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Asha "God's Will"  

Gathic Illustration


Introduction to the Gathas 1989 Farhang Mehr

Professor Farhang Mehr

As righteousness
As Justice
As divine/natural law

Human Rights

Protection of the Environment

Active and constructive life

Progress and Modernity


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Asha denotes righteousness, justice, and the divine/natural law that governs the universe. It entails progress toward self-realization and perfection (Hurvatat).

Asha is a sublime attribute of Ahura Mazda, next to Vohu Mana in hierarchy. Ahura Mazda, Vohu Mana and Asha are the Divine Triad.

Ahura Mazda conceived the universe in his mind (Vohu Mana), fashioned it in his conscience (Daena), manifested it through his creativity (Spenta Mainyo) and set it in motion in accordance with His Eternal Law (Asha). God is Asha and Asha represents God's Will. The Gathas declare that Asha is of one will with Ahura Mazda (Y28.8).

The existence of an eternal law and order is deeply rooted in Indo-Iranian culture. In old Persian inscriptions it is called Arta. Its Vedic equivalent is Rta. Ahura Mazda entrusted his worthiest co-worker, Zarathushtra, with the eternal law of Asha and missioned him to pass it on to mankind. Even before revelation, Zarathushtra was acting according to Asha (Y29.8) so he can be considered the embodiment of Asha in this world.

I. As righteousness, Asha constitutes the yardstick for determining right and wrong (Y30.7, 31.5). It sets normative ethics. It provides the standards that apply to all people at all times. It represents absolute values. Relativism is contrary to the Gathic morality. The questions of egoism and utilitarianism entertained in moral philosophy do not arise in Zoroastrianism. The assumption is that right deeds produce benefits alike for the author of the action and for society. The accruance of benefits to the author of the act is automatic.

Zoroastrianism believes in a universal morality. Rightness of deeds are grounded both in good mind (Vohu Mana) and in truth-cum-justice (Asha). Righteous deeds should be performed selflessly and with Love (Armaity); for rightness of acts, mind and heart operate in unison.

"Such are, indeed, the Saviours of the Earth.
They follow Duty's call, the call of Love;
Mazda, they listen unto Vohu Mana;
They do what Asha bids, and Thy commands;
Surely, they are the Vanquishers of Hate."

(Gathas, Yasna 48.12, Taraporewala translation).

Thus in Zoroastrian metaethics, rightness and wrongness are determined by Vohu Mana and Asha as the yardsticks. To simplify the matter, Zarathushtra has formulated the often-quoted maxim: Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. This maxim describes the principle of Asha in action.

II. As Justice, the law of Asha ensures that happy consequences accrue to good acts (Y44.19, 51.15, 53.6). An individual reaps what he or she sows. Everybody receives his or her Mizhdem. Mizhdem means accrued consequences. Reward and punishment, although freely used in translations of the Gathas and in common parlance, are not appropriate substitutes for Mizhdem. Ahura Mazda stands beyond revenge and punishment. He is, exclusively, goodness. Mizhda or consequences denote the accrued fruitions of one's acts, earned by performances (Y51.13): the best existence for the righteous and the worst for the wicked.

Asha also guarantees the final victory of righteousness over falsehood that evokes God's omnipotence.

Righteousness is the best of all that is good and is the radiant goal of life on earth. One must live righteously, and for the sake of righteousness alone. Worldly rewards should not be the motivation. Duty for the sake of duty constitutes selfless service.

The realization process of good's triumph over evil is gradual and not abrupt. A dutiful human being, as a co-worker of God, should spread righteousness and eradicate falsehood for the advancement of the world and the progress of man towards perfection.

In Zoroastrian tradition, truth is justice, and justice is in Asha.

III. As divine/natural law, Asha connotes the eternal, immutable law that governs the universe. It regulates both the spiritual and the corporal worlds. In Zoroastrianism, natural law and divine law are the same.

The law of Asha is as changeless as God himself; yet it regulates change in the world and determines world dynamism. It organizes the gradual refreshment/renovation (Fresho Kereti) of the world.

Asha represents the causative law -- the relation between an individual's actions and their Mizhda. In Zoroastrianism, it is one's actions that determine the direction of one's life and one's fortune. An individual is free to choose his or her course of action and set Mizhda in motion. Thus, the consequences of each action are pre-determined but the choice of action for man is not. Thus the fate of man is not pre-ordained. Once the choice is made, the direction of life is set. The consequences of an individual's acts -- thoughts, words and deeds -- will follow in accordance with the law of Asha. This is God's will and God's justice.

Nothing can change the operation of the law of Asha. No mediation is possible. Nobody, not even the prophet, can intervene or mediate. (This is a point of difference with Abrahamic religions). Each action generates its consequence. There can be no addition or subtraction of the consequences. Repentance cannot alter the course of justice either.

There are three main features of Asha. Although the Gathas state only the principle, the later Avesta defines in detail the character of certain types of behavior. Certain norms of conduct are highly recommended, and some acts are strictly forbidden. Wrath (aeshma), violence (r ma), falsehood (drauga), lie (druj), are evil acts. Honesty (Arsh Manangha), fulfillment of promises (mitra), compassion (merezehdika) and charity (rata) are acts of piety.

