Source: Editor's Introduction to The Teachings of Zoroaster and the Philosophy of the Parsi Religion, ed. S.A. Kapadia (London: John Murray, 1905).
“I WILL now tell you who are assembled here the wise sayings of Mazda,* the praises of Ahura,† and the hymns of the Good Spirit, the sublime truth which I see rising out of these flames. You shall therefore hearken to the Soul of Nature. Contemplate the beams of fire with a most pious mind! Every one, both men and women, ought to-day to choose his creed. Ye offspring of renowned ancestors, awake to agree with us.” So preached Zoroaster, the prophet of the Parsis, in one of his earliest sermons nearly 3,500 years ago.
Imbued from his infancy with deep philosophical and religious thoughts for the welfare and well-being of mankind, this ancient prophet of Bactria derived his holy inspiration after thirty years of divine meditation on a secluded and inaccessible mountain-top of “Ushidarena.” Thus fortified in communion with Ahura-Mazda, “Spitama Zarathustra” proceeded to the city of Balkh, at the time the capital of the King of Iran, Kava Vishtaçpa.*
Cothed in pure white flowing vestments, bearing with him the sacred fire,† “Adar Burzin Mehr,” and a staff or sceptre made of a cypress tree, this sage of antiquity appeared before the court of Kava Vishtaçpa. By persuasion and argument he unfolded his religious mission; and proclaimed the mandate of Ahura, in order to elevate the ancient faith of the Aryas to its lofty and intellectual purity of monotheism.
Somewhere in the region washed by the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea, on the fertile soil of Atropatene, the primeval Aryas toiled and laboured in peaceful pastoral pursuit. In the early days of Zoroaster homage was paid and prayers were offered to the Supreme Being, usually through the recognized symbols of the Deity. The heavenly firmament, tinted with cerulean hue—one limitless vault of refulgence and indescribable splendour—the resplendent orb of the rising sun, the ethereal gentleness of the beaming moon, with her coruscating companions, the planets and the stars, the verdant earth, the swift-flowing river, murmuring in sweet cadence of eternity and bliss, the roaring sea of life and death, and the glorious fire of Empyrean,—all these, in the days of the primitive Aryan religion, were believed to be so many manifestations of the Almighty God, and were accordingly symbolized. Things, which were originally manifestations of God’s good work, became in course of time personified; assumed shapes of deities in the frail imagination of the devotees; and finally came to be adored in lieu of the Great Architect of the world. Thus, a religious system, in itself philosophically sublime, degenerated into a system of polytheism, having for its object adoration of idols and visible forms of good and evil spirits, reflective of human imagination. This was the great evil, the crime of ignoring the Creator for the created, which our prophet Zarathustra laboured to remedy; and to restore the then ancient faith to its pristine purity of Ahura worship was his chief object.
This led to a schism amongst the Indo-Eranians. One branch of the ancient Aryas, powerfully supported by the State, became Mazdayasnians (Monotheists), and the other of the same stock remained staunch to the worship of material gods, and were known as Daêvayasnians (Polytheists). Inevitable war of creed and faith resulted in the migration of the weaker and polytheistic branch to the fertile plains of India, where it took root and blossomed into the absolute Brahminism of the modern Hindoos. The other remained on the native soil, flourished for centuries, built up an empire, and finally in its turn gave place to the Moslem hordes of Arabia. It migrated, and by the irony of Fate, sought and obtained shelter with religious toleration among the banished sister branch of the primeval stock.
The appearance of Zoroaster, to teach his excellent religion before King Gushtasp and his wise and learned courtiers, may be well compared to that of St. Augustine before King Ethelbert in the sixth century of the Christian era. It is a curious historical coincidence that in both cases extreme piety, religious convictions, eloquent and persuasive arguments, prevailed. England received the blessings of Christianity through the Saxon King Ethelbert, and rose in its might to be a great Christian nation, whose empire in the twentieth century of the Christian era extends over land beyond the seas; and under whose sceptre are folded together vast millions of most loyal subjects of His Britannic Majesty King Edward VII. So, 3,500 years ago, did the mighty Gushtasp of Iran espouse the cause of Zoroaster and spread the Mazdayasnian religion to all the corners of his vast empire. He was the first founder of the doctrine of the State religion. Under the renowned and mighty warriors Cyrus and Darius of Persia, the national flag of State and Zoroastrianism, welded together in unity, proudly floated over untold millions, who claimed protection and paid homage to the Persian Court. Thus, through generations and generations, flourished Zoroastrianism, to be ultimately shattered and almost annihilated by the Arabs of the Khaliph Omar at the battle of Nehâvand, 642. Subsequent events may well be described in the words of Thomas Moore:
Inspired with zealous fervour, conquered but never vanquished, a few Magian fathers of the East boldly sallied forth in a frail bark to seek their fortunes in other climes. After undergoing terrible hardships, they floated, at the mercy of the tempestuous ocean, to the hospitable shores of Western India. Since then, centuries have passed, and the Parsis have made themselves known in the West for their charity and benevolence; for their staunch loyalty to the Crown; for their commercial, educational, and political achievements.
I have often wondered what powerful influence, what intrinsic philosophy, what imperceptible charm of thought and theology have been at work to endear Zoroastrianism to the heart of the modern Parsis—devoid as it is of the powerful support of the State; uprooted from its native soil and transplanted for centuries amongst the Hindoos. In the following pages I shall endeavour to show why Zoroastrianism has maintained its divine power and prestige amongst them.
