Metaphor... Part 2
Metaphor... Part 3
Introduction and Pastoral Metaphors.
Sun, Light, Fire, and the Checkmate Solution.
1.3 Some Thoughts on Zarathushtra’s Reasons for Using Natural
Introduction and Pastoral Metaphors.
What is a
metaphor? A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word is used in a way
that is not intended to be literal, in order to evoke an idea or an
impression. In his poem “Ars Poetica” the poet Archibald MacLeish describes
the way a metaphor works as follows.
“For all the history of grief,
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.”
Poetry is full of metaphor. For example, Wordsworth describes a
field of daffodils as:
"A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze."
Daffodils don't really "dance". The word is a
metaphor which evokes the poet's impression. Similarly, Carl Sandburg, in
his poem Chicago, describes the city as:
"Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders."
And Zarathushtra speaks of:
pasture of truth and good thinking." (Y33.3).1
When a metaphor is descriptive, such as the examples given above,
we immediately understand the poet's intention. But when a system of
metaphors is used, almost as a code, to express a system of ideas, they
present a mystery which is not as easy to unravel. Some such metaphors are
more accurately called allegories.
What is an allegory? An allegory is a reference
to one thing, using the form of another. For example, the famous piece of
sculpture, "The Winged Victory of Samothrace" uses a winged human form to
describe the concept of victory. An allegory is an extended metaphor so for
convenience, I will use the term metaphor to describe both.
The society in which Zarathushtra lived was an
agrarian one, and the images which were most meaningful to his people were
agrarian images -- the cow, cattle, draft-oxen, pastures, milk and butter,
the sun, fire, plants, waters, camels, horses – so it is not surprising that
he chooses these agrarian images for his poetry.
The question that arises is: Why? Why does
Zarathushtra use these images in the Gathas? Is he advocating an agrarian
way of life? Does he intend us to take these images literally? Does he
use them as metaphors? As with so many Gathic puzzles, opinions differ.
For my part, I would like to demonstrate, with evidence from the Gathas,
that Zarathushtra uses these images as metaphors, and that he does so as a
means of expressing his profoundly moving vision.2
A word of caution. We all are (to a greater or
lesser extent) prisoners of the conditioning we have experienced in the
societies and cultures in which we have been raised. This is a perfectly
natural thing. But to truly appreciate the beauty and relevance of
Zarathushtra's thought, we need to set aside such conditionings (and the
self conscious feelings they may generate) and look at his images with fresh
eyes and open minds. Although Zarathushtra's uses of sun / light / fire may
be more pleasing to us, I will begin with the pastoral metaphors (to which
the reader may feel more cultural resistance) because they are foundational.
For those who are interested, a brief explanation
of the meanings of each of the amesha spenta appears in Part 3.1
which is about the amesha spenta.
Let us first consider whether Zarathushtra
intends us to take his images literally, or as metaphors. Before we start,
it would be well to acknowledge one of the most controversial images that
Zarathushtra uses – "gao" (the singular stem) and its variants. Some
scholars translate this as "cow". Others translate it as "world" or
"earth". I am inclined to think that "cow" is the correct translation, and
that Zarathushtra uses “cow” as a metaphor (or allegory) for the good vision
– the vision of a world governed by truth and good thinking,3
although it is possible that Zarathushtra, in his typical multi-dimensional
style, intends to give the word a double (or triple) meaning, as we will
Many noted scholars have expressed the opinion
that Zarathushtra’s imagery should be taken literally, as advocating an
agrarian way of life. So the first question we must answer is: Did
Zarathushtra intend us to take these images metaphorically, or literally?
He shows us his intention in a number of ways – some obvious, some not so
obvious. For example: In Yasna 49.5 he says:
"But that man, Wise One, is both milk and butter (for Thee), namely,
the one who has allied his conception with good thinking...." (Y49.5).
Now, it is obvious that a good thinking man is not, literally,
"milk and butter". Therefore it is easy to see that the term "milk and
butter" is being used metaphorically here, and is related to good thinking,
because it is not every man who is "milk and butter" for the Wise Lord, but
only "the one who has allied his conception with good thinking." Similarly,
in Yasna 29.7 Zarathushtra says:
"The Wise Lord,
who is of the same temperament with truth, fashioned that promise of butter
and milk for the cow. He is virtuous to the needy in accord with His
commandment. (He said): 'Who has (been found) by thee, good thinking,
who might give these things to the mortals below?’ " (Y29.7).
Obviously, real cows don't require a promise of
butter and milk,4 so this verse is a clear signal that both
"butter and milk" and "cow" are being used metaphorically. And once again,
the "promise of butter and milk" is related to good thinking, the means by
which the Wise Lord chooses to instruct man, as shown in the last sentence
of the verse. Reading both these verses together (Y49.5 and Y29.7 quoted
above), it would be reasonable to conclude that milk and butter refers to
the person who, with his good thinking, pleases and strengthen the Wise Lord
by nourishing the metaphoric cow (the good vision – the vision of a world
governed by truth and good thinking). This idea is carried further by
Zarathushtra's related imagery of the "pasture". In Yasna 33.3, he says:
who is very good to a truthful man, ..... such a person shall be on the
pasture of truth and good thinking." (Y33.3).
A pasture, taken literally, is made up of grass, not of truth and
good thinking. So it is obvious that Zarathushtra is using "pasture" in a
metaphoric sense, indicating that truth and good thinking both nourish and
reward the truthful man. This conclusion is corroborated by the parallel
thought in Y34.3, where Zarathushtra says, without metaphor:
let us reverently give an offering to Thee, Lord, and to truth, all of us
creatures under Thy rule whom one has nourished with good thinking...."
