Introduction To The Gathas
Understanding these two concepts requires that their roles in the scheme of the theological framework of the Gathas be grasped. Haurvatat and Ameretat are members of that group that later came to be called the Amesha-spenta. The six Amesha-spenta fall into three functionally related pairs. The first is the pair of Vohu-mana and Asha; the second of Khshathra-vairya and Armaiti; and the third of Haurvatat and Ameretat.
In the first pair, Asha represents the Truth or Right, and Vohu-mana, the good mind, which is the capacity that can grasp the truth of a situation, i.e. the appropriate state which ought to be, and also recognize whether that state is present or absent in the concrete. The Truth grasped by the good-mind becomes the Moral Imperative.
In the second pair, Khshathra-vairya, the Ideal Dominion, represents the ideal society, and Armaiti refers to Benevolence or Piety, i.e. the inclination to do the right. One can see that benevolent action as it becomes universal leads to the ideal social structure; and the ideal society would call forth and reinforce benevolent action.
The last pair, Haurvatat and Ameretat refer to the states of the individual who has lived the good life. Specifically, Haurvatat refers to Well-being or Perfection in this existence; and Ameretat refers to Immortal Bliss. It is the analysis of these concepts with which we shall be concerned here. We shall explore the several related senses of the terms and how they function in the theological structure of the Gathas.
At this point let me digress into a brief discussion of the problem of interpretation. Undoubtedly we start by trying to find the literal meanings of the terms in the Gathic language by analysis in the complex system of phonemic transformations of the Indo-European languages. But one must appreciate that Zarathushtra uses these terms and concepts to express new ideas in a totally innovative theology, which, being revelatory insights, are expressed in the liberal syntax and semantics of inspired poetry.
In this theology Zarathushtra needs words to convey abstract concepts embedded in a philosophic structure dealing with an area of human consciousness hitherto completely dominated by mythological thinking.
In our attempts to grasp the theology of the Gathas we must, therefore, explore how the terms have been used and metaphorically extended or shifted to become concepts in the theology, and how they are to be interpreted to elicit the senses of the various connections within the scheme appearing in the verses.
It becomes apparent that the concepts of the Amesha-spentas are all multi-dimensional because they have diverse relations to each other. These were probably developed by the Prophet at different times in the contexts of specific sermons. In my view, our interpretations should be guided by a general grasp of Zarathushtra's theological framework, which, though not presented in any one location, emerges as a clear and consistent system from the totality of the Gathas. So when we ascribe to Gathic terms senses in our language and thought which fit contextually into the scheme of Gathic theology we have confidence that we are approximating the philosophic vision even though it is separated from us in culture and time by over three millennia.
In this spirit I suggest several related senses of Haurvatat and Ameretat in the language and idiom of present-day thought.
The terms Haurvatat and Ameretat very frequently, but not invariably, appear together. They are attributes applicable to both Divinity and Humanity. For humans, the person who has lived by the Good-mind, with good words and deeds in accordance with Truth shall receive Haurvatat and Ameretat. Thus these are the consequential states for one who has lived the good life. The plausibility of the double application is seen in Y47.1.
When Haurvatat and Ameretat appear as consequential states they are part of the law of recompense, i.e. well-being in this life and salvation in the form of immortal bliss are completely dependent on the moral character of one's life. This is a simple statement of the principle of moral responsibility in salvation. Yet it is significant in what, by implication, is rendered irrelevant to one's salvation, e.g. rituals, pleas for mercy, intercession by holy, divine or semi-divine agencies.
We can now turn to each concept by itself. Haurvatat means Wholeness or Completeness in its literal sense. Scholars have provided other words to bring out shades of meaning in various contexts, such as Well-being, Integrity, Health, Happiness, Perfection. The more literal analogies may incline us to "health" and "happiness", but the former is too physical a sense, and the latter, too emotional for a term which obviously has spiritual components.
Although "wholeness" and "completeness" as used in ordinary language fail to capture the clear spiritual sense, they do imply a full and integrated realization of the self; however these implications appear clearer in the words "Integrity" and "Perfection". Here Integrity is not to be understood in its usual reference to character, but to a state of one's consciousness.
Following this line of thought, if we are looking at the self internally, i.e. at the state of consciousness, the most suitable term would be Integrity. Here the contrasting condition would be a state of divided self whose fractured aspects are in conflict. Integrity in this sense has, of course, a component of happiness or contentment, more appropriately, freedom from guilt, resentment, and regret.
We may also look at the Self externally, where the appropriate sense of Haurvatat would be Well-being, including health and happiness. It is the state of the individual who having acted rightly with benevolence (Armaiti) is in peaceful and prosperous harmony with the world around him. If we combine both the aspects, internal and external, the most suitable term might well be Perfection.
In the Gathas a general view of these two concepts may be gleaned from Y31.6.
Here the attributes of Perfection and Eternity are attributable to Divinity as well as Humanity.
In Y31.21 we receive the assurance:
Notice the connection between Integrity on the one hand and Truth and Good-mind on the other.
This connection appears again in Y33.8 where the Ultimate Good, the final end, is brought about by the help of the Good-mind, with praise of Truth, and receiving the blessings of Haurvatat and Ameretat. What does this connection entail for the concept of Haurvatat?
