METEMPSYCHOSIS: Transmigration of souls
Is there Divine Justice and resultant retribution?
by Adil J. Govadia
For times immemorial, a question has always haunted mankind: why do distressing, damaging and deleterious things happen to good people? Good and principled people who choose the right path are often in the throes of unhappiness as they suffer due to daunting burden of their lives. Why?
Birth of a mentally retarded or physically deformed child to a couple that is God fearing and good in every way.An innocent person becomes blind due to a stone thrown at a running train by a fickle headed person. A roadside ruffian decides to attack a train commuter in Mumbai and push her out of a running train resulting in amputation of both her legs. A plane crash results in death of a sole bread-earner for the family. Debilitating sickness, horrifying experience of death in family, crushing blow of loosing all your life’s earnings due to fraud, joblessness and other related stress and strain, innocent lives lost due to malnutrition, ----the list is frighteningly endless and the eternal question lingers…. why me?
Quest for answers to questions related to God’s justice in terms of the suffering of the innocent and the children, the haphazard distribution of life’s pleasures, the whence and whither of soul, are indeed indelible and suffocating, bleeding mankind from within. Isn’t humanity guilty of its joys when so many of its kind continue to suffer so savagely and mercilessly over long periods of time?
Philosophers and religious scholars over the ages have ponderedover the subject of ‘karma’ and reincarnation. While some suggest that the force of Ahireman is at its worst and hence the sorrow and suffering, others blame it on ‘karma’. So is reincarnation a necessary sequel to all the grief and anguish?
Reincarnation is an outrageously imposing subject best understood by putting faith in the religious teachings rather than nurturing doubts and demanding proofs in the whence and whither of the soul. In his article ‘Is death a wall, or a door?’, Mr. V.R.Krishna Iyer effectively emphasized the strong influence of rebirth theme wherein he wrote “Every cradle asks whence and every coffin whither.”
The question that comes to mind is, ‘Is rebirth a fact or a fiction?’ While Hinduism firmly propagates the concept of ‘karma’ and rebirth, wherein the soul is purified during successive incarnations to finally meet and merge with the Divine light, most of the Christianity holds the view that the dead will arise on the Judgment Day and will join with Jesus Christ, also termed as ‘resurrection’. Islam also has more or less a similar concept of resurrection.
What does the Zarathushtrian religion have to say in the matters of life and death, of karma and transmigration of soul?
According to Dastur (Dr.) Manekji N. Dhalla, former High Priest of the Parsis of Northwestern India, in his book titled ‘Zoroastrian Theologyfrom the Earliest Times to Present Day ’ printed in the year 1914 in New York, “The order of the present world is far from perfection; the innocent often suffer, while the guilty escape with impunity; the virtuous poor man pines under grinding poverty, while the vicious rich man prospers. The doctrine of a future life where justice will be administered with exactitude in according with the Divine ordinance, where grievances of this world will be redressed, and where every injustice, borne patiently, will be rectified, gives mental tranquility and spiritual calm to the afflicted. A vista of hope, according to Zarathushtra’s teachings, thus opens before those who are roughly handled by this world.”
Considering what Dastur (Dr.) Dhalla says is true and if there is no favoritism in dealing divine justice then where is the cause of resultant retribution? How does one account for child prodigies like Wolfgang Mozart who composed music at the age of 4 years, or the extraordinary sacred search for the departed 13th Dalai Lama in 1933? There have been children born with exceptional memories of the past life where they have identified their place of birth, described the cause of death and even recognized their past relatives and narrated related incidents. How does one explain it?
There is another school of thought that’s prevalent amongst scholarly Zarathushtrians to suggest that there is nothing explicit in our scriptures to denounce the doctrine of rebirth. Maybe there is a lack of emphasis on this point. According to former High Priest of Wadiaji Atash Behram Dastur Khurshed S. Dabu, in his book titled ‘Message of Zarathushtra’, Prophet Zarathushtra did mention the law of incarnation in His sacred hymns, the Gathas. His theosophical explanation suggests that, according to Zarathushtrianism, “--- nothing is stationary in Nature. If progress never ceases and if evolution of consciousness is a continued process, then one cannot and should not linger in hell for eternity. This is because retribution is supposed to be just”. He further emphasized, “One brief life of unfulfilled desires, but full of aspirations, cannot make a soul fit for immortality”.
