Thursday, March 15, 2007

Universalism and All That - Closing the Coffin of Conversion - Part 6 - by Roni K Khan

From: TZML Eductn & Information Committee <>
Date: Mar 15, 2007 12:25 PM
Subject: Universalism and All That - Closing the Coffin of Conversion - Part 6 - by Roni K Khan

Fellow Zarathushtis,
this is a continuation of late Roni Khan's excellent analysis on how the over-reliance on Gathas as the sole texts of the Zarathushti religion can create confusion.
The same scientific analysis is employed here by Roni to show us the limitations of the western philological studies of our Scriptures. We understand that there are limitations, huge limitations, to the philological interpretation of our holy books. Then also, we have the Gathas in 50+ translations - which of these is the true one!
In reality, all transalations are to be taken with a bit of caution and a huge pinch of salt, since the translations are done taking into account the prejudicies, temparements and religious backgrounds of the translators. At best, they are approximate attempts by the translator. The Gathas are primarily religious prayers to be intoned by us Zarathushtis, and their maanthric effect is more important than its meaning, which as we have seen varies from one translator to another.
Fellow Zarathustis, be vigilant about western studies and those scholars who tell us to shun rituals.
All religions have rituals and it is in the correct performance of rituals that an individual and a community progresses spiritually.
Let us catch up with Roni in this 6th part.
Incidentally, all the 8 parts along with other writings of Roni, and other traditional Zoroastrian articles can be found on
With best wishes,
from the TZML Education & Information Committee

Universalism and All That - Closing the Coffin of Conversion - Part 6
by Roni K Khan



"Dismantle The Three R's" [continued]

There is one matter of enormous importance that must be brought to light, to disprove once and for all the mischievous hypothesis of the "Gatha-Alone-Cult" that the five holy Gathas, which are essentially philosophic and hence non-ritualistic in nature, are the only authentic compositions of Asho Zarathushtra.

It may be recalled that it was the western philology of the last century which had sowed the seeds of this misconception. The wheel has now turned, and the latest western philology has demonstrated that such is indeed not the case. Serious scholarly rethinking gained impetus with Gershevitch's proposals (Old Iranian Literature, Leiden 1968). And the further researches of the noted German philologist, Prof. Johanna Narten (Der Yasna Haptanhaiti, Weisbaden 1986) , indicate with superbly marshalled evidence that the Yasna Haptanhaaiti is also to be regarded, like the Gathas, as entirely and genuinely the authentic composition of the Prophet HIMSELF. This has since been formally accepted by one no less than Prof. Mary Boyce.

The implications of this latest philological "discovery" are enormous, also for the reason that the Yasna Haptanhaaiti happens to be a RITUALISTIC text. Prof. Boyce accurately particularizes this Yasna as "referring to rituals," and points out that "Zoroaster's subtle doctrines thus became assimilable, through regular, repetitive, significant acts, by the simplest of his followers." She explains that "the Gathas are profoundly personal utterances, whereas the Yasna Haptanhaiti is intended for use at a regular act of formal worship," and describes the latter as a "fixed liturgy for the service," declaring that it "can also be attributed with all reasonable certainty to the Prophet himself." Prof. Boyce has the intellectual courage and integrity to use the word "prejudices" and admit to "certain Western preconceptions [which] had become widely accepted academic dogma, namely that Zoroaster's own teachings represented an `enlightened,' almost solely rational, faith with virtually no rituals other than prayer in the presence of Fire."

Some other selected facts from Yasna Haptanhaaiti are worth mentioning. That it is a structured liturgical service is also clear from the presence of the Zaotar (the officiating priest) and the Raaspi (the responding priest). In fact, even a ritual as specific as the "jamvaani baaj" (the saying of "grace" before eating and drinking) is apparently included in the proceedings. The very term "yazata" (as "yazatem") occurs in the text, indicating, as Prof. Boyce says, that this term was "evolved by Zoroaster himself for a beneficent divine being in contra-distinction to the Daevas."

