In most religions, there is a big difference
between the history of the religion, and the teachings of its founder, and
Zoroastrianism is no exception. To illustrate with a neutral example:
imagine if a scholar were to describe Christianity based on its history,
instead of on the teachings of Christ. Such aspects of Christianity's
history as mandating the belief that the earth was the center of the
universe as a tenet of religion (as Galileo discovered to his sorrow), the
tortures of the Inquisition, the intolerance of Catholics and Protestants
towards each other in the 16th and 17th centuries with Catholics burning
Protestants and Protestants burning Catholics, the narrow orthodoxy of the
Puritans who made life joyless, and burned innocent women as witches,
these are all facts in the history of Christianity. Yet they are all very
far removed from the original teachings of Christ.
aspects of the history of Zoroastrianism are also far removed from the
original teachings of Zarathushtra. There are many reasons for this. But
I would like to mention just one: it is the fundamental difference
between Zarathushtra’s priorities as reflected in his own words in the
Gathas, and the priorities of many institutional religions as reflected by
the less enlightened minds who composed the Sad Dar.
Sad Dar, Zarathushtra does not dictate in fact-specific ways how we must
live our lives. Instead, he gives us a system. In a nutshell, his system
is that we should use our minds / hearts, to search for truth and what is
right (asha) and think it, speak it and do it, thereby fulfilling the
two-fold purpose of life which is evolving spiritually ourselves, and at
the same time, making our world a better place. The quest for truth with
good thinking is a fundament of his teachings. He says:
“as long as I shall be
able and be strong, so long shall I look in quest of truth [asha]. Truth,
shall I see thee, as I continue to acquire ... good thinking [vohu mano]...?”
Yasna 28.4 (Insler translation).
The Sad Dar
by contrast, exemplifies the priorities of an institutional religion, two
of which are control, and being the sole intermediary between man and God,
so that a person is not permitted to think for himself, but must follow
without question what the religious authorities prescribe, having been
conditioned (usually by fear) to believe that his only access to the
divine, is through obedience to such religious authorities. The Sad Dar,
like many institutional religions, sought to maintain control over every
aspect of a person’s life by mandating a detailed, fact-specific, code of
behavior which reflected the opinions of the religious authorities as to
what was true and right. This is the exact opposite of Zarathushtra’s
teaching, which imposes no intermediary between man and God, and which
requires that we must think for ourselves (an indispensable ingredient of
the quest for truth). He says:
Reflect with a clear mind man by man for himself”
Y30.2 (Insler translation).
when Zarathushtra asks God Himself to instruct him, it is not through
dictates or mandates, but through good thinking.
through good thinking the course of my direction“
Y50.6 (Insler translation).
The Sad Dar
was composed more than 2,000 years after Zarathushtra. According to E. W.
West, whose translation is still regarded as definitive, approximately 4%
of its words are Arabic, so it cannot have originated before the Arab
invasion of Iran. One of the versions we now have was composed around
1531 AD. Another version by a different author, around 1495 AD. Both
versions were composed by Zoroastrian priests of that time. One can only
speculate about their intentions in composing this work. In my own quest
for truth and what is right, I disagree with a great many of the Sad Dar's
conclusions, which is my right as a Zarathushtrian. But the greatest
wrong of which the authors of the Sad Dar are guilty, in my view, is that
they attempt to do our thinking for us.
their own fact-specific code of behavior, they disregarded a core teaching
of Zarathushtra the notion that religion is a quest for truth with good
thinking, with independent thought, and with the freedom to make choices
(and learn from our mistakes). Zarathushtra teaches that everything we do
comes back to us ‘the good and the bad’ not by way of punishment, but as
a means of enlightenment.
with the thought to warn Iranians who are disenchanted with Islam, from
seeking to glorify everything that pre-dated the Arab conquest of Iran,
or even perhaps replacing one intolerant religious autocracy with
another, both legitimate concerns. We have only to consider the
government of the ayatollahs (and indeed of some intolerant pre-Islamic
rulers of Iran as well) to appreciate the benefits of separating church
and state. But we need to consider the lessons of history with a
truthful, discriminating mind in recognizing in Iran’s pre-Islamic past,
both what was good and what was not good. In characterizing Sad Dar as a
teaching of Zarathushtra, is not accurate. Zarathushtra’s teachings are
the antithesis of an intolerant religious autocracy. The quest for truth
/ right, the freedom to think for ourselves, the freedom to make choices,
by definition, requires tolerance for a diversity of views.