There are many theories and intellectual exercises on the existence of Soul and its attributes undertaken by religious intellects and scholars of the world. As we all know, all five major religions prescribe rebirth. Comparative religion reveals several such points of mutual similarities, where mostly all teachers and Prophets are in agreement. Therefore, Dastur Dabu wonders, “If the Universal law of rebirth can be challenged by the Zarathushtrian religion alone?” and answers his own question by stating that, “Universal Laws cannot exempt any race or religion from its purview and application.”
If one earth-life is not enough for an individual to develop his inner self to the highest possible degree so as to reach perfection, and therefore becomes necessary for him to take re-birth, then why do we have so many after-death prayers and rituals for the departed soul? If the soul transmigrates and is believed to have returned to earth, then how will the prayers help its’ progression because he (the soul) has already taken another form on earth?
Mr. Jehangir M. Ranina offers a lucid explanation to this question in his book titled ‘Essential Principles of Zoroastrianism’, wherein he expresses a contrary view to the theory stated by Dastur Dabu. He extols the principles of Zarathushtrian religion, which is based upon the laws of Nature. He lamented, “It is a matter of common knowledge that the one quality of REALITY or Ahura Mazda is PERMANENCE. The real will live forever, as nothing exists, can exist, outside the preview of REALITY”, unquote. Hence, there is no destruction in Nature but only a change, according to Mr. Ranina. Therefore what we understand by death is actually not the end, but a mere change, for, immortality is factually an attribute of the REAL. The other attribute of Reality is PERFECTION, which again varies in stages of lesser or greater perfection and the highest stage is that of ABSOLUTE REALITY, that is, Ahura Mazda.
To quote Mr. Ranina once again, “all human beings, therefore compulsorily partake in this process of rising ability to attain greater perfection to ultimately merge with the highest attribute of Reality.” In fact, it is stated that there is a Universal urge on the part of every form of existence to progress towards greater and greater Perfection. And therefore, Zarathushtrianism places maximum emphasis upon man’s life while he is alive! “Hell and heaven are indeed not geographical locations, but just mental states in which every individual lives after death---in a mental state of his previous thoughts and deeds conceived and committed while he was alive. However, there is no eternal heaven or hell, as stagnancy has no place in the order of Nature”, he stated. In fact, while emphatically claiming that Zarathushtrian religion does not profess the concept of re-incarnation, it is explained that even after death the soul has no place for stagnation. It is further claimed that there are seven heavens or ‘plains’ in the spiritual world and the soul continuously strives to attain perfection in the work ‘assigned to him’ to move higher from ‘plain to plain’. “Thus” the author laments, “the Universal urge to progress towards greater perfection continues even in the spiritual world and finally, after several years of continuous strive, the soul finally merges with the ultimate Divine Light (Ahura Mazda)”. It is further explained that even upon merging with the Divine Light, there is still no place for stagnation as “progress to Perfection is an eternal process.” The need to “exert for perfect goodness continues forever and the soul has to rise from one peak to another in its’ progress towards Perfection. One form of duty could be self-improvement or maintenance of the highest level of perfection or work as a Saoshyant to help other souls on the path of perfection.”
Could this be the reason for the Zarathushtris to practice rituals and prayers (Afringan, Farokshi, Stum) for the departed souls? However, if one were to believe that there is no reincarnation then how does one explain the child prodigies like Mozart and Beethovan or the memories of former lives on earth? How does one explain the miseries and the suffering, the debilitating sickness and the horrifying experience of death in family? Is there God’s justice in terms of the suffering of the innocent and the children, the haphazard distribution of life’s pleasures?
