Meditation is essentially a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing one’s mind on a particular object, thought or activity (including just the act of breathing) to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. The term meditation is derived from the Latin expression meditation or the Latin verb meditari which means “to think, contemplate, devise or ponder.”
Broadly speaking meditation techniques fall under two main categories:
- i) Focused attention method, which include paying attention to or focus on the breath, to an idea or feeling such as love or compassion or to a mantra or on a single point of focus; and
- ii) Open monitoring method, which include mindfulness, and other awareness states.
In our opinion the Zoroastrian form of meditation is a combination of both methods. So, how did Zarathushtra meditate?
The Pahlavi Zarathushtnameh says Zarathustra went in search of the Truth at the age of thirty and on mount Ushi-darena he received Divine Revelation over a period of ten years. Ushi-darena is variously translated to mean ‘sustainer of inner wisdom’. Zarathushtra surely must have reflected on the Truths of Nature using his inner wisdom, but, perhaps not necessarily sitting in a dark cave. He probably may have pondered on the Truths of Nature watching the sun rise and set, the seasons change, the moon, the stars and of course, Fire – the giver of light and life.
Focus on Manthra:
Zoroastrian prayers are called manthra (Vedic Mantra) which are best understood as articulate sounds which unite the subconscious, the conscious and the super-conscious planes. When properly used, they have the power to bring the individual to a higher state of consciousness. Composed mainly in the Avestan language (the language in which Asho Zarathushtra received Revelation), they are believed to possess a Divine Cosmic Energy.
Asho Zarathushtra terms himself manthram, i.e., composer of manthras or utterances of spiritual power, comparable to the ‘Logos’ or ‘Word’ referred to in John’s Gospel. It is said, Manthra is the transformation of Divine Energy into words which human beings can vocalize.
Yatha And Ashem:
The Manthra of Ahunavar or the Yatha Ahu Vairyo is the primordial sound of Reality beyond the limitations of Time and Space. To Zoroastrians, the Ahunavar is what the OM is to Hindus and Buddhists – the means of concentrating and arousing forces that already exist within the human psyche. When uttered with feeling and concentration, the manthra sets off subtle vibrations which affect different psychic centers or chakras in the body.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is not simply sitting quietly doing nothing. It is a state of awareness, a means of growth that can enable us to observe the various levels of consciousness and infuse our lives with this awareness. The aim of meditation is to bring the restless mind and body into a state of relaxation and total awareness. Peace and joy comes to that individual whose mind and body works in harmony.
How Does One Meditate In The Zoroastrian Way?
With the stress and strain of modern life, the art of meditation appears to be gaining popularity. Often, Zoroastrians are disappointed when they are told that there is no direct reference to meditation (at least the passive form) in the Zoroastrian tradition. However, the Zoroastrian form of meditation is simple, meaningful and uplifting.
A devout Zoroastrian starts his/her day with the recitation of one Ashem. The Revayat (letters exchanged between Zoroastrian Priests of Navsari in India with Zoroastrian Priests of Yazd in Iran between the 15th and 18th centuries AD) affirm that this one Ashem recited on getting out of bed is equal to 10,000 Ashems prayed at other times. In this short manthra of 12 words, the devotee praises Righteousness and affirms that he/she will be righteous for the sake of Righteousness. What a wonderful affirmation to begin the day with!
He/she also ritually touches the ground with his hands thrice and seeks the blessings of Mother Earth or the spirit of Spenta Aramaiti. The blessings he seeks are virtues of piety, patience, tolerance and compassion. In fact, Spenta Aramaiti is the very embodiment of these virtues. He/she then offers the Kusti prayers, rejecting all that is evil in this world. In fact, every time the Kusti ritual is performed during the day, there is an unswerving commitment to promote the Will of Ahura Mazda.
A Zoroastrian meditates once again when, after a bath, he/she offers the faraziat or obligatory prayers. In these prayers, he/she offers homage to Ahura Mazda, the Amesha Spentas, the Yazatas, Asho Zarathushtra, the Fravashis and all the Good Energies and creations of Ahura Mazda. In the process of offering homage, the devotee attunes himself/herself to these Energies and derives spiritual nourishment. He/she may also meditate offering the Atash Niyaesh before the fire, either at home or at an agiary or atash behram.
Meditation As A Way Of Life
Meditation may also be understood as an attitude towards life. The Zoroastrian form of meditation does not involve retreat into the mountains and caves or for that matter even a quiet room, but using the activities of every day life as a means of focusing the mind and expanding consciousness. It is learning to view every event objectively as the means for self-knowledge and spiritual growth.
The many thoughts which flow ceaselessly into the conscious mind of all human beings do not disturb the person whose body and mind works in harmony. Such a person takes every situation, every relationship with the world, with the environment, with his friends, with his family and work into his discipline of meditation. Little wonder that Zarathustra did not even remotely suggest a life of denial or renunciation. His message is simple and clear – be HAPPY and make others happy’’. Marry, have many children, eat, drink, create wealth, but be charitable towards all. There is no need to keep fasts or practice celibacy to please Ahura Mazda or in order to gain salvation. Stay positive and exercise the right choices is the essence of Zarathushtra’s teachings.
In a sense, Zarathushtra encouraged an active and not passive form of meditation. He encouraged his followers to be in this world and enjoy its bounties with awareness and gratitude, not run away from it. He did not ask his followers to shut their eyes and look inward, rather he encouraged them to behold Ahura Mazda’s good creations with eyes wide open and offer respect and gratitude.
To a Zoroastrian, life is for living and to live it to the fullest, without any regret or remorse! If the aim of meditation is to find inner joy and happiness, Zarathushtra said that joy and happiness comes to those who bring joy and happiness to others! Hence, do take quiet time out to reflect and rejuvenate whenever required. Sit in a quiet room or a place of worship, if that helps. But, always remember that a Zoroastrian’s purpose on earth is not to spend hours focusing on the breath, but, to live a life that would make Nature sing the song from the movie Top Gun – “take my breath away!”
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