fredag 19 augusti 2011

The Meaning of Asha

Dear Parviz

I don't think anybody should sign any contract stating that they promise to follow asha.
That would be way too Abrahamic. We as Zoroastrians live with a fluid and flexible ethics, not with a fixed and assumed objectively valid moralism. We become our actions but we are not our actions in advance!
We have no commandments since it is the CIRCUMSTANCES that always determine what is the right thing to do (what is likely to be the best long-term outcome). And this can never be detailed in advance but rather has to always BE LIVED WITHIN THE MOMENT OF DECISION ITSELF.
Zarathushtra was indeed NOT an Abrahamist. So why would he ask us to behave as if we were?

- Dölj citerad text -

2011/8/19 Parviz Varjavand

Dear Dina,

First, allow me to apologize for mixing your views and those of Dino, even though I think you are both very close in thinking of Asha as “that which Fits”. In philosophy, abstract thinking is what we need as a tool and not trying to figure out the minds of Mahatma Gandy, Mother Theresa, or Jesus Christ. (You know what I am trying to say here ;-). Mithra is the guardian of contracts and as a lawyer you know how important the precise language and the precise meaning of words are when written in a contract. I feel Mazdayasna in the modern world can be a religion for the intellectuals and as such I wish it to have precise meanings to the key nomenclature it uses. The meaning of Asha as you describe it, is clear in the physical (Giti) realm. It is how physical things behave and the laws that apply to them. Water runs down hill, and that is how it is.

But when we get to separating Asha from Droj in the mental world (Minoo), we as Ashavands need the two words described more clearly. If the way you describe what Asha and Droj are is satisfactory to all who are interested in Mazdayasna, then good for you all. I am the odd man out and to me the words are most confusing. I would not sign any contract in which one of the clauses is, “and Parviz Varjavand hereby promises to act according to Asha in the premises or else loose all the deposit money he has put down.”

There are religions that need the smoke and mirrors and the unclear language so that their Gurus will never be out of a job while sitting on a top of mountain answering the pilgrims what he thinks Dharma or Karma is. I do not feel Mazdayasna need to be one more such path. The old Magi would melt bronze and pour it on the chest of their victims in order to find if they were telling the Asha or Droj of a situation. This is also part of our heritage when it comes to the distinction between Asha and Droj in the mental world. I want the heritage to change so that we can write contracts that Mithra will understand and so will lawyers.

Mehr Afzoon,
Parviz Varjavand

From: Alexander Bard
To: Ushta
Cc:; Dina McIntyre
Sent: Fri, August 19, 2011 5:39:54 AM
Subject: [Ushta] The Meaning of Asha

Dear Friends

We thank our dear friend Dina McIntyre for making this posting available to us all on the Ushta List.

Please read and feel free to comment!

Dear Alexander,

It is kind indeed of so many of you to copy me on these interesting discussions. I note that Zaneta mentioned in one of these emails that I had defined asha as 'what fits' although Dino seems to have got the blame for it in subsequent exchanges. I thought, in the interests of integrity, I should set the record straight, and I apologize for waiting for so long to do so. You are welcome to copy this email to any List that you think appropriate. The following represents my opinion on what meaning Zarathushtra ascribes to asha, based both on linguistics, and also on the ways in which he uses the word in the Gathas.

The literal meaning of asha (according to many first class linguists) is indeed 'what fits' as in what is ordered in a system. It corresponds to the Vedic rta, and the Old Persian arta, which have roughly the same meaning. The question of course arises (for anyone interested in Zarathushtra's ideas) what does Zarathushtra have in mind when he uses the word 'asha'. This question is relevant, not for the purpose of slavishly following Zarathushtra's ideas, but for the purpose of understanding his ideas. Before any of us can decide whether we agree or disagree with his ideas, we have to first understand what his ideas may have been in this (as in any other) instance.

Based on its Vedic and Old Persian cognates, Asha has been variously translated as 'truth' 'order' and 'righteousness'. It would be reasonable to question how one word could possibly have three such different meanings. Well, Zarathushtra did not think in English (or any other language in existence today). So to understand what he may have had in mind, we have to think outside of the box of the English language, and try to look at the matter through his eyes.

