Tag Archives: Zoroasterianism

On the Commonality of God and Faith

“Monday Musings” for Monday December 22, 2014

Volume IV, No. 51/207

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The Night of Yalda, more from Mowlana Rumi (Rumi-nation)

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

There is a syzygy in the holy month of December. The stars are aligned to bring us four events carefully choreographed to produce a cosmic feast. The first event, of course, is Christmas on December 25. The other three events are Winter Solstice, December 21, the longest night of the year, Shab-e-Yalda (see below) and the shortest day of the year. The third event, to some of us equally important, is the birth of Ludwig Van (not Von) Beethoven on December 16, which this year is the beginning of Hanukah. Although not a religious holiday like Yom Kippur, Hanukkah is about rededication to the will of Yahweh. Reading religious holy books including Zoroaster’s Avesta; Hindu’s sacred and magnificent book, Bhagavad Gita; Moses’ Torah, Christians’ Bible, especially Paul’s letters in the New Testament; and Islam’s Qur’an, one becomes acutely aware of commonality of the message of these books: love, duty, responsibility, redemption, promise and possibilities for all humans, for all children of God.

SHAB-E YALDA

December 21 is the longest night of the year. In Mede and Persian history and Zoroastrian tradition, it is a holy night, “Night of Birth”, the birth of Mithra, the God of illumination and salvation. The birth of Ahura Mazda. Persian poets have written extensively about the night of Yalda (Shab-e-Yalda). Here is a stanza from Baba Taher Oryan (950-1019), the mystical Persian poet who roamed the mountains of Hamadan naked:

 

“Shab-e-Yalda is the longest night of the year,

To have more time to read and learn…

To have more time to worship….

To have more time to reflect…

To have more time to connect with the beloved and

To have more time to nurture one’s soul…”

 

We know that Plato wrote extensively about the soul, Zoroastrianism, and the night of Yalda…

May you have a fruitful and joyous Yalda night.

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More Rumi

For those hungry souls who write and want more of the wisdom and poetry of Mowlana, here is a bit of “Rumi-nation” (pun intended). This poem is about evolution:

 

Low in the earth

I lived in realms of ore and stone;

And then I smiled in many flowers;

Them roving with the wild and wandering hours,

O’er earth and air and ocean’s zone,

In a new birth,

I dived and flew,

And crept and ran,

And all the secret of my essence drew

Within a form that brought them all to view-

And lo, a Man!

And then my goal.

Beyond the clouds, beyond the sky,

In realms where none may change or die-

In angel form; and then away

Beyond the bounds of night and day,

And Life and Death, unseen or seen,

Where all that is hath ever been,

As One and Whole.

 

(Rumi: Thadani’s Translation.)

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

 

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On Forgiveness

“Monday Musings” for Monday February 3, 2014

Volume IV. No. 5/161

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FORGIVENESS

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

About a year ago, a 77 year old man came to see me about gradual onset of a devastating depression. Harry (not his real name), always a positive, energetic and productive person, had lost his will to live. He told me that he was experiencing a gnawing sensation at the pit of his stomach. He could not sleep, had lost his appetite causing him to lose a considerable amount of weight. His wife confided in me that she was afraid that “Harry would end it all.” She had carefully removed all firearms from home. This, in itself, caused further escalation of Harry’s anger and irritation. We evaluated Harry and ran appropriate laboratory tests to rule out myriad of physical causes for his depression, including endocrinopathies such as hyperparathyroidism often caused by a parathyroid adenoma, a benign cancer of the parathyroid gland, and others. By the way, this was the cause of the  late US Senator from North Carolina, John East’s depression and suicide, a perfectly curable form of depression by surgery).

In the course psychotherapy, exploring his past and family history, we came across a demon. He casually mentioned that he has not seen eye to eye with one of his sons. As a matter of fact, he became angry that we were spending so much time on that unimportant lost relationship. In the course of therapy, the issue of forgiveness was bought up and explored. Harry took the matter seriously. He had 40 years worth of anger for his estranged son. Finally, as our work progressed, he chose to approach his son. The miraculous process of forgiveness rapidly assisted his total recovery. He became well and was terminated, and his medications were gradually discontinued. In the Christmas card I received from him and his wife, they were thankful to discover the powerful effect of forgiveness. Harry is back enjoying life, being positive, energetic and productive. This process prompted me to write the following essay on “Forgiveness.”

