Muhammad Yusuf Khan – England
Review of Religions, August 1996
The history of mankind unveils a constant struggle and the ceaseless warfare between the GOOD and EVIL forces in the universe. At times, people are, in general, drifted to moral turpitude and breach of ethical discipline. The nefarious designs of mischievous persons behind power politics create a scenario of widespread unrest, the absence of social norms in the community and the disruption of peace and tranquillity around. In such an atmosphere, only a man of outstanding virtuous calibre and divinely gifted spiritual demeanour can, come to the rescue and relieve the masses from the evil influence pervading the land. The Saviour, better known as the Reformer, the Warner, the Messenger or the Prophet, is entrusted, by God Almighty with the sacred mission of guiding the people in the right direction. He would preach them to do good deeds, to refrain from malicious and sinful activities and to worship Allah, the Holy and High, only.
The Holy Qur’an, in this connection, states as under:
And we did raise among every people a Messenger, preaching; `Worship Allah and shun the Evil one’. Surah Al-Nahl (16:37)
It would be relevant to mention here the ideas of a western writer Thomas Carlyle on the subject:
`The most precious gift that Heaven can give to the Earth; a man of `genius’ as we call it; the Soul of a Man actually sent down from the skies with a God’s message to us, – this we waste away as an idle artificial firework, sent to amuse us a little, and sink it into ashes, wreck and ineffectuality; such reception of a Great Man I do not call perfect either!’
One of the men of `genius’, bestowed upon the Earth by God the Glorious, in the ancient times, was Zarathustra (Greek name Zoroaster), the founder of the Persian faith Zoroastrianism.
I have chosen Zarathustra and his faith for study because he has been mentioned as the first to represent the wisdom of the East in Europe, and it has been stated that Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the revealed religions in the world. Besides Zoroaster is commonly known as the National Prophet of Persia (now Iran), which formed an important part of the Middle East popularly called the `Cradle of ancient civilisations’.
Zoroastrianism, (also named Masdaysnism, and Parseeism in India and Pakistan) although the pre-Islamic religion of Iran, survives there only in minority in isolated areas and remains secluded from the wider population. Zoroastrians were the founders of a vast empire, and for centuries their civilization flourished under three successive mighty Persian empires: the Achaemenians, the Parthians, and the Sassanians. But at present, their entire world population has been mentioned to be nearly 140,000 persons scattered across the globe. A large number of the members of this Community, about 82,000, are settled in Bombay (India) and some 3,000 in Karachi (Pakistan), but with great prosperity. Their smaller groups have established centres in almost every important city of the West. Their worldwide strength is found to be declining gradually due to the increased number of marriages out of the Community and also owning to the low birth rate. More so, because the entry to this faith is closed to outsiders as no conversion from other religions to Zoroastrianism is permitted.
Before describing about the life and the teachings of Zarathustra and his faith, it appears necessary to present the historical background of the people, the area and the environments in which the religion developed and flourished.
The historical roots and the development of the Persians, or for that matter the Zoroastrians, are questions that are still unresolved. As stated, the story of this religion began sometime in third millennium BCE with the Indo-Europeans. It was in about 3000 BCE that a group of the tribes in the near east of Europe started to split up. Some travelled south and settled in Greece and Rome, others proceeded north and settled in Scandinavia, yet others were pasturing their herds in the great plains on the east of the Caspian by about 2000 BCE. There, they made home for sometime and named themselves `Arya’ (Aryans); meaning `noble’, but the scholars call them `Indo-Iranians’. In about 1800 BCE, they broke up into two groups and travelled eastwards in two waves. The first one passed through the northern Persia, leaving a few settlers there, carrying the main body to the west India. The second wave settled in Persia.
It is generally held that the Medes and the Persians were the two groups of Aryans who occupied and settled in Iran in the course of several centuries including also those settled there by, and shortly after 1500 BCE. The Medes were the first Aryans who made an impact in west Asia. They became the greatest power sometime during the eighth century BCE.
As regards the religious atmosphere during the reign of the Medes, the group of priests that exerted influence on the course and contents of the religious evolution were the Magis. They were politically and socially very powerful. They were highly ritualistic, offered sacrifices to the deities, interpreted dreams, recited evil-dispelling spells, killed obnoxious creatures and followed many pursuits. They did not find favour with the Achaemenians and during the reign of Darius, they fell into complete disgrace. They, being intellectual people, chose to embrace Zoroastrianism and came to terms with the ruling class. In post-Darius period they managed to enter the political and religious hierarchy and regain their social status.
