Wisdom of Ages
yahmai ushta kahmai-cit.
Happiness (be) to him through whom
happiness (is caused) to another.
( Gatha Ushtavaiti: Yasna, xliii, 1.)
The Law of Asha implies a
regular and ordered progress in all manifestation. All beings tend Godward, and human beings are expected to
work out their own salvation by their own efforts. God has endowed them with urvan
- that faculty within them that enables them to choose for
themselves. And the choice once
made, there is perforce- the necessity of abiding by the consequences. The urvan
may learn the lesson through suffering, and may go back upon the evil choice
without experience, and learn to walk along the right path at last; but an evil
choice, once made, must lead to suffering.
This is the Great Law which has been recognized by all Great
Teachers. "As ye sow so shall ye surely reap"
has been the Teaching of every Great Prophet. The Hindus call it the Law
of Karma" i.e., the Law of Action (and Reaction).
The philosophies of India, both
in the Hindu and the Buddhist systems, have elaborated this Law in great detail,
and have carried it to its full logical conclusion. They have clearly recognized
that occasionally the consequences of our acts are not experienced within the
limits of one life, and that consequently more lives than one are needed to have
the full experiences and to learn the lesson
which this Law is meant to teach. In
no case could there be an eternal Heaven or an eternal Hell for acts done with
all our limitations during our short lives upon earth. Thus as a necessary
corollary to the Law of Karma they have laid down the doctrine of Reincarnation;
and in this, respect the systems of India stand out in sharp contrast with the
“orthodox” Christian and Islamic dogma.
In Zoroastrian theology the Law
of Action and Reaction has been clearly enunciated, in many places both in the Gathas
and in the later books. Thus in Yasna, xxx, 11, we are told about "the Law
which Mazda hath ordained of happiness and misery -long suffering to the
followers of the Druj (Falsehood ), and happiness to the Righteous". Be it
noted that this passage from the
Gathas does not speak of condemnation or reward through all eternity.
Even in later times eternal Heaven or Hell is not what has been meant,
and wherever such a statement occurs it is very probably due to Semitic
But again we must admit that
nowhere in the Gathas do we get an explicit statement that the human being has
to return again and again to this worldly existence in order to atone for his
faults and to learn his lessons. There are some passages which may imply such a
conclusion, but these are at the best doubtful. In the whole range of the
religious literature of Zoroastrianism there is but one book where there is an
explicit mention of this idea of reincarnation; and that book is the Desatir
whose very authenticity has been doubted by many competent scholars.
So all we feel warranted in saying is that the idea of reincarnation
may be deduced by some sort of implication, but it is nowhere clearly put
forward. And we must also admit
that in the earlier texts, at any rate, there is nothing which is opposed to
such an idea. On the whole the
evidence for the doctrine of reincarnation in Zoroastrian Faith is negative,
although the Law of Karma is exceedingly clearly put forward and has been duly
The clearly expressed idea of
progress along the Path of Asha seems to imply stages in the spiritual life and
growth of an individual. This, too, might be taken by some as further
.corroborative evidence for the idea of reincarnation. But all such implications
would rather imply a will to believe, and could not be admitted as positive
evidence. Let us, therefore, be content to say that there is no evidence that
this was a belief of Zoroastrian theology, neither is there anything directly controvert
such a belief.
At any rate the goal of our
human life has been unequivocally, set forth by the Prophet - and that is to
tread the Path of Asha, and along it to reach our God. This can be achieved by
several methods, - through Knowledge, through Devotion
or through Action.
There are hints about all these three ways scattered through the Avesta; but the
method emphasized is that of Action. Zoroastrianism
is above all a Religion of Action -Karma Yoga, to use the Hindu phrase.
