A teenager usually has a myriad chores and obligations that he/she might have to fulfil, be it academic, social or extra-curricular. Religion, spirituality and thought under normal circumstances are of no apparent aid. They appear to be ubiquitously used, yet are paradoxical and loosely defined concepts that seem to be growing seemingly distant from the present youth. Under such circumstances either of the two things manifest – the seeker gives up on the idea of religion by believing that this concept is nothing but a propaganda of illusionary correlation between practice and its intended purpose; or he takes a different approach. I, for instance, cater to the latter.
‘Parsi’ is a term we often use loosely to bind the natural waxing and waning of our almost obsolete religion. While I feel privileged in being called a Parsi, when someone asks me my religion, I do not see any merit in it. Consequently, what I do revere in, is the faith of Zoroastrianism. Religion is indeed a social construct. Anesthetised by indoctrinated words, which are probably lost in translation, we have today numbed believers into submission. In fact, in the name of God, as current affairs will tell you, religion is nothing but a political scapegoat.
Religion V/s Spirituality
While most consider this distinction as an act of intellectual smugness adopted by sanctimonious cynics, I would like to clarify this. In the act of embracing and building a community, many times, major principles of faith have been obscured. An example to elucidate this point – our ethno-religious group doesn’t allow conversion, frowns upon the basic premise on inter-racial marriage and yet we call ourselves ‘liberal’ and ‘open-minded’. On many occasions I have politely questioned the premise, posed this question to priests, my parents and yet the only formal, equivocal and ambivalent ‘politically correct answer’ I receive is that it has been done since the ages and thus has to be followed. No reference to any spiritual scriptures, nor any teaching from Zarathustra have been cited for the same. While I dwelt on this, and started research, I came across the Gathas, where Zarathustra in the Gatha Vahishta Ishti nowhere explicitly says marriage outside the community is prohibited. One must also acknowledge that there were plenty of religions that existed during the time of this era as well.
‘Religion is the opium of the masses’
To circumvent the pitfalls of religion, spirituality appears to provide solace. It is, in fact, compassionate, liberal and flexible. Zoroastrianism is a faith and pursuing a faith will provide you with a philosophy to lead your life. Religion might do just the opposite. Adopting different faiths yields in the formulation of something I like to call a spiritual tool box. It is an arsenal that enables the seeker to cope better with problems and be devoid of them. For instance, “humata, hukta, huvarshta” is a key concept for keeping your conscience clean, and the fundamentals for leading a good life and cultivating the vohu mana (the good mind). However, a rational contemporary way of coping with a problem is best explained by Buddhist philosophy – mindfulness. This, if honed, equips one to be mindful and look at problems objectively and in so doing, we rid ourselves of any angst.
The beauty of honing a spiritual bend is liberty of controlling the intensity of your faith, yet not being limited to one in particular and being so blinded by it, that it cripples and makes you succumb to believe that there is no better faith than the one you are following. It is this eclectic method where one adopts the best practises that enable one to lead a life of a tolerant, rational, compassionate and empathetic human being.
Parsis are a dwindling community and many people question this, complain about it. These are usually the adults with a conservative bend. Unfortunately, only a few have ventured into the exploration of the root cause of this issue. Let’s start by asking distinct questions. Why are children today so far away from Zoroastrianism? How many children even pray, or do a simple kasti ritual? I can say this with conviction: not many. And it’s unfortunate that they do not understand the power that these prayers have – the vibrations that each creates, the calmness it distributes within the seeker. How can an average millennial child comprehend this, when all he/she is told from the tender age of ten that he/she has to perform this ritual, out of ‘religious obligation’? It is inevitably taken as a chore and eventually its meaning is lost.
The kasti then is soon found to be rotting in dust, shoved away into a cupboard, sometimes never to be seen again. Why? Most blame the child, but is it really his or her fault, or is poor parental upbringing, or simply a fault of the ‘religion”, that expects certain standards without ever explaining the reason or the power of the act itself and the positive ramifications thereof on the body? Prayer, again, a misconception is not ‘religious’. One needs to feel the effect to realise that it causes a sense of well-being inside your body. But many cannot resonate with this idea, simply because they have been told they ‘have to do it’.
While performing jashans and being a spectator of many, I have experienced a sense of profound calmness. However once again not many will resonate with this idea, simply because there is so much chatter while the jashan is going on. People take the occasion to discuss food, a new movie release, business and then expect it to have a positive effect. It has been proven on multiple occasions that prayers cause vibrations that are incredibly powerful. But no one has the time or the inclination to attempt to experience this and neither is one keen to know the meaning of what they pray. By deductive reasoning, aren’t most then being irrational?
I am a Navar and Martab, and while slogging for the same, an intellectual frustration in me grew where I was practising prayers for hours, not understanding a word of what I was praying. This frustration nudged me to look at online translations and try and figure out what they mean. I found solace after reading them. It hit me then that if there was a family tree, God and spirituality would be related; but religion would probably be a distant cousin.
When children question the workings of the religion with rationality, they are told to “shut up” because they “do not know any better”. How does one expect a millennial to accept practises and ancient dogmatic beliefs in a contemporary world without his elders answering the questions he/she poses? How does one expect them to adhere to teachings that do not appeal to rationality? And then the older generation complains that today’s generation is growing distant from religion. Isn’t it inevitable?
In a few decades the religion is speculated to wither, but the faith, I’m sure will extend to an infinite continuum. In maintaining traditions of the society, one forgets that often tradition in itself is a bottleneck to progress. Instead of endorsing the core, which is that of personal judgement and free thought, we are straying away from the idea of individual thought and judgement, and hence, progressive thinking.