In an article titled ‘Us Under the same Sky ’ Cyrus Merchant wrote, “There are so many people we know who are happy on the surface but bleeding within, torn by a multitude of mishaps in their lives, but unable to express their problems for the fear of looking a fool in the eyes of friends and relatives. They are the people who are trapped in their own lies and in life that is destroying their dignity and self-respect; they often feel lonely, dejected and totally defeated by their disappointments in life and with no recourse from the heavens above!” Is that what is karma? The silent suffering, the pain and anguish and the embarrassment of being ridiculed----is it really due to karma? How long does the period of mute suffering last or is that too an uncertainty covered under the broad umbrella of karma?
According to Dastur Dr. Manekji N. Dhalla, “Man carves his destiny for the next world by his thoughts, words and deeds in this life, and good or evil destiny awaits the soul in the next, or the spiritual world, which is essentially the place of reward and retribution.” And therefore repeated rebirth is a necessity for the onward progression of the soul.
Ervad (Dr.) Hoshang J. Bhadha in his essay titled ‘Reincarnation in Zarathustri Religion’ emphatically states that “If there is only one birth or life-cycle required to be a part of HIS Minoi world, then Meher, Sarosh, & Rashne Yazatas who take part on the Judgment day, weighing the 'Kerdar' (Deeds, good and bad) of that Soul for its designated place, are not doing justice to Ahu's creations, since they will have to judge two elements in each soul; 'good Kerdar' and another with 'bad Kerdar' for their proper place in Garothman Behest (eternal heaven) in HIS world or return journey for improving their spiritual condition.” He further explains with a question, “If there is no rebirth for a person with a bad Kerdar then, whether it is a new born child dead at birth or within few months, one who lived the holiest of the holy life, one who lived partially holy and partially material life, one who lived as atheist or, a person who has done the worst of the worst crime, say murder for instance; all will be weighed equal and will be eligible to enter in HIS Divine World. If there is resurrection then, its like getting permission from God to do whatever we feel right to meet our desires and aspirations, whether you steal, stab someone to death or live a humble, honest, and religious life, you will be taken care of on your return to HIM. If this is what has been pre-planned by HIS Majesty in pre-cosmogenesis, then why is there a need to send humans to this world? If by death all of our 'Anasars' becomes 'Noori' (Divine) for 'Tanpasin' (final stage to proceed to the Minoi world) than there is no need for this world and various creations to survive, as all counterparts of soul will then merge into one body during Khaethvodat (the final judgment). There shouldn't remain anything like life & death, religions or planetary conditions influencing the existence of soul in this world!”
From the different versions of the scholars, metempsychosis or reincarnation (rebirth) seems to be the most controversial issue amongst Zarathushtris. Everyone in the community claim to have some authentic source that leads them to believe in resurrection. One must understand that this life on earth is for the progression of Soul and not for any other purpose.
Judging critically, our generation and it’s failure to make itself understand the concept of life after death, I think the failure is not so much because of the ignorance of the religious beliefs or of the spiritual truths amongst the Zarathushtris, but it is mainly due to the individual’s growing incapacity to live up to the ideals of the religion they are born in. Probably, the contributing cause to the existing problem of growing intolerance is the scholarly indifferences amongst the religious scholars, Dasturs, Mobeds, parents and the society leaders. The eternal thirst for religious knowledge, especially amongst the youth, is far from being fully gratified and probably is one of the major reasons why the religion today has drifted away from our life to flounder upon the rocks of decadence and become a debris of a past vain glory! Probably!
In conclusion, to quote Swami Chimayananda, “Philosophy explains life and provides us with the healthy values of life. Religion, in its realistic part, gives us a pattern to train ourselves to fulfill the promises of philosophy. Today, religion has become impractical and meaningless to our generations not because of the intrinsic hollowness of the spiritual truth and effectiveness of the philosophic declarations, but mainly due to our own inability to keep a spirit of consistent pursuit of those wisdom-directions.”
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