Introduction To The Gathas
The concept of Good and Evil is far more complex and deep seated than the two four letter words can express. On a logical plane, it is reasonable to assume that mankind in its early stages of evolution must have construed all life sustaining forces and phenomena as "Good". In contrast, anything that endangered or threatened life must have been interpreted as "Evil."
On a different plane however, Good and Evil are philosophical notions that take on a physical expression by the extent of the morality of human behavior. Prophet Zarathushtra visualized these two opposite orders of existence in reality and anchored them as the moral basis of human life. He speaks of these in the Gathas as "Twin Mainyus." A point worthy of stress at this stage is the distinction between Ahura Mazda and the "Twin Mainyus." Prophet Zarathushtra, in his innovative wisdom, consistently stresses the existence of a single "uncreated force" Ahura Mazda. He recites tribute to that "Lord of Wisdom" in Ushtavaiti Gatha (Y44) as the sole creator -- the creator of light and the creator of darkness (Y44.5). He makes his unqualified pledge to serve him and eradicate evil through Good Thinking in another hymn (Y50.11), where he says:
Let us now return to the discussion of the "Twin Mainyus". In his sermon to the adherents the prophet speaks of the concept of existence (Y30.3,4) as follows:
In the above utterance, there are two important points on which we must focus: (a) that the two mainyus are twins, and (b) that they came together at the very commencement. These hymns, together with others, portray an image of existence where good and evil exist in a dynamic equilibrium, and the good must, in time, triumph over evil. The term "twin" has been interpreted by several scholars as the
The term "together" (in Avesta hem) has generally been overlooked by the scholastic community. The Gathas appear to suggest that the two mental aspects, although distinctly opposite, performed as a coalition by natural combination to create, and yet remained distinct in their opposite nature (Y45.2).
Much of the corpus of the Gathas has the prescription for its adherent to follow the path of Good. The path that the creator has shown through the Benevolent Mentality -- Spenta Mainyu. The Hostile Mentality -- Angra Mainyu is not mentioned in the Gathas as such. The fact that these two mentalities have their genesis in the Creating "Force" -- Ahura Mazda is supported by the following quotation from Y47.3.
The above view that the two mentalities are in dynamic equilibrium, having their genesis in Ahura Mazda and that only the "Good" and righteous must prevail is, in simplified terms, the Gathic concept. This view however, has undergone a profound change over centuries. As pointed out by Mr. Choksy,
The aspect of Zoroastrian doctrine that postulates Ahura Mazda as the most righteous, perfect and good creator in all respects, precludes the genesis of Angra Mainyu from him. This paradox has led to two schools of thought among the scholastic community.
(a) The view of Derived Dualism, where Ahura Mazda is the supreme creator of all, and the two mainyus emanate from him. Rustom Masani, Framroze Bode, Zehner, Guillemin, Fox, Gershevitch and Pour-e-Davoud are among the Zoroastrian and non-Zoroastrian promoters of this view.
(b) In contrast, the other school of thought represents Primordial Dualism. This view promotes the notion that the two mainyus are primordial in nature and are responsible for two opposing creations. Among the supporters of this view are Mary Boyce, Henning, Shaked, Dastur Dhalla, and their colleagues. This viewpoint deviates from the Gathic concept in the following way: (1) it compels the equating of Spenta Mainyu with Ahura Mazda, (2) elevates the evil mentality -- Angra Mainyu to the highest level as "Uncreated Opponent" of Ahura Mazda, and (3) depicts the Creator less than omnipotent in the present -- Gumezisn -- era.
It is this view of "Primordial Dualism" that led the Greek historians of the fourth century BC to conclude that our faith supported the belief in two Gods -- the God of Good, Ahura Mazda and the God of Evil, Angra Mainyu. This is certainly not what the Gathas convey to us. Professor Gershevitch in his analysis of the concept tells us:
Professor Douglas Fox, expressing his views on the subject, in his paper "Darkness and Light" says that
Regardless of the above discrepancy, the fact remains that the prophet Zarathushtra's religious vision of a perfect ideal creation of Ahura Mazda, has fallen far short in reality, to be achieved as a physical way of life. The contemporary world view of the way of life is grossly contaminated and polluted by the "Opposing Mentality" of evil and has to be cleansed of its way in time.
What do we note within the divine plan of Ahura Mazda to achieve this reformation? How can He restore this afflicted existence on this planet to its primal state of pristine perfection and help achieve Frasho Kereti -- Absolute Bliss?
This plan of effacing evil must include within it the supreme creation of Ahura Mazda -- Humanity. Zoroastrianism postulates that Ahura Mazda created humans to aid him in his struggle against Angra Mainyu as pointed out by Gershevitch:
It is generally accepted that souls that incarnate the world in mixed state of good and evil (in Pahlavi,Gumezisn), are beset with the responsibility to take up the cudgel to terminate evil.
According to Bundahisn 10 human souls consented to enter the physical world to further the cause of Good. This is described in the scripture as follows:
Zarathushtra expresses this notion (Y31.11) when he speaks of the creation of the human body (in Avesta gaethaos), the conscience (in Avesta daenaos), the innate mental intelligence (in Avesta manangaha) and the vital life force (in Avesta ushtanem). A detailed account of this can be found in the Pahlavi Scripture 12 and in Yasna 55.1 (not a part of the Gathas).