In fact, the Prophet actually mentions about a dozen Yazatas by direct name or description, in addition to all the Amesha Spentas. The text is composed in a high order of maanthric language, and is "liberally sprinkled with otherwise unknown words, forty-three in all, or almost an average of one to each verse," as Prof. Boyce notes. In fact, the celebrants refer to themselves as "maanthrans," and the "Yaatu zi Zarathushtra" stanza is a "fshusho" maanthra of such complexity that it is hardly capable of meaningful translation. The rite takes place in the physical presence of Fire, as is evident from the words uttered by the celebrant: "In community with this Fire here, we first approach Thee, Mazda Ahura." (Note: All quotations of Prof. Mary Boyce from Zoroastrianism: Its Antiquity and Constant Vigour, Costa Mesa 1992.)

So much for the canard that the holy Gathas are the "only" authentic work of Asho Zarathushtra. So much for the canard about Asho Zarathushtra's "aversion" to rituals. So much for the canard that the Yazatas are "non-Zarathushtrian." So much for the canard about Aathravan Zarathushtra's "opposition" to "murmuring incantations" and "smoking rituals." Doubtless, all this is going to prove extremely embarrassing and inexpedient to the "Gatha-Alone-Cult," andequally doubtless, we are going to witness some incredible twists, turns and somersaults in the predictable attempts to resist these latest fruits of the best western scholarship.

Already, one GAC ally has started hedging that though he is "sympathetic to the arguments," he finds it all, as yet, "too difficult to accept"!

The significance of the research breakthrough on the Yasna Haptanhaaiti can hardly be overestimated. It authenticates the ritualistic side of our religion, and is a step towards the age-old traditional position that the whole Avesta is genuinely the work of Asho Zarathushtra himself, dating from his own remote era . One wonders whether the meticulous but slow march of western philological scholarship will converge with this viewpoint, even if it takes another century or two.

Although the various heterodox arguments against rites, rituals and rules stand exposed, the reasons and motives underlying the general heterodox animosity towards the "Three R's" remain to be explored.

First, we must recognize the compulsions of modern times, where the pace and style of living are hardly conducive to the full and proper practice of religion, and neither is the necessary infrastructural wherewithal available to the desired degree. These constraints are far greater in the West, though they are by no means wholly absent in the East either. Consider, for example, what the situation must be like in western countries where there is not a single proper Agiari, when even in India, with its eight Atash Beherams, its fifty or more Agiaris, and its institutionalized priesthood and ritual accoutrements, it is with great difficulty that an intricate but essential ceremony like Nirangdeen can be conducted at all -- for about ten years, this great Pav-Mahel kriyaa could not be performed even at Pak Iranshah in Udwada! At a more individual level, is it reasonable to expect that in the hectic work environment of today, along with the long commuting times and distances involved, the typical white-collar employee can perform Padiyaab-Kashti five times a day after the change of each Geh? Or, that in today's sardine-tin residential accommodations, the rules of purity pertaining to menstruation can be fully observed?

Admittedly, there are some practical limitations in the real world that cannot be ignored, denied or overcome. There is therefore no substance to the favourite heterodox gibe that even the orthodox do not properly practise all the customs and usages they hold dear. Indeed, the difficulties faced by us today have been accurately predicted and realistically assessed in the Pazend Behman Yasht, which reassures the faithful that in the draconian fourteenth century after Yazdegard (viz., the twentieth century AD), a single Ashem Vohu, properly recited, would have the same merit as an entire Ijashne ceremony performed in the more congenial days of yore.

But does all this mean that the mighty Nirangdeen kriyaa, Padiyaab-Kashti in the correct manner, or the scientific rules of purity during menses, for example, suddenly lose their intrinsic validity and should be written off? Of course not! Sadly, in their mindless haste to doubt, deny, denigrate and destroy, this is exactly what the heterodox would like us all to believe. But how can the inclement conditions of a transient day and age ever justify the wholesale condemnation and obliteration of hallowed religious rites, rituals and rules that are rooted in timeless spiritual verities?

The healthy attitude is to recognize our limitations under certain unavoidable environmental constraints of our dark times, while also remembering that where there's a will there's a way. After doing our best to practise whatever lies in our power, we may, with a clear conscience, reverentially place the rest on the shelf, to await the dawn of a brighter day. "Shayast-la-Shayast"! The Almighty understands and excuses our involuntary lapses under compelling circumstances, as the perceptive reassurance of the Pazend Behman Yasht indicates.

But the attitude of the heterodox towards the "Three R's" in these difficult times is a world apart. Typically, their irreverent and egocentric posture is like this: If we can't do it, the practice itself must be wrong or outdated, and it deserves to be consigned to the dustbin for ever.

