Roni K. Khan's Famous Article "Universalism and all that"

Part I

* Closing the Coffin of Conversion *

This is the famous article "Universalism and All that" by the Zoroastrian scholar RONI KHAN of India. When published in the Jam-e-Jamshed paper in Bombay, India in 1995, the article created great consternation in the heterodox camp. We are given to understand that one of the heads of an international Zoroastrian organization, directed one of his trustees to phone the publication for a copy of all the eight parts -- to be sent over immediately. Just as it has inspired us, we pray that it inspires many more among you to stand up and speak out against the destructive thoughts, words and actions of the "liberals" and the outsiders against our religion, in the guise of liberal "reform".

The article is reproduced with kind permission, and great encouragement, from the Author as well as the newspaper.


Closing the Coffin of Conversion

by Roni K. Khan



Is Zoroastrianism a "universal" religion? It is, and it isn't. Sorry if that sounds like a contradiction, but it is just a way of saying that the balanced answer really lies somewhere in between, and depends to a large extent on what insights can be brought to bear on the religious and spiritual issues involved.

The captains of heterodoxy have seized upon the plausible expression "universal religion" for their well-oiled propaganda machine, and efforts are well underway, with all the familiar "scholarly" trappings, to entrench this latest buzzword in the common vocabulary of the average Zarathushtrian. The motive behind the exercise is not hard to see. What is actually being laid here is the groundwork for the un-Zarathushtrian idea of CONVERSION, and what is really being touted is the proposition that anybody can dump his own religion and switch over to Zoroastrianism -- because it is "universal"!

Zoroastrianism is not universal in the sweeping sense in which it is made out to be by some heterodox elements in our community. By this, we are not implying that our "progressive" friends are proposing or attempting to convert the whole world to Zoroastrianism. But what we do see, and what we seriously question, is their presumption that the Zarathushtrian religion, including its many unique practices, is "universally applicable" to all souls on earth, and that every human being is free and able to join it.

To determine where, how and why the concept of universalism can genuinely apply to the Zarathushtrian religion, we will have to wait till the end of this article. Before that, however, we will need to explore a number of basics about religion itself, with special reference to Zoroastrianism.


It is important for us to appreciate the tangible fact that besides Zoroastrianism, various other religions actually do exist. And it is equally important that we appreciate the spiritual fact that all the great religions have unfolded in steady sequence on the world stage as part of a divine purpose, in accord with the plan or desire of Ahura Mazda (Av. "usen"; Gatha Yasna 45-9). Nothing in the created universe happens without His will, which is expressed through His laws that govern all things under the sun. There are no random events, be they good or bad, in Nature: the universe is a cosmos, and not a chaos, due to the ordered and exact operation of the law of Asha. Everything proceeds according to divine law and in its own ordained time: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Eccles. 3-1).

Accordingly, many great world religions have come into existence, as beneficent instruments for executing Ahura Mazda's blueprint for the efficient spiritual evolution of pluralistic mankind. But do note the reality that in the entire history of mankind no single religion has ever been followed by all humanity. Ahura Mazda has thus demonstrated through actual example that no religion is "universally applicable" in practice. That is how matters religious have always stood, and it is the clearest indication of how they are intended to be. When this is so, who are we to pompously proclaim that a particular religion is universal in its scope and suitability? Who are we to offer it as a "free choice" to all for possible conversion, while forgetting the one little detail that everyone already happens to have his own equally worthy religion to follow! Could anything be more arrogant, insulting, bigoted or inflammatory than that?

Turning a blind eye to such considerations, the reformist pundits continue to remain fixated on the generalization that Zoroastrianism is a universal religion, in the sense that it is wholly appropriate, applicable and accessible to everyone. But wait a minute: Zoroastrianism also happens to be the very first revealed religion to have appeared on earth, and several others have followed thereafter. Keeping that in mind, large holes begin to appear in the reformist canvas, and the following questions become embarrassingly inevitable.

If Zoroastrianism was really meant to be universally serviceable for everybody, where was there the NEED for any other religion? Why should the other later religions have manifested at all? Why was it necessary for the other exalted masters of th e other great religions to take the trouble to come down and reveal their own faiths? Was Lord Jesus, for example, a mistake? Or, maybe, an accident? Is Christianity, for example, a redundancy? Or, maybe, just a random occurrence? Does God play dice? Is there some terrible flaw in the divine plan and purpose? Did God slip up somewhere and indulge in SENSELESS DUPLICATION where none was needed?

No doubt our heterodox crusaders will try to exert their special brand of "rational thinking" (which they somehow keep confusing with Vohu Manah, the perfected divine Mind!) to conjure up their own "rational solutions" to these posers. Let them. If they imagine that they are capable of plugging the "loopholes" in the conception or execution of Ahura Mazda's laws and plans, they are welcome to embarrass themselves. It is one thing to piously talk about the "Will of God" (the "Ahuna-Vairya") in theory, but quite another to have the faith to recognize and accept it in practice.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is a fact of life that for thousands of years many other ordained religions have existed side by side with Zoroastrianism on the world scene. This simple practical reality immediately cripples the heterodox theorization about the universal suitability of Zoroastrianism. Perhaps our intellectual conversion enthusiasts would like to sit down and take a good relook at their "rational thinking" on universalism and all that.

