Ontario Zoroastrian Community Foundation
 
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.

arrow 3  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.

arrow 3  What are the fundamental points of Zarathushtra's message?

Asho Zarathushtra's message is based on...

Asha

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.

Truth

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.

Environmental Responsibility

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.

arrow 3  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.

Ashem Vohu

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

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.

What is the controversy of dualism in our religion?
arrow 3  If Ahura Mazda is good, why do we have death, disease and destruction in the world?
arrow 3  Is there rebirth in the Zarathushtrian philosophy?

The answers to these three questions are interrelated.

Everything in nature is created by Ahura Mazda, and is therefore good. According to Asho Zarathushtra, Nature is governed by the Law of Asha (Righteousness). This is a law programmed by Ahura Mazda that follows a precise system - night follows day, seasons follow one another, planets orbit the sun, babies grow into adults. One action sets into motion a series of reactions. Natural floods, avalanches, droughts are part of this cycle of cause and effect. It is only because they affect human life that we call them calamities. If they happened in a barren area unknown to us, we would not even think about it.

Also, many a time human behaviour is the cause of such disasters. As any elementary school student with basic knowledge of geography knows, if you cut down forests, the top soil gets swept by melting snow and causes floods in plains thousand of miles away. Think about it. The action of some greedy, thoughtless human beings can effect the lives of hundreds of people they have no contact with - yet Ahura Mazda is held responsible for the calamity. The same issue applies to all the environmental and social problems that we are facing today - overpopulation, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, global warming, acid rain, chemical warfare.

There are some who say that it is not Ahura Mazda who is responsible for these calamities that beset humans, but the devil Ahriman. They use this theory to explain that Ahura Mazda is not all-powerful, and that Ahriman is equal in influence (if not more powerful). This theory does not stand up to examination. Did you know that in the Gathas there is no mention of Ahriman, the term we use for the devil incarnate? In fact, the term did not come into existence for several centuries after Asho Zarathushtra's death, probably in the time of Adarbad Marespan circa 200 A.D.

In the Zarathushtrian faith as preached by Asho Zarathushtra, there is no external evil force. So the question of whether Ahriman is equal in power to Ahura Mazda or less so does not arise. There is no such creature as Ahriman. Whatever evil there is in the world is the perception of our mind. According to Asho Zarathushtra every human being is endowed with a mind which has two mentalities - spenta mainyu (divine, righteous mind) and aka mainyu (negative, regressive mind). The dualism in Zarathushtrian religion is purely ethical and is confined to human behaviour only.

Take the issue of death for instance. It is not an evil event. As far as Nature is concerned, death is merely a stage in the cycle of life. Going back to what you studied in school, do you remember the life cycle of a plant? A seed is planted. It grows into a tree - a strong upright one if it receives careful nurturing, maybe not such a healthy specimen if it is left to its own devices. When it has lived its life to its maximum ability, it withers and dies. Sometimes it is knocked down by lightening or axed down by a woodcutter. In any case, its life ends. But does it? The leaves and bark decompose to form soil that becomes a part of the nurturing ground for another seed. The essence of the tree lives on.

And it is the same for human beings. Not in the physical sense as in the case of a tree, but in the sense that the soul exists even after the physical end of life. The Gathas do not specifically mention the process of reincarnation. However, at a purely personal level, I am satisfied that there are enough references to justify that there is a case for rebirth. First, let me clarify that most people have misconceptions of reincarnation. Some of these are based on popular Bollywood movies where people return in the next life to take revenge for murders done in a previous one. Or else they have a belief in the transmigration of souls that you could be a human being in one life and an animal in the next, and therefore there is a possibility that the ant you step on may be your grandfather.

Rebirth or reincarnation is a series of progressive lifetimes as human beings governed by karma or the law of cause and effect. Every thought, every action that we have sets into motion a cause. These causes have their effects. These effects make our lives, for better or for worse. The causes set into motion by our thoughts and actions will produce effects which will rebound on us; if we are good, we deposit good karma in a cosmic bank account from which we benefit in that life and subsequent lifetimes. If we do wrong, we have to pay for it, perhaps in this lifetime, perhaps later.