Zarathushtra's use of the term "the
pasture of truth and good thinking"
in Yasna 33.3 is significant when you see that in the very next
verse, he uses the parallel imagery of "the
pasture of the cow."
In Yasna 33.4 he says:
"Wise One, (it
is) I who, through worship, shall turn away disobedience and bad thinking
from Thee, ..... and the worst counselor from the pasture of the
It is clear that the "worst counselor"
(presumably someone lacking in good thinking), has nothing to do with
literal grass and literal cows. Therefore it is obvious that "pasture
of the cow"
is being used metaphorically. Not so obvious is the parallel usage of "the
pasture of truth and good thinking"
in the preceding verse, and "pasture of the cow"
in this verse, indicating, perhaps that the metaphoric (or allegorical)
nature of the cow has something to do with what nourishes it -- truth and
The above examples are enough to illustrate some
of the techniques which Zarathushtra uses to alert us to the fact that these
images are metaphors, and are not intended to be taken literally. The above
examples also make clear the indispensable importance of a sound, state of
the art, knowledge of Gathic grammar and vocabulary, if we are to understand
the subtleties of Zarathushtra's own thoughts (as distinguished from the
thoughts we might like to project on to him).
Let us turn to Zarathushtra’s pastoral
metaphors. Insler, citing Lommel, has suggested that the association which
appears in the later Zoroastrian literature between each amesha spenta
and objects in the material world, are a key to understanding the system of
metaphors used by Zarathushtra in the Gathas.6 I agree (except
that I have found only circumstantial (not direct) evidence in the Gathas,
of the association of aramaiti and earth, and no evidence at all of
the association of xshathra and metals). The association between each
amesha spenta and objects in the material world, as it appears in the
later texts, is as follows:
Asha (truth, right)
Let us consider how Zarathushtra uses a few of
these material images in the Gathas, and see whether the above associations
enhance our understanding of the ideas behind the images.
The Cow. We have seen from the examples given
above, that Zarathushtra's use of the term "cow" is related to good thinking
(Y29.7, Y49.5), and to truth and good thinking (Y33.3, Y34.3). Insler is of
the opinion that the "cow" is a metaphor for vanguhi daena – the good
vision – the vision of a world governed by truth and good thinking. He
arrives at this conclusion using the following line of reasoning.
"...Zarathushtra makes it quite clear in his poetry that the cow is a
benevolent force which must be sought after by the truthful man (50.2), and
which shall be given to the honestly living person as a reward in order to
save his fellowman from the forces of deceit (50.3). In this way the figure
of the cow approaches in essence the Lord-created values of truth and good
thinking, whose quest for and realization on earth is the task of the
righteous man (29.10, 31.4, 47.2, 51.1 etc.), and which shall bring on the
defeat of deceit (31.4, 48.1 etc.).
when 51.5-6 juxtapose in antithetical fashion the notions of a person who
shall serve the cow in accordance with truth and of a person who shall not
serve the Wise Lord, the reverence to be allotted to the cow comes very near
to that of Ahura Mazda himself in importance. Thus the cow in origin seems
to belong to a higher world than that of man, and her appearance on earth
and her required attention are for the purposes of bringing nourishment and
peace to the faithful (48.5-6), much as the attainment of good thinking and
truth in the mortal world are to accomplish these very aims (29.10, 33.5,
"This line of
reasoning leads me to believe that the cow is an allegorical figure for the
vanuhi daena 'the good vision' (51.17, 53.1, 3). the conception of
the foremost existence belonging to the immortal forces (45.11, 49.6), and
one which the Wise Lord granted to the savior Zarathushtra (53.2). It is
the conception which is best for those who exist (44.10), …..
Gathas constantly stress the message, as we remarked above, that only the
good vision, that is, the view of the world governed by truth and good
thinking, shall prosper the creatures, is the best for those who exist,
shall bring good fortune to the peoples, etc., then can we not conclude that
the cow and the good vision are equivalent entities? The parallelism of
both sets of terms cow: butter and milk and good vision: peace,
tranquility prosperity etc. speaks for just this identification... in
reaching a proper understanding of the message of Y29." Insler The Gathas
of Zarathushtra, pp 141-143.
If Insler is correct (and I think he is), it is
important to note that the cow is the masked or allegorical form of truth
and good thinking, not in the abstract, but as those concepts relate to
this world. Which brings us back to the question: is the proper
translation of the word gao and its variants, "cow" or "world".
In a given language, it is not uncommon for one
word to have two entirely different meanings. For example, in North
America, the term "northern spy" means a type of apple. It also means a
person engaged in espionage who comes from (or lives in) the north. How
someone would translate the term "northern spy" into another language, when
it appears in an American poem8 would depend on its contextual
use. Martin Haug, writing in 1907, notes:
has in Sanskrit the two meanings 'cow' and 'earth'."
on the Language, Writings, and Religion of the Parsis, p148, footnote 1,
(Philo Press, Amsterdam, reprint, 1971) .
He translates and interprets geush urva
appearing in Yasna 29 as follows:
means the universal soul of earth, the cause of all life and growth. The
literal meaning of the word, 'soul of the cow' implies a simile; for the
earth is compared to a cow." Ibid. p148.