The Persians trace their history back to an ancestor called Achaemenes. But it was Cyrus II, a fifth generation descendent of Achaemenes and a young prince of Fars (Greek `Peris’ from which the terms `Parsee’ and `Persians’ derive), who overthrew the Medes in 550 BCE, and established the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 BCE). He conquered the entire Asian territory from the borders of India to Greece. His empire stretched from India through Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) to Syria-Canaan. He held all the peoples of his extensive empire together by his innovative policy although they were having different cultures, distinct religious beliefs and speaking different languages. He accepted the existing institutions, respected the local customs, and honoured the gods of all the people within his realm.
The Holy Qur’an (Surah Al-Kahf, 84-99) has called Dhu’l Qarnain a righteous servant of God, blessed with divine revelation. He is described as a conqueror, a kind and just ruler and it is said that he treated the nations subdued by him benevolently, and lastly, it is also mentioned about him, that he reached a midway region where the savage people and Gog and Magog had made inroads. The Holy Bible agrees with all the merits, specified in the Holy Qur’an about Dhu’l Qamain, and has attributed them to the King Cyrus. Therefore, none else but Cyrus II could have been the Quranic Dhu’l Qarnain.
After the death of Cyrus II, his military expeditions were continued by his son Cambyses II (529-522 BCE) and the succeeding descendants Darius (522-486 BCE), Xerxes (486-465 BCE), and Artaxerxes (465-425 BCE). During the reign of Artaxerxes I however, which although continued for forty years, revolts appeared in Egypt and in the other satrapies, and intermittent warfare continued for a long time with the Greek states. As a consequence, internal decay within the Achaemenid empire crept in. It was only on the accession of Artaxerxes III (359-338 BCE) to the throne, that the earlier boundaries of the empire were re-established but that also for a brief period. The empire finally came to an end at the hands of Alexander during the reign of Darius III (336-331 BCE), after a decisive battle between them on the east of Tigris River near the plain of Arbela. Darius III was forced to flee and was killed and his Army retired to the east, leaving Alexander the Great as the King of Asia.
Sometimes before these events Zarathustra, has been stated to have appeared. Where and When? This we will discuss in the succeeding paragraphs.
Zarathustra (He of the Golden Light), was the founder of the ancient Persian religion Zoroastrianism, which is known as such by his name Zoroaster in the West. It is derived from Latin Zoroastres, and that is modelled after the Greek Zorastres. The sacred book of the faith, Avesta, mentions him consistently as Zarathustra, while in Pahlavi version the name is Zaratusht and in the modern Persian he is called as Zardusht, Zartusht, or Zarathust.
Date of Birth
His exact date of birth is disputed. The Greek classical writers, quoting prominent historical personalities like Aristotle, Hermodorus, and Xanthus (fifth century BCE), and Plutarch (ca. 46-120 CE), place him at a time earlier than 6000 BCE. Eudoxus (ca. 365 BCE) mentioned about it to be 6000 years before the death of Plato (347 BCE). Some have placed him during a time between 1750 BCE and 1000 BCE, especially when Persia was emerging from the Stone Age. Al-Biruni (973-1048) has written the precise date of appearance of Zarathustra as 1000 BCE, whether it was the date of birth or the date of appearance on the scene after his visions, is a matter requiring interpretation. According to Zoroastrian tradition, he flourished `258 years before Alexander’, which referring to his conquest of Persepolis, the capital of Achaemenid empire, in 330 BCE, arrives at 588 BCE. Zoroaster was of forty-two years, when King Vishtaspa (Greek Hystaspes) of Chorasmia was converted, and the former lived for seventy years (as stated). It is also traditionally believed that the Greek philosopher Phythagoras studied with him. His date of birth is thus taken to be falling between 628-551 BCE, although this traditional belief is unacceptable to modern scholars.
