COVID-19 has resulted in a lot of stress and anxiety. There is fear and worry about one’s own health and that of our loved ones. Many experience changes in sleep patterns, eating disorders and lack of concentration. Every individual reacts differently. While some find solace in reading and writing or simply working from home, others find comfort in prayer and quiet contemplation. Meditation, in its various forms, appears to be on the top of the list. 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 come to that individual whose mind and body works in harmony.
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 verb meditari which means ‘to think, contemplate, devise or ponder’. Broadly speaking meditation techniques fall under two main categories – the Focused Attention Method (which includes paying attention / focusing the breath to an idea or a feeling, or to a mantra or on a single point of focus) and the Open Monitoring Method (which include mindfulness and other awareness states).
In our opinion, the Zoroastrian form of meditation is a combination of both methods. How did Zarathushtra meditate?
The Pahlavi Zarathushtnameh says Zarathustra went in search of the Truth at age 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 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), these are believed to possess a Divine Cosmic Energy. Asho Zarathushtra terms himself Manthram, i.e., composer of Manthras or utterances of spiritual power. It is said, Manthra is the transformation of Divine Energy into words which humans 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.
The Zoroastrian Way To Meditate: With the stress and strain of modern life, the art of meditation has already gained 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/her hands thrice and seeks the blessings of Mother Earth or the spirit of Spenta Aramaiti. The blessings he/she 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. In this litany we pray before fire which is a giver of light, warmth and life itself. What a wonderful response and antidote for a dark, cold and non-life particle known as novel coronavirus.
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 everyday 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 and helpful to all. There is no need to keep fasts or practice celibacy to please Ahura Mazda or 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.
Anecdote Of A Happy Bawaji: This is an anecdote that I have written without offence to any yogi or baba. It’s written solely with the aim to demonstrate the Bawa attitude to life. A Parsi Bawa and a Yogi Baba decided to spend the day together and find happiness. They went up a mountain and the view was breathtakingly good. The Baba decided to close his eyes and focus on his breath. What a waste of God’s gift of sight and this beauty and so saying, the Happy Bawa decided instead to keep his eyes open, hear the birds sing and breath normally and watch the beautiful sunset instead of his breath.
Came night and the Baba decided to drink water from the nearby stream. The Bawa took out his hip flask and added the water to his favourite tipple and offered a toast to the giver of water and slept soundly and happily. The Baba could not sleep wondering why he has not found happiness. Towards morning the Baba decided to extend his fast because his stomach felt bloated.
The Bawa too felt some bloating but ate all the fruits he could find took out his tea bag, boiled the water and soon after the breakfast, his digestive system was clean and he felt good and happy.
Back home, both asked each other, “did you find happiness?” The Baba said, “It does not come easily – I must keep trying.” Crying with laughter, our Bawa said, “Aarrey ghadhera! There was happiness to see but you closed your eyes. There was happiness to breathe among the flowers, but you were only fixated on counting your own breath. There was happiness in the bounty of water and fruits, but you refused to enjoy it and instead, you fasted, causing acidity! You came along in search of happiness but refused to let in the happiness surrounding you by focusing only on your inside!”
Indeed, 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! We see so much of this at our Parsi colonies today – the young helping out the elderly with routine housework; strangers preparing food or providing the basic essentials for the disabled or disadvantaged… the milk of human kindness seems to be overflowing!
Do take some quiet time out to reflect and rejuvenate during this pandemic. Sit in a quiet room, 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’!