Second, quite apart from unavoidable environment constraints, there is the question of personal volition. Characteristically lacking sufficient faith, knowledge and discipline in religious matters, the heterodox treat rules and rituals as a matter of personal convenience, to be governed by their own judgments, likes and dislikes, and whims and fancies. "Freedom of choice" indeed! If a certain practice happens not to suit them personally, for whatever reason, out it goes through the window, and the pricks of conscience that often follow are rationalized away by running down the practice itself. Even more odious is the increasing tendency to boast about it openly -- like the unforgettable spectacle of a "phoren-returned" young buck at a cocktail party, glass of Scotch in hand and all-knowing smile on face, bragging to the world that he has done away with Sudreh and Kashti.

Third, there is the deep practical and emotional need to justify heterodox actions already performed. People who find themselves stranded or insecure after having wilfully flouted community rules, usually tend to be the most rabid opponents of the "Three R's." After the event, the only way left to "legitimize" the action and avoid the consequences is to bend or change the rule itself. Few and far between are those with the courage and integrity to say: he who makes his bed must lie on it! Self-interest is a powerful motivator, and self-justification its instrument.

Fourth, the dismantling of the "Three R's" is of great practical importance to the heterodox leadership, because of the opportunity to fill the vacuum left behind with the un-Zarathushtrian trio of conversion, cremation and mixed marriages. The doors would be thrown wide open for such practices to enter unobstructed, for once the discipline maintained by rites, rituals and rules is done away with, no restraining influence worth the name is left. Heterodoxy thrives on indiscipline.

Just think of the endless Orwellian possibilities! For example, if the cumbersome Navjote kriyaa were eliminated, anybody could walk into the Zarathushtrian faith merely by declaring himself to be a Zarathushtrian, a la Napoleon placing the crown on his own head. If the "inhumane" scriptural rules against mixed marriages were eliminated along with the superstitious nuptial sacraments, a Siloo Sodabottleopenerwalla could wed a Chou Ching without the bat of an eyelid, aqualm of conscience, or a squeak of protest, and the future little Chings could be considered automatic Zarathushtrians without even having to bother about a confirmatory ceremony behind closed doors. And if the barbaric textual injunction for Dokhmenashini were eliminated along with the demon infested Dokhmas, a departing Zarathushtrian could unhesitatingly opt to be barbecued, with not a squawk of regret to be heard, save from the famished raven quothing "never more." A heterodox paradise!

But seriously speaking, it should be recalled that the broad expression "rites, rituals and rules," or the "Three R's" for short, is just a convenient way of referring to the Marefat, Tarikat and Shariat components of religion. It is these that make a religion concrete, tangible and practical, so that it can be put into practice in a specific and specified way by the average follower. Ordinary people like you and I would usually be perplexed and at a loose end, if a religion were to offer us only the abstract and metaphysical philosophies of Hakikat, to the exclusion of the other three.

The major differences that exist between religions are mainly attributable to the Marefat, Tarikat and Shariat components -- the "Three R's." The metaphysical Hakikat component deals with the fundamental truths underlying all creation, which, despite variations in treatment, emphasis and scope, are more or less common to all religions. To illustrate, the eternal verities and Natural laws pertaining to the Godhead, to Ethics, to the Soul, to Reward and Retribution, to Duality, to Polarity, to Good and Evil, to Faith, to Service, to Devotion, and so on, are usually shared by all religions -- but the Christian has his own church and altar, the Hindu his own mandir and idol, the Muslim his own mosque and pulpit, and the Parsi his own atash-kadeh and fire. The cloth is of the same weave across religions, but the cut of the cloth varies widely from one religion to another; the goal is the same across religions, but the path leading to it varies widely from one religion to another.

Conversion, or "acceptance," as the heterodox now euphemistically call it in a rather naive ploy to sugar the pill, is a tough and weighty decision when it comes to leaving the familiar practices, the "Three R's," of one's own religion, to embrace those of another for ever. For instance, for the Hindu, it would be a huge upheaval togo from the Idol to the Fire, or from Cremation to Dokhmenashini; and for the Christian, from Holy Water to Bull's Urine, or from prayers in plain English to chants in Avesta. These are not small matters when it comes to the crunch. Change is always difficult. And the more drastic the change required, away from set behavioural patterns, the greater the mental and emotional trauma.

