By Ervad Marzban Hathiram
We live in tumultuous times. Our miseries seem never-ending. Calamities, both natural and human-made, visit us with uncanny regularity. Faced with these misfortunes, some of us feel betrayed by God. Does He not see the pain we are going through? Why does He allow so much evil to flourish on this Earth? Many people turn to the scriptures for answers.
The Zoroastrian religion has a positive and proactive outlook towards human suffering. One of the foremost exponents of Zoroastrian philosophy was the sage Dastur Adurbad Mahrespand. He was the prime minister and pontiff in the court of the Sassanian King Shahpur II, who reigned in Persia during the fourth century AD.
Those were difficult days for the Persian monarchy. The growing influence of Christianity threatened the monarchy as well as the Zoroastrian religion. The faith of Zoroastrians was badly shaken. So Dastur directed his efforts to reviving the flagging faith of the people.
On his death bed, Dastur Adurbad dictated a series of lessons to his son, Zarthosht. These lessons have been handed down as the Handarz-i-Adurbad Mahrespand, the admonitions of Adurbad Marespand.
Despite their simplicity and pithiness, Dastur’s teachings are as relevant today as they were then. They give us valuable lessons on how to deal with various challenges in life, while remaining true to our faith.
Dastur Adurbad advocated the rule of moderation as being the key to a good life. He said that fortune and misfortune should be borne with forbearance and reserve. This is not a fatalistic approach to life; it is a positive way of dealing with life’s problems. The details of this approach Dastur expounds beautifully in his work, the Handarz.
Every time a misfortune befell me, says Dastur Adurbad, I derived six kinds of comfort and solace from it. The first comfort was this:
The tragedy could have been much worse. Hence it is appropriate to thank God that the calamity hat befell us was only so grievous and not any worse.
Secondly, the blow was to my body, and not to my soul. It is important to realize that the body is but a shell, given to us by God to further the progress of the soul. Physical harm is therefore less grievous than spiritual tragedy.
The third solace was that of all the misfortunes I had to endure, one more had passed. The sum total of a man’s suffering is dependent on past thoughts, words and deeds, and is therefore finite. When a misfortune befalls us, it is a source of solace to know that of the tragedies scripted for us, one more has passed.
The fourth comfort I realized, says Dastur, was that I must have been a good man. Why else would have Ahriman, the evil spirit, taken the trouble to bring misfortune upon me?
The fifth comfort is this: That the effects of our evil thoughts, words and deeds fall either on us, or on our children. Dastur Adurbad was thankful that the misfortune fell on him and not on his child.
The sixth and final solace to be found in grief, says Dastur Adurbad, is that since the sum total of evil that can happen in the world is limited, one such misfortune visited upon us, is one evil less. Humankind is then free to advance along the path that leads to Ahura Mazda, the supreme lord.
Dastur’s counsel shows us that misfortune and grief are part and parcel of everyday life. A positive attitude to our trials will help us cross the greatest hurdle.
What is needed is faith in the mysterious ways of God, and the wisdom to realize that whatever happens, always happens for the best. It is this positive attitude that we should aim to cultivate, for it holds the key to happiness.