This is Part III of the famous article "Universalism and All that" by the Zoroastrian scholar RONI KHAN of India, published in the Jam-e-Jamshed paper in Bombay, India in 1995. The article is reproduced with kind permission, and great encouragement, from the Author as well as the newspaper.
UNIVERSALISM AND ALL THAT
Closing the Coffin of Conversion
by Roni K. Khan
COMPONENTS OF RELIGION
In keeping with the righteous example of the great saviours of mankind, it behooves us all to recognize and respect the fact that conversion has no place in matters religious, and that each religion has its own legitimate turf with a "keep off the grass" sign for intruders. Gate-crashers claiming counterfeit "universal rights" to come in and go out as they please cannot be entertained; the gate is locked and barred to religious drifters looking for new pastures in which to graze.
To appreciate this, it has been necessary for us to cover some fundamental spiritual ground concerning the evolution of souls. And to appreciate it all the more fully, it is now necessary to cover some basic facts about the structural framework of religions.
The purpose of every religion is to provide devotees with a full package of precepts and practices for spiritual progress towards the divine. This demands four interlaced ingredients without which no religion can deliver the goods thoroughly. Every complete religion, therefore, is invariably found to contain these FOUR ESSENTIAL STRUCTURAL COMPONENTS, which are schematized as follows:-
<> "HAKIKAT" -- transcendental metaphysical Philosophies of Ultimate Causes and Effects, involving universal truths and eternal verities at abstract and esoteric levels. Some Zarathushtrian examples: the paramount law of Asha as the foundation of all creation and the fountainhead of all Natural laws; the Monotheism of the Creator, and the Dualism of His creation as actuated by the cosmic interactions between Spanyaa and Angra, the primeval twin Mainyus; the divine design of converting all evil into good, all impurity into purity; the colossal conception of Frasho-kereiti, the goal of creation, attainable only when all souls achieve complete purity through the exacting processes of involution and evolution; the law of Kerdaar, the principle of unfailing returns where every action attracts its commensurate reaction (see Gatha Yasna 43-5); the scheme of the Ameshaspends, as a set of supreme spiritual principles, and also as a team of functional divinities administering the cosmos; the organization of all creations into different homogeneous "kingdoms"; the sixty-four scaled gradations of the four "Anaasars" or constituents of matter; the structuring of Ahura Mazda's entire creation into the Hasti and Nisti realms, each sub-divided into nine Asmans and seven Dakhyus, respectively; the "staotic" wavelengths of Light and Sound vibrations that drive the universe; the sixteen celestial "minoi" Light-energies or Fires that fuel the living cosmos.
<> "MAREFAT" -- prescribed Channels or Agencies through which the communion of souls with the higher spiritual realms is facilitated. Some Zarathushtrian examples: the consecrated holy Fire as enthroned in Atash-Kadehs, the living manifestation on the physical plane of Ahura Mazda's divine Light and Purity; the specialized talismanical spiritual instruments of Sudreh and Kashti; the solemn initiation ceremony of Navjote, through which the spiritual connection between a Burjishi soul and the celestial seat of the Zarthoshti Deen is formalized and fortified; the mighty maanthric prayers, which are "woven" (Av. "ufyaani," "ufyaa"; Gatha Yasna 28-3, 43-8) by "maanthrans" like Zarathushtra (see Gatha Yasna 32-13, 50-5) to produce potent Staota vibrations that harmonize with the primordial "naad" or sound of Ahunavar (the "music of the spheres") that eternally reverberates throughout the universe; the consecrated Dokhma, an edifice of spiritual architecture designed to spur the departed soul's ascent into the higher Dakhyus; the lofty PAV-MAHEL liturgical ceremonials such as Nirangdeen, Yazashne, Vendidad and Visperad, through which yazatic currents are tapped for the benefit of evolving souls; the Varasyaji, the pure-white sacred bull through which alone the raw Taro that can be metamorphosed into consecrated Nirang is collected; the duly initiated Athravan or fire-priest, through whose auspices all liturgical ceremonies are conducted.
