Introduction To The Gathas
As one of Zarathushtra's "immortals" 1 aramaiti is an important part of Zarathushtra's theological system. Yet it is surprising to see how differently leading Zoroastrian thinkers translate or interpret its meaning. To Dastur N.D. Minochehr-Homji and T.R. Sethna aramaiti is divine wisdom.2 To A.A. Jafarey it is serenity.3 Bode and Nanavutty translate it as devotion,4 K.D. Irani as benevolence,3 Farhang Mehr as divine love,6 and S. Insler as piety.7
In my search for the meaning of aramaiti, I decided to comb through the Gathas and study each mention of aramaiti in them, to see if the context in which Zarathushtra used the word might give us some indication of the meaning he intended to ascribe to it. As with any analysis of Zarathushtra's thought processes, what I discovered was well worth the effort. I have obtained some insight into the meaning of aramaiti. And I have become aware that Zarathushtra's concept of "piety" and "worship" are quite unconventional. But such conclusions should not be accepted on the unsubstantiated word of any person, however well-intentioned. They require verification from the source. All quotations from and references to the Gathas in this essay have been taken from Insler's translation, though I do not know if he would agree with some or all of the inferences which I have drawn from his translation.
To understand aramaiti, we must understand xshathra. And the converse is also true. But let us start with xshathra. Vohu xshathra is good rule. And good rule is what occurs when authority or power is exercised with reason and intelligence (good thinking, vohu mano) and is committed to what is true and right (asha). In short, as the Gathas repeatedly tell us, good rule is the rule of truth and good thinking.8 Let us set good rule (vohu xshathra) on the back burner for a moment and consider how Zarathushtra used the word aramaiti.
In Ahunavaiti Gatha, Zarathushtra states that a person expresses aramaiti by action stemming from good thinking.
In Ushtavaiti Gatha, Zarathushtra once again links aramaiti to actions:
And in Spenta Mainyu Gatha,, a person of aramaiti is described as:
It is clear from the above that Zarathushtra's concept of aramaiti is related to actions stemming from good thinking. In addition, in Ushtavaiti Gatha, aramaiti is linked with truth.
But the clincher comes in Vohu Xshathra Gatha, where Zarathushtra summarizes what it is that makes a man of aramaiti virtuous -- it is his understanding, his words, his actions, his vision.
It would be reasonable to infer from this evidence that, as Zarathushtra uses the word, aramaiti means bringing to life the rule of truth and good thinking by our understanding, our words, our actions, our vision -- the proverbial good thoughts, good words, good deeds.
Just as a skillful artist plays with colors, mixing, matching and complementing them to convey his thoughts and feelings, in the same way, Zarathushtra seems to enjoy playing with ideas -- mixing, matching and complementing them to convey his multidimensional vision. And the concept of aramaiti is no exception.
On the one hand, Zarathushtra refers to that concept in both the human and the divine spheres of existence9 -- God's wisdom, and our understanding; God's Word, and our good words; God's actions to help bring about the desired end, and our good actions.
On the other hand, Zarathushtra repeatedly uses aramaiti and xshathra as complementary concepts.10 With impeccable logic, Zarathushtra advances the unusual proposition that it is our understanding, our good words, and our good deeds that give life to God's rule (of truth and good thinking) here on earth-- not a servile, unquestioning obedience on our part,11 but an active voluntary commitment that includes the freedom to think, the freedom to speak, the freedom to act.
In my view, it is this concept -- this active and voluntary bringing to life of the rule of truth and good thinking, with our benevolent thoughts, words and deeds, as a friend and ally of God -- that is spenta aramaiti. In view of the fact that aramaiti functions at both the divine and the human levels, I have been unable to come up with one word that fits the concept exactly, (though "service" -- to the desired end by both man and God -- is close). But at the human level, the substance of the concept of aramaiti is identical to Zarathushtra's unconventional idea of how we must worship.
