Our reality can be classified in many ways.
One of these is to see it in terms of the physical and the abstract, or as
Zarathushtra puts it, the “existences … of
matter as well as of mind…” Y28.2.
Before we go further, let us be clear about
Zarathushtra's notion of "mind". To some extent, we all are the prisoners
of the languages and cultures in which we have been raised. But
Zarathushtra shared neither our linguistic nor our cultural
conditionings. So to understand his thought, we need to remove the
spectacles of such conditioning and see his thoughts with fresh eyes.
Historically, our cultures have associated the
mind with the intellect, logic, analysis, et cetera. And historically,
the heart has been associated with the emotions, creativity, intuition, et
cetera. Yet, the discoveries of science have now made us aware that
although the heart is a wonderful and indispensable organ, it is nothing
more than a pumping machine, responsible for pumping our blood through our
bodies. The heart has nothing to do with emotions. Even when the heart
pounds with love or fear, we know that it's muscles are merely responding
to hormones released into the blood stream by the brain. It is the brain
that governs both intellect and emotions. The left side of the brain
governs the kinds of thoughts and perceptions which historically our
cultures have associated with the mind. Whereas the right side of the
brain governs the kinds of thoughts and perceptions which historically we
have associated with the heart. And, absent surgical intervention, both
sides function in an integrated way.
Zarathushtra may not have known about the left
and right sides of the brain. He may not even have been aware of the
functions of the brain as an organ. But to him, the abstract, the
existence of mind, includes the functions expressed by both sides of the
brain. And the distinction he makes is not between intellect and
emotions, but between the good and wrongful use of each of the many
functions which our brains enable us to express or generate.
To Zarathushtra, "bad" (aka) thinking is
ignorance, false understanding, (left brain functions) as well as such
qualities as fury and cruelty (right brain functions). For example in
Y30.6, an expression of the "worst thought"
". . .Since they
chose the worst thought, they then rushed into fury, with
which they have afflicted the world and mankind." Y30.6 (emphasis
By the same token, included within the
functions of good thinking (vohu mano), are not only such qualities as,
for example, good judgment, the ability to discriminate between what is
accurate and inaccurate, true and false (governed by the left side of the
brain) but also such qualities as creativity, insight and the good
emotions (governed by the right side of the brain). To give just a few
Zarathushtra tells us that in making our
choices, we should reflect with a "clear mind".
Yet he tell us that it is the beneficent who make the right choices.
Beneficence means ". . . active goodness, kindness, charity; bounty
springing from purity and goodness"
indicating that these good emotions are involved in the judgment of the
"clear mind" which results in making the
". . . Reflect with
a clear mind -- man by man for himself -- upon the two choices of
decision. . ." Y30.2 (emphasis added).
". . . and between
these two, the beneficent have chosen correctly. . ."Y30.3.
Similarly, Zarathushtra's terms for paradise
are "the best thinking",
the "The House of Good Thinking" (Y32.15),
and "the House of Song" Y45.8, Y50.4, Y51.15.
"House is used in the Gathas as a metaphor for a state of being. Thus
"the best thinking", the
"The House of Good Thinking", and
"the House of Song" describe the state
of being that is the Zarathushtrian paradise. Now it is readily apparent
that "Song" involve creativity. It
expresses and evokes emotions. Although music can evoke emotions that are
sad and joyful, it would be reasonable to conclude that in using the term
"House of Song" for paradise, he is
describing a state of being that is bliss, sublime joy.
The House of Good
Thinking and the House of Song,
both describe a state of being in which both good thinking, and the good
emotions are personified.
In the same way, Zarathushtra describes vohu
mano or good thinking as an attribute of the Divine, one of his names for
"God" being Mazda -- Wisdom personified. And to him, Mazda, Wisdom
personified, comprises, not just intellect and the qualities it includes,
but intellect committed to goodness, and all of the good emotions as well
-- solicitude, beneficence, friendship, et cetera.
". . . Him, the One
who offers solicitude. . ." Y45.7
". . . Him who is
beneficent through His virtuous spirit to those who exist. . ." Y45.6.
". . . Take notice
of it, Lord, offering the support which a friend should grant to a
friend . . . " Y46.2.
Returning to Zarathushtra’s view of the
existence of mind, it is also important to be aware that "mind" and
are not used as two antithetical concepts in the Gathas. Indeed,
Zarathushtra uses the House of Good Thinking
to refer to the ultimate spiritual state of being which is paradise.
Our religion enjoys many similarities with
other religions. And also some differences. It is good to celebrate the
similarities, as we do with inter-faith activities. And it is also
important to be aware of the differences, not for the purpose of
condemning what is different, but in order to understand Zarathushtra's
Those religions which urge us to set aside the
"mind" and go with the "heart" are quite different from Zarathushtra's
teaching. Those religions which see "mind" and "spirituality" as
antithetical, or mutually exclusive in their functioning, are also quite
different from Zarathushtra's teachings. He sees intellect, emotion and
spirituality as integral parts of the abstract existence, the existence of
mind, and he requires us to commit all such abstract capabilities to what
is good and true and right.
