The Goal of Wellness & Healing - Ushta
Ushta is a state of being where body, mind and spirit are in a state of wellness and serenity (armaiti). The goal of life in Zoroastrianism is to achieve ushta. A sound spirit (mainyu) and mind (man) in a sound body (tan) - stated differently: a state of spiritual, mental and physical wellness - enables a person to lead an active, meaningful and fulfilling life and realize her or his khvarenah - their higher calling and full potential. It therefore behoves a person to actively build and maintain wellness. A lack of wellness can interrupt this quest or state of being. Zoroastrians through the ages have developed approaches to healing and restoration.
While physical health is important for human beings to lead full and productive lives, the achievement of ushta does not rely on perfect health where such an ideal is not possible. Even when a person approaches the end of their physical lives, an aim of Zoroastrianism is to approach such an eventuality in spiritual health and ushta - serenity and equanimity.
Zoroastrian Wellness & Healing Concepts
The Two Aspects of Existence & Healing
In Zoroastrianism, being has spiritual (the mainyu) and material / physical (the gaetha) aspects. Therefore, in order for wellness or healing to be complete and effective, both aspects need to be addressed. Further, since the spiritual existence infuses the physical, spiritual wellness or healing empowers the physical body to maintain or heal itself.
Healing from a Zoroastrian perspective goes beyond seeking a physical cure for a specific malady or symptom. A cure, the application of an external aid or an intervention, assists healing to occur from within. A cure can provide the environment for healing to occur. Healing occurs when the body invokes its own resources to restore a person to the state before the illness occurred.
If illness occurs, the human body naturally seeks restoration to health through healing. If a lack of mental wellness occurs, a person needs to dig deeper and marshal her or his spiritual faculties into order to heal. Physical (including the mental) and spiritual healing are all interrelated and the Zoroastrian approaches to healing assist a person's natural healing abilities both as an individual and as the member of a community.
An example of the Zoroastrian approach to holistic health promotion and healing is the haoma discipline. Haoma employs natural cures provided by nature while simultaneously invoking the spiritual healing afforded by the manthra - verses contained in Zoroastrian scripture. The approach seeks to establish harmony and the removal of imbalances between the physical and spiritual aspects of an individual.
Spiritual Wellness & Healing
Spiritual wellness and healing involves various aspects: the wellness and healing of the spirit, increasing an individual's spiritual strength, the spiritual power of the manthra - the ancient prayer, as well as invoking external spiritual powers - be they guardian angels (fravashis), divine entities or angels (yazatas or fereshtes), or what some may call the power of the universe.
This aspect of Zoroastrianism requires faith and not all Zoroastrians subscribe to this faith for some consider wellness and healing through prayer as a form of superstition. For orthodox Zoroastrians, however, the primary vehicle for accessing the spiritual realm is prayer - the recitation of the ancient Zoroastrian manthra (also see our page on Healing Prayer).
Physical Wellness & Healing
Physical wellness and healing involves the physical body of a person as well as physical and materials aids to wellness and healing.
Iranians are noted for their love of the outdoors and being in touch with nature. Urban Iranians and Zoroastrians in particular constructed baghs or garden on the outskirts of the city - sanctuaries to which they would retreat on weekends and holidays (see our page on Persian Gardens). These gardens or, for that matter, any garden that can serve as a sanctuary, play an important role in healing. So do the outdoors - especially verdant areas with flowing streams. Plant life is associated with the amesha spenta Amertat and longevity.
Before the advent of temples - a relatively modern development, Zoroastrian community worship was conducted on hilltops and high on mountain slopes. This feature automatically made Zoroastrians regularly walk and climb in the outdoors - at all times of the year. Simple hiking, in hilly country where possible, and reciting a manthra (silently when appropriate) whenever the spirit moves one, and especially next to a body of water (associated with the amesha spenta Haurvatat), will serve as a substitute for the traditional Zoroastrian practice.
All Zoroastrian ceremonies are traditionally conducted sitting on a sheet spread on the floor. Amongst the symbolism afforded by this practice is humility and being grounded - literally and figuratively - with the earth. The earth is associated with the amesha spenta Armaiti and serenity.
In all things that are not intrinsically harmful, moderation and the avoidance of excess or deficiency is a key guiding principle. The consumption of wine is an example of where this principle applies.
Holistic Approaches to Healing
Restoration, Well-being and Wellness
The spectrum of healing methods prescribed by Zoroastrianism form a holist and natural approach to healing. The methods include:
- the spiritual efficacy and serenity of the manthra and accompanying meditation;
- the health and healing powers of the haoma plants;
- surgery; cleanliness and purity;
- the benefit of righteous, healthy, active living according to the amesha spenta ideals;
- the connection with nature in orchard-like gardens;
- the healing power of personal care;
- pilgrimage (to the Pirs in Yazd and Udvada in India), as well as living in a fair and just society without fear.
The holist approach also includes our way of life - the manner in which we lead our lives - the holistic and healthy approach being a life led according to the ideals of the amesha spentas.