But take away the rites, rituals and rules, and it's roses, roses all the way. Conversion becomes painless. No trauma. No bull's urine or vultures in sight. Nothing drastic. No nonsense, no mumbo-jumbo. No obscurantist procedures like outdated vests, pieces of string and murmured incantations. Everything straight and simple. "High thinking" only. Just "one God" and "one Truth." So what if He's called by another name? How enlightened these Zarathushtrians are! How comfortable they make the transition for us! It actually feels like we are only embracing a new philosophy that isn't all that different from our old one! Yes indeed, the autobahn of conversion to the heterodox utopia.

But the autobahn will never be built so long as there are enough faithful Parsis and Iranis who understand the value of the "Three R's" as well as Prof. Russell does: "Rituals and doctrine are related to such an extent that one is meaningless without the other. Rituals bring both the presence of God and purification into the natural world, and this helps man to fight evil, as well as rituals also sanctify man. By leading a ritual life, man is putting his faith into action. He is making it a part of his physical being. It affects his physical being, his body and his mind. At the same time it is an act of remembrance -- and an act of affirmation. It is a way of making his religious beliefs part of his everyday life and not merely some separate compartment of his thought which has no real relevance to anything else. Rituals help to purify the natural world, to fight evil, to bring the Frasho-kereiti closer. Rituals protect man from impurity. All these things are in itself useful, but the ultimate usefulness ofrituals is that the doctrine tells one that one has to do them. So that an act of ritual is a bandagi. It is an act of being bound, an act of obedience, so that fulfilling rituals is fulfilling a covenant with Ahura Mazda -- it is in fact, affirming Him and His teachings." (Ibid.)

The storm-troopers of heterodoxy will be powerless to drive our religion to rack and ruin with their whims and fancies, if we adopt the stand taken by Prof. Russell: "Are we supposed to accept opinions of people who would have us abandon rituals, and who do not know what rituals are in the first place?" (Ibid.)

It only remains to be added that the more irreverent, faithless and spiritually benighted the age, the greater than ever is the importance of rites, rituals and rules. The "Three R's" are like the bark of a tree -- strip off the bark and the tree dies. They are the front-line defences that protect the great philosophical revelations of religion from being corrupted or lost, for "Ritual is in fact concretized philosophy," in the memorable words of Swami Vivekananda. It is fashionable nowadays to try to run down or dismantle the "Three R's," but this is perilous for individual spiritual progress as well as for the security of our religion and the survival of our community. On the other hand, those who treat the "Three R's" as an end in themselves and mechanically go through the motions without knowing or caring what lies behind them, or those who commercialize our religion in the name of rites and rituals, are just as foolish and guilty.

At the risk of repetition, it has to be emphasized that a religion is a Complete Spiritual System composed of the four interrelated and interacting components of Hakikat, Marefat, Tarikat and Shariat. The failure to understand or appreciate this truism is a sure recipe for disorder, and fertile soil for misconceptions like conversion. A partial view of religion is bound to lead to confusion and chaos, and sadly reminds one of the blind men who mistook the trunk or tail or leg of the elephant for the whole elephant.

End of Part VI


Universalism and All That - Closing the Coffin of Conversion - Part 5 - by Roni K Khan

From: TZML Eductn & Information Committee <>
Date: Mar 14, 2007 5:22 PM
Subject: Universalism and All That - Closing the Coffin of Conversion - Part 5 - by Roni K Khan