From the information available to us from the scriptures, it can be inferred that the Creator has put together this mortal framework, interwoven with an erudite convergence of the forces of divinity and intelligence within it. To paraphrase the scriptures (Y45.9), the creator has assembled within this creation, the supreme attributes so as to give humans the maximum chance to make a "proper choice" and succeed (Y30.12) through good-thinking.
From a philosophical viewpoint, humans in every aspect are a synthesis: of finite and infinite, of temporal and eternal. Humans are the only creation of Ahura Mazda that have within them the potential of all the forces of creation and destruction that operate in the entire universe. Despite these gifts of the Creator, humans are often aware, neither of the possibilities of their greatness, nor the extent of their weaknesses.
Much of the corpus of the Gathas is directed towards humanity. In particular, many gathic verses instruct the adherents to find the path of righteousness (in Avesta asha) through the "excellent divine intelligence" (in Avesta vanghahevsha manangha). It is this prescription that pervades through the Gathas as the most fundamental principle that can lead to the "Proper Choice" and that will maintain harmony among humans and other elements and between human beings themselves.
After having established the concept of the coalition of the two opposite mentalities at the beginning of existence (Y30.3,4), the Gathas go on to explain the assimilation of this doctrine within the human creation. Prophet Zarathushtra, in his inborn wisdom was intensely perceptive of the reality. He addresses this issue when he speaks of the Good-thinking (ashaune) and evil-thinking (dregvatam) persons who put their minds on the respective paths of Good and Evil by making a choice of the appropriate mental aspects (Y30.4).
Yasna 31.11 pays tribute to the Wise Lord for the creation of humanity with freedom of expression and goes on in the next verse (Y31.12) to allude to the presence of two mainyus in the human mind. It further suggests that through devotion and piety, the revelation of ashoi (righteousness) will come to prevail over evil. Insler's translation of Y31.12 expresses this as follows:
Y45 reinforces the message of choice between the two mentalities by the human mind. It reiterates to humanity that perfection and immortality will come to those who follow the path of righteousness through good-thinking. That good is one of two choices which the human mind can make is once again evident in the later part of this Gatha:
It is thus abundantly clear that the GENESIS of Good and Evil resides in close proximity with the CHOICE made by HUMANITY through the exercise of FREE WILL. To make the PERFECT CHOICE of its own FREE WILL is the plane of evolution that will be synchronous with the beginning of the Frashokereti (Y34.13), the resurrection of absolute perfection. Through this plan Ahura Mazda -- Lord of Wisdom -- will restore His people to Himself.
Dr. Jehan Bagli obtained a Doctorate in Medicinal Chemistry at the University of London. He has done post-doctoral research, at Johns Hopkins University, and at Laval University in Quebec. He now works in Princeton New Jersey as a senior research chemist at the Wyeth-Ayerst Research Laboratories where he is the Associate Director for Exploratory Chemistry. Dr. Bagli became an ordained priest at the age of 14 years. He has been the Editor of Gavashni, since its inception in 1974, and is also presently the Editor of the FEZANA Journal. He has lectured at Zoroastrian Congresses in Toronto, Chicago and Los Angeles. He started studying Zoroastrianism on his own in 1968, and has studied the Gathas, also on his own, for many years. He relies on the translations of Insler, Framroze Rustomjee, Taraporewala, J.H. Chatterji, Kenneth Guthrie, Bode & Nanavutty, and T.R. Sethna.
(Quotations from the Gathas)
"...We have said
"When I... call upon truth,
"...Thine the fashioner of [the good vision], namely,
that spirit of great determination..."
"...But the very virtuous spirit, ...
"What prize Zarathushtra ...
"...let that salvation of yours
"...Thou who, up to now indeed, hast been the same,
"...If...one shall defeat deceit by truth...
"The one of evil doctrine...
"...those who, being full of disobedience do not pursue
truth's care and company,
"Shameful are the many sins by which one attains
"Because of such (evil) rule,
"Virtuous is the man of [aramaiti].
"All those (beings) whose way of life is good for Thee
Unlike the Gathas, Zoroastrianism, in its late fully institutionalized form, is definitely a dualistic religion. There is an all-out cosmic war between the forces of good and evil. On one side, one sees Ohrmazd, the God of Good and Light; six Amashaspands, Holy immortals or His archangel-type associates; numerous Yazads, Adorables, or angel-type assistants; innumerable Fravahrs, Guardian Spirits; and of course, the host of ahlavs, the righteous people. On the opposite side one finds Ahreman, Lord of Evil and Darkness, the Devil; six archfiends; numerous Devs, fiends; and of course, the horde of dravands, the evil people (nothing however is specified to oppose the Fravahrs. They do not, somehow, seem to have their corresponding adversaries). 1 The war between Ohrmazd and Ahreman is constant and continuous, and the fortunes of the participants fluctuate in a see-saw fashion, sometimes with the good having an upper hand, and sometimes the evil. Both sides have their winning and losing battles, but in the end the omniscient-but-not-omnipotent Ohrmazd and his warriors will win the war. The battles are fought, of course, on age-old chivalrous principles. Ohrmazd combats Ahreman, each specified Amashaspand battles with his or her adversary in the hexad of archfiends, and so on. Each good entity shall have his or her adversary downed on the day of victory. Evil and Darkness shall be vanquished, and Good and "the Endless Lights" shall prevail forever. 2
Although the real culprit is Ahreman, man is also punished for choosing to fall with the fiend. This constitutes a semi-escapist theory and as we shall see, stands in sharp contrast to the logical coherence of the Gathas. It is semi-escapist to the extent that it puts the blame of one's wrong acts on a supernatural entity and relieves mankind of the direct responsibility for their actions.
