Peace Through Dialog 2007 - Ervad Brigadier Behram M. Panthaki : Tenets Of Zoroastrianism For Peace And Harmony

Published: 29.12.2007
Updated: 09.01.2009

Jaina Convention
Federation of Jain Associations In North America

Tenets Of Zoroastrianism For Peace And Harmony

Ervad Brigadier, Behram M. Panthaki
behrampanthaki[at]hotmail.com

Ervad Brigadier Behram M. Panthaki is a fully ordained Zoroastrian priest who provides honorary service to the Zoroastrian community and runs Sunday school for over 75 Zoroastrian children in Washington DC Metropolitan Area. Brigadier Panthaki took voluntary retirement from the Indian Army after serving for 30 years. He currently works as Human Resources Director at Kingsbury, a non-profit organization in Washington, DC, that runs K-l 2 day school for children with learning difficulties.


The Zoroastrian prophet, Zarathushtra (Zoroaster to the Greeks), who was born some 3500 years ago in old Persia, composed a short but most significant prayer of 12 words among many others, in the Avestan language, the language of all Zoroastrian prayers. The prayer is the ASHEM VOHU, Ashem meaning righteousness. This is the very first prayer a Zoroastrian child is taught.

Free Translation of Ashem Vohu Prayer:

Ashem (righteousness) is good. Righteousness is best. Righteousness is bliss. It is the highest bliss for the individual who is righteous for the sake of righteousness not for reward or return.

What does Righteousness Mean?

Righteousness is a very lofty word but what does it mean to an individual? Righteousness connotes virtues of life. Righteousness means - truth, uprightness, honesty, integrity, justice, decency, sincerity, virtue, morality, benevolence, goodness. These are virtues that we would like to see in the ideal person. However, it is very easy for us to expound these virtues on paper but very difficult to put them into practice in today's materialistic world.

How do you put these Virtues into Practice?

In a very simplistic way, righteousness is to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right place with the right means to achieve the right purpose. Righteousness is the universal law that stands for order, progress and prosperity.

According to this law good deeds produce good rewards, and evil deeds have bad consequences. A scientist working in a lab, a mathematician solving a formula, a musician composing music, a person counseling the needy, a mother caring for her family, and a student struggling with his homework are all implementing righteousness in their lives if they act with truth and integrity.

According to the teaching of Zarathushtra, Ahura Mazda (the creator) has given every human being a Vohu Manoh (Good Mind) to help us follow this path of righteousness. With our Vohu Manoh we can not only think, but we can reason and articulate, and this is what makes us so unique from all other living species on this planet. We have a mind that can think, analyze, separate, and distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil.

In the Gathas, the divine songs of Zarathushtra, which form the core principles of the Zoroastrian faith, the Prophet says:

"Shraota Geush Aish Vahishta Avaenata Sucha Manangaha Avarenao Vichithaya Narem Narem Khakhyai Tanuye Para Maje Yaongho Ahmai ne Sazdyai Baodanto Paiti"
(Song 3; paragraph 2)

"Hear with your ears the highest truth I preach
And with illumined mind weigh them with care
Before you choose which of the two paths to tread
Each one for himself
Before the great new age is ushered in"
(Dr. US Taraporewalla)

My interpretation of the above passage of the Gathas is that since Ahura Mazda has given every human being a good mind, one must make use of it. When facing any situation, think with your illumined mind and decide for yourself and act. Thereafter, take responsibility for your decision and its consequences, either good or bad.

Zarathushtra also knew that in an increasing fast paced world, his adherents would have very little time to absorb his entire philosophy. So he left behind a short prescription for daily life. He coined a triad of three words - HUMATA, HUKHTA, HUVARASHTA. Good thoughts, good words and good deeds: thought, speech and action, in that order. Unless you think well of an individual you will not speak well of him. And if you think and speak well of an individual you will do something for him, you will help him.

Zoroastrian Ethics

Zarathushtra did not prescribe any code of conduct for mankind. Zoroastrianism is not a prescriptive ethic based on obedience, fear, love, repentance or submission. Rather, it propounds a simple philosophy that encourages responsibility of choice that an individual must exercise with a clear mind to ascertain the truth and act in accordance with the principle of righteousness. This responsibility is not only to advance oneself by living a righteous life, but in doing so, to help advance one's family, society, the world and the universe towards frashokereti, the final resurrection, when all will be in a state of perfection and everlasting bliss.

Another maxim in Zoroastrian scripture states:

AEVO PATHAO YO ASHAHE VISPAYE ANYAESHAM APANTAM (Yasna 72)

"There is only one path and that is the path of Asha - Righteousness All other paths are false."

What this maxim means is that there are many paths that lead to untruth, but there is only one path that leads to order and righteousness.

Our main mission in life should be to promote Ashem - Righteousness, for that will bring happiness to all and it will make this world a much better place not only for the present generation but also for generations to come. The reader must wonder how righteousness would help in today's world where you are surrounded by dishonesty, corruption, greed and arrogance. To that I would respond that you do your bit, and play your part. If all of us decide to follow our own conscience and do what is right within our own domain; we would have made a beginning. Over a period of time it will spread, may be slowly, but we will have the satisfaction of bringing about a small change in the society that we live and work with. Whatever education you may have and position you may hold in society, if you do not have righteousness, truthfulness, peace and love in your daily life, all is without purpose. Without these qualities human life will collapse.

An individual should lead an active, industrious, honest and above all, a happy and charitable life. To this end, Zoroastrian theology recommends the generation of wealth provided it is acquired honestly and with propriety. This acquired wealth then should be shared with the needy (charity). Charity should be done without expecting any returns or gains; otherwise it is not considered charity. Do not give in charity to have your name displayed on a plaque or to expect something in return. Charity should come from the heart.

We all came to this world empty-handed and shall all leave empty handed. After we have departed we will not be remembered for our material wealth, but for the good words we spoke and the good work we did in our lifetime.

Conclusion

I would end by saying let us not forget to follow the principle of Ashem -Righteousness, and recommend that we base every word, every step, every move, and every phase of our life on this principle because:

  • If there is Righteousness in the heart, There will be Beauty in character,
  • If there is beauty in character, There will be Harmony in the home.
  • If there is harmony in the home, There will be Order in the Nation.
  • And if there is order in the nation, There will be Peace in the world.
Sources
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