Dear fellow Zarathushtis,
we continue with the serialisation of Roni's painstakingly written and well researched article on what is the true meaning of the universality of any religion, including Zoroastrianism.
In this part, Roni looks at how the heterodox like Ali Jafarey and even some of our Zoroastrians condemn and ridicule rituals because they cannot understand the efficacy of rituals.
He also examines the current scene in North America, which to us seems to be the centre of the heterodox movement. There is mention of the gas-light and electricity illuminated fires in the so-called Darbe Mehers of the west, all poor substitutes of a properly consecrated ritual fire, which even the poorest agiary in the Indian sub-continent will shun.
Roni also looks at how the heterodox enemies of our religion preach falsely that the Gathas are the only true books of our religion and all other scriptures are inferior, etc. Nothing can be further from the truth, as says Professor James R Russell :" Yes, sadly there is a group of people who feel that the Gathas are the beginning and the end of Zoroastrianism, and that is of course absurd as [it is] based on untenable theories. The fact that Zarathushtra does not mention rituals in the Gathas does not mean that they are not there. Zarathushtra was under no obligation in the Gathas to provide details ... ."
Roni also reminds us of the great Scripture we still have in our possession, the exalted Vendidad. The Pak Vendidad is the nineteenth volume in the sacred series of our Prophet's original 21 Nasks, and is the only one preserved in almost complete form to this day.  It contains clear and visible injunctions against intermarriage and the other evil practises like homosexuality. Hence no wonder the enemies of our religion and those who intermarry wish to ridicule and demean this Holy Book of ours.
Fellow Zarathushtis, never believe in anyone, Parsi or non-Parsi who ridicules our great Vendidad.
In the end of the article, Roni aptly sums up the situation with these wise words: "If our so-called reformers of today are so anxious to make sure that purely Zarathushtrian practices are to be retained, let them first come forward to demonstrate their good faith by calling off their un-Zarathushtrian propaganda promoting mixed marriages and condemning Dokhmenashini -- since nothing can be more Zarathushtrian than the Zarathushtrian religion's position on these two practices, engraved as it is into the very letter of the Zarathushtrian scriptures."
Roni's complete article and other writings, along with a wealth of traditional Zoroastrian information is to be found on
With best wishes,
from the TZML Education & Information Committee

Universalism and All That - Closing the Coffin of Conversion - Part 4
by Roni K Khan

Dismantle The Three R's

As a natural corollary to the Great Heterodox Fallacy which presumes that the Zarathushtrian religion is not much more than the philosophy contained in its Hakikat component, heterodoxy is generally allergic to almost anything that gives a more concrete, structured or institutionalized shape to the religion.

The more the specifics in a religion, and the more disciplined, legislated or cut and dried that things are, the less is the scope for heterodox activists to manoeuvre. This cramps their free-wheeling style, provides less elbow room, and all in all restricts their "freedom." Heterodoxy finds itself trapped in a structured atmosphere, and feels a desperate need to lift these dark, oppressive clouds of discipline to let the sun shine through. After all, how else would the "ratus" and reformers be able to discharge their divinely ordained mission of chopping and changing, tinkering and tampering, ditching and discarding the obsolete and obscurantist flotsam and jetsam of countless centuries, including the Parsi race, in order for the religion to move with the changing times? How else could the religion of Zarathushtra be rescued and restored for a grand entrance into the twenty-first century with multitudes of new converts and mixed-race youths waving the flag of the universal religion in the face of the world?

Such are the issues that bedevil the heterodox mind. No wonder, then, that heterodoxy is all out to dismantle the present scheme of things, with special reference to the more structured or formalized aspects of the Zarathushtrian religion. To be told what to do, or how to do it, is anathema to the "liberated" heterodox mind. The targets of attack, therefore, are naturally the Marefat, Tarikat and Shariat components of the religion, in ascending order of virulence. For convenience, let us style them as "rites, rituals and rules" -- the "Three R's."

The heterodox allergy cannot be better expressed than in the words of wisdom offered by a certain solicitor for the consumption of enlightened Zarathushtrians: "The meaningless rituals invented by the babblers-for-money and its paraphernalia may not survive. It never deserved to." We less enlightened Zarathushtrians may dare to disagree, especially when recalling that these "meaningless rituals" have been treasured for thousands of years by untold generations of our ancestors, including "babblers" like Kookadaru, Behramshah Shroff, Meherji Rana, Neiryosang Dhaval, Adarbad Marespand and Tansar. But then, the luminary's views fall into perspective when we note that his noble-minded vision and wisdom also extend to afervent wish for the death, damnation and destruction of the Parsi community. "No civilized and decent human ought to shed tears on its inevitable end," is his civilized conclusion. Would you believe that this well-wisher is actually a Parsi, and a Navar to boot?

