No one knows for sure when Zarathustra
lived. We have a lot of intelligent and educated speculation, but no
direct evidence. Opinions range from 6,500 BC, to 1,700 BC, to 1,200
BC, to 1,000 BC, to 600 BC. But opinions, however well founded, are
No one knows for sure where Zarathushtra
lived. We have a lot of intelligent and educated speculation, but no
direct evidence. Opinions range from Azerbaijan, to Afghanistan, to
eastern Iran, to western Iran.
The Gathas of Zarathushtra are the only text
that exists today in the Gathic language. And due to the passage of
time and the depredations of Alexander the Macedonian,
it became an unknown language in terms of its grammar and vocabulary,
for more than 1,000 years. What little knowledge the Sassanians
retained of Gathic was further decimated by the Arab invasion of Iran.
So how do we know today what the Gathas
say. Late in the 18th century, linguists accidentally discovered the
similarity between Gathic and Vedic. This started the long, slow,
process of decoding the Gathas, based on Vedic and other ancient
languages, using the principles of philology -- which include the
comparative analysis of languages, and ascertaining some common ways
(rules) which underlie how they change from culture to culture, and
generation to generation.
Today, there is approximately 80% agreement
among linguists and philologists on translations of Gathic words and
grammar. Unfortunately, some of the most important words in the Gathas
do not fall within this 80% on which there is agreement. Aramaiti is
one of them.
We all agree that it is one of the amesha
spenta, an attribute of Ahura Mazda himself, and (like the other amesha
spenta) it is also an attribute of a good person. But there is
substantial disagreement as to its meaning.
Aramaiti has been translated by linguists as
piety or respect;
faith and devotion;
fittingness, submission and humility;
and serenity, stability, tranquility.
As you can see, knowledge of linguistics
alone has not solved the puzzle of the meaning of aramaiti. Could there
be clues to the meaning of aramaiti based on a contextual analysis, i.e.
the way in which Zarathushtra uses the word in the Gathas? Let's take a
In Y49.5 Zarathushtra describes a good
thinking person as a person of aramaiti:
". . . that man,
Wise One, . . . who has allied his conception [daena] with good
thinking. Any such person of [aramaiti] . . . " Y49.5.
If a good thinking person is a person of
aramaiti, it would be reasonable to conclude that good thinking (which
includes rightmindedness) is included within the meaning of aramaiti.
In Y32 verses 1 and 2, we see aramaiti
equated with persons who are the Wise Lord's messengers. Zarathushtra
says that the family, the community and the clan all entreat the Wise
Lord, saying: ". . .
Let us be Thy messengers. . ." Y32.1. The
Wise Lord agrees, saying:
". . .We have chosen your good and [spenta aramaiti]. .
To be a messenger, one has to have more than
good thoughts or rightmindedness. One has to also use good words. If
aramaiti is equated with being a messenger of the Wise Lord, it would be
reasonable to conclude that its meaning also includes good words.
In Y30.7, Zarathushtra says:
"But to this
world He came with the rule of good thinking and of truth, and (our)
enduring [aramaiti] gave body and breath (to it). . ."Y30.7.
How does one give
"body and breath"
to the rule of truth and good thinking? One cannot do so with
right-mindedness and good words alone. Good actions also are required
to make the rule of truth and good thinking real, give it
"body and breath"
i.e. give it life, give it substance.
Similarly, Zarathushtra says
". . . Through its actions, [aramaiti] gives substance to the truth [asha].
. ." Y44.6. He calls aramaiti ".
. . [aramaiti] of good actions. . ."
in Y45.4. And he tells
us that a man expresses his aramaiti by actions stemming from good
his action stemming from good thinking, a man of good determination has
expressed his understanding and his [spenta aramaiti]…" Y34.10. These
verses (and others) all indicate that actions are a part of the meaning
of aramaiti -- a view with which Professor K. D. Irani concurs.
Finally, in Y51.21 Zarathushtra shows us the
full spectrum of what is included within the meaning of aramaiti. It
includes understanding (i.e. thoughts), words, actions, and vision
(another aspect of thought).