If in the Gathic language the stem gao
and its variants (such as geush urva), could mean either "cow"
or "earth" it is possible that Zarathushtra chose the word, in part for its
double meaning, to indicate, metaphorically, the good vision on earth. This
of course pre-supposes that Zarathushtra intended to use the word gao
to mean "cow" and intended further to use "cow" as an allegory for a vision
of the world governed by truth and good thinking. In deciding what
Zarathushtra had in mind, we have to look at the context in which the word
appears. The literal cow does not fit at all. The metaphoric cow (good
vision) fits well in all the verses where that word is used or referred to.
There are many verses in which either the metaphoric cow (good vision), or
"world" fit well. However, there are some verses in which "world" or
"earth" simply does not fit the context. Here are some examples. Let us
first substitute "good vision" for the word cow, and then substitute "earth"
or "world" for that word, so you can see how each suits the context.
"Thou art the
virtuous Father of this spirit [spenta mainyu], the spirit who
fashioned the joy-bringing cow [good vision] for this world.
Moreover, Thou didst create tranquility and [aramaiti] for her pastor when
he took counsel with good thinking, Wise One." (Y47.3).
"Thou art the
virtuous Father of this spirit [spenta mainyu], the spirit who
fashioned the joy-bringing [world] for this world. Moreover, Thou
didst create tranquility and [aramaiti] for her pastor when he took counsel
with good thinking, Wise One." (Y47.3)
Clearly, "world" or "earth" would not fit in the
context of this verse. "Cow" taken literally makes no sense either.
Zarathushtra could not have intended a literal pastor and a literal cow,
because the pastor's effectiveness is related to the fact that he "took
counsel with good thinking", and the Wise Lord created tranquility and [aramaiti]
for her pastor. Such abstract ideas bear no relation to the tasks required
to care for real cows.
"Cow" as a metaphor for Zarathushtra's good
vision, the vision of a world governed by truth and good thinking, fits well
contextually, for at least two reasons. First, spenta mainyu is
identified as the fashioner of the cow. We know from other parts of the
Gathas that spenta mainyu (the spenta way of being) is "spenta"
through asha (Y28.1), and inspires understanding of the good vision
in Zarathushtra (Y43.2).
Second (going back to Yasna 47.3, quoted above),
"cow" as a metaphor for the good vision fits the context well when we
consider the related imagery of the pastor for the cow. A person who takes
counsel with good thinking, and for whom the Wise Lord created the concept
of aramaiti [bringing truth and good thinking to life with thoughts words
and actions], nurtures and promotes [is a pastor for] the vision of a world
governed by truth and good thinking [the metaphoric cow]. We see here
Zarathushtra's typical technique of compacting a lot of meaning into a few
words, with the use of a system of metaphors. Let us return to examples of
verses substituting "good vision" and "world" for "cow" to see how they fit
In this verse, the word "she" refers to "cow" in the preceding verse.
"For she [the
good vision] shall bring peace to us, she [the good vision] shall
grant to us the enduring and esteemed strength of good thinking. And the
Wise One shall increase the plants for her [the good vision] through
truth, He (who is to be) Lord at the birth of the foremost existence."
"For she [the
world] shall bring peace to us, she [the world] shall grant to us
the enduring and esteemed strength of good thinking. And the Wise One shall
increase the plants for her [the world] through truth, He (who is to
be ) Lord at the birth of the foremost existence." (Y48.6).
It is clear that the earth or world does not fit
the context. The earth or the world does not bring peace to us. The earth
or world does not grant to us the enduring and esteemed strength of good
thinking. But these are precisely the gifts of the good vision – the vision
of a world governed by truth and good thinking.9
And if the later texts do indeed provide us with
a code for understanding the metaphors of the Gathas, the "plants" referred
to in the above verse would be the masked form of ameretat,
immortality. If that is so, this verse tells us that through the gifts of
the good vision [i.e. truth and good thinking], the Wise One will increase
the number of persons who reach ameretat [plants], which in turn
nourish the good vision [cow], making it possible for the good vision -- the
vision of a world governed by truth and good thinking -- to become a
The "foremost existence" is another way of saying
the same thing -- a world governed by truth and good thinking10 —
when the good vision becomes a reality – the frashokereti of the
later texts. This verse expresses a theme that is found in a thousand and
one ways in the Gathas – that the means and the end are the same. The end
here is a world governed by truth and good thinking – the good vision. And
it is brought about by persons who think, speak and act, with truth and good
thinking. The idea is so subtle. So profound. Yet so simple. And, (once
we discover it) so obvious.
One final example (there are many more):
"For she [the
good vision] indeed, whom one has promised with good thinking to him
during the rule of truth and good thinking, she [the good vision]
shall belong to that person who would strengthen, with the power of such a
reward, his nearest fellow creature, whom the deceitful one shall
(otherwise) appropriate." (Y50.3).
"For she [the world] indeed, whom one has promised with good
thinking to him during the rule of truth and good thinking, she [the
world] shall belong to that person who would strengthen, with the power
of such a reward, his nearest fellow creature, whom the deceitful one shall
(otherwise) appropriate." (Y50.3).
In the above verse, we see that the "she"
referred to is both the means of strengthening our fellow creatures, and
also our reward for doing so. Once again, the metaphoric good vision fits,
especially in light of the alternative "whom the deceitful one shall
(otherwise) appropriate." The "earth" or "world" does not fit the context.
And once again, we see the idea expressed that truth and good thinking are
both the reward and the way to earn the reward – the means and the end.
That "cow" is a metaphor for the vision of a
world governed by truth and good thinking is further suggested by a group of
parallel verses in which Zarathushtra states that the Wise One fashioned the
cow by reason of His spenta mainyu (His spenta way of being).
