Digest of terms

Zoroastrian (Parsi) Ethics

Parsis (Persians) are the heirs of Zoroastrians seeking refuge in India from persecution in Persia in the 10th century CE, where their originator lived at a date between the 12th and 6th centuries BCE (scholars disagree exactly when). The formulaic summary of their ethic is: good thoughts, good work, good deeds. In practical terms this is taken to mean virtues such as honesty, generosity, hospitality, industry, pursuit of education (fewer than two per cent of Parsis are thought to be illiterate), consideration for others and charity. In more abstract terms the moral life is seen as following the middle path - the kind of position advocated later by Aristotle. Sin is defined as excess or deficiency, a conception not always easy to apply except in very general terms, e.g. fasting and asceticism at one extreme, and gluttony and debauchery on the other.

Parsis have been disproportionately successful in the business world, in trade and manufacturing (the great Tata Steel company was a pioneer of workers' rights way in advance of the West), and are noted for charitable giving, especially for schools and colleges, for hospitals (a medical career is valued particularly highly, and Parsi doctors are often preferred because traditional rules of purity and pollution are now often construed more as guides to hygiene), and for relief of the poor.

Contraception is widely accepted, homosexuality, however, is regarded as sinful, as are suicide and euthanasia. Abortion tends to be reluctantly tolerated, though permitted in order to save a mother's life. Burial was traditionally thought to pollute the earth, while cremation would pollute the fire, both regarded as sacred elements, hence the Towers of Silence, on which corpses were picked clean by vultures and the bones subsequently removed to a charnel house. Nowadays, though, especially in the West, cremation is widely accepted, it being argued that modern cremation does not involve the 'sacred flame'. Burial of the ashes is also accepted.

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