Article on reading Gathas to differentiate “Facts” from “Fake”Information
The five Gatha recitation days are starting tomorrow (Wednesday, August 11) according to the Shahenshahi calendar used by most Parsis. And, it is best to recite the Avesta words and at least read the meanings (translations are also available online free at websites like www.avesta.org) yourself at home, in order to help us determine which traditions are properly following the principles laid down by Prophet Asho Zarathushtra, in today’s times and society that we and especially our youth are living in. So I am forwarding an article that was published on pages 77-79 of the latest Spring/March 2021 issue of the FEZANA Journal for your information:
A ROAD MAP TO NAVIGATE, FACT CHECK, AND DECIDE ACTIONS IN TODAY’S NEWS SATURATED GLOBAL SOCIETY – By Maneck Bhujwala
We live in a society which is very different from the times when Prophet Zarathushtra founded his religion and when his followers developed an institution with rules, customs, traditions and rituals in the Persian empire, and different from when our ancestors settled in India among the Hindus and Muslims. Our communities are faced with different opinions about changes to adapt to the modern world. The original timeless teachings embedded in the Gathas of Zarathushtra offer us inspiration and guidance to deal with complex issues and realities that cannot be managed with the current status quo on rules and traditions.
Gathas tell us that Zarathushtra offered his teachings to all men and women who will listen attentively, ponder on them, ask questions, understand them with their open mind, and make decisions after thinking for themselves what is right. He does not discriminate based on race, and we should do the same, especially today, as past stereotypes about racial differences have been disproved in all areas of work and play. Neither is there any mention about discrimination between rich and poor people or between people born in different professional classes. In the Irach Taraporewala, Ahunavaiti Gatha Yasna 31.1, 31.2 and 31.3 this is made clear by our prophet.
There is no mention of discrimination based on gender. In the Gathas Y.53.5 Zarathushtra tells brides and bridegrooms to love each other. He even holds up his daughter Pouruchista as an example of a righteous person. There is no excuse in today’s times to discriminate against women, seeing how they have proved themselves capable of all positions in industry, police, military, religious ministry, education, business.
In the Parsi community we practice separation between priest class and non-priest class, restricting priesthood to male children of priest class parents, in spite of acute shortage of practicing priests in India and abroad. Many of the handful of adult lay persons who had the calling to serve as priests, and who were trained to perform ritual prayers, are still excluded from equal participation and respect in the very few places where they are available. Executive committees and Trustees can change this discrimination by educating the community, resisting pressure from some orthodox groups, and stopping such behavior which is already leading to a decline in prayer ceremonies done at private homes.
Iranian Zarathushtis follow Asho Zarathushtra’s policy against any kind of discrimination and do not discriminate against Mobedyars, men and women. At their community functions they invite all Mobeds and Mobedyars with equal respect. The late Dr. Ali Jafarey wrote an article about how in Iran, with the blessings of their Mobedan Mobed (Chief Priest) Rostam Shahzadi they trained and gave equal respect to Mobedyars, who after five years of practice were made full Mobeds. Parsis who discriminate can learn to follow the Gathas from the Iranians.
In the Gathas, we see Zarathushtra promoting the farmer and settled life in society. The farmer depends on the natural environment being in good condition for sustainable growth of his crops, year after year. This means timely rainfall without contamination from polluted air (from burning of fossil fuels in homes, automobiles, industrial factories, power plants) and plenty of trees in nearby forest areas (that attract rain and absorb carbon dioxide), clean water from rivers and underground sources and good soil with natural nutrients, both undefiled by chemical or excess animal wastes (like from meat factories).
Zarathushtra tells his followers to take proper care of animals, especially those domestic animals who are beneficial to our lives. Cows and goats provide milk from which butter, cheese and other products are made. Horses and bulls provided ecology friendly help in farming. Camels provided ecological transportation in desert areas. Dogs provide companionship and guard duty. Zarathushtra also condemns people who kill animals for sport. Reference – Ervad Kavasji Kanga, Ahunavaiti Gatha Y.31.15, Y.32.10, Y.32.12, Y.33.4.
