THE DHARMIC FAITHS: BELIEFS AND CUSTOMS

Buddhism

Origin:

Buddhism means ‘path of the Enlightened One’, was founded by Gautama Buddha (566 to 486 BCE), born as a prince to the parents, who were believed to have followed the Sramana tradition of Parsvanath (23rd tirthankara of Jains). It has 151, 816  in Britain according to the 2001 census and about 376 million followers worldwide. It is a spiritual tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. It teaches that all life is interconnected, and the path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom. The two main Buddhist sects are Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism, but there are many more.

Beliefs:

Nothing is permanent; everything is transitory; the world is a chain of interdependent momentary events; everything derives from an antecedent condition, which ceases after producing its consequence. The soul is impermanent; it is a stream of consciousness; and attachment to the world produces suffering. Buddhism does not believe in God, the Supreme Being, but believes in a state of godliness, nirvana, which any person can achieve; however, later Buddhists seem to accept Buddha himself as God.

Basic Characteristics of Buddha’s teachings:  are four noble truths and the eightfold path

Four noble truths:   There is untold suffering everywhere in the world. The sufferings are due to a twelve-fold chain of causation involving the old age, death, birth, rebirth, sensory enjoyments, attachment, actual sensual pleasures, the senses, the psycho-physical being, initial consciousness of the embryo, past karma and ignorance. Ignorance is the root cause of suffering, which is in fact self-created. Ignorance causes evil: desires, greed and hatred.

There is an eightfold path to remove suffering and obtain happiness:

Eightfold path:  is based on ethical conduct (sila), mental discipline (samaadhi) and wisdom (prajnaa).

Ethical conduct of: (1) right speech, (2) right action (avoiding harm to living beings, stealing, false speech and   inappropriate sexual relations, intoxicants) and (3) right living.

Mental discipline by: (4) right effort (prevention of evil and stimulation of auspicious thinking), (5) right mindfulness (total vigilance over the activities of mind, body and speech) and (6) right concentration (meditational training).

Wisdom by: (7) right understanding (of reality) and (8) right thoughts (of unselfishness, compassion and detachment).

Buddhism believes in karma, and that everyone has to suffer or enjoy the consequences of their actions, except detached ones, either in this life or in lives hereafter. Exhaustion of the fruits of karma is essential for nirvana, a state of perfection and bliss, and it can be achieved even in this life by the observance of the eightfold path. The three jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Modern and Mahayana Buddhists adore and worship the Buddha, the arhat and Bodhisattvas, and perform temple rituals. The Buddhist sangha consists of monks, nuns, laymen and laywome

 

Becoming a Buddhist: Anyone who wishes to follow Buddha’s teachings, can join a Buddhist Organisation. Admission to the monastic order involves: Renunciation of the secular life and Acceptance of monasticism. Some Buddhists regard themselves as converts, i.e. have actually renounced or rejected the religion they were born into, and taken up Buddhism. Others, however, do not feel this sense of rejecting anything. Buddhism does not demand a commitment to it alone, to the exclusion of anything else, and there are many who happily harmonise more than one faith or way of life within themselves. For example, there are westerners of the Judaeo-Christian traditions who maintain their faith yet supplement it with the practice of Buddhist meditation

 

 Customs and way of life: A Buddhist is supposed to refrain from: harming living beings, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct and misuse of senses, harmful speech, and drink or drugs which cloud the mind; and observe the rituals of

1.      Venerating the Buddha, the exchange of gifts to the monastic order, pilgrimage and ordination

2.      Sacred mandala: A symbolic picture of the universe representing an imaginary palace that is contemplated during meditation to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones and to assist with healing

3.      Meditation    &. Worship

 Worship: Buddhists can worship both at home or at a temple. There are many forms of worship such as devotion to Buddha and to Bodhisattvas (Scriptures), and recitation of mantra (sacred word or phrase)

At home: Buddhists will often set aside a room or a part of a room as a shrine. There will be a statue of Buddha, candles, and an incense burner.

Temples:Buddhist temples are designed to symbolise the five elements: Fire, Air, Earth (symbolised by the square base), Water, Wisdom (symbolised by the pinnacle at the top). All Buddhist temples contain an image or a statue of Buddha.

