Before I start this article, I must say that ‘Reincarnation’ has been a rather controversial subject with the Zoroastrians. Why so? Because our Priest-class and some scholars say there is no reincarnation in Zoroastrianism. Some base their dissent on actual study of the scriptures whereas many just go along because the priests says so. However, in our religious literature, as also in the Bible and the Quran, there are veiled references on this subject. Of course, some religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism believe in it absolutely. The late Dasturji Khurshed Daboo as well as theosophists all over the world believed in it.
I have tackled this subject from an intellectual and logical point of view and am putting my findings and views in front of the readers. Now it is up to the individual reader to go through my text and accept it or reject it. Neither Parsi Times nor I wish to get involved in any bitterness, arguments or controversies because that is not the purpose of this article.
Reincarnation is the belief that each soul returns repeatedly to the physical body, to atone for past sins and develop its full potential for the ultimate reunion with the supreme psychic forces of the Universe (which we call God). This belief is older than recorded history and accepted by almost every religion. In my humble opinion, this doctrine of rebirth also applies to us because it is a Cosmic law applicable to every soul, whether the soul believes in it or not. Suppose I say that I don’t believe in the ‘law of gravity’ or the law of physics which states that ‘fire burns’ – so what? The law of gravity or the fact that fire burns still exists, whether I believe in them or not. If I put my hand in fire, it will burn! Similarly, reincarnation is a cosmic, eternal, universal law and why should a Zoroastrian claim exemption from it? God has not given us an NOC!
According to our religion, in the constitution of the human body, there is one supreme angelic principle called Farohar or Fravashi which complements the soul (Urwan). It is the soul which reincarnates, bearing responsibility of all the thoughts, words and deeds done on earth (karma-bhumi). The purpose of rebirth is Ravan-Bokhtegi (Moksha, Nirvana or final liberation). The Lords of Karma (Bagho-Bahktars) allot one’s destiny according to one’s karmas (deeds) with absolute justice for one (each) lifetime, carrying over the areas of past karmic-accounts to the next lifetime.
The law of gradual evolution of the (Fradaiti Veredaiti) is proclaimed loud and clear in our religion whereby the Urwan (soul) keeps descending from the Minoan (spiritual-realms) to the Getian (physical-phenomena) in order to gain knowledge, gather experience and grow in wisdom after which, to return to the abode of bliss (according to the Bundahish).
Reincarnation goes hand in hand in our religion along with the doctrine of resurrection (Rishtakhis) since it doesn’t conflict with the fundamental principles of Zoroastrianism viz. repeated lives on earth form the metaphorical ‘battlefield’ for fighting ignorance, temptation and evil.
The Spentamad Gatha (49-11) has the key-word ‘Paitiyeinti’ (they come back) for those imperfect souls who return to the world of illusions (‘Drujo Demane’ corresponding to the Upanishadic concept of ‘Maya’). This vital interpretation of the word ‘Paitiyeinti’ to mean ‘come back’ or to ‘return’ has been confirmed by the late Dasturji Khurshed Dabu and other religious scholars such as Sohrab Bulsara, Er. R. Meherjirana, Er. Phiroze Masani, Dr. Irach Taraporewala, Dasturji Bode and Behramgore Anklesaria.
In the same Gatha (30-10) is another key word ‘Zazente’ – ‘Za’ meaning ‘to be born’ and Zazenta meaning ‘to be born repeatedly’. The para states that such souls will one day be reunited (Yaozente) in God’s abode when their illusions are over. The Gathas have another allusion to ‘falling down from the Bridge of Selection’ (Chinvad) into lower realms because of the ‘hardened conscience’ of the souls. In Zoroastrian eschatology, souls with imperfect records are unable to cross the Chinvad and go to heaven (Garothman), so ‘falling down’ denotes reincarnation. Falling down where? Falling down into a mother’s womb.
In Gatha (34-6) and (50-9) the variant of the verb ‘Paiti Ayenti’ means ‘I shall return’ to fulfill some aspirations (in Para-psychology, unfulfilled desires is one of the causes of reincarnation). In Gatha (46-19), there is a line regarding deserving souls ‘getting their reward in the next life’ (Para-Ahum). In both, Sanskrit as well as the Avestan language, ‘Para-Ahum’ means ‘next life’.