Place of Birth
This is another controversial matter. Some call him old Iranian; others have stated him to be a native of Rhages, modern Rayy, a suburb of Tehran. An Iranian scholar has stated that his birth-place, according to Avesta, is on the banks of liver Dareja in Airyana Vaejah. Dareja is now identified as Araxes (Seyhoon in Persian) in Transoxiana, near the north western frontier of Media. Islamic authors, Shahrastani (1086-1153) and At-Tabri (ca. 839-923), stated it to be in the West Iran. The Arab writers, Ibn Hurdadhbah (ca. 816) and Yaqut (ca. 1220), have specified, Urmiah (presently called Rizaijeh) in Shiz, a district of Azarbaijan, as his place of birth.
In view of the fact that authentic biographical date about him is lacking, it may be concluded that Zarathustra was born in Iran at the end of the seventh century or beginning of the sixth century BCE, the period preceding the formation of the Persian empire under Cyrus II (550-330 BCE).
Zarathustra was a descendent of the first wave of the Indo-Iranians. His people had become the settled agriculturists. His father’s name was Pourushaspa, belonging to a modestly situated family of Knights, the Spitama, whose genealogy is traced back through forty-five generations to Gayomart, the first man (like Adam). His mother, Dughdhova, was from the clan of Hvogva.
The infancy and the later life of Zarathustra is, traditionally, said to be rich with miracles. He was, stated to have been, born laughing instead of crying. It is mentioned that he, as an infant, escaped many attempts on his life by the intervention of the beasts. On one occasion, a bull stood over him and protected him from the hooves of the cattle. A stallion saved him from being trampled by the horses. At another time a she-wolf accepted him among her cubs instead of devouring him. (Some modern followers of the faith do not take such instances seriously.)
Zarathustra is stated to have married three times, (his polygamous marriage is rejected by Zoroastrians). He had three daughters and a son from the first wife, two sons from the second, and none from the third.
Traditions further maintain that Zarathustra was trained to be a priest. In the GATHAS he refers about himself as `ZAOTAR’; a fully qualified priest. According to Indo-Iranians, the training started at the age of seven years, and was conducted orally, since they had no knowledge of writing at that time. He was probably made a priest at the age of fifteen years, at which age the Iranians held that the maturity was attained. He had learned all that he could about the mysteries of creation and the realities of life from the sages of his time. His inquisitive mind, however, had not been satisfied and his divine intelligence guided him for meditation and self-investigation. He aimed at self-realisation and understanding the role of human being in creation.
He left his home at the age of twenty against the wishes of his parents. It is said that he went to the mountains. There he possessed his spirits in solitude. He spent years in a wandering quest for truth; counselling with Good Mind, Conscience, and the Holy Love. His hymns suggest that during his travels, he must have witnessed acts of violence. He was conscious of being powerless. He had a deep longing for the justice, for the moral law to prevail for the strong and weak alike, so that all may be able to pursue a good life in perfect peace and tranquillity.
During his intense desire and anxiety for searching the truth, he, on a day arose with the dawn, stood before the sun, and spoke thus:
(Thus Spake Zarathustra, Pages 3-4)
`Thou great star! Where were thy happlness, without those for whom thou shinest!
Ten years hast thou climbed hither to my cave: thou wouldst have wearied of thy light and of this pathway were it not for me, mine Eagle and my Serpent.
But we awaited thee each morning and took of thy super-abundance and blessed thee therefore.
Lo! I am weary of my wisdom as the bee that hath gathered overmuch honey; I need hands outstretched to take it.
Fain would I bestow and distribute until the wise amongst the men rejoice again in their folly, and the poor in their riches.
To that end must I descend into the deeps: even as thou dost at nightfall, when thou sinkest behind the sea, and bringest light to the underworld, thou most bounteous star!
Like thee, I must go down, as say the men to whom I would descend.
Bless me, then, thou tranquil eye that canst look without envy even upon too great a happiness!
Bless the cup that is about to overflow, so that its waters may be a golden flood, carrying everywhere the reflected splendour of thy bliss!”
Lo! This cup must again become empty, and Zarathustra must again become a man.
Thus began Zarathustra’s down-going.’
According to traditions, Zarathustra spent ten years in this pursuit. When he was thirty which was the time of ripe wisdom, the vision of revelation was blessed unto him. The story of the vision reached us through the traditions (GAHAS (Yasna 43) and Pahlavi work (Zadspram ZZ-XXI) and goes like this.
