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Happiness is the aim of Zoroastrian philosophy

European Centre for Zoroastrian Studies

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Happiness is the aim of Zoroastrian philosophy

By Shahriar Shahriari

Happiness be the lot of one who works for the happiness of others.
May the Lord grant him health and endurance.(the Gathas, 43:1)

Or should we say, "may the Lord grant him the patience, the serenity and the sense of martyrdom needed to put up with the failures, the ridicule, the alienation, and the spurn of those whom he serves!"

For what kind of happiness is it, if it is to be mandated?

If it is to be stated as "Thou Shalt have Happiness, only and only if Thou workest for the happiness of Others", it becomes nothing more than an externally imposed rule. Yet another scale on Nietzsche's dragon!

A Thou shalt commandment can lead to nothing more than a sense of guilt and contempt.

"Thou Shalt be spiritual" can only lead to contempt for spirituality, and the adherent would only follow the commandment, for the fear of not being spiritual, and the avoidance of the possible consequences of disobedience.

Likewise, "Thou shalt be Happy..." can only lead one to contempt for happiness, which in turn will lead to unhappiness. Happiness that is imposed through the force of fear, guilt, or limitation is not, and can not be true happiness, just like "thou Shalt be Free" is an injunction to impose Freedom, which itself becomes dictatorial and enslaving.

So what was Zarathushtra talking about?

Zarathushtra was talking about a deeper level of happiness that comes not from a compulsion to serve, but from an innate impulsion to connect and to bring joy to others - from the impulse to life.

A deep spiritual understanding of our world can only lead us to recognize the interconnection among all of us. Such understanding makes us realize that we are not separate, that your happiness is my happiness, and my happiness is yours.

Just as no waves in the ocean are separate from each other, except in appearance. The waves find their interconnection through the ocean. We too find our interconnection through the singular and primordial Creative Impulse, of which, we are all creatures.

This understanding will also help us realize that I am most alive, not when I move or act, or achieve, or accumulate. I am most alive when I am in touch with my uniqueness, and work towards contributing and giving away my gift. The gift that only I can bring to this world. And no other can come close to the quality of my contribution.

A musician is most alive when she plays her music, not when she receives recognition for the various compositions she has created over the years. A scientist loses himself most, when he is in full concentration, pondering the question in hand, not when he has to prepare his 45 minute speech for the Nobel Prize reception. And the surfer is most alive when he is riding the wave, not when he is on the shore bragging about the wonderful ride that he had that morning.

Furthermore, when we give ourselves permission to be who we are, we also allow others to contribute their unique gifts to the world, and become willing to receive their gifts into our lives.

Joy begets joy. The scientist enjoys the sublime feelings that are aroused in him when the musician is performing in a concert. She on the other hand, feels the exhilaration of the surfer, when he is riding that perfect wave.

What's more, we can be most effective when we work on the thing that we are most effective at, namely our unique contribution. We become energized. We experience a sense of vitality. We become unstoppable. And thus, we push the boundaries of the quality and the scale of our contribution.

The scientist is most effective in the laboratory or in his library, not in the music hall, nor riding the wave.

And the "Others" who become the recipients of our contribution, can gain the maximum benefit, from what we excel at, which is nothing other than our gift. The surfer will not feel the same way about the music that is played by the scientist, as he would by the musician's performance.

The genius of the design of this physio-spiritual universe of ours is that it is completely interdependent. The surfer relies on the scientist to create better boards. The scientist depends on the musician to give voice to the feelings that he could not express as vividly. And the musician counts on the surfer's ride to become a source of vital inspiration for the next piece of music.

In other words, we make others happiest, when we are at our happiest. And we are at our happiest, when we make others the happiest we possibly can.

But the challenge of being ourselves is testing. The scientist will spend many hours in fruitless contemplation of the problem, often with no apparent or even remotely probable solution in sight. Defeat overshadows the scientist's life for a large part of it, until perhaps a breakthrough is attained, or until the scientist moves on to another problem, leaving the one in hand, for posterity.

The musician will spend a large part of her life, practicing the fundamentals of music on her instrument. Often hours are spent on a daily basis, going over repetitive motions for as long as necessary to master the piece. Composition is not always spontaneous, nor at will. The creative process becomes illusive and frustrating. Musical life can be self-defeating, at least until inspiration hits, or one moves on to the next piece.

The surfer may get up every day, looking at the ocean, either being stopped by the storms, or by the calm. When in the water, the surfer may wait for wave after wave, until a good one arrives. And not every good wave that arrives shall result in a good ride. The surfer may fall in, lose his balance, or miscalculate the timing of the good waves, time after time. And the process becomes an exercise in patience. At least until that perfect timing and balance happen to coincide with the good wave - on a good day.

Perhaps Zarathushtra was considering all these factors when he said, " May the Lord grant him health and endurance."

May the Lord grant us the physical health to be able to utilize our gift, and the mental health to be able to discern what is our uniqueness. And hence, give ourselves permission, and have the courage to make use of the innate creative impulse within us to manifest our gift, and thus contribute to our world.

And may the Lord grant us the endurance to overcome all obstacles and all failures, real or imaginary; as well as to not be swayed by the naysayer, the jealous or the resentful, whether they are inside our heads or elsewhere.

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