Mind Over Meat

n the pantheon of Zoroastrian divinities, Bahman Amshaspand ranks next to Ahura Mazda. Bahman is an Amshaspand or Amesha Spenta (variously translated as Bountiful Immortal or Arch Angel) and is doctrinally seen as the guardian of one of Ahura Mazda’s good creations, namely animals – particularly Goshpand like cow, goat, sheep, etc. It is for this reason that devout Zoroastrians abstain from eating meat throughout the entire month of Bahman. Although, on a lighter note, a Zoroastrian foodie recently retorted that by this logic, during the month of Amardad, one should not be eating vegetables because Amardad Amshaspand is the guardian of one of Ahura Mazda’s other good creations – namely vegetation!

Observing The Month Of Bahman: 

In the Zoroastrian calendar of three hundred and sixty-five days, there is not a single day for total fasting from food. The only fast that is traditionally observed is the fast from eating meat through the Bahman Mahino. No special prayers or ceremonies are performed during this month. One is simply expected to switch to a simple vegetarian diet, as an act of religious discipline. 

There is no Yasht (Hymn) or Niyaesh (Litany) dedicated to Bahman. There probably was an Avestan Vohu Manah or Bahman Yasht, but it is now lost to us over the vicissitudes of time. What we have is a Pahlavi commentary called, ‘Zand-e-Vohu Manah Yasna’. However, unlike Avesta and Pazand, Pahlavi is not Manthravani or the traditional language of prayer. Regardless, many do recite it.

Historically, Zoroastrians do not seem to have been a vegetarian community. In fact, one of the strongest arguments supporting the non-vegetarian theory is the observance of Bahman Mahino. It is often argued that if Zoroastrians are mandated by religious tradition to be vegetarian all year round, why does the community kick up all this fuss during the month of Bahman?

Understanding Bahman Or Vohu Manah: 

In the Zoroastrian calendar, the second day of every month as well as the eleventh month of every year is dedicated to Bahman Amshaspand. Bahman is the Persian form of the Pahlavi word, ‘Wahman’ and the original Avestan term – Vohu Manah, which most scholars translate as ‘Good Mind’.

In the Gatha, Asho Zarathushtra asserts that the path leading to Ahura Mazda is through Vohu Manah. In other words, propitiating Bahman Amshaspand takes one closer to Divinity. Interpreted at an ethical level, exercising the right moral choices with the help of the good mind alone can take one closer to Ahura Mazda – the Lord or Master of all Wisdom. 

In later texts, the Sudreh is referred to as Vohu Manah Vastra or the garment of Bahman; just the way the Kusti is referred to as the girdle of Sarosh Yazata. It is believed that wearing the Sudreh, which is the garment of Bahman Amshaspand, bestows the wearer with wisdom, while tying the Kusti over it, gives the wearer Sarosh Yazata’s divine protection and enhances the devotee’s higher consciousness.

So, Why Abstain From Eating Meat?

While at a moral and ethical level, Bahman represents the ‘good mind’, Zoroastrians abstain from eating meat on every Bahman Roj as also Roj Mohor, Gosh and Ram, as a mark of respect to the four Guardian Divinities of all Goshpands. Abstaining from eating meat throughout the month of Bahman is considered an act of religious merit to acquire wisdom through internal cleansing and exercising non-violence towards the Good Creation of Ahura Mazda. Even those who do not observe fasting from meat for the whole month try to avoid eating meat on Bahman Roj of Bahman Mah and the days dedicated to Bahman’s Hamkara (co-workers) – Mohor, Gosh and Ram.

Strictly speaking, throughout the month of Bahman, a Zoroastrian is expected to live on a simple diet of grain, fruit and vegetable. However, most Zoroastrians find it challenging to survive on what they call ‘ghaas-phoos’ and therefore most consider eating eggs quite acceptable, while some go further to believe that eating fish or even fowl would be perfectly legitimate. Aquatic creatures with fins and two legged fowls are not Goshpand, it is argued! 

Abstain From Mental Violence: 

It is said that we are what we eat and a vegetarian diet is generally considered good for spiritual development. However, in our opinion, there is no point in being a vegetarian and observing the month of the ‘good mind’ if it is observed only from the dietary point of view. It is not just a month to abstain from eating meat but a month to abstain from all forms of violence in thought, word or deed. 

While observing a vegetarian diet for a month or for four days every month is a good and healthy change, there is no point abstaining from eating meat but making mincemeat of all rational thought, word and deed!

False Sense Of Superiority:

 We have observed that vegetarians usually carry a certain sense of ‘false superiority’ and treat non-vegetarians with a sense of contempt, mentally, and sometimes vocally with their ‘holier than thou’ attitude! Some even castigate meat-eaters as ‘murderers’! 

What one chooses to eat or not eat is a personal choice and there is absolutely no need for those observing a vegetarian diet to harbour a false sense of superiority or piety. Historically, some of the most notorious serial killers across the world have been vegetarian! By contrast, the gentle and compassionate Dalai Lama is not vegetarian. Jesus Christ, the apostle of love and forgiveness drank wine and mostly ate and served his followers bread and fish, including, at the last supper. 

Also, let us not forget that towards the end of his life, Adolf Hitler followed a vegetarian diet. It is not clear when or why he adopted it, since some accounts of his dietary habits prior to the Second World War indicate that he consumed meat as late as 1937. However, by 1938, Hitler’s public image as a vegetarian was already being fostered, and from 1942, he self-identified as a vegetarian. The point is, did Hitler’s change in diet make him a better human being, let alone a non-violent human being? If anything, his vegetarian diet made him aggressive in his thinking, violent in his speeches and culminated in brutal acts of atrocity. The irony is, Adolf Hitler, in his private conversations with dinner guests, used to refer to meat-eaters as murderers!

Focus On Wisdom:

The point we are trying to drive home is please refrain from making a virtue about what you eat or do not eat during this month or throughout the year. Focus on the mind because all thoughts begin in the mind leading later to words and finally, to actions. There is no point being a vegetarian without first exercising temperance of the mind!

In the Gatha, Asho Zarathushtra urges us to acquire happiness through wisdom, which in turn can be acquired by reflective thinking and exercising moral choices within an ethical framework. Much later, the Chinese philosopher, Confucius echoed the same thought, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First – by reflection, which is noblest; Second – by imitation, which is easiest; and Third – by experience, which is the bitterest.” 

May Bahman Amshaspand Bless our community with Wisdom! 

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