When it comes to
Zarathushtra's thought, we all are students. No one has all the
answers. And integrity requires that a speaker disclose the perspective
from which she speaks. The Gathas are believed by most scholars to be
Zarathushtra's own words. And my understanding of our religion is based
primarily on the Gathas, and the later texts to the extent that they are
consistent with, or throw light on, the Gathas. The translation of the
Gathas from which I will be quoting is that of Professor Insler of Yale
I try diligently to be objective in my Gathic studies, so that I can
ascertain Zarathushtra's own thoughts as accurately as possible.
However, to me, the value of his thoughts lies in the way they help me
to make sense of my life, and relate to the Divine. So my perspective
is a personal one, but based, I hope, on an objective understanding of
Is our universe a
My journey in
studying the Gathas has been full of piecemeal discoveries. Discoveries
of individual units of jeweled thought that surprised and delighted my
mind and refreshed my spirit. It is only very recently that these
piecemeal discoveries of Zarathushtra's thought have coalesced into
another surprising discovery -- the realization that according to
Zarathushtra, our universe is a friendly place.
By "universe" I
refer, not to inter-stellar and inter-galactic space, but to the
universe of our lives -- that realm which encompasses our day to day
existence. Just as each life is unique, so is the universe which
surrounds and defines it. Although the concepts we discuss here today
are a framework, a template, their application is unique to each of us.
So, once again, what I say is necessarily something of limited
But even in the
area of science, our knowledge always has been, and continues to be,
limited, incomplete. If we do not think about our existence, based on
the information available to us, just because our knowledge is limited,
the search for truth would have no beginning or continuation. And this
is precisely the approach that Zarathushtra himself takes.
His teachings do
not give us fact-specific answers. They give us a framework to help us
find our own answers. To Zarathushtra, "religion" involves an on-going
quest, an on-going search for truth. He says:
". . . as long as
I shall be able and be strong, so long shall I look in quest of truth [asha].
shall I see thee, as I continue to acquire . . . good thinking . .
We see that the
object of this quest is asha. What is "asha"?
means “what fits”. It comprehends the truth of things (or the true order
of things) in the existence of matter as well as of mind.
In the existence
of matter, our material existence, “what fits” is what is correct, what
is accurate – the truth of the natural laws that order the physical
universe, the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, et cetera.
Such physical truth is ethically neutral. It is neither friendly nor
unfriendly. This aspect of Zarathushtra's quest for truth I will not
focus on today, except to the extent it's existence relates to our
In the existence
of mind, the abstract existence of our lives, asha "what fits” is also
what is correct, i.e. what is right, which, in the Gathas, includes such
notions as truth, goodness, lovingkindness, generosity, solicitude,
friendship, justice, compassion, et cetera. And his notion of the
opposite of asha, comprises all that is false or wrong, which in the
Gathas includes such things as ignorance, a lack of discernment, false
judgment, fury, cruelty, violence, murder, tyranny, deceit, oppression,
So in essence,
asha is the truth of things, the truth of the way in which the existence
of mind and matter have been ordered. There is no one English word
which captures the full meaning of asha. The closest English word is
truth. But when you see the word truth used for asha, please remember:
it is not just a factual truth, it includes the truths of mind and
So if asha is the
truth of the way in which existence has been ordered, and if in the
existence of mind, the abstract existence of our lives, asha is all that
is true and good and right, then logically, we would have to conclude
that our lives have been ordered in a way that is true and good and
right. Are you skeptical? I was. Before I discovered Zarathushtra's
unconventional thinking, I was much more inclined to Omar Khayam's view
when he said:
"Oh, Thou, who
Man of baser Earth didst make,
And who with Eden didst devise the Snake;
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd, Man's Forgiveness give---and take!"
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translation by Edward Fitzgerald)
has changed my thinking, and I would like to show you how, in a few of
the questions which affect our lives. In this first part of my talk, I
will touch upon: The calamities of life. How
can a good God allow bad things to happen to people? And what kind of a
God is God? We will then have a coffee break, after which, in Part 2 of
this talk, I will touch upon: Zarathushtra's thoughts regarding the
two-fold purpose of life, his unique notions of how we worship,
paradise, and how evil is defeated without the tortures of the
conventional hell, followed by a question and answer period.
undertaking which requires me to ask your indulgence. Each of these
areas, to do them justice, should be the subject of a separate, in-depth
talk. Overviews, of necessity, are simplistic. But they are valuable
as well. They help us to see the big picture, and think about whether
Zarathushtra's teachings are meaningful to our own lives.