Although the "Three R's," comprising the structured components of the religion, go strongly against the grain of most heterodox individuals and institutions, the degree of the allergy varies from issue to issue and from occasion to occasion. This should not sound too strange when we remember that heterodoxy is no stranger to contradictions, confusions and paradoxes, being habitually engaged in the intellectual acrobatics and mental contortions required for twisting the truth in order to promote un-Zarathushtrian causes like conversion and mixed marriages, and to justify similar kinds of unsanctioned and self-centred behaviour. The philosophy behind this code of mutable conduct has been perfectly unveiled by a senior spokesperson: "Consistency is the bugbear of little minds."

Examples abound, but just one will be sufficient to illustrate. Take the formal spiritual initiation into the Zarathushtrian religion through Navjote and Sudreh-Kashti. Why do the heterodox, with their aversion towards the "Three R's," embrace this most conspicuous of Zarathushtrian ceremonials? Shouldn't Navjote be the first item on the heterodox black-list? Besides, what real value can the Navjote have for them, when, especially in the West, youngsters are "educated" that the Sudreh and Kashti are symbolic devices merely for identification purposes, and therefore dispensable? In fact, some erudite "educators" have even gone to the ludicrous length of "educating" their youthful audiences that the Sudreh and Kashti are not visible on the famed bas-reliefs of Darius and others at Persepolis! In spite of all that, illicit Navjotes for ineligible candidates are openly performed in North America by renegade priests and even by lay scholars, while in India, such so-called Navjotes are performed in a hush-hush manner, through the back door, by the likes of the solicitor referred to earlier.

Whatever happened to those garish avowals about "meaningless rituals invented by the babblers-for-money and its paraphernalia"? Whither convictions and constancy? Gone with the wind -- blown away by that golden guide to heterodox conduct: "Consistency is the bugbear of little minds."

Despite such chronic inconsistencies, it would be foolish to underestimate or disregard the deadly seriousness of the heterodox assault on the rites, rituals and rules of our religion. The "Gatha-Alone-Cult" (GAC) radicals, positioned at the extreme edge of heterodoxy, will stop at nothing to achieve their objectives. In fact, there even seem to be early indications, as yet camouflaged in scholarly garb and careful wording, of a future strike at the very heart of our religion -- the holy Fire itself.

Press reports indicate that as things already stand, the holy Fire does not have the same exalted status in the West that it has been accorded through the ages in the earlier homelands of the Zarathushtrians, as is evidenced to this day in India. As one visitor has observed (see What is a Darbe Meher in America? by K. N. Dastoor, Jam-e-Jamshed Weekly of 15 August 1993), the few Darbe Mehers set up at some places in North America are "the poorest of the poor substitutes for an Agiari," where devices like a gas flame or an electric bulb are substituted for the consecrated, ever-burning Atash Padshah. A detailed expose, by a Parsi resident, of the amazingly irreverential and inadequate state of affairs at the Darbe Meher in Toronto, makes for very sad reading (see American Darbe Mehers -- Whither Sanctity? by Pervin J. Mistry, Jam-e-Jamshed Weekly of 03 April 1994).

But what can be expected from those who wish to believe that the Fire is merely an inert "symbol," having chosen to forget the teachings of our scriptures that Atash is a conscious living entity full of divine glory, the holy warrior against the forces of evil, the giver of health, the bestower of boons, the "son of Ahura Mazda" ("Aathro Ahurahay Mazdaao puthra") and the "greatest Yazata" ("mazishta yazata")? In the holy Gathas (Yasna 43-9), Asho Zarathushtra asks Ahura Mazda, "Unto whom Thou wishest me to pay my utmost worship?" And directly thereafter, our Prophet declares, "Thenceforth unto Thy Fire (`Aathre') the offering of my homage I will pay." Were it not for this, and for the saving grace of six other Gathic references to the Fire, one suspects that even the gas flames and electric bulbs might not be there.

It is worth recalling that up to about just three or four generations ago, the establishment of an Atash-Kadeh was considered a major priority in any new place where ten or more families of Parsis had settled. Today, many thousands of our people have settled on the green grass of distant shores for several decades, but what is there to show for the veneration of Fire save for a few gas flames and electric bulbs? May it not be said in a few generations' time that even that much was worthy.

We had warned a little earlier that in their headlong haste to do away with the "Three R's," the GAC "ratus" seem to be inching dangerously close to cooking up a "case" for doing away with the Fire altogether.