Of those who do not resort to escapism, Zarathushtra stands first and foremost. The Gathas do not provide any answer that would place the blame on any entity other than human beings. Contrary to the cosmic dualism of later Zoroastrianism and the chaos and illogic ensuing from it, the Gathas find the entire universe quite in order and with an unmatched logic of its own. No war. No struggle. The universe, fashioned and promoted by Mazda, is good. The Gathas, again, do not speak of any natural disasters. "The living world (gam), and the waters (apas-cha), and the vegetables (urvaraos-cha)" (Y51.7) are on their path to wholeness (haurvatat) if human beings respect the universal law of righteousness (asha). The only deduction, a very logical one, that a studious Gathist can make is that Mazda Ahura, literally the "Supreme-Intellect Being," the "most progressive" (spentotema), who "came first...in the House of Song," (Y51.15), has fashioned the living world through the progressive mentality (spenta mainyu) and placed it on the path of progress toward wholeness and immortality, (Y43 and 44, Y45.5, Y51.7, 15) and therefore the living world, fashioned in its infancy, is growing and going on well, despite the pangs of growth, on the path of asha towards the final goal. 3 Changes -- earthquakes, floods, the interdependence of living creatures from the diminutive virus to the giant whale, and other so-called "acts of God" or doings of the Devil -- on and in this evolving earth are seen as the natural process of unfolding of the law of asha. Since Ahura Mazda in the Gathas and in the later Avesta and the good order in the universe fashioned and being fashioned by Mazda's spenta mainyu lie outside the scope of this particular essay, we are unable to expand on this topic.
Before we review the Gathas for good and evil, let us quote from the essay "Spenta Mainyu" in An Introduction to the Gathas of Zarathushtra, No. 3, December 1989), that (a) "spenta mainyu" [represents] the subtle divine faculty of the continuous creation and expansion plan of Ahura Mazda and (b) that "the Gathas do not mention anhra mainyu at all. In other words, anhra mainyu does not exist as a compound word, a formalized term, in any of the texts in the Gathic dialect. The dualism of "Good and Evil", highly dramatized in the later Avesta, is simply not related to the divine spenta mainyu." There is, in fact, no place for anhra mainyu in the Gathic logic. 4
The question then arises: Is there any dualism in the Gathas? The answer is a definite Yes. Zarathushtra places utmost emphasis on the subject. He asks his listeners to hear the best, to ponder with an illuminated mind so as to choose between good and evil (Y30.2). He says in his first discourse on this important subject:
His second discourse, addressed sometime later to an apparently much larger gathering, states:
Should one read the entire Yasna sections 30, 31, and 45, in other words, all those Gathic passages that expound upon the "two principles" of good and evil, one would realize the fact that the whole problem simply does not exist outside the bounds of human society. There is absolutely no reference to a space outside our earthly environment, the universe, or the entire creation. Furthermore, the Gathas do not state that the two mentalities are engaged in a conflict or war. They only say that the two do not agree in any of their aspects. It is the choosers who are opposed to one another. While one is constructively beneficial, the other is destructively inimical.
Let us look again at the statements and this time concentrate on the words chosen by Zarathushtra to present his doctrine. First he calls his doctrine of "good and evil" as two principles (urvata) (Y30.11, 31.1, 3). He does not talk about any of the two opposing entities or forces as expounded by the authorities of the Sassanian days or the scholars of cosmic dualism in our own time. He speaks of "the two principles of prosperity and adversity (khviti-cha eneiti) established by the Wise One" (Y30.11), and he speaks about them at length in Yasna 31 and in other stanzas. He uses vahya, better (comparative degree), against aka, bad (Y30.3). In another instance (Y45.2), he takes spanya, more incremental, more progressive (again comparative degree) against angra, retarding or hostile. Note that there is no juxtaposition of the term spenta mainyu and the later term anhra mainyu. Moreover, angra is mentioned six times in the Gathas (43.15, 44.12 three times, 45.2, and 48.10), and except for the single instance referenced above, all references are meant for human beings. 5 Is this not strange? A great exponent such as Zarathushtra comes forward to explain his most precious doctrine and yet he has not coined a standard term for one of the two factors of his doctrine! He uses his coined term spenta mainyu related to the Supreme Being fourteen times, and he does not mention at all the term anhra mainyu, mentioned by the later Avesta and described at length by the Pahlavi literature as the "adversary" of spenta mainyu, Ahura Mazda or Ohrmazd. The reason is obvious: these two do not and cannot logically stand against each other in the Gathas. There is simply nothing opposed to the "creative mind of Ahura Mazda." The term mainyu occurs once more in loose juxtaposition with aka (Y32.5) in which Zarathushtra poetically addresses daevas, false gods, and says that they have provided the wrongful with power through evil mentality (aka mainyu), and evil thoughts, words and deeds. There is no other mention of an evil mainyu in the entire Gathic texts. Even if we concede to those who insist that mainyu means "spirit" in the Gathas, the realm of the two "spirits" does not go beyond the realm of human beings, and it never extends to the cosmos. But, as already stated, the Gathas call it the doctrine of "two principles" which is what the Gathic dualism really is.