Let us start
Calamities of Life. You well may
wonder: in concluding that our universe is a friendly place, am I
deluding myself? Is this a classic case of religion being the opium
with which to deal with the anxieties and uncertainties of life? In the
face of natural disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes,
famine, in the face of centuries of religious persecution, in the face
of personal tragedy and loss, in the face of all the hostile and
unfriendly forces beyond our control which we hear about, or experience
ourselves, how can any thinking person conclude that the universe is a
friendly place. How can we reconcile the existence of so much suffering
with a friendly God, a God of wisdom and goodness, who is supposed to be
in charge of it all.
immediacy of a calamity is brought home to us through personal
experience, or through television, all explanations and generalizations
seem inadequate. But at the risk of sounding inadequate, let us
consider the matter.
It's not just a
question of hurricanes and earthquakes. A thousand and one painful
things happen to each and every one of us during the course of our
lives. True, we are horrified by the devastation wrought by hurricanes
or earthquakes, because the loss of life and the suffering is on so
massive a scale. Yet, even without a hurricane, one family whose house
burns down experiences the same loss as a person who loses his house in
a hurricane. It's just not multiplied a thousandfold. The same goes
for loss of life. A person who loses a parent or a spouse, or a child
to, say, cancer, or a traffic accident, is as devastated as a person who
loses a parent, spouse or child in an earthquake. The loss is just not
multiplied a thousandfold. And the same goes for the sometimes quiet
disappointments or sadnesses which we suffer which may not be
hurricanes, but which can generate a lot of heartache.
So we come again
to the question: Why? How could all these many different types of
situations and events that cause us grief, anxiety, and pain, how could
they possibly be consistent with asha -- an order of things that is true
and right and good. Well, let us consider the matter from a different
teaches that one of the purposes of life is to evolve or grow, from a
state of being (mainyu) that is a mixture of "good" and "bad", to a
state of being that is haurvatat (completeness, perfection), a state of
being that personifies asha, that personifies all that is true and good
How is this kind
of spiritual growth brought about. If Mazda had ordered existence in
such a way that we never suffered any pain, or any disappointments, or
any loss, we would be in a state of perpetual status quo -- we would
never grow. No matter how old we may be chronologically, we all have a
child inside us. We are all mixtures of child and adult. To pray:
"Please don't let this bad thing happen to me" or "Please make this bad
thing go away" is the prayer of the child inside us. Reacting to
difficulties by getting angry (kicking and screaming) is also the
reaction of the child inside us (and heaven knows, that is exactly the
way in which I first react to such crises -- rebellion, anger, kicking
the furniture in my mind at the senselessness of such "bad" things).
Yet Zarathushtra teaches, and I
believe deeply, that God is Wisdom personified (which is the meaning of
His name -- Mazda). As such, He is not arbitrary. He is not
We know from the
Gathas that Zarathushtra himself experienced persecution and
life-threatening difficulties. In Y46, verse 1 he says:
"To what land to
flee? Where shall I go to flee? They exclude (me) from my family and
from my clan. . . "Y46.1
But when he
prays, he does not pray that the "bad" event be taken away, or never
happen. He prays for understanding. He prays for help through good
thinking (vohu mano). He asks for help through solutions that are in
accord with asha (what is true and right).
" What help by
truth [asha] hast Thou for Zarathushtra who calls? What help by
good thinking [vohu mano] hast Thou for me, . . ." Y49.12.
lifetime I have been condemned as the greatest defiler, I who try to
satisfy the poorly protected (creatures) with truth, Wise One. ...come
to me and give support to me. Through good thinking, find a
means of destruction of this." Y49.1.
Wise One, where
are those sincere ones who, through their possession of good
thinking, make even immoral decrees and painful legacies disappear?
. . . protect us in accord with truth [asha]. Y34.7.
So now, when I
find myself living through a difficult time, in the midst of all my
rebellion and frustration, I try to follow Zarathushtra's example. I
ask for understanding. I ask for help in solving the problem in a good
In my own
life, each time I have experienced a given crisis, it seemed senseless
at the time, and I did not see how any good could possibly come of it.
But on looking back at each of these
so-called "bad" things, I see that each one has taught me something.