An even more important difference between
Zarathushtra's thought and conventional religious thought, is
Zarathushtra's view of the roles that mind and matter play in bringing
about spiritual growth and the desired end.
Conventional religious wisdom teaches that to
achieve spiritual growth, we must renounce the material, withdraw from
it. This teaching is implemented in a variety of ways, ranging from the
simple, such as not eating things that we like ("I promise to give up
sweets for Lent"), to the more serious, such as fasting, embracing poverty
and celibacy, renouncing the ties of family and friends, asceticism,
becoming a hermit, and even "mortifying the flesh" such as wearing hair
shirts and flogging the body, as was the practice in some monastic sects
in the Middle Ages.
The underlying premise of such a belief is
that what pertains to the material – especially material things that give
us pleasure – is "bad" and must be rejected, if we are to grow
spiritually. I find this approach to spirituality problematic. It not
only categorizes a large part of our existence (the material) as "bad",
but creates the notion of a Diety who is displeased by us enjoying
ourselves, and is pleased by our deprivation and discomfort. For self
denial alone does not automatically bring about goodness unless the mind
bends itself to achieving that end.
Very different is Zarathushtra's
understanding. To him, the existences of matter and mind are neither
intrinsically good nor intrinsically bad. It's how we use them that
counts. And he goes a step further.
He tells us that it is through the medium of
the material world that we achieve spiritual completeness. An interesting
Yet, a moment's reflection shows us the
validity of his view. It is clear that good spiritual values cannot exist
in a vacuum. To be worth anything, (at least in our reality), they have
to be expressed through the material medium of thoughts, words and
That simple Zarathushti maxim: good thoughts,
good words and good actions, which unfortunately it has become fashionable
today to denigrate, is actually the means by which we fulfill the two-fold
purpose of life which is: (1) to advance each individual spiritually
towards haurvatat, (perfection, completeness) with each good choice in
thought, word, and action, and (2) in so doing, make our world a better
place, for it is impossible to think a good thought, say a good word or do
a good deed without benefiting the people and places affected by such
thoughts, words and actions.
Just as a musician uses material instruments
to express the music in his soul, just as an artist uses the material
medium of paints and canvas to express his vision, so too Zarathushtra
teaches that the divine values of truth / right (asha), and good thinking
(vohu mano), are brought to life, given substance, through the medium of
our material world, using material things, with our choices in thought,
word and action (which incidentally, is the concept of aramaiti – making
asha and vohu mano real with our thoughts, words and actions).
I rather like Zarathushtra's approach to the
existences of matter and mind. It relieves the material existence -- so
large portion of our reality (of what "God" has provided to us) -- of the
status of something that is "bad", and instead sees it as an indispensable
component of the process of advancing each soul, and our world, towards
the desired end. But even more, it shows us the generosity of the Divine
in crafting a medium for this advancement, that so often gives us
pleasure, while we use it to achieve the desired end.
In Zarathushtra’s understanding of reality,
the spiritual is advanced through the material. The material is advanced
through the spiritual. And the paradox of the material and the spiritual
resolves itself into the harmony of a beneficent existence.
All quotations from the Gathas in this paper are from the translation
of 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 and
indicate an insertion by Professor Insler, indicating his
understanding. Square brackets [ ] indicate an insertion by me.
Such insertions by me are provided to show you applicable Gathic words
(although not with 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 under discussion.
Webster's International Dictionary, 2d edition (1956).
". . . and how, at the end, the worst
existence shall be for the deceitful but the best thinking for
the truthful [ashaune] person." Y30.4 (emphasis added).
I use spirituality here, not in the sense of "mainyu" which many
translators have translated as "spirit". A contextual analysis shows
that Zarathushtra uses "mainyu" to indicate the totality of a way of
being. See for example Y30.3, where mainyu includes thought, word and
action ("Yes, there are two fundamental
spirits [mainyu] . . . In thought and in word, in actions, they are
two:. . ."Y30.3). And see Y45.2 where mainyu includes many
enumerated characteristics including thoughts, teachings, intentions,
preferences, words, actions, vision, and soul ("Yes,
I shall speak of the two fundamental spirits [mainyu] of existence, of
which the virtuous [spenta] one would have thus spoken to the evil [angrem]
one: 'Neither our thoughts nor teachings nor intentions, neither our
preferences nor words, neither our actions nor conceptions nor our
souls are in accord'." Y45.2).
" 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. Giving "body
and breath" to the rule of truth and good thinking means to
give it life, make it real, give it substance. Similarly
". . . Through its actions, [aramaiti] gives
substance to the truth. . ."Y44.6. Aramaiti is the concept of
making asha and its comprehension (vohu mano) real with our thoughts,
words and actions.
This article was posted on Vohuman.Org on
September 18, 2005.