Two other words used by Zarathushtra are very important: life (gaya) and not-living (ajyaiti). 6 A person can have his life with all its good potentialities or otherwise, although living, he has no life with a subtle purpose. He is, in fact, a spiritually dead person. Another point to note is that the law of "bad for the bad and a good reward for the good" (Y43.5) will last until the final turn of creation but a person will "get much bad" for his failure at "the turning point of his life" (Y51.6) and existence, and that this law will "last until the end of existence" (Y30.4) in this living world. We shall elaborate this point later.
The fiery or purifying metal test stands for the ordeal one goes through by choosing good and progressive thoughts, words and deeds as against "wrong [which] is attractive and appears to have advantages" (Y53.6).
Good and Evil.
What is good and what is bad? The Gathas explain it in a very simple form and yet present a sublime doctrine: All that helps the living world to prosper is good, and all that serves to harm it is bad. To be good is to choose adhering to asha, the universal law of righteousness, truth and precision. When one does a thing in its proper way, he or she obtains the proper result. Asha in action is, therefore, doing the right thing, at the right time, at the right place, for the right reason, and with the right means in order to obtain the right result. It is prudent precision in every thought, word, and deed. Otherwise the result will not be right. It will be wrong. Zarathushtra uses the term druj, harmful lie, wrong.
In his great vision, Zarathushtra perceived a highly scientific law working in the universe which he called the law of asha. Any deviation from this law is druj. 7 He categorizes human behavior into two: asha and druj. This is the Gathic dualism. Those who follow asha are ashavan, righteous, precise, truthful. Those who turn to druj are dregvant, lying, wrongful, erroneous. The human world is divided into two parties or factions (rana) (Y31.3, 19, Y43.12, Y47.6, Y51.9). Zarathushtra's mission is to eliminate the false belief in supernatural forces and imaginary deities which was so prevalent in his times [they still prevail] and to help men and women to realize that they are God's agents on this earth and that they are made of divine essence which they could realize fully by their good deeds, words and venerations. (Y34.1).
To summarize: The Gathic good and evil is related to the realm of human beings only. It is human mentality that leads to thoughts, word, and deeds. A "better or more progressive" mentality promotes human well-being. An "evil or retarding" mentality distorts it. All those actions that make human society and thereby the entire living world advance mentally and materially are good, and all those deeds that reverse this process are evil. Mental (manyava), or to use the current term "spiritual" progress leads one to understand the divine doctrine and to know God. Physical (astavant) or material progress leads to an ever-better living. Both of these intertwined spiritual and material states are to be promoted equally to wholeness. The human society in the Gathas is based on home (demana) or family (khaetu), the smallest unit; district (vis) or community (verezena), consisting of districts and their communities; and finally the living world (go) comprising of all that exists on this good earth (Y31.16, 18, Y32.1, Y33.3, 4, Y46.1, 4, Y49.7, Y53.4, 54.1). Righteousness begins at home, and keeps working through the ever-expanding network of interconnected districts and lands, finally reaching the entire world.
Man or woman, as an individual, is but a component of the smallest human unit -- family. He or she is free to constantly make a choice between asha and druj. The consequences, however, are obvious because good or bad acts by an individual ultimately cross his or her personal boundaries and affect the four social units. At a time when most of mankind worshipped supernatural forces and imaginary gods whom Zarathushtra vehemently opposes in the Gathas, Zarathushtra was the first one in the world to emphasize the importance of individual responsibility and free will.
The Gathas make it clear:
The Gathas make it explicitly clear that the consequences of man's actions are relevant. A good act enriches the world and mankind, and a bad deed leads to destitution of life. Each action leads to a reaction. The Gathas do not store good actions and bad deeds in two separate stacks, keeping them for the supposed day when the soul faces certain divinities who act as judges on "chinvat pohl" and weigh the two stacks to find which one is heavier so that the deserved reward or punishment is given to the soul. In the Gathas there is no specific day -- the so-called rastakhiz, final resurrection -- to announce the judgments and finalize the issues. The Gathas make no mention of imaginative consequences of which no one knows anything. They advise us to realize the truth asha through seraosha -- listening to the divine voice within us, through enhancing peace and prosperity in our living world, and through fostering the interdependence between the different elements of nature.
To find out what happens to the soul after its separation from the physical body, one who is imaginatively interested in eschatology, would have to turn to later Avestan texts or better to the Pahlavi scriptures, or of course to the contemporary lores in the Middle East. The Gathas would certainly disappoint him or her unless of course an arbitrary recourse is made to interpretation and imagination.