Each one, in some way, has made me a better person. These painful or
disappointing "bad" experiences have the capacity for being our
teachers, sculpting our souls. They are agents of transformation,
transforming us into something better than what we were, depending on
how we handle them -- a transformation which could not occur without
such "bad" experiences.
Zarathushtra's thought, I have finally come to the realization that
there isn't a single "bad" thing that can happen to me, which does not
have the capacity for helping me in some way. As such, even though
difficult experiences may bring grief, or pain, I no longer see them as
"bad". I see them as agents of transformation, beneficial -- heavy
blessings, but blessings nevertheless.
has lightened the weight of anxiety and worry I used to carry around.
Does this mean I no longer am anxious, or that I no longer worry. No,
it doesn't. I still worry. But I now have a way of taming my worries,
based, not on self delusion or religious platitudes, but based on my own
past experiences, viewed through Zarathushtra's framework of belief.
It is through a
huge variety of experiences, including good times, and also difficulties
and adversities, that we grow -- depending on how we handle them. When
they happen to us, we grow personally, based on how we handle them.
When they happen to others, we also grow personally, by helping others
to cope, and crafting effective solutions. As my friend, Shahriar,
says: when many people work together towards a good end, it creates a
synergy which is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a little like
a symphony orchestra making beautiful music, if we play our parts well.
Whether at a
collective level, or at an individual level, we need to help each other
make it. A simple word of kindness, a joke to make someone laugh,
helping a loved one cope with a mutual loss, having the courage to take
action to correct an injustice, devising ways to minimize the
devastation of future natural disasters, volunteering for the clean
up, sending a financial contribution -- the ways to help each other are
as boundless as human imagination, and are limited only by human
limitations (for which we should not feel guilty). We grow by both
giving and receiving help.
It is true that
often the devastation and loss we suffer can be traced to, or made worse
by, wrong human choices. But it makes no difference. Whether we suffer
grief, pain and loss because of the wrongful choices of others, or our
own wrongful choices, or because of things that are beyond our
control, the solution is still the same. It's how we handle the
situation that matters, not its cause. Learning to handle these
situations, learning from them, is a pre-requisite for growth -- our
own, and that of others.
So we see that
the so-called "bad" things that happen to us, can be agents of
transformation. -- with help ever at hand from God and from each
other. And we see the validity of
Zarathushtra's teaching that for all its grief and pain, our existence
has been ordered in a way that is true and good and right.
What kind of a
God is God.
Let us move on to Zarathushtra's notion of who we worship. What kind of
a God is God?
You may recall
that to Zarathushtra, religion is a search, a quest for asha. There is
another dimension to this search or quest for asha. And that is our
search, for the Divine.
from the Gathas that Zarathushtra lived in a society in which many gods
were worshipped. He describes these gods as
the practices of their priests as cruel, violent, tyrannical,
a state of affairs that deeply troubled Zarathushtra – especially since
he was on the receiving end of their malice, probably because of his
outspoken criticism of their practices.
Using his mind to
address the problem, he concluded that anger, cruelty, violence,
tyranny, were not divine qualities, and that therefore the fierce and
cruel local gods were not gods at all. They were not worthy of
worship. Imagine the courage that took! Zarathushtra not only rejected
these gods, he demoted them from “godhood”, concluding that "what fits"
(asha) for the Divine, is also what is true and right. He concluded
that only a being who personifies asha, in all its thoughts, words and
actions, is divine, is worthy of worship. Thus to
Zarathushtra, the Divine is a personification of what fits, of all that
is true and good and right -- asha. We see this very clearly in Y50.11,
where Zarathushtra calls God Mazda (wisdom personified), and also truth
"Yes, I shall
swear to be your praiser, Wise One [mazda], and I shall be it, as
long as I shall have strength and be able, o truth [asha]. . .
To make it easier
for us to understand, Zarathushtra, shows us this personification of
asha, which is Divinity, in component parts: It comprises:
all that is true and good and right;
vohu mano: intelligence committed
to goodness, the comprehension of what is true and right (asha);
aramaiti: making what's true and
right (asha) real, giving it substance, with our thoughts, words and
good rule, the rule of asha, and vohu mano,
the rule of aramaiti),
perfection, a state of being which personifies all of the foregoing,
ameretat: non-deathness, the
undying or enduring quality of personifying asha.