Some Thoughts and Reflections on Forgiveness:

In the ten thousand year annals of Neolithic man, the issue of forgiveness vs. revenge occupies considerable space.  Since Sumerians’ earliest recorded history, the contributions of three stars in the intellectual constellation guide us with their luminosity and brilliance. They are St. Augustin of Hippo, born in 354, the author of The Book of God and Confessions; Moses Maimonides of Cordoba, born in 1137, author of Talmudic Laws; and Ibn Khaldoun, who penned the definitive Islamic Cannons in 1363 (born 1332, died 1405). All three spoke of grace, stoicism, altruism and forgiveness in the most compelling and persuasive manner, throughout their work. Some believe that the Lord’s Prayer, especially the passage: “Forgive us for our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”, a staple of Christianity, and the only actual piece of literature ever authored by Jesus of Nazareth, is a hand me down from Zoroaster, the 500 BC Persian prophet and author of Avesta, and Abraham. It has been vastly copied by other major religions of the world, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The celestial books of Torah, the Bible and the Holy Quran, each have hundreds of references to the issue of forgiveness and peace. A celebrated Persian poet and Sufi, Sheikh Mosleh-e-Din Saadi Shirazi, born 1210-1290, in his book, Gulestan-e-Saadi, refers to this subject with the most tender words:   “Forgiveness heals, comforts, transforms, preserves, remembers, promises, buries the dead and raises them once again.  Forgiveness refuses to be quiescent until they have exhausted all possibilities.” 

Psychologically, forgiveness is altruistic and selfless. Forgiveness does not mix with self-centeredness and narcissism. It takes discipline and selfness to be able to forgive. God created us with the gift of forgiveness, compromise and peace. With recent stunning advances in biochemistry and neuroendocrinology, we have come to know that forgiveness plays a major role in preserving the function and the architecture of our brain, our hearts and our souls. Brain research, in the last half of the twentieth century, clearly demonstrates that feelings of enmity, adversity and anxiety produce undesirable and harmful hormones, specifically beta carbolines and the bad kind of catecholamines that increase blood pressure and heart rate; decreases immune response, and lowers the number of precious T-cells that fight infections. On the other hand, data driven seminal articles in peer reviewed medical magazines such as Archives of Internal Medicine, Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine demonstrate that forgiveness, peace and a sense of spirituality decrease blood pressure, sharpens body’s immune response and lengthens life span.

One of the most overworked words in English lexicon is the word “communication”. It has almost lost its meaning and effectiveness. The tools necessary for achieving the nirvana of forgiveness are understanding and empathy, both of which are achieved through communication, talking, sharing feelings and ideas. Forgiveness is not achieved through virtual reality. Two people must see each other, talk to each other, and possibly touch each other before forgiveness takes place. One must have not only a sense of sympathy for the other person’s pain and discomfort, but empathy, to feel the pain that the other person is experiencing. There are many alienated children, parents, and in laws who fall prey to this circuitous labyrinth of hatred, intolerance and “I will not say a word to that person as long as I live” diatribe. To hate, to resent, and to avoid wastes enormous emotional energy aimlessly directed at draining, depleting and destroying.

The evil acts of September 11 have posed an unprecedented ethical challenge. How do we, as a decent and civilized nation, respond?  These events have clearly demonstrated that the answer to world ills does not come solely through advanced technology and inflated stock market values. America is the most decent and generous nation on earth. The supremacy of the rule of law, and not of kings, Shahs and Ayatollahs, guaranteeing every American the dignity of individual human right, is unprecedented.

However, In the 1950s, with lingering cold war and the age of Sputnik, America accelerated programs of science, math, and technology. While these advances are essential, we are just beginning to learn that the ultimate answer to the world’s problems lies with better understanding of ourselves and those who hate us. In this terror driven world, we must resolve to learn more about ourselves through introspection, reflection and self- examination. As an act of thanksgiving, it might be a good idea to dedicate ourselves and a portion of our time to be more prayerful, more reflective, more knowledgeable, and more altruistic. Also, it is a good time to go see and call on those family members and friends whom we have long resented. Let’s replace the beta carbolines of our brain with endorphins and dopamines!

