies.
The Parsees have always been searching for answers to their "religious inconveniences" which they found it through foreign scholars or by practicing other religion. In the last three decades, our comrades have become very smart and intelligent in searching varied sources of charity from the Supreme Being. From Saibaba pooja to spirit of Jalbava in Banaji and magical powers in Aslaji Agiary - people have started believing in any supernatural phenomena to obtain answers to their materialistic gains. My dear Zarathusti, miracle happens when you practice our Mathras and lead a life prescribed by our prophet. The presence of these spiritual beings at certain places is not to make you rich and successful. Besides, by birth we all are obligated to follow Zarathusti religion and do Farzyat prayers, no matter where, when and how we live - rich or poor, happy or in misery. The unfortunate sign is, people tend to relate doing prayers only for gaining materialistic rewards and pleasures. How many of you were consistent in going to Agiary during your school or college examination? How many times have you been to Udvada strictly for prayers and not for enjoyment at the nearest resorts? How many times have you committed yourself to recite prayers? Have you ever spent your free time in reading religious books or contacting someone to know more about our religion? How can you say that our religion has nothing meaningful to benefit your life?
Some families have found practical solutions to meet their needs by following various non-Zoroastrian rituals and practices. Ironically, we seldom come to consensus on religious issues - whether it involves the Trustees or Managing Committee of Bombay Parsee Panchayat, WZO, FEZANA, NAMC or NAZC. They all invite people with "ideas" on religious issues without even confirming their sources or authenticity of their knowledge or education. Today a typical Parsee has an obsession to believe in other religions for spiritual knowledge, success in life or financial gain. They are the ones who prefers to visit Shirdi, Novina celebration and such holy places and occasions to satisfy their material or spiritual aspirations than to visit our Agiary or Atash-Behram, which could be next door. A perfect example is of Tata Colony at Tardeo. There is a small Saibaba Mundir at the corner of the street where some Parsees join others in Pooja, offer flowers, food and money for its maintenance when Kappawalla Agairy is just few yards away from that place. In the recent past, we had few cases on some 'learned' trustees trying to closedown our Agiaries that are in least operational condition. I wish our community is knowledgeable in the vibrationary effect of our Mathras and rituals on individual's life and doing Farzyat prayers in Kash of Agiary or Atash-Behram.
My dear Zarthustris, religion is a way of life. Do not ignore what you are blessed with. Those of you, who are practicing non-Zoroastrian beliefs at home, ask yourself, why? And you will find its answer only in one word "IGNORANCE" - yes ignorance of your faith in Zarathusti religion. Look for the right person to guide you. Explore science and mysticism from the allegorical composition of our prayers and you will find yourself the most fortunate one to be born as Zarathustri. If you have not completely explored the secrets of your own religion than how can you fool yourself of knowing and maximizing your benefits from following other religion! Think about it.
3. Socialization versus Religious Identity.
In western countries, there are several groups organized under different names for socialization purpose ignoring their socio-religious obligations towards themselves, their family and the community-at-large. We have several independent associations from ultra-liberal to orthodox with differences in their ideologies and preferences. Do you know there are 4 associations among less than 400 Zarathustris just in Southern California? Who says we are short of entrepreneurs? Do we need to split the community by having various associations? Can we survive and preserve our religion by divide-and-rule policy?
Organizing youth congresses and youth organization will help youngsters to socialize and get acquainted with our society however, it may not guarantee knowledge of their religious identity. Socialization by having party, picnic or occasional over-night trip to some vacation resort is not in any way contributing to their knowledge and practice of our religion. Once again such decision-makers are those parents who know nothing about our religion or its inheritance. A child's life is basically in the hands of his/her parents. Once that individual reach a certain age, he/she starts developing preferences in life. If that child is not groomed religiously during his/her childhood, there are fewer chances of his/ her preferences getting into conflict with their religious identity. And then, once again we will read articles on banning mixed marriages, declining faith and future of Zarathustris in the next century.
