impossible to study the Gathas without being struck by the intensity of
Zarathushtra’s relationship with Ahura Mazda.
A relationship that he expresses through direct communication, in the
language of his day. The Gathas are
full of many types of prayer. Zarathushtra
does not dictate specific prayers that must be recited. Instead, he talks to
Ahura Mazda, one on one, about
anything and everything. He talks
to Mazda about his hunger for knowledge: He
asks who fixed
course of the sun and of the stars?
Through whom does the moon wax (now), wane later?
These things indeed and others, I wish to know Wise One.” Y44.3.1
to God about his mistreatment at the hands of others, his grief, his rejection
by the community, his anxieties about whether he will ever be able to persuade
others of the validity of his message, and about other things that concern him.
And he prays for guidance.
Thou, Wise Lord, instruct me…through the eloquence befitting Thy spirit…”
when asking for guidance from Mazda, he does not surrender his ability to think
for himself. He asks for guidance
through good thinking. He prays:
instruct through good thinking (the
course) of my direction, in order to be the charioteer of my will and my
holds true of Zarathushtra’s idea of obedience. In the later literature, it is said that when a soul departs
this life, it is sraosha, which means “listening” or “obedience,” that
brings the soul to God after death. I
think this is a metaphoric way of saying that listening to, and following Zarathushtra’s teachings, is what brings us to
God. But to Zarathushtra, the
concept of sraosha does not mean
blind obedience. It is a thinking
obedience. He says in the Gathas:
As world-healer, promise us a judge, [or teacher] and let obedience
to him come through good thinking, to
him whomsoever Thou dost wish him to be, Wise One.”
Gathas also contain prayers of intercession.
Some of us are inclined to regard such prayers with disfavor.
I fully agree that if we regard God primarily as an insurance policy, or
as a supplier of goods and services, that is a somewhat limited vision of the
relationship. However, I am not persuaded that it is either wrong or futile to
ask God for help. He is so
generous, that even when we pray to Him in foolish ways, asking for foolish
things, I think He uses the opportunity to help us acquire understanding.
I don’t think any prayer, however foolish, is ever wasted.
Zarathushtra expresses the belief that God always answers – one way or
another – if a prayer has two
ingredients – good purpose and love.
I know that words deriving from good purpose and from love, are not to be left
wanting by you.” Y28.10.
he does not say that we will get what we ask for. He says that the request will not be left wanting.
He frequently asks for help for himself and for others, but as usual,
with a difference. Let me show you
a few examples, and see if you can pick up on the difference:
In Yasna 28, verse 8, he says:
I lovingly entreat for the best for Frashaoshtra…and for me…and (for those
others)…the best for a whole life time of good thinking.” Y28.8.
he asking, for Frashaoshtra and himself and others?
In Yasna 46, after complaining about being hounded from his family and
his clan, he says:
notice of it, Lord, offering the support which a friend should grant to a
me see the power of good thinking allied with truth !”
what kind of support is he asking his Friend for? In Yasna 49, he says:
my lifetime I have been condemned as the greatest defiler, I who try to satisfy
the poorly protected (creatures) with truth, Wise One.
…..come to me and give support to me.
Through good thinking, find a
means of destruction of this.” Y49.1.
the weapon with which he asks God to destroy the persecution to which he is
being subjected? In Yasna 34 verse
7, he says:
One, where are those sincere ones who, through their possession of good
thinking, make even immoral decrees and painful legacies disappear?
I know of none other than you.
Therefore protect us in accord with truth [asha]. Y34.7.
reference to immoral decrees and painful legacies almost sounds as though he is
talking about what is going on in our community today, doesn’t it.
But again, what is the protection he requests against these immoral
decrees and painful legacies? In
each instance, it is some variation of asha and vohu mano which are the
sought-for solution. True, there are instances where Zarathushtra, being
practical, also asks for the material wherewithal to enable him to advance his
vision (Y43.1, Y43.12). And faced
with relentless persecution, there are times when he thinks with some
satisfaction about the educational effects of the law of consequences. (Y43.4,
Y47.6). But the primary solution is always asha and vohu mano and the spirit of
goodness which begets them.
Zarathushtra wins more people over to his vision, his prayers reflect an intense
desire to spread the Word. He says:
my insistence…the family, the community together with the clan, entreated for
the grace of Him, the Wise Lord, (saying:) ‘Let us be Thy messengers, …..’
shall be Thy envoys forever.”
it is the whole community who entreats to be Ahura Mazda’s messengers.
What therefore could Zarathushtra have meant by this prayer, other than
to have the whole community spread his vision beyond its confines to all the
living. Indeed, he makes it clear
that the lineage he cares most about is our lineage with truth and Ahura
Mazda’s other aspects. He says:
such person of [aramaiti] is of the (same) good lineage with truth and all those
(other forces) existing under Thy rule, Lord.” Y49.5
see from the above illustrations, that Zarathushtra prays by talking with Ahura
Mazda in a very intense and personal way – asking Him questions, complaining
to Him, confiding in Him, expressing his concerns to Him, asking for guidance,
and asking for help – with a
are examples of what I call “asking prayers”.
Most of us, however, are
aware through experience, that it is impossible to teach without learning.
It is impossible to give without receiving.
And a similar paradox exists in prayer.
