When was Asho Zarathushtra born?
No one knows for sure. Dates fixed by different scholars range between 6000 BC to 630 BC. But does it really matter to us when he was born? Isn't it enough to know that he lived and revealed one of the most enlightened guidelines for human behaviour?
Why do we call him Asho Zarathushtra Spitama?
Asho is a title of respect derived from the Avestan word Asha meaning righteousness. Zarathushtra, meaning "one possessing a golden-coloured camel," was his given name. Spitama was the family name.
What was his life like?
Very little is known about him. You have to remember that the era was prehistoric, writing, as we know it today, hadn't been invented. What is definitely known and universally accepted is that he was born to Dughdova and Pourushaspa in Aryana Vaeja (land of the Aryans i.e. Central Asia). At the age of twenty years, he went to Mount Ushidaren to meditate. After ten years of self-study, he received the revelation that there is only one universal source of wisdom Ahura Mazda, and that the aim of human life is to strive to be reunited with Him. It took Asho Zarathushtra many years of struggle before the superstitious and gods-fearing people accepted his word. And this acceptance happened largely through the support and patronage of Kai Vishtasp, the ruler at that time, and his consort Hutaosa. Nothing has been stated, directly or indirectly, about Asho Zarathushtra passing away, leading one to believe that it must have been through natural causes.
Thousands of years later, dramatic embellishments were added to the story of Asho Zarathushtra's life. This includes the saga of Durasobrab's attempts on the life of baby Zarathushtra and his miraculous escapes; Zarathsuhtra's confrontation with the jealous sorcerers at Kai Vishtasp's courts; and his murder in the temple by Turi Bradosh.
Will Zarathushtra be resurrected as a Saviour at the end of time?
In Persian mythology, three saoshyant (those who bring benefit) will appear, one every millennium after Zarathushtra's death. Each will be born of a virgin miraculously impregnated with Zarathushtra's "seed" while bathing in Lake Kansaoya (geographical location unknown).
The three Saoshyants will be:
1) Ukhshyat-ereta - he who makes righteousness grow.
2) Ukhshyat-nemah - he who makes reverence grow.
3) Astvat-ereta - he who embodies righteousness.
It is important to qualify, that the myth of coming of the three saoshyants emerged in the Achaemenian time, more than a thousand years after the time of Zarathushtra. It was later documented in great descriptive detail in the Bundahisn (circa 6 AD), and was definitely influenced by the other beliefs of that time. (Saviour born of a virgin....sound familiar?)
The term saoshyant relayed by Zarathushtra in the Gathas is unrelated to these mythical men. He spoke of a man who will lead the world on a "Path that leads up to the World of Truth" (Yasna 43.3). However, whether this is interpreted as one particular man, or as each righteous human being who seeks out the path of Asha is up to individual belief. I believe that it is up to all human beings to work individually, but as a collective force, to "save" the universe, both at a physical and at a spiritual level. The word saoshyant, is sometimes said to be saviours in a superhero sense, but if you go back to the original meaning "one who brings benefit" then any benefactor of humanity in any field of human endeavour can possibly be a saoshyant.
Is the Zarathushtrian faith monotheistic?
Yes, it is.
In the primitive time when Zarathushtra lived, people believed in many gods and demons. This was their way of accepting natural and scientific phenomena that they could not understand. To them everything that made their lives comfortable - bountiful harvests, regular seasons, healthy cattle - were seen as gifts from the gods. Calamities like floods, avalanches, raids by marauding tribes from the North were seen as work of the demons. There were several "good" gods, and the most prominent amongst them was Mithra (Meher or Light). Mithra signified the sun and was depicted as the charioteer who rode across the sky in a flaming gold chariot. Anahita was the goddess of the waters and is described as a fair and beautiful maiden. What you have to keep in mind is that for these primitive farmers, the sun and water were the primary life givers, responsible for abundant harvests. If Mithra and Anahita were disappointed and withheld their favours, it meant famine and lingering death. It is no wonder then that to these people they were gods.
Asho Zarathushtra saw beyond the obvious. He observed the Laws of Nature and saw that events in nature had cycles, that there was cause and effect, and that Nature followed a system. Asho Zarathushtra was the first to realise that there is only ONE force behind the creation, maintenance and progression of our universe. He called this force Ahura Mazda meaning Lord (Ahura) Wise (Mazda). This is one more belief for Zarathushtrians to be proud of. We know that this force that Asho Zarathushtra refers to as Ahura Mazda is all powerful, is present everywhere and is everlasting, yet Asho Zarathushtra chose to give prominence to the force's quality of wisdom rather than authority.
