was on the receiving end of their malice, probably because of his
outspoken criticism of their practices:
what land to flee? Where shall I go to flee? They exclude (me) from my
family and from my clan…..” Y46.1.
Using his own good mind, Zarathushtra concluded that oppression, cruelty
and violence could not be divine qualities, and that therefore, those
"gods" who embodied such values could not be divine, could not be worthy
of worship. He concluded that only a being who is pure goodness -- the
spenta way of being -- who personifies wisdom in all its thoughts, words
and actions, is worthy of worship, is Divine.
He calls Divinity
Mazda, (Wisdom personified), a state of being which includes certain
attributes (later called the amesha spenta): asha (truth --
factual truth as well as the truths of mind and spirit, including
beneficence and all that is good and right), vohu mano
(its comprehension), aramaiti (its realization in thought,
word and action),
vohu xshathra (good rule -- not a rule of cruelty, deceit and
tyranny, but the rule of asha, vohu mano and aramaiti),
haurvatat and ameretat (the complete, perfect, undying,
personification of asha), all of which comprise a state of being that is
Wisdom personified, a state of being that is pure goodness, pure truth,
the benevolent way of being -- spenta mainyu.
It is interesting
that Zarathushtra also sees these divine qualities in man, although not
perfected. And he teaches that the way for us to perfect them, is to
worship Mazda with His own divine qualities, choice by choice, in real
We worship Wisdom by
searching for, and understanding the truth (vohu mano) -- the factual
truths of our universe as well as the truths of mind and spirit --
what's right (asha). We worship Wisdom by bringing truth to life,
giving it substance, with each thought word and action -- prayers of
aramaiti. We worship Wisdom by using whatever power we have to advance
the good, create a good society (good rule, vohu xshathra). We worship
Wisdom by trying to evolve from an admixture of good and evil, to a way
of being that is pure goodness, pure truth -- the spenta way of being (spenta
mainyu). We worship Wisdom by ultimately personifying the truth (as we
become what we choose), attaining it completely (haurvatat), in an
undying way (ameretat).
There are many
verses in which Zarathushtra speaks of worshipping Mazda with His own
divine attributes. For example:
praising, I shall always worship all of you, Wise Lord, with truth
and the very best thinking and with their rule…" Y50.4.
hands outstretched, Wise One, I shall serve all of you . . . with
truth and with the reverence (worthy) of a sincere person. You,
moreover, with the skillfulness of good thinking. Praising, I
shall encounter you with such worship, Wise One, and with actions
stemming from good thinking allied with truth…" Y50.8 – 9
[which is the concept of aramaiti].
shall try to glorify Him for us with prayers of [aramaiti]….."Y45.10.
". . .
Your enduring worshipful offering has been established to be
immortality [ameretat] and completeness [haurvatat]." Y33.8.
So we see that
Zarathushtra's idea of Divinity is a God of pure goodness, a God who is
Wisdom personified. And we see that the path to God is the path of His
own divine characteristics, the amesha spenta. A necessary conclusion
from this premise is that a good end is achieved through good means. A
good end cannot be achieved through wrongful means.
are a number of verses in the Gathas which might be (and which by some
have been) interpreted to say that we should return evil for evil, or
bad for bad.
An interesting paradox.
Some of these verses are
simply an expression of the law of consequences – that we reap what we
sow. For example:
"…Thou didst determine actions as well as words to have their prizes,
namely, bad for the bad, a good reward for the good…" Y43.5.
These verses do not require us to return evil for evil or bad
for bad. The law of consequences is implemented by Mazda in a manner
consistent with good thinking and a benevolent way of being, to bring
about a good end.
But other verses present more of a puzzle. They clearly involve man as
the one who must think, speak and act. Here they are:
bring about what is bad for the deceitful one either by word or by
thought, or with his hands, …" Y33.2.
". . .But
evils to the person who would deliver us to evil! -- thus satisfying
your wish with truth [asha], Wise One. . ."Y46.18.
do evil to the deceitful one (as) in accordance with the wish of Him who
has upheld the truth…"Y51.8.
the deceitful are not able to deflect those who are properly truthful
from this virtuous spirit [spenta mainyu]..…a man…shall be loving to the
truthful person and bad to the deceitful one." Y47.4.
What is Zarathushtra
saying here? Is he saying that the end (getting rid of evil) justifies
the means (doing anything we want to them, however "bad" it may be)?
in the Gathas is eminently logical. Yet such a conclusion is not
logical. We cannot eliminate evil by acting wrongfully towards
wrongdoers. If we act wrongfully towards wrongdoers, we simply create
more wrong, we don't eliminate it. Is Zarathushtra being illogical in
the above quoted verses?