In the first two verses, quoted below, that thought appears using "cow" as a
metaphor for truth and good thinking. In the last verse quoted below, the
idea appears without metaphor.
"…the spirit who
fashioned the joy-bringing cow
for this world…"Y47.3
"Thou, Wise One,
who hast fashioned the cow
[good vision] …by reason of Thy most virtuous spirit…"Y51.7.
virtuous spirit, Wise One, by reason of which Thou didst create the wondrous
powers of good thinking allied with truth." Y43.2.
The conclusion that "cow" is a metaphor for the
vision of a world governed by truth (asha) and its comprehension,
good thinking (vohu mano) fits well with other instances of ancient
(pre-Islamic) Persian usage. For example, in the Shahnameh, it is the
"milk" (good thinking?) from a very special cow (the good vision?) which
nourishes Faridun while he is raised to manhood. If Faridun's adversary,
Zohak, is the embodiment of evil, it is again interesting that it is a
cow-headed mace (the vision of truth and good thinking?) with which Faridun
slays Zohak (evil). And in certain Sassanian and post-Sassanian pictures,
Zarathushtra also is shown carrying a cow-headed mace, warranting the
inference that the weapon with which he destroys evil is the good vision –
the vision of a world governed by truth and good thinking – the metaphoric
(or allegorical) cow.
One cannot help but wonder why Zarathushtra chose
"cow" as the material metaphor (or allegory) for the good vision. Perhaps
it was because in his society, possessing cows or cattle were what gave a
man and his family material prosperity, material well-being, just as truth
and good thinking prosper the mind and bring well-being to our souls.
Let us move on to see how the metaphoric cow
(good vision) fits with Zarathushtra's system of related pastoral metaphors.
Milk and Butter.
Milk and butter are metaphors for good thinking, and also for the person who
personifies these values (Y29.7 and Y49.5). Milk and butter come from the
cow, just as truth and good thinking come from the good vision. Milk and
butter nourish and strengthen, just as truth and good thinking nourish both
man and the Wise Lord, and bring about His good rule (which is the rule of
truth and good thinking Y29.10, 30.7, 33.10, 34.11, 50.3), thereby making
the good vision a reality.
The idea that Zarathushtra uses milk as a
metaphor for good thinking, is further suggested by his technique of
interchanging the two terms. For example: He expresses the thought,
without metaphor, that we serve the Wise Lord and his divine values (the
amesha spenta) with good thinking (Y28.2) and with truth and good
"I who shall
serve all of you, Wise Lord, with good thinking….." Y28.2.
"…I shall always
worship all of you, Wise Lord, with truth and the very best thinking…"
In Y50.8, and Y51.1, he expresses the same
concept, but interchanges milk for good thinking:
"…..Wise One, I
shall serve all of you with the renowned footprints of milk ….."Y50.8.
"That good rule
is to be chosen which best brings good fortune to the man serving it with
Re-echoed without metaphor in:
"…Such is the
rule for the Wise One, that one shall increase it for Him through good
that rule of good thinking allied with truth in order to serve…"Y51.18.
"…I …shall serve
all of you, Wise Lord, with good thinking….." Y28.2.
Beautiful point-counterpoint, which,
paradoxically, has a lovely abstract, impressionist quality.
In Yasna 29.1, the cow (the good vision), asks the Wise Lord for "pasturage"
i.e. nurture, care. He responds by providing good thinking as the promised
solution to the problems of the cow (the good vision) (Y29.7). Thus, in
Yasna 29, good thinking (the comprehension of truth, asha) is the
pasturage with which the Wise Lord promises to nurture or nourish the
metaphoric cow (the good vision). This ties in with "the pasture of truth
and good thinking" referred to in Yasna 33.3,11 and "the pasture
of the cow" in Yasna 33.4. It also corroborates the conclusion that the
vision of truth and good thinking (cow) are nourished by truth and good
thinking (pasture of truth and good thinking). The means and the end are
the same. The metaphoric pastures are also related to the metaphor for
ameretat, plants, indicating that those who have attained ameretat
nourish and strengthen the good vision.
Pastor. In some verses, man is the pastor who
nurtures the metaphoric cow (the good vision) with good thinking, truth, and
the Wise Lord's other immortal forces (Y31.10, Y51.4-5).12 In
Yasna 29.1, the Wise Lord and his cardinal forces13 are the
pastor of the metaphoric cow (the good vision). These verses reflect the
well accepted view that in Zarathushtra's thought, the Wise Lord and man are
partners in bringing to reality a world that is governed by truth and good
thinking (the good vision). And it is significant that whether the
nourishing is done by man or the Wise Lord, the means of nourishing the good
vision are the same – the Wise Lord's immortal forces, truth, good thinking,
and those who personify these values.
There are some verses in which "cattle" appears to be used in its literal
sense, as a material asset, the possession of which would give a person
worldly power in an agrarian society (Y46.2). But there are other verses in
which Zarathushtra appears to use the word "cattle" and "draft-oxen" in the
same way as Christian literature uses the word "flock of sheep", to
indicate the followers of Zarathushtra's good vision – the community of the
good vision – those who work to make the good vision a reality here on this
"Does my person have control over anyone who can offer help? Who
has been found to be the protector of my cattle? [followers of the good
vision] Who of me? Who other than truth and Thee, Wise Lord, and best
thinking, when my summoning really occurs?" (Y50.1)
"…(…those) who through their action stemming from good thinking,
indeed exist in the community of the fertile cow, as they further the good
understanding of your will with truth, Lord, throughout the (whole)
"Community of the fertile cow"
is another way of saying community of those who further the good vision
(whose increase brings about the foremost existence).
