A few days ago, I met a friend who argued that prayers and rituals are not in accord with the spirit of the Gatha or the message of Zarathushtra. His emphasis was only on wisdom, rational thinking and the simplistic notion of good thoughts, good words and good deeds. I concurred with him that the religion of Zarathushtra is not based on blind faith, superstition or fear of the unknown. I also agreed with him that no other religion has articulated or laid as much emphasis on truth and purity of thought or on kind and encouraging words or on good deeds, as much as the Zoroastrian faith has.
While my friend considered ‘ritual’ and ‘reason’ as being antithetical, I was of the view that both are complementary factors in the process of spiritual growth. Zoroastrianism, in totality, comprises both – the theology as well as the ritual practices of the Faith.
Role Of Prayers And Rituals: Prayers and rituals are born of man’s adoration for that unseen power underlying the mystery of life. Each religion prescribes its own set of practices as a means of adoration or worship or to encourage humility and surrender, resulting in spiritual purification so necessary for inner growth. History affirms that prayers and rituals never completely die out, so long as they can offer the devout a spiritual link with Divinity or at another level, a sense of security.
Prayers and rituals distinguish a religion from mere philosophy – they help provide the spiritual experience of the celebration of religion. The purpose of prayers and rituals is to generate a conscious awareness which, in turn, provides the devout an insight into the nature of Divinity. Prayers and rituals also provide a medium through which a person can relate and bridge himself to the unseen spiritual world.
Importance Of Faith: St. Thomas Aquinas believed that to one who has faith, no explanation is necessary, whereas to one without faith, no explanation is possible. In spiritual life, faith comes first, then knowledge and then experience. Faith begins where reason falters: faith falters where there is attention without intention.
Faith is necessary for gaining wisdom. It should not be confused with blind belief, rather, it’s the aspiration of the soul to gain wisdom. If faith is constant, it takes the devotee to the realization of wisdom. Indeed, the way to wisdom is through faith. Faith does not remove pain, but it helps one to get through the pain. Trusting the Divine does not diminish or vanquish anguish, but it enables those with faith to endure it.
Science And Religion: Albert Einstein believed that science without religion was lame, and religion without science was blind. However, the debate over whether science and religion can co-exist has been going on since the dawn of mankind and continues to divide opinion even today.
Throughout history, it has been recognized that the human mind is capable of two kinds of knowledge or two modes of consciousness, termed: ‘the Rational’ and ‘the Intuitive’. These have traditionally been associated with ‘Science’ and ‘Religion’, respectively. Unfortunately, the intuitive, religious type of knowledge is often devalued in favor of rational, scientific knowledge.
In the East, the values attributed to the two kinds of knowledge are often already apparent from the names given to them. The Upanishads, for example, speak about ‘higher’ and ‘lower knowledge’ and associates the ‘lower knowledge’ with various sciences and the ‘higher knowledge’ with religious awareness.
Zoroastrian Prayers And Rituals: Prayers and rituals, when performed with understanding, feeling and concentration, become a powerful tool in the process of religious awareness. Take, for example, the most basic and simple ritual of performing the Kusti. Each time a devotee performs this ritual, he/she makes an unswerving commitment to reject and fight evil and promote the Will of Ahura Mazda.
Avesta is not a dead language as some Parsis choose to call it. It is a ‘Divine Language’. If Hindus consider Sanskrit as the language of the Deva (Divinity), devout Zoroastrians consider Avesta as the language of the Yazata. Our sacred manthravani chants are loaded with Divine Energy which can deeply influence the devotee and his or her surroundings when chanted with faith and devotion. In fact, our Avestan manthravani is Energy of the Divine which devotees can vocalize in order to attune the spirit within, with the Universal Spirit.
Food For The Soul: Just as food is essential for physical sustenance, prayer is vital for spiritual sustenance. Pray the Atash Niyaesh before a consecrated Fire and see how it energizes you – both physically and spiritually. Pray the Ardibehesht Yasht regularly and see how it heals some of your chronic ailments. Recite the Hormazd Yasht as often as possible and get a sense of Ahura Mazda’s all-round protection. Invoke Sarosh Yazata every day and observe the enhancement in your spiritual consciousness. Invoke Behram Yazata whenever in trouble or Ava Yazata for knowledge and wisdom. The list is long……..!
Every day, recite the two most powerful prayers of just twenty-one and twelve words respectively, the Yatha and Ashem. Pray one Ashem the moment you wake up in the morning and pray one just before you fall asleep. Pray one Ashem just before and after a meal or whenever a negative thought passes your mind. Make it a habit to pray one Yatha whenever you leave your home and before starting any new work.
On a personal note, everyday, as a matter of habit, I pray one Yatha before starting my computer or before writing an article or signing an important document. It gives me not just a sense of being blessed but it also gives me a sense of higher purpose and the inclusion of a spiritual essence in whatever I may be planning to do.
Prayer A Day, Keeps Doctor Away!
Regular worship is believed to ‘keep the doctor away’. In a study conducted by the Purdue University, researchers found that of 1,500 people, 36% of those who prayed regularly, claimed excellent health, versus only 29% of those who said that they do not regularly worship; and a higher percentage of non-worshippers claimed poor health. Researchers believe that religious people are probably able to adjust their lives better to changing circumstances and stressful situations.
Doubtlessly, it is regular prayer and ritual observances which sustain Faith. Even, the Gatha of Asho Zarathushtra has survived down the centuries, not through mere philosophical interpretations, but through constant ritual usage. Seventeen chapters of the Gatha are ensconced within the seventy-two chapters of the Yasna.
With due apologies to Martin Luther King Jr., I would like to conclude with an adaptation of his belief: ‘To be a Zoroastrian without payer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing!’
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