Holy texts: are in Pali language (translation in English available). They are: The Southern Canon: Tipitaka (three baskets containing palm leaf manuscript): Vinay-pitaka, Sutta-pitaka & Abhidhamma-pitaka  and The Northern Canon:  Agama and Sutras

Festivals: include Dharma Day (to mark Buddha’s first sermon - July/August), Kathina (largest alms-giving ceremony (October/November), Sangha Day (November), Parinirvana Day (nirvana of Buddha 15th February), Wesak (Buddha’s Birth Day in May)

Celebration in Britain: There is much preparation and excitement around the Buddhist festivals that take place in British temples and monasteries at various times of the year. Food is prepared at or taken to the temples, and gifts are presented by lay people to the monks of money, sometimes robes, household goods, and food for the kitchen storeroom.

Diet: Buddhists are vegetarians, but some will take meat of the animals that are not killed for them. Alcohol and habit forming drugs are strictly prohibited. Smoking is discouraged

Buddhism and other faiths: Buddhist active part in interfaith activities; respect others faiths and are expected to treat members of other faiths with friendship and peace.

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Hinduism

Origin: Origin of Hinduism cannot be traced; it is the religion (dharma - 'code of conduct', 'law', or 'duty') of the majority of people in India and Nepal and has over 900 million adherents worldwide including about 600,000 in Britain.  It is closely associated with the other Indian religions Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism and is 'a family of religions and way of life' with a great variety of beliefs and practices.                                

Sects:   Hinduism have two major sects, Saivism and Vaishnavism, and many groups such as Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Rama Krishna Mission, Swaminarayan, Brahma Kumaris,  Harekrishna (Iskcon), Sathya Sai Baba movement, Jalaram Bapa movement and  South Indian  groups such as Balaji temple. All follow basic Hindu teachings and preaches basic moral values.

Beliefs: Hindus believe in the immortality of souls and their transmigration through many lives because of attached karma (attached egoistic actions).  The aim of human life is to annihilate karma and attain liberation (moksa) where the soul becomes free from worldly sufferings, is purified and achieves a state of bliss and oneness with God.  Moksa can be attained by one of three paths:  the path of knowledge (jnaan maarga, inner realisation), the path of detachment from actions (karma maarga) and the path of devotion to God (bhakti maarga). For inner realisation, Hinduism prescribes the various disciplines of yoga, austerities (saadhanaa) and meditation, thus many Hindu yogis or saadhus renounce the world to reside in the forests and mountains and practise the path of meditation for inner purity. Hindus also give great importance to external purity, bathing at home and in sacred rivers, to the purity of their food and the environment for the progress towards the path of purification.

God: Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God (Paramatman), whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him. God possesses three aspects: creator, preserver and destroyer, the creator is Brahma, the preserver is Vishnu and the destroyer is Shiva (Mahesh); these three constitute the Trinity of Hinduism. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, though such is its tolerance of that it encompasses beliefs, which are monotheistic and atheistic.  Hindus worship a host of gods and goddesses such as Brahma, Vishnu (and his incarnations such as Rama and Krishna), Shiva, Ganesha, Kartikeya, Hanuman, Parvati, Durga, Kali, Sarasvati and Laxmi. God is described in the Bhagavad Gita as the inner dweller, the soul of the whole universe, infinite, external and all pervading.

 

Holy Texts:  The beliefs and practices of Hinduism can be traced, in part, in its vast sacred literature: the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Dharma Sutras, the Dharma Sastras, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which includes the Bhagvad Gita. The main Hindu texts are the Vedas and their supplements (books based on the Vedas). Veda is a Sanskrit word meaning 'knowledge'. The Bhagvad Gita advocates the moral path of selfless detached action, setting out the duties of different castes. The Rigveda and Upanishads contain the core of Hindu morality; the Dharma Sastras describe the ethical virtues and duties of all castes: braahman, ksatriya, vaisya and sudra.


Ethics:  The general duties prescribed for all Hindus are the practices of ahimsaa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmcarya (celibacy) and aparigraha (detachment). Hinduism emphasises the virtues of love, compassion, purity, self-restraint and philanthropy, charity and social service in addition to the above five general duties. 

Hinduism also describes the different duties for each stage of life:

The stage of brahmacarya (up to 25 years): the life of a student.

The stage of grahastha (26—50 years): the life of a householder,

The stage of vanaprastha (51—75 years): retirement for self-discipline and a simpler life.

The stage of sanyaasa (75 onwards, or at any time): renunciation, the life of a Sadhu or Yogi.