Holistic Way of Life - the Amesha Spenta Ideals
In the Overview page of this web-site, we noted that the amesha spentas (amesha meaning eternal or ageless & spenta meaning brilliance, enlightenment and beneficence) are ideals to which humans can aspire (also see Way of Life in the Home Page). In human beings, they are:
- Vohu Mano is the good mind.
- Asha is principled, honest, beneficent, ordered, lawful living - for some, righteousness and piety.
- Khshathra is having dominion and sovereignty over one's life.
- Armaiti is serenity.
- Haurvatat is being holistic and healthy. It is also seeking excellence in all we do.
- Amertat is transcending mortal limitations through good health, by handing down the spiritual flame or mainyu athra, and by building an enduring, undying spirit, the united fravashi.
Vohu Mano is associated with light - the light of knowledge and wisdom. Light - the mental and the physical light - is the first essential ingredient to wellness and healing. Asha is associated with fire - the spiritual and temporal fire, the energy of the spirit and the body - both essential to wellness and healing. Khshathra is associated with steely resolve, personal responsibility and self-reliance.
We note from the above that the first three amesha spentas concern our thoughts, words and deeds, as well as the guiding principles behind them. The next three amesha spentas are concerned with our state of being both physically and spiritually.
Armaiti, the first of this 'second phase', is concerned with serenity and equanimity, the foundation for a healthy spirit. It is associated with the earth, being grounded and connected to the earth - and from which grows the tree of life and the healing plants of haoma. Haurvatat is being holistic and healthy is all aspects of one's physical and spiritual live style. It is associated with the waters which bring life to the soil, and to which in return, haoma adds strength. Amertat is an undying spirit and a long and healthy corporeal life while we are a part of this existence. It is associated with plant life and the healing plants of haoma at the centre of which stands Gokard, the tree of life, today symbolized by the long-lived cypress tree. It is in the gardens of nature and the gardens of people, the baghs, that all three come together and where a person can retreat to restore her or his body and spirit.
In Zoroastrian scripture, the next concept associated with wellness and healing is Airyaman. The Yasna verse devoted to Airyaman is Y 54.1 (also called Airyaman Ishyo), the verse that immediately follows the last Gatha verse (the Gathas were composed by Zarathushtra himself). The concept behind Airyaman later became a yazata - an angel with guardianship of the qualities and principles behind the concept. The Airyaman Ishyo is a manthra often recited with the Doa Tandorosti, a prayer for good health and a sound body (also see our page on the Healing Prayer. In the Middle Persian text, the Dinkard 8.37.13 the amesha spenta Asha is paired with Airyaman, Asha being associated with spiritual health while Airyaman is associated with corporeal health and haoma. In Dinkard (3.157), it is under the guardianship of Airyaman that a physician can provide healing using the medicinal plants that are part of the haoma family.
[Note: Airyaman and its Vedic equivalent are translated as 'brotherhood'. However, the words are also associated with with word Aryan.]
Types of Healers
Corresponding the the elements of the holistic approaches to well-being, wellness, healing and restoration, assistance is provided by healers. In Yasht 3.6 (Ardavahisht Yasht. Also see Vendidad 7.44) five healers are mentioned and we list them below (with the Avestan / Middle Persian names beside them):
1. One who heals with goodness and care (Asho-Baeshazo / Ashoo-Pezeshk) (righteous and healthy living cf. amesha spentas),
2. One who heals with justice (Dato-Baeshazo / Daad-Pezeshk) (e.g. Dastur. Cf. conflict resolution),
3. One who heals with surgery (Kareto-Baeshazo / Kard-Pezeshk) (see surgery below),
4. One who heals with plants (Urvaro-Baeshazo / Gyaah-Pezeshk) (see our page on Haoma), and
5. One who heals with the manthra (Mathro-Baeshazo / Mantreh-Pezeshk) (see our page on the Healing Prayer).
The verse goes on to say that "The most efficacious is the one who heals with the manthra. The righteous who help rejuvenate the body are healers - they who provide restorative healing."
All four of these aspects of healing became part of the competence of the senior-most and most accomplished mobeds or magi - holistic physicians renowned through the known world, so much so, that the even Greeks who prided themselves on their own advancements, thought of the results of the magi's healing as being magi-cal.
Healers Through History
We read in scripture, that the science of restorative healing that is so central to Zoroastrianism, in fact preceded Zoroastrianism - making it a very ancient science. Yasna 9.4 states that Vivanghvant, father of Yima (King Jamshid) was the first person to prepare the plant-based health giving and healing haoma juice. The tradition was eventually passed down to Zarathushtra's father (Y. 9.13). In between these two events, the Vendidad (20.2) credits Thrita (Also Thraetaona identified as legendary Pishdadian King Feridoon) as being the first holistic physician.