Zarathustra, being at a gathering met to celebrate a spring festival, went at dawn to a river to fetch water for the sacred ritual. On return from the mid-river to the bank, he saw on the bank a shining figure of the arch angel, who revealed himself as Vohu Manah (Good Purpose or Good Intention). Zarathustra was led by him in the presence of Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) and five other radiant figures (Immortals), before whom `he did not see his own shadow upon the earth owing to great light’. It was then that he received his revelation. He was taught the cardinal principles of the `true’ or `good’ religion. This was the first time that Zoroaster saw Ahura Mazda, or was conscious of his presence, or his words (calling him service) were heard by him. He declared:
For this I was set apart as yours from the beginning. (Yasna 44.11)While I have power and strength, I shall teach the men to seek the right asha (order, righteousness, and justice). (Yasna 28.4)
Upon being enlightened from the vision he said:
Verily I believed thee, `O’ Ahura Mazda, to be the Supreme Benevolent Providence, when Sraosha came to me with the Good Mind, when first I received and became wise with your words. And though the task be difficult, though woe may come to me, I shall proclaim to all mankind Thy message, which Thou declarest to be the best. (Yasna 43)
He prays to Mazda:
This I ask Thee, tell me truly, `O’ ‘Ahura, the religion that is best for all mankind, the religion, which based on truth, should prosper in all that is ours, the religion that establishes our actions in order and justice by the Divine songs of Perfect Piety, which has for its intelligent desire of desires, the desire for Thee, `O’ Mazda. (Yasna 44.10)
Zarathustra was convinced that he was the messenger of Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord and the only God. He repudiated all the Vedic Iranian gods and their mythologies, the sacrificial offerings and the drinking of sacred HOAMA, and subordinated to the Ahura Mazda, the AHURAS and DAEVAS, in the universal struggle between Good and Evil.
Zarathustra proclaimed that Ahura Mazda was the one uncreated God, existing eternally, and the creator of all else, including all the other beneficent divinities. He was confident that wisdom, justice and goodness were absolutely separate by nature from wickedness and cruelty.
He proclaimed to his utmost immediacy of knowledge when he said:
When I conceived of Thee, `O’ Mazda, as the very First and the Last, as the most Adorable One, as the Father of the Good Thought, as the Creator of the Truth and Right, as the Lord Judge of our actions in life, then I made a place for Thee in my very eyes. (Yasna 31.8)
By the direct stirring of his soul he said:
Thus do I announce the Greatest of all! I weave my songs of praise for him through Truth, helpful and beneficent of all that live. Let Ahura Mazda listen to them with his Holy Spirit, for the Good Mind instructed me to adore Him; by His wisdom let Him teach me about what is best. (Yasna 45.6)
Zarathustra had, in the vision, seen an adversary, co-existing with the Ahura Mazda, the Hostile Spirit, Angra Mainyu, ignorant and wholly malign. He took himself to be `a true enemy of the follower of the LIE and a powerful support of the follower of the TRUTH’. His passionate concern for the Wise Lord, and his witnessing the outrageous and shameless perversion of the religious ceremonies, could not admit of any compromise. The enemy of the Truth must either be converted or vanquished.
Zarathustra attacked the worshippers of DAEVAS, a class of the gods common to the Indians and the Iranians alike. The leaders of his opponents, KAVIS and KARAPANS, were a priestly caste. He attacked their traditional religion and practices. He had, after proclamation of his mission, to face very stiff oppositions from the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, like all the other Prophets. Zarathustra was conscious of his own weakness and of the opposition to his teachings. His disappointment on being deserted by his kindred and fellow-workers and his own inner questioning moved him deeply. His mission was started when he was thirty and in another ten years, he could succeed in conversion of only one person to his faith, and that was his own cousin Maidhyoimah.
He was constantly rebuked in his hometown (Chaychost). He was grieved by the unprovoked insolent challenges of the ruling princes and priests.
At one stage Zarathustra complains to Ahura Mazda:
To what land shall I turn? Where bend my steps? From self-reliant pupils and from friends, they keep me separate and apart; Not one co-worker brings me any joy and all the rulers hold unto untruth; How shall then I please Ahura Mazda? (Yasna 46.1)
Suddenly a ray of hope flashed back in him. He was firm in his stand, resolute in his mission and confident of the ultimate triumph of the Truth.