In the later
texts, these component characteristics of Divinity were called by the
collective term, amesha spenta. This Divine way of being is the
benevolent (the spenta) way of being -- the way of being that is pure
goodness itself, and that also helps to advances the forward progress of
creation for all the living -- spenta mainyu. The way of being that is
spenta (benevolent) through asha (truth/right), as Zarathushtra says in
the very first verse of the Gathas.
conception of God is not that of a Life Force who gets angry or
vengeful, hurling punishments or retribution on those who displease
Him. His conception of God is that of a Life Force that personifies
Wisdom (Mazda), that personifies all that is true and right, (asha ),
that is pure goodness, the benevolent way of being (spenta mainyu). In
addition, his conception of God is not that of a Master to a servant, or
even a Father to a child. It is that of a Friend to a friend. He says:
". . . Someone
like Thee, Wise One, should declare to me, his friend, . . ." Y44.1
". . . I lament to
Thee. Take notice of it, Lord, offering the support which a friend
should grant to a friend. . ." Y46.2.
So we see that in
Zarathushtra's conception of the Divine, is that of a friendly God. And
just as God is friends with us, so too should we be friends with each
notions of the purpose of life, worship and paradise.
Let us next consider
Zarathushtra's unique notions regarding the two-fold purpose of life,
how we worship, and his notion of paradise.
How does one
worship Wisdom personified. How does one worship pure goodness? How
does one worship a Friend.
In the book,
Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein,
there is an interesting section on religion, in which Einstein says:
man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions -- fear of
hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. Since at this state of existence
understanding of causal connections is usually poorly developed, the
human mind creates illusory beings more or less analogous to itself on
whose wills and actions these fearful happenings depend. Thus one tries
to secure the favor of these beings by carrying out actions and offering
sacrifices which, . . . . . propitiates them or makes them well disposed
toward a mortal. In this sense, I am speaking of a religion of fear."
From what we can
read in the Gathas, it was precisely this religion of fear that existed
in Zarathushtra's society.
And just as Zarathushtra rejected the primitive notion of gods, as
beings who were fierce and cruel, so also he rejected the primitive
notion of worship as requiring sacrifices to keep such gods from being
angry with us, so that bad things did not happen to us.
In an age when
man's worship was fear based, when worship consisted of slaughtering
animals in stone temples, Zarathushtra advances the unique idea of
worshipping Wisdom (Mazda) in the temple of life, with His own divine
qualities, with our thoughts, words and actions. There are many verses
in the Gathas which show this unique type of worship. For example, he
“…I shall always
worship all of you, Wise Lord, with truth [asha] and the very best
thinking, and with their rule [xshathra] …” Y50.4.
“I…shall serve all
of you, Wise Lord, with good thinking [vohu mano]…” Y28.2.
man…[h]e serves truth [asha] during his rule [xshathra], with good word
and good action [which is the
concept of aramaiti]…” Y31.22.
“I shall try to
glorify Him for us with prayers of [aramaiti]….”Y45.10
[ i.e. with prayers of thoughts, words
and actions of asha].
In short, he
teaches us to worship the Divine by re-creating His divine qualities
with each choice we make, in thought, word and action, in every aspect
of our lives. We worship His asha by being truthful, and doing what's
right. We worship His good thinking by our own good thinking. We
worship His aramaiti by bringing asha to life with our own thoughts,
words and actions. We worship His good rule by using whatever power we
have for good.
This is an
action-oriented worship. A worship that requires us to take the
initiative to solve the problems which occur, in our lives, in our
communities, in our world.
I used to wonder
how it was that Televangelists and certain charismatic religious leaders
can get thousands and thousands of followers, while Zarathushtra's
teachings do not seem to generate that kind of mass appeal. I think
one reason is that Zarathushtra's teachings in the Gathas do not
promise magical solutions by someone else who can make everything turn
out O.K. To Zarathushtra, the magic is us. We have to use our minds
and hearts to create our own magic, our own solutions, that are in
harmony with asha.
also include the notion of some reward for worship.
Zarathushtra say our reward will be, for worshipping Wisdom with its own
Divine characteristics? The reward he speaks of in the Gathas is
twofold, and relates to the two fold purpose of life.
At a personal
level, the reward for worshipping Mazda with His own divine qualities is
that we eventually attain these divine qualities, the amesha spenta.
