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Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Relevance of the Vandidad to the Zoroastrian scriptures

Scholarship of the last century, using the meager resources salvaged by Parsis and Iranian Zarathushtis, had attempted to translate the ancient scriptures, only to be caught in a web of European bias[1] and  Christian pre conceptions[2]. Conjectural meanings based on these pre conceptions were arbitrarily built into Gathic verses and Avesta scriptures, resulting in historical traditions of the Avesta being disparagingly referred to as barbaric sacrificial liturgy. Facts ended up as poor relations to fantasies; whether in dating of the times and  geographic location of Zarathushtra; the archeological sites in Balkh-Margush-Khorasan, or the translations of the scriptures; through efforts that can only be defined in statistical terminology of  “forcing data to fit the predetermined curve” of a narrative not based on documented fact.

Since the times of Kanga, Jeevanji Modi, Macdonnel, Monier Williams and Taraporewalla, very little effort has gone into original translation and  Philology; with most translators of our scriptures not being conversant with the giant strides made in the language studies of the Avesta as well as its sister Arya dialect known as Rig Vedic Sanskrit

[1]  The Bible, arbitrarily  dating the earth at 4500BC  was a big mental block for Christian scholars faced with older chronologies.
Historical baggage in the form of the Christian Church arbitrarily choosing the contents of 4 gospels (which even between themselves, differ in content) while discarding the other 26; caused a predisposition towards a flawed theory that the message of Zarathushtra was similarly usurped and  contaminated with foreign ideas by his followers.
[2] Max Müller. A paid employee, who translated the Rigved in a demeaning style. The hidden secrets of his life.Copyright © 1999 - 2001 H.D. Swami Prakashanand Saraswati
The Vandidad is a code of Rituals composed in the Avesta language about 100-200 years after the Gathas were composed.
According to Dr Martin Haug ("The language of the Parsi scriptures")
The Gatha dialect is therefore, only one or two centuries older than the ordinary Avesta language, which was the standard language of the ancient Iranian empire.]

Due to various reasons it has become a sort of favorite whipping boy by segments of non Zarathushti scholars who have often managed to hoodwink the devotees in the West.

A common refrain goes as follows: 
According to Vandidad, death, disease, injury and so on are acts of Ahriman (Devil). The Vandidad also prescribes certain punishments for certain types of mis-deeds. Apparently and according to literal translations of such passages, some of those punishments are very harsh (such as lashing for so and so many times) which could certainly result in severe injuries (which is according to the same source is a work of Ahriman). Do we have a contradiction here? A righteous person punishing an unrighteous one for a misdeed but committing an evil act himself? I must be missing something here? Could somebody explain.

The problem here is 2-fold.
1. Incorrect Translations. 
Example:.The word “Muthrem” has been wrongly, mischievously and  maliciously translated by some translators as urine,  to show Hoama (the elixir to immortality) in poor light. 
However, according to Dr Stanley Insler [The Gathas of Zarathushtra, Dr Stanley Insler, 1975, P290-291]
 “Two things stand in the way of   interpreting this word as urine. The word means solid excrement and “Maresma” is the word for urine in the Avesta. “Therefore I attribute the word to the root “mu”, to be deluded, foolish, appearing as “mura”,  dumb; and  posit, therefore the meaning “Folly” for “muthra”.”

2. Incorrect interpretation.
Making literal translations without reference to the context. 
Example: Relegating Zarathushtra to pastoral times on the basis of translation of spiritual concepts as cows, horses and camels; while ignoring the context of the verse. Never mind that the technique of mantra composing, involving specific meter, specific sound vibration and  scientific observation has not yet been matched by modern science. These so called liberal arts scholars, lacking a grounding in science and logic, have no explanation how this "pastoral society" made astronomical observations of far flung planets like the Sirius twins that were reconfirmed by modern science barely a 100 years back.

Lets not forget the creation hymn which refers to matter being created through a primordial sound (Man-tra); with a burst of energy (heat and  light);    a reality only recently attested by science.
[Scientific Validation: Science magazine (March 8 2002, pg 1868-1873): E=mC2
Blasting liquid acetone with ultrasound, scientists Rusi Taleyarkhan and Richard T. Lahey Jr. forced acetone bubbles to absorb this sound energy, expand and  then burst, creating high temperatures (like those on the Sun’s surface), fusion of atoms (creation of matter) & emission of light.]

Recent archeological advances clearly validate that the Avestic society was well settled, lived in constructed buildings (not tents) with infrastructure including roads and drainage. 
See Dr.Mary Settegast's "When Zarathushtra Spoke" 

Modern science has thus confirmed the assertion in the Rig Vedas that their enemies lived in constructed houses and used metallic implements.

According to James Newton Powell[1] (University of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA).:
"Among the accomplishments of the grammarians can be reckoned a method for paraphrasing (Vedic) Sanskrit in a manner that is identical not only in essence but in form with current work in Artificial Intelligence.” 
“Modern metaphysicians are rediscovering the fantastic powers released through spoken words. By certain arrangements of words, such as in Mantras, a tremendous vibratory force could be set upon in the invisible mode, which profoundly affects physical and metaphysical substance in the body of man.”

