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Zoroastrian Renaissance in Iran
 

European Centre for Zoroastrian Studies

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Zoroastrian Renaissance in Iran , And the Parsi community in India
Dr. Khosro Khazai Pardis 

 

Speech delivered in Delhi , India 

in the Parsi Zoroastrian Centre of Delhi 

21 December 2013 

 

Ladies and Gentleman,

My Dear Parsi Friends

As human beings, we are products of our environment on one hand and of our history on the other.

Even though, the Parsi and the Iranians have been living for the past 1200 years in two different environments, one in India and the other in Iran, their common historical roots makes that they have been linked together throughout this long period.  

Our common ancestors witnessed and lived the first Moslem Arab invasion of Iran in the 7th century. They witnessed and lived also that horrible period between the 7th and 9th centuries known in our history as “two centuries of silence” during which the bulk of Persian culture was destroyed. Those who didn’t want to accept the rules of the Arabs fled Iran to India. 

 

1400 years later, our generation, is witnessing and living the second Moslem invasion of Iran. A strange game of destiny wanted that we experience an extraordinary repeat of history. Once again the Iranians are projected 1400 years back in time, living the same events that our common ancestors lived during the first Moslem invasion. 

Once again, the Iranians had to run away from Islam and Islamic rules. This time in a much larger scale than the previous time: since 1979 more than five million Iranians had to flee Iran, mostly for western countries.  

Even though these two big migrations have been produced by the same cause, that is the Islamic invasion, the difference between these two forced migrations is important. 

 Those who escaped from Iran to India 1200 years ago (9th century), the Parsi, brought with them a very precious thing and it was an “identity”. An identity rooted in Zoroastrianism, even though at that time it was in decadence. 

Once in India, they had to reshape the Zoroastrianism in order to adapt it to their new environment. The Indian society was based on a rigid social division, the casts. Therefore, the newcomers, the Persians or Parsi, had to build their own cast and live together. This action gave them two great advantages. Firstly, they kept their Zoroastrian identity and secondly this very identity helped them to keep the cohesion of the group and throughout the time become a successful community in India. Even though some thought in order to keep this success they had to sacrifice two important pillars of Zoroastrianism: one, the profoundly universality of Zoroastrian message and second, the freedom of choice.  

I will come to this sensitive matter later.  

Now let’s see what happens to the Iranians of today who are fleeing Iran:

They leave their country with a shattered identity and a broken culture rooted in nothing, in a frightening emptiness. They have always been told they were Moslems, but now they are running away from Islam! That means they are running away from the identity that was imposed to them by this religion. 

This situation has been the beginning of an extraordinary discovery, a shining light, a revelation. And that was the birth of a new consciousness, a new awareness.  This was the greatest gift that the Islamic Republic unwanted gave to the Iranians.  It was like to give back the memory of a person who had been fallen into a deep Alzheimer's disease. In this process, the internet and modern communications have been very helpful in this wake up.  

In fact, as from the beginning of the devastating Arab invasion in 7th century, everything was set up to drain Iranians of their historical memory. Iranians became an amnesiac nation, people without memory. Without history. Slowly, gradually, the glorious Persian history, culture and civilization that had been shining over the world during 1200 years, faded away and were replaced by the Islamized Arab sub-culture.

The strict dichotomy between the Persian culture, based on Zoroastrianism and Arab culture based on Islam succeeded to create a nation full of confusion and contradictions, in permanent war with itself. This confusion reversed all the values that had made the basis of humanistic and progressive Zoroastrian culture of the Gathas.

That is how freedom was confused with repression, happiness with suffering, justice with injustice, righteousness with deception, wisdom with superstition and light with darkness 

The unanswered questions that have been buried for centuries in the people’s collective unconscious are becoming now one after the other conscience. Who am I? What happened to me?  What happened to us? What happened to this country once again?

Even though many books and articles have been written about it, there are still many things remain in the shadows. Personally I have been working for 5 years on the subject to understand what had exactly happened. Particularly how the most powerful army in the world at the time ie the Sassanid army that had defeated 9 times the powerful Roman army, and had brought three of their emperors with thousands of prisoners to Iran, and had extended the border of Iran from China to Egypt, and brought the cross of Jesus from Jerusalem to Iran, couldn’t resist thirty five thousand Arab Bedouins with no military experience.  That would be the subject of another talk, because it is too complex to explain it in a few minutes.

