The Messenger: his life and his time
The Messenger: his life and his
His name was Zarathushtra Spitama (called Zoroaster by Greek historians). According
to the best available Information, he was born in eastern Iran, somewhere near the common
borders of Iran, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. The estimates concerning his time of
birth vary quite widely. Aristotle and four other Greek writers put the age of
Zarathushtra as 6000 years before the death of Plato in 347 B.C., therefore placing
Zarathushtra's era at 6350 B.C. Several more contemporary authors, probably due to
confusing the historical nomenclature, have asserted that he lived during the reign of
Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenian dynasty in about 600 B.C.
To accept either of the above extreme assumptions is to
disregard historical logic and philological evidence. It appears that in the past three
decades, gradually on the basis of more credible data, a consensus is taking hold that
Zarathushtra lived about 1750 years before Christ. It is noteworthy that there has not
been much controversy about his day of birth, as his birth anniversary is traditionally
celebrated on March 26.
At the time of Zarathushtra the people of the region, if
not that of the entire world, lived in primeval small farming communities with animal
husbandry as their main occupation. From time to time they were ruled by a strong man or a
particular clan of settlers who forced them to total subjugation, often by using the most
brutal means. According to what we have learned from Zarathushtra, their religion was a
primitive one based upon fear: awe of natural forces, and superstitious beliefs and
practices aiming at appeasing many 'imaginary Gods" (as called by Zarathushtra). In
order to prevent the destructive anger of their Gods which were richly attributed with
human emotions such as happiness, anger, envy, vengefulness, greed and selfishness, they
depended heavily on magical acts, elaborate rituals, presentation of valuable offerings
and animal sacrifice.
Unto you the soul of the creation
"Wherefore did you create me? Who fashioned me?
Passion, rapine, violence, outrage and aggression
enmesh me completely all round,
for me there is no protector other than you.
Reveal therefore to me' (a way out) through an efficient savior." Y29:1
Who is the first generator and upholder of
Who determines the path of the sun and stars?
Who upholds the heaven and the earth?
What great artificer made light and darkness?
Who in his wisdom has shaped the son in the likeness of the father?
Who is the inspirer of good thoughts?
Thus I desire to approach you, O'Mazda, through the Good Mentality
(Spenta Mainyu) as the creator of all. From
various verses in Y44
With uplifted hands and deep humility, I
O'Mazda, first and foremost this, the abiding joy of Good Mentality
(Spenta Mainyu), your holy mind,
Grant that I perform all actions in harmony with Righteousness
(Asha, The Divine Law), and inquire the wisdom of the good mind
so that I may bring happiness to the soul of the creation. Y28:1
The teachings of Zarathushtra are a positive, simple,
practical, realistic and non-mythological message. It is story of a man who first
suffered, examined, understood the conditions of his time and then attempted to attune
himself into the quintessential message of his surroundings, thereby reaching his Creator.
In other words/he reached God by making himself actively receptive to his ubiquitous
message rather than passively receiving it.
The entire message which is called the "Gathas"
consists of 5 parts, 17 chapters, 278 verses and 5567 words (with less than ten words in
dispute). Mainly thanks to the poetic form of the Gathic collection, it was transmitted
amazingly intact through many generations, until nearly 2500 years ago when it could be
preserved in a written form.
Gathas is only a small portion of the extant
"Avesta" (the entire Zoroastrian holy scripture), which consists of
approximately 90,000 words and several parts, all attributable to Zarathushtra's immediate
followers as well as some influential priests of later times. There is also a relatively
large portion of Avesta, belonging to the Pre-Zoroastrian era, which after undergoing some
degree of redefinition and purification has reemerged in the Avesta. The extant Avesta is
only one third of the original collection. The other two third was destroyed during the
conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander of Macedonia and later on during the Arab
Zarathushtra in his sublime songs, Gathas teaches that
there is one God who is the Creator, the Maintainer, and the Promoter. He calls his God
"Ahura Mazda", which means "the All-Knowing Creator" (Ahura= Creator,
Maz=Great or all-encompassing, da=knowledge or wisdom). With this simple definition it
follows that the possessor of all knowledge can create all living and non-living things
and he is the only one who is eternal and immortal. Professor K. D. Irani has stated the
following about Zarathushtra's view of God. "God is not viewed as an exalted human
being who happens to be immortal but an entirely different form of existence" and
"Zarathushtra calls upon Ahura Mazda and thinks of him or sees him as the one
creative force. He is all good creator."
At the center of the Zoroastrian cosmology stands the
principle of "Asha", which can be defined as righteousness, the precise
universal order which regulates every move and consequences thereof, the ideal truth, the
original law according to which the universe was set into motion and the ultimate ideal
form of reality. Acquiring a better understanding of and adherence to the path of Asha
causes progression, harmony, happiness and relative immortality, while deviating from it
brings about stagnation, retrogression and destruction. Simply stated Asha, or
righteousness is the ideal truth which is the correct form of existence or perfect order.
