One often hears Parsis say that they are proud to be Parsis. However, try asking the average Parsi in the street what it means to be a Zarathushtrian (a follower of Prophet Zarathushtra) and you are likely to draw a blank. At best, you are likely to hear the over-simplified and stereotyped message of, ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds’. I accept that these principles are the main pillars of the faith and perhaps no other prophet or sage has articulated or emphasized this more than Asho Zarathushtra.
However, is Parsipanu just about dhansaak and patra-ni-macchi? Is it about wearing a blue or red topi 24/7, praying every gah (watch of the day), but for the rest of the time, thinking destructively, writing negatively, speaking offensively and acting obnoxiously?
What makes a true Parsi and reflects the essence of Parsipanu is the sum total of a Parsi’s approach to life. It’s primarily about our attitude (which should be positive at all times), our values (of truth, righteousness and fairness towards one and all), our charitable disposition, our love for food, drink and humour and all things good. It’s about ‘living the religion’ instead of claiming to die for it. It’s about being reasonable and balanced in approach – neither a fanatic nor a heretic.
Asho Zarathushtra sang his message (Gatha, like Geet or Geeta means song) of leading a positive and productive life in an age we call prehistoric and yet, over the centuries, his message continues to remain fresh and relevant. It is said that Zarathushtra had his first vision of Ahura Mazda on Roj Dae-pa-Meher, Mah Ardibehest. According to the Zarathusht Nameh, the Prophet asked Ahura Mazda a question (the very first question) and in the answer that he received from Ahura Mazda, one may find an excellent summary of what truly is Parsipanu.
The question was, “Who is the best person among all people in the world?”
Ahura Mazda answered, “He who walks on the path of Asha (Righteousness); is charitable; is just; reveres fire; water and is kind even to animals”.
Parsis recognize fire as the visible embodiment of Light and Life. It dispels darkness and ignorance and has the inherent quality to animate or bring to life the various creations of Ahura Mazda. Doctrinally, Ardibehesht Ameshaspand or Asha Vahishta (Best Righteousness/Best Truth/Holiness) presides over fire, and therefore it is also perceived as the living embodiment of Ahura Mazda’s Truth and Righteousness.
In the concept of the Holy Amesha Spenta one finds the timeless principles of ecology and living in harmony with Nature including human beings, animals, fire, metals, earth, water and vegetation. Scientists advise us today to protect the rain forests, not to pollute the waters etc., but, Zarathushtra codified the principles of ecology thousands of years ago.
Humata, Hukhta Havrashta (Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds) are three words. Actually, Zarathustra’s teachings could be summed up in just one word – Asha. ‘Asha’ stands for: Truth (as opposed to falsehood), Righteousness, Divine Order (or living in harmony with the Laws of Nature) and Purity (in thought, word and deed).
The Colophon or preface to Yasna asserts, “There is but one path, that of Asha. All other paths are false”. And, that’s real Parsipanu!
In the Hoshbam, which we pray at dawn, we affirm, ‘Through the best righteousness, excellent righteousness, O Ahura Mazda, may we catch sight of Thee and may we come near Thee and attain Thy eternal friendship!” According to this prayer the devotee affirms at the very crack of dawn that he/she aspires to know and understand Ahura Mazda and the only way he/she can achieve this ultimate and sublime goal is by walking on the path of truth and, in doing so, the devotee earns Ahura Mazda’s ‘friendship’. And that’s another integral aspect of Parsipanu. A Parsi need not fear Ahura Mazda, nor try to appease Ahura Mazda with sacrifice or fasting or by indulging in superstitious practices. To a Parsi, Ahura Mazda is not a God to be feared but a Divinity that can, and should be, befriended and loved.
Parsipanu is about considering poverty, suffering and want as an affliction of evil. To remove poverty, deficiency, disease and human suffering is not only a religious duty and part of Parsi culture, but an act of spiritual merit, depriving ‘evil’ of sustenance. If Christ asked his followers to love their neighbours, Zarathushtra asked his followers to attain happiness by making others happy. Parsipanu is therefore about being happy and making others happy.
Parsipanu is about considering wealth to be fundamentally positive, provided it is acquired through righteous means and used for righteous purposes.
A Zarathushtrian is not required to practice celibacy in order to attain salvation. In fact, getting married at the appropriate time and raising a family is itself an act of spiritual merit. A Zarathushtrian is not required to renounce the world and lead an ascetic life. In fact, that would be considered a sin. Life is a gift of Ahura Mazda and is meant to be enjoyed, not endured and enjoying life and expressing gratitude for that joy is Parsipanu.
Parsipanu is about imbibing the ethical qualities of the seven Amesha Spenta. Parsipanu is about starting all tasks in the name of and dedicate the result to Hormuzd or God; do all work using Bahman or the Good Mind; perform the task with Ardibehest or Truth and attain Sherevar or Righteous Power and to this power add Spendarmad or Piety and Humility and attain Khordad or Perfection for Amardad or for eternity.
Parsipanu is about being a spiritual warrior (Rathestar) fighting evil at the physical, social, ethical and metaphysical level. Unfortunately, we have more internet and social media warriors. In fact, we hardly have soldiers left. We only have Generals who decide in ‘Academy of Social Media’ regarding what is good or not good, from their twisted point of view.
At the physical level, all forms of impurity and pollution are seen as a manifestation of evil. Parsipanu is about purity and cleanliness, at home and at work and in the mind, in our words and in our actions. At the social level, all forms of poverty, want, human suffering and ignorance are seen as an affliction of evil. Parsipanu, therefore is about charity and ensuring social justice!
At an ethical level, every good Zarathushti must guard himself/herself against the demons of lie, half-truths, suspicion, wrath, greed, envy, and other vices.
Parsipanu is not about pretending to be religious. Wear a topi/mathubau if you like it, but as the saying in Gujarati goes, “beeja ne topi na pehravo”. Parsipanu is about thinking before we believe, and Parsipanu is about being an instrument of Peace, Progress and Prosperity for all!