Dina G. McIntyre
These days it seems we often get into debates about the differences between the
Gathas and the later literature. It
is true that there are many differences. But
sometimes, when reading the later literature, I come across some very lovely
things – little gems that sparkle with a touch of the divine.
I would like to give you seven of these gems tonight.
first gem is in the Dibacheh of the Afringan ceremony.
Now honesty requires me to tell you that I do not know, nor do I pray,
the Afringan, or its Dibacheh. I
came across this first little gem in Jivanji Jamshedji Modi’s book explaining
religious ceremonies. According to
Modi, the word “afringan” comes from the root “fri”, to love, to praise.1 Modi tells us that the Dibacheh is the first part of
the Afringan ceremony, and literally means “Preface”.2
Modi says that according to this Dibacheh, when we pray, we don’t pray
just for ourselves. We pray for all the living.
In this Dibacheh, the following words are recited:
ganj-i-Dadar Ahura Mazda rayomand khorehmand Ameshaspand beresad.” (Modi page
with these words, we ask that our prayers go into the treasury (“ganj”) of
Ahura Mazda, and His glorious aspects, the amesha spenta,
so that from this treasury, they may be distributed to all who need the
benefit of our prayers. Thus the
prayers of each worshipper spread an influence far and wide, to all the living.
I rather like the idea of sending my prayers into God’s treasury for
distribution to those who need prayers. But
even more, I have somehow become hooked by this idea of praying, not just for
myself, but for all the living. I
have found that it is impossible to hate someone if he is included in my
prayers. So this little gem in the
Dibacheh of the Afringan, even though I don’t pray the Afringan, has been a
very healing influence in my life – encouraging
generosity and dissolving hatred.
next little gem appears in the Hormuzd Yasht.
It doesn’t tug at my heart-strings the way the Dibacheh of the Afringan
does, but it pleases the mind, because it sheds light on an important
theological dispute. We are all
familiar with the debate about the amesha spenta. Some of us argue that they are separate and distinct beings.
Others contend that Ahura Mazda is the personification of these
attributes, that they are His divine aspects.
In terms of understanding our religion, this issue is more than a little
squabble. It goes to the very heart
of Zarathushtra’s teachings, because Zarathushtra put forward the profound but
simple truth that Mazda’s divine attributes, and the way to Mazda, are one and
the same. There is a verse in the
Hormuzd Yasht which corroborates the idea that the amesha spenta are both a part
of Ahura Mazda, and the path of choice. In
this verse, Zarathushtra supposedly
asks Ahura Mazda questions, and Ahura Mazda supposedly answers.
Here are the questions and the answer:
Word is the strongest? ….. the
most glorious?…..the best healing?…..What destroys best the malice of Daevas
and Men?…..What makes the material world best come to the fulfillment of its
wishes?…..What frees the material world best from the anxieties of the heart?'
Ahura Mazda answered: 'Our Name, O Spitama Zarathushtra! who are the
Amesha-Spentas…….' " Ormazd Yasht, verses 1 through 3, Sacred
Books of the East, Volume 23, pages 23 – 24, translated by James Darmesteter (Motilal
you study this verse carefully, you will see that the amesha spenta are
described by the unknown author of this Yasht, not only as Ahura Mazda’s name,
-- a way of calling Him – but also as the best path.
third gem appears in Yasna 60. This
is a part of the Avesta, but not a part of the Gathas, and it relates to the
idea we have just been discussing – that Ahura Mazda’s attributes and the
path to Him are one and the same. If
you carry this idea to its logical conclusion, it becomes clear that the
objective of this path is to reach God, to become one with God. Not everyone agrees with this understanding, so it was a
source of some delight to me to see this idea expressed directly in a little gem
of a prayer in Yasna 60 verse 12. Paraphrasing
Taraporewala’s translation, it goes as follows:
the best asha,
Through the highest asha,
May we catch sight of Thee,
May we approach Thee,
May we be in perfect union with Thee.” Y60.12.3
the three steps which are accomplished through the best asha – first “may we
catch sight of Thee” that is,
having a clear perception or understanding.