Nearly 3,500 years ago, at Rae, in Media, there lived a man of the name of Pourushaspa, who led a holy and righteous life with his wife Dogdho.
It is related of this holy man, on the authority of the ninth chapter of the Yaçna, that, being desirous of perpetuating his posterity, he prepared a religious ceremony as a thanksgiving to the Almighty, and solemnly prayed for the favour of a child. This worthy man’s prayers were duly answered, and a son was born to him, who laboured amongst our primitive forefathers for the amelioration of mankind and their deliverance from the everlasting ruin. His mission was prior to the advent of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.
He left behind him, written in letters of golden fire, in the History of the World, his illustrious name, Zarathustra, as a permanent landmark and everlasting beacon for the welfare of the body and the guidance of the soul in its passage from the known to the unknown.
“O Maker of the material world! to what greatness, goodness, and fairness, can this daêva-destroying teaching [Monotheism] of Zoroaster be compared?”
The answer came:
“As high as Heaven is above the earth, which it encompasses, so high above all other utterances the law of Mazdeism stands.”*
I shall now explain the theology and moral philosophy of the religion of Zoroaster. It is purely a monotheistic religion, based on the worship and adoration of Ahura-Mazda, the “All-knowing Lord.” It teaches:
(1) Of the life on the earth:
(2) Of the life hereafter:
(3) Of Immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body.
Briefly, it teaches and develops the noblest instinct of mankind—viz., as Zoroaster himself has termed it, “The Soul of Nature.” In the word-picture of the solemn chants of the Gathas of the Zoroastrian religion, a notion of God of all the Universe is convincingly interwoven. He, to whom no form, shape, or colour is attributed, stands alone, Omni Unique, the Nature of Infinite Perfection. It is not given to mortals of finite mind to define Him, the most just, the most benevolent, the most merciful. He is One, who dwells in boundless space, clothed in the most resplendent and illumined glory of inscrutable Nature. In Khordah-Avesta, the prayer-book of the Parsis, God describes all His attributes, in the following words:
“I am the Keeper; I am the Creator and the Maintainer; I am the Discerner; I am the Most Beneficent Spirit.
“My name is the Bestower of Health; the Priest; Ahura [the Lord]; Mazda [the All-knowing]; the Holy; the Glorious; the Farseeing; the Protector; the Well-wisher; the Creator; the Producer of Prosperity; the King who rules at His Will; One who does not deceive; He who is not deceived; He who destroys malice; He who conquers everything; He who has shaped everything; All Weal; Full Weal; Master of Weal; He who can benefit at His wish; the Beneficent One; the Energetic One; Holiness; the Great One; the Best of Sovereigns; the Wise One.”*
“He is the Light and Source of Light; He is the Wisdom and Intellect. He is in possession of all good things, spiritual and worldly, such as good mind [vohumano], immortality [ameretad], health [haurvatad], the best truth [asha vahista], devotion and piety [armaiti], and abundance of every earthly good [Khshathra vairya]. All these gifts He grants to the righteous man who is upright in thoughts, words, and deeds. As the ruler of the whole universe, He not only rewards the good, but He is a punisher of the wicked at the same time.”*
In the Zoroastrian Liturgy (Yaçna I.), Zarathustra describes God as—
(1) “The Creator Ahura-Mazda, the Brilliant, Majestic, Greatest, Best, Most Beautiful.
(4) “Who created us, who formed us, who keeps us, the Holiest among the heavenly.”†
The scope of this work does not permit me to discuss comparative theology; but this I will say, that ancient as the Zoroastrian religion is, no more comprehensive, lucid, and intelligible definition of the Great Creative Cause can be found in any religious books of the modern religions. It is worthy of note that Milton, who wrote nearly 2,500 years after Zoroaster, had grasped the true spirit of the Zoroastrian ideal of God.
Having established the belief in the Great Creative Power, Zoroaster proceeded to strengthen and fortify his followers by carefully warning them against the influence of the Evil Spirit. One of the greatest evils in the time of the prophet was the tendency of the populace to adore and worship God’s manifestations or created elements. Slowly, superstitious belief, for want of good guidance, created imaginary and fanciful gods, who were materialized in idols, and worshipped at the whim of the believer. In the language of the period, amongst the ancient Aryas, the word Daêva signified God, from the Aryan root div, to shine, and consequently all those personified manifestations of Nature were called Daêvas. Zoroaster quickly perceived that the ancient monotheistic religion of the Aryas was degenerating into a state of image and idol worship. He had already taught the people “The Soul of Nature.” It became necessary that he should stamp out the so-called idol-daêvas.
Thenceforth Zoroaster, in the Avesta language, used the word Daêva in the sense of an evil or wicked spirit. The old root div, to shine, has given us such words as Deus in Latin, Daêva in Sanskrit, Zeus in Greek, and Tius in German, for God. The Avesta language of Zoroaster is the only ancient language in which quite a contrary and evil meaning is attached to this word, and, so far as this religion is concerned, the word daêva still has an evil meaning. Had the great Xerxes been successful in his wars with the Greeks, the Mazdayasnian faith would have been established in the West, and all the modern languages would probably have been now using the word Daêva for the Devil, or the Evil One.
Let me but for a moment lift the veil, and show you the most hallowed and impressive picture of Zoroastrian speculative philosophy. In the plenitude of the creation there, one perceives the hand of the Creator in His Mighty Majesty, creating and completing this universe at six different periods—first, the heavenly firmament; second, water; third, the earth; fourth, plants; fifth, lower animals; and sixth and last, man. Man is created free to act after his own heart and understanding.
