Into the Valley, Facing the Shadow.

I have a confession to make: I haven’t connected with the Zarathushti faith…at all.

January1st of 2011 was the first time I’ve prayed since I left Christianity 10 years ago. I went into Project Conversion thinking that, by the end of the year, I would have a better understanding of other religions…not God. But the unexpected has happened–over and over–and little did I know that from Day 1, I’ve reached for the divine.

This is why I connected instantly with Hinduism and the Baha’i faiths. Hinduism blew the door of my understanding of the divine off its hinges so that when I left, I was prepared to see God in whatever form presented itself. The Baha’is taught me the importance of community and the oneness of all faiths. Going into the Zarathushti month, I expected to get in touch with roots of monotheism and touch the divine in the ways of the ancients.

But that hasn’t happened.

As with the faiths preceding March, I feel in love with the tenets and practices: the symbology of fire, the call to ethical action via Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds, the partnership with God to vanquish the pain and sorrow of this world…so why haven’t I connected? Where is the chemistry? The first week of every month is like the first date, but the Zarathushti faith never called for another.

Here is the reason: In the beginning, Zarathushtra worked for 12 years to spread his “Good Religion” far and wide, but no one would listen until one day a king embraced the faith. For centuries thereafter the religion flourished in the Persian Empires until the Greeks and finally the Muslim armies drove it to near extinction. Some Zarathushtis fled to India and became the Parsis. Countless generations of persecution led these people to build an ethnic hedge around themselves and their faith. No one from the outside was let in.

And now, millenia later, neither am I.

Before Project Conversion started, I was okay with the idea of each faith being a guided tour, but now they are so much more. And I want so much more. Each one is another lens in which to see the divine. I embrace–no–give myself to each religion and use its rituals and prayers to reach God, but when I discovered this closed aspect of the Zarathushti faith, I fell apart. It was “look but don’t touch.” Project Conversion is like a walk down a dark street. Every few feet I get a street lamp that bathes me in warmth and light. These are the individual faiths, and their light and warmth carry me through the dark spaces between each month. But now, there is no light, because I cannot connect with the Zarathushti way. My ethnicity prevents me.

I am in darkness. No matter how long I meditate on the flame, no matter how many prayers I recite, my fingers cannot reach the hem of God. Understand, I can’t just reach back to previous faiths and use their prayers or rituals as a lifeline. I am bound by the Project to do so with the tools and methods of the current month. But every time I try, it feels forced, inauthentic. I cannot find God here. It’s so dark here that I can’t see my hands in front of me when I pray.

I asked my Mentor about this matter. She kindly advised me not to get involved in these controversial matters. If I or someone else was interested in becoming a Zarathushti, their only recourse was to contact one of the “neo-Zarathushti” fringe elements that main-liners don’t even consider part of their faith…their family.

I cannot describe the fear…the anxiety. It’s no coincidence that I find myself in a month that focuses so much on the struggle between light and darkness–a battlefield spread out upon the souls of all men. My anger has returned. Frustration clouds my judgment. Impatience shuns my love. My discipline is lost. New faith is so fragile. So I slip, from time to time, to that place where I have two roads before me: fight for faith…or against it. I had picked a side. Why do I have to do it again? Oh God, where is your fire?

Now it comes to it. I have a choice to make and if you think about it, so do you. What’s more important: your religion, or God? Either way I go this month, I will lose something. If I abdicate, if I surrender to the ethnic wall around the Zarathushti faith, then I spend the rest of the month in spiritual darkness because I will have accepted the idea that I–by birth–do not have the right to reach God by that path. If I go the reformist route, I risk losing my Mentor and therefore my direction. What’s worse, who am I to argue with millenia of tradition?

What if we left the nuances of our religions–the traditions, the rituals, even the people–dug beneath the walls and the crust of time and discovered the foundation of God himself? Is religion–it’s prophets, priests, and traditions– what’s holding the world back? Afterall, whenever there’s been a religious war, it wasn’t over whether or not God exists, but their understanding of God. What if we just…believed, and left the rest to the wind?

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  • Ixitoj

    If given the choice, and I suppose I AM given the choice every day, I would choose God over religion. I’m not sure I do believe in God anymore, but I want to find a way back to faith in him. I am convince that religions are tools to use to find God, but only tools.

