Religion has been
defined as a system of doctrine and
worship, which its adherents regard as having divine authority [Bettany].
Some religious scholars of the late ninetieth and early twentieth
centuries believed that religion began with animism (belief in
spirits), then evolved into polytheism (belief in many gods) and
ultimately emerged as monotheism (belief in one god). Other scholars
held that religion began with a sense of awe at the impressive
activities of nature, such as volcanoes and earthquakes, or in a feeling
of reverence for the spirits of the dead, or in an attempt to overcome
mortality [Encarta]. Most
religions teach systems of morality in order to encourage conformity and
cooperation and to discourage nonconformity and cheating. In some
religions, ethic of self-sacrifice has functioned to encourage loyalty
to a group, thereby tactically promoting human survival. All religions
teach virtues, such as love, self-control, compassion, nonviolence, and
wisdom, but differences in belief systems can give varying significance
to these virtues.
Zoroastrian religion can be termed as
‘natural’, which is the innate capacity of all human beings to arrive at
a belief in the existence of a supreme being. Charles Townes, a
professor at the University of California in Berkeley, Life Fellow of
the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and a Nobel
Laureate in physics, recently won the 1.5 million dollar Templeton Prize
for progress in spiritual knowledge. He said that, “The fact that the
universe had a beginning is a very striking thing. How do you explain
that unique event without God? " Natural religion has compared favorably
with the supernatural religions that deem mystical union with the
divine. Zoroastrian religion is liberal, comforting, egalitarian and
contemplative, and encourages reliance on personal responsibility. A
Zoroastrian cannot achieve deliverance either through states of trance,
dreams, visions and healings, or through special signs and miracles,
mystical experiences, offerings and sacrifices, purification and
penance. In some religions, possession of the human body by a mystical
entity is a common form of interchange with the spiritual world.
However, for every Zoroastrian, relationship with God can only be
expressed in terms of moral behavior because each individual has the
capability to contribute and improve the quality of human life and thus
renew this world.
More than 3000 years ago, Zarathushtra
revealed to mankind that there is only One God whom he referred to as
Ahura Mazda, literally meaning, “A Being having Super-Wisdom”.
According to Zarathushtra, Ahura Mazda created the universe in space and
time through his creative faculty Spenta Mainyu (Best Mentality),
perhaps by causing the Big Bang. Ahura Mazda not only let the universe
evolve into inanimate objects such as the sun, moon, stars and planets
but also into living species such as the plants, animals and human
beings. The physical laws, such as the principles of gravity and
electromagnetism came into existence, and natural selection which can
weed out potentially dangerous genetic mutations govern the evolution of
the universe to this day.
Gathas, composed by Zarathushtra, refer to Ahura Mazda as “Tashô”
(Yasna 31-11), which
signifies a designer and conveys the idea of improvement, progress and
evolution. Ahura Mazda
is not only the creator but also the maintainer and promoter of his
creations. In the Gathas, Zarathushtra also describes other attributes
of Ahura Mazda. These are Vohu Manah (intelligent and good thinking),
Asha (truth and righteousness), Khshathra (benevolent power and rule of
goodness), Armaiti (tranquility and serenity), Haurvatat (perfection and
completeness) and Ameratat (immortality).
Zarathushtra introduced the unique idea that
the purpose for human life is to emulate the attributes of Ahura Mazda
and help move His creation towards perfection. Ahura Mazda is
intelligent and full of wisdom and has vouchsafed every human being with
Vohu Manah, a good mind, so that we can think and discern what is good
and bad, and rationally choose our own path in life. The human mind is
the best gift that has been bestowed on us by Ahura Mazda and we are the
only species in the animal kingdom capable of assessing rationally and
discriminating good from evil. By employing our mind we can be creative,
constructive and progressive or unimaginative, destructive and ignorant.
The freedom to choose between, good and evil is the underlying principle
of Zarathushtra’s religion (Y 30.2):
sraotâ gęushâish vahishtâ avaęnatâ
sűcâ mananghâ âvarenĺ vîcithahyâ naręm narem hvah'yâi tanuyę parâ
mazę ýĺnghô ahmâi nę sazdyâi baodańtô paitî.
Hear with your ears the best things;
look upon them with clear-seeing thought, for decision between the
two Beliefs, each man for himself before the Great consummation,
bethinking you that it be accomplished to our pleasure.
[English translation by Chatterjee]
We should make our choices only after
listening and reflecting and not make decisions based on popularity or
because we are coerced to do so. Recently, a team of neuroscientists at
Imperial College of London used MRI to study the response of the brain
to the decision making process. To their surprise they discovered
that only the medial frontal cortex was active when people freely made
choices, but other parts of the brain became active when people were
forced to make certain decisions. Their study was recently published in
the journal Current Biology. Human beings are co-workers of Ahura
Mazda, but not his slaves because Zarathushtra does not implore blind
faith but a reflective philosophy based on knowledge and learning.
The dualism reflected in the Gathas is not
cosmic but moral; for good and evil are confined to the human mind, and
thoughts, when translated into words and actions can produce good or bad
results. Zoroastrianism is an ethical religion and teaches that mortals
can achieve spiritual completeness by fighting evil with Humata, Hukhta
and Havarashtra (good thoughts, good words and good deeds).