We become what we choose. Each time we think, speak or act in a manner
that is consistent with asha, we think, speak and act in a divine way,
however briefly. The more we do so, the more like asha we become,
until eventually, we personify asha completely, in all our thoughts,
words and actions.
Zarathushtra's idea of paradise is not a place of pleasures and delight,
to which we go after death. His paradise is a quality of being. He
calls paradise the
"House of Good
"House of Song".
is used in the
Gathas as a metaphor for a state of being.
So what state of being is he describing, when he speaks of the
"House of Good Thinking"?
It is a state of being that is wisdom
personified. What state of being is he describing when he speaks of the
"House of Song"?
Perhaps it is a state of being
that is like the high we get when we listen to a very beautiful piece of
music. A state of bliss.
Zarathushtra's notion of worship is not for us to kneel, or humiliate
ourselves, or chastise ourselves, or condemn ourselves, in
self-abnegation. His notion of worship is self-realization,
personifying the qualities of divinity, becoming one with the Divine.
That is one of the purposes of life. This thought of becoming one with
the Divine is beautifully expressed in a later Avestan prayer which
appears as Y60.12 (not a part of the Gathas):
"Through the best [asha]
Through the highest [asha]
May we catch sight of Thee
[i.e. understand the Divine]
May we approach Thee
[i.e. follow the path to the Divine]
be in perfect union with Thee."
[i.e. become one with the
60.12. (Taraporewala translation).
(also used as
part of the Hoshbam prayer)
purpose of life is to make our world a better place. And that too is
the reward for worshipping God with His own divine qualities. Because
it is impossible to think, speak or act in accordance with what is true
and right (asha), without benefiting the people, or the circumstances
that are affected by such thoughts, words and actions. Zarathushtra
tells us that understanding and implementing what is true and right
brings prosperity. He speaks of:
". . . truth [asha]
which prospers the creatures, . . ." Y33.11
". . . the rule [xshathra]
of good thinking [vohu mano], through the actions of which the creatures
allied with truth [asha] do prosper. . ." Y43.6.
". . . Have they
truly seen that vision which is the best for those who exist, and which
in companionship with truth [asha], would prosper my creatures
already allied with truth [asha] through words and acts stemming from [aramaiti]?.
. ." Y44.10.
". . . Friyana,
the Turanian, the one who prospered his creatures with the zeal
of [aramaiti], . . ." Y46.12
So when we bring
the divine to life with thoughts, words, and actions that are true and
right (asha), in each such instance, we create a touch of the divine, a
touch of paradise, in our souls and in our world, until eventually our
souls attain haurvatat (completeness, perfection) and our world is
perfected as well (the frashokereti of the later texts).
In short, this
kind of worship, and the paradise which is its reward, brings both our
souls and our world, into harmony with asha, with the underlying truth
which governs our existence -- a far more effective way of taming our
fears, and dealing with the difficulties of life, than animal or other
sacrifices to appease angry gods or win their favors. It is a friendly
worship, for a friendly God, which helps to transform us, and our world,
into a friendly existence.
without the tortures of hell.
Let us move on to consider how
evil is defeated without the tortures of the conventional hell.
You well may
wonder: Would a God of pure goodness, even one who is super
intelligent, be effective in a world where people are free to make wrong
choices, and where wrongdoing is often so very strong? Would a God of
pure goodness be capable of defeating evil? If you have such doubts,
don't feel bad. These very doubts troubled Zarathushtra himself. He
"Have ye the
mastery, have ye the power, Wise One, for the act to protect your needy
dependent -- as I indeed am -- with truth [asha] and with good thinking
[vohu mano]? . . ."Y34.5
Zarathushtra does not see the answer to this question in the idea of
hell as a place of punishment for those who do wrong. In the Gathas, he
calls hell the
"House of Worst
House of Deceit."
is a metaphor for a state of being, what
state of being is Zarathushtra describing when he speaks of the
of Worst Thinking" and
"The House of Deceit [drujo demana]"?
We know that druj is the opposite of
asha. And we know that the worst thinking is the opposite of vohu mano,
good thinking (the comprehension of asha). So a state of being that is
druj, and the worst thinking, is a state of being that is ignorant,
deluded, wrongheaded -- the opposite of a state of being that
personifies Wisdom (as in the "House of
Good Thinking" ).