In Yasna 46.4, Zarathushtra refers to the
followers of the Wise Lord and His immortal forces as the "draft-oxen
"Yes, the deceitful one has guarded the draft oxen of truth
-- either those of the district or those of the land -- from arising, being,
as he is, difficult to challenge and contentious by reason of his actions.
Whoever shall expel him, Wise One, from rule or from life, that person shall
free the oxen for the flight of good understanding." (Y46.4).
The use of the term "deceitful one" in this verse
(and some others) does not, in my view, indicate that Zarathushtra believed
in the "devil" as a living entity. In the Gathas he frequently refers to
the concept of truth (asha) as an allegorical entity (discussed in
Part 3 of this piece Metaphor in the Gathas). I think his use of "deceitful
one" is likewise a reference to the concept of deceit (i.e. the opposite of
asha) as an allegorical entity, to illustrate, perhaps his view that
good and evil acquire life, substance, only when they are expressed in the
thoughts, words and actions of living beings.
Waters and Plants.
In a Pahlavi fragment translated by E. W. West14 we are told
that the waters and plants are "counterparts" of "Horvadad and Amerodad"
(Gathic haurvatat and ameretat).
In the Gathas, we have already seen that "plants"
as a metaphor for ameretat (the concept, as well as those who have
attained it) fits well with the pastures of truth and good thinking which
nourish the metaphoric cow – the good vision. This conclusion is
corroborated in Yasna 8.3 (not a part of the Gathas, where just men and just
women who "practice the liberality of asha are referred to as "who
are the waters and plants," (although presumably they may not yet have
completely attained haurvatat and ameretat):
"…ye just men
and just women, and ye Zaothras, whoever among these Mazdayasnians would
call himself a Mazdayasnian desiring to live in the practice of the
liberality of Righteousness [asha]…do ye cause (such an one) to be
(still further) taught, (ye), who are the waters, the plants, and the
Zaothras!" Y8.3, SBE Vol. 31, page 229 (Mills tr.).
A similar thought is also expressed in the Gathas
in Y34.11 without metaphor:
completeness [haurvatat] and immortality [ameretat] are for
Thy sustenance. Together with the rule of good thinking allied with truth
(our) [aramaiti] has increased these two enduring powers (for Thee).
Because of these things, Wise One, Thou dost terrorize the enemy." Y34.11.
The "enemy", it should be remembered, is deceit,
ignorance, cruelty – all of the things that harm the good vision (so
graphically enumerated in Y29.1). To "terrorize" the "enemy" is a metaphor,
meaning to bring about the end of such things.
"Waters" and "plants" are mentioned in Y51.7,
along with the metaphoric cow (good vision).
"Thou, Wise One,
who hast fashioned the cow [good vision] as well as the waters [haurvatat]
and the plants [ameretat] by reason of Thy most virtuous spirit,
grant Thou to me immortality [ameretat] and completeness [haurvatat],
those two enduring forces which are to be praised with good thinking."
This verse finds an echo in a Later Yasna, Y65.15
– not a part of the Gathas, where the unknown author of this Yasna says:
"…Thou, who art
the maker of the Kine, the plants, and the waters, Immortality and likewise
Weal [Mills' translation of haurvatat], O Ahura Mazda, Thou most
bounteous Spirit [Mills' translation of spenta mainyu]. And grant me
these two eternal gifts through Thy Good Mind in the doctrine." [Mills'
footnote : "see Y51.7"] Y65.15, (SBE Vol. 31, page 320).
And this thought is also found without metaphor
in the Gathas, see for example:
"The Wise Lord,
in consequence of His abounding authority of rule over completeness and
immortality and over truth, shall give the permanence of good thinking's
alliance to him, the one who is His ally in spirit and actions." Y31.21.
In these verses, we once again see a type of
incremental partnership in the evolutionary path, that appears so often in
the Gathas – our thoughts, words and actions of asha increase
completeness and immortality for the Wise Lord (Y34.11). And the more we so
strive, the more the Wise Lord gives us understanding (vohu mano –
good thinking), and so completeness (haurvatat) and immortality (ameretat)
(Y51.7, and 31.21).
Finally, "waters" and "plants" appear in Y44.4,
an enigmatical verse, in which they could refer to literal waters and
plants, or to the concepts of haurvatat (completeness, perfection)
and ameretat (non-deathness, immortality), or to those who have
attained and personify these attributes of divinity, or possibly to all
"This I ask
Thee. Tell me truly, Lord. Which man has upheld the earth below and the
heavens (above) from falling? Who the waters and the plants? Who yoked
the pairs of swift (steeds) to the wind and to the clouds? Which man, Wise
One, is the creator of good thinking?" Y44.4
The Gathas contain some other pastoral metaphors
that do not appear to be related to the set of metaphors discussed above.
In two racing metaphors, Zarathushtra compares those who are strong with
truth and good thinking, to swift steeds, winning the race for the Wise Lord
and the values that make for divinity.
"…there shall be
yoked from the good dwelling place of good thinking the swiftest steeds,
which shall race ahead unto the good fame of the Wise One and of truth."
"Yes, I shall
yoke for you the swiftest steeds, those wide (going) with the victories of
your glory and strong with both truth and good thinking, the steeds with
which ye shall race (ahead), would ye be ready for my help." Y50.7.