    Oddly, the closest I have come to rediscovering God has been through the practice of Buddhism, which holds that the existence of deities is irrelevant. I practice it, it brings me peace and joy, allows me to love again, and ultimately opens my heart to all other beliefs as paths to God. At the same time, Buddha described his own teachings as merely tools to be discarded when no longer needed.

    So…God over religion, every time.

    • Anonymous

      This insight gives me a helpful prelude to what I will encounter in May. Thank you.

  • Joan

    Can you go directly to the writings of Zarathushtra and connect directly with them? Essentially being an isolate in the Zarathushti faith.

    • Anonymous

      That is the next step in this journey, Joan. The Gathas are considered the words of Zarathushtra himself. I hope to discover the foundations I spoke about within those words.

  • Pagolesher

    You cannot be a part of “this”, because…. (pick one)
    ~wrong skin color
    ~wrong gender
    ~wrong sexual preference
    ~wrong ethnicity

    There are other things that you can change, but you cannot change fundamental aspectsof yourself, and if there is a rule/policy in place that eliminates your participation in something based on an immutable part of yourself, then, yes, you have a decision to make.

    I realize the point of your pursuit is to locate God following each path devoutly. Within the confines of the dogma of the religion you are pursuing this month, ask for guidance (from the still, small quiet voice within) to tell you what path will provide you with what you in order to move forward.

    I have faith (undefined, dogma-free) that you will succeed in this. Keep going.

    • Anonymous

      Indeed. The challenge here becomes finding the divine within the original context before these ethnic boundaries manifested. And I think, as this journey continues, that this will be a recurring gatekeeper to spirituality in general. But drawing conclusions at this point is unfair and premature sans further insight gleaned from other traditions.

      • Pagolesher

        You are doing something I did not in my own personal search: you have structured your travels. I chose a more organic path to my belief system (kind of the same way I search the internet, LOL, this click leads me to that click, and, Oh! that looks interesting, click….).

        I do not envy you your choice – it is a dogmatic approach, and that may be what helps you through those particular times when the dogma of a religion creates a dark place on your path.

        It can be scary to walk on a dark path, not knowing what lies ahead. But that is what faith is all about – trusting that the path is there for your feet, if only you will continue to travel.

  • Rita

    “I was okay with the idea of each faith being a guided tour”… I hope you can find that “okay” again, as it seems you’ll need it for a few more weeks. Each month will teach you (and us, through you) new things… sometimes they aren’t the lessons we hoped for or expected to receive.

    God(s) over religion, every time.

    • Anonymous

      That is one of our greatest lessons, Rita. We sign up for this class in life, however in order to gain insight, we must let go of all expectations until we are empty vessels waiting to be filled.

  • Steven

    Keep in mind religion is not fundamentally defined only by people. It has always also been defined by God – again and again and again. This same religion is also that of Cyrus the Great – who was called anointed and guided by the right hand by God in the Bible. And who welcome Moses fleeing from the Pharaoh. And who found the baby Jesus. And this people is among the survivors of Abraham through Keturah.

  • Amy

    oh Andrew!

    Does your true reality, your soul…have an ethnicity? or is our ethnicity simply a window dressing to create a more diverse beautiful garden of humanity?

    Does Zarathushti teach the concept of finding God within?

    It is always darkest before the dawn…

    brace yourself for a brilliant sunrise….

  • Andrew Higgins

    This is a fascinating development. I’m still not sure of what the ethnic barrier in this religion is, but am now interested in finding out. I’m sure the development of this aspect of Zarathushti over the ages is not something you can easily summarize. A friend of mine gave an unintentional compliment when he said that the last sentence in yesterday’s DIY Religion post was one of the most true things ever written about religion (an ego stroke for sure). Bypass the talk about ‘The Secret’ and I think this speaks volume on what you are experiencing here, in particular the second paragraph. Here is what I posted:

    Jesus knew it. So did Zarathustra, Muhammad, Abraham, and Siddhārtha. However, they didn’t seem to want to keep it under wraps like the super successful people who are privy to the laws of attraction as described in a book that regurgitates New Thought Movement ideas, then repackages these ideas in a slick, marketable, and manipulative book called, The Secret. They weren’t even interested in ‘like attracts like’ and the science of fulfilling your dreams for material wealth and acquiring more stuff. The super secret (that is not a secret) the religious greats were interested in was DIY Religion. This very book!
    Some couldn’t understand. They used the ideas for corrupt reasons. They postulated that everyone had to follow their religion or face death. Death? Isn’t that a tad bit extreme? With DIY Religion we can all get in touch with our spiritual side while at the same time get along with each other. Your developed religion is yours. It is a part of you personally, and it wouldn’t quite fit any other person. For this very reason, most religions don’t jive completely with anybody other than the unique individuals that spawned them.