Second, “May we approach Thee” that
is, following the path of asha to
God. And third, “May we be in
perfect union with Thee” -- the
end result of understanding, and following the path.
fourth gem is a phrase for paradise that appears in an early Avestan text called
the Yasht fragment #22.4 It
describes paradise as “the Endless Lights”. It explains that paradise occurs in four steps as
first step…..placed him in the Good-Thought Paradise; The second step…..placed him in the Good-Word Paradise;
The third step…..placed him in the Good-Deed Paradise;
The fourth step…..placed him in the Endless Lights.” 5
(as translated by James Darmesteter).
lovely term for heaven, “the Endless Lights”.
It shows that the unknown author of this Yasht understood
Zarathushtra’s use of metaphor. In
the Gathas, Zarathushtra links each divine attribute with a material
counterpart, which he then uses in a metaphoric way.
Asha is linked with fire and light.
The more full of asha a person becomes, the more light filled she
becomes. We see this in ancient
Persian art, where angels and holy persons often are painted with flames or
light, radiating out of their heads, an idea that may later have found
expression in the halos of Christian paintings.
This idea, that the more a person becomes filled with asha, the more
light filled he becomes, also explains Porphyry’s
statement describing Ahura Mazda as follows:
“the body of Oromazdes is like light and his soul like truth.” 6
Now if you put this idea
together with the idea that to Zarathushtra heaven is a state of being that is
pure goodness, pure asha, you begin to appreciate the true beauty of the
description of heaven as the Endless Lights, -- a state in which souls have
become pure light, in endless numbers.
fifth and sixth gems are from the sixth book of the Dinkard, and from the
Zoroastrian wedding ceremony. Together,
they reflect the light of a Gathic teaching that some of us have forgotten.
Today, we tend to think of our religion as primarily an intellectual
religion, emphasizing the mind. And
it is true, that one of the things that makes our religion unique in the history
of religions, is that it encourages us to use our minds, to think for ourselves.
But it is only when you study the Gathas in depth, that you become aware
that lovingkindness, generosity, are at the very heart of our religion as taught
by Zarathushtra. In the Gathas,
Zarathushtra prays with love,7 he
worships with love.8 He
introduces us to the concept of beneficence. .
According to Webster’s dictionary (2d edition) “beneficence” means
“…active goodness, kindness, charity; bounty
springing from purity and goodness.” Zarathushtra
tells us that it is the beneficent person who makes the right choices
“…the beneficent have correctly chosen..…” Y30 verse 3.
He prays to Ahura Mazda: “…let
salvation be granted to the beneficent man…” Y34.3 (defining “salvation”
as truth and good thinking Y51.20). He
calls the “loving man” Mazda’s
ally in spirit. He says:
such a person, virtuous through truth, watching over the heritage for all, is a
world healer and Thy ally in spirit, Wise One.” Y44.2.
specifically tells us that beneficence is included within the meaning of asha,
and as such, is an attribute of Ahura Mazda himself. He describes Ahura as:
Lord, beneficent through truth [asha], virtuous and knowing…” Y48.3.
you see, beneficence, generosity,
lovingkindness, is a fundament of our religion, a part of asha, an attribute of
the Ahura Mazda himself, and also of the person who is a world healer and
Mazda’s ally in spirit.
Gathic teaching is reflected in two little gems from the Dinkard and from the
Zoroastrian Wedding ceremony. In
the sixth book of the Dinkard, written more than 1,000 years after Zarathushtra,
but which is said to be a collection of the sayings of ancient Zoroastrian
sages, it is written, not once, but in two separate places that the law of
Ohrmazd is love of mankind.9
words are also found in the Zoroastrian Wedding Ceremony.
In a part of this ceremony, the priest gives the bride and groom advice
on how to live their lives in accordance with the teachings of the religion.10
Among other things, the priest says (as translated by Shahin Bekhradnia):
God by doing charitable works. …..”
The law of the Wise Lord, the Omnipotent, ….. is the law of loving mankind.
So do not harm people neither in thought nor word nor deed.
When a stranger arrives, give him food and shelter.
Protect good people from hunger and thirst, from cold and heat.
Be kindly to those under you or younger than you.
Respect your elders, ….. so that the Wise Lord will delight in you.”
seventh and last gem is a particular favorite of mine.
It is the practice of the “hamaazor” gesture.
This occurs not only in certain religious ceremonies, like the jashan,
but according to Jivanji Modi, in
the olden days it was also practiced as a kind of greeting by members of the
community, when they met together on good occasions.
