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Sousan Abadian Addresses the Crisis Plenary

Sousan Abadian addresses the Crisis Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Greetings, beloved sisters, brothers, and my non-binary siblings. I begin again by paying homage to the traditional spiritual guardians of this land, this land that is so generously provided refuge to me and my family and many of us here. Those original caretakers who first cherished these sacred lands and lakes, whose ancestors lived and died here, gathered and did sacred rituals here for many thousands of years before we ever set foot as extended guests on their territories.

We cannot make up for all that they have lost. I thank them and humbly request those guardians in the spirit realm to watch over these proceedings. May our thoughts, words, and actions be worthy and aligned with the highest good of all our human family and non-human relatives. I also call upon the wisdom keepers to my own Zoroastrian lineage who have also survived against all odds, those who have gone before me and stand behind me, and I acknowledge myself as one among them in a long and unbroken line of lineage keepers. I thank you for welcoming me here in the name of this most ancient order. Today I speak in both my capacities as a scholar and a spiritual elder.

This gathering has put out a call, a call to conscience. Many of us here sense that we were born for this time period, this time of great crisis and opportunity. What are we being called to be and do? And how do we join hands to be and do it together? I feel deeply moved to be here to amplify this call to conscience in part because it’s part of the origin story of my birth tradition which began with the sounding of the call thousands of years ago.

The Gathas or sacred hymns attributed to Zarathustra, known as Zoroaster by the West as the founder of Zoroastrianism, opens with the same call to conscience and asks, “Who among you will step up to address the suffering and injustices rampant in our world?” Zoroastrian dynasty had a Shalalric tradition called Asbabad, and which influenced Western chivalry. 

Iranians have, from time immemorial, sounded a call to all of the knights of light, regardless of gender, to defend and create all that is life-affirming, true, and beautiful. We have sounded the call to honor our ultimate power, the power of choice, to choose expansive love and shared liberation. Part of that call is a call not just to conscience, but to a greater consciousness, which requires awareness of our toxic stories and the choice we have to co-create a new story. The collective stories and beliefs of humanity have the power to shape our realities going forward.

In my recently published book, Generative Cultural Renewal, I explore what it means to weave a new story. I emphasize the word generative because not all attempts at cultural renewal are generative. They do not all bring benefit to humanity, and in fact, often increase, not decrease, our trauma footprint. To create a new, more generative story, we have to begin by asking ourselves how aspects of our religions subtly and not so subtly damage people. damage our relationships and damage our natural world.

We can courageously ask how much traumatic damage have our religions done and are doing out of pure arrogance. For example, the belief that we have the one best way and only way to God or that we have the one truth, religious literacy perhaps should include not just the feel-good elements of how wonderful our faiths are, but literacy means the humility and integrity to bring awareness to the shadow side of our religions.

This includes questioning the prevailing religious beliefs that speak of a sinful and not-to-be-trusted humanity that needs saving by an outside superior force, whether a messiah or now artificial intelligence. Moreover, some are apparently worthy of being saved while others are not. 

According to these narratives, the divine is punitive and women have limited value. Earth herself may not even be worth redeeming since the spiritual and material realms are considered separate with the spiritual superior to the material. Life on earth is not cherished. So it’s no wonder with a story like this that we have the world we have. Generative cultural renewal entails not only preservation and restoration but also making significant alterations in our beliefs in order to reduce our trauma footprint. Let us together resolve to tell a different story, one that Iranians have enchanted in the streets, Zanzendagi Azadi, woman, life, freedom. And I would add a fourth phrase to the important trio, Zamin or Earth.

In my birth country, the brave and courageous people of Iran are heeding the call to conscience. conscience. And for doing so, they are being indiscriminately killed, raped, blinded and tortured. Let us show them that they have the support of countless millions around the world, taking up their call to woman, life, freedom. Let them know they’re not alone. As I shared this morning during the Women’s Assembly, this call is not just a call of remembrance for Iranians. It’s for all of humanity. A call for all of us to restore ourselves to our ancient knowing.

Regardless of whatever religion we identify with now, all our indigenous wisdom traditions new of the sacredness of the earth, the natural world, cherish the women who birthed us into this glorious beautiful earth, valued the preciousness of life on earth and entrusted us with the freedom to explore truth in order to spiritually evolve. Woman, life, freedom, Earth is a call to conscience for all humankind.

 It might seem as though the forces of aggression and oppression are gaining ground. As we currently witness the surge of authoritarianism around the world and decreasing destruction of our planet.

 But let me offer a hopeful perspective for our times. As we feel coerced, subjugated, denied our freedoms as though we are losing ground, this can elicit in us a powerful impulse to break free.

 We have a choice to use this pullback as an evolutionary tension that can shoot us forward. Imagine this. It is as though the string of a bow is being drawn back and what it is taught, it will then snap forward in an accelerated rate, catapulting the arrow towards the bull’s eye of healing, greater freedom, and justice. As we experience encroaching oppression and suffering, we can choose to have this current pullback accelerate our expansion into higher consciousness and a global cultural renaissance.

In closing, let us together dream a new dream for humanity. Let us bravely rewrite our collective stories. Let us enter into a global conversation about what generativity means and how we can get there together. I ask you, who is prepared to join me in renewing the pledge in defense and celebration of the future, the Earth, and all her children? Thank you.

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