    Good luck on getting through this month Andrew. Looks like it may be a trying time.

  • maureen sullivan

    Hang on in there, Andrew….you are not alone

  • Bahai1972

    To know what you trully love and trully seek–you may be deprived of it. Not a game, nor a test, just a place, a stage of growth. You are trusted with the truth–on your own–to listen, learn, and choose each step. It feels like the dark night of the soul, how ironic, in the religion that reveres the fire, that Fire which gives light, illumination, burns away the veils, leaves one cold.

  • Dan Jensen

    Hi Andrew.

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us. As a Zarathushti convert of sorts, I thought I’d throw in my two bits.

    I was raised a Baha’i, a religion very focused on welcoming in seekers, but I needed something else, and eventually chose the path of Zarathushtra. You have done a great job of pointing out some of the strengths of Zoroastrianism. It is primal; ethically based; it regards divine partnership as a good thing; and so on. But alas, there are some big problems.

    I think I can sincerely commiserate with you, though my experience has been a bit different. Most of the Zarathushtis I know are Iranian, and not so hung up on the issue of conversion. I attend the fire temple here in San Jose without receiving any queer looks, and they welcome me to all their functions. Yet still I feel like I will never be one of them, no matter how welcoming they are. Conversion would therefore seem false to me. It would take much more to make me one of them, and I don’t think I’m ready to put my wife and children through that. That said, I consider my faith to be a personal matter, and I am not going to let these obstacles, however compelling they are to a social creature such as yours truly, stand between myself and the divine. I stand alone before the fire, just as Zarathushtra did. If I must do it alone, so be it.


  • Bahai Soul

    i thought a lot before writing. in general, i like challenges, even i got some ideas like if i were in your situation what would i choose …. but, at the end i reached to conclusion that i’ll write this comment just to encourage you to decide by your own, and do it your way.

    sometimes many thoughts brings confusion, so i wish you the best, and hope that you’ll have good thought that becomes good word, and you implement them into a good deeds.

  • Candace Moore Hill

    If you were having this conversation with Baha’i friends, someone might quip that you are spending some time in Sulymania. That’s the place where Baha’u'llah went to live in a cave alone with nothing and no one because the Babi community was so disunified in Baghdad. He completely divorced himself from everyone and everything but God and lived alone, away from the troubles that were so heartbreaking. This is a solution that calls to all of us at one time or another. Didn’t Christ go spend 40 days in the desert, away from everyone and all the complications? It must have been great at first, to live every day only in prayer. But also lonely, because the mission is still out there, waiting for you.

    Your comfort is, that nothing is hidden from God. He knows. He knows everything. He is closer than your life-vein. He knows your trials and your fears. He also knows when you step back up. And, this kind of soul journey works exactly as designed. Because it takes some time in the dark to truly appreciate the journey back into light.

    It’s not about the Zoroastrians. It’s about you.

  • Sharonmarnell

    Good evening from Bratislava, Andrew,

    My heart hears your hearts’ yearning to connect with another wonderful faith. I feel that the man-made boundaries that are keeping you at arms distance can be transcended with the toold you have demonstrated already on your joureny: your ardent commitment. Mankind cannot keep our souls from the Divine.

    I hear your call “O God! Where is your Fire?” and I am instantly transported to the Fire Tablet written by Baha’u'llah. It was written (as I understand) in three parts which can be simply described as Baha’u'llah’s lament to God of the conditions of the world and the misery and difficulty He found Himself in. In the second part God answers the call of Baha’u'llah using the most endearing terms, and finally, Baha’u'llah replies with renewed understanding, vigour and with the desire to overcome despair and continue in His quest.

    I understand from your comments that you wish to use those tools available to you from your chosen path of the month. So I humbly offer to recite the Fire Tablet and your behalf. The light will break through again for you, I am sure and the tests will only make your soul stronger.