Further, during Thrita's time many hundreds and thousands of healing plants - centred on the Gaokerena (white haoma plant in the Pahlavi Vendidad) - were identified and cures found for numerous ailments and diseases that caused untimely death (V. 20.4). The few aliments that can be identified are the general conditions of pain, fever, rot, and infection. The other information is lost to us.
|A scene from Ferdowsi's Shahnameh.|
Rudabeh gives birth to Rustam by caesarean section
through her side. The man in the image is a mobed,
a Zoroastrian priest, physician and surgeon (cf. magus)
For surgery, legendary Thrita (see section immediately above) developed a surgical knife whose 'top and bottom... be bound with gold'* or 'of which the point and the base were set in gold.'** (Gold is a stainless metal better suited for surgery and sterilization than ancient iron or steel. We may surmise that gold being soft, the gold edge was set in a steel knife.)
[* Pahlavi Vendidad 20.3(12), Martin Haug translation in Essays on the Sacred Writings of the Parsees 1878, p. 392. ** James Darmesteter 1880. The Vendidad p. 220, note 6.]
In the Shahnameh , Ferdowsi mentions a mobed using a knife of blue steel to deliver the legendary Rustam by caesarean section (figure 1), and his mother Rudabeh being given a healing drink of milk and plants (cf. haoma) with the dried residue placed on the stitched cut as a dressing. The verse from the Shahnameh reads:
Simorgh's (the mythical giant bird) advice to Zal:
"Bring a blue-steel dagger and
Seek an accomplished surgeon.
Calm the lady first with wine to ease her pain and fear,
Then let the physician ply his craft
And take the lion from its lair
By piercing her waist while she is unconscious.
Then to stop the bleeding, stitch up the cut.
Put trouble, care, and fear aside, and
Rub with milk and musk a plant that I will show you
And dry them in the shade (cf. haoma).
Dress and anoint Rudabeh's wound and
Watch her come to life."
While every one looked on amazedly
With wounded spirit and with bloodshot eyes.
Sindukht, the royal maid,
Wept tears of blood in torrents, asking:
"How can the infant come forth through the side?"
There came a mobed, one deft of hand,
Who made the moon-faced lady bemused with wine,
Then pierced her side while she was all unconscious,
And having turned the infant's head aright
Delivered her enormous babe uninjured.
None had seen a thing so strange.
A day and night the mother lay asleep,
Bemused, and unconscious.
The cut on her side had been sown up
And her anguish relieved by the dressing.
Nutrition and Yin-Yang
The concept of yin-yang is similar to the Zoroastrian concept of 'the two' as a fundamental feature of creation. While in matters of ethics - right and wrong, good and bad - Zoroastrianism guiding principles require making a choice between one or the other, in aspects of healing, health, diet and nutrition, Zoroastrianism precepts are similar to those suggested by the yin-yang discipline. In orthodox Yazdi communities, healings foods such as the aush stew are prepared with the view of maintaining or restoring the balance of 'hot' and 'cold' in the body. Foods are classified as being 'hot' and 'cold' and those who are familiar with this traditional knowledge will recommend the right kind of food to heal a person. This concept applies to herbal remedies as well. Herbs are an essential ingredient of all traditional Zoroastrian Iranian foods. A spiritual element is added when a prayer is said over the foods - a practice followed at traditional Yazdi Gahanbars and Jashnes.
Living Testimony to a Holistic Lifestyle - the Villagers of Meymand
In our page on Maymand, a troglodyte (cave dweller) village, we note in the section on Medicinal Herbs - the Haoma Tradition, that some of the residents live in semi-nomadic life. As part of their annual routine, during the summer, they take their herds of goat and sheep to the higher slopes for grazing. There was no need for a special physical exercise routine - what we call mountain hiking and camping was an integral part of their lifestyle. While the animals are grazing, the shepherds collect wild nuts, seeds and medicinal herbs such as wild pistachio, almond, walnut, cumin seeds, black thyme, rosemary, yarrow, cumin, hollyhock, buttercup, fennel, peppermint, liquorice, and London rocket seed. On their return to the village, the residents make their herbal harvest available to others. They do so with advice and knowledge of which herbs are useful for the maintenance of health and which ones combat specific illnesses. One such dispenser of natural herbs and remedies is a woman called Salma. In 2008, parents were living and in good health. her mother was 97 and her father was 115 years of age. The diet of the villagers and shepherds of Maymand is a simple vegetable aush of stew supplemented by dairy products, nuts and traditional breads called naan. Eggs are a treat and meat is eaten on especial occasion only. A similar lifestyle used to be followed in parts of Yazd. Their lifestyle - living in close contact with the earth, climbing and roaming the hillsides, herbal tonics and remedies in the tradition of haoma, spiritual observances and a simple, balanced, nutritious diet - is a testament to the efficacy of the holistic lifestyle discussed in these pages.
Complementary Wellness & Healing Disciplines:
Yoga & Ti Chi
Yoga and Tia chi practices are fairly consistent with Zoroastrian healing precepts and can be considered a natural extension of holist Zoroastrian healing principles as they also seek to restore balance, harmony and serenity in both body and spirit.