In the Gathas (Ha 29-4) Asho Zarathushtra says:
Mazdao sakhare mair ishto
Mazda alone is the most adorable
Zarathushtrianism is therefore the first monotheistic religion in the world.
What are the sources that we use to learn about Asho Zarathushtras message?
If you really read the message in the Gathas you marvel at Asho Zarathushtra's vision. He himself called the religion he founded Daena Vanghuhi meaning Good Conscience. It's a marvellous way of reminding his followers that we have to live our lives according to the dictates of the voice of righteousness that lives inside all of us.
Asho Zarathustra started asking probing questions about the disorder he saw around him when he was a young boy. It took him ten years of meditation to finally understand the Truth. The revelation came to Asho Zarathushtra when he was thirty years old, and he lived to the ripe old age of seventy-seven. This means that for forty-seven years he practised, preached and spread the Truth that was revealed to him. His teachings were collected into five Gathas or "holy hymns" containing seventeen Haiti or songs. They are:
1. Ahunavaiti Gatha (7 Ha-s)
2. Ushtavaiti Gatha (4 Ha-s)
3. Spenta Mainyu Gatha (4 Ha-s)
4. Vohu Khshatra Gatha (1 Ha)
5. Vahishta Ishti Gatha (1 Ha)
His immediate disciples gave commentary on what he had said or summarised his sermons into additional verses. These are seven songs called the Haptahaiti, generally known as the Haftan Yasht.
The Vispered and other songs were composed in the next hundred years or so, but they have the same style and dialect. Therefore, they are also referred to as Gathic verses, and are collectively known as the Yasna. As the Gathas were in poetry form following strict metrical rhythms, they were learned by heart and passed down through the generations without change.
Later, supplementary volumes such as the Yashts, Vendidad, Zend-Avesta were added on religious rites and rituals, interpretations of the Gathas, administrative and social laws, agricultural practices, medicine, purity laws. These were put together into 21-volumes in circa 550 AD. Most of this literature was lost in the Arab conquest and subsequent exodus. Only about a third of the collection could be salvaged, and was rearranged into six-volumes. The Khordeh Avesta, a collection of daily prayers from mainly non-Gathic sources, is one of the saved pieces.
What we have to remember is that although most of what was written was done so by renowned scholars and priests, it is still just the work of extraordinary men, and not from the Divine Source. The words inspired by the revelation - the Gathas - are still with us. These are more than enough to guide us, and we should use the Gathas as the foundation for our religious beliefs rather than other text sources like the Dinkard or Bundehishn.
What are the fundamental points of Zarathushtra's message?
Asho Zarathushtra's message is based on...
Asha is the universal law of righteousness that governs all Creations of Ahura Mazda. It represents order, precision, progress, and evolution towards perfection. In the Yasna 72- 11, Asho Zarathushtra says:
Aevo panthao yo Ashahe
Vispe anyesham aspanatn
One is the path of Asha,
All others are no paths.
The message of Asho Zarathushtra is based on the foundation of truth. In the scriptures, it is said that Rashna, or Truth receives our souls after our death. In other words, we will be judged by the integrity with which we live our lives. Lies and deceit are considered detestable. You can understand how much when you find out that hell is referred to as Drujdemana or the House of Lies (while heaven is Garodemana or House of Songs). The Achaemenian king Daryoush, one of the most fervent followers of Asho Zarathushtra, inscribed on his palaces a plea to Ahura Mazda to protect his kingdom from famine, floods, and lies.
This abhorrence for lies and deceit covers everything from telling whoppers about your golf scores to perjury. It includes cheating in exams, padding expense accounts, omitting information on tax forms, and adultery.
When is a lie a lie, and not social grease of the 'thank-you-for-a-lovely-evening" kind? The qualifying factor is the intent behind the telling of the lie. Willful lies, those that are told knowingly for selfish gain or malice, are to be avoided. So, is telling a lie to save someone's life okay? What do you think?
Power of Individual Choice
This is another fundamental on which the Daena Vanghuhi is based. Unlike the religious leaders of the time who controlled their people with a mixture of "You will suffer untold miseries if you do not listen to what I say" style of leadership, Asho Zarathushtra celebrated the fact that we are homo sapiens or thinking beings. He recognised that Ahura Mazda has endowed human beings with a powerful mind and an ability to distinguish what is right and what is wrong. It is up to us to choose between the progressive, righteous mentality (spenta mainyu), or the angry, negative mentality (aka mainyu). In Ha 30-2, one of his most oft-quoted verses, Asho Zarathushtra said:
Sraota geush vahishta avaenata sucha manangha
Avarenao vichithaya narem narem khakyai tanuye
Para maze yaongha ahmai ne sazdai baodhanto paiti
Hear the best truth with your ears and decide with your pure mind.