    Warm regards


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  • Anonymous

    I’d like to share a couple of sources I have found very convert friendly. The first is, and the other is the zoroastrianacceptance2 group on Yahoo. There are always lively discussions on conversion by Traditionalists, but there is a growing acceptance of conversion. The ideals that Zarathushtra promoted are universal and will live on, regardless of whether there are Parsees or not. Ushta!

  • Phyllis

    Andrew, I believe that if you are passionately seeking God, your journey will be guided, even if your path seems at first to be confusing or disheartening. Perhaps you encountered Baha’u'llah’s “Seven Valleys” during your Baha’i month. This passage comes from the Valley of Knowledge:

    “There was once a lover who had sighed for long years in separation from his beloved, and wasted in the fire of remoteness. From the rule of love, his heart was empty of patience, and his body weary of his spirit; he reckoned life without her as a mockery, and time consumed him away. How many a day he found no rest in longing for her; how many a night the pain of her kept him from sleep; his body was worn to a sigh, his heart’s wound had turned him to a cry of sorrow. He had given a thousand lives for one taste of the cup of her presence, but it availed him not. The doctors knew no cure for him, and companions avoided his company; yea, physicians have no medicine for one sick of love, unless the favor of the beloved one deliver him.

    At last, the tree of his longing yielded the fruit of despair, and the fire of his hope fell to ashes. Then one night he could live no more, and he went out of his house and made for the marketplace. On a sudden, a watchman followed after him. He broke into a run, with the watchman following; then other watchmen came together, and barred every passage to the weary one. And the wretched one cried from his heart, and ran here and there, and moaned to himself: “Surely this watchman is Izra’il, my angel of death, following so fast upon me; or he is a tyrant of men, seeking to harm me.” His feet carried him on, the one bleeding with the arrow of love, and his heart lamented. Then he came to a garden wall, and with untold pain he scaled it, for it proved very high; and forgetting his life, he threw himself down to the garden.

    And there he beheld his beloved with a lamp in her hand, searching for a ring she had lost. When the heart-surrendered lover looked on his ravishing love, he drew a great breath and raised up his hands in prayer, crying: “O God! Give Thou glory to the watchman, and riches and long life. For the watchman was Gabriel, guiding this poor one; or he was Israfil, bringing life to this wretched one!”

    Indeed, his words were true, for he had found many a secret justice in this seeming tyranny of the watchman, and seen how many a mercy lay hid behind the veil. Out of wrath, the guard had led him who was athirst in love’s desert to the sea of his loved one, and lit up the dark night of absence with the light of reunion. He had driven one who was afar, into the garden of nearness, had guided an ailing soul to the heart’s physician.

    Now if the lover could have looked ahead, he would have blessed the watchman at the start, and prayed on his behalf, and he would have seen that tyranny as justice; but since the end was veiled to him, he moaned and made his plaint in the beginning. Yet those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, because they see the end in the beginning, see peace in war and friendliness in anger.”

    Surely this Shadow you are presently facing is a necessary part of your journey. Whatever you end up deciding, your decision will lead you to the place you need to be in order to take your next steps. What an adventure! And what an inspiration you are. I sincerely hope you’re planning to publish these posts in book form when the year is over.

    May every step on your path – whether it’s forward, backward, or sideways – be blessed with insight!


  • Bill Bittner

    Hello, Andrew. Sorry to hear you’re having a hard time. And I have some thoughts and a question.

    When I first heard about your endeavor, it sounded wonderful. It also sounded like you were trying to do something in one year that I’ve done most of my life. I was raised a Charismatic Catholic. But as an adult I have either delved deep into, or even gone as far as converting to, Taoism, Deism, Judaism, Unitarian Universalism, Buddhism, Atheism, and for the second time around, and presently, Hinduism.

    But I also thought how your endeavor may a bit of a challenge. I have wandered into different religions slowly, and over many years, and always because of some personal or inspired impetus. But you are doing this in such a short time and by a set schedule. It seems that approach would work well if you’re just learning. But trying to actually participate and try to connect to God?

    This is no way meant to be critical. It’s just a theory as to why you may not be connecting the way you want. Can’t what you’re doing be considered spiritual speed-dating? Or like being on a show like the Bachelor? Maybe one month isn’t enough time to really get to know a religion? Or you’ve connected with one of the faiths you already experienced and can’t connect with too many others?