Let’s go back to this amnesia, to this loss of historical memory.

Here I give you just a small sample: 

  Ibn e Khaldun, Arab historian of the 14th century, writes “Omar the second Caliph of Islam, who invaded Iran, had ordered that all Zoroastrian books and historical writings should be burned. And the burning of tens of thousands of books and manuscripts allowed to heating all the public baths of in whole Persia for six months! The extension of this disaster was such that in the end only a few books among which four or five Avesta were left. Some of the books remained in Iran and some of them were taken by the Iranians who were escaping from Iran to India , the Parsi. Once in India , they copied these books and sent them back to Iran . That is why the oldest manuscripts that we have now belong to the 13th or the 14th centuries.  

1400 years later of what Ibn Khaldoun described, personally I saw with my own eyes that tens of thousands of books looted from the university’s libraries were put in fire. 

These kinds of devastating catastrophes and the consequent amnesia that they triggered made us to forget absolutely everything of our history. 

  Until the beginning of the 19th century no Iranian had ever heard the name of Cyrus the Great (Kourosh), or that of his successors, Dariush, Khashayar ( Xerxes), Arta Khashayar… who had built the first world empire, unifying for the first time east and west for over 200 years, and that on the basis of justice and human rights. As it is written on the famous cylinder of Cyrus the Great now in the British Museum.  

  It was the European scholars who, as from the 18th century, were interested in Persian history and with a lot of painstaking efforts deciphered the Gatha’s language and translated, then deciphered  the cuneiform writings engraved on the Achaemenid bas-relieves and tablets, then discovered the language, or rather the languages - Old Persian, new Elamit and Acadian and finally found out the whole history of Persia before the Arab invasion. 

This historical amnesia among the Iranians was so deep, that we can not find a single Iranian name who had been taking part in these discoveries. 

They were preoccupied to learn the Koran in Arabic that they couldn’t understand a word or shedding tears over Hussein the third Shiite Imam who was killed by his cousin 1400 years ago. Without forgetting to read the mullah’s “resolution of problems” regulating the least aspects of the Iranian’s daily lives. There are more than two million problems, in the same nature inherited from two mullahs of 16th century, among the most obscurantist and reactionaries named Alameh Majlesi and Koleini.

***

  The most important thing we needed was to become aware of these 14 centuries of humiliating condition. And this illuminating consciousness is now offered unwanted by the mullahs on a plate to us, as a tool of transformation, a social, human and spiritual transformation. A transformation that will be based on a Zoroastrian Renaissance in Iran, that would be the synonymous of liberation. Liberation from 14 centuries of Arab cultural colonialism. 

  This newly found consciousness places the struggle of the Iranian people for a cultural reconstruction in a historical perspective. This historical perspective makes the victory not only plausible but inevitable. Because as from now it is this new awareness and this new consciousness that will make our history.  

 

With this newly found consciousness, we are on the way of getting out of 14 centuries of defensive mentality of defeat and weakness.

We are now in the beginning of the rise of Zoroastrianism in Iran and the discovery of the Gathas. Because in this way, the best and the shortest road is to go directly to the heart of Zarathushra’s Existential Philosophy which is the Gathas. The Gathas that will be the most powerful tool for social and spiritual transformation. Because these seventeen sacred songs represent the highest and most noble ideals that humanity has ever had and will ever have at its disposal.

What thought, what philosophy what religion in the world has ever given a better definition of the purpose of the existence and life as Zarathustra in the Gathas, when he says :

the purpose of our life is to lead a happy and joyful existence on this earth and the purpose of our creation is to take part actively in the improvement of the world, in order that all living beings: humans, animals and plants live in peace and fullness”. 

This golden concept astonishingly so modern was developed more than 3700 years ago. Not only it is modern today but it will be modern as long as this world exists. Because it is not an intellectual construction which evaporates in contact with reality. It makes the essence and the purpose of the creation.

All the precepts presented in the Gathas are aimed practically to achieve this goal and purpose. In this way Zarathustra doesn’t forget to say that “ the happiness belong to those who make others happy”.

In the Gathas we have neither orders nor commandments. There are “no do this, or do that”;

  The freedom of choice is fundamental in the Gathic culture. The third song of the Gathas is all about that. Because in this culture everyone is responsible personally for his or her thought, word and action. And because the law of action and reaction works all the time: Every thought, word and action triggers equal reactions and come back to one self with the same intensity. Good, triggers Good and bad, triggers Bad. In this context the freedom of choice between good and bad is total and the responsibility is also total. We can not accuse God or anyone else for the mistakes we make.