Worship and devotion:   The path of devotion to God includes prayers, worship and complete surrender, in daily practice. Pujaa is performed in the home, in temples or at places of pilgrimage, where certain heavenly beings, the Sun, Indra, Varun, may also be worshipped. Offerings of sacred substances and food are given during pujaa and afterwards, the food is distributed among the family members. Most temples have a brahmin priest, who is responsible for the maintenance of the temple, making offerings on behalf of devotees and performing rituals. Some rituals can be extremely elaborate such as the yagnas, in which sacred offerings, such as sandalwood, to the sacred fire are made to purify the self and the family members.. Hindu prayers largely consist of the silent repeated recitation of mantras such as “Ram! Ram! Or Krishna! Krishna!” and reading passages from the Ramayana or Gita, Bhajans and sermons.

There are many Hindu temples in Britain; the most famous among them are Swaminarayan temple at Neasden, London, Hare Krishna temple at Watford and Balaji temples near Birmingham.


Holy Days: Hindus observe many sacred days such as the Makar Sankrant, , Vasant Panchami, Mahashivratri, Holi, Swaminarayan Jayanti, Rama Navami, Hanuman Jayanti, Raksha Bandhan, Janmashtami, Navaratri, Dassera and Diwali.

Life style: Hindus observe many sacred duties and social rituals such as those for marriage and death, and of wearing the sacred thread (janoi). Generally, Hindu society is patriarchal, however women are respected and their views are noted, particularly from older women. Since the beginning of this century, women have been given a greater role in the management of the households, businesses, society and the state.

Rites and Rituals: Hindu rites and rituals vary because of background, castes and regions.

Hindu baby rites are: Garbhadana (conception), Punsavana (foetus protection), Simantonnyana (satisfying the craving of the pregnant mother), Jatakarma (at birth, whispering the name of God in the child's ear), Namakarna (naming ceremony), Annaprasana, (first taste of solid food). Karnavedha (ear-piercing ceremony) and Mundan (first haircut) and Upanayana (sacred thread).

Marriage is usually an arranged marriage; the divorce was rare, but now it is increasing. In Britain women are given equal status. The new generation of Hindu couples share domestic, financial and social duties.

After death body is cremated as soon as possible.

Hinduism and animals

Most Hindus are vegetarian. The doctrine of ahimsaa leads Hindus to treat animals well; the cows are considered as a sacred animal, hence a Hindu will not eat beef.  


 

Jainism

 

ORIGIN: The name Jainism comes from Jina, meaning ‘victor’ over the passions and the self. Jinas whom Jains call tirthankaras attained omniscience by shedding ‘destructve’ karma (obscurer of true nature of the soul) and taught the spiritual path of happiness and perfection to all humans. The origin of Jainism remains untraceable. Jains believe time rotates in a cycle, descending and ascending. In each half of the cycle twenty-four tirthankaras establish the fourfold order (sangha) consisting of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen; and revive the teachings of previous tirthankaras. The first tirthankara in this descending cycle was Risabhdeva, who is traditionally believed to have lived thousands of centuries ago, the twenty-third was Parsvanatha (c.870 BCE to 770 BCE) and the twenty-fourth (and last) was Vardhamana Mahavira who lived from 599 to 527 BCE.  

 

The Jain population was very high in early centuries, but now it is about five million (2001 census; according to Jain Organisations 12 million) around the world; most Jains and all their ascetics (about 10,000) live in India; 50,000 in North America and 30,000 in the UK.

Mahavira’s teachings:

 

Mahavira became a Jina at the age of 42, was a great reformer and addressed the various problems of the day in India, such as the caste system, slavery, and equality of women, carnal desires, killing or harming life for religious rituals or pleasure of the senses. He taught acceptance of multiple views (anekaantavada) and qualifying dogmatic assertions (syaadavaada), a spiritual democracy that made Jains tolerant to others. He attracted a large number of people, both men and women, to his teachings. Those who decided to follow the way of life like Mahavira, took total vows (mahavrata) became ascetics (sadhu and sadhvi); others in view of their worldly duties, took them partially became lay people (shravaka).  