It is impossible to experience Ahura Mazda’s generosity in response to
prayer, without being generous in return.
In addition to the “asking prayers”, the Gathas reveal what I call
many instances in which Zarathushtra, with a full heart, sings the praises of
Ahura Mazda. This is a conventional
form of “giving prayers”. Less
conventional is the fact that he also gives praise, esteem and reverence to
Ahura Mazda’s divine aspects, sometimes jointly with Ahura Mazda, and
sometimes separately, by themselves. For
example, he says:
us reverently give an offering to Thee, Lord, and to truth….” Y34.3.
long as I shall be able, I shall respect that truth is to have a gift of
unconventional of all is the fact that, in an age when men worshipped gods by
slaughtering animals in stone temples, Zarathushtra introduces the idea of
worshipping God with thoughts, words and actions in the temple of life.
He advances the unique idea that even the divine aspects of Ahura Mazda,
such as truth and good thinking, to be worth anything to us, cannot exist in a
vacuum. They must be expressed,
given life, in the material reality of thoughts, words and actions.
For example, he says in the beautiful Yasna 30 verse 7:
to this world He came with the rule of good thinking and of truth [asha] and
(our) enduring [aramaiti] gave body and breath (to it). …” Y30.7
the same idea expressed in Yasna 43, where he says:
May truth be embodied and strong with breath…” Y43.16.
short, he teaches us to worship God by infusing God’s divine qualities into
every aspect of our material reality, into each thought, word and action – in
our families, in our friendships, at home, in the business world, in academia,
in government, in the practice of our professions, in our treatment of the
environment. A “living”
worship, in every sense of the word. Most
religious traditions teach that to advance ourselves spiritually, we must reject
the material. Zarathushtra’s
teaching is so uniquely and beautifully different.
Under his formula for worship, it is
impossible to advance ourselves, spiritually, without at the same time
advancing our material world. A
neat paradox. So a life well lived,
is the loveliest prayer of all. The
ultimate “giving prayer”. There
are many verses in the Gathas which reflect this idea of worship. Here are a few examples.
shall always worship all of you, Wise Lord, with truth [asha] and the very best
thinking and with their rule…” Y50.4.
serve all of you, Wise Lord, with good thinking…” Y28.2.
beneficent man…[h]e serves truth [asha] during his rule, with good word and
good action…” Y31.22.
is to serve Thee and the truth, Wise One, under Thy rule.” Y32.6.
shall try to glorify Him…with prayers of [aramaiti]….”Y45.10.
course, it is one thing to articulate the concept of this unique form of
worship. It is another thing
entirely to implement it. What, in
a given situation, is consistent with asha?
What is not? The answers are
seldom clear cut. But then, that is part of the fun of being a Zarathushti, is
it not? Figuring out these
questions for ourselves, case by
case, with vohu mano? Will we
make mistakes? Inevitably.
But, with vohu mano, we learn from our mistakes – a necessary part of
the growth process.
sometimes question whether asha is the same in the “mino” world as in the
“getig” world; whether there is
a difference between asha and asha vahista;
whether asha is subjective or objective. I don’t think there are different kinds of asha.
I don’t think asha is subjective.
I think asha is asha – always perfect, the ideal order of things in the
worlds of mind as well as matter. Asha
is “what fits” in the ideal
sense. It is only our attempts at
understanding it that are subjective, that vary from culture to culture, or from
one century to another. But as we
evolve or grow, that perception becomes more accurate until finally, the ideal,
and our understanding of it, is the same. Until
then, figuring out how to bring asha to life with our thoughts, words and
actions is sometimes fun, and sometimes painful, but always the ultimate
an old song called “The Lonesome Train.”
It was sung many years ago by Paul Robeson, and was about the train that
carried Abraham Lincoln back to Illinois after he had been assassinated.
In one part of the song, Robeson sings:
a thing that has no ending.
It needs to be cared for.
It needs defending.
It’s a great big job for many hands, carrying freedom ‘cross the
the values that we cherish – the freedom to speak, to think for ourselves, to
make choices, values such as justice, generosity, goodness, lovingkindness,
truth, what’s right – all of these values are implicit in the notion of asha.
These are not things that we can take for granted.
These are not things that are handed to us automatically, free of
commitment. These are values
that we have to create, and re-create, give life to, give substance to, over and
over, with our choices in thought, word and action, as long as we have life. Because if we don’t, we lose them. They cease to have reality in our world and in our beings.
It’s that simple.
like to close with a blessing. I
originally crafted this blessing for my children’s wedding, but I think, with
some changes, it is a good blessing in honor of our newest members, who have
just had their navjotes performed, and also for the rest of us:
Ahura Mazda bless us,
May we bless each other,
May we bless the world in which we live.
be generous with us,
May we be generous with each other,
May we be generous with all living things.
sweeten our lives,
May we sweeten each other’s lives,
May we sweeten the lives of all whom we touch.
instruct through good thinking
The course of our direction,
May He give us enduring strength to uphold what’s true and right.
our newest members:
of you be an ornament of the Zarathushti Din,
To which you now belong.
As translated by Professor Insler in The
Gathas of Zarathushtra, (Brill 1975). All
references and quotations from the Gathas in this paper are to that Insler
translation, 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.
Square brackets indicate an insertion by me.
Such insertions are provided 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