“I have made every land dear to its dwellers, even though it had no charms whatever in it,”* said Ahura-Mazda to Zoroaster.
Sixteen different regions and countries created by Ahura-Mazda are carefully described in the first Fargard of the Vendidad, giving a more or less geographical notion to modern readers of the origin of the population in Central Asia.
But the most important speculative philosophy, disclosed by this Fargard, is the existence of two primeval Causes in the state of Nature, working in opposition to each other, known in the Avesta language as Spenta Mainyus (the Creative or Augmenting Spirit), and Angro Mainyus (the Destructive or Decreasing Spirit). Since the creation, there has been an incessant state of conflict between these rivals; the records of these encounters, in which man as a free agent plays his part with his soul for a stake, are bound up in the annals of the world, to be finally unfolded, read and adjudged on the great Day of Judgment.
This philosophy of the Good and the Evil Spirit, creative of the material world, is not to be confused with the idea of dualism. Many learned writers, of European fame, have clearly proved that Zoroaster did not preach dualism. The Evil Spirit is not endowed with any of the attributes of the Almighty; neither is he placed in opposition to, or made a rival of, God. I have carefully read the exhaustive comments made by Western scholars on this subject, some in favour, and the majority of them against the theory of dualism.
As a great deal of controversy has been raised on the doctrine of two rival spirits, I think it necessary to quote from the Avesta, and also from the later Pahlavi text, to prove that dualism is not one of the doctrines preached by Zoroaster.
“Ahura-Mazda, through omniscience, knew that Ahriman exists. . . .
“The Evil Spirit, on account of backward knowledge, was not aware of the existence of Ahura-Mazda. . . .
“He [Ahura-Mazda] sets the vault into which the Evil Spirit fled, in that metal; he brings the land of hell back for the enlargement of the world, the renovation arises in the universe by his will, and the world is immortal for ever and everlasting. . . .
“. . . So it is declared that Ahura-Mazda is supreme in omniscience and goodness, and unrivalled in splendour.
“Revelation is the explanation of both spirits together: one is he who is independent of unlimited time, because Ahura-Mazda and the region, religion, and time of Ahura-Mazda were and are and ever will be; while Ahriman in darkness, with backward understanding and desire for destruction, was in the abyss, and it is he who will not be.”
Amongst others, the celebrated Dr. West, to whom the Parsis are greatly indebted for his researches in the Avesta writings, finally refutes the charge of dualism brought against Zoroastrianism by some learned divines, who discovered dualism through the spectacles of modern religions.
“The reader will search in vain for any confirmation of the foreign notion that Mazdaworship is decidedly more dualistic than Christianity is usually shown to be by orthodox writers, or for any allusion to the descent of the good and evil spirits from a personification of ‘boundless time’ as asserted by strangers to the faith.”*
Reading carefully Fargard I. of the Vendidad, I cannot help admiring the sublime theory of Nature, so far as it relates to the Destructive Spirit. Now, what are the evils employed by Angro Mainyus? A great serpent; winter months freezing water and earth, and retarding the growth of fruit-bearing trees and other vegetation useful to mankind; a poisonous wasp; evil thoughts; wild beasts destructive to animal kind; doubt or unbelief in the Creator; indolence and poverty; idol and image worship; devastation or plague; sorcery; fevers; falsehood; darkness; noxious smells; and wickedness.
These are the few evils employed by Angro Mainyus to retard the progress of, and if possible, destroy mankind. It is quite evident, that the sole aim of Zoroaster’s teachings is to raise God’s best and fairest work—man—to that level of human perfection by good words, good thoughts, and good deeds, so as to enlist the services of the Good Spirit. Spenta Mainyus being thus invoked, a protection from evils can be obtained; and the soul of man at the trumpet-call can be clothed in a fit and proper state of piety to render homage to his Creator.
A graphic description of sixteen of the regions and countries created by the Almighty is given in the Vendidad. They extend from the shores of the Caspian to the banks of the Indus in Hindustan. The favoured man of God was Yima, known in the Shah Nameh as Jamshid. To him God’s command, “Enlarge My world, make My world fruitful, obey Me as Protector, Nourisher, and Overseer of the World,” was given. Yima was presented with a plough and a golden spear, as symbols of sovereignty. He set to work to carry out this holy mandate, brought large tracts of land into cultivation and filled them with men, cattle, beasts of burden, dogs, birds, and ruddy burning fires.
Imagination soars high at this picture of pastoral bliss, of peaceful occupation in cultivating the virgin soil and propagating the species. Evil was unknown. The day of perpetual brightness, the summer of radiant joy, and all heavenly peace had cast their mantle of transcendent glory over the land of Iran, of which Yima was God’s chosen overseer.
Little did Yima know that there existed in the state of Nature the Evil Spirit (Angro Mainyus), to attempt to mar his handiwork by snow, frost, and deluge.
“He [Evil Spirit] does not think, nor speak, nor act for the welfare of the creatures of Ahura-Mazda; and his business is unmercifulness and the destruction of this welfare, so that the creatures which Ahura-Mazda shall increase he will destroy; and his eyesight [evil eye] does not refrain from doing the creatures harm.”