I precise that “ Good” is all the forces that help us to set up a happy and joyful life and “Bad” are the forces that prevent us to achieve such a life. 

 The turning of history and destiny wanted that weight of this Renaissance to be on our shoulder.  It is our mission. And that is the restoration of the Gathic Zoroastrianism once again in Iran . 

That would be the beginning of Zoroastrian Renaissance. The Renaissance means the renovation of the concepts and the visions that have stuck in time. Therefore, our actions, aim and direction are entirely in conformity with the law of Asha, that means, to be in harmony with the evolution and renovation of the world. We are also in line with the important concept of Haurvatat, the fifth attribute of Ahura Mazda. That means we are going to get out of stagnation and progress towards perfection. And we will have always in mind this golden words of Zarathustra who said: Let us be among those who revive and refresh the world”. If we wanted to say this phrase in today’s way of speaking we would have said, “let us be among those who bring up to date and modernize this world”. In fact, This is the goal of every Zoroastrian to endeavour for the betterment of the world. 

  We are convinced that the future of Zoroastrianism depends on a better understanding of the universalism of the Gathas. Everywhere in the Gathas, Ahura Mazda, aims at all women and at all men of the world, whether just or unjust. He never mention a particular people or nation, whether Aryans or Iranians. 

Zarathustra's message is universal because Ahura Mazda is the God of all creation and all living beings, including animals and plants. 

The country which Zarathustra speaks is all countries of the world, the people he is talking about is all the peoples of the world and life which he speaks is any lives, humans, animals and plants. 

 

The Zoroastrianism of the 21st century cannot be stuck in the defeat of 1400 years ago by barricading itself in a closed circle. It is now time to get up and spread the Zoroastrian lights and ideals all over the world. If by misfortune we miss this golden opportunity that history is offering us today, if we miss the universal dimension of what the Zoroastrianism is all about that would be the end of this shining Existential philosophy that has given so much to the world’s culture.  

But we will never let such thing happen.

As far as the Parsi community is concerned, I am sure that sooner or later this sensitive problem of conversion and the marriage out of the community will be solved. In that case the community will be much stronger and more radiant. 

  The Zarathustra’s culture, transmitted by the Gathas, is a universal culture, belongs to every human being who seeks a happy and wisdom oriented life on this earth. As a matter of fact, there are millions and millions of Zoroastrians in this world who are unaware they are Zoroastrians! Being a Zoroastrian is nothing else but a way of thinking, speaking and acting, all based on righteousness, joyfulness and wisdom.

In every interview I have given about the Gathas, one of the first things the interviewer asks is that “it is hard to believe that the Gathas were conceived 3700 years ago, so they seem modern”. And my answer is always is that  the Gathas will always be modern, because they represent the deepest aspirations and ideals of every human being in this world.

The modernity of the Gathas has been so intriguing that even two famous specialists of Zarathustra in 19th century, the German, Spiegel, and the French, Darmasteter, found the Gathas so modern that they put its authenticity in doubt.  But very soon the archaeological and linguistic research proved the Gathas authenticity without any shadow of doubt and these two specialists were the first to present their apologies for their mistakes. Even Darmasteter was so embarrassed that he spent a good part of his life to translate the whole Gathas in French.

Yes, the Gathas are timeless. Which philosophy, which religion, which culture  in the world , have spoken as beautifully, as intelligently, as positively, as humanistic as  Zarathustra in the Gathas.

Zarathustra’s God Ahura Mazda, has created righteousness so human beings, all the human beings, can build on its basis a happy society. He has created freedom of choice so that people can choose freely their own way of life, He has created serenityarmaiti” so that people can lead a serene life, He has created good thoughtvohu mana” in order to guide women and men towards the bright part of existence, He has created self dominance “khashatra” in order to prevent people from falling into mistakes, He has created evolutionhaurvatat” so that people can progress towards perfection in taking part in the betterment of the world with a purified consciousness.  And finally He has created immortalityameretat”so that the purified consciousness which has reached the perfection can live happy forever.

Thank you for attention.
Dr. Khosro Khazai Pardis 
21 December 2013
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