We know that Zarathushtra is using "horses"
metaphorically here, because real horses do not live in the
place of good thinking" and are not
"strong with both truth and good thinking" Y50.7
Zarathushtra chose "horse" as a metaphor for those who are strong with truth
and good thinking, thus winning the race for the Wise Lord, may have been a
graceful compliment to Vishtaspa and Jamaspa (aspa being horse in
In Y48.2 Zarathushtra uses a racing metaphor
almost as a manner of speech.
“Tell me what
things Thou dost know, Lord, before the far end of the course shall come to
By this phrase, Zarathushtra meant, “before I
reach the finish line”, i.e. before I die.
These metaphors give us a sense of the society in
which Zarathushtra lived – one which was agrarian, and also had warriors who
fought on horseback, and whose games, to sharpen their skills, included
racing, as we see in the Shahnameh. That horses, here mean those whose
truth and good thinking win the race for the Wise Lord, against His enemies
(deceit, cruelty, oppression et cetera), is apparent. It is not unlike the
way the term "horse" was used in Europe, from the Middle Ages, (where it
signified the number of mounted warriors a feudal lord or king could
command), down to Victorian times, (where "horse" was used as a cavalry
term, indicating a martial resource – a soldier who fought on horseback).
There are a few metaphors which are a continuing puzzle, although many
opinions have been expressed in an effort to explain them. One such set
appears in Y44.18. To appreciate the metaphors in this verse, we need to
consider the verse that goes before it, and the verse that follows it. Here
"This I ask
Thee. Tell me truly, Lord. Wise One, how shall I, with your accord,
impassion your following, so that my voice might be powerful (enough) to
strive for alliance with completeness and immortality (for Thee) in
accordance with that precept which adheres to the truth? Y44.17.
"This I ask
Thee. Tell me truly, Lord. How shall I win through truth this prize,
namely, ten mares together with their stallions and a camel, a prize
which is to inspire completeness and immortality in me, just as Thou hast
received these two for Thyself." Y44.18.
"This I ask
Thee. Tell me truly, Lord. The person who shall not give that prize to the
one winning it, namely, to the man who should receive it in accord with
(our) promise – what shall be the first punishment for such a person? I
know the final one which shall befall him." Y44.19.
Professor Duchesne Guillemin has expressed the
opinion that the ten mares, their stallions and the camel in Y44.18 refer to
a priestly fee that was due to Zarathushtra (The Hymns of Zarathushtra, page
72-73, John Murray, 1992, as translated from the French by Mrs. Henning).
With due respect, I disagree. A priestly fee simply does not fit the
That Zarathushtra is using "ten mares together
with their stallions and a camel" as metaphors is apparent from the fact
that real mares, stallions and camels are not a prize that is won through
truth (asha). Priestly fees are given for the performance of
rituals, not for the attainment of truth (sadly). Nor are mares, stallions
and camels – literally or as a priestly fee – capable of inspiring the two
ultimate divine attributes – completeness (haurvatat) and immortality
(ameretat) in Zarathushtra, let alone accounting for the receipt of
these divine attributes by the Wise Lord.
Acknowledging that these animals are being used
metaphorically, the question arises: what are they metaphors (or allegories)
Taraporewala (who earned a tripos in Sanskrit
from Cambridge University) has an ingenious suggestion, based on three
pieces of ancient Indian literature. He cites the Kathopanishad, in which
the senses are likened to horses rushing outwards trying to reach various
material sense-objects that attract them, unless they are "reined in" by the
Taraporewala also cites a Rig Vedic verse in
which a mare "obedient to the rein and whip" is "accompanied by a stallion",
and he cites a later Indian commentary on this Vedic verse which states that
there are five "senses of knowing" (such as hearing, so called because they
produce knowledge) and five senses of "action" (such as speech and hand, so
called because they perform action), and the eleventh sense is "Manas",
which is composed of thoughts. From these sources Taraporewala concludes
that the "ten mares" of Y44.18 are Zarathushtra's senses, and the stallion
is his mind, which, when it reins in or controls his senses, enables him to
understand completeness and immortality. (Taraporewala, The Divine Songs of
Zarathushtra, pages 524- 525 (1993 reprint).
I have some problems with Taraporewala's
First, in the Kathopanishad example given by
Taraporewala, the horses are "reined in" by the Mind. Stallions do not use
reins, therefore the reining in of the senses could not have been done by a
stallion (a stallion is not mentioned in Taraporewala's description of that
Kathopanishad verse, in any event). In the Vedic verse, where a stallion is
indeed mentioned, it is not the stallion who controls with "the rein and the
whip". The stallion is described as accompanying one mare (not ten).
Moreover, the whole concept of controlling the senses with "the rein and the
whip" is alien to Zarathushtra's thought. His teaching does not advocate
punishing the body or depriving the senses to control them, although such
asceticism is indeed a part of Indian religious thought – except for
Second, if indeed the essence of the analogy is
the mind controlling the senses, the words chosen by Zarathushtra do not
convey this idea of control. Although Insler in his commentary acknowledges
that the Gathic word for "stallions" could be either singular or plural, the
verse itself does not speak of ten mares controlled by a stallion.
It speaks of ten mares accompanied by their stallion(s).