If these verses tell us
that we must return evil for evil, they would be inconsistent with
Zarathushtra's rejection of the cruel and evil local gods of his time,
and his vision of the Divine as pure goodness, Wisdom personified. They
also would be inconsistent with his teaching that the path to God is the
path of His divine attributes, that a good end is achieved through good
means. Is Zarathushtra being inconsistent here?
Neither illogical or
inconsistent, Zarathushtra presents us with a puzzle, a paradox.
Puzzles and paradoxes are great teaching devices. They force us to
think about all the component parts of the puzzle or paradox, in order
to solve it. These "bad for the bad"
verses themselves give us the key to thr solution.
In Y46.18, doing evil to
the evil is linked with "thus satisfying your
wish with truth [asha], Wise One." In Y51.8, doing
"evil to the deceitful one" is linked
to acting "in accordance with the wish of Him
who has upheld the truth [asha]." So the quality of the act
towards the evil or deceitful would have to be something that is in
accordance with asha.
Similarly, in Y47.4,
Zarathushtra speaks of being "…bad to the
deceitful one" right after he states that the deceitful are not
able to deflect those who are truthful ["ashaono"]
through spenta mainyu (through a benevolent way of being). So the
quality of the act of being "bad" to the deceitful would have to be
consistent with being truthful through a benevolent way of being (spenta
At one level, we might
conclude that Zarathushtra simply means we should do
"bad to the deceitful" in the sense
that we should not do anything that will prosper the deceitful or make
them successful. We should actively oppose and retard those who are
being evil or deceitful -- bring their deceitful activities to a bad
At another level,
however, these verses, which link being bad to the bad with truth (asha)
and the benevolent way of being (spenta mainyu), tip us off that
Zarathushtra is playing with words as another way of expressing a basic
thought that we often see in the Gathas – that you destroy what is "bad"
with what is "good" i.e. "good" being "bad" for (or destructive of) the
"bad". To illustrate: imagine, if you would, a person engaged in
perpetrating a swindle, a fraud. What would be "bad" for such a
person? Revealing the truth of the matter, which would defeat the
swindle and expose the fraud. So the truth would be "bad" for the
person engaged in perpetrating the fraud (bad). "Bad for the bad" in
This conclusion (that
good is "bad" for the bad) is consistent with the many verses in the
Gathas in which Zarathushtra specifically states that we will defeat
what is wrong with truth, with the amesha spenta and with goodness. For
during the times after this (present) one which is under the workings of
evil, one shall defeat deceit by truth [asha], …then one
shall increase Thy glory, Lord…"Y48.1.
might I deliver deceit into the hands of truth in order to destroy it
in accord with the precepts of Thy teaching…" Y44.14,
[the precepts of the Wise Lord's teaching is the path of the amesha
who, with ill will, have increased fury and cruelty…whose evil effects
one has not yet defeated with good effects…" Y49.4.
All of these verses show
us that we defeat what is wrong, with truth, with the amesha spenta, and
with goodness -- all of which are "bad" for the bad.
It is important to note,
however, that Zarathushtra's teachings do not involve turning the other
cheek. They involve using our intelligence, our thoughts, words and
actions, to actively oppose and defeat what is wrong, in a manner that
is consistent with truth and what's right (asha), and a good way of
being (spenta mainyu).
Thus we see that good
thoughts, words and actions are the key to being "bad" to the bad, and
that the paradox of being "bad" to the bad is in harmony with being all
that is good.
This article also appeared in HAMAZOR in 2006, and was posted on
vohuman.org on August 18, 2006.
All quotations from the Gathas are from the translation of
Professor Insler, as it appears in The Gathas of Zarathustra,
(Brill, 1975), although Professor Insler may or may not agree
with the inferences that I draw from his translation. Round
parentheses ( ) in a quotation appear in the original
translation and indicate interpretative aides inserted by
Professor Insler. Square brackets [ ] in a quotation indicate
words that have been inserted by me, sometimes to show the
applicable Gathic word (but without its grammatical variations),
and sometimes by way of explanation. I leave “aramaiti”
untranslated. A string of dots in a quotation indicates that I
have deleted parts of the verse which are not relevant to the
particular point under discussion. And I sometimes insert bold
print in a quotation, to call attention to a given word or idea.
For the evidence on which this definition of aramaiti is based,
see The Paradox of Service and Rule on
"But to this world He came with the
rule of good thinking and of truth. . ."Y30.7; ". . . the rule
of truth and good thinking. . ."Y50.3; ". . .Grant thou [aramaiti]
your rule of good thinking. . ."Y51.3.
Other examples of this sort appear in: Y30.8, Y32.12, and Y46.8.
See The Paradox of the Freedom to Choose and the Inevitable
End, which appears on
www.vohuman.org for the evidence on which this conclusion is