According to Zarathushtra the universe is
regulated through Asha or Arta, the old Indo-Iranian law of "truth and
precision". At the physical level Asha represents the laws in the
universe and scientists try to understand these laws of physics,
chemistry and biology. On the psychological level Asha is the powerful
force of truth while at the spiritual level Asha is the fusion of order
and truth leading us to the path of righteousness. Goodness, benevolence
and knowledge are an integral part of what is right, and Asha represents
not only law and social order but also scientific, philosophical and
spiritual truth. Asha is doing the right thing, at the right time, in
the right place with the right means to achieve the right purpose [Dhalla].
The Ashem Vohu prayer declares that happiness comes to the one who is
virtuous and performs good deeds for the sake of virtue:
ashem vohű; vahishtem astî;
ushtâ ahmâi hyat ashâi vahishtâi ashem
Virtue is good; it is the best
it is everlasting happiness;
everlasting happiness comes to him who is virtuous for the sake of
virtue, which is the best.
[English translation by Rustomjee].
Ahura Mazda is in accord with Asha and he
wants us to promote this path of righteousness, which stands for order,
evolution and progress. According to this law good deeds produce good
rewards and evil deeds have bad consequences. Zarathushtra emphasized
respect for the elements of nature, such as, fire, sun, moon, earth,
water, and the seasons. If we do not live in harmony with nature it would
lead to catastrophic consequences. By following the path of Asha we can
make this world a better place, not only for this generation but also for
the generations to come.
The death and destruction caused by the
Tsunami in December 2004 made many people question as to why God would
create such havoc. However, we must realize that natural disasters such as
earthquakes, tidal waves and tsunamis have been occurring since the earth
was born and we humans have not yet learned to stay out of harm’s way.
These are not God’s wrath to test or punish us or make us submissive to
him. As science and technology progress and we acquire more knowledge, we
will be able to predict such natural occurrences with precision and that
would help us take precautions, avoid the havoc and prevent misery.
Zoroastrians do not believe that good things
in life are detrimental to the spiritual life or that we should denigrate
the material world. For a Zoroastrian life has to be lived to it’s fullest
by making the right choices in order to bring about Frashokeriti, the
final renovation of the world. Zarathushtra did not promote the ideas of
repudiation, celibacy and withdrawal of any form, because life is a true
celebration to be lived with honesty in order to bring happiness and
fulfillment both within oneself and to others. Humans are ultimately
responsible for their choices and reap the consequences of their actions.
The law of consequences is fashioned and delivered with wisdom and
benevolence, and is not intended to punish but to deliver enlightenment
and understanding for what is true and right. Evil can be eliminated by
making the wrongful become righteous, and by changing their minds through
knowledge and understanding.
Zarathustra described Ahura Mazda’s attribute,
Khshatra Vairya, as the rule of goodness, the divine power that guides all
creations towards Asha. People who are wise and sincere can establish an
ideal state that promotes physical, material and spiritual progress of
human beings and the world towards Frashokeriti. Âramaiti is Ahura Mazda’s
devotion to all his creations. It also represents harmony that exists in
nature. Each person can strive to bring serenity to this world to promote
happiness. If we live our lives with goodness towards all creations, then
it can also influence others to goodness, and this in turn would set in
motion a cycle of good deeds that goes on forever. Haurvatât, perfection,
and Ameretât, immortality, are the rewards of a righteous life. Khshatra
and Âramaiti can lead human beings to live in eternal bliss, the ultimate
goal of the Zoroastrian doctrine.
is simple because it is positive and life affirming, and the Zoroastrian
way of life can be lead by moral perception and decision. The religion
does not demand blind belief but reason and action on the part of every
individual. It is not a prescriptive ethic, based on obedience and fear,
but rather an ethic of personal responsibility. The Gathas provide
guidance for human beings to reflect upon and act using their own good
mind and clear conscience. Each person has an inherent right as well as
responsibility to choose the path of Asha, for
Zoroastrians do not believe in predestination that God has decreed
everything that will happen. The freedom to act goes hand in hand with
responsibility for the consequences of such actions. The mind of human
beings can accept to follow Asha, and through good thoughts, good words
and good deeds, create bliss or deviate from it and create havoc. Those
who follow the path of Asha walk on the path of righteousness and
goodness, out of which comes happiness.
Each and every one of
us can resist evil, follow the path of righteousness and
enlightenment and help to lead this world to
Frashokereti. Zarathustra says in Yasna 30.9 of the Gathas: “atcâ
tôi vaęm h'yâmâ ýôi îm ferashęm kerenâun ahűm”; which means, may we be
like those who make this world advance.
Bettany, G.T., Encyclopedia of World Religions, Dorset Press, NY, 1988.
Chatterji, J.M., “The Hymns of Atharvan Zarathushtra”, 1967.
Dhalla, M.K., "History of Zoroastrianism", published by K.R. Cama
Oriental Institute, Mumbai, India, 1963.
Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005, “http://encarta.msn.com”
Rustomjee, F., "Daily Prayers of the Zoroastrians", publisher: S.H.
Kotwal, Mumbai, India, 3rd edition, 1976.
This article was posted on vohuman.org on April 1, 2005.