Third, Taraporewala's explanation does not
satisfactorily account for the camel. He answers this by translating "ushtra"
as light or illumination, deriving it from the sanskrit "vas-(us-) to burn,
to shine" although he acknowledges that in sanskrit texts, "ushtra" means
bison, pages 73-74. Thus, Taraporewala’s interpretation of this verse is:
when Zarathushta's mind (stallion) controls his senses (ten mares) he
obtains illumination (ushtra). As appealing as "illumination" might be, one
has to question: Is it accurate? It has several problems. It's use does
not square with the generally accepted grammatical structure of the
sentence. In addition, as Taraporewala (with an honesty that can only
generate affection and respect) acknowledges, "ushtra" has never been used
in the Avesta to mean anything but camel, and he admits that the Pahlavi
translation and Neriosangh's Sanskrit translation are identical to the
translations of the European scholars. As Mills (sensitive perhaps to the
charge that European scholars are obtuse in their perceptions) notes: "It
means a camel; so the Pahlavi translator rendered many centuries ago before
Europeans even knew what the Indian "ushtra" meant, which simple analogy
Neryosangh first drew." SBE Vol. 31, page 120, footnote 1.
Finally, Taraporewala's suggestion is not
consistent with the verse that follows, in which Zarathushtra asks what
punishment will be given to the person who withholds the prize (ten mares
etc.) from him. If indeed those metaphors mean what Taraporewala says they
mean, then no other human being could withhold from Zarathushtra the prize
of his mind controlling his senses and the resulting illumination. That is
something only Zarathushtra himself would have control of. For all these
reasons, I do not, with due respect, find Taraporewala's idea persuasive.
Mills suggests that the animals in Y44.18 refer
to animals for sacrifices, noting that "Horses were material for sacrifice
among the Persians according to Herodotus." (SBE Vol. 31, page 120, footnote
1). Even if we accept (for the sake of argument) that Herodotus was
accurate in his observations, Mills' suggestion also does not account for
the camel. In addition, blood sacrifice is alien to both the text and the
spirit of the Gathas, and could not possibly inspire completeness and
immortality, if this verse is to be consistent with the rest of the Gathas.
In the Gathas, we are repeatedly told that it is good thinking (vohu mano)
and words and actions stemming from good spirit, that bring about
completeness and immortality (Y31.21, 34.11, 45.5, 45.10, 47.1), which are
the offerings for us to give the Wise Lord (Y33.8, 47.1). I do not, with
due respect, find Mills' suggestion persuasive.
Insler believes that "ten mares together with
their stallions and a camel”, is a metaphor for a group of diverse adherents
to the prophet's message. He notes that the pointed use of aspao and
ushtrem, immediately suggests Vishtaspa, Jamaspa, and
Frashaoshtra, and concludes that Zarathushtra may well have intended
to describe their families in this manner. Tentatively, this is the
suggestion I find most persuasive because it fits the context in all
respects, as the following demonstrates.
In Y44.17, the verse before this one,
Zarathushtra asks the Wise Lord how he can impassion other people – win them
over – with the teaching that is in accord with truth (asha) with a
voice powerful enough to strive for alliance with completeness and
It makes sense that the people he is hoping to
win over are king Vishtaspa, the queen, their powerful families and the men
and women of Vishtaspa's circle, winning them over through truth (asha)
a core concept of Zarathushtra's teaching. And if he were to win over the
royal circle through truth, such truth-filled actions would advance him in
his own quest for completeness and immortality (individually as the
preceding verse suggests), and would also help to bring about completeness
and immortality collectively, because (although opinions differ here), in my
view, as Zarathushtra sees it, ultimate completeness is achieved only when
everyone makes it.15
Finally, Insler's suggested interpretation of the
metaphors in Y44.18 is consistent with the verse that follows. In the later
literature we are told that the priests of Vishtaspa's court did their
utmost, through fraud, false accusations, planting false evidence, et
cetera, to discredit Zarathushtra in Vishtaspa's eyes, to prevent Vishtaspa
and his circle from being won over by Zarathushtra. I think this may have
been what Zarathushtra was referring to in Y44.19, when he asks what the
punishment will be for the person who tries to keep Zarathushtra from
winning that prize (the ten mares et cetera – i.e. the royal circle). A
thought corroborated in the last verse which refers to the Karpans and the
Usigs – types of priests – who together with an unnamed kavi (prince)
delivered the cow [good vision] into fury…..They have not been eager to
prosper her and her pasturage with truth." Y44.20.
Even if this interpretation of the metaphors in
Y44.18 is accurate, the question arises: Why did Zarathushtra feel the need
to use these metaphors – ten mares accompanied by their stallions and a
camel – for the royal circle? Perhaps it was to maintain the anonymity of
the reference, or veil it in a socially acceptable manner, if this Yasna was
composed before the queen, Vishtaspa and their circle, were completely won
over, and while the Karpans and Usigs were still trying to undermine
Zarathushtra's influence. I do not know. It is one of the Gathic puzzles I
have not (yet) found a sure answer to. A back burner question.
1.2 Sun, Light, Fire, and the Checkmate
In this section, we will explore how Zarathushtra
uses the sun, light, and fire in the Gathas, and, in the process, consider
his solution for defeating evil.
Because the notion of asha is central to
this discussion, let us start with a brief explanation of what Zarathushtra
means by the word asha.
Asha literally means “what fits”. Zarathushtra
sees the material and abstract worlds (what he calls the worlds of mind and
matter Y28.2) as complementary and interactive parts of our reality,
rejecting neither. In the world of matter, “what fits” is what is correct –
truth, the natural laws that order the universe, the laws of physics,
chemistry, biology, et cetera. In the world of mind (i.e. the world of
abstract ideas), what “fits” is also what is correct – i.e. what is right,
which, in the Gathas, includes such notions as truth, justice (including the
law of consequences), goodness, beneficence (generosity), solicitude,
friendship, loving-kindness, et cetera. So in essence, asha
comprehends the truth of things (or the true order of things) in the worlds
of mind and matter. And asha also is a divine quality. An attribute
of the divine.16 There is no one English word that captures the
full meaning of asha. “Truth” is the closest in my view, although it
should be remembered that this is not just a dry factual truth. It also
includes the truths of mind and spirit, i.e. goodness, beneficence, what’s
Does Zarathushtra use the sun, light, and fire
literally or as metaphors? And if he uses them as metaphors, then what are
they metaphors for? And why does he do so? What is his purpose? Let us
consider the evidence.