Zarathushtra's heaven and hell are not
places. They are states of being.
wisdom is that God deals with good and evil by a system of rewards and
punishment: that He rewards a good person by sending him to heaven, a
place that is full of every imaginable delight depending on your
preferences; and that He punishes a bad person by sending him to hell, a
place of torture and suffering, whether eternal or temporary. According
to conventional wisdom, if you are bad, you are going to be severely and
painfully punished in a place from which there is no escape.
Does this make
sense to you?
I don't know a
single human being who is all bad, or all good either for that matter.
Is it justice to punish a person with the tortures of hell, because he
has done things that are wrong, when he also has done things that are
good and right? Yet we are told that God is just.
In the second
place, what is to be gained by subjecting a person to pure agony, as
hell is said to be. Does he learn anything from it, other than fear?
Does his agony in hell undo the wrong he did? Does it bring the victim
of a murderer back to life? The notion of hell as a place where "bad"
people are punished by being tortured, seems to reflect the human desire
for revenge, extrapolated into a supernatural model.
Then too, there
is the control factor. The conventional notions of heaven and hell seem
to be an attempt at controlling human behavior with bribery and fear --
the bribery of heaven (as a place of delights) and the fear of hell (as
a place of torture). Can revenge, bribery, and torture be
characteristics of the Divine? Aren't these the very characteristics of
the local gods of Zarathushtra's day which he rejected?
So we come again
to the question: given the freedom to choose, how does a God of pure
goodness defeat evil?
Well, we first
need to understand Zarathushtra notion of "evil". In the Gathas, every
descriptive reference to evil is the product of wrongful choices --
cruelty, violence, anger, ignorance, deceit, false understanding, et
cetera. As concepts, these things have no reality, no substance. They
become real only when we bring them to life with our thoughts, words and
actions. So how are they defeated? Clearly punishment is not an
effective way, because when the fear of punishment is removed, the
inclination to evil would still be there, ready to spring to life in our
thoughts, words and actions. Zarathushtra's solution is that evil is
defeated, not by throwing someone into hell -- eternal or otherwise --
but by causing minds change, so that a person prefers to not make evil
choices in thought, word and action, freely and of his own accord. And
how is this accomplished?
according to Zarathushtra, it is accomplished by asha (truth and what's
right), its comprehension (vohu mano), it's realization in thought, word
and action (aramaiti) and its resulting good rule (vohu xshathra).
Allow me to
explain. The concept of asha of "what fits" includes that perfect
justice which generates the law of consequences -- that we reap what we
sow, that everything we do comes back to us, the good and the bad.
In the Gathas,
Zarathushtra often associates the law of consequences (which is a part
of asha) with fire (which is one of his material metaphors for asha).
Thou shalt give, through the heat of Thy truth-strong [asha-strong]
fire, to the deceitful and to the truthful, ….." Y43.4.
When we ourselves
experience the kind of wrongdoing we have done to others, we understand
that this is not the way we want things to be. Our experiences inform
our preferences, so that eventually we choose, out of preference not
compulsion, to not make such wrongful choices again.
The law of
consequences, however painful it may be, is not for punishment. It's
purpose is enlightenment, as part of an educational process. How do we
know that the law of consequences is not for punishment? For two
reasons: First, because in the Gathas we are told that Mazda
administers it with His good thinking (vohu mano), and with a benevolent
way of being (spenta mainyu); and second, because we are told that it
good" to both factions -- those who
choose correctly, and to those who choose wrongfully.
"…May He dispense
through His good thinking (each) reward corresponding to one's
together with this virtuous spirit [spenta mainyu], Thou shalt give
the distribution in the good to both factions through Thy fire,
by reason of the solidarity of [aramaiti] and truth [asha]. For it
shall convert the many who are seeking." Y47.6.
distribution in the good shall occur to both factions
through Thy bright fire, Wise One." Y31.19.
satisfaction which Thou shalt give to both factions through
Thy pure fire and the molten iron, Wise One. . ." Y51.9.
You well may
ask: If, under the law of consequences, the evil we do comes back to
us, how can it distribute "the good"
to those who choose correctly and also to
those who choose wrongly. Well, it is in the end result that the law of
consequences distributes "the good"
"satisfaction" to all. It returns
abundant good for the good done, and, through the painful, difficult,
experiences resulting from our wrong choices, it helps to increase
understanding which changes evil preferences into good ones as well,
thus distributing "the good"
"satisfaction" to those who choose
wrongly as well.