The vows are:

Ahimsa (non-violence and reverence for all life)

Satya (truthfulness, communication in a pleasant and non-hurtful manner that is free from falsehood)

Asteya (not stealing or taking anything which belongs to others without their permission)

Brahmacharya (chastity and control over senses; for the ascetics total celibacy and for the laity faithfulness to one’s spouse)

Aparigraha (non-attachment to material things)

Lay Jains observe six essential duties: equanimity, veneration of the twenty-four tirthankaras, veneration of ascetics, penitential retreat, renunciation, meditation with bodily detachment, which are meant to enhance their quality of life, physically, mentally and spiritually. Some add donation for good causes as an essential duty.

Sects :  In the 4th century CE, Jainism developed two major divisions Digambara (sky clad ascetics) and Svetambara (white robbed ascetics). With the passage of time, both Digambara and Svetambara communities have continued to develop, almost independently of each other into different sects. Later on in 16th and 18th century two other major sects Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi developed. Except for minor differences of no importance, all of them believe in the same teachings and accept the same vows. 

 

Beliefs :

The universe: The universe as conceived by Jains has two parts: occupied and unoccupied and it consists of six substances: the soul, matter, medium of motion, medium of rest, space and time. All except the matter are formless. The soul is the living being (jiva) and the others are non-living substances (ajiva). Both jiva and ajiva are interdependent and everlasting. It is the attachment of non-living substance (karma) to the soul that causes apparent injustices of life, and an unending cycle of birth, death and rebirth in any destiny: heavenly, human, animal and plants or infernal as a mobile being with two to five senses or as an immobile being with one sense.

The aim of life

The Jain way of life aims to shed karma attached to the soul and manifest the soul’s true characteristics: infinite bliss, infinite knowledge, amity and equanimity. It consists of the co-ordinated path of the ‘Three Jewels’: Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct. Right Faith is belief in the nine ‘real entities’ (living being, non-living being, merit, demerit, influx of karma, karmic bondage, stoppage of karma, shedding of karma, and liberation); Right Knowledge is a proper grasp of the nine ‘real entities’; and Right Conduct is the ethical code, behaviour and actions taught by the Jinas.

 

Karma

Jainism describes karma as subtle matter, not perceptible to the senses, found everywhere in the cosmos and having the property of penetrating the soul and clouding its characteristics. The soul’s activities cause vibrations in its structure, cause karmic particles to be attracted (influx) to it. If there is karmic matter around the soul, these particles will stick to it, but if it is absent as in liberated souls it will not stick. Benevolent acts cause good karma (merit), while sinful acts cause bad karma (demerit). Both merit and demerit keep the soul in the worldly cycle, they do not cancel each other out.

The quantity, the size, the type and the density of karmic particles determine the severity of karmic bondage and form in which the soul will transmigrate to the forthcoming life with its inherent passions. The external environments affect these passions, increasing or decreasing their severity and results. The Right Conduct can influence the karmic result and reduce its effects. On maturity karmic particles attached to the soul give results and shed, but one’s activities cause inflow of new karma; and replenishment generated keeps the soul in bondage.

God:  Jainism does not recognise an Almighty God or a Supreme Being as creator as God, but believes in godhood that can be attained by any one by following the teachings of the Jina; shed karma and liberate the soul. Jains worship tirthankaras as Gods, as examples to follow.

Temples & Worship: Jains have built thousands of beautiful temples in India; in Britain beautiful temples in Leicester and Potters Bar and about fifty temples in USA. Most of the Jain homes have a small shrine; their daily worship is usually individual; but on special days they may worship in congregation.

Jainism is not a proselytising religion, but accepts any person who follows the path of the Jinas as Jain, irrespective of labels attached by birth or otherwise,.

 

Holy Days: Jain observe many sacred days, the main among them are Paryushana (sacred days of fasting and forgiveness), Mahavira Jayanti  (Mahavira’s birth day) and Diwali

(Mahavira’s death anniversary). Their festivals are spiritual in nature aimed to shed karma and progress on the path of purification.

Jains observe, Paryusana, an annual period of atonement and repentance for trespassing Jina’s teachings in the previous year, and of austerities to help shed accumulated karma and take positive steps to save the lives of voiceless creatures; of showing amity to fellow Jains, of forgiveness to all, of austerity, and of visiting neighbouring temples. On the final day (samvatsari) Jains seek forgiveness from all for any harm, which they have caused knowingly or unknowingly and forgive those who have harmed them saying ‘micchami dukkadam’.