    As to my question, is your intent to find a religion you find best fits you and stick with it? If so, I can sympathize.

    Like I mentioned, I’ve looked into many faiths. And my biggest problem has always been that none of them are perfect. And most claim to be divinely inspired! Why can’t God get it right? :)

    On the other hand, if you wander too much, you never go very deep. The Indian saint Sri Ramakrishna said the following:

    “The people of Calcutta are fond of new sensations. They say they want water and they begin to dig a well at one place; but they give it up as soon as they find that the earth is hard and stony. They then set to work to dig at another place. Suppose the soil is sandy there; they will as readily give up digging at that spot. They will look about for another locality. That is the way with these people.”

    I have dug many places. And I never found EXACTLY what I was looking for. But, I’m not getting any younger and I’m trying to dig deeper. And a few things I have read lately (mostly in Hindu spirituality) have helped.

    I have long tried to understand God. This is called Jnana Yoga. And a common way of doing this is through reading. But lately I’ve been focusing on Bhakti Yoga: finding God by loving God. This is done sometimes by repeating God’s name, but also by just focusing on and thinking about God. Another way is to pray to God to ask he/she to fan the flames of love for him/her.

    Here’s another quote by Sri Ramakrishna:

    “Why are you always talking so much about the various powers of God? Does a child who’s sitting beside his father keep thinking how many horses, cows, houses and estates his father has? Isn’t he simply happy to feel how much he loves his father and how much his father loves him?…. If you dwell so much on God’s powers, you can’t think of him as your nearest and dearest…. Think of him as your very own.That’s the only way to realize him.”

    So you can guess my answer to your question. I do opt for God over religion. But I need religion. I know this. And I hope I do find one I can stick with. And if you are looking for this as well, I hope you do to. But if you can’t, it is possible you don’t need religion. Just God.

    • Anonymous

      Good questions. What it all comes down to is, is God big enough to be found in all faiths? I think the answer is yes. This can be illustrated by comparing God to the universe. There are many telescopes through which to see a portion of the night sky, though there is still only one universe to look at. Speed dating implies getting to know many individuals. Because I am experiencing the same God, the only difference in the lens through which I see him. Changing faiths then because as simple as switching glasses.

      • Bill Bittner

        The lens concept is a very good analogy.

        And here is a similar Ramakrishna analogy, if you don’t mind (though you may have seen this one before):

        “Truth is one; only It is called by different names. All people are seeking the same Truth; the variance is due to climate, temperament, and name. A lake has many ghats (steps). From one ghat the Hindus take water in jars and call it ‘jal’. From another ghat the Mussalmāns take water in leather bags and call it ‘pāni’. From a third the Christians take the same thing and call it ‘water’. Suppose someone says that the thing is not ‘jal’ but ‘pāni’, or that it is not ‘pāni’ but ‘water’, or that it is not ‘water’ but ‘jal’, It would indeed be ridiculous. But this very thing is at the root of the friction among sects, their misunderstandings and quarrels. This is why people injure and kill one another, and shed blood, in the name of religion. But this is not good. Everyone is going toward God. They will all realize Him if they have sincerity and longing of heart.”


        • Anonymous

          The first sentence of that quote is why I love Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) so much. By far my favorite piece of wisdom (and I think, the overarching theme) of the Upanishads.

      • janine

        Hi Andrew,

        You ask yourself:
        Is God big enough to be found in all faiths? I have asked myself: Is God big enough for each human being to feel a connection with God? We both think on that the answer to our question is yes.
        That is why I did not understand (but now I think I do) your difficulty in connecting to God while living like a follower of Zarathustra. For me God is everywhere, and feeling connected to God is sometimes more felt in my consciousness than at other times. I am a Bahai myself and sometimes when I say a Bahai prayer it feels like just a string of words I am saying and sometimes it feels much more than a string of words.
        So I thought: okay you may use different words but still you are using words meant to connect to God.
        I like your similarity with telescopes looking at the universe.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks Janine,

          I think that, sometimes, we have to be careful of our reliance on these prayers because eventually, our heart’s intent is lost in the process. I like to use the prescribed prayers as a short primer to get the “juices flowing” and then begin with a personal exchange, ended on a period of meditation. To each their own?