However, the law
of consequences alone, is not enough to change minds. We see only too
often that when someone has been wronged, it breeds a desire for
revenge. The abused sometimes become abusers. Clearly, something more
is needed to break this cycle of revenge and abuse, in addition to the
law of consequences, in addition to the idea that what we do comes back
to us. That something is another aspect of asha -- beneficence,
lovingkindness -- made real through our thoughts, words and actions,
which is the concept of aramaiti.
In the Gathas, we
are told, repeatedly, that the Wise Lord helps with truth and good
thinking. The angels He sends to help us are His thoughts,
His understanding. But other angels come to help us as well. These
angels are those who bring His divine qualities to life, however
temporarily, with their thoughts, words and actions, who have the
courage to do what's right, and who are generous, good, loving.
I think in our religion, to be an angel, is to personify the divine. As
Mazda does completely. And as we do now and then, with our good
thoughts, words and actions. That is the way we become His partners in
We all belong to this
brotherhood of part-time angels. You probably just didn’t recognize
yourself (no halo, no wings, how’s a person supposed to know!).
So, with the
loving help of these assorted angels – the Wise Lord, His divine
attributes, and each other – we make it through the refiner’s fire that
is the law of consequences, and we become “world-healers”. In the
Gathas, the term “world-healer” is used to describe Ahura Mazda himself
and Zarathushtra (Y31.19),
and also a loving person. Zarathushtra describes a person who is a
world healer in Y44.2 as follows:
“….. the loving
man ….. such a person, … [spenta] through … [asha], watching over the
heritage for all, is a world-healer and Thy ally in spirit [mainyu],
Wise One.” (Y44.2).
It is an
interesting paradox that to defeat evil by changing minds, we need the
exact, relentless, workings of the law of consequences, as well as the
generosity of lovingkindness which does not look for an exact (or any)
exchange -- all of which are included within the notion of asha, of
"what fits". All of which are necessary to bring about the
understanding that changes minds, so that we freely, out of preference,
and without compulsion, make choices, which do not bring evil to life
with our thoughts words and actions.
This process of
transformation, of changing minds and preferences through experience,
would necessarily be a long one, filled with an infinite variety of
experiences, both earned and unearned, over a very long period of
time. But it shows us that evil can indeed be defeated by asha. And
we see again the validity of Zarathushtra's premise, that the underlying
truth which governs existence is good.
It is interesting
that Zarathushtra's thought lays to rest the oft repeated philosophical
dilemma that God is either not all powerful, or not all good, because if
He allows evil to exist and cannot stop it, He is not all powerful,
whereas if He can stop it and does not, He cannot be all good.
discloses a third alternative – that of a Life Force who orders
existence in such a way that the freedom to choose, which may increase
evil in the short term, generates the experiences which ensure its
ultimate defeat, thereby demonstrating:
because He can defeat evil;
because He does so with the way in which He has ordered existence -- the
law of consequences, and the beneficence of mutual, loving help through
good thoughts, words and actions (asha
because with the way in which He has ordered existence, we come to the
realizations (vohu mano)
which defeat evil, for ourselves, freely
and without compulsion -- our freedom to choose being an indispensable
requirement for bringing about the defeat of evil.
It is a
reflection of Zarathushtra's genius that he uses 7 concepts to encompass
his entire theology including his notion of the Divine, the way to the
Divine, how we worship, the reward for such worship, the purpose of
life, the path of individual spiritual growth, and making our world a
better place. Those seven concepts are the amesha spenta:
All that is true
and good and right (asha)
in thought, word and action, (aramaiti)
Its good rule (vohu
personification, it's perfection (haurvatat)
enduring, undying, nature (ameretat).
All of which
comprise the beneficent, the good, generous, loving, way of being (spenta
whether we consider Zarathushtra's ideas regarding suffering and
calamities, or the nature of God, or the way we worship, or the purpose
of life, or his notion of paradise as a state of being, or the effective
defeat of evil by changing minds, instead of the punitive tortures of
the conventional hell, we see that the truth which underlies our
existence is beneficent, good, all that is true and right (asha). We
see that for all its griefs and pains, our universe has indeed been
ordered in a friendly way, a way that is true and good and right -- asha.