Yima, by his piety and devotion to the Creator, had enlisted the services of the Good Spirit, and through him it was made manifest to him that on this corporeal world snow, frost, and deluge would come. He was warned of this disaster in time, and ordered to prepare an enclosure large enough to hold cattle, beasts of burden, useful animals, men and women, of the largest, best, and most beautiful kinds, together with birds, red burning fires, and seeds of all kinds of trees—“all these in pairs”—without any blemish or tokens of the Evil Spirit (Angro Mainyus).
Pious Yima, like Noah of old, benefited by this timely counsel, and ultimately succeeded in saving the chosen creation, which formed his ancient domain of Airyana-Vaêjâ.
One cannot help noting in the Zoroastrian Scriptures a certain similarity to the later-day history of Noah and his ark. Spenta Mainyus planted the seed of a good fruit-bearing tree, nourished it with water of purity, cultivated it with honest industry and diligence, watched its growth in divine contemplation of its blossoming forth good thoughts, good words, and good deeds (humata, hukhta, and havarshta), when from “the region of the North . . . forth rushed Angro Mainyus, the deadly, the Daêva of the Daêvas,” and with one chill blast of snow and frost (“Falsehood” and “Wickedness,” vide Avesta) smote and retarded the rising sap of the growing tree. Thus, high from above, war was declared between Good and Evil, between the Pious and the Wicked, between Light and Darkness,—one preserving and the other smiting God’s glorified works.
A good portion of the Zoroastrian theology is directed towards protecting mankind in his efforts to fight against Angro Mainyus and his wicked accomplices.
“That one wish which Ahura-Mazda, the Lord, contemplates, as regards men, is this, that ‘Ye shall fully understand Me; for every one who fully understands Me, comes after Me and strives for My satisfaction.’ ”*
Zoroaster, in order to stem the tide of destruction, went to the root of the evil and laid the foundation-stone of his great moral philosophy, by making certain well-defined hygienic rules and regulations to preserve the pastoral community from being totally destroyed by pestilence, which we know as a visitation of God. In this brief sketch I shall enumerate a few of them for the appreciation and due consideration of my readers.
Putrefaction or decomposition, occasioned by the dead bodies, from which thousands of untold evils may arise, was the first subject dealt with in the sacred books of the Avesta. It is written, that directly death occurs, the evil element of putrefaction, known in the Avesta language as “Drukhs Naçus,” takes possession of the dead body. In the figurative language of the period, “Drukhs Naçus” (putrefaction) is personified into a pernicious fly, full of filth and disease, and capable of spreading great harm among the living creation. The duration of the period at which it takes possession of the dead body greatly depends on the nature and the cause of death. Modern medical science has nearly elucidated this mystery of cadaverous rigidity and the exact time of the putrefaction of the body. These have been graphically described in Fargard VII. of the Vendidad.
Careful instructions are given as to the part of the house, and the manner, in which the dead body should be kept, pending its ultimate disposal; the place of its final rest, where it may dissolve into its natural elements; the subsequent purification of the place where the body may have lain in the house; the people who carry the corpse; the clothes that may have come in contact with it; and the purification of the flowing water in which the corpse may have been found.
“Purity is the best thing for men after birth,” says the Avesta. Those who are desirous of further investigating the subject will be handsomely repaid their trouble in perusing Fargards V., VI., VII., VIII., and IX. of the Vendidad, wherein they will find scientific instructions as to the germ theory and the preservation of the public health. Though enunciated thousands of years ago, they are now carefully and minutely followed by western nations in the twentieth century.
Next in order comes the command to cultivate the soil, to produce corn, provender, and fruit-bearing trees, to irrigate dry land and drain the marshes, and to populate the whole with men, cattle, and useful beasts of burden. Zoroastrian philosophy shudders with horror at the contemplation of the motherly earth being defiled by the burial therein of dead bodies, and consequently means are devised of disposing of corpses on high mountain tops by birds of prey or by the process of nature. The modern Parsis, in accordance with the ancient regulations, have devised Towers of Silence. The Parsis of Bombay are grateful to their ancient prophet, who taught them the great hygienic principle of sanitation. During recent years it has saved them, a handful as they are, from the bubonic plague. This great “Drukhs Naçus” carried away thousands of natives, hour by hour and day by day, and yet signally failed in his wholesale attack on the Parsis. The reason is obvious. The armour of health, forged by Zoroaster during his pious contemplation of thirty years’ duration on the mount “Ushidarena,” and so fittingly worn by the Parsis of the present day, is invulnerable to the attack of Angro Mainyus and such of his satellites as “Drukhs Naçus.” Strict ordinances are made for the care and welfare of women during certain periods, including those of gestation and child-birth, so that no injury may happen in the latter instance to the parent and the offspring and to those who have to assist at this great function of Nature.
Besides these, there are numerous directions as to observing cleanliness in ordinary daily life, all tending to the care and purification of the body and prevention of infectious diseases by contact.
“This is purity, O Zarathustra, the Mazdayasnian law.
“He who keeps himself pure by good thoughts, words, and works.
“As to the right purity of one’s own body, that is the purification of every one in this corporeal world for his own state,
“When he keeps himself pure by good thoughts, words, and works.”*
Having made men invulnerable to diseases, Zoroaster proceeded to look after their morals. His moral philosophy deals with two attributes inherent in man—the Good Mind and the Evil Mind. These two are allegorically termed “Vohumana” (the Good Mind) and “Akamana” (the Evil Mind).