As yet, this latest manoeuvre is under camouflage, but it is not difficult to see through the game by reading between the lines of "scholarly" declamations like: "Exhilarated by haoma/soma drink, the zaotar of pre-Zarathushtrian times invoked gods and goddesses before a fire by feeding it with animal and plant oblations that went up in smoke. It is against such a smoking ritual that Zarathushtra makes his contrasting statement, `I shall invoke seraosha, Your Inspiring Voice, the greatest of all voices to reach my final goal ... .'" The GAC scholar who penned these evocative lines thereby arrives, in a stupendous leap of the imagination, at the shattering conclusion that Zarathushtra was "not a professional priest who fed the fire with oblations in an elaborate rite of `murmuring' incantations"!

Well, well! Thanks to GAC "research," it is now at last revealed unto the benighted Zarathushtrian people who have been wandering in the dark forests of misconception for many millennia, that Aathravan Zarathushtra's ancient Avestan title of "aathravan" (= guardian of the Fire), synonymous with certain corroborative Vedic references to him simply as "the Atharvana," is nothing but an ignorant misnomer, since our Prophet took a "contrasting" approach and never "fed the fire" while "murmuring incantations" in the primitive mumbo-jumbo of a "smoking ritual"!

But wait! There is more to learn! For those of us who are still too dense or cussed to admit our age-old error and accept this wonderful discovery, the GAC"ratu" wraps up the point with masterly evidence, drawing on references from the holy Gathas where Asho Zarathushtra indicates that he prays to the Almighty with "raised hands, uplifted arms" ("ustaana-zasto"; Yasna 28-1, 50-8). Wielding this Gathic sword with devilish dexterity, the GAC sage delivers the coup de grace to all us deluded fire-worshipping ritual-mongers, with the amazing logic of this ace deduction: "In fact, he prayed with `a bow and uplifted arms' and could not handle ritual utensils used by institutional priests"!

We are compelled to confess that we find ourselves tongue-tied and awe-struck at arguments of such flawless logic and penetrating scholarship. Yet, when the GAC guru lets the cat out of the bag with his pontifical proclamation, "The Zarathushtrian Doctrine wants the whole system out," all the camouflage goes up in smoke that gets into the eyes and unties our tongues to cry out the warning: Beware ye Zarathushtrians! Beware!

Though it is beyond our present scope to attempt a full psycho-analysis of the deep destructive desire to want "the whole system out," we do not feel free to leave the field without some investigation, at least, into the heterodox mind's obsessive objection to the "Three R's" of rites, rituals and rules.

One objection, which should be quite obvious by now, is the familiar GAC refrain: if it isn't there in the Gathas, it isn't there in the Zarathushtrian religion. But it should also be just as obvious by now that although the holy Gathas are the philosophical fountainhead, they are not the whole of the Zarathushtrian religion. Is it reasonable to expect that a pithy collection of soaring metaphysical and mystical songs, the intensely personal, devotional outpourings of a prophet to his Creator on subjects like cosmology and ethics, would involve a dotting of the "i's" and acrossing of the "t's" with rituals, religious procedures or operational particulars that properly belong in other scriptural texts designed for them? There is a time and a place for everything -- the Gathas are not, and could never be, the vehicle for such affairs. As my eminent but unnamed western scholar puts it very aptly in a single line, "The Gathas are not the sort of texts to touch on such matters."

Prof. James R. Russell, lately of Columbia and now at Harvard, states it so well in an interview in the Zoroastrian Studies Newsletter of March 1984, that we can hardly do better than borrow a few comments from him: "Yes, sadly there is a group of people who feel that the Gathas are the beginning and the end of Zoroastrianism, and that is of course absurd as [it is] based on untenable theories. The fact that Zarathushtra does not mention rituals in the Gathas does not mean that they are not there. Zarathushtra was under no obligation in the Gathas to provide details ... ."

Another standard objection is notable for its shallow, almost peevish, reasoning, though expressed by a learned Doctor of Jurisprudence. This legal luminary appears to be another exponent of the "Gathas alone" school, with the attendant GAC allergy to the "Three R's," but all the same, waxes eloquent, almost poetical, on the quaint but rather inconsequential ritual of "ses" only! The objection is this: "If the Vendidad is religious authority (as distinguished from a historical footnote), we should be following ALL its injunctions. But we don't."