The law of Karma or "what you sow, so shall you reap" philosophy is prevalent throughout the Gathas. In Ha 43.5, Asho Zarathushtra says:

Spenta at thwa mazda menghi Ahura
Hyat thwa angheush zanthoi daresem paourvim
Hyat dao shyaothana mizdavanm vacha ukhda
Akem akai vanghuim ashim vanghaove
Thwa hunara darnoish urvaese apeme

Thou art Divine I know 0 Supreme
Thou was the first, I know, when life began.
All thoughts and words and deeds Man shall bear fruit
As laid down in thine Eternal law
Evil to evil, blessings good to good
Thy wisdom thus ordains till end of time.

This is why taking responsibility for your own actions is so important and the prayer Jasa Me Avanghe Mazda takes on such significance. In this prayer we say that of my own free will "I choose to think good thoughts, I choose to speak good words, I choose to do good deeds."

Unlike other philosophies, in the Zarathushtrian faith hurtful or wicked actions will not be forgiven if one sacrifices enough animals or does penance. The law of cause and effect expects you to give your due for what you have done. If you choose to do good deeds, happiness will be yours. If you choose to do wilful evil, you will suffer the consequences.

You may well ask, how this signifies that the.Law of Karma acts over several lifetimes and not just one life span like many Zoroastrians believe. Well, I have no answer for this except that in the natural scheme of evolution, it takes thousands of years for things to evolve and reach perfection. If you read the Gathas you realise that the purpose of human endeavour is to strive towards Haurvetat (perfection) and Ameretatat (immortality or oneness with the Source of Creation). I think it is highly unlikely that any judgement about the goodness or the wickedness of a soul can be decided in an average life span of sixty odd years. Or that reaching perfection or immortality is realistic within a time period that is a nanosecond in the relative evolution of humankind.

Another of my reasons for believing that the Zarathushtrian message does favour the proposition of rebirth is that the Gathas speak of the journey of the soul or urvan after death. The soul crosses a sword-like bridge (chinvat). If the soul's deeds do not merit a welcome by Rashna (Truth), Meher (Light) and Sarosh (Conscience), the soul "falls to the abode of untruth" (Earth) until it realises the truth and then progresses towards immortality. Now, some scholars take this reference to "abode of untruth" to mean "failing down into hell" but in my mind I agree with those who feel this refers to the soul returning to Earth. My reason for believing so is that it is consistent with the Zarathushtrian aim for striving for perfection. If one gets stuck in hell, how can the soul progress? The case of returning to Earth to try and strive to attain perfection is like failing in school and having to repeat the class till one is ready for promotion to a higher grade.

The principle of rebirth and Karma also neatly explains why "good" people suffer, why innocent children die, why there is sometimes a sense of instant recognition when you meet strangers. All this is because these are "carried forward" from previous experiences. Our attitude in facing up to the consequences of our previous actions help us grow more enlightened. If we take setbacks with fortitude and faith our soul becomes stronger. If we whine or become angry, more negativity is added and it takes longer for the soul to progress.

If examined carefully, the theory of rebirth is more logical and consistent with the Zarathushtrian principles of freedom of choice, and law of Karma, than another one that says that Ahriman strikes humans with death and disease at random. In this scenario, human beings - as well as Ahura Mazda - have to sit back helplessly and take what Ahriman dishes out. There is no guarantee that you will be spared even if you lead a pious and blameless life because Ahriman remains powerful as long as there is someone else being wicked. In other words, you pay for the actions of someone else. The Law of Asha would never allow such injustice. This theory perpetuates a fear of an erratic external power that rules your life that was prevalent in pre-Zarathushtrian times. It negates everything that Asho Zarathushtra tried to change.

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