Thoughts, words, and deeds are liable to the influence of either “Vohumana” (the Good Mind) or “Akamana” (the Evil Mind). Zoroaster has summed up the whole of his moral philosophy in three expressive words—“Humata” (good thoughts), “Hukhta” (good words), and “Hvarshta” (good deeds). The way to heaven is laid through these three mystic avenues, and the seeker of them is borne through with the self-consciousness of having spent his allotted span of life to the use and furtherance of God’s good creation, and to His eternal glory.
“Turn yourself, not away from three best things—Good Thought, Good Word, and Good Deed.”
By “Good Thoughts,” a Zoroastrian is able to concentrate his mind in divine contemplation of the Creator, and live in peace, unity, and harmony with his fellow-brethren. For the love of his fellowmen, he is enjoined to protect them in danger; to help them in need and want; to raise their understanding in education; to enable them to enter into holy bonds of matrimony; and to the best of his resources to enhance the prosperity and welfare of the community of his brotherhood in particular, and of all mankind in general.
By “Good Words,” he is enjoined not to break his contract with others, to observe honesty and integrity in all commercial transactions, faithfully to pay back any borrowed money at the risk of being called a thief, to prevent hurting the feelings of others, and to engender feelings of love and charity in the Mazdayasnian fraternity.
By “Good Deeds,” he is directed to relieve the poor, deserving and undeserving, to irrigate and cultivate the soil, to provide food and fresh water in places where needed, to encourage matrimony, and to devote the surplus of his wealth in charity to the well-being and prosperity of his co-religionists and others.
The Parsis of India are too well known for their disinterested charities amongst the people of all denominations to need any eulogistic remarks from me. It is a matter of great pride to me, as a Parsi, and a subject of deep thankfulness to God, as one of His beings, that in this matter my co-religionists in the East have truly and faithfully, and with the utmost tolerance, distributed their wealth in wise and useful charities, to lessen the sorrows and untold miseries, and brighten the homes of our less fortunate brethren.
“I praise the well-thought sentiment, the well-spoken speech, the well-performed action.
“I praise the good Mazdayasnian law, the free from doubt, removing strife.”*
One can picture to himself the properly ordained household of a Zoroastrian, who has carefully imbibed the abstract principles of “Humata,” “Hukhta,” and “Hvarshta,” and put them to practical purposes in an ordinary workaday life.
Marriage is particularly recommended as a great factor towards leading a religious and virtuous life, in addition to the social comforts of physical, mental, and moral recreations. The household of a man of well-regulated mind is his peaceful domain, wherein he is the lord with his worthy consort, both entwined together and actuated by that religious affinity which the Zoroastrian religion, by wise and philosophical precepts, never fails to infuse. As the land improves by fertilization, so should mankind by union, says the Zoroastrian philosophy. One of the five things most pleasing to God, mentioned in Fargard III. of the Vendidad, is that a holy man should build himself a habitation, provide himself with a wife, children, fire, and a herd of cattle. The husband is required to obey the laws of health and be brave, to protect and preserve his family from any outside violence, to be industrious, to provide them with necessaries of life, to be tolerant, truthful, and chaste, and to complete the domestic happiness of his family circle.
Chastity and implicit obedience from a wife to her husband are considered to be the greatest virtues in a woman, the breach whereof will be punished as a sin.
In every way, the wife is equal to her husband in social status, enjoying perfect liberty of action. These wise domestic regulations are so faithfully followed by the modern Parsis that misbehaviour or misconduct of a woman is altogether conspicuous by its absence. Divorce for misconduct is almost an unknown thing, and the writer cannot but congratulate his community on the fact of total absence of women of loose morals.
It is one of the ordinances of the faith that a father must look after the spiritual and temporal education of his children, and bring them up well fortified physically and morally to fight the battle of life with perseverance, diligence, honesty, and integrity, thus enhancing the reputation of his family and the honour of his community.
“May the desirable obedience come hither, for joy to the men and women of Zarathustra.”*
Tolerance is another great feature of the Parsi faith. Though taught to revere his own religion and despise and destroy idols and images, he is also impressed with the idea of observing great tolerance and discretion in passing judgment on the religious belief of others. Zoroaster himself set the example of this excellent precept, whilst praising the soul (“Fravashi”).
“The Fravashis of the pure men in all regions praise we.”†
It is evident that he prayed for all wise and holy men and women who believed in God. That the same spirit exists to the present day, is proved by the munificent gifts of the Parsis for charitable purposes to people, irrespective of creed or caste, having for their sole object the relief of mankind.
Strict as the law of chastity is, a great spirit of tolerance is shown in the Avesta writing in reference to an unmarried woman, who happens to fall a victim to the charms of an insidious man. True, it is a punishable sin, yet the Almighty, in His mercy, has taken due notice of such a misfortune happening in a household.
In the poetic language of the Avesta, it is laid down that a virgin, who whilst under the protection of her parents, either betrothed or not betrothed, is in a way to become a mother, should not for the very shame of the act attempt to destroy herself. She must not add to the sin already committed, a further and more heinous crime of self-destruction. Further, she is forbidden, under the penalty of a grave sin, from seeking to destroy the fruit of her body, either with the assistance of her partner in the guilt or that of her parents in order to hide her shame from the world. She must not seek, at the instigation of her betrayer from the path of chastity, the assistance of “an old woman” versed in herbology. The putative father must protect the unfortunate partner of his guilt and the child.