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Opera’s Relation to Buddhism and Sufism

Monday Musing”, for Monday October 7, 2013

Volume III. No. 38/132

E9 Bayreuth  Margravial Opera Stage

Bayreuth Margravial Opera House

A Few Words About The Opera

and

How it Relates to Buddhism and Sufism

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Yesterday, October 6, 2013 was the 413th anniversary of western opera (see below). The first opera, Orpheus (Orpheo) and Eurydice was composed by Jacobo Peri and performed at Piti Palace in Florence on October 6, 1600. This date marks the beginning of Western Opera. Before that earlier in late 1590’s there was an experimental composition named Daphne, and of course before all that there was Greek opera some 2000 years earlier. In 1607 Montverde re-wrote the same opera, Orpheo and Eurydice which remains in the repertoire after 406 years.  To observe the holy birth of the opera, here are some thoughts:

Why Opera?

There are four powerful instruments used for introspection and research on self.  One can learn more about one’s self through psychoanalysis which is usually very expensive and time consuming. The other tools are studying history, theater and poetry. The last but certainly not the least is understanding and studying opera. Opera, a combination of words and music, offers us the most comprehensive and potent introspectoscope. Opera gives the participant an opportunity to become aware of one’s unconscious in dynamic gradation. Do we as viewers possess at least some of the evil and sexual identity confusion that eclipses Iago and Othello (in opera Otello)? Are we endowed with passion that made Don Jose kill Carmen? Are we capable of transcendence that come with the Zoroastrian parables in Wagner’s Ring Cycles? In order to get to know ourselves better, I believe opera should be an integral part every citizen’s cultural and intellectual diet. It is much less expensive that psychoanalysis, and while being intellectually stimulating, it is more enjoyable and entertaining.

History of Opera:

Opera is an Italian word. It means work. In the late 16th Century a group of Florentine scholars decided to get together every week and study the music and writings of the ancient Greek.  They called themselves the Florentine Camarata. It was very much like our modern day book clubs, except that these people were very serious about their work. The culmination of these studies and discussions was Jacobo Peri’s composition of Orpheo which was performed at 8:00 PM, October 6, 1600, at Piti Palace in Florence.  Of course in 1607 Claudio Monteverdi gave us his version of Orpheo. It marks the beginning of Opera. We have enjoyed 400 years of opera as result of the intense work of this group.

Types of Opera:

Italian opera dominated Europe throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries.  Around 1670’s, French opera, with its founder and inventor Jean Baptist Lully (1632-1687), emerged. Lully was an Italian orphan who immigrated to Paris at age 14. He rose to become the court composer for the Sun King, Louis 14th, who rained for 73 years. Lully gave us the French Overture and its dotted rhythm brings on grandeur, pomposity and majesty meant for Louis 14th. Other French composers followed: Jean-Philip Rameau, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Christoph Willibald Von Gluck, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Bizet etc. There are German, Russian, Chinese, and now many third world country operas. Also, there are lyric opera, grand opera, opera buffa and opera seria, just to name a few. I have chosen Carmen as an example of illustrating the power of the opera.

Carmen is an opera comic in four acts. It was written by Georges Bizet. He was a genius. Bizet died penniless at age 38, exactly three months after Carmen was staged. Had he lived three more years, he would have reaped immense wealth because of Carmen’s success all over Europe. Perhaps Bizet and Van Goch were soul brothers. They lived in poverty, yet after death, their work’s value increased immensely. Bizet knew music and composition. His musical compositions at age 17 easily compare to the music of Mendelssohn and Mozart. His one act opera in 1857, Le Docteur Miracle, shows his mastery of operatic idiom at an early age.  In Act II of Carmen, the accelerating gypsy dance is an orchestral tour de force in which dissonance and sliding harmonies paint the scene of Lilla Pastia’s underworld tavern. Bizet knew human nature.  He was as keen as Shakespeare when it came to assessing human nature. The famed German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche, in an essay on Carmen, wrote that he saw the opera 21 times.  “Every time I see Carmen, I sit still for five hours, I become more patient which is the first step of true holiness…”

Carmen is a story about love, not of higher order, but as futility, cynical, cruel and at best deadly hatred of two sexes. Love translated in the horror proclaimed in Don Jose’s last cry “yes, I have killed her…I have killed my adored…” Carmen, the epitome of carnal desire, temptation and primal raw sexuality, is the Eve and the serpent rolled in one. In act III she sees her mortality in the cards that she and her gypsy friends were reading. She gave into her fate and led a reckless life. Don Jose, a decent and simple soldier when he first met Carmen, turns into a love crazed killer. He is Adam. He is Kane. He would not have been transformed into a killer if the violence and killing were not in him to start. There is a bit of Adam, though deeply hidden, in all of us. Don Jose is Adam. Jose’s unrestrained male sexuality and machismo ultimately caused his destruction.

