Parsi Youth: Pillar of Zarathushtrian Religion

by Adil J. Govadia

According to Thesaurus, the word YOUTH is described as adolescent, early life, salad days, teenager and the rising generation. But one must not mistake the fact that, although experimental in their early youthful days, the youth are also the trustees of posterity. For the preservation and prosperity of the Zarathushtrian religion in the 21st. century and beyond, there is no doubt that the Parsi youth has a great role to play and perform.

However, the Parsi youth of today is facing a kind of identity crisis. Why? Is there a serious problem prevailing in our community, especially in our youth, regarding their lack of interest in religion and the community affairs? Let us pause for a moment and dwell upon the factors that contribute to the preservation and unity of our great religion.

Today’s Zarathushtrian community is riding on the tail end of yesterday’s glory. The nationalism, the patriotism, the religious fervor and community camaraderie experienced by the parent and the grand parent generations of today’s youth is not effectively channelized down the line and hence the youth of today are facing the challenge of identity crisis.

The challenge facing us today is not of preservation and prosperity of our beloved religion but more of instilling FAITH in the religious tarikats, traditions and rituals. This message is dedicated to all parents and would-be parents: nothing shouts so loudly as our success in life as does the reflection of our own example in our children’s lives. Only FAITH in our religion can re-kindle, re-develop and re-live a youth’s view of life through the eyes of practiced religion. Indeed, FAITH has been the singular central factor responsible for the preservation of our religion so far in its pure form. To quote Dean W.R. Inge, "Faith is an act of self-consecration in which the will, the intellect and the affections, all have their place," unquote. The only act of faith that wears well and holds its colours in all weathers is the one, which is woven with conviction, and the one that is set with the sharpness of time tested experience.

Many may not be aware that, in the past, when our forefathers traveled abroad by boats from India, they used to have their ‘Uthamana’ ceremony (part of the funeral ceremony) performed before their departure, as they were not sure if they would return home alive. Such was their unfailing faith in Zarathushtrian rituals and ceremonies!

If our fathers and fore-fathers, guided by faith and matchless strength, were able to carry out the preservation process of customs, rituals and traditions for the past many generations, then what is the single most contributing factor responsible for giving rise to the revolt against religious beliefs and practices in the minds of our youth today? What exactly is affecting the Zarathushtrian heritage, especially the youth? Is it a possible lack of religious education? Or is it the case of parental indifference towards religious education? Or both?

Probably the real reason is the LACK OF RELIGIOUS EXPLANATIONS THAT STAND TO REASON! The reasoning Zarathushtrian youth of today is asking many questions but proper answers are not forthcoming leading to chaos and confusion in their immature minds. Undoubtedly, Zarathushtra’s teachings and philosophy are priceless treasures that deserve our time, effort and attention in explaining the true message to our youth---the pillars of future Zarathushtrianism. But are the present-day parents finding enough time to first learn and then impart sound religious knowledge to their children? A vicious circle indeed!

The youth of our community represent the thinking class who like to ask "why" and "wherefore" of things rather then believing everything with blind faith. While they accept some principles of our religion, especially those that appeal to their sentiments and emotions, they reject most of them in the absence of rational explanations. In fact, the extreme in which some elders of the community follow certain outward practices in the name of religion, gives rise to a revolt in the impressionable minds of our youth, which, more often then not, ends in a turn-off to religion altogether.

Added to the problem of lack of rational explanations on religious matters, our youth today face a major strain of conflict and confusion arising out of bitter controversies and bickering over specific religious principles and their interpretations.

Besides lack of FAITH and REASON there are some other factors that contribute to the over all confusion of the youth and that which the community leaders need to address effectively. They are:

  1. How to provide the right kind of religious education to our children? And how often?
  2. How to overcome the parental indifference towards religious education?
  3. How to cope with differences in opinion of our rituals and traditions by some academic students of Zarathushtrianism?
  4. How to evaluate and overcome the thoughtless borrowing of alien concepts and beliefs?
  5. How to strengthen the links with homeland by migrated Zarathushtrian-Parsis?

Education and Proper Guidance:

What is most required today is proper guidance to youth to maintain a high level of faith and pride in the Zarathushtrian religion. This can only be done by re-orienting the religious teachings in their sense. We all believe that education begins at home. It is also a fact that "RELIGIONS BEGIN AT HOME". Well not only does religion begin at home but it also ENDS AT HOME! Somebody once said, "---before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children in proper religious environment, now I have six children but no theories!" There are no magic formulas for raising children but our purpose as a parent should be to help our children to be their own parent. Therefore, with a view to strengthen the roots of our religion, we need to focus our attention on family ties and parent-child communication as emphasized in Zarathushtrianism. Today, the Zarathushtrian community is a KNOWN community. Tomorrow-----it’s left entirely to us. We can either choose to make it a WELL KNOWN community or maybe an UNKNOWN community! The choice is entirely ours.

Parents indeed play a central role during the formative days of their children. Hence it is of vital importance that today’s parents take the initiative to correctly educate and encourage their children with proper Zarathushtri way of life as they do so with them in their academic pursuits. This approach will certainly arrest the mood of apathy and indifference of our youth towards religion and religious dictates.

A distinct attitudinal difference is evident between the different generations towards the future of the community and it’s religion. The religionists or the traditionalist feel that those seeking self-advancement should not seek to change the religious rituals, tarikats and traditional practices to suit their convenience.

In contrast, the reformists feel that some of the religious rules and principles are outdated and inappropriate and therefore must be dispensed with. Who suffers in this tug-of-words? ---our youth, of course!

To sum-up, we have analyzed the present day youth who indeed takes pride in "being a Zarathushtrian"; but is this pride a deep-rooted and strongly-held conviction or merely a studied response? To address this concern, it is suggested that the parents and the community leaders concentrate on EDUCATIONAL TECHNIQUES to transmit knowledge through various mediums, which will reinforce a strong conviction in the minds of our youth.

It is not out of place to state that no one person, however brilliant or well informed, can come to such fullness of understanding so as to safely judge and discuss the customs of the society or the religion. These very customs and traditions are a composition of the collective wisdom of generations acquired through centuries of experiment in the laboratory of time and history! It has indeed become fashionable to criticize and deviate from the tradition without trying to understand it’s religious and historical essence. To some of us it has become a second nature to look down upon many of our established traditions and customs.

In conclusion, let me quote Thomas Jefferson: "I have never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another’s creed. I have never judged other’s religion by their lives, for it is from our lives, and not from words, that our religion must be read."

May Ahura Mazda bless us all and help us to carry-forward the teachings of our beloved Prophet Zarathushtra. Let us together recite the good WORDS of our prayers in our endeavour to eradicate the weeds of religious blunders by proceeding to sow the seeds of great THOUGHTS with a view to yield splendid crop of greater DEEDS in the 21st. century.

Adil J. Govadia

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