There are several other profound concepts so vital to the
formulation of Zoroastrian cosmology, that without an accurate understanding of them one
can not even claim a passing familiarity with the religion. Let us first consider the
doctrine of "dual mentality" and the freedom of choice between what is good and
what is not. "Spenta Mainyu" (Spenta=Good or Progressive, Mainyu= Mentality),
the good and progressive mentality, works to fulfill the purpose of Ahura Mazda by
implementing Asha, while "Angra Mainyu", the bad mentality, guides towards the
imperfect, the impure and the untrue. It can be said that the life history of every man or
woman is nothing but the story of material struggle between these two opposing
There are six other attributes which are collectively
called "Amesha Spentas" (Amesha=Eternal, Spentas=Good attributes). One can
achieve perfection and immortality by passing through these stages.
These cardinal attributes in the most condensed form may be
described in the following manner:
"Vohu Mano" means good mind. Ahura Mazda is the
essence and the creator of good mind. A particle or a gleam of Vohu Mano exists in every
human being which enables him or her to recognize the imperfection of the flawed existence
and to conceive the right state of things according to Asha.
"Asha vahishta," or the best righteousness, is
the second stage. One who has acquired Vohu Mano, he should be able to recognize and
"Vohu Khshathra Vairya" meaning divine power,
benevolent rule, advanced democracy and moral courage, induces one to volunteer and
welcome selfless work in the service of mankind. Acquisition of the divine power frees man
from temptation of violence, injustice, use of physical force for personal interest,
ruthlessness and greed.
"Spenta Aramaiti," meaning progressive serenity
and helping tranquility represents love and devotion. This particular attribute causes one
to dedicate himself to family, friends, and eventually develop love for humanity, all
creations, and the world at large.
The individual, having passed through the above four
stages, finds himself at the threshold of "Haurvatat", self-realization and
perfection. At this stage the individual has totally eliminated the Angra Malnyu within
himself and is marching forward on the path of Asha, doing God's work...
Having reached the end of the path, the righteous man now
called "Asho" attains "Ameretat" or immortality. He enters the realm
of eternal light and full enlightenment, the abode of songs or heaven.
Zoroastrians of today are inheritors of ancient and meaningful traditions, some of
which have their roots in the pre-Zoroastrian era. It is truly impossible to do even
partial justice to the topic at hand in the space allocated for this article. however, no
discussion of Zoroastrianism can be considered complete without at least making some
reference to salient points relative to its traditional aspects.
Living in harmony with nature and respecting all living and
non-living creations of Ahura-Mazda was vigorously taught by Zarathushtra. Respect for
"the Four elements, fire, water, air, and earth, is still strongly advocated by
Zoroastrians in that they avoid polluting them with impurities. Among the elements, fire
is looked upon with most reverence and respect. Zoroastrians have traditionally kept a
perpetually burning fire in their places of worship. The historical origins of this
particular practice precedes the advent of Zoroastrianism. In the eyes of modern
Zoroastrians, the perpetually burning fire has become a symbol of enlightenment, love,
victory, warmth, and permanence.
Nojote (no=new, Jote=birth), or rebirth, is a ceremony
which is still preserved with its original rituals. Zoroastrian children, after achieving
the discerning age of puberty and after having been educated about certain religious
principles and rituals, are formally accepted to the religion during a happy and festive
ceremony. The nojote ceremony is usually attended by a large group of friends, relatives,
and invited guests who present the reborn child with congratulations and gifts.
Happiness in the religion of Zarathushtra is considered to
be a condition emanating from Spenta Mainyu, the good mentality, thus a desirable state to
achieve and to impart upon others. On the basis of this belief, Zoroastrians have about
fifty days to celebrate annually. According to the Zoroastrian calendar, each day of the
month has a specific name, and every month when the name of the day and the month
coincides, the occasion is celebrated by public gathering, recitation of prayers, and
discussion of community affairs. There are also six seasonal thanksgiving festivals which
are basically dedicated to community prayers and paying homage to Ahura Mazda for his
bountiful gifts. New Year's day, which coincides with the vernal equinox, the first day of
spring is the most widely celebrated and festive day in the calendar.
In conclusion, it is befitting to ponder once again the
words that Zarathushtra spoke about 3500 years ago. The following Is the English rendition
of four prayers from "The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra" by Taraporewala:
Those men and women both do we
Whose every act of worship is alive
with Asha, the Eternal Law of Life;
Who are in the sight of Mazda Ahura. Y27:15
Khshathra, the Strength
Divine, most precious gift,
Droppeth, like gentle rain upon our earth,
Urging the Inner Self to serve mankind;
Such dedication Asha hath ordained;
The highest shall be reached by deeds alone,
For action true I shall strive and ever will. Y51:1
Hear with your ears (the highest Truth I
And with illuminated minds weigh them with care,
Before you choose which of two Paths to tread,
Deciding may by man, each one for each;
Before the great New Age is ushered in
Wake up, alert to spread Ahura's word. Y30:2
O'Thou, Creator of our Mother-Earth,
Creator, Thou, of Waters and Plants,
Grant me Perfection and Immortal Life
Through Thy Most holy Spirit, Mazda Lord;
Strength to my Soul grant thou and life renewed,
The gifts of Vohu Man as taught by thee. Y51:7