No other religious tradition emphasizes the central importance of
freedom of choice, and the need for each human being to assume responsibility
for his or her choices, more than the religious doctrine of Zarathushtra.
In the Gathas, the religious hymns that he composed as the founding
text of his religion, Zarathushtra describes how he came to select Ahura-Mazda
as the Lord of Wisdom and light. He makes it very clear that this was a
selection he made; it was not made for him, and the basis for his selection is
also of great significance. He goes on to point out the need for each individual
to use his or her judgment and select his or her path in life consistent with
Asha (the natural law of righteousness), as well as excluding wrong life-paths.
Ample examples can be found in the Gathas of Zarathushtra that
highlight individuals’ freedom to choose, and their responsibility to make the
right choice. In Zoroastrian teaching, making choices at every step of life is
not considered a privilege but a duty to be exercised in our daily lives. The
ideal is to bring about enlightenment and harmony. In our lives, we are
constantly reminded of the need to choose and to make the right choice.
Given the emphasis on making the right(eous) choice at every step
of our life, the question becomes: how do we go about determining and making
that ultimate choice? If there is only one right choice in accordance with Asha,
how is it possible for various individuals who have many different minds and
attitudes, and who are faced with different circumstances in their lives, to
arrive at the same final choice? For instance, one person’s fight for freedom
and liberation would be viewed by another person as a campaign of terror and
This question is easier asked than answered. The complexity of the
matter has made the answer to this relatively simple question elusive and
difficult to grasp. To unravel the puzzle, we can turn to more evidence from
the compositions of the prophet himself. A revealing clue can be found in Yasna
34.13 (I.J.S. Taraporewala’s free English translation).
The Ahura, of Vohu Man,
That One Path hast Thou pointed out to me,-
The ancient Teaching of all Saviors,-
That good deeds done for their own sake lead far;-
This Teaching leads mankind to Wisdom true,
That single Prize of Life-Thyself the Goal. Path, O
The assertion that
doing good for the sake of good and for no other reason is central to
understanding this moral issue. As the Zoroastrian Scriptures indicates, we are
asked to champion righteousness, truthfulness and all other outward
manifestations of goodness, not because of the reward we may get, or because it
will reflect well on us, but to do so for the sake of goodness itself and for no
Sa'adi, the Iranian
poet of the middle ages, in a metaphorical way conveys the same idea in his
poetic composition, though he does make a reference to the reward one could
expect to receive.
"You do good, and throw it in the river
And Izad will
give it back to you in mid-desert"
The Gathic evidence
lends itself to the idea that the reward for goodness is in doing good itself.
If we believe that goodness is its own reward, then our self-interest shouldn’t
interfere in any way with our decisions when faced with moral or ethical
problems. Only our perception of what is right and righteous should guide our
actions. If we eliminate our self-interest in moral choices, and just focus on
what is right for the situation, then our individual differences shouldn’t
matter – right will always prevail.
Moral and ethical
situations, though, are complex. Many factors and considerations come into play.
The ideal is harmony and happiness for humankind, and the cause is Truth. When
it comes to determining what best serves that ideal and that cause, Zarathushtra
answers in his Gathas:
Whatever words and deeds are
Teach me, O Mazda, make my life express,
Through Love of Fellow-man, through Search for Truth,
The yearnings and the prayers of my heart;
Renew, Ahura, through the strength to Serve,
My Life, and make it as Thou wishest – TRUE.
The ability to be considerate of the welfare of
others, and to distance oneself from mere self-interest when it comes to making
moral decisions, is clearly alluded to in the following two stanzas in which
prophet Zarathushtra poses the question and perceives the answer in his
consciousness. The use of the term “love” accentuates the need to promote
welfare, harmony and happiness for all when it comes to choosing the righteous
Thou art Divine, I know, O
Since Good found entrance to my heart through Love;
Love asked me: “Who art thou? and whose thy life?
“What path thy choice, when doubts assail thy heart?
“Betwixt thy brother’s, who stands next to thee,
“And thine own profit what course shall be thine?”
I am Zar’thushtra, vowed to Love and Good,
Opposed with all my heart to all Untruth,
Bringing unto the Righteous Joy of Life;
Thus of Thy Strength Infinite I’ll partake,
And for all time Thy devotee will be,
And, Mazda, weave my hymns for Thee alone.
Another critical aspect of
making the right decision is to consider all relevant factors and set of
circumstances contemporary and historical surrounding the subject of the
rendering of the righteous decision. The need to consider all factors is
clearly alluded to by the use of “Make
wide the vision of my mind” in Yasna 33.13 (Dinshah Irani’s translation) quoted
With Thy divine grace, O
Make wide the vision of my mind;
Make manifest Thy everlasting attributes,
Make known the blessings of Thy Kingdom of Heaven
and the joyous recompense of the Good Mind,
O Holy Armaity, inspire our consciousness with the ultimate Truth
When everyone can commit
him- or herself to such ethical ideals, humanity will become engaged in
promoting happiness and prosperity for everyone, consistent with righteousness.
Only then can perfect bliss be realized. That is indeed the noble goal for all
of us, and it will come about as more individuals realize the importance of
action based on the moral duty to make the right(eous) choice at every step of