Afrin Rapithvan (para 29) presents two alternatives for departed-souls – ‘Vataran’ – viz. those who fulfilled their purpose of birth and those who failed. The great scholar (Shams-ul-Ulema), Dr. Sir Jeevanji Mody said, “Zoroastrianism does not say ‘No’ to reincarnation.” Dr. Mody was an eminent Freemason and in Freemasonary, we all know the implication of ‘resurrection’ very well! It is implied even in their secret ceremonies.
In the Pazand book called ‘Dhoop-Sarna’, the concluding prayer says ‘May the Departed-Souls return (Be-Ayend) to our Mazdayasni religion once again’. In the Pazand language, the term Tan-e-Pasin means ‘the last bodily existence’, last suggesting several previous births in ‘tan’ (body). This term denotes the last incarnation of an evolved-soul at the end of which, liberation ‘Ravan Bokhtegi’ (Moksh) is achieved.
Even the term Farshogard means ‘promotion’ from human bondage to a higher state of consciousness in the Spiritual-realms called ‘Soshyant’. Another terminology referring to the permanency of a soul after several sojourns in numerous incarnations is ‘Kyamat’. In our religion, there is a ritual called ‘Geti-Kharid’ which signifies ‘purchase of meritorious existence on earthly realm by the departed soul after several sojourns, who is about to be born.’ i.e. the returning soul seeks to have a comfortable account of the good deeds to ensure a good earth-life.
Our Yasna ritual itself inculcates the doctrine of reincarnation through symbols e.g. the juice of Haoma twigs symbolises wisdom derived from fate; the mortar signifies incarnation – the play of the fickle finger of fate -the resultant juice, mixed with the extract of an evergreen tree has to pass through a dish with ‘nine’ perforations repeatedly from the mortar to a cup (post-mortem-rest) and vice-versa (the wheel of rebirth). The dish signifies the human body which has ‘nine’ apertures. The repeated pourings signify several births until the final stage of this ceremony when the sacrament is fit to be poured back into the well, from which water was previously drawn. This final stage is a metaphor for liberation (Moksh) symbolising re-union (Yaozante) with the Supreme Reality viz. our Divine Source (atma merging into parmatma) or the microcosm merging into the macrocosm.
According to Dr. Framroze Chinivala, the Law of Rebirth is a Universal Cosmic Law which aims at giving the utmost scope for the fullest development of the soul by repeated experiences in the physical realm. The aim of life is spiritual perfection and this perfection simply cannot be achieved in a single life. Every soul achieves perfection at its own speed of evolution. Hence, different persons have different circumstances, opportunities, joys, sorrows, different relationships and different spans of lifetimes in which to learn cosmic lessons, acquire wisdom and be finally re-united with the Divine Flame (Asar-Roshni).
The spastic child or mentally ill persons, who are noble souls but suffer throughout life, are all souls going through the ‘learning process’. One person is born in a palace into a Royal family, in the lap of luxury while another is born in the slums, to an unfortunate prostitute, into a life of misery. In both cases, it is the past accumulated karmas of the souls being born resulting in a birth of ‘particular circumstances’ through particular parents in accordance with the Law of “Cause and Effect” (Karmic Law).
For Zoroastrians, who call themselves Ahura Tkaesha (firm believers in Divine Justice), it’s wrong to attribute to God any result which (apparently) had no ‘cause’ to justify it. The cause therefore, must be sought in a previous life’s Karmic-account. The ‘Hadokht Nask’ says that after death, the record of our deeds done on earth take form as our ‘Kerdar’ (the vision of a beautiful young girl for good souls and an ugly old hag for wicked souls). The Ardaiviraf Nameh also alludes to rebirth.
I truly believe that a soul comes into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defects (sins) of its previous life. Its place and circumstances, honour or dishonour are all determined by its previous merits or demerits. Its actions (thoughts, words and deeds) in this lifetime determine its circumstances in the next life. Each one of us has to reincarnate several times before achieving the perfection which permits reunion with our Creator!