Individuals can do many things to reverse the damage being done to the environment. By recycling paper, metals, plastics, we can reduce the need for cutting down too many trees, limit the amount of mining for metals that destroys land, and reduce pollution of land and waters from plastic shopping bags thrown out instead of recycled . We can reduce or stop eating meats produced by factory farms where animals are often mistreated and create huge amounts of animal wastes that poison the land and underground water. We can reduce the use of our gas driven cars by walking for short distances, taking public transportation, combining several errands on one trip, or buying an electric car. Installing solar panels on homes, Daremehers, community centers, etc. can lower electricity bills and reduce fossil fuel use at power plants.
In Gathas we can see how Zarathushtra treats other people and animals with a sense of equal respect for all creations of Ahuramazda. Although he teaches respect for authority and for ownership rights of property owners, he does not approve of inherent superiority or inferiority of individuals based on their economic class – rich or poor, ruler or subject, high or low caste, occupational class – priest, warrior, trader, carpenter, business owner, or gender – male or female, racial or ethnic origin. He preaches his new religion to anyone who is willing to listen attentively with an open mind and follow a righteous life. Taraporewala, Ahunavaiti Gatha Y. 31.1 an Y. 32.2 mention this.
In the world we live in, we can see inequality being practiced in all spheres of society in all countries, some more than others. Many rich people look down on the poor, exploit the poor, humiliate the poor. Majority religion followers in some countries discriminate, humiliate, persecute and even kill followers of minority religions. Priest caste members look down on others including those who become priests from non-priest caste (like Mobedyars in our Parsi community who do not even have a vote in the North American Mobed Council, and are mostly excluded from participating in community prayers with the Ervads). Parsi women who marry non-Parsi husbands and their children are not allowed to enter our temples or attend public prayers. Women in many societies including our Parsi community are not allowed to become priests.
Individuals can change such practices of inequality by speaking out at community meetings, conferences, writing articles and educating community members how they go against the teachings in the Gathas, and how they break the hearts of the victims of unequal treatment, and displease our common Creator, Ahuramazda.
In the Gathas Zarathushtra condemns those who kill even animals for sport, and promotes a settled life and the farming occupation that provides vegetables and fruits, instead of the hunter gatherer life style. He stretches out a welcoming hand even to his detractors to listen to his teachings and follow a peaceful righteous life. He does not advocate violence against those who decide not to follow his new religion but leaves it to Ahuramazda to judge them. In Taraporewala Spentamainyu Gatha Y.48.7 Zarathushtra speaks out against hatred and violence and promotes love.
As Mazdayasni Zarathushtis we can also do things as individuals and as groups like community associations to speak out and support others in opposing and ending violence. We can join local, County, State, National, and International interfaith organizations and collaborate with them to work against violence. We can sign on online petitions from other groups that are working to end violence. We can contact our government representatives to ask their help via legislation that would end violence.
In our technological society there are all kinds of opinions from scholars and non-scholars, orthodox, reformists and middle of the road members, that are posted on email and social media, besides lectures and discussion groups, educating and supporting different ideologies about what is religiously right and wrong. So, what can we as individuals do to choose what is right ? Whereas, rules and regulations and traditions that were established by our ancestors in ancient times may have been valid in those bygone days, how do we know which ones are still right in today’s times and societies we live in ?
Zarathushtra founded his religion by laying down basic principles that apply in all ages, such as equality, justice, compassion, charity, etc., somewhat like scientists who do basic research and discover scientific principles. His followers developed rules and traditions that would help people to carry on their daily lives during their times, in accordance with the basic principles, like how product developers come out with tools and products within constraints of available materials in their applied research.
Just as reporters and news analysts do fact checking to determine which news coming from politicians and their staff members are factual to differentiate from fake news, by verifying them against trusted sources, we as individuals can compare the rules and traditions against the basic principles to see if they will satisfy the principles within the constraints and realities of today’s society.
Mobedyar Maneck Bhujwala is The co-founder of two California Zarathushti Associations, past-President, Huntington Beach Interfaith Council, Board Member, North American and Orange County Interfaith Networks, Advisory Council Member, The Guibord Center, AdCom Member, Center for Religion, Loma Linda University, Director, World Zoroastrian Organizaion, Zarathushti priest and pastor.