The Gathas and their closest supplement Haptanghaiti (which we believe was composed by one or more companions of Zarathushtra) give us an altogether new view. The study of all the instances found in the two scriptures shows that men and animals, in fact, the living world have souls. Soul is associated with conscience, intellect, teaching, choice, thoughts, words, and deeds. Soul grows strong through righteousness. It attains "good happiness" by consulting good mind (vohu manah) and understanding the reality of life through righteousness. In fact, a progressive man's soul realizes righteousness (asha) (Y34.2). Therefore, Zarathushtra in his opening prayer, aspires to please the soul of the living world by his wise and righteous actions in order to usher in a new era and attunes his soul to good mind (Y28.1). His soul turns to divine principles of righteousness and the best mind for help for himself and his companions (Y50.1). When oppressed, the soul complains to God for help (Y29.1, Y50.1). Soul and conscience upbraid a wrongful person at the sorting bridge (chinvato pereto), the crossroads of good and evil (Y46.11, Y51.13). In fact, if it belongs to an "evil-ruling, evil-doing, evil-speaking, evil-conceiving, and evil-thinking person, it returns back because it has really been dwelling as a "guest" in the "house of wrong." (YY49.11). Souls of the righteous, eternally strong, are guarded by Ahura Mazda in his abode (Y49.10). The wrongful, especially the superstitious ritualistic priests and princes, are upbraided by their souls because they dwell all along in the house of wrong (Y46.11). They experience repeated failures. The singers of Haptanghaiti join in by venerating the soul of the living world, their own souls, those of their domesticated animals, and particularly "the souls of law-abiding, righteous persons, born in whatever land, both men and women, whose consciences are growing, have grown, or shall grow." (Y39.1-2).
In the Gathas, the soul, if it belongs to a righteous one, lives eternally in the divine abode, but if it belongs to a wrongful one, it temporarily resides, as a guest, in its world of wrong. In other words, only the souls of the righteous cross over the sorting bridge, and those of the wrongful return until the wrongful are refined to be worthy of the crossing at the final turn of their lives. It may be pointed out that there is no indication that the soul is subjected to the consequences of good deeds and evil actions. The rewards and reprimands are more mental than physical and are meted out through one's daena, conscience.
Where the Wrongful?
Zarathushtra makes it clear in his very first discourse on good and evil that one suffers the consequences of evil acts only until such time that one realizes the truth and chooses good. Zarathushtra says:
He then makes his famous wish:
He wishes all the wise people to unite and pool their wisdom in order to create a new world. He adds:
Guidance to righteousness is extended to all, as is salvation (Y28.5, Y30.8, Y31.3, 19). The only difference is that salvation is easy for the righteous and hard for the wrongful. It is our opinion that what Zarathushtra calls the fiery or metal ordeal is the process of going through this hardship.
The Sorting Bridge.
But what is the sorting bridge, chinvato peretu or as commonly called chinvat pul? It is mentioned thrice in the Gathas. It is the bridge which separates Zarathushtra and his companions from the wrongful people. Speaking of the earlier failures in his divine mission and the ultimate success in Yasna 46, Zarathushtra states:
Then he turns to the priests and princes, bent on destroying life (ahu) with their evil actions, and says that they are upbraided by their souls when they approach the bridge, only to return until they turn into righteous persons (Y46.11). It must be made clear here that whether the verb paiti-yeinti is taken to mean "return" or "approach", the Gathas do not give the slightest chance of interpreting it to fit with the common notion that those not crossing the bridge fall down into hell. 10 In the third instance, Zarathushtra points out:
The context of the Gathas on this particular subject is such that it points to one's existence in this living world and not going through an eschatological process leading to a hell beyond.
Does it mean another life? Zarathushtra, divinely logical as he always is, does not describe a vivid picture of a state from which no one has physically returned to tell his experiences. He does speak about the consequences of our thoughts, words, and deeds -- better for the good and bad for the evil. Yet he does not draw a line between life and after-death. In fact, "life does not part with death. It is indeed a continuity. And death, a natural process, is a transitory passage, perhaps in an anesthetic state, to eternity, finality." 11
Zarathushtra speaks but once of a future life (parahum). The stanza reads:
This does not seem to allude to a heaven. It is the fruitful living world in which we live. Garo demana, the house of song, interpreted to mean paradise as against drujo demana, house of wrong, are explained in the Gathas as the house of good mind (vangheush demane manangho), in which Zarathushtra wants us all to "offer Him [Ahura] our devotions." The house of wrong is the house of worst mind in this earthly life of exploitation and destruction. The Gathas say that while turning to good mind and righteousness leads one on the path to wholeness and immortality and places one in the "house of song" to live with Ahura Mazda; however, the wrongful, remaining behind, are ultimately refined too, so as to be able to attain wholeness and eternity. In fact, the sublime songs repeatedly emphasize progress, wholeness and immortality as the goal of life to reach, rather, to return to Ahura Mazda. The house of song or the house of good mind are but allegories for the ultimate mental state of a righteous person. 12
A question arises now. Was the Zarathushtrian view of the refinement and the ultimate union of soul with Godhead lost to institutionalized Zoroastrianism, but retained, transformed, and expanded by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism in the east, by Gnosticism in the west, and by Manichaeism on the Iranian Plateau and around, only to emerge in a form of Sufism under Islam?13 Although we know for certain that Zarathushtrian teachings did find their way to east and west and influenced Indian thought, Greek philosophy, and other knowledge-seeking circles, a satisfactory answer requires a deeper study of the subject.