Conceptualization of the moral norms set out in the Gathas help to provide a better understanding of the ethical contents of the law of Asha.

1. Liberty: Man's liberty is the most precious of God's bounties. It is the natural right of every human being. Man's liberty is so sacrosanct that God himself does not curtail man's freedom even with regard to man's choice of religion.

"Hearken with your ears to these best counsels:
Gaze at the beams of fire and contemplate with
your best judgment.

Let each person choose his creed, with that freedom
of choice which each must have at great events:

O ye, awake to these my announcements!"

(Gathas, Yasna 30.2, Dinshaw Irani translation.).

Few prophets have invited their audiences to weigh the tenets of the faith with reason and good mind.

The right of liberty is also reflected in the Zoroastrian concept of the God-man relationship. Unlike Islam, in which man is the abd (slave) of God, and unlike Christianity in which man is God's child, in Zoroastrianism man is God's co-worker. Hence, neither the owner's right, nor paternal authority can constrain man's freedom of choice. The restraining forces are an individual's moral convictions/conscience (Daena), and good mind (Vohu Mana).

2. Equality. The equality of males and females is unreservedly admitted. In all his sermons, Zarathushtra addresses man (na) and woman (nairi) separately and on equal footing. In a sermon addressed to his daughter Pouru-chista, Zarathushtra teaches young men and women to consult with their inner selves, with wisdom and love (armaity) before entering the uniting bond of marriage. No discrimination is allowed. Human beings, irrespective of sex, race or color are equal. Superiority of individuals to each other relates to their righteousness. That is the only test for distinction. 

3. Human Rights. In the words of Professor Hinnells:

"Zoroastrianism is the first religion that has taken
a doctrinal and political stand on the subject of
human rights and has condemned limitations or
curtailment of those rights under any pretext."

Hinnells, Theory and Practice of Human Rights in Zoroastrianism
(presented at the Fourth World Zoroastrian Congress, Bombay, 1985).

Although the term "human rights" is of modern legal coinage, the concept of human rights as a system of values and ideas is engrained in Zoroastrianism. The Gathas condemn tyrannical and unjust rule and recommend to the faithful not to submit to oppressive rulers.

Body (tanu) and soul (urvan) are inviolable, and their integrity should be respected. Physical and mental assaults are repugnant acts. Nothing should be done in contravention of this law.

"In full accord with law shall all men act,
The law that forms the basis of all life,
With strictest justice shall the
Ratu judge,
Whether it be the true man or the false;
Against the false in him he shall with care
Weigh all the truth that with it has been misled."

(Gathas, Yasna 33.1 Taraporewala translation).

The concept of slavery is alien to Zarathushtra's teachings, and no caste system or class privilege is recognized in the Gathas. The best evidence of this is provided by Zarathushtra's prayer for Kavi Gushtasp, wherein he hopes that some of the King's sons would go into agriculture, some into the military, and some work for the religion. The class privileges that existed in the time of the Sassanians were contrary to Zarathushtra's teachings.

4. Protection of the Environment, is an aspect of Asha. The later Avesta states that defilement of soil, water, air, and fire in any form or degree is considered a trespass on nature and a transgression of the law of Asha. This protective attitude originates in the Gathic treatment of life and the material world. Matter and life are benefactions from God and as such are adorable. This joy-producing world is being sustained by Ahura Mazda, and as His co-workers, human beings are beholden to act wisely and gratefully in preservation of the world. Zoroastrians acknowledge the importance of keeping nature free from pollution. The natural elements are essential for existence and progress. Human beings are acting as trustees for nature in this world. Anybody who acts in breach of this trust, encroaches upon the law of Asha and will encounter misery.

5. Active and constructive life. Idleness is a feature of evil. Divine wisdom, righteousness and moral courage pertain to active life. The prophet teaches his disciples to be active and constructive.

"O Wise Jamaspa Hvogva, I have taught
That action, not inaction, higher stands.
Obeying then His will, worship through deeds;
The Great Lord and Guardian of the Worlds,
Through His Eternal Law discriminates
Who are truly wise and who unwise."

(The Gathas, Yasna 46.17, Taraporewala translation).

Monasticism, celibacy, asceticism, and self-mortification have no place in Zoroastrianism. The function of Ahu is to preserve life and vitality, to give man an opportunity to enhance his or her moral apprehension. The aim of life is happiness -- ushta. Life is the battlefield between Good and Evil, and human beings should act as warriors of Good.

6. Progress and Modernity. Asha is the law of progress. It is an organic law and capable of accommodating modernity without any change in the essence of the law. The Gathic principles are general. For instance, it guides man to respect the environment. In disposing of the dead, Zoroastrians can use any method which is the least harmful to the environment, meeting the exigencies of time and place.

The Gathas teach man to be mindful of his or her physical and mental health. With acquired knowledge, advancements in health sciences and technology one must make decisions as to one's diet, and the type of meat or drink one consumes.

The Gathas recommend against submission to unjust and despotic rulers. With the experiences and the knowledge acquired by social scientists, a Zoroastrian should be able to decide on the best system of government. Asha is the law of progress and is consistent with modernity.

Zoroastrians in diaspora will succeed if they consult good thinking, Vohu Mana, and tread the path of Asha, as our ancestors did and our co-religionists are doing in Iran, India and Pakistan.