Is the Zarathushtrian faith monotheistic?
Yes, it is.
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
In the Gathas (Ha 29-4) Asho Zarathushtra
Mazdao sakhare mair ishtoMazda alone is the most
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
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:
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
His immediate disciples gave commentary on what he had said or
summarised his sermons into additional verses. These are seven songs called the
, generally known as the Haftan Yasht
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
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
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
Aevo panthao yo Ashahe
aspanatnOne is the path of Asha,
All others are no
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
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
Sraota geush vahishta avaenata sucha manangha
vichithaya narem narem khakyai tanuye
Para maze yaongha ahmai ne sazdai
baodhanto paitiHear 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
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 manoI choose to think good
Astuye hukhtem vachoI choose to speak good
Astuye hvarshtem shyaothnemI choose to do good
The choice is entirely ours. Equity for
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
Vangho Mazdao Ahura vaetha ashat hacha
taoscha yazamaideWe revere all such men and women from among the
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.
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
Ahuro khshatra mazdao at ahmai akat ashyo
Ye hoi noit vi-daiti
apeme angheush urvaeseWhosoever 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 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.
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
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
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
1. Respect all messengers who preach the divine message of
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,
Key words: good thoughts, good words, good
deedsJasa 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,
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
What is the controversy of dualism in our religion?
If Ahura Mazda is good, why
do we have death, disease and destruction in the world?
Is there rebirth in the
The answers to these three questions are
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
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.
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
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
The law of Karma or "what you sow, so shall you reap" philosophy
is prevalent throughout the Gathas. In Ha 43.5, Asho Zarathushtra
Spenta at thwa mazda menghi Ahura
Hyat thwa angheush zanthoi
Hyat dao shyaothana mizdavanm vacha ukhda
vanghuim ashim vanghaove
Thwa hunara darnoish urvaese apemeThou
art Divine I know 0 Supreme
Thou was the first, I know, when life
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
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
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.
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.