In a world where the local gods which men worshipped were fierce and numerous (Y32.12, Y44.20), and their priests corrupt and oppressive (Y32.12, Y46.11, Y48.10), Zarathushtra not only advanced the concept of monotheism, 12 but in addition taught that the kind of worship most pleasing to Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, was an adherence to truth, through good thinking (understanding) and through words and actions stemming from good thinking. In the Ahunavaiti and Spenta Mainyu Gathas, his unique concept of worship is specifically spelled out as follows:
Explaining Yasna 50.4, quoted above, Insler states:
This beautiful and unique form of worship -- the worship of God with his own enduring values -- is again reflected in Yasna 51.22, where Zarathushtra says:
Insler explains that the words "those who have existed and (still) exist" refer to "those who are immortal; specifically, the good and enduring values of the lord."14 And that the words "them (all) shall I worship with their own names" mean, in essence:
To me, Yasna 51.22, so interpreted is the quintessential prescription for worship. It warms the heart and delights the mind. To think that one's actions in the hustle and bustle of the real world can be acts of worship, if governed by truth and good thinking, gives meaning and beauty to what would otherwise be mundane acts and a purposeless existence. But this concept of worship raises an interesting question: Why does Zarathushtra personify the values with which he defines God? Why does he repeatedly address God in the plural, for example:
Why does he address the benevolent spirit, truth, and good thinking as personages (Y29). Why does he on occasion, personify aramaiti and good rule (Y51.2, and Y33.11), when they all so clearly represent aspects of the one God, the Wise Lord? Jafarey suggests that this personification was a function of Zarathushtra's poetic art.16 Dastur N.D. Minochehr-Homji was of the view that Zarathushtra used this format to enable the people of his time, who were used to polytheism, to conceptualize the one God.17. And I think that both these conclusions are perceptive and correct.
However, Zarathushtra in the Gathas displays so passionate and uncompromising a commitment to the truth, and his reasoning processes are always so deep and on target, that I believe he must have had some very direct and valid reason for describing God, the Wise Lord, within the framework of the amesha spenta (the benevolent immortals). I have some speculations on the subject. I think he did so because the personified attributes are an integral part of Zarathushtra's prescription for how we must worship -- truth with truth, good thinking with good thinking, God's commitment to bring about the desired end with our like commitment.
In short, to quest for wisdom, truth and right with good thinking is not just a matter of ethics. It is not just a desirable code of behavior. It is an act of worship. To give the rule of good thinking and truth "body and breath" (Y30.7) through our actions in the real world is likewise an act of worship in the temple of life -- a form of piety more pleasing to God than any other.
Implicit in this framework is the idea that the good end can be reached only by like means. "The end justifies the means" is not a part of Zarathushtra's reality.
Implicit in this framework is the idea of a balance of endeavor between the divine and the human, required to bring about the desired end. What the Wise Lord requires of us, he delivers of himself -- truth, good thinking, good words and actions, good rule.
Lastly, and most importantly, by describing God within the framework of the amesha spenta, Zarathushtra makes a subtle but clear assertion regarding the nature of man and God -- that the means and the end are the same, that there is, perhaps not an equivalence, but surely a unity of identity between the worshipper and the worshipped. And that when the means have been perfected in the worshipper so as to become the end, completeness is achieved, and the reason for mortality ceases.
In closing, let us consider how the above definition of aramaiti fits into the overall scheme of the amesha spenta. Asha is objective truth, knowledge, right,18 -- God's law which orders all aspects of the universe, both abstract and material. Vohu mano is good thinking, the means by which we ascertain knowledge, truth and right. And aramaiti is implementing or bringing to life good thinking, truth and right in our world (zam) with our good thoughts (understanding), our good words, and our good deeds, thereby bringing about good rule (vohu xshathra) here, and evolving towards completeness and immortality (haurvatat/ameretat).
The "proper" order of these benevolent immortals (amesha spenta), and what it means in terms of understanding Zarathushtra's message, has been the subject of much conjecture. Their order of appearance in Yasna 28, the first Gatha, is the benevolent spirit, truth, good thinking, aramaiti, and good rule. Completeness and immortality do not appear (in those terms) till several songs later. In other parts of the Gathas themselves, their order or appearance varies. I do not think there is any one "proper" order. I think Zarathushtra mixes, matches and complements these concepts in a kaleidoscopic manner to demonstrate different ways of looking at a multidimensional whole.