The Message of the Teacher is mainly concerned with action -right action which
will help the Good Spirit and defeat the Evil One. The whole Teaching has been
compressed into three commandments- Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta (Good
Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds). And
though, as necessarily, thoughts come first, as the roots of all action, still Good
Deeds constitute the chief qualification in treading the Path of Asha. God
has given us powers and abilities in order that we may act, that we may become fighters in the ranks of "the
followers of Asha".
Like every other religion
Zoroastriarnsm has chants which are regarded as specially sacred. One such is
the short prayer known as the Ahuna-Vairya. It has been said at one place in the Avesta, that if this
prayer is repeated properly even once in the correct rhythm and intonation, and
with a clear understanding of its meaning, it is equal in efficacy to the
repetition of a hundred other hymns put together. Zarathushtra Himself is said to have chanted this prayer in
order to defeat the Evil Spirit when he came to tempt Him. And again and again
the Avesta states that "the Ahuna- Vairya protects the self".
Why should this particular
prayer have such special efficacy attached to it above all others?
The reason seems to me to be not far to seek. This particular verse has
been regarded as embodying within itself the essential of Zoroaster's Teaching.
And therefore the chanting of it with a proper understanding of its
meaning is said to possess such wonderful efficacy.
A true grasping of the meaning of the Ahuna-Vairya means a
correct understanding of the Teacher's Message. And I believe that it is only
this way of regarding this verse that can give a clue to its true meaning. It is
really remarkable that every scholar that has attempted to translate this
important verse has done it in his own way, there are as many renderings of it
as men who have attempted them. To
all these I would here add my own version.
This verse is admittedly among
the most ancient in the Avesta, according to many it is pre-Zoroastrian in date.
Originally it must have stood at the head of the first Gatha to which it
has given its name, Ahunavaiti. The
verse is arranged in three lines and consists of twenty one words, each word
standing for one of the original twenty -one books of the Zoroastrian
Scriptures. The verse runs as follows :
vairyo, atha Ratush -Ashat chit hacha;
'Vangheush dazda Manangh6 shyaothananiim angheush
Kshathremchii Ahurai a yim drigubyo dadat vastarem.
I propose the following
Just as a Ruler (is)
all-powerful (among men), so (too, is) the Spiritual- Teacher, even by reason of
His Asha; the gifts of Good Mind (are) for (those) working for the Lord of
Life; and the Strength of Ahura (is granted) unto (him) who to (his) poor
(brothers) giveth help.
Each of the three lines
contains an Eternal Truth.
The first line asserts the
existence of Spiritual Teachers as a class of Supermen. They are termed Ratus,
and Their position in the spiritual world is like that of the Ruler (Ahu)
in this lower world of ours. This is a very important assertion. The Ratus
have been mentioned very frequently all over the Avesta, and nearly always
they are called Ashahe Rathwo (Lords of Asha). This first line of
the Ahuna-Vairya, says clearly that "by reason of His Asha" the Ratu
is great: His position is owing to the fact that He has been treading the
Path of Asha., and that He is much further advanced upon it than are the
ordinary mortals in the world.
The following two lines of this
verse show in what, this Asha consists, and
they also set forth the reward that awaits the person following the Path.
In these we find the Religion of Action enunciated in the
clearest terms. Other ways also lead to salvation but the prophet of Iran has
laid special emphasis upon the Action side. This idea has dominated the Faith
throughout. its history for never has seclusion from the world
and from worldly duties formed part of the Zoroastrian belief.
God has sent us into the world that we may perform the task allotted to
us. We are to work all our
lives and work in the right manner .
So the second line tells us
that "the gifts of Good Mind are for
those working for the Lord of Life". Working here is the most
important word. The Parsis wear the sacred girdle round the waist, and at the
time of prayers this is untied and tied on again. It is tied round with four
knots, two in the front and two behind. And the two front knots are tied each with a repetition of
this verse, the actual tying being at the word Shyaothananam (working).