The hamaazor gesture involves putting one person’s hands inside the
other’s and then outside the other’s. In
other words, each person both holds the other person’s hands and is held by
the other person’s hands in turn. Do
you see what this implies? It
implies a friendly equality. Neither
person has a controlling or upper hand over the other.
the jashan ceremony, there is a part where the priests do this hamaazor gesture
and say “hamaazor, hamaa asho béd”
According to Kersey Antia, High Priest of the Chicago Zoroastrian
Association, this phrase means:
"Let us join together, let us be one with asha."
Notice, this is a double joining: -- a joining with each other, and a
joining with asha, which is truth,
goodness, beneficence, what's right.
the Gathas, the relationship between Ahura Mazda and man is described as that of
a friend to a friend, or a beloved to a beloved. I cannot think of a more perfect definition of true
friendship than this hamaazor gesture and its accompanying phrase:
“hamaazor, hamaa asho béd” – that we join with each other, and
it be neat to start all of our functions with this ashavan gesture of
friendship, with everyone around us, as ancient Zarathushtis once did?
What a great way to remind ourselves that, just as God is Friends with
us, we must be friends with each other. We
need to adapt ancient traditions that are beautiful, to our own times – make
them living traditions. And what
better time to rejuvenate an old tradition than around Noruz.
invite you to start a new tradition tonight, from the roots of this ancient
hamaazor greeting. But just
as Zarathushtra prayed to Ahura Mazda in the language of his day, perhaps you
may wish to do the hamaazor greeting in the language of our day.
Please turn to the person on your right, on your left, in front of you,
behind you, and any one else you can conveniently reach. With each such person,
please join hands and say "friendship in asha" or if you prefer,
“hamaazor, hamaa asho béd.”
J. J. Modi, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees,
page 354. (Reprint of the 2d edition, 1986).
The first edition came out in 1922.
This reprint will hereinafter be referred to as “Modi”.
Modi page 355. He says that the
Afringan is divided into three parts: (1)
The Pazend Dibacheh, (2) the
Afringan proper in the Avestan language, and
(3) the Pazand Afrin, page 355.
Taraporewala’s exact translation is as follows:
the best Righteousness,
Through the highest Righteousness,
May we catch sight of Thee,
May we approach Thee,
May we be in perfect union with Thee.” Y60.12.
Taraporewala, A Few Daily Prayers from the Zoroastrian Scriptures, (4th
edition, Hukhta Foundation) page 3.
Sacred Books of the East (“SBE”), Volume 23,
where Darmesteter writes: “These two Yasts or Yast fragments are known
among the Parsis as the Hadokht Nask, though their context does not correspond
to any part of the description of that Nask as given in the Dinkart.”
p. 311 (Motilal Benarsidas reprint, 1981).
SBE, Volume 23, Yasht Fragment XXII, verse 15, page 317.
Moulton, Early Zoroastrianism, page 67, (AMS Press reprint).
“Thee…..do I lovingly entreat for the best for Frashaoshtra…..” Y28.8.
All quotations from, and references to, the Gathas in this paper are to the
Insler translation, as it appears in The Gathas of Zarathushtra, (Brill
“I know in whose worship there exists for me the best in accordance with
truth. It is the Wise Lord as well
as those who have existed and (still) exist [i.e. God’s immortal aspects or
forces]. Them (all) shall I worship
with their own names [i.e. truth with truth, good thinking with good thinking,
etc] and I shall serve them with love.” Y51.22.
“114. …..The law of Ohrmazd is love of man; …..”
“E45h……The law of Ohrmaz is love of
Wisdom of the Sassanian Sages, translated by Shaul Shaked, pages
47, and 215 respectively (Westview Press, Boulder Colorado, 1979).
Unfortunately, by the time the Wedding Ceremony now in use was written,
Zarathushtra’s own beautiful words of advice to brides and grooms on the
occasion of his daughter’s wedding had long since become unknown to our
priests. In Yasna 53.5 Zarathushtra
tells his daughter and the other brides and grooms who were getting married:
each of you try to win the other with truth [asha] for this shall be of good gain for each.” Insler translation
each of you try to win the other with truth [asha, truth, goodness, love] and you will both be winners.”
McIntyre paraphrase of Insler translation (Y53.5).