<> "TARIKAT" -- the discipline of spiritual Exercises or Rituals, prescribed as therapies to build up the soul's powers for accelerated progress on the path of Asha. Some Zarathushtrian examples: ritual offerings of fuel and prayers at Atash-Kadehs as often as possible, and especially at the time of the boi-maachi ceremony and on "jashan" days; performance of the potent Kashti ritual several times each day to energize the Chakhras and strengthen the auric shield; reciting the Rojindi Bandagi battery of selected maanthric prayers every day to uplift the mind and soul; conducting the various obsequial rites and ceremonies in tandem with the scientific Dokhmenashini method of disposal, to give the departed soul greater motive power for a swift and safe passage to Chinvat; taking the Bareshnoom ablution that purifies body, mind and spirit to the levels required for the conduct of elaborate Pav-Mahel ceremonies, and the simpler ablutions of Padiyaab and Nahn for less demanding undertakings; the ingestion of nectareal Nirang or Ab-e Zar, the consecrated consequence of a living miracle where a normally impure liquid is molecularly transmuted into a pure and stable substance through the vibratory "staotic" power of the Avesta maanthravaani during the great ceremony of Nirangdeen.
<> "SHARIAT" -- behavioural Injunctions translating the abstruse spiritual mores into a down-to-earth catalogue of easily understandable "do's and don'ts," which all followers are enjoined to obey for their own benefit as well as for maintaining the integrity and identity of their faith. Some Zarathushtrian examples: worship to be conducted exclusively through the holy Fire, with all other methods strictly eschewed; Sudreh-Kashti to be worn next to the skin at all times; Navjote to be held between the ages of seven and fifteen; disposal of the dead by burial, cremation or entombment expressly prohibited; marriage required for both behdins and athornans, but only within the fold and according to the authorized nuptial sacraments; polluting any of the elements of Nature forbidden; right charity a sacred obligation; asceticism debarred; truthfulness and the honouring of pledges mandatory.
Heterodoxy presumes that the metaphysical Hakikat component is the whole of religion. This partial view fosters mistaken ideas about "universalism." The Marefat, Tarikat and Shariat components lay down specific religious practices, making one religion different from another in order to provide different spiritual diets to different soul-groups. Hakikat deals with the fundamental Natural laws and truths underlying all creation, basically shared by all religions despite variations in terminology, treatment, scope or emphasis. Truth is one, indivisible and universal. Eternal truths apply throughout the universe without exception. The metaphysical messages of the Zarathushtrian PHILOSOPHY are therefore universally applicable to all mankind. But the whole Zarathushtrian RELIGION is not. A religion is more than just its philosophic Hakikat component.
RELIGION IS A SYSTEM
A religion is a complete synergetic system. Its four components are carefully integrated to form a connected whole, with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. While Hakikat expresses the philosophical, abstract and general side of a religion, Marefat, Tarikat and Shariat express its practical, concrete and specific side. What should be appreciated, however, is that the abstractions of Hakikat are translated and transferred into progressively more tangible forms in each of the other three components, thereby yielding a fully integrated, interacting and unified system. The individual components are not watertight. And neither is a religion a potpourri of independent ingredients that can be tossed in or thrown out to suit one's taste.
All the world's religions always incorporate all four of these components. Why so? Once the eternal verities of Hakikat are known, what is there left to know? Why get into the detail of the other three components at all?
The short answer to that is: because we are still imperfect. Our souls are still not cleansed of "dravaao", our minds are still not free of the dual mentalities of good and evil, and our spiritual grasp is therefore limited. Such as we are, we cannot be expected to "fill in the blanks"; we need to be provided with a complete and definite game plan for reaching out to the divine.
The Hakikat aspect of a religion contains many layers of meaning, often expressed by the masters in deliberately abstruse and heavily veiled terms. It takes a highly advanced soul, a genuine Ashavan, to uncover all the layers. Especially in our benighted age, we should consider ourselves fortunate even to skim the surface, and no doubt, it is essential that we exert to grasp whatever we can of the great universal realities contained in Hakikat -- so long as our explorations are tempered with a deep humility that recognizes our limitations.