[1] `Mandalas, the Dynamics of Vedic Symbolism'.

Whereas the Yasnas & Yashts, are hymns in praise of Mazda and/or his attributes, the Vandidad is a code of conduct; a ritualistic code so strict that historians believe it was composed at a time of great political adversity.
Initially they erroneously assumed its composition after the Islamic invasion.

Modern archaeological finds on the other hand confirm the Balkh-Margiana (dated to the same time as the Harappa civilization) complex to have been built hurriedly, clearly indicating the geo-political realities during the antique time scale of its Avestic composition.
This is very much in agreement with the documented victory of the Vedics in Hapta-Hendu (Sapta-Sindhu) 


However, it should also be noted that the fulcrum of  objection to the Vandidad is centered on the use of the word “Charana” which has been wrongly translated by missionary translators (based on biblical sensibilities) as “whip”; the implication being punishments meted out for non conformance.  
These so called scholars seem to have ignored references to the Creator as  Vohu-Manah or Ocean of Love; one who rules through education, not instruction.
Whereas these Liberal Arts translators have taken the root as "char" meaning Car/chariot/ locomotion, and proceeded to extrapolate the meaning of this word as a tool of the same and therefore "whip", without a shred of proof reconciling the context

They ignored the term "Ana" [attached to "Char"] meaning breath or source of sustenance.
Translating "sustenance/food" for whip, an externally wielded tool defies all logic.

The fact remains that "charana" is a word by itself meaning,   "Acting, dealing, managing, (liturgical) performance, observance.. ......... ......behaviour, conduct of life, good or moral conduct,.... ......... ..... consuming, eating"
[M. Monier Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary]

 As such "charana" therefore means feeding the Cow with a morsel of fodder. Since the spiritual concept of the Universal Soul (Geush Urvan) is represented in the physical world as the self sacrificing Cow, in the Gathas, is it not logical that these "morsels of fodder" are in spiritual terms good deeds that must be performed to erase our bad deeds. After all carrying out good deeds continuously like a ritual, after retrospecting is self correction/purification/evolution to a higher spirituality; A primal theme of Zarathushti philosophy.
 I believe therefore (as Dr Irach Taraporewalla has averred), that Avesta language must be understood from the philology and cultural context, not through preconceived assumptions rooted in unsound or literal interpretations.

We see this spiritual concept reflected physically in the outer sacrifice of feeding the holy Atarsh 5 times a day. This ritual  guides the faithful (by its own example) to a requirement of an inner sacrifice of Aeshma (the negative emotions/attitudes/mentalities of: envy, greed, malice, anger, sloth, and ego) to the flame of cosmic consciousness, with Ghee (Gao: butter made from cow) being the highest form representing self sacrifice.
Thus each "Charana" represents an exercise in self sacrifice,  empowered by genuine remorse with a goal to correct previously committed wrongs. 
Continuous improvement or Fra-var-ane is the hallowed road of self improvement.

Literal Interpretations, especially with pre-conceived notions has no place in a religious philosophy whose foundation is based on Reality and Science (A-sha: See:

This "whipping" obsession was a Roman past-time which had obviously influenced the middle east areas that they historically ruled.
Little wonder then that translators inclined to fundamentalism and steeped in the torment and tribulations portrayed in sections of their own scriptures decided to force-fit this degenerate behaviour into the Zarathushti faith.
It is high time therefore for Parsis to stand up for our heritage instead of being defensive against attacks from followers of a violent and intolerant ideology that preaches mindless conformance blind submission.
We are the upholders of "Reasoning" [Mun-yush Maz-daa Por-vu-em: The  power to Reason is the first and foremost] as opposed to the Druj (evil) who insist on blind obedience and conformance under threat of violence.

In the Zarathushti faith, there is self inflicted consequence for ones own actions. (A-sha).
One reaps what they sow.
There is NO Punishment, harsh or otherwise as that is the path of Evil (Druj). Druj/Droha  is after all not a religion, but a totalitarian political philosophy.

In summation, there is no discrepancy between the Gathas, the Avesta and the Vandidad.
Ahura Mazda is the Great Wise Creator, who is a patient teacher (not a vengeful, punishing task master). He guides devotees to a life of continuous improvement through logic and life experiences.
His 1st Attribute or immortal principle of functioning is Vohu Manah (Love). These are represented as reins (cords)  that control everything in the universe.
He is "the wise teacher" who educates, not Instructs. There is no demand for obedience, conformance or submission against threats of punishments.
 Thus in the Zarathushti faith there are no "commandments"
The threats, hell-fires and tribulations prescribed in other philosophies is replaced with Advisories to guide the devotee; leaving the right to "choose" above compromise.

This is the Unique feature of the Mazda(Wisdom) Yasni (worshiping) faith and that is why our pledge of faith declares it as:
Maz-ish-tem: The GREATEST
Vah-ish-tem: The Most Profitable.
Sra-ish-tem: The Most Inspiring.

1 comment:

zaneta said...

interesting points you make here-the Vendidad should be seen, as you say, in a new light-thanks for this revelation on the wrong translations which have distorted the true meaning of the text