If Zoroastrianism, the first revealed religion, happened to be as universally applicable as our heterodox friends presume the almighty Lord and His first prophet had intended it to be, there would be only ONE religion on the face of the earth for all. No power on heaven or earth could have ever stopped this from happening in the thousands of years that have passed by, IF Ahura Mazda had willed it to be so. The reality is, that while Zoroastrianism has not spread throughout the world to become the ONLY religion of mankind, MANY other true religions have manifested on earth instead. This is God's WILL. Heterodox intellectuals may propose in their ivory towers, but only God will dispose on His earth.


Diversity is a conspicuous characteristic of the created universe. As the famous maxim in the Rig-Veda (8.52.5) has it, "The One has become many"; and a similar idea is detectable through a cosmological interpretation of our own maanthra of creation, the sacred "Yatha Ahu Vairyo." Indeed, the latest scientific estimates indicate that there are thirty million different species to be found on our planet!

The populist belief that "all men are equal" may be suitable for political rabble-rousing, but in Nature, it is a proveable misconception with no basis whatsoever in reality.

Take an objective look at the physical sphere of life: when no two hairs on a person's head are exactly equal, when no two leaves on a tree are exactly equal, when no two grains of sand on a beach are exactly equal, when even Siamese twins are not exactly equal, how can one man ever be equal to another?

This invariably holds true in other spheres of life too, like the emotional and the mental: one person's personality profile and intellectual make-up are never the same as another's. Similar, maybe; but identical, never. Diversity is the rule in Nature. Barring elemental needs or primal instincts such as food and shelter, or love and hate, people differ from each other in varying degrees. We are individuals, not mass-produced Barbie dolls.

Even the great conception of the "Brotherhood of Man" (refer the "Airyemaa Ishyo" verse, Gatha Yasna 54-1) is based on the premise that differences do exist between human beings; which must, however, be maturely accepted and reconciled in a spirit of mutual love and respect, so that all may co-exist in peace and harmony.

When diversity happens to be a rule of creation, the existence of a variety of religions catering to a pluralistic humanity in our multiform world should come as no surprise at all: it is entirely consistent with the Natural order of things. And no body can challenge Nature's inexorable workings.


In the spiritual sphere also, some souls may be similar, but no two souls are ever the same. Though all souls are composed of vibrational fiery energy of spiritual grade, to which we commonly refer as "divine Light," there are differences of degree in the magnitude and purity of this Light.

Some souls contain more Light, others less -- like a sixty watt bulb is more luminous than one of forty watts. Also, all souls that are normally subject to incarnation on earth invariably have dark patches of impurities or blemishes ("dravaao") which muddy or obstruct the Light within: some are burdened with more of this "dravaao," others with less -- like the dense paint on an opaque bulb blocks more light than the frosty coating on a translucent one. That these spiritual differences really do exist should be evident from even a cursory comparison between us ordinary worldly folk and the many saints and sages who have shone out in every age, in every clime, and in every religion.

Although the soul (Urvan) is one of the three immortal constituents of our being, no normally incarnating soul is ever flawless, with the very rare exception of prophet-grade souls which are already perfected and incarnate out of choice, not compulsion, to serve the spiritual needs of struggling humans through some special mission. The Light of such "maha-atmas" (Skt. "maha" = great; "atma" = soul) is so brilliant that it can visibly manifest as a "halo" around the physical body. But in an overwhelming majority of cases, souls incarnate on earth because they are imperfect. It is only the companion Fravashi or oversoul, an infinitesimal fraction of Ahura Mazda's own Light which itself does not incarnate but externally accompanies and guides each soul through the "still, small voice of conscience," that is absolutely pureand perfect.

Spiritual evolution is the whole and only purpose of life, and to this end, the self-purification of the soul, entailing the complete elimination of its "dravaao," is the name of the game. The material world around us, as well as the human body, is the machinery that is essential for making this purification possible, and it may be likened to a blast furnace that separates the dross from raw gold ore and leaves the pure gold behind. It is only when an embodied soul endeavours to progress on the path of Asha and strives to pass the acid test of worldly pressures and temptations (the "test of molten metal"; Gatha Yasna 32-7, 51-9) by correctly exercising its free will and consciously making the right moral choices in thought, word and deed, that its "dravaao" can weaken and dissolve.

When after aeons of evolutionary effort, the Urvan finally shakes off all its dross and becomes complete pure, it is said to have attained perfection ("haurvatat" or "khordad"). Only in that state of utter purity is it finally fit and able to unite with its Fravashi and achieve immortality ("ameretat" or "amardad"), which means that it can enter Garo-Demaanay (see Gatha Yasna 51- 15), the highest heaven where Ahura Mazda dwells, to remain there in His blissful company for ever. At last the soul comes of age, claims its full divine inheritance, and returns to its true home. This is the culmination of the soul's evolutionary quest.

"Ravaan bokhtagi," the permanent liberation of the soul from the coils of the flesh, is thus the true intent and purpose of life on earth, and the function of religion is to guide the soul towards this goal. But since souls themselves vary in character, the type of spiritual guidance required also varies, and many different religions therefore become necessary to satisfy these varying requirements. As Swami Vivekananda puts it, "One religion cannot suit all."

End of Part I

Written by Roni Khan

Published in the JAM-E-JAMSHED Weekly, Bombay, India

Part II of Roni K. Khan's "Universalism and all that"

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