This is to remind us that we are girding up to be workers for the Lord, to be
soldiers on His side. Our life is meant not for mere contemplation and dreaming
about Good, but in active pursuit of Good and also in active fighting against
Evil. We have to become Good
through doing good deeds, and by fighting against all Evil and iniquity. A true
follower of Zarathushtra is he who is always ready to help in the hour of
another's need, who is always ranged on the side of justice and truth.
For such a person is said to be working for the Lord of
Life". And to him as reward come "the gifts of Good Mind". Vohu-Mano (Good Mind) is one of the six Holy
Immortals, the great Powers that stand next to Ahura, the Lord of Life Himself.
These Holy Immortals are in fact
“Attributes of God Himself", in most places but “vaguely
personified in the Gathas. Good Mind is the Mind of the Lord
Himself; and the gifts from Him are the insight and the inspiration
that come to the human being who is striving upwards to realize the
highest. As we advance we begin to
see clearer and clearer, our vision of God's Plan gets ever wider and wider. If
we fulfill one duty to the best of our abilities, the one next following would
be done better, for the first task well done clears our understanding, and we
see better how to proceed. Good Mind has helped us, He has given us His gift of
understanding, for these have been reserved only for those who work for the
Lord. True understanding of the work of the Lord - the only work that
matters - is not for the mere dreamer, for the mere student
sitting down in quiet meditation all for himself.
This is why in a former chapter I have asserted that we come to
understand the Gathas (the words of the Master Himself) better, as we
try to live the life enjoined therein. No
Scripture in the world can be understood merely by analyzing its ,words and its
grammar: it has to be lived and practiced.
And when we live the life
according to the rules laid down in a. Scripture we are following some Divine
Messenger and we are trying to work for the Lord; and it is then that Good-Mind
sends us His gifts, that clear our understanding and show us the next step on
our upward march along the Path of Asha.
The last line points out the
best way in which we may work for the Lord.
This is the Way of Service, "giving help to the poor",
says the verse. And we have to understand “poor”
not in the usual restricted sense of those lacking material goods of the
world, but in the far wider sense of those who are lacking in anything
whatsoever, whether material, mental or spiritual. If we possess anything
which our brother lacks, we are the richer and he the poorer by
comparison. Our riches may consist in bodily strength, or in wealth and worldly
power; they may consist in spiritual insight, or in Divine Wisdom; -whatever
they be, God hath bestowed them upon us not for our benefit, but that we may
share them with our brothers and that the world be made richer through our
possessing these gifts. The gifts of God are not to be hoarded, but they are to
be spent freely in the service of our brothers. "Freely
have ye received, freely give" -such has been the teaching of all
religions. No man can be saved alone and for himself. Such a thought would be
the very height of selfishness, and this thought of the self first has always
been the strongest weapon of the Evil One.
No selfish person, who has used the gifts of God for himself alone,
who, in other words has misused them, can ever find grace in His sight.
His blessings are not for the selfish but for the selfless. To those who share
the gifts of God with their poor brothers cometh "the Strength of the
Lord". This is another of the Holy Immortals. The holy man, the, servant of
humanity, gets first of all "the gifts of Good Mind" in order that he
may see the Path clearly before him, and next there cometh unto him "the
Strength of the Lord" to help him to tread it.
Strength flows in upon him in ever increasing measure, in exact
proportion as he shares the blessings of Heaven with his poorer brothers. The
higher the gifts a man possesses, the larger is the number of
people he can help; and as these gifts are used in the service of his
brother-men, God grants him Strength for greater service.
Thus the best reward for the
Service of Humanity is Strength to
do greater Service. Thus does the individual grow ever greater and wiser and
stronger, constantly unfolding higher and
diviner powers. And as the individual grows in spiritual stature he enfolds a
larger and still larger number of his "poor" brothers in his loving
compassion, until at last we see a Great Soul, who has attained the rank of the
World-Teacher, like Zarathushtra, Whose love and strength encompass the whole of
humanity, Who stands forth as the World-Savior, the "Lord
of Lords, the Teacher of Teachers".