Here is a tragic drama of the twentieth century, so often enacted in our criminal courts, written and commented upon by Zoroaster in his gospel, in the primitive pastoral age, at the beginning of the history of the world. What thoughts, what deep moral philosophy, what superhuman knowledge, must have been invoked by the great Iranian sage to soften the hardships of life, by introducing a ray of heavenly mercy, of which Tom Hood sang centuries after:
The whole creation is placed under the guardianship of God as the head, and six Ameshaspends (archangels). Ameshaspends are mystical guardian spirits, who work night and day incessantly for the welfare and protection of the creation committed to their charge by the Almighty.
God is the protector of man.
(1) Bahman is given the custody of all useful domestic animals and birds.
(2) Ardibihist has the control of fire and lifegiving heat.
(3) Shahrevar is the president of all kinds of metals and minerals.
(4) Aspandarmat is the custodian of the earth, with injunctions to keep it fruitful, clean, and cultivated.
(5) Khordat has to see to the purity of water and water-courses.
(6) Amerdad tends to trees and vegetation.
With the assistance of Yazats (angels) night and day they police this earth and guard their respective charges against the encroachment of the Evil Spirit (Angro Mainyus).
Zoroaster, having dealt with the welfare of mankind, has not forgotten lower animals in his moral philosophy. Special regulations are laid down for their kind and considerate treatment. He has recognized the necessity of slaughtering animals for human food, prescribed which kinds of animals and birds are fit for that purpose, and shown the most humane and expeditious methods of killing them — methods which, curiously enough, are now recommended and adopted in this country by public authorities. Unnecessary slaughter is forbidden, and shooting for mere pleasure is absolutely discountenanced.
One instance, woven in traditional Oriental imagery, will suffice to convey the sentiments of the Parsis on this subject. The Over-Lord of the herd of the domestic cattle (Geush-Urvan) raises his plaintive call of heart-rending pathos to the Almighty Creator, and humbly beseeches His intercession to alleviate the pain and sufferings his fellow-kind have to undergo at the hand of men. The poor petitioner becomes aware of the fact, that in accordance with the pre-arranged plan, his herd was created for the support and advancement of the corporeal world; that it is expected of them to furnish flesh food and milk, and to be useful to the cultivator of the soil. In return men are enjoined, under penalty of severe punishment, to be kind and attentive to their many wants, and merciful in their necessary slaughter. The bovine leader is further informed that Zoroaster, by sweetness of speech, will assuage their sufferings and engender a benevolent spirit of humanity amongst their cruel tormentors. The dumb petitioner, whose vision of protection being limited to the sole aspiration of obtaining the support of a powerfully armed warrior, is not able to understand that in many instances persuasive and convincing words are far more potent than a sharp-edged sword of the best tempered steel and more effective in their purpose than the brute force of a salient blow.
As to kindness to dumb animals, the following passage from Patet Erani* (Khordah-Avesta) will show what the Zoroastrians think:
“Of all kinds of sins which I have committed with reference to Heaven against the Ameshaspend Bahman [the protector of cattle] with reference to the world against the cattle and the various kinds of cattle, if I have beaten it, tortured it, slain it wrongfully, if I have not given it fodder and water at the right time, if I have castrated it, not protected it from the robber, the wolf, and the waylayer, if I have not protected it from extreme heat and cold, if I have killed cattle of useful strength, working cattle, war-horses, rams, goats, cocks, and hens, so that alike these good things and their protector Bahman have been injured by me and not contented with me, I repent.”
This merciful and ancient teaching does not call for the intervention of any public society to prevent cruelty to animals, so far as the Parsis are concerned. I humbly venture to suggest, that it is not the imposition of fine or imprisonment by the Civil Law of the country that deters the evil-doer. What is wanted, is a sound doctrine of moral philosophy, as expounded by Zoroaster, preached and brought home to these people by a carefully organised system. Man has conscience and a soul to be saved; and, however hardened his nature may have become, it is within the bounds of possibility to awaken him to his wickedness and cowardice to dumb animals, who patiently and courageously work for him, and are the means of procuring him ease and comfort in his worldly existence.
Unlike other religions, it condemns fasting or total abstaining from food as a wicked and a foolish act, which injures and enervates the body.
“No one who does not eat, has strength to do works of holiness, strength to do works of husbandry. By eating, every material creature lives; by not eating, it dies away.”*
“With us the keeping of fast is this, that we keep fast from committing sin with our eyes, and tongue, and ears, and hands, and feet. . . .
“Since I have spoken in this manner, and have brought forward the fasting of the seven members of the body, that which, in other religions, is fasting owing to not eating, is, in our religion, fasting owing to not committing sin [excess].”*
Readers, such are a few salient principles of the Zoroastrian theology of the Life on the Earth, which I now close by quoting from the Vendidad:
Slowly and solemnly, now I approach this subject of great theological mystery, of the migration from the known to the unknown universe.
“. . . The worldly existence is, in the end, death, and disappearance, and of the spiritual existence, in the end, that of a soul of the righteous is undecaying, immortal, and undisturbed, full of glory and full of enjoyment, for ever and everlasting, with the angels and archangels and the guardian spirits of the righteous.”
The hour of departure rings out in solemn silence, when the severance of terrestrial friendship and unity which existed in him as a man must take place—one to ascend, and the remnant to dissolve into its elements. The scriptures of Zoroaster most vividly describe this solemn event, and give evidence right through of the great belief in immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body.