I choose (only) thy teachings Lord. (Yasna 46.3)Yes, praising, I shall always worship all of you Wise Lord. (Yasna 50.4)
According to the tradition, the story of the success, in converting King Vishtaspa and the court of Bacteria, has been narrated thus:
When he was forty-two years he, along with several disciples, left his home town and migrated to Bacteria in eastern Iran (say to Chorasmia). He was again confronted by the opponents. The news of the new prophet reached the Kavi Vishtaspa, the local king of Balkh. He invited him to his palace to explain his belief. The king also invited his high priests for discussion. King Vishtaspa, having been convinced by the soundness of Zoroastrian teachings, rebuked the traditional priests for their hostility towards Zoroaster and embraced the new religion despite the contrary advice of his courtiers.
Another story goes like this: that Zarathustra, after three days of the disputation at a great assembly at the royal palace, encountered the hostility of the KAVIS and the KARAPANS. These enemies arranged for Zarathustra to be cast into the prison. He remained there till he was able to win the willing ear of King Vishtaspa by curing the King’s favourite horse, who was paralysed. Accordingly, King Vishtaspa. the queen and all the dignitaries accepted the teachings of Zarathustra whole-heartedly. This event occurred when Zarathustra was forty-two years old, and it helped as an opening for, and the spread of his faith. King Vishtaspa not only himself accepted Zarathustra’s faith but also helped in propagating it throughout his kingdom.
But even in the court of the prince he could not find rest, for there were constant references to continuing the hostile action on the part of his enemies despite the fact that he was assured of royal protection and support. In Gathas, Zarathustra reproaches the princes and the priests who with their evil deeds try to keep mankind in yoke.
When shall my friends arrive to spread Thy faith? When shall this rotting mass of lies dissolve, By which the Priests their dupes to fascinate, By which the wicked Ruler shall hold the sway O’er lands, and carry out their ill intent? (Yasna 48.10)
Notwithstanding the tremendous difficulties, Zoroaster pledges his dedication to continue preaching the Truth. He considers that the work for one’s ideal was itself the best reward for him:
Thy Message, Mazda, I will surely preach, for this should be proclaimed unto wise, that evil fate awaits those who are False, whilst on the Truthful Light Divine shall dawn; That man alone shall happy be and wise, who to the wise expands Thy Holy Word. (Yasna 50.8)
Zarathustra organised a brotherhood of his followers, which had certain divisions within it. There were three grades of the disciples namely: the Xvaetu (strong in spirit), the Verezena (Fellow-worker), and the Airyamna (Friend).
Havovi, the sister of a disciple Frashaoshtra (who was holding high position in the court of King Vishtaspa) was married to Zarathustra. His youngest daughter, Parouchista, married her uncle Jamaspa (Chief Councillor of King Vishtaspa) who founded the first community of adherents.
The three sons of Zarathustra initiated and represented the three classes of the society: the priests, the warriors, and the farmers.
Finally at the age of seventy-seven, and after forty-seven years of the revelation when Masdaysnism had already established, his martyrdom occurred. It is said that Zarathustra died a violent death. Some say that, while praying in his oratory in Bacteria (Balkh), he was killed by Turbaratur, an enemy of faith.
Another source states that he was slain with other priests by the Turanians, who stormed the city of Balkh and destroyed the temple, NUSH AZAR, in which he was officiating at the firealtar. The Greeks, who greatly admired him, have told that his death came by a stroke of lightning or by a flame from the Heavens.
There is stated to be only one sacred book, the AVESTA, of which only a fraction survives. It is in the east-Iranian dialect Zoroastrian tradition and two of the Muslim historians of twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Tabari and Mas’udi, state that the whole Avesta was written in gold ink on twelve thousand ox/cow-hides and deposited in the royal library at Istakhr or Dizh-e-Niphisht treasuries in Persepolis was burned during the invasion of Alexander the Great, and the second copy was taken to Athens where it was rendered into Greek. The words of Zarathustra and his successors were, most probably, transmitted from generation to generation verbally.
As a result of the circumstances and also the confusion following the conquest, much of the oral tradition must also have been lost. It is said that one-third of Avesta remained in the memories of men.
It has also been stated that the Zoroastrian literature, in addition to the above, received two other irreparable losses. The first happened in the seventh century by the Arab conquest, and the next in the twelfth century when the Mongol kings came into power. Over one-third of the religious literature of the Sassanian period (the last era during which Zoroastrians were in power) was destroyed.