 This paper
posted on vohuman.org on January 12, 2006 is based on a lecture
given by Mrs. Dina McIntyre at the Arbab Rutom Guiv Darbe-Mehr
in Westminster, Southern California on December 3, 2005.
". . .the rule of truth and good
thinking. . ."Y29.10; ". . .the rule of good thinking and of
truth" Y30.7 and Y33.10; ". . .the rule of good thinking. .
."Y43.6 and many other verses.
". . . Grant thou [aramaiti], your
rule of good thinking for the glory of the Mighty One."Y51.2.
 Ideas and
Opinions by Albert Einstein, based on Mein Weltbild,
edited by Carl Seelig, and other sources, with new translations
and revisions by Sonja Bergmann, (Bonanza Books, NY 1954).
 Ibid. pages
36 -- 37. As Einstein sees it, from a religion of fear, man's
thinking progresses to a moral conception of God, and then, to a
third conception, which he describes as follows:
"But there is a third stage of
religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though
it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic
religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this
feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as
there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to
it. The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims
and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves
both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual
existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to
experience the universe as a single significant whole." Ibid.
at page 38 (emphasis added).
I find Einstein's "cosmic religious
feeling" very close to Zarathushtra's conception of Mazda, but
also different from Zarathushtra's conception, in that
Einstein's conception of "God" seems to be an impersonal one.
He still seemed to view this cosmic "God" through the spectacles
of conventional religious thought, as a Being separate and apart
from man and all the living. Whereas Zarathushtra's conception
(as I understand it) is that this cosmic Divine, and all the
living, are part of the same whole, with each part of the whole
assisting each other part, not necessarily as a provider of
goods and services, or to shield us from unpleasant experiences,
but rather to attain the ultimate objective of transformation,
the attainment of haurvatat / ameretat. As each part of the
whole makes it, that part becomes one with Mazda (a conclusion
that also is suggested and corroborated by Zarathushtra's
technique of sometimes referring to Mazda in the singular, and
sometimes in the plural, See Metaphor in the Gathas, Part 3, on
 We see it
even more clearly in the Yashts, where we are told that various
heroes and princes offered sacrifices of hundreds of animals in
order to win particular favors from local deities. For example
in the Aban Yasht, referring to the deity Ardvi Sura Anahita,
it is stated: "To her did Yima Khshaeta, the good shepherd,
offer up a sacrifice . . . with a hundred male horses, a
thousand oxen, ten thousand lambs." Chap. VII, verse 25, Sacred
Books of the East, Volume 23, page 59 (Motilal Benarsidas
reprint). And this same kind of animal sacrifice, in the same
quantities, and for the same purpose of obtaining various favors
by various famous people, is repeated in this Yasht in Chap.
IX, verse 33, Chap. X, verse 41, Chap. XI, verse 41, Chap.
XII verse 45, Chap. XIII, verse 49, Chap. XV, verse 57, Chap.
XVIII, verse 72, Chap. XX, verse 81, Chap. XXV, verse 108,
Chap. XXVI, verse 112, Chap. XXVII, verse 116.
rule over life at will in the House of Good Thinking." Y32.15.
"… Yes, let us set down His glories in
the House of Song." Y45.8; ". . . the truly sincere ones
existing in the House of Song." Y50.4.
 For the
evidence from the Gathas on which this conclusion is based,
please see Metaphor in the Gathas, Part 2, The Houses of Heaven
and Hell, which appears on
by Taraporewala in his little book "A Few Daily Prayers". This
Y60.12, was included in the Hoshbam prayer by those who created
the Hoshbam prayer as part of the Khordeh Avesta. I have left "asha"
untranslated. Taraporewala translates it as "Righteousness".
The insertions in square brackets in the 3d, 4th and 5th lines
are my explanations.
"Because of such (evil) rule, the destroyers of this world
viewed their riches in the House of Worst Thinking. . ." Y32.13.
"But the deceitful persons, bad in
rule, bad in actions and words, bad in conceptions and thoughts,
them shall their souls continue to encounter with foul food when
they shall be the true guests in the House of Deceit." Y49.11.
See also Y46.11, and Y51.14.
". . . As world-healer, promise us a
judge, and let obedience to him come through good thinking . . .
"This knowing world-healer
[Insler's footnote: "Namely,
Zarathushtra"] has listened, he
who has respected the truth, Lord, . . ." Y31.19.