Let each man and woman judge for themselves and find out what they ought to do.
Before the great trial let us all wake up, this my counsel.
The other side of the coin, therefore is responsibility for one's own actions. This is why we say in the Jasa Me Avanghe Mazda prayer when we tie the kusti:
Astuye humatem mano
I choose to think good thoughts
Astuye hukhtem vacho
I choose to speak good words
Astuye hvarshtem shyaothnem
I choose to do good deeds
The choice is entirely ours.
Equity for All
The message of Asho Zarathushtra is wholly universal without discrimination of any kind on the basis of gender, race, caste, colour or social status. The only attribute by which a person should be deemed respectable is how righteous they are. The Yenghe Hatam prayer states:
Yenghe hatam aat yasna paiti
Vangho Mazdao Ahura vaetha ashat hacha
Yaonghemcha tascha taoscha yazamaide
We revere all such men and women from among the living
whom All Wise Lord knows as most excellent
by reason of their knowledge of the Divine Law of Righteousness
and practice of virtues in every act of devotion.
Human beings are as much a part of the creation as plants, animals, mountains, waters. They are expected to work with the other creations for harmonious co-existence. In Ha 51.6 Asho Zarathushtra says:
Ye vahyo vangheush dazde yascha hoi varai radat
Ahuro khshatra mazdao at ahmai akat ashyo
Ye hoi noit vi-daiti apeme angheush urvaese
Whosoever helps the Creations to grow and progress proves better than good.
But whosoever does not foster our Mother Earth behaves far worse than any of the bad.
He will meet his retribution in the end.
The most beautiful characteristic of Asho Zarathushtra's message is its timelessness. It is as valid today as it was five thousand years ago. Since the message is largely focussed on human attitude and behaviour, and not on the peripheries of what you may eat or what you must wear, it is as practical today as it was when Asho Zarathushtra first preached it.
Can you briefly sum up Asho Zarathushtra's message?
By summing up Asho Zarathushtra's message into simple formula like the 3Gs (Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds), one does him a disservice. However, in this age of microwaves, push-button responses and instant coffee, if that is what it takes to hold someone's attention, then I feel our daily prayers provide a complete guideline for human behaviour.
The five prayers that Zarathustrians recite every day outline the basics of enlightened behaviour.
In this prayer the reciter affirms that there is only one straight path, that of Asha (Righteousness). Righteousness is best. Happiness is to him who is righteous for the sake of righteousness and not for any reward, here or hereafter.
The key word here is righteousness or Asha. The title Asho, which we attach to Zarathushtra's name, comes from this word. Ashem, meaning pure of body and mind, is also derived from this word.
Ahuna Vairya means the Will of Ahura. In essence, the reciter promised Ahura Mazda that s/he will do what He wishes his believers to do.
1. Respect all messengers who preach the divine message of Truth.
2. Work hard in the name of Ahura, i.e. selflessly.
3. Take care of the less fortunate.
The basic message of this prayer is respect, service and charity.
Kem Na Mazda
This prayer is basically an appeal to Ahura Mazda for protection against evil. In this prayer, Zarathushtrians acknowledge that their only protector is Ahura Mazda.
Ahura Mazda Khodai
The first stanza of this prayer admonishes evil and tells it to go away ("dafeh shavad') and leave the reciter alone. The second stanza asks for forgiveness for any sin committed willfully, and the reciter states that s/he will not do so again. S/he promises to think good thoughts, say good words and do good deeds ("manashni, gavashni, kunashni").
Key words: good thoughts, good words, good deeds
Jasa Me Avanghe Mazda
This prayer is also known as Fravarane meaning " I choose". This is a Declaration of Faith. In this prayer, the reciter states that s/he is a believer of Mazda and follower of the message of Asho Zarathushtra.
The reciter further states that "I choose of to think good thoughts, I choose of to say good words and I choose to do good deeds'. The emphasis is on the words "I choose" so that each individual takes the responsibility of his or her own actions and cannot blame society, others, Nature etc.
The whole process of saying these five prayers takes approximately 15 minutes. Other lengthier prayers are optional. It is better if one says them facing a source of light, preferably natural. No prior ablutions are essential, however one is required to be clean, preferably recently bathed. We can say the prayers standing up or seated. Asho Zarathushtra used to pray standing up with uplifted arms. Our head should be covered as a mark of respect. However, if these points cannot be met, for instance, if you are in a car or are standing in a line, you are allowed, even expected, to say the prayers anyway.