The variety enriches our understanding. As Windfuhr said , referring to the amesha spenta:
The depth and antiquity of Zarathushtra's poetry, affords endless hours of inferential thinking, all of it fascinating. When we differ, I think it is good to have confidence in your own good thinking, while considering other views with an open mind. For just when we think we know it all, we hear someone else's perceptions that compel us to re-think our own, and strike us with wonder at the depth and variety of Zarathushtra's thought -- truly a wise friend of the Wise Lord.
© Dina G. McIntyre, 1989.
Dina G. McIntyre has a Bachelor of Science from Carnegie Mellon University (then Carnegie Institute of Technology), and a Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She has practiced law in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since 1963. She became interested in Zoroastrian theology in the early 80's and has studied the Gathas on her own since 1982. She relies primarily on Dr. Insler's translations which she enjoys comparing with the translation of Humbach, T.R. Sethna, Taraporewala, Moulton, Mills, Bode & Nanavutty, and Dinshaw Irani.
"...I believe in thoughts well thought,
From The Zoroastrian Credo,
"I would not go, my heart, to Mecca or Medina,
(Quotations from the Gathas)
"The Wise One is the first to heed
"...regarding with clarity of vision,
"...I know the Wise One
"...the Lord of existence in Thy actions."
"...The Wise One is Lord
"...I have ... seen the Wise One...
"...Thou art the Lord
"...thee, o truth,
"When, Wise One, shall [aramaiti]
"Yes, those men shall be
"...I shall serve all of you...with
"...I shall always
"May the Creator
"...Yes, I shall swear to be your
praiser, Wise One, and I shall be it, as long as I shall have strength and be able, o
(An excerpt from a Lecture delivered to
How is Zarathushtra's view of the world and way of life applicable to the contemporary world? Perhaps the simplest way to answer that question is to identify the values one would wish to promote in social existence.
The first value would be knowledge, for not only is it a value in itself, it is also the indispensable requisite for rational formulation of policy.
Then satisfaction for the widest possible range of subjects. In any policy for bringing about satisfaction, one must have due regard for individual freedom. It is a human tendency to turn one's policy decisions into ideologies and impose them upon others for their own benefit regardless of their wishes. This is a violation of the individual's self-determination, which is not only explicitly declared by Zarathushtra in the Gathas, but becomes the sole basis for one's responsibility and consequent salvation.
And lastly, justice. Asha in the social context is justice -- i.e., one should get what one deserves. Or to put it in the form given by John Stuart Mill, no person should receive undeserved burdens or misery. The question of what to do with those who enjoy undeserved benefits is hard to answer. That all these values cannot always, or even usually, be jointly promoted is obvious. But that is exactly where reason is called upon to make evaluative judgments or preference.
The Zoroastrian way of life is not an easy one. It does not have the confidence that Utopians have about their social visions. It points the way with a confidence in the good-mind being able to see the Truth, for when Truth, either in fact or in morals, is clearly recognized then it cannot be denied either in thought or in action.
© K.D. Irani, 1989.
Professor Kaikhosrov Irani teaches philosophy at the City College of New York. where he is a Professor Emeritus and past Chairman of the Department of Philosophy. He is Director of the Academy of Sciences and Humanities of the City University of New York, and a member of the Academy of Science in New York, the American Philosophical Association, the Philosophy of Science Association, and the American Academy of Religion. He has lectured in his field at such institutes of higher learning as UCLA, the Universities of Michigan, London, Goetingen, Vienna, Sweden, Finland, and Rome. He is a popular lecturer at national and international conferences on the subject of Zoroastrianism. He has studied the Gathas on his own for many years, and relies primarily on the translations of Humbach, Insler, Mills, Bartholomae, Taraporewala, and that of his father the late, great, Dinshaw Irani.