The Freedom to Choose
The Freedom to Choose.
And the Moral Responsibility
No other religious tradition emphasizes the central importance of freedom of choice, and the need for each human being to assume responsibility for his or her choices, more than the religious doctrine of Zarathushtra.
Given the emphasis on making the right(eous) choice at every step of our life, the question becomes: how do we go about determining and making that ultimate choice? If there is only one right choice in accordance with Asha, how is it possible for various individuals who have many different minds and attitudes, and who are faced with different circumstances in their lives, to arrive at the same final choice? For instance, one person’s fight for freedom and liberation would be viewed by another person as a campaign of terror and destruction.
This question is easier asked than answered. The complexity of the matter has made the answer to this relatively simple question elusive and difficult to grasp. The assertion that doing good for the sake of good and for no other reason is central to understanding this moral issue. As the Zoroastrian Scriptures indicates, we are asked to champion righteousness, truthfulness and all other outward manifestations of goodness, not because of the reward we may get, or because it will reflect well on us, but to do so for the sake of goodness itself and for no other reason.
Sa’adi, the Iranian poet of the middle ages, in a metaphorical way conveys the same idea in his poetic composition, though he does make a reference to the reward one could expect to receive.
The Gathic evidence lends itself to the idea that the reward for goodness is in doing good itself. If we believe that goodness is its own reward, then our self-interest shouldn’t interfere in any way with our decisions when faced with moral or ethical problems. Only our perception of what is right and righteous should guide our actions. If we eliminate our self-interest in moral choices, and just focus on what is right for the situation, then our individual differences shouldn’t matter – right will always prevail.
Moral and ethical situations, though, are complex. Many factors and considerations come into play. The ideal is harmony and happiness for humankind, and the cause is Truth. When it comes to determining what best serves that ideal and that cause, Zarathushtra answers in his Gathas:
Whatever words and deeds are noblest, best,
The ability to be considerate of the welfare of others, and to distance oneself from mere self-interest when it comes to making moral decisions, is clearly alluded to in the following two stanzas in which prophet Zarathushtra poses the question and perceives the answer in his consciousness. The use of the term “love” accentuates the need to promote welfare, harmony and happiness for all when it comes to choosing the righteous path.
Thou art Divine, I know, O Lord Supreme,
(I, Zarathushtra, replied)
Another critical aspect of making the right decision is to consider all relevant factors and set of circumstances contemporary and historical surrounding the subject of the rendering of the righteous decision. The need to consider all factors is clearly alluded to by the use of “Make wide the vision of my mind” in Yasna 33.13 (Dinshah Irani’s translation) quoted below.
With Thy divine grace, O Lord
When everyone can commit him- or herself to such ethical ideals, humanity will become engaged in promoting happiness and prosperity for everyone, consistent with righteousness. Only then can perfect bliss be realized. That is indeed the noble goal for all of us, and it will come about as more individuals realize the importance of action based on the moral duty to make the right(eous) choice at every step of their lives.
Compiled by: Phil Masters, from:Dr. Mehrborzin Soroushian