" Virtuous [spento]
is the man of [aramaiti]. He is so by reason of his understanding, his
words, his actions, his conception [daena]. . ." Y51.21.
If a man of aramaiti is spenta because of
his understanding, his words, his actions, his vision [daena], then the
meaning of aramaiti, of necessity, would have to include all these
It is interesting that Zarathushtra also
teaches us that we serve and worship the Wise Lord with our thoughts,
words and actions of truth, good thinking and good rule, in other words,
with our aramaiti. So in a sense, piety and devotion are also included
within the meaning of aramaiti.
" I who shall
serve all of you, Wise Lord, with good thinking, . . ."Y28.2;
" Yes, praising, I
shall always worship all of you, Wise Lord, with truth and the very best
thinking and with their rule . . ." Y50.4;
" With hands
outstretched, Wise One, I shall serve all of you . . . with truth . . .
You, moreover, with the skillfulness of good thinking. Y50.8.
" I shall try to
glorify Him for us with prayers of [aramaiti], . . ." Y45.10.
We see from
these verses that the fragrance of a life well lived is the incense of
worship -- prayers of aramaiti in the temple of life.
To summarize: From the way in which
Zarathushtra uses aramaiti in the Gathas, it would be reasonable to
conclude that aramaiti means making truth
(asha) a reality, giving it
"body and breath",
giving it "substance",
with our thoughts, words and actions of asha -- the proverbial good
thoughts, good words and good actions -- a foundation of Zarathushtrian
This is how we serve truth. This is how we
serve the Wise Lord. This is also how we serve all the living, and our
world, because it is impossible to think a good thought, say a good word
or do a good deed, without benefiting the people and the circumstances
that are affected by such thoughts, words and actions.
It is difficult to find one word in English
that captures the full meaning of aramaiti. "Service" to Mazda and to
all the living, with our good thoughts, words and actions, comes close,
based on a contextual analysis. But is this also linguistically valid?
Well, although Professor Insler now prefers "respect" as the correct
translation of aramaiti, he has also expressed the following opinion:
"Vedic also frequently uses the expression aram kr 'to serve' whose
underlying meaning was surely 'show respect'."
But how does translating aramaiti as
service, square with the fact that aramaiti is one of the amesha spenta,
and as such, is a characteristic of Mazda Himself.
A God who serves?
Some teachers of Zoroastrianism teach
that Mazda transcends the conflict between good and evil in our world,
that He does not act or involve Himself in our world. But the Gathas
show us a very different view of Mazda. It is true that He does not
interfere with our freedom to choose (".
. . Him who left to our will (to choose between) the virtuous and the
unvirtuous. . ."Y45.9), but in His own way
(a way perhaps not always clear to us), the Gathas tell us that He
actively works to promote the renovation of the world: --
With His thoughts: (".
. . Thy (good) thinking, through whose actions one has nourished the
truth [asha]. . ." Y46.7);
With His words: (".
. .Thou art the Lord by reason of Thy tongue (which is) in harmony with
truth [asha] and by reason of Thy words stemming from good thinking . .
And with His actions: (".
. . the truthful [ashavanem] Lord, virtuous [spenta] in His actions. .
." Y46.9; "Yes, those things which Thou hast brought to realization,
as well as those things which Thou hast reached by Thy actions . .
This is not a Ruler who expects anything of
us that He is not prepared to do Himself.
Let us next consider Rule. The conventional
notion of rule and service, is that the Ruler rules, and his subjects
In one sense, this conventional notion
is reflected in the Gathas, because we often see references to Mazda as
Ruler and to xshathra as His rule ("…Wise
Ruler…" Y28.7; ". . . the Wise Lord who rules at will. . .Y43.1; "…Thy
rule that is in accord with truth [asha]…" Y43.14; "…By your rule,
Lord, Thou shalt truly heal this world…" Y34.15).
And we are told that our part is to serve ("…May
there be aramaiti under the rule of Him who has the appearance of the
sun…"Y43.16; "…fame is to serve Thee and the truth, Wise One, under
Thy rule." Y32.6).