 

Life Style: Jains are vegetarians; they care for the environment and are involved in human and animal welfare. The guiding principle of their way of life is ahimsa (non-violence and reverence for all life) and their conviction in the phrase parasparopagraho jivanam’ meaning interdependence of life on each other. “Live and Help to Live” is their motto. Jains will try to avoid harm to all living beings as far as possible and observe friendship to all and malice to none.  The Jain way of life is not at odds with normal everyday life. It is an ethical doctrine with self-discipline as its core. Jains perform Penitential retreat (Pratikramana) daily in the morning and evening and ask for forgiveness for their transgressions, perform penance, and see that such aberrations are not repeated.

Jains will avoid professions or businesses where there is apparent violence. They are law abiding citizens with practically no criminal record.

They worship either at a temple or at home every morning, meditate and then start the day’s work. They believe in simplicity, helping others, in philanthropy and live accordingly.

 

Marriage and divorce: Most of the Jain marriages are arranged marriages within the community.  The divorce rate in the Jain community is very low. The women have equal status. The new generation of Jain couples share domestic, financial and social duties. Interfaith marriages are discouraged, but they are accepted by most families and the community.

 

Death: Jains believe transmigration of the soul is due to karmic bondage; after death the soul occupies a new body according its karma and hence they accept the death philosophically. They pray for the peace of the departed soul. After death the body is cremated as soon as possible.

 

 

Sikhism

Origin: Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539 CE) in the Punjab, as an attempt to reconcile Hinduism and Islam, and was promoted by a succession of nine gurus, the last of whom was Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708 CE). Sikhism is a monotheistic religion believing in the oneness of God and of humanity and that divinity lies within oneself; its teachings as revealed to the Gurus are found in the holy Sikh scripture the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ (Adi Grandh), a copy of which is kept in every Gurudwara (Sikh temple).


Beliefs: Sikhism believes in humanity and its true nature, whereby human beings possess divine elements in the form of mind or soul (mana or atman), but the involvement of humans in evil passions and egoism, does not allow the divine element to reveal itself; thus, Sikhism emphasises self-purification as means of purging evil passions and egoism. Bad actions bring misery and rebirth, while good leads to happiness and salvation. Sikhism firmly believes in karma professing ‘As one sows, so one reaps’. The performance of righteous actions, repeating God’s name (naama smaran), and hymns and praises to God (bhajan and kirtan) are the means to liberation. It is opposed to pilgrimage, idolatry and other extraneous practices,

God is regarded as eternal, omnipotent, creator, sustainer and destroyer of the world. Sikhism believes in karma and transmigration, but salvation is possible by God’s grace and with the aid of the Guru, hence, loyalty to the Guru is overriding importance. The entire world is the product of the divine will or divine order (hukum). Moreover, God’s act of continual creation shows his perpetual interest in it, it is God’s garden where a human finds opportunity for right action and salvation, a world worth living in and not a place of hatred or defiance. Sikhism believes in life and consciousness to varying degrees in all living beings; most developed form in humans. The imperfect human being suffers because of attachment to lust (kaama), anger (krodh), covetousness (lobha), attachment to worldly objects (moha), pride (ahankaara) and self-centredness (manmukha) through ignorance. One has to obey the Guru and act according to the teachings (become gurumukha), to be released from the present state of imperfection.  In the absence of a true Guru, scripture (Grantha Sahib) is the real Guru; Sikhs worship it as representatives of God.

            Sikhism practises religious discipline in the form of repetition of God’s name, devotional songs, a dedicated virtuous life, selfless service to the people and company of Guru Mukha, for the path of final release. It emphasises cultivation of the virtues of humility, love, contentment, truth, righteousness, mercy, compassion and purity, and preaches love to all without any distinction of caste or creed.

            Though Sikhism in its essence is opposed to extrinciality and rituals, over time rituals have been accepted, such as baptism, pilgrimage to Guru Gobind Singh’s birthplace, and daily rituals. Guru Gobind Singh has laid down daily rituals such as: rising early, bathing in cold water, morning and evening prayers and meditation on God’s name.