Perhaps like Nietzsche who claimed to become a better philosopher every time he sat through a performance of Carmen, we can see this very deeply moving and instructive work as the beginning.

Opera, Sufism and Buddhism:

One must read the 19th century German Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) ,whose writings are very much imbued in Sufism and Buddhism to understand, “To be, one must first not be…” Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the genius anti-Semitic German musician and composer of opera (he hated the word opera because it is an Italian word and he hated Italians(!) and who called his work “Music Drama”), was a disciple of Schopenhauer. His operas, especially Tristan and Isolde, and the Ring Cycle consisting of four operas, 18 hours, are full of Zoroastrian parables and Buddhist reference to “nothingness” before becoming “something.” This ruthless, racist and megalomaniacal genius not only composed his own operas, but wrote the libretto and conducted the work. His compositions are not just opera but an all encompassing Gesamtkunstwerk, like a super bowl half time show! The writings of Rumi, Shams Tabrizi and Baba Taher Oryan, all Persian Sufi Poets, assert the Buddhist notion of the issue of “being”, the western concept of which is called ontology. I am inserting an essay on opera from years ago to whet your appetite.

In my mind, opera continues to be the most complete art form. It has the greatest capacity for communication and impact per second of any other art form including my most favorite art form, classical music. What I wonder is when and where in NC we will see some modern operas the list of which is approaching 90. I have noticed and admired the Met’ s willingness to add some of the modern operas such as Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo as Cyrano, Sondra Radvanovsky (Roxanne), and librettist Henry Cain, this season. I yet to see any opera by Michael Tippett, Hans Verner Henze and Olivier Messiaen (I saw his Saint Francois D’Assie in Paris several months ago), and other composers. As a psychiatrist we try to help people with addiction. Addiction to opera is one addiction that I recommend.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

 

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On Persian History and Christianity

“Monday Mornings” for Monday March 18, 2013

Volume III, No. 11/115

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Norooz, Persian (Iranian) New Year

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

NOROOZ

March 21, the first day of spring, vernal equinox, is also the first day of the Persian New Year. Iranians will celebrate year 5774 on Thursday. The Persian people and the Persian civilization were there before Moses (1590 BC-1470 BC, lived to be 120 years) wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (scholarship not-withstanding)……

The Persians were there before the Code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian law code, was written in 1772 BC.

Persia, the Persian Empire and Zoroaster gave humanity monotheism, and issued the first declaration of human rights. Persia was there before the Old and the New Testaments….

Avesta was there before the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation…. Monotheism was exhorted in Gata and the Book of Gushtasb by Zarathustra before Moses wrote about Yahweh….

The Zoroastrian code of conduct: “good thought, Good word, and Good deed” was there long before the Ten Commandments…

Cyrus the Great of Persia liberated the Jews 500 years BC (Babylonian Captivity). There are dozens of references made to him and to the Persian Empire in the Bible. In Isaiah 45 Cyrus is named Messiah. Additional references may be found in Chronicles, Ezra, Daniels, Hezekiah, Maccabees 1, Maccabees 2, Maccabees 3, Maccabees 4, Maccabees 5, Esdras, Sirach, and Esther. 

The world’s first charter of human rights, Cyrus Cylinder, housed in the British Museum, has started its exhibition tour in the United States. It is being exhibited in Arthur M Sackler Gallery (the late Dr. Sackler was a psychiatrist).  It will go to J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angles, in December. The writing is elegant cuneiform (Mikhi) script (link below).

And the Persian New Year, vernal equinox, when the day and night are equal and exactly 12 hours long, representing nature’s exquisite justice, was celebrated 5774 years ago, in the month of Edar Awal which followed the month of Shavat, as the Persian new year or Norooz. Therefore, on March 21, vernal equinox, we celebrate Norooz, the first day of the Persian calendar 5774.

We are Persians; we are inheritors of such dazzling history and civilization….

And with humility and gratitude, we share this joyous occasion with all humanity.  Happy Norooz (New Day, New Year) to All.

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 *The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/2013/03/the-cyrus-cylinder-goes-on-view-at-the-sackler-gallery/?utm_source=smithsonianhistandarch&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=201303-hist

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