But Zarathushtra's thinking is often
unconventional, and never one-dimensional. He also tells us:
That rule belongs to service, and that
service gives rule ("...Grant thou [aramaiti]
your rule of good thinking ..." Y51.2);
gives power ("…Give thou, o [aramaiti]
power to Vishtaspa and to me…" Y28.7);
And that to
rule is to serve: ("Glorious Jamaspa
Haugva (has displayed) this understanding of His power: 'One chooses
that rule of good thinking allied with truth in order to serve…' "
[referring to man] serves truth during
his rule, with good word and good action…" Y31.22).
It makes us wonder: What is good rule?
What does it consist of?
Good rule is frequently called
"... the rule of truth [asha] and good
thinking [vohu mano]..." Y29.10; "...the rule of good thinking and of
truth..." Y30.7; "...the rule of good
And it is also called the rule of aramaiti
("...Grant thou [aramaiti] your rule of good thinking ..." Y51.2).
If aramaiti means giving asha substance with our thoughts, words and
actions, then aramaiti's rule would necessarily be the rule of asha and
its comprehension, vohu mano.
In addition, Zarathushtra's notion of good
rule is a rule that is loving, caring.
Y28.7 he says:
“... do Thou give, Wise
Ruler, that promise through which we may hear of your solicitude (for
So we see that solicitude is a
component of His rule -- the rule of asha and vohu mano, the rule of
aramaiti. Thus His rule is both wise and loving.
It is amazing what a difference it makes to our quality of life, when
those in authority use their power in a good way -- be it in a
corporation, or government, or academia, or a family, or an
organization, or a committee, or any of the many large and small units
of governance that exist in our society. How should those in authority
exercise their power? With aramaiti: "Let
those of good rule rule over us … with actions stemming from good
understanding, and with [aramaiti]" Y48.5.
But the notion of vohu xshathra, good rule, is not only for those in
authority. We all have power over each other, -- power that we can use
in a constructive or destructive way. If you can hurt someone, you have
power over him. If you can help someone, you have power over him. We
too need to exercise our power with aramaiti.
There is a lovely verse in Yasna 51, the Vohu Xshathra (Good Rule) Gatha,
in which Zarathushtra, teaching through questions, spells out the
components of good rule.
"Where shall there be protection instead of injury? Where shall mercy
take place? Where truth [asha] which attains glory? Where [spenta
aramaiti]? Where the very best thinking [mano vahishtem]? Where Wise
One, through Thy rule?" Y51.4.
So we see that Mazda's rule offers solicitude. It offers protection
instead of injury. It is a rule that is compassionate and wise, a rule
that gives substance to truth (asha) with His thoughts, words and
actions. His rule is the rule of aramaiti.
As with Him, so with us. We too should
offer solicitude, protection instead of injury. We too should serve
Mazda, each other, and our world, with our thoughts, words and actions
of asha, i.e. with aramaiti. Such service is also how we worship Wisdom
(Mazda). Such service creates good rule, (vohu xshathra) -- the rule
of service (aramaiti).
Such service is how Mazda and we, as
partners, heal our world and bring to life the good vision [vanghui
daena] -- the vision of a world governed by truth and good thinking.
The vision of a world governed by aramaiti.
". . .The Wise One
in rule is Lord through [aramaiti]." Y47.1.
 This article
also appeared in HAMAZOR in 2006, and was posted on vohuman.org
on August 18, 2006.
 A late
Pahlavi manuscript, the Arda Viraz Namag, has this to say about
the destruction of texts wrought by Alexander the Macedonian:
"And that Religion, namely all the Avesta and Zand, which had
been written with golden ink on prepared cowhide, and deposited
in the Staxr I Pabagan in the National Archives, was taken away
and burnt by Alexander the Roman, resident of Egypt, and many
religious authorities and judges and herbeds and mowbeds and
upholders of the religion and skilled and wise men were
killed.". In the Denkard, another late Pahlavi text, it is
written: "And after destruction had come from the notorious,
wicked, (and) wrathful Alexander, (even) so much was not
recovered from (the ruins) of what had existed, as would be
possible to be kept (in memory) by a religious authority."