But whatever the outcome, the fact is that the Gathas do not speak about heaven and hell, or of judgment, or of a physical or spiritual resurrection, or of reincarnation and transmigration (samsara), or release (moksha), or emptiness (shunya), but only point to the refining of soul through mind for an ultimate existence with God. A final word of caution. The Gathas are our Guide, our compass. They are thought-provokers (manthras). They guide and enlighten our thoughts, point to the right direction, then leave it entirely to us to proceed on a search in order to discover, determine and comprehend the truth. They want us to think, speak, and work for righteousness (asha), good mind (vohu manah), good rule (vohu khshathra), serenity (aramaiti), wholeness (haurvatat), and immortality (ameretat), in order to inspire and enable us to dwell with our loving God in the blissful state of songful life for ever.
The two discourses of Zarathushtra (Y30 and 45) should provide us with our conclusion. Good and evil and their consequences depend on thoughts, words and particularly deeds. The word shyaothana, translated as"deed" or "action," literally means "endeavor" and therefore carries a stronger notion than the Hindu and Buddhist term of karma which simply means "action". Shyaothana is a serious contemplated effort directed to a definite goal. Obviously, it is the consequences of our shyaothana, endeavors which determine how long and how hard it takes a soul to reach its goal.
The two, good and evil, stand poles apart. Men and women who, using the faculties of good "thoughts, teachings, intellects, choices, words, deeds, consciences, and souls" (Y45.2) at their command, pay never-failing attention and reverences to the "word which the Most Progressive One told" Zarathushtra "shall have wholeness and immortality to reach the Wise God through their actions of good mind." (Y45.6). He terms the ultimate goal as "ushta", health and happiness through enlightenment which radiates happiness to others. (Y43.1).
May this treatise prove useful in inspiring the reader in his or her own spiritual quest.
Dr. A. A. Jafarey, studied Avesta and Pahlavi with Dr. Manek Pithawalla, Principle of the Parsi High School in Karachi, and later with Dastur Dr. M.N. Dhalla, High Priest of Pakistan, under whom he also studied the Gathas. Dr. Jafarey has a Doctorate in Persian Literature from the University of Karachi, worked briefly for Aramco in Saudi Arabia, then founded his own business in Tehran offering translation services to commercial ventures. He worked for 17 years in the Ministry of Culture and Arts in Tehran, where part of his duties involved the supervision of doctoral students in Persian Literature at the University of Tehran. Since 1963 he has served as a Board Member and Trustee of the Ancient Iranian Cultural Society, first in Tehran and now in Los Angeles. He has written 11 books in Persian and English on the Zarathushtrian religion, and in 1981 published a translation of the Gathas in Persian. An English translation, The Gathas, Our Guide, Ushta Publications P.O. Box 2160, Cypress CA 90630 is now available.
Dr. Kersey Antia is High Priest of the Zoroastrian Association of Chicago, Illinois, a position he has held since 1977. He attended the M.F. Cama Athornan Institute in Bombay for 9 years where he received an award for excellence, and became an ordained priest at the age of 13. He studied Avesta and Pahlavi in secondary school and at the University of Bombay. While in college, he received essay-awards from the K.R. Cama Oriental Institute, and has served the community as a volunteer priest ever since his first job as a Tata officer in 1960.. He obtained a Masters in Psychology from North Carolina State University, and a Doctorate in Psychology from Indiana Northern University. After working as a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, in private industry and for the State of Illinois, his is now engaged in full time private practice. He has lectured and written on the subject of Zoroastrianism, in India and the United States, both live and on radio and on television, and has made video courses on Zoroastrianism. He has studied the Gathas on his own for many years. Utilizing, at first, the translations of Kanga, Mills, and Taraporewala, he now relies primarily on Dr. Insler's translation.
All translations from the Gathas are from The Gathas, Our Guide, Ali A. Jafarey, Ushta Publications P.O. Box 1260, Cypress, CA 90630, 1989.
The texts in the Gathic dialect of the Avestan language consist of: Ahunavar (Yatha Ahu Vairyo), the seventeen songs which are the Gathas themselves (Y28 to 34, Y43 to 51, Y53), Airyema Ishya (Y54.1), and Ashem Vohu (Y27.14),all of which we believe were composed by Zarathushtra himself, and Haptanghaiti (Y35 to 41) the seven-chapters; Yenghe Hatam, a formula honoring men and women; the Fshusho Manthra, the Prospering Thought-provoker (Y58); the Hadhaokhta, in praise of inspiration (Y56); and the Fravarti, the "Choice of Religion" formula of initiation (Y11.17 to 13.3). Collectively, these Gathic texts are called Staota Yesnya in Avesta and Stot Yasn in Pahlavi.