Since the Vendidad is the bte noire for the heterodox, and the prime target for the assault on the "Three R's," we should remind readers what this ancient text is. Pak Vendidad is the nineteenth volume in the sacred series of our Prophet's original 21 Nasks, and is the only one preserved in almost complete form to this day. It is our Shariat or religious code of rites, rituals and rules, including various behavioural prescriptions and proscriptions -- all laying down the concrete and specialized requirements for the unique Zarathushtrian way of life. Naturally, this is enough to rouse the heterodox ire, which is fanned to fury by the prohibition on mixed marriages and the injunction for the disposal of the dead through Dokhmenashini, both also contained in this ancient Avestan scripture. The smear campaign, designed to debunkand discard Pak Vendidad as irrelevant and unauthentic, has recently reached hysterical heights of fanaticism, and will ever remain a blot on our fair name. It is a shame that it has to take a non-Zarathushtrian to educate some Parsis and Iranis on the value and authenticity of their own scriptural legacy -- here's Prof. Russell again: "The Avesta is a divinely revealed corpus of texts including the Vendidad ... ."(Ibid.)

With that, we return to our Doctor of Jurisprudence who sings the praises of "ses," but burns with hate and spits venom at the hallowed nineteenth Nask. (Something seems to be amiss: could it be that some personal nerve, something to do with inter-marriage, perhaps, has been pinched by this forthright Nask?) "If the Vendidad is religious authority, we should be following ALL its injunctions. But we don't." So goes the specious argument -- not to mention other calumnies, even plain fabrications, sought to be hung around the neck of Pak Vendidad. But do tell, since when does a scripture's intrinsic authority become null and void just because we, by dint of disinterest, selfishness, convenience, ignorance or compelling circumstances, fail to follow "ALL its injunctions"? Would the very same Vendidad-baiter have ever dared to suggest that the obvious failure of most of us to follow "ALL" that is called for by Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta, likewise cancels the intrinsic authority of that immutable scriptural injunction? Or, for that matter, does our failure to follow, or even to comprehend, "ALL" that is in the holy Gathas, make that Holy Writ null and void? Waging war on a scripture is a base pastime, and those who would so engage, especially learned legal luminaries, should try to remember that sophistic arguments are thrown out in even the lowest court of law.

And then, there is the "alien" objection against the "Three R's," which creates the impression that a significant chunk of our customs and traditions is of Hindu or Muslim origin -- hence unauthentic and dispensable. It is a fact that some outside practices did inevitably creep into our lifestyle. But please, let's cut out the exaggerations! These alien intrusions have been the exception rather than the rule -- even a cursory knowledge of our post-exilic history demonstrates the tremendous tenacity and faith with which the doughty Zarathushtrians have clung to their own "Three R's," at incalculable cost and against enormous odds. This is noted with open admiration by non-Parsi scholars, but is underplayed by some of our own prodigals. It seems to be necessary to jog the heterodox memory. The ancestors of the Parsis fled to hospitable Hindusthan, just as their compatriots who remained behind in Iran fled to inhospitable deserts -- precisely in order to minimize alien influences and preserve their identity, their religion, and their unique Zarathushtrian lifestyle for posterity.

That they succeeded in this is historical fact: all the fundamental tenets, customs and practices of the Zarathushtrian religion remain certifiably Zarathushtrian. While it must be recognized that no society can remain completely insulated from outside influences, the few alien usages that happened to be adopted by our ancestors in Iran and in India after the Arab holocaust, whether through force, for reasons of survival, or through lapses of vigilance, are generally innocuous and peripheral, belong more to the social than to the religious arena, and have already been mostly eliminated through the efforts of great and genuine Parsi reformers of the turn of this century. To spread the story that the core Zarathushtrian tradition is riddled with Hindu and Muslim borrowings, is a feeble and transparent ploy to get rid of those rites, rituals and rules that do not fall in line with the preconceived whims and fancies of heterodoxy -- it is a gross distortion, and a calculated slur on the sacrifices and successes of our righteous forebears.

If our so-called reformers of today are so anxious to make sure that purely Zarathushtrian practices are to be retained, let them first come forward to demonstrate their good faith by calling off their un-Zarathushtrian propaganda promoting mixed marriages and condemning Dokhmenashini -- since nothing can be more Zarathushtrian than the Zarathushtrian religion's position on these two practices, engraved as it is into the very letter of the Zarathushtrian scriptures.

End of Part V