Tradition says that the AVESTA consisted of twenty-one NASKS (volumes). Their summary is found in the Pahlavi Book, DENKERT, which dates from ninth century A.D., in its present form. One-third of NASKS exist which also are of a considerable size.
After the eviction of the Greek by Parthians, Zoroastrianism had experienced a revival. King Volgeses order the collection of the scattered fragments of the AVESTA. This work was completed by Tansar, the high priest of Ardeshir, founder of the Sassanian dynasty in 224 A.D. At the same time, translation of the AVESTA into Pahlavi continued and commentaries were added to it, which together came to be known as ZEND AVESTA, (Aza’nti in Avestan and Avestak-U-Zand in Pahlavi). Tansar re-organised the AVESTA into three parts: GASSANIK (Gathic or devotional hymns), HADHA MANSARIK (combination of spiritual and temporal teachings), and DATIK (law).
The present AVESTA is in five parts:
- YASNA (Reverence). It deals with the creator, revelation, eternal law, freedom of choice, purpose of life, immortality of soul, law of consequences and the renovation of the world. It has seventy-two haiti (chapters) and embraces the two GATHAS.GATHAS (divine hymns), are the most sacred and authentic part of the AVESTA. They represent true Mazdayism, the religion that was professed and practiced from the time of revelation in eastern Iran. It was also the religion of the realm during the early part of the Achaemanian reign, and as stated, `The Gathas, in declaring Mazdayism, the best religion forever, does not allude to Prophets other than Zoroaster. However, it speaks of SAOSHYANT (means the pious men who work for the improvement of the world). Thousands of them including Zoroaster may be considered SAOSHYANT. In the form of SOSHYOS, SAOSHYANT reappears in the YOUNGER AVESTA as the chosen Saviour. SAOSHYANT has been used by the scholars to mean MESSIAH or MAHDI in the ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS’.
- GATHAS PROPER, occupy chapters 28-34 and 43-53 of the book YASNA. These are the oldest part of AVESTA, having a language different from the rest of the AVESTA. These are not instructions, but inspired, passionate utterances mostly addressed directly to God, in very ancient poetic form traced back to Indo-European times. These seventeen great hymns or songs were composed by Zarathustra and are also called the revealed part of the AVESTA. These have been faithfully preserved by the Community.
- GATHAS HAPTANHAITI, or the SEVEN CHAPTERS, occupy chapters 35-42 of the book of YASNA. These were composed by the disciples of Zarathustra, after his death. These are in prose.
- THE YASHT, meaning revered. These are composed in praise of the YAZATAS (meaning adorable one). Most of the YAZATAS do not originate in the GATHAS. As a matter of fact Magis (followers of pre-Zoroastrian religion) upon embracing the new faith had succeeded in introducing some of their deities in the form of Yaztaz in the new faith.
- THE VISPRED, meaning all festivals. It has twenty-four chapters and relates to the six thanksgiving seasonal festivities, the GAHANBARS.
- THE VENDIDAD, meaning law against demons and false deities, consists mainly of the rules of the hygiene.
- THE KHORDEH AVESTA, is bilingual and contains the daily prayers, part of which are in Persian. They represent the Sassanian and post Sassanian prayers.
The rest of the AVESTA is called YOUNGER AVESTA. It differs from both the other GATHAS and was compiled at different times, in east-Iranian language long after Zarathustra. Zarathustra’s teachings, passed on orally through the generations, were brought to writing during Sassanian reign in Middle-Persian, also called Pahlavi.
PAHLAVI BOOKS, these are next to Avestan sources and provide invaluable keys for interpreting the contents of the GATHAS and for Zoroastrian studies. Most of the PAHLAVI texts are scholarly and informative with a rich philosophical flavour. Some of them, are stated, to have influenced Islamic (Shia) philosophical thought in Iran, but do not represent orthodox Zoroastrianism. Most of these books were compiled a few centuries after the downfall of Sassanians in an unfavourable environment. At best they reflect the beliefs and opinions of their writers.
PAHLAVI TEXTS are divided into:
- PAHLAVI VERSIONS OF AVESTAN TEXTS Pahlavi Yasna, Pahlavi Vispred, and Pahlavi Yasht. These are as much religious as their Avestan counterparts.
- MIXED AVESTAN AND PAHLAVI TEXTS such as Afrini-Dahman, as well as purely PAHLAVI BOOKS.