Haurvatat is the state of the self where the mind has grasped the Truth and acted accordingly. It is the realization of Good thought, word, and deed. Maintaining this state of Integrity calls for insight into oneself and recognition of the Truth of the situation one is in. When one fails to live in that way one has lost the state of Haurvatat.
It is not always active, malicious evil that brings one to the state opposite of Haurvatat. Frequently we lapse from Integrity when our motives, instead of being focused on the rational demands of the situation, become clouded by the unavowed hurts of past slights, the discontents of frustrated hopes, the fears of faltering ambition. These corrupt our judgments and make us disguise self-serving actions as manifestations of righteous intent, perhaps even as achievements of worthy goals, often in the form of preserving for oneself the power or opportunity to do good. But these are deceptive voices of self-interest speaking within us. The Self in such situations gradually disintegrates into a conflict of incompatible demands. It becomes a mask of deception, not only to others but often to oneself. Such conduct looked at externally is misrepresentation, but internally it is the anguish of the loss of Integrity.
Now turning to Ameretat, we see that literally it means immortality, a state of deathlessness. Salvation, in many ancient religions, meant becoming deathless. But in Gathic theology, the immortality of the soul is assumed; therefore the blessing of Ameretat must be a special form of immortality. Depending on the moral character of a particular life the soul achieves a state of best consciousness, or presence in the Abode of Songs, if good; but descent into the darkness of the House of the Lie, if evil. There are indications in the Gathas of an explicit doctrine in later Zoroastrian theology that such states of the soul continue until the final renovation when the taint of evil shall be purged from all.
However till then there is a good and an evil state of the soul after life. In Y30.11 one is told:
Again, in Y31.20:
The last line of this verse is quite telling, for in it is declared the principle that the miserable existence of the wicked is a direct consequence of their actions:
According to Gathic theology this misery was initiated and brought upon humanity by the spirit of Falsehood. In Y32.5:
When the terms Haurvatat and Ameretat appear together, Ameretat always means immortal bliss, an extension and elaboration of the perfection of Haurvatat into eternity. And in being so understood, not only are they the consequences of the good life, they also act as inspirations for our ;moral upliftment as in Y34.11:
Gathic passages from the poetic translation of the Gathas by D. J. Irani.
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.
(Quotations from the Gathas)
"...Take notice of it, Lord,
"...In consequence of my insight
"...That the soul of the truthful person
"...What (reward) of Thine
"...The person who, ...has
"Thee, Best One,...
"... As He shall wish it,
"...those who are yoked with truth
"...Grant ye all to me...
"...happiness has been lost to the deceitful
who violate truth..."
"...at the end, the worst existence
"...the... judgment ...
"...(But) in due course,
Conventional descriptions of heaven, in my view, are all singularly uninteresting. They tend to make one think, with delight, of George Bernard Shaw's comment that all the most interesting people are probably to be found in the other place.
However, the conceptions of "reward", "heaven", "hell" et cetera, in the Gathas, was for me an exciting discovery -- quite different from the "conventional wisdom" on the subject. Part of the excitement, however, lies in the process of puzzling over the text, and discovering Zarathushtra's ideas for oneself. And on this subject, as on so many Gathic subjects, opinions differ.
I therefore thought it might be more interesting for you to undertake the treasure hunt on your own, and decide for yourself what conclusions you may come up with. To that end, I have crafted this Editor's Note in the form of a puzzle. It contains verses from the Gathas and questions. Study the verses and jot down your answers to each question. If you have trouble with any verse or question, don't get up-tight, skip it and go on to the next. When you are done, let your mind play over the questions and your answers. Then decide for yourself what your answer might be to the ultimate question: What is the Zarathushtrian heaven?
And may His benevolent spirit attend you with good thinking. (Y43).
I. Of Means and Ends.
1. What are the rewards of truth?
2. What are the rewards of good thinking?
3. What does His good rule consist of?
4. What are the rewards of truth and good thinking?
5. What are the rewards of truth and aramaiti (piety, benevolent service)?
6. If we define spenta aramaiti as benevolent service (bringing to life the rule of truth and good thinking by our understanding, our good words and good deeds) what are the rewards or consequences of aramaiti?
7. What do the above questions and answers tell you about the means and the end? Clue:
II Salvation (another word for reward).
1. To Zarathushtra, what does salvation consist of?
2. For whom is salvation the reward?
III. The Prize (another word for reward).
1. What is the "prize" the reward for?
2. What does this "prize" consist of? What is the "prize"?
IV. Heaven (another word for reward).
"Heaven" is variously described in the Gathas as the "House of Song" (Y51.15, Y50.4), and the "House of Good Thinking" (Y32.15); and "Hell" as the "House of Worst Thinking" (Y32.13) and the "House of Deceit" (Y49.11).
1. Is the word "House" used in a metaphoric sense? And if so, what is it a metaphor for?
2. To Zarathushtra were "heaven" and "hell" geographic places? physical locations? or something else?
V. Completeness (Haurvatat) and Immortality (Ameretat ) (another term for reward?)
1. What are completeness and immortality the rewards for?
2. And who do the rewards of immortality and completeness benefit?
VI. Points to ponder:
VII. What is the Zarathushtrian heaven?
"...Mingling darkness with light