When I was growing up in Mumbai, in a Parsi Zarathushti (Zoroastrian) family, I had a unique spiritual experience that has left its indelible mark on my consciousness.
I lived with my parents and siblings in Khetwadi/Grant Road area of South Mumbai. Many Parsis had settled there among other communities. We lived in a building owned by a Jewish family. There was a sari printing operation in one of the buildings in our compound, owned by a Jain family, with their Muslim artisans. And on the ground floor of that building was a Christian female doctor who ran a maternity clinic.
Both my parents were religious, and recited daily prayers at home, and so did I during my high school days. My Sunday morning routine was to accompany my father to the large Fire Temple near Charni Road railway station. This temple is one of eight highest grade temples in India. The holy fire in these temples was consecrated with many purification rituals. Praying to God in front of this fire left a peaceful ethereal aura around me.
One summer night while lying awake on a straw mat on the floor of our living room, I saw an unforgettable apparition. Next to my father’s desk and chair there was a tall figure in brilliant white dress (similar to what our priests wear) with its top almost touching the ceiling and the feet about a foot above the floor; the face was not visible. I skipped a heartbeat, awed by the sight, dumbstruck and shaken.
Next morning, I started reflecting on what had happened. My immediate thought was that it may have been a presence of Saraosha, a spiritual being we call a Yazad (similar to an angel in Christianity) who is considered a messenger of God, Ahuramazda (Wise Creator), and who protects our soul, because one of the prayers I recited every day was in praise of that spiritual being.
I connected the appearance of that divine apparition in that location to the fact that my father, mother, and I would sit on that chair with an oil lamp on the desk to say our daily prayers. It is believed that the recitation of our prayers (manthras) in the 5,000-year-old ancient sacred Avestan language (similar to Vedic Sanskrit) of pre-Islamic Iran, if done with a pure heart, has the power to create a divine presence. The event solidified my belief in God and His spiritual creations.
Many years later while watching an episode of the TV serial “Mahabharata” in San Jose, there was a dialogue from God declaring something like, “I shall appear in front of my devotee in whatever form the devotee worships me ….” Remembering my childhood vision I connected that dialogue to conclude that my conception of God and spiritual beings in the form of all-white costumed priestly figures may have caused me to see God or his angel, Saraosha, in such a form.
Some people believe that we don’t need to go to a temple or any special place to find God, and in a sense it is true for some people. But for me and many others, a place that has been sanctified, kept clean, and filled with the accumulated vibrations of prayers (manthras) creates an environment that is conducive to connection to the divine.
Whether it is a temple, church, mosque, or a corner of our residence that is kept clean and used regularly for prayers, psychologically and physically such a place helps us get closer to God.
I have not had a similar experience later in life, but there have been a few instances when my heartfelt prayers to God during difficult times have been answered in an almost miraculour manner. We grow up inheriting our religious faith from our parents, but sometimes we have doubts about the existence of God or about God’s power against evil, especially when we see injustice, suffering of good people, and evildoers enjoying life. Personal experiences of a miraculous nature helped me to fight such occasional doubts.
One consequence of the special event of my youth has been to inspire me to become a priest in later life.
Although I wished to become a priest in my youth, I could not do so because it was hereditary and my father was not a priest. After working as an engineer and software manager most of my career, I finally got the opportunity when the North American Priest Council, responding to a shortage of practicing priests in the U.S. and Canada, offered to train anyone regardless of heredity. I finally fulfilled my childhood dream and now enjoy serving the community with prayers on happy as well as sad occasions.
Maneck N. Bhujwala lives in Huntington Beach with his wife, Mahrukh, and volunteers as a priest.