Gurudwara:     The Sikh place of worship is the Gurudwara (‘the doorway of the Guru’), a centre for worship, religious education, social activities and welfare services. Readings from the ‘Granth Sahib’, hymns and praises to God, meditation on God’s name and reverence of the ‘Granth Sahib’ and Guru are the specific features of the Sikh worship. Some Sikhs may have a special room at home where the ‘Granth Sahib’ is displayed. It is customary to have a langar (communal meal) at Gurudwara where meat dishes, alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

Sikhism has no priests or monks and any adult can perform religious ceremonies. On special occasions, continuous liturgical readings of the complete ‘Granth Sahib’ (akhand paath), a reading for the whole week (saptah paath) and the reading of extracts (sahaj paath) are relayed to the congregation. Sikh worship ends with the distribution of an edible gift (karah prasaada) and a communal meal. There are many Gurudwaras in Britain.

Holy Days: Sikhs celebrate special days such as celebrations relating to the Gurus, and Diwali.

Life Style:        All Sikh men take the religious name Singh (lion) and all Sikh women have Kaur (princess), in order to promote equality and nullify caste. Sikhism, however, does have a number of sub-sects such as:

Namadhari: puritan Sikhs, who observe daily rituals strictly and abstain from smoking and drinking and are largely vegetarians.

Akalis: a militant group within Sikhism, who subscribe to fundamental principles, but are prepared to protect their faith by political or military means if necessary.

Nirankaris: are a special group formed after Gurbachan Singh (Nirankari Baaba), who reject the declaration of the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, that he was to be the last Guru. Gurubachan Singh argued that any deserving Sikh could become a Guru.

Nanak-panthi: they believe that the Guru’s teachings are the only essential Sikh duty and nothing else is required.

Khalsa: In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh created a new order within the Sikh community, the Khalsa (pure), whose members were willing to arm and serve the faith militarily if required. As an act of moral and practical symbolism, spiritual importance and a sign of obedience to the will of God, they wear the ‘Five Ks’: have uncut hair (kesh), a comb (kangha), a sword (kirpan), a bracelet (kara) and shorts (kaccha). Men are also required to wear a turban.

Sikh society is patriarchal, however women are respected and their views are noted. Nowadays women have been given a greater role in the management of the households, businesses, society and the state. The marriages are usually arranged ones. Divorces are rare. After death the body is cremated as soon as possible.

Interfaith activities: Sikhs are active in interfaith movements and accept people from other faiths to be converted as a Sikh.


 

Zoroastrianism

Origin: Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions, founded in Iran by Prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster) between 1500 BCE to 600 BCE. He proclaimed the worship of Ahura Mazda (The Wise Lord) as the source of truth, righteousness, order and justice (asha), and good mind (vohu manah). He called the people to observe the threefold ethic of good thoughts (humata) and good words (hukhta) and good deeds (hvarstha). It was the official religion of Persia (Iran) for nearly 1,000 years  From tenth century CE onwards, following the Arab conquest of Iran and religious persecution, many Zoroastrians migrated to India and established in Gujarat, where they were accorded religious and economic freedom by the local King. They became known as the Parsis and adopted India as their homeland. Zoroastrianism has about190,000 followers worldwide and 5,000 in Britain

Sects :             The only surviving group following the Zoroastrian faith is Parsis. Except for two historical sects of the Shahanshahis, named after the last Shahanshahian King of Persia (Yazedegard), and the Kadmis, no other notable sects are found. Parsis observe New Year’s Day as the Day of Yazedegard.

Beliefs:  Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion; believes in Ahura Mazda as their supreme God, who is compassionate, just, creator of the universe, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, unchanging and impossible for humans to conceive, and the source of all goodness and happiness. Zoroastrians believe that everything he created is pure and should be treated with love and respect. This includes the natural environment, so Zoroastrians traditionally do not pollute the rivers, land or atmosphere.

Ahura Mazda is believed to express him in the form of two spirits, one of good (Spenta Mainyu) and the other of evil (Angra Mainyu or Ahriman Satan).  Zoroastrians believe Ahura Mazda was aided by the seven guardian angels of his primary creations - the sky, waters, earth, plants, cattle, humans and fire, in fashioning the world. These guardians are collectively known as the Bounteous Immortals (Amesha Spentas) and they form the ethical framework based on the attributes of Ahura Mazda.

            Ahura Mazda has made the world with an ethical purpose, a stage of constant strife between the forces of good and evil, and the struggle will be unabated until the forces of good prevail over those of evil and darkness. This will happen one day. When this occurs, Ahura Mazda will bring this world to an end and create a world, which will be free of suffering and evil. To facilitate this, humans have to assist HIm by exercising free moral choice and living a life of perfect righteousness and virtues such as truthfulness, chastity, charity and kindness..

