The essence of the festival of Diwali lies in the Sanskrit shloka: ‘Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya‘ which means “Lead me from darkness to light.” This verse is found in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad (I.3.28): “asato ma sad gamaya. tamaso ma jyotir gamaya. mrtyor ma amrtam gamaya,” which means: “From what is not, lead me to what is; from darkness, lead me to light; from death, lead me to what is undying.”
This ancient verse is a self-affirmation to move from the unreal to what is real, from untruth to the truth and from all that is not good to what is good.
In like manner, when a Zoroastrian prays litany to the fire (Atash Niyaesh) he/she chants and affirms: “Atarsh spenta rathaeshtâra, Yazata pouru-khvarenangha, Yazata pouru-baeshaza, Athrô Ahurahe Mazdåo puthra” which means: “O Adar Yazata (the Divinity presiding over fire), the beneficent warrior (against forces of darkness) full of glory, healing virtues of the Fire, the purifier (of all things) pertaining to Ahura Mazda!”
Thus, to a Zoroastrian, fire is glorious, health giving, enhances virtue, purifies and illuminates all things, including the mind and spirit.
Lighting A Lamp Within: In the literal or even the scientific sense, ‘darkness’ is the ‘absence’ of light. However, figuratively darkness also represents wickedness, sadness, ignorance and other negative human traits and emotions.
During Diwali we celebrate this festival of light by lighting oil lamps at our home, business establishment or work place. This symbolically represents driving away darkness with the lighted lamps and ushering prosperity over the darkness of poverty, happiness over the darkness of unhappiness and good health over the darkness of ill-health.
However, while physically lighting lamps, we should also mentally light the lamp of wisdom in our mind and illuminate it. We need to follow rituals mindfully and with full knowledge and awareness in order to make them more meaningful in our lives. Among a host of Blessings that a Zoroastrian devotee seeks while reciting the Atash Niyaesh is: ‘spano’ or wisdom, ‘urune ushi’ or intelligence and ‘khratum’ or intellect. When we outwardly light a lamp, we also inwardly awaken ourselves towards the path of self-awareness and self-realisation.
Darkness – Literal And Figurative: From the Zoroastrian perspective, the corporeal world that we live in is not perfect. Dasturji Maneckji Dhalla referred to it more positively as ‘our perfecting world’. A fundamental precept of Zoroastrianism is Asha which is variously interpreted as Truth, Purity, Righteousness and Divine Order. The Colophon to Yasna asserts: “There is but one path, that of Asha. All other paths are false”. Thus, falsehood, impurity, wickedness and disorder are all viewed as moving away from light and towards darkness.
In the Hoshbam which we pray at dawn (the beginning of twilight before sunrise), 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 crack of dawn or when light of the sun dispels darkness that he/she aspires to know and understand Ahura Mazda and the only way he/she can achieve this ultimate goal is by walking on the path of Asha. And, in doing so, the devotee earns Ahura Mazda’s ‘friendship’. Thus, it is only in light of the truth and walking in the light of righteous conduct, that we attain attunement with Divinity.
Zoroastrians consider the darkness of ignorance, poverty, suffering, injustice disease, flood, famine and all disorders as evil and to alleviate afflictions of evil is an act of spiritual merit, depriving ‘evil’ of sustenance. Our response to darkness is not through acceptance of darkness but measures taken to dispel darkness with light – the light of wisdom, the light of knowledge, the light of charity and the light of goodness.
The Dark Or Destructive Spirit: Asha is an important attribute of Ahura Mazda representing qualities of Order and Perfection. Disorder is the antithesis of Asha and believed to be the work of Angra Mainyu – the spirit of disorder and destruction. Thus, Zoroastrians do not consider disorder or destruction as the work of Ahura Mazda. The presence of disorder makes our corporeal world unstable and renders all creation susceptible to disease, decay, death and disintegration. However, according to Zoroastrian theology Angra Mainyu – the destructive spirit or mentality is the architect of all calamities.
There is a primordial conflict between the forces of good and evil and according to the Bundahishn and other Pahlavi texts, Ahura Mazda created the corporeal world in order to trap and finally vanquish evil. The opposite of Angra Mainyu is Spenta Mainyu – the creative spirit or mentality and architect of all that is good and represents truth, light and life. Both Angra and Spenta are perceived as twins in conflict. However, in later texts Angra is also referred to as Ahriman or the devil.
A Matter Of Choice: As Zoroastrians, our duty is to bring order amid disorder, relief where there is pain and rebuild all that is destroyed. Calamities are negative and the choice we have is to be bitter about it or make things better. The only antidote for darkness is light and the only antidote for disorder is Asha or order. In fact, our sacred texts categorically affirm that it is only through the practice of Asha that evil will finally be vanquished and perfection will prevail over imperfection.
As intelligent human beings, we have been given the freedom to choose and what we reap is fruit of our individual and collective choices – Good or Evil. Zoroastrians believe that human beings find happiness or sorrow according to moral and ethical choices made at an individual and collective level. There are two mentalities Anghra Mainyu (negative mentality) and Spenta Mainyu (positive mentality). As human beings we have the freedom to choose positive or negative mentality. What we individually and collectively reap is the consequence of our choices.
Angra Mainyu – A State Of The Mind: Mainyu is variously translated as ‘Spirit’, an abstract energy or ‘Mind’ (Sanskrit mana or mind). Angra is viewed as destructive, chaotic, disorderly and inhibitive. One of the chief manifestations of Angra is destruction which arises from anger and anger is a state of the mind. Thus, Angra Mainyu is a destructive, chaotic, disorderly and inhibitive state of the mind which often manifests into anger and destruction of all that is good.
Choose Light, Not Darkness: Theologically, Angra Mainyu is limited to material space and time and at the end of time, Angra Mainyu will be finally defeated or simply disappear because Angra Mainyu is akin to a shadow. A shadow is simply the absence of reflected light. It is impossible to prove shadow as a standalone object. Scientifically speaking, shadow exists only in relationship to a light source, a disrupting object and an object in the background.
In other words, if Truth is light and the mind is the disorderly obstructive object, what is seen in the background of life is the shadow of evil. But, let the light of truth shine through a mind attuned to that light (of truth) and there would be no obstruction and no shadow would be seen in the background of life. There would be just light! Little wonder that certain Pahlavi books view Ahriman or the personification of evil as ‘nonexistent’!
Evil has no real existence. Evil is simply the absence of good, just as darkness is absence of light. When we choose light, we automatically reject darkness and when we choose goodness, we automatically reject evil. Angra Mainyu which is evil or dark mentality, can be kept away by following Spenta Mainyu or Good Mentality.
Therefore, this Diwali let us choose Light. Let us dispel the darkness of ignorance with the light of knowledge; the darkness of vengefulness with the light of forgiveness… and above all else, the darkness of misunderstanding with the light of understanding, friendship and harmony!