Editor's Note: Evil, An Interesting Quandary
Questions regarding the origins and the nature of evil have puzzled man for millennia. And no religion of which I am aware has come up with a 100% satisfactory answer to the question of how did evil originate? Sometime in or about the 8th or 9th Century AD, these questions were pondered by a Zoroastrian intellect of that time, Mardan-farukh 1 who describes himself as a student, and not a teacher:
A wise man indeed. For in such matters we are all more students than teachers. His one work which has come down to us -- a dissertation entitled Sikand Gumanik Vijar -- displays an inquiring and incisive mind which has the courage to reason and express his convictions, even though certain premises on which his arguments are based are not in accord with our knowledge today, or with Zarathushtra's thoughts as expressed in the Gathas. For by the time Mardan-farukh wrote -- some 2,600 years after Zarathushtra, all knowledge of the Gathic language had long since been lost. 2
To Mardan-farukh the material creation was divided into what was good and what was noxious or vile (a wolf, for example was a noxious creature, and those who held otherwise lacked understanding Chapter III verse 19 SBE page 125). He reasons (among other things) that the existence of an uncreated good God is undeniably evidenced by the existence of a good creation, for one could not have what is made without a maker (Chapter VI verse 9, SBE page 147). And the converse would also be true -- the existence of an evil uncreated competitor to the good god is evidenced by the existence of a noxious creation. In pondering the origins of evil, he further reasons that if God is all-good, then He cannot be the source of evil, and if He is the source of any evil, He would not be all good, and therefore would not be worthy of worship.
He acknowledges the existence of two fundamental schools of thought -- one which believes that both good and evil proceed from one sacred being, and the other which asserts:
And can a good god be all-powerful if he is powerless to prevent evil? And if he can prevent it but doesn't, can he be all-good?
An interesting quandary.
Mardan-farukh states that he has traveled far and wide in search of a doctrine that would commend itself to his reason (SBE pages 168 to 169), and concludes that the religion of Ahura Mazda, as taught to Zarathushtra, and as set forth in a particular version of the Dinkard, 3 (not the Gathas) i.e. the dualist doctrine of two uncreated Beings -- One all-good and One all-bad, was the only doctrine that dispelled his doubts (SBE pages 169-170). He then proceeds, with extraordinary skill (and not a little venom) to demolish with his arguments all opposing creeds which do not subscribe to the dualist belief in two uncreated and competing Entities -- one all-good and the other all-evil.
His arguments, while brilliant and logical, are an excellent example of the validity of the adage: If you want to win an argument, control the premises.
Some of his premises and conclusions regarding the origin and nature of evil, and the nature of God and man (among others), are not consistent with Zarathushtra's thinking in the Gathas.
Before we can understand what Zarathushtra's thoughts were on the subject of good and evil, we have to know how he defined evil. First, the Gathas contain no mention of an evil deity who is the Wise Lord's equal. Ahriman is not mentioned in the Gathas, neither is angra mainyu, as an entity, nor indeed is any evil deity mentioned, except for the local gods whom Zarathushtra denounces as fierce, oppressive and cruel. 4 These he calls daevas, reserving to the Wise Lord and his values alone, the loftier title ahura. There is no parity here.
Next, the Gathas do not divide everything in the material world into two groups -- the beneficent and the noxious. Wolves, frogs and the other "noxious" beasts of the later literature are not mentioned in the Gathas. Nor is evil defined in terms of the material creation. Physical darkness is not equated with evil, except in a metaphoric sense (Y44.5,7, Y31.20). There is no mention of an equal uncreated competitor to the Wise Lord in the worlds of either mind or matter.
Indeed, if you look at each descriptive reference to evil in the Gathas, it is apparent that they all share one characteristic. They all are the products of wrongful choices -- ignorance (Y31.12), cruelty (Y48.11), fury (Y48.12), bondage (Y29.1), tyranny (Y32.14), violence (Y34.8), greed (Y32.11-13), murder (Y48.10), cowardice, (Y32.10), selling out one's principles for fame (Y32.6), opposition to the Wise Lord and his values (Y32, Y43.12), and above all, deceit (Y30.6, Y31.1, Y31.18). These are the only "evils" described in the Gathas. There is no mention of ritual defilement, nor is there any mention of any spiritual defilement by any physical means. Indeed, Zarathushtra complains to the Wise Lord that he himself has been condemned as the greatest defiler, and concludes that the real defiler is the deceitful person who deflects others from the truth and opposes God's benevolent values.
There are those who contend that to define evil as being simply the product of wrongful choices is insufficient, because it does not take into consideration the so-called "natural evils" such as earthquakes, floods, famine, disease, physical debility, and the other calamities that beset us.
This raises an interesting question: Is everything that causes us discomfort or displeasure "evil"? That seems a rather parochial view to me. Natural calamities and illness can cause incredible anguish and great suffering. But does that necessarily make them "evil"? The Gathas do not define evil in such terms.
In Y30.3 and Y45.2, 5 Zarathushtra refers to the good and evil which pervade all existence. Although personified, as Zarathushtra personifies other abstract concepts, it would not be accurate to interpret these two concepts as two competing Gods. In my view they are two alternative forces -- the impulse or inclination towards benevolence and the impulse or inclination towards malevolence.
Two points are readily apparent from an inspection of these verses: (1) the reality of these fundamental "spirits" finds its expression "in existence" -- in thought, in word, and in action, and (2) they relate to the choices that confront all life.
That the benevolent spirit (spenta mainyu) is not an entity but a benevolent disposition or impulse which exists at both the divine and human levels may be seen from a number of verses. For example, in Y44 Zarathushtra expresses the idea that it is God's benevolent spirit that motivates Him to create the physical universe and moral values. In Y43.2 it is God's benevolent spirit that motivates Him to give understanding and create the powers of good thinking and truth:
In Y45.6 it is His benevolent spirit that motivates Him to be good to those who exist.