These are concerned with the matters of philosophy, hygiene and law, clustering around the religion. Their contents are not orthodox Zoroastrian doctrines. Some of the PAHLAVI BOOKS are as follows:
- THE DINKARDAn interesting collection of religious, historical, geographical, legal and medical information.
- MATIKAN-i-HIZAR DADISTANA treatise on personal law and judiciary of the Sassanian era based on the verdict of some jurists.
- SHIKAND GUMANI VIJARA scholarly book on the philosophy of the religion. It discusses the problem of Good and Evil in a broad framework of the Zoroastrianism and the related offshoots. It rejects certain doctrines of Jews, Manichaeans and Christians.
- BUNDAHISHNThis is another book of the above category. It deals with the origin and the nature of creation as well as eschatology.
- MINOK-I-KHRAD, a book of ethics containing some legendary materials.
- SHAYAST-la-SHAYAST, or PAHLAVI RIVAYAT shows the problems of sin, the handling of corpses, the issue of impurity, and the proper mode of purification.
- ARDA VIRAF NAMEH, a literary and fictitious account of a high priest’s visit to Heaven and Hell, somewhat similar to Dante’s Divine Comedy but written three centuries earlier.
- BAIIMAN YASHT describes the triumphs and sufferings of Zoroastrions and gives an account of the (so-called) Muslims’ oppressive behaviour.
The Teachings of Zarathustra
Zarathustra was a human being, a sage, a priest, a teacher, and a Prophet. He was the founder of a new religion. He lived at a time when widespread animism and various forms of nature worship were prevalent. The solar cult was particularly important. According to Greek historian, `After having changed the ancient form of worship, he introduced manifold and strange doctrines.’ He pleaded for direct and personal relationship with God through wisdom, morality, and love instead of an indirect approach through the mediators. He preached selfless devotion and dedication for the betterment of humanity instead of performances to please the princes and the clergy. The priestly folk of western Iran of the MAGIS (MAGA means great), opposed him and his mission, as Zarathustra disapproved of the religious practices followed by them. He was only able to succeed after winning the heart of King Vishtaspa, have access in his court, and manage to create a field for accomplishment of the sacred task entrusted to him by the Ahura Mazda, Wise Lord through revelation.
First tenet of Zarathustra’s teachings centered on Ahura Mazda, Wise Lord, as He is the Highest God and He alone, is worthy of worship. He himself worshipped God only with simple rituals of `uplifted hands’, `with deep and heartiest reverence’, `with good thought, good word, and good deed’ and instructed his followers to worship in the like manner. He believed and impressed upon his followers to believe that God is the creator of the Heaven and the Earth i.e., of the material and spiritual world. He is the source of the alternation of the light and the darkness, the sovereign law-giver, centre of the nature, originator of the moral order and the judge of the entire universe.
He is surrounded by six or seven AMESHA SPENTAS, beneficent immortals (as mentioned in Avesta). Ahura Mazda is their creator and father. These are inseparable from his own sense and are:
SPENTA MAINYU `Holy Spirit’, ASHA VAHISHTA `Justice and Truth’, VOHU MANAH `Righteous Thinking’ and ARMAITI or SPENTA ARMAITI `Devotion’. The other three beings (entities) of this group, said to personify the qualities attributed to Ahura Mazda, are as follows:
KHSHATHRA VAIRYA `Desirable Dominion’, HAURVATAT `Wholeness’, and AMERETAT `Immorality’.
The second doctrine, included in the teachings of Zarathustra, is that the world is divided between Good and Evil, Truth and Lie, and the Holy Spirit and the Destructive Spirit. Both spirits are explicitly said to be Twin spirits; existing side by side. Zarathustra alerts his followers that the best of life is that one should act in consonance with the spirit of Truth, although at every stage, a choice has to be made. Zarathustra’s principle did not attract the ethical dualism of Good versus Evil but the importance of the individual’s choice between them, with instruction and advice to choose the Good, the Truth and the Holy Spirit for adherence.
Thirdly, that the creatures of the Wise Lord are brought into existence free. They are at liberty to choose between the Truth and Falsehood. This is equally applicable to both, the spiritual and the human being.
The ANGRA MAINYU; the Destructive Spirit, `chooses to do the worst things’ in line with the free-will granted to him. In the same way DAEVAS, the ancient gods, with whose worship violence was associated, were considered as evil powers by Zarathustra.