The great failing of heterodoxy is the presumption that the Hakikat component alone is the sum total of religion. And this is all too often combined with the perception that the philosophic profundities and metaphysical mysteries revealed there can be penetrated with just the application of rational thought and academic expertise. This is a lethal combination with the potential to sink the ship of religion altogether.
There is bound to be serious trouble if ego crushes humility; if arrogance subdues devotion; if Vohu Manah, the perfected Divine Mind, is claimed by ordinary mortals; if degrees and diplomas substitute self-realization; if doubt suffocates faith; if ignorance passes for wisdom; if licence is confused for freedom; if defiance destroys discipline; if personal convenience defeats obedience; if "progress" excludes the wisdom of the ages; if prejudiced preconceptions prosper through misinterpretation of the scriptures; if the scramble to retrospectively justify the heterodox acts of individuals coerces a religion into being redefined and rewritten.
The esoteric eternal verities need to be realized, not intellectualized. The veil of Hakikat can be pierced only after the fundamental preliminaries of Shariat, Tarikat and Marefat have been faithfully and systematically followed and practised, step by step. Only then can we ever hope to attain the ultimate stage of spiritual evolution known as "Vehedaniat," where the perfected soul merges with its Fravashi to unite with Ahura Mazda in the full effulgence of the Light divine. But first, we must learn to walk before we can run. If we don't, we can break a leg.
Just as it is not possible to live on love and fresh air alone, it is also not practically possible to conduct an ordered spiritual life in the real world only on the basis of abstract concepts and metaphysical verities, however attractive and elevating they might be. What every serious aspirant requires is a clear-cut, ready-made programme of concrete spiritual procedures and practices for implementation in daily life. We are confused and lost if the lofty philosophical conceptions of Hakikat are not translated for us into a specific, down-to-earth "how," "what," "where," and "when" scheme of Shariat, Tarikat and Marefat for day-to-day spiritual living. Ordinary people like us have to start climbing the spiritual ladder from the bottom rung; it is an inductive or "bottom-up" approach, from the particular to the general. A deductive or "top-down" route from the general to the particular is way beyond our powers, and is an exercise in futility that is bound to misfire and mislead.
At the same time, no true religion ever fails to express the mystical marvels of Hakikat, albeit in guarded terms. That, after all, is the top of the mountain and the pinnacle of spiritual endeavour. To get to the top and view the eternal verities for ourselves, through the direct vision of self-realization, is the objective of our existence, and it is the aim of religion to get us there. As thrice repeated at the end of every Niyaesh and Yasht: "Man aano aavaayad shoodan" = I must reach There!
But we cannot climb Everest in shorts and with a walking stick. Yes, we must keep the splendours of the summit always in mind, as best we can conceive them, to develop an iron resolve and give wings to our feet. But we also need to be provided with the proper apparatus and tools to facilitate our passage to the summit, we need to enter into a regimen of training to build up the stamina of body, mind and spirit, and we need to know and obey the rules of mountaineering scrupulously for our safety and success. And all these various requirements are brought together in a coherent manner only through the systemized framework of an organized expedition.
Hakikat is the Summit. Marefat is the Apparatus. Tarikat is the Training. Shariat is the Rulebook. Religion is the Expedition that binds these four together. Take away any one of the components, and the whole Expedition falls to pieces.
A religion is a COMPLETE SPIRITUAL SYSTEM for the evolution of imperfect souls, with interrelated and interacting components ranging from the concrete to the abstract, from the tangible to the conceptual, from the practical to the philosophical, from the particular to the general. If Hakikat is the SOUL of a religion, Marefat, Tarikat and Shariat are its BODY. If Hakikat is the GOAL, Marefat, Tarikat and Shariat are the PATH. A path that leads nowhere is useless, and a goal without a path leading to it is unreachable. Verily, the four components of religion are utterly inseparable and indispensable.
End of Part III
Written by Roni Khan
Published in the JAM-E-JAMSHED Weekly, Bombay, India
Part IV of Roni K. Khan's "Universalism and all that"
Part II of Roni K. Khan's "Universalism and all that"
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