Internet and e-mail helps in spreading Zoroastrianism among Zarathustris however, that could not compete with religious classes conducted by a priest or knowledgeable person. Besides not everyone has e-mail or Internet to access the right people for right answer. Our religion has abundant to share than to just repeat those stories of Persian kings and miracles of our prophet. The effectiveness of our Avesta Mathras and its usage in correct pronunciation; Farzyat prayers, Tarikats and its daily practice; significance of Roz, Mah, Urvaan, Aipi, Fravashi in human life and many such topics provides nourishment to a child's knowledge of his/her religious identity. One should realize that it also miraculously affects a child's development process - mental, physical, emotional and psychological - and his/her approaches to nature and reality. Religious identity motivates an individual to believe in our prayers, rituals, traditions and, above all, Tarikats (religious injunctions) to discipline his/her thoughts, words, and actions to be proud of his/her religion and heritage. Identity crisis and lack of respect for religion has caused many to look for the alternative belief(s) that are supportive to their lifestyle.
At the religious front, our so-called intellectuals and wealthy bureaucrats are making decisions on "what to do and what not to follow" type of questions related to religious rituals and traditions and thus our religious doctrines, traditions are getting compromised for their accommodation. It comes down to the same vicious circle. If the community is not educated in religious matters, especially in our rituals and traditions, no one is going to oppose any kind of accommodation or convenience so propagated. Whether he/she is rich or poor, philanthropist or social worker, everyone is equal in His eyes and, similarly, all our prayers, rituals and religious practices are equally effective for everyone in our community. No one is authorized to make changes to any of His original works or interpret to best fit their understanding.
4. Zoroastrian Attitudes
"No one has ever risen to the stature of spiritual maturity until they have found it finer to serve someone else than to serve themselves." Look into your Girban and evaluate yourself for your contribution to our religion and community? This does not mean one time commitment to serve and then, keep on blowing your horn to gain power or attention in community. Though it is certainly not the products of inheritance, majority of us explicitly or inexplicably demonstrates attitudes that can be worded as egocentric, diplomatic, and self-centered. We can very well observe these characteristics among majority including our intellectual reformists who will never give up a chance to regularize their conveniences.
It is a fact that a community prospers by collective action, and following a "prescribed path" without exceptions. We do not need people who want to use their social status to influence others in religious matters. We need to recognize those few individuals who can impart true version of our religion. We need people who will take a leading step to bring awareness of religion in community? And we hear a Parsee making a remark "Yes, it's good to have religion classes but, you know what, I am too old to attend such classes and besides my kids are neither interested. Whatever I know is enough to live my life (in humor)"; "I do not wish to get along with majority, Parsees are full of gossips and bitching, I prefer to attend social function once in a while and that's all about it."
Attending religion class once a month is like a burden for most parents who conveniently justify their absence by unreasonable excuses such as, "it is too far for us to attend," "I am too old to attend a religion class; whatever I now is enough" or, "My son feels uncomfortable sitting with the younger crowd." Remember that old saying, "where there is a will there is a way." Obviously, these parents are to be blame for not giving their children an opportunity (which they never had) to learn prayers and religion. Do you think once a month religion class is too much to ask for in return of your child's future?
It is common among Parsees to prefer someone other than his/her community member to share venture, friendship or companionship. Why are we unsuccessful in collaborating our ideas and expressions in making socio-religious decisions? The answer lies in one expression - superiority complex among the majority- an attitude that has caused serious damage to our community development. Everyone tries to prove themselves right. Like for instance, our community membership is scattered worldwide and each group has different ideologies and perceptions of practicing our religion. And, we ask ourselves, why our community has so many unsolved queries? Why mix marriages are so common among Parsees in India and elsewhere? Why more and more Parsee females prefer to marry non-Zoroastrians? Why are we facing controversies against maintaining our Agairies in Bombay and elsewhere? Why do we have three high priests to guide us in religious matters? Why don't we have a special committee or organization to look after the welfare of the needy Zarathustris? Why can't we have fewer associations and more members to work on our communal problems? My dear Zarathustri, there is nothing wrong with our community. It is because of some few rich, power-hungry, self-centered bureaucrats that the entire community suffers from all of the above inconsistencies.