In Y47.4 it is a benevolent spirit in man that motivates him to be truthful:
In Y48.8 it is the benevolent spirit at work in man that motivates good actions.
In short, the benevolent spirit appears in man, and finds its highest expression in the benevolent spirit of the Wise Lord, Ahura Mazda.
The workings of an evil spirit or disposition are more difficult to demonstrate because it is not given parallel treatment with the benevolent spirit. In the Gathas, the evil spirit or disposition appears primarily in connection with the concept of choice. For example:
Zarathushtra sees the spirit of deceit as the motivating force behind the theology of the false local gods (daevas) and their followers, who are coercive and oppressive:
There is a principle of law which states that a statute (law) governing a certain topic should be construed in pari materia with other statutes covering the same subject, and not in isolation. I think the same principle should apply in construing the nature and meaning of the two "spirits" (mainyu) in the two seminal verses of Y30.3 and Y45.2. Those verses should not be read in a vacuum. They need to be read in connection with the verses that precede and follow them, and with the many other verses which relate to the same subject. When so read, it becomes apparent, in my view, that the two "spirits" in Y30.3 and Y45.2 do not refer to two Uncreated Gods, each spawning a separate moral and physical creation -- one good and the other evil. Rather, they are two motivating forces which relate to the moral choices that confront all life -- one good and the other evil.
It has been contended by eminent students of the Gathas that if the benevolent spirit and the evil spirit are twins, (Y30.3), and if the Wise Lord is described as the Father of the benevolent spirit (Y47.3), then He must, of necessity, also be the Father of the evil spirit; that good and evil are complements -- two parts of the same whole; and that Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, stands apart from both. I have a great deal of respect for many of those who so contend, but I have difficulty accepting the logic of these views.
First, in my view, Zarathushtra does not use the words "twin" and "father" in a biological sense. He uses "twin" metaphorically to indicate that good and evil exist side by side in every aspect of existence. He could not have intended "twin" in its literal sense because good and evil are absolute opposites in every respect, as the Gathas repeatedly state, whereas twins are not. 6 Zarathushtra's statement in Y47.3: "Thou art the virtuous Father of this spirit..." also uses "Father" metaphorically, indicating that the Wise Lord is the source of benevolence. This interpretation is corroborated by the numerous references in the Gathas to His benevolent spirit. For example 7 , in Y43.16, Zarathushtra chooses the benevolence which the Wise Lord represents:
Nor am I persuaded that good and evil are complements. A complement is one of two mutually completing parts. Complements may be opposites, as in aramaiti (benevolent service) and xshathra (good rule), but they must also be mutually supportive. If they are to form a whole, they cannot, by definition, be mutually destructive or mutually exclusive. Good and evil are mutually destructive. They are mutually exclusive. Where knowledge is present in a specific matter, ignorance with regard to that matter vanishes. When anger is present, good thinking takes a walk. The existence of truth in a matter precludes the existence of deceit in that matter. And so it goes. The existence of good, in a specific instance precludes, by definition, the existence of evil in that same instance. The Gathas are full of verses in which good and evil are described as being mutually destructive and mutually exclusive. They therefore cannot, by definition, be complements.8
Finally, if it was Zarathushtra's intention to define God as being the source or creator of both good and evil, he would surely have expressed such an idea at least once in his many descriptive references to God. Yet he doesn't. All of his descriptive references to God are on the "good" side. There simply are none on the "evil" side. For example:
Zarathushtra describes God as the creator, companion and father of truth, good thinking and aramaiti, (benevolent service) (Y31.8, Y44.3,4,Y45.4), and as the fashioner of good rule (Y44.7). But never once does he describe God as either the creator, companion, father or fashioner of evil. I think the conclusion is compelling: the God of the Gathas is presently pure goodness. And therefore indeed, worthy of worship. Nor, according to the testimony of the Gathas, does He stand aloof from good and evil, or from the conflict they generate. For example His benevolent spirit is described as:
And Zarathushtra refers to God's words and actions as follows:
Why would a good God permit evil (as Zarathushtra defines evil) to exist? I think that has to do with the freedom to choose. The attainment of perfection would have no meaning unless the life force which chooses good is also free to do otherwise; which brings us to the billion dollar question: Who then created evil? How did it originate? How did it come to be available as a choice? I have not discovered an explicit answer to this question in the Gathas, except that Zarathushtra describes it as "primordial" (Y30.3 and Y45.2). I believe Zarathushtra viewed the matter from a different perspective, starting with different premises. A search for a creator of evil, presupposes that man is purely imitative. And this well may be true. However, from another perspective, it would be reasonable to infer from the evidence of the Gathas that while evil in thought is primordial, in word and action it is the life force -- whether in man or in God -- that is creative. And we create both good and evil with our choices. 9
In the final analysis, Zarathushtra, a practical man, addresses the problem at a practical level. He acknowledges the reality of the existence of evil, and proceeds to tackle the problem of how it can be eradicated -- by "deliver[ing] deceit into the hands of truth" (Y30.8) with the best available weapons -- good thinking and the other values which God represents.
That was Zarathushtra's solution to the problem of evil. I find it more satisfying than Mardan-farukh's. It rings true.
Dina G. McIntyre
"Though the mills of God grind slowly,