Fourth instruction of Zarathustra’s teachings, is that a person, being free to regulate his actions according to his own wishes, is himself responsible for his ultimate fate. He earns eternal reward for good deeds. The evil-doer is, too, condemned by his own conscience, as well as by the Just God, to the punishment and the eternal pains of Hell, `the Worst Existence.’
Fifth is that the outward symbol of the `Truth’ is the `FIRE’ in the presence of which all religious ceremonies and worship should be conducted by the believers of this faith. It is the fire-altar that becomes the centre of Zoroastrian cult. Zarathustra establishes the truth of his message by the ordeal of fire and the molten metal, and that it is the fire and the molten metal by which humanity will be judged in the last days.
The Zoroastrians are generally known as fire-worshippers and naturally resent to be named as such, because Zarathustra himself revered this element `which possesses the power of Truth’. GATHAS speak of the `divine fire’ being used as a test on the Day of Judgment. They say that it is not to be taken as the physical fire, but it is the `spiritual fire’ and the `inner fire’ that brightly shines in the heart of every righteous Zoroastrian. It is stated that Zarathustra travelled throughout the Iranian Plateau, for many years, preaching the Gospel of light and calling on men to fight darkness with light and evil with good, to worship Ahura Mazda, and help him in defeating Angra Mainyu, the Lord of darkness. He all along carried with him a `cube of fire’ (of unknown character). At the time of his death, he left a chain of centres of Mazda Worship, each with its pot of eternal fire. It is, therefore, unjustified to call Zoroastrian as fire worshippers.
In the end I would like to bring out a few passages from the Zoroastrian scriptures containing hymns of Zarathustra as translated by a practicing Zoroastrian scholar Mr. Taraporewala.
Verily, I believe Thee, O Mazda, to be the Supreme Benevolent Providence,
For I beheld Thee as the Primeval Cause of all creation,
For by Thy Perfect Intelligence Thou shall render just recompense for all actions, good to good, evil to evil, till the last day of creation. (Yasna 43.5)What Devotees of thine shall teach us this:
That Worthiest to be invoked art Thou,
The Holy Judge of actions, Lord of Truth
The mysteries of Life That builds His plans
Doth the Creator of the earth reveal;
We’ll strive to solve these mysteries through Love.
In the beginning, there were two Spirits, Twins spontaneously active,
These were the Good and Evil, in thought, and in word, and in deed.
Between these two, let the wise choose aright;
Be good, not base. (Yasna 30.3)
O’ ye mortals, make these commandments –
The commandments which the wise Lord has given,
for Happiness and for Pain,
Long punishment for the evil-doers, and bliss for the followers of Truth,
The joy of Salvation for the Righteous ever afterwards!
Those who were living, those who have been and those who are yet to be,
Shall attain one of the two awards which he ordained!
In Immortality shall the soul of the Righteous be ever in Joy,
But in torment the soul of liar shall surely be.
And these Laws hath Ahura Mazda ordained through His Sovereign authority. (Yasna 45.7)
All thoughts and words deeds of men shall bear fruit as laid down in Thine Eternal Law,
Evil to Evil blessing good-to-good-
Thus wisdom thus ordained till end of time. (Yasna 43.5)
Who hears the Truth and lives it in his life,
Soul-healing Lord of Wisdom he becomes;
To spread true teachings, Ahura, his words are eloquent and able to convince;
O Mazda, through Thy Fire blazing clear,
Unto each man his place do the assign. (Yasna 31.9)
Verily I will regard Thee as the All-Powerful benefactor, `O’ Mazda!
For with Thy cherishing hand Thou offerest help both to the righteous as well as to the wicked.
Through the flaming splendour of Thy Fire, mighty through truth,
The vigour of good has come to me, `O’ Mazda. (Yasna 43.4)
Through this Thy Holy Spirit does Thou seal,
`O’ Mazda Ahura, our destiny,
Our due reward Thy Fire shall bestow,
as Armaity and Asha grow within,
the seekers shall be led to tread Thy Path. (Yasna 47.6)
Both parties, True and False, are put to test,
Mazda, by blazing Fire Divine;
This Fiery Test lays bare their inmost Souls,
as the award to each one indicates;
Complete frustration shall the false One find,
the blessing full the Truthful One shall reap.
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