Both quotations are from Humbach, The Gathas of
Zarathushtra and Other Old Avestan Texts, Heidelberg, 1991,
Vol. 1, page 52. Words appearing in parentheses are words that
Humbach has inserted into the text, to aid understanding.
translates aramaiti as "rightmindedness", See Humbach, ibid.,
aramaiti as divine wisdom, Sethna, The Teachings of
Zarathushtra, (1978), page 17.
aramaiti as "piety", Insler, The Gathas of
Zarathushtra, (Brill 1975), but more
recently, he has expressed a preference for "respect". See
Insler, Zarathushtra's Genetic System, which may be
Schmidt states: "For armaiti and taremaiti I have substituted
'respect' and 'disrespect' for the awkward 'proper thought' and
:'perverse thought' I used previously (1974). 'Respect' is less
specialized than 'devotion' and 'humility' and lacks the
overtones of the present day usage of 'piety' (Insler) and the
negative connotations of 'conformity' (…Humbach)." Hanns-Peter
Schmidt, The Form and Meaning of Yasna 33,
(American Oriental Society, 1986), page 4.
translates aramaiti as "Piety", Moulton, Early
Zoroastrianism, Lectures delivered at Oxford, 1912, AMS
Press reprint, page 345.
translates aramaiti as "Faith and Devotion". Taraporewala,
The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra, (Hukhta Foundation,
reprint, 1993), page 100.
Thieme, rejecting such translations as "fittingness",
"submission" and "humility", suggests that aramaiti means an
attitude "characterized by satisfying intention." Thieme,
Reflections on the Vocabulary of Zarathustra's Gathas, in
Proceedings of the First Gatha Colloquium, 1993, (WZO,
1998), page 208, expressing the opinion that as an attribute of
Ahura Mazda, it is characterized by care/solicitude, and as an
attribute of man, by loyalty/devotion. (page 206).
See Thieme's discussion, ibid.
translates the word as "serenity, stability, tranquility" Jafarey,
The Gathas our Guide, (Ushta Publications 1989), page
All quotations from the Gathas in this paper are from the
translation by Professor Insler in The Gathas of
Zarathushtra, (Brill 1975), unless otherwise indicated,
although Professor Insler may or may not agree with the
inferences I draw from his translation. Round brackets ( )
appearing in a quotation are in the original translation and
indicate an insertion by Professor Insler, expressing his
understanding. Square brackets [ ]
in a quotation indicate
an insertion by me, which are provided to show you applicable
Gathic words (although without their grammatical variations) or
by way of explanation. A string of dots in a quotation
indicates a deletion from the original. Often a verse contains
many strands of thought. Deleting from a quotation those
strands of thought that are not relevant to the discussion at
hand enables us to focus on the strand of thought that is under
In his Introduction to his father's translation of the Gathas,
Professor K. D. Irani describes the concept of aramaiti as
follows: "The inspiration that leads to action is Spenta
Armaity, translated in the religious context as Piety or
Devotion, and in the moral context as Benevolence or
Right-Mindedness. This spirit is another aspect of Divinity, it
inclines us to move from right conceptions to right actions. We
thereby, with courage and confidence put our well-thought-out
and well formulated intentions into action. This is called
good-deed. Here we can crystallize the oft-repeated trilogy of
Zoroastrianism: Good-thoughts, Good-words, and Good-deeds."
Irani, The Gathas, the Hymns of Zarathushtra, as edited
by K.D. Irani, (1998).
 Asha means
truth -- including physical (factual) truth, and also the truths
of mind and spirit, i.e. what's right -- not a puritanical,
judgmental rectitude, but a loving, generous one, including such
things as goodness, beneficence, solicitude, friendship,
compassion, justice -- all of the values that we consider to be
"good" and "right". So when we see the word "truth" in
connection with Zarathushtra's thought, we need to remember that
it includes not just physical, factual, truth, but also the
truths of mind and spirit -- all that is good and right.
Introduction to the Gathas of Zarathushtra, Issue #
Making it Happen, Aramaiti, footnote # 7. This
publication may be viewed at
scholars (Azargoshasb, Humbach, Irani, Taraporewala) translate "merezhdika"
as compassion, rather than as mercy.