5. Socio-economic conditions:
It is fact that the socio-economic condition of a family has correlation with mental, physical and psychological abilities of its members. It influences a person's outlook to society in which he/ she lives. Our community has always projected a very refine and intelligent picture among the locals of whichever country we chose as our residence. Today, our demographics conclude that very seldom our organizations are recognizing presence of resourceful members in our community. There are numerous qualified Zoroastrians in India, Europe and United States who are facing problems in housing, employment and immigration. And, there are many articles published to project poverty and social condition of our community in India. Though in better conditions than at our home front, there are many families in U.S. and Canada who could barely survive with problems like unemployment, increasing expenses on housing, transportation, and payment of insurance etc. Any volunteers to take an extra step to help a needy Zarathustri? Those days were gone when a Parsee would recommend or help his fellow-mate to provide employment, housing or financial assistance. Obviously there is no disagreement in recording more members of our community living on and below poverty line.
In the western countries, the situation is WORSENING day by day. Because of numerous associations and scattered society, people have become more self-centered and least exposed to the Zoroastrian surroundings. Those who need help in employment, housing or education seldom gets one. However, our faithful associations will collect donations for someone who volunteers to work on Gatha translation which are already available in hundreds of versions from different writers. My dear Zarathustris, we need faithful, dedicated individuals who selflessly contribute to our community. We need someone who volunteers to commits himself to provide assistance in any or all of the following areas: - housing, employment, basic necessities, religion, medical, law and other professional development. We need people who would extend their commitment by going beyond their usual efforts to help a needy Zarathustri. Now, this is what we discourage in voluntary service. We do not need people expecting something in return or would like to engage someone in obligation in return of their service, neither we need people who are searching for name and fame in being a part of this helping hand scheme.
1. Develop a network system to help people in employment, housing, transportation, matrimonial, and religion. We need to coordinate efforts of specialists and volunteers in each of the above field. They may be from different states in U.S. and/or India. It will encourage many associations to contribute to the needy Zarathosti directly rather than ending their obligation by publishing an article in their association newsletter. This type of networking will even motivate someone to help a needy by going beyond ones professional wits or capabilities. We need to formalize these groups and publish their names, contact address and area of his/her specialty in helping a needy in the newsletter published by the executive committee of this special group (HELPING HAND) around the world. A special committee in India must provide this list to all those who immigrate to U.S., Canada or other countries for higher studies or residency and simultaneously inform their visiting State aid or association about their arrival. There is a history of incidents recording the Zoroastrian immigrants, especially students being swayed by false glamour of the western surroundings and eventually gets corrupted far beyond repair. We need a group/ association who could bring such immigrant in the mainstream before they get lost in the wilderness of corrupted cultural roller coaster. We need someone to 'care' for our future generation. Stop being selfish and egocentric. Who know you may be one who needs help someday?
2. Encourage knowledgeable priests in your group or community to conduct classes on prayers and religion to bring consistency in understanding our rituals, traditions and practices. There is truth in an assertion that if majority understands and believe in "Bunak Pasbani"; intrinsic value of reciting Avesta Mathras; and knowledge of applying religious taboos and Alaats in our lives, we would seldom face controversies like inter-faith marriages, beliefs in other faith, non-Zoroastrian practices, Navjote of a non-Zoroastrian, or allowing a non-Zoroastrian in rituals. Wake up Bavajees, wake up.
3. Stop wasting your energy in defining a Zarathusti or translating Gathas to convince people that you are right and your version of religious interpretation is superior to others. Leave our rituals and traditions in its original prescription and concentrate on developing a strong infrastructure to mobilize our religious resources for benefit of the entire community. Leave religious alterations in HIS hands. Learn to be a student first before claiming yourself an authority to preach and teach our religion.
No matter how many people recommend solutions to the existing problems, if there is no change in Zoroastrian approach to work as a team, keeping aside grudges, differences, selfish motives and above all egocentric attitude, no suggestion or strategy could work at our benefit. Collectively, we must dedicate ourselves to practice and preserve our religion and develop a pathway to success and survival of our next generation.
Atha Zamyat Yatha Afrinami
Ervad (Dr.) Hoshang J. Bhadha
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