      • kruledent

        I love that analogy of “changing lenses”. I am really enjoying your blog. Thank you for doing this project.

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  • Shawn Knight

    Andrew: I’m in the position of being enthusiastic about the Zarathushti faith, but being (to put it crudely) a pasty white boy of European descent. I was pleased to see Dan’s comment above and very happy for him, but also envious: whereas there’s a fire temple near him, there’s none within (I think) an 8 hour drive from me and possibly more.

    I’ve seen websites of some of the “neo-Zoroastrian” groups and … I’m pretty sure they’re not for me. Yet I fear I may have to be my own, single, solo “neo-Zoroastrian” in my own way, given my location and so forth, at least for the foreseeable future.

    I have to make a fire in my house, even just a candle like on your altar as suggested by your mentor. I have to pick up Avestan pronunciation and prayers from online resources (what very few there are). I have to figure out the details (wherein the devil lies) of “good thought, good words, and good deeds” largely myself, without lifelong-trained Zarathushti priests and scholars to advise me. I have to shell out for rare, expensive, and out of print books to learn language, history, culture, traditions. But if this is what I feel and what makes the most sense to me, and connecting to the Divine is my goal, then those are small prices to pay. And if God is the Wise Lord, I’m sure he will in some way appreciate my efforts and guide me to some sort of way of realizing them.

    It’s a bit hard to understand how the faith is so closed off to outsiders. This is the faith which teaches that it is instrumental in the renovation of the world, in the defeat of evil, yet it rather looks like large portions of the community are simply allowing it to die (and the renovation of the world is still very far from complete).

    Just some musings. You’re not alone on this one … and the good news for you is, on April 1, you get to try another path, but some of us will still be struggling with this problem :)

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your story. It begs to question: if alone we have God, do we need the community? Is God enough?

      • Shawn Knight

        Lots of variables involved in answering your question. Every local community has its own flavor. To “pick on” Zarathushtis since that’s been the current topic, are they Iranian or Parsi? Do they still leave one feeling a bit like an outsider (as Dan reported) or do they go the extra mile to overcome that?

        Is the local mobad or dastur (“priest” or “bishop”, roughly) one of the reformers who is pro-conversion, but struggling with conservative elements in the congregation? Or are the laypeople the reformers, but saddled with a conservative clergy? (One might imagine that Zarathushti diaspora groups have much less freedom in picking the clergy that suit them than the “original” groups in Iran and India, and a group in the States would be a lot more reluctant to upset the apple cart by embracing converts.)

        Where are their priorities? Is it a community focused on God (in which case one might imagine they’d be more welcoming) or focused more on their culture, of which a common vision of God is only one facet (in which case one might expect they’d be more exclusionary).

        Now, what about you? Is religion a particularly private, inward, meditative, mystical experience (in which case you can probably soldier on in a case like Dan’s where one feels a bit of an outsider, or even in the full-blown solo-practitioner path)? Or is it primarily an experience of communal worship and service? (Jesus’s oft-cited “wherever two or three are gathered in my name” leaps to mind here.)

        Your many-telescopes-one-universe analogy is a lovely one. Some astronomers prefer radio, some visible light, some infrared. Some astronomers prefer a lonely mountaintop observatory with a janitor and one grad student for company; some prefer big flashy installations with a big staff tending lots of complicated technology; and many, many people prefer a 6″ reflector on the balcony outside their living room just for themselves.

        The “lonely mountaintop” is the mystic. The “big installation” is the member of a big congregational community. The “person on the balcony” is a person in my present position. That doesn’t mean that teenage astronomers don’t discover new supernovae from their balconies. They do.

        • Anonymous

          These are great questions, each of which apply to the individual soul. You alluded to this fact. My month with the Bahai’s taught me the importance of community, but not at the expense of one’s personal devotion to the divine. In addition, the seeming dichotomy between personal devotion and community should be seen as complimentary. Indeed, we are all individuals with varying capacities/tastes when it comes to spiritual matters. I am of the mysticvmeditative ilk, however for this project the initial guidance of a community is important. For do we not leave the school once we learn what we need to know for the world?

          • Shawn Knight

            In my breakdown of the problem I did imply a false dichotomy (though not intentionally). One can have a deeply mystical, personal relationship with God, but still go to the community agiary/church/masjid/shul/etc. for both community activities and group worship.