Zarathushtra sees (our) reality as the existences of matter and of mind, which (in our reality) are integrated, and asha 'what fits' applies to both existences.

In the existence of matter, 'what fits' is what is correct -- as in factually (physically, materially) correct -- the natural laws that order the universe, the laws of what today we call science -- physics, chemistry, biology, etc. So asha is the true, (correct) order of things in the existence of matter.

In the existence of mind, 'what fits' is also what is 'correct' -- as in what is right. But in the Gathas, what is 'right' is not a judgmental, puritanical rectitude. If we look at all the evidence of what Zarathushtra sees as 'right' we see that it comprises such notions as truth, goodness, beneficence, lovingkindness, generosity, solicitude, friendship, compassion, justice, being constructive, not being destructive, not being inimical, et cetera. In short, asha in the existence of mind includes all the good values we cherish which befit the true (correct, right) order of things in the existence of mind.

So in essence, asha means the true (correct) order of things in the existences of matter and of mind. There is no one-word equivalent in English that comes even close. The word 'truth', is an inadequate equivalent but the best one word equivalent I can think of.

And what I really like is that in speaking of this true (correct) order of things, Zarathushtra does not give us fact specific answers. Indeed, he endearing admits he does not have all the answers. He says "...As long as I shall be able and be strong, so long shall I search in quest of truth. Truth, shall I see thee as I continue to acquire ... good thinking..." Y28.4-5. In other words, he tells us to search for the true, (correct) order of things in the existences of matter and of mind.

This quest for truth, with good thinking, includes searching for the physical (factual) truths of our universe. Zarathushtra does not tell us, as an article of faith that the sun revolves around the earth. Instead, he demonstrates his quest for truth in the existence of matter, not by giving fact-specific answers, but by asking all sorts of questions pertaining to such things: "...Which man did fix the course of the sun and of the stars? Through whom does the moon wax (now) and wane later?" Y44.3; "...Which man has upheld the earth below and the heavens (above) from falling? Who the waters and the plants?..." Y44.4; "...which craftsman created the luminous bodies and the dark spaces? ... sleep and activity? Through whom does the dawn exist along with midday and evening?..." Y44.5. Gallileo would have been happy with this approach.

This quest for truth, with good thinking, also includes searching for what is correct (right) in the existence of mind. What is 'right' in one generation, or in one culture, may be very different from what is 'right' in another culture. So is Zarathushtra's idea of 'right' subjective? I do not think it is. I think it is our perceptions of 'truth' or 'right' that are subjective. But as we evolve or grow, through time and experiences, our perceptions change. A hundred years ago in the US, women were not allowed to have careers, own property, or vote. That was considered 'right'. Today no one (in the US) would consider that state of affairs as 'right'. Over time, through thinking, and experiencing, and debating, our perceptions change, and change, and change, until eventually, 'truth' and 'right' and our perceptions of it, are the same. And that is wisdom personified (mazda). I am persuaded by Thieme's view that mazda means not just wise, but wisdom personified. Mazdayasni (in my opinion) means the worship of wisdom. And in Zarathushtra's thought, we 'worship' with truth, good thinking, and embodying the truth with each thought, word and action. A living, loving worship. So (as in philosophy which means love of wisdom) in Zarathusthtra's thought, mazdayasni does indeed mean loving wisdom.

Also (for what it's worth) do not think there are two kinds of asha -- asha vahishta and just plain asha. Vahishta simply is the superlative degree of 'good' vohu. So asha vahishta simply means the most-good asha. Asha (truth) has also been called 'the most beautiful'. It is just a way of describing the nature of asha, bearing in mind that it applies to both the existences of matter and mind -- the physical and the abstract.

I hope that above clarifies any misunderstandings that may have occurred as to my views on asha, and especially I hope that it relieves Dino of any blame for what may not be his views at all.

Wishing us the best,

Dina G. McIntyre

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