At the glorious sunset of the pious life, the soul remains three days near his lifelong friend the body, and perceives and “sees as much joyfulness as the whole living world possesses.” For him, the fourth day dawns in gloria in excelsis. From the midst of his worldly nearest and dearest relatives, friends, and neighbours, the soul, having been bidden pious adieux in holy blessings, ascends in the company of his guardian angel, Shros, to render his account at the gate of “Chinvat Bridge.” In his upward ethereal journey, floating in the region of the sweet-scented balm of the south soft wind, he meets his own astral self, transformed into a handsome figure of gracefulness and seraphic beauty. This figure reveals itself to him as his Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. Pleased with his welcome, and having rendered his account to Mehr Davar, the recorder at the gate of Heaven, he passes the barrier to eternal bliss and happiness, and awaits his body on the great day of resurrection. On the contrary, there is a drastic picture drawn of the soul of a wicked man. It must suffer till the last day of the Great Gathering, when everybody will be judged, the battle will end, the Evil Spirit will no more have power to play man as a pawn, and there will be everlasting peace—peace and happiness. The subject is a vast one, and the space limited for this purpose does not permit me, as I should like, to deal with it in extenso. I hope the extracts given on this subject will interest the readers.
A sinful soul need never despair of mercy and forgiveness of God. Wicked as he may have been, a due notice of any good deed done by him will be taken into consideration by the Great Merciful. One of the numerous questions asked by Zoroaster of Ahura-Mazda, was in reference to a man whose body was feeling the torments of hell, with the exception of his right foot. It was participating in the heavenly bliss and comfort. The man was a wicked king in the world below, who ruled his country with oppression, lawlessness, and violence. He was incapable of practising any known virtue. One day, when he was out hunting for his pleasure, he saw a goat, tethered to a stake, vainly trying to reach a morsel of hay. The sight of a poor hungry beast straining at the rope kindled a spark of mercy in his otherwise obdurate heart. Thus moved by a sudden impulse, he, with his right foot, kicked the morsel of hay within reach of the famished beast. The incident was duly recorded in the Book of Fate, and the foot received its reward. This legend, savouring of antiquity, and backed up by ancient authorities, reveals to a Zoroastrian the sublime doctrine of reward and punishment.
After a youth has attained the age of fifteen and sought the Zoroastrian Law, he is enjoined to be liberal in thoughts and deeds, pious, and religious in ceremonial rites, just and wise as a ruler, truthful and honest in his dealings, careful in keeping the elements pure and undefiled, active in destroying evil, attentive to the care and want of the domestic animals, industrious in cultivating and irrigating land, persevering in education of himself and others, temperate in all desires, and useful to mankind in promoting harmony, concord, and unity amongst his kinsfolk, friends, and others. He must carefully weigh the merits and demerits of every step he has to take on the path of life. If by want of knowledge or ignorance, he does anything which turns out to be a sinful act, he must, at the earliest possible opportunity, rectify and remedy the same. From his early youth he is taught the belief that all his good and evil deeds will be duly recorded; that with the flight of time they will grow, multiply, and accumulate. On the day of the ascension of his soul, the recording angel Mehr Davar will ask him to render an account of his short span of corporeal life, before bidding him enter that place of supreme bliss, known to the modern Parsis as “Garothman Behest.”
Readers of this brief sketch might say that this is a philosophy couleur de rose. Nay, ask yourselves the question, What has been achieved by the teachings of Zoroaster? You will find that they have brought peace and happiness to Parsi households; they have made them loyal and peace-abiding subjects of the British Crown, and a benevolent community to the people of the world; they have lessened pauperism, crime, infamy, and immorality; they have made them a race worthy of its proud traditions, which command the respect, confidence, and admiration of those with whom they come in contact. It is very rare to find a Parsi of a criminal instinct. Crime mania, if it can be designated as such, has no suitable soil prepared for it to flourish in, in a Parsi community. It must wither in its very inception, for the antidote prepared by Zoroaster, and faithfully handed down from generation to generation to his disciples and followers, has raised an effective rampart against the approach of this foul and degrading instinct.
At the moment of writing this, a subject of vast importance to my fellow-creatures in this country passes in review before me. In the course of my professional duties I have been, on numerous occasions, an unwilling spectator of many tragic dramas which are daily enacted in our criminal Courts. Within a few yards of gaiety and pleasure, prosperity and brilliancy, one can easily step into a veritable slum life of this great metropolis. A poor, half-starved, pale, and delicate-looking waif, bootless and hatless, with scarcely a semblance of garments, spies your intrusion into his domain. It is sad to contemplate his fate, his end, and his ultimate destination. This fruit, of ill-conditioned parents, grows up to look upon society as his natural foes to be preyed upon. Hardened and rendered callous by the rigour of the criminal law, the nation has in him an utterly worthless and a dangerous man. One asks, Has he heard a word of moral truth? Has he been taught the moral philosophy? Has he acquired the conception of God and Nature? Thoughtless, friendless, homeless, and Godless, he roams, a prey to the Evil Mind (Akamana). In the next scene of life we find him the willing slave of the devil (Angro Mainyus). One step further and a sentence from the black-capped judge, is his reward; a short delay, and then comes the end. Who can tell the terrible anguish, the torturing thoughts, and the painful agonies of unrestrained remorse of this wretched being, who is awakened and enlightened at the eleventh hour by the ministration of some holy man of God? Sad to say, it is too late for this earth. Standing on the threshold of eternity for one brief moment, listening to the soothing words of his own burial service, he mutely prays—what? For God’s forgiveness for those who could have done better for him and his wretched kind. Let me ring down the curtain in mercy to one more miserable soul that has gone aloft to render his account.