teaches that power (rule) is a trust, to be used to serve (an interesting
To speaks of
the caste system of the Sassanians and to state that Zoroastrian priests
of that time considered ordinary Iranians to be unclean and untouchable,
with due respect, I do not think that is entirely accurate. But even if
we assume, for the sake or argument, that that was so, such practices are
totally contradictory to Zarathushtra’s teaching that something of God
lives in all the living, the fire within. The Persian poet Jami expressed
the same thought in this way:
is a separate glass
Through which the Sun of Being’s light is passed,
Each tinted fragment sparkles in the sun
A thousand color, but the Light is One.
(as translated by Dr. S. H. Nasr).
The ancient kings of Iran,
going back to the legendary Kavi Husravah (Kai-Khosrav), found a beautiful
way of translating this core theological concept of Zarathushtra into
something tangible, that people in general could relate to. Fire is a
symbol of the divine Glory (this is also reflected in certain
illustrations in the Shah Nameh, where, for example, certain people are
depicted with fire surrounding their heads).
ancient kings established fires on various mountain tops throughout Iran
representing the divine Glory illuminating each segment of society: the
priest, the warrior and the agriculturalist, in a delightful equality.
(Sacred Book of the East Vol. 23, footnote 1, page 7).
The Glory (xvarena)
in warriors was represented by the fire known as Adar Gushasp or Gushnasp,
which King Husravah settled on a mountain in Azerbaijan known as Mount
Asnavant. (SBE Vol. 23, footnote 7, page 7; and Bundahish 17.7, SBE Vol.
5, page 63).
The Glory (xvarena)
in agriculturalist was represented by the fire known as the Burzin fire.
It was established by King Gushtasp on Mount Raevant in Khorasan. (SBE
Vol. 23, footnote 1, page 8, and Bundahishn 17.8, SBE Vol. 5, page 64).
The Glory (xvarena)
in the priests was represented by the fire known as Adarapra, or Adar
Farnbag. It also represented the illumination of science and learning (SBE
Vol. 23, footnote 2, page 7), which at that time was the province of the
priests and perhaps reflected Zarathushtra's thought that religion is a
quest for the truth (asha) in the worlds of both mind and matter (Y28.4
another Zarathushtrian tradition which also illustrates the fact that the
concept of an ‘untouchable’ , or even caste prejudice, does not exist in
Zarathushtra’s own teachings. It is the tradition of how the fire for a
fire temple is created - fire being a symbol of the divine Glory within.
It is created by mixing many different fires: the household fire, the
fires used by a potter, a glass blower, a coppersmith, a goldsmith, a
silversmith, an ironsmith, a baker, a furnace worker, a tinsmith, a
shephard's fire, a warrior’s fire, fire from lightning, fire from a
neighbor's hearth, fire from burning a corpse, and fire from burning
trash. What does this tell us? It tells me that the person who invented
this ritual was using these symbols to illustrate the idea that the sacred
exists in all aspects of life. To me that is very beautiful.
teaches that the relationship between man and God is not that of a master
to a slave, or even a father to a child, but rather, it is that of a
Friend to a friend or a beloved to a Beloved.
If God is
our Beloved Friend, and if He is a part of each of us, how can we consider
any human being as untouchable or unclean? How can we be anything but
friends with one another, regardless of diversities of race, culture,
occupation, and the many other man-made classifications that divide us?
And when we all understand this, and think, speak and act in accordance
with this understanding, will the world be renewed? (what we call
frashokereti)? That was Zarathushtra’s objective. His words:
may we be those who shall heal this world!.....
Y30.9 (Insler translation).
Sad Dar, and
many later texts, (most of them written by unknown authors several hundred
years after Zarathushtra), are historical footnotes in the long history of
Zoroastrianism. Even today, we have many different factions of
Zoroastrians whose beliefs are inconsistent with Zarathushtra’s own
teachings. Those who have a passion for the truth and are independent
minded, may find Zarathushtra’s non-dogmatic, benevolent way of life
deeply satisfying (as I do). If your readers are interested in
Zarathushtra’s own teachings, (as distinguished from historical footnotes
like Sad Dar) they would do better to check out the many websites which
give accurate information on this subject, albeit with a diversity of
views that reflects our practice of the quest for truth with independent
minds and hearts. For example: www.vohuman.org, www.zarathushtra.com