            Zoroastrians believe the soul (uvan), the immortal essence or directing principle enables humans to make the choice between the forces of good and of evil on the basis of wisdom, innate reason, intellect, will and consciousness.

            Death is the negation of life and is a work of evil wreaking havoc and destruction upon Ahura Mazda’s creations. It believes in a life after death strictly in accordance with the law of retribution-heaven for people of righteous deeds and hell for those of evil deeds. However, damnation to hell is not eternal; the imperfect ones in hell will be cleansed before joining Ahura Mazda in heaven and but eventually all souls will join the blessed; the world will be perfect state and Ahura Mazda will become all-powerful, as the evil will have been made ineffective in this world by good deeds. Zoroastrianism promises an ultimate happy and good life to all. t is individuals who are responsible for moral evils; of course the evil spirit of Ahriman, and his demons seduce them. Zoroastrian beliefs can best be summed up by the maxim: Good thoughts, Good words, and Good deeds.

Worship:  Zoroastrian worship mainly consists of offering prayers to Ahura Mazda requesting him to guide the life of righteousness. The traditional Zoroastrian places of worship are fire temples in which sacred flame burns eternally in a consecrated chamber are called agiyari. The Fire is a symbol of divine purity, where sandalwood is offered to create the good attributes in life (fragrance of sandalwood symbolises good attributes). Priests tend these fires. The people visit these temples with sandalwood as offering to the sacred flames and receive cold ashes to apply their foreheads as sign of humility. Zoroastrians worship Ahura Mazda and venerate Amesha Spentas and Yazatas (venerable ones or mythical gods and goddesses) and not the fire.

Holy texts: The Zoroastrian book of the Scriptures is called The Avesta.;  has two sections:

·        The Avesta is the oldest and core part of the scriptures, which contains the Gathas. The Gathas are seventeen hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself.

·        The Younger Avesta - commentaries to the older Avesta written in later years. It also contains myths, stories and details of ritual observances.


Life Style:

At the age of seven, Zoroastrians are given a sudreh (shirt) and kusti (cord) as part of an initiation ceremony. These garments are considered sacred. They tie the kusti around the sudreh three times to remind themselves of 'Good Words, Good Thoughts, and Good Deeds'. From then on, Zoroastrians traditionally perform this ritual with prayers several times a day. A high priest (Dastur) or an authorised priest (Mobed) officiates at Zoroastrian ceremonies and may be helped by assistants (Eryad Sahebs) to the high priest. The priests wear masks over their faces so that their breath may not contaminate the sacred fire.

Family and community

Zoroastrianism is a home and community oriented religion. It supports marriage as contract and celebration. There is no tradition of monasticism or celibacy. Zoroaster himself was a family man and most worship happens in the family home.

Zoroastrianism is also about action. Zoroastrians work towards improving the local community and society in general. They tend to give generously to charities and are often behind educational and social initiatives. The Parsi community in India is particularly known for its industrious contributions to Indian society.

Man and God

Unlike some religions where man is God's child or servant, in Zoroastrianism man is considered more as God's helper. Through man's positive choices, evil will be eradicated and God's Paradise on Earth will be established.

Men and women, rich and poor, and young and old are all seen as equal. One only surpasses the other through their righteousness.

Zoroastrian weddings: The marriages usually happen within the community. The ceremony includes contract and celebration. Interfaith marriages are not encouraged.

Holy days, feasts and festivals

Festivals are a very prominent aspect of Zoroastrian worship and are closely linked with the prophet and the seasons such as Noruz  (the Iranian New Year), Khordad Sal (The birthday of Zoroaster) and seven obligatory feasts. The prayers are conducted by prayers and will engage in ritual washing as part of the ceremony.

Zoroastrian funerals; Towers of Silence

Zoroastrians believe that as soon as the breath has left it, the body becomes impure. Death is considered to be the work of Angra Mainyu, the embodiment of all that is evil, whereas the earth and all that is beautiful is considered to be the pure work of God. Contaminating the elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) with decaying matter such as a corpse is considered sacrilege. Instead of burying the corpse, Zoroastrians traditionally laid it out on a purpose built tower (dokhma or 'Tower of Silence') to be exposed to the sun and eaten by birds of prey such as vultures.