It is not the fault of one class of men or the other; it is not the fault of the clergy that God’s superior and gifted animal has been allowed to become a prey of the Evil Spirit and then hounded out of existence by our law: it is the fault of our system, want of unity, of proper charitable organisation, and of discriminate support by the well-to-do and prosperous class. Were Zoroaster to visit this country, I venture to say, that his first step in practical moral philosophy would be to organize a national institution, where these poor waifs and strays could be bent from their infancy to the righteous path of Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds.
Then the nation will be rewarded by the sight of the sons of the soil, marching in distant climes for the glory and honour of the British flag, as soldiers of God and the King, and pioneers of the ever-extending British Empire, as did their heroic brethren in Persia of old under the victorious flag of illustrious Gāo.*
I cannot do better than refer to the following passage in “Bundahis,” on this subject.
Zarathustra asked Ahura-Mazda, “Whence does a body form again which the wind has carried and the water conveyed; and how does the resurrection occur?”
Ahura-Mazda answered thus: “When through Me the sky arose from the substance of the ruby, without columns, on the spiritual support of far-compassed light; when through Me the earth arose, which bore the material life, and there is no maintainer of the worldly creation but it; when by Me the sun and moon and stars are conducted in the firmament of luminous bodies; when by Me corn was created so that, scattered about in the earth, it grew again and returned with increase; when by Me colour of various kinds was created in plants; when by Me fire* was created in plants and other things without combustion; when by Me a son was created and fashioned in the womb of a mother, and the structure severally of the skin, nails, blood, feet, eyes, ears, and other things was produced; when by Me legs† were created for the water, so that it flows away, and the cloud was created which carries the water of the world and rains there where it has a purpose; when by Me the air was created which conveys in one’s eyesight, through the strength of the wind, the lowermost upwards, according to its will, and one is not able to grasp it with the hand outstretched; each one of them, when created by Me, was herein more difficult than causing the resurrection, for it is an assistance to Me in the resurrection that they exist, but when they were formed it was not forming the future out of the past.”
According to the ancient “Bundahis,”* at the time of the resurrection, the soul will demand its original body out of the custody of the three known elements—the Earth, the Water, and the Fire. All the dead will rise with consciousness of their good and evil deeds. At the Great Assembly, in the presence of the righteous, they will penitently deplore their misdeeds. Then will there be the separation of the righteous from the wicked for three nights and days—the wicked,
The reign of terror, at the end of the stipulated time, vanishes into oblivion, and its chief factor Ahriman goes to meet his doom of total extinction, whilst Ahura-Mazda the Omnipotent Victor remains the Great All in All.
After this great penance, God in His mercy prepares a bath of purification, through which all pass, and arise in sanctified purity. Hallowed and conscious of all ties of relationship and friendship which existed in their terrestrial life, they glide, in company with the hierarchy of Heaven, into the domain of Immortality for ever and everlasting.
The memory of the dead is handed down, from generation to generation, in religious ceremonies, which are periodically performed by the priests. One incident I must mention before closing this sublime theme. On an occasion somewhat similar to the Christian “All Souls’ ” Day, the souls of the Zoroastrians visit this sublunary earth once a year. Those, who have participated in the ceremonies on these occasions, can but feel that heavenly inspiration which becomes one’s nature by faith and strict pious devotion. During the period of this pious visit, every Parsi household is thoroughly cleansed of the minutest impurity. In the best room of the house, a place is set apart, full of choice sweet-scented and fragrant flowers, and fruits—a perfect picture of peaceful bliss—with fire of sandal-wood burning, and the priests and members of the household, in the midst of a glorious illumination, chanting hymns of glory to God and His creation. Let there be no dissent from a picture so nobly grand and a ceremony so sublime, as it is but an innocent homage to God’s infinite blessings, and to us a source of comfort to hold communion with and feel in spirit the presence of those whom we have loved, respected, and adored—fathers and mothers, wives, brothers and sisters, relations and friends—who have done their duty and have gone before us, in accordance with the law, and with whom we hope to mingle—the body, dust to dust, the soul, in eternal bliss of “Garodemana.”*
S. A. KAPADIA.
[† ]The Lord.
[* ]King Gushtasp.
[† ]Symbol of Life.
[* ]Free translation of Fargard V. of the Vendidad.
[* ]Ormuzd Yast. Tr. by Darmesteter
[* ]Dr. Haug.
[† ]For further information on this subject see extracts Yaçna XLIV.
[* ]Fargard I, of the Vendidad.
[* ]Dr. E. W. West’s “Introduction to the Sacred Books of the East,” Vol. 18.
[* ]Dînâ-î Maînôg-î Khirad.
[* ]Fargard X. of the Vendidad.
[* ]Yaçna XIV.
[* ]Yaçna LIII.
[* ]A prayer of repentance for sin.
[* ]Fargard III. of the Vendidad (Darmesteter).
[* ]Sad Dar LXXXIII.
[† ]Fargard XVIII. (Bleeck’s Translation).
[* ]See Notes.
[* ]Means life or vitality.
[† ]Conduit, canal or water ways.
[* ]“Original Creation” (a book).
[‡ ]“Lalla Rookh” (Thomas Moore).
[* ]“House of hymns”—the highest Heaven.
Last modified April 13, 2016