            I don’t think these are on an either-or spectrum, where the most mystical are also the most solo and the most communal are the least connected to God; rather I think they are more like axes on a plane, independent variables (like those diamond-shaped questionnaires certain political groups are known for :).

            A person in the “mystical and communal” quarter, or the “communal but not mystical” quarter might be somewhat out of luck with the Zarathushti faith if not born into it, but a person in the “mystical but solo” quarter might do well.

            Another question to ask about the role of the community: In a sense, through the wonders of the Internet, I _do_ get to participate in the Zarathushti community in a limited capacity. Not only do I get to read scholarship that would be unavailable to me otherwise (except at great expense), but I get to “eavesdrop” in many online Zarathushti forums (provided I can read the languages in question, and here I am fortunate; English is an oft-used common ground for Iranian and Indian Zarathushtis).

            So I get to at least read and follow along with the community, and sometimes I can even see people asking the questions I myself would want to ask. Even though I don’t set foot in a physical fire temple, and even though I don’t get an hour a week to sit down with a priest or a mentor and ask questions, I do get _some_ education from the community. It still serves as a school, just not quite as flexibly as I might like.

          • Anonymous

            A wonderful point about the Internet. Groups that revolve around religion can be found anywhere and offer a great deal of support, though it lacks the tactile benefit of human interaction. Technology certainly changes the game. I imagine the same feel came about once oral tradition was first recorded when written language developed.

      • asterias

        This is a good question. I might start with a slightly different question. . . what is the purpose of religion? (in the sense of the expression in this world of a revelation from God/the Creator)

        To me, a religion at its zenith is the cause of the advancement of humanity, the source of the flourishing of the arts and science, the reason behind the cultivation of spiritual qualities in individuals and the development of society. For me, this is the purpose of religion (the expression of God’s revelation) in the world. Of course, some have used and manipulated religion for other purposes which is why many perceptive people have turned away from organized religion and chosen to focus on a more individual and internal cultivation of spirituality instead.

        I think there is immense good that comes from an individual cultivating deep spiritual growth and developing spiritual qualities. The world becomes a much better place the more individuals there are who do this. But I also think that God intends for us to exercise these qualities in the world in community with those who would join hands and devote their energy, time and very lives to the betterment of the world by applying the remedy that God sends from age to age for the problems facing the world at that time. I believe that this is how the Kingdom of God on earth is to be established and it’s what humanity is crying out for today.

        I don’t think either/or works here, but rather both/and.

        Thank you for the courage with which you are approaching your journey and thank you for sharing it with us, even the hard parts. :-)

        • Anonymous

          You are right. These concepts are not not mutually exclusive, but two sides of one coin. We need both (to some degree, I think) to mature spiritually, however some of us may be inclined toward one over the other in the same way that a student is better at art than math.

  • Mary Holley

    Aloha Andrew….sometimes in my walk on the path I am like walking through the forest and can’t see the path clearly…this is where my faith come in to guide me until I once again come into the light…The spark of God is within…not out there…I like to pause to listen too…not to hear voices but to pause in receptive mode…to receive…God bless you.

  • Notenoughflair

    In reading your “outsider” feel in exploring this religion, I’m curious to see what your feelings are when you delve into the Mormon religion in a few months. On the one hand, I think that you’ll have an initial feeling of total absorption and love from the people you are working with. But then I think that towards the end, when baptism is not imminent, a wall will be put up and you’ll feel exactly how you feel right now.

    I like this angle of exploring not only the doctrines of practice, but the culture behind each religion. Please keep it up and include this perspective throughout your journeys. I’m very much enjoying your writing.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you.

      Each month seems to provide a unique lesson to my journey. Regarding the Mormon month, hopefully my experiences this month will prepare me for such an issue.

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant post. What I have found through reading the primary Zarathushti scripture, the Gathas, is that the faith itself has no ethnic boundaries. As you point out, the Parsis are the children of generations of persecution. It is completely natural to create a wall in order to maintain identity.
    This wasn’t my struggle.
    There is a difference between a Parsi and a Zarathushti. One is a subunit of the other. A Parsi is a part of a culture, an ethnic group-defined by DNA and tradition. However the faith Zarathushtra taught was for mankind. It would be folly to desire becoming a Parsi, but a Zarathushti is another matter. Unfortunately, moany folks don’t make that distiction.