Sun. “Sun” is sometimes used literally, as a
natural phenomenon, though not as an object of worship. For example, in
Yasna 44.3, Zarathushtra asks Ahura Mazda:
“…Which man did fix the course of the sun and of the stars?"
In addition, “sun” is
sometimes used as a simile.19 The word “sunlike” is used twice –
once to describe truth (asha), and once to describe good thinking (vohu
mano – the comprehension of asha).
“…..He who is
allied with good thinking and the good companion of sunlike truth…..”
sunlike gain of good thinking…..” Y53.4.
And the word “sun” is used
once, to describe the Wise Lord Himself.
“…..Him who has
the appearance of the sun…..” Y43.16.
It is clear that the words sunlike and sun are
used to evoke the glory or enlightenment that is associated with truth and
good thinking, and with the Wise Lord who personifies these divine values.
("Enlightenment" itself is a metaphor, describing a mind that understands
truth as being full of light – enlightened).
One might wonder: Why does Zarathushtra call
only truth (asha), good thinking (vohu mano)
and the Wise Lord (Ahura Mazda) “sunlike”? Why not also the other
attributes of divinity (the amesha spenta)? Well, the concept of
asha and its comprehension, vohu mano, are an integral part of
each amesha spenta. Specifically, asha is truth, what’s
right, what “fits” in the worlds of mind and matter. Vohu mano is
its comprehension. Aramaiti is its realization (giving it substance)20
with thoughts, words and actions of asha and vohu mano.
Xshathra is its rule (the rule of truth and good thinking).
Haurvatat is its complete attainment (perfection, completeness).
Ameretat, is the non-deathness that results from its attainment. And
spenta mainyu is the benevolent way of being that is spenta
through truth (asha) (Y28.1), and personifies all of the amesha
spenta. It is clear, therefore, that truth (asha) and its
comprehension (vohu mano) are an integral part of each amesha
spenta. So the metaphors or similes that are used for truth (asha)
would, of necessity, be applicable to all of the amesha spenta.21
Glory as used in the Gathas corroborates the conclusion that
Zarathushtra uses light, in its various forms, to describe the divine.
Glory is used more frequently in the Gathas, than any other light form
Most frequently, glory is used to describe Ahura
Mazda. For example:24
“ …..May the
Wise Lord listen, in Whose glory I have taken counsel with good
“…..Yes let us
set down His glories in the House of Song.” Y45.8.
“….. I shall
declare to you in verse…..the glories of Him who offers solicitude …
the Wise Lord …..” Y46.17.
praise (sung) in universal glory of your kind, Wise One.” Y34.2.
whoever – be it man or woman – would grant to me those things which Thou
dost know to be the best for existence, namely, the truth for the truth and
the rule of good thinking (with that person) as well as those whom I shall
accompany in the glory of your kind – with all these I shall cross
over the Bridge of the Judge.” Y46.10.
In these verses, what does Zarathushtra mean by
“glory of your kind”?
I think he means the amesha spenta, as well as those souls who have
attained them (the state of being which is haurvatat perfection,
completeness), and therefore are glorious like Ahura Mazda (discussed in
Part 3.2.2). Such souls would make the transition from the material to the
spiritual, a transition which is described through the metaphor of a bridge
– the Chinvat Bridge.
Zarathushtra also uses glory to describe truth, (asha).
there be protection instead of injury? Where shall mercy take place?
Where truth which attains glory?26 Where virtuous [aramaiti]? Where the very best
thinking? Where, Wise One, through Thy rule?” Y51.4.
This too is reflected in the later Avestan
texts. For example, in Yasna 37.4 (the Haptanghaiti, not a part of
the Gathas, but written (mostly) in the Gathic dialect), referring to the
best truth, asha vahishta, the unknown author of this Yasna writes:
best truth which (is) most beautiful, ….. which (is) full of
Finally, Zarathushtra uses the metaphor of light
or glory in connection with a human being. He calls Jamaspa, the vizier or
prime minister of King Vishtaspa “glorious”.28
Jamaspa Haugva (has displayed) this understanding of His power: ‘One
chooses that rule of good thinking allied with truth in order to serve…’…”
At first thought, it might seem that Zarathushtra
was just being political – calling Jamaspa “glorious” to flatter him. If
flattery was his objective, he doubtless also would have called King
Vishtaspa “glorious”, but he does not, even though he specifically refers to
Kavi Vishtaspa in a verse (Y51.16) which is just two of verses before this
one. It would therefore be reasonable to infer that in Jamaspa,
Zarathushtra saw that the light of wisdom (the divine values of truth and
good thinking), burned brightly, and that is why he calls him “glorious”.29
To summarize, Zarathushtra uses the sun, light,
and glory, as metaphors to describe the Wise Lord and His divine values of
truth and good thinking, as well as the other amesha spenta, all of
which include truth (asha), its comprehension (vohu mano), its
realization in thought, word and action (aramaiti), its rule (vohu
xshathra), and its complete attainment (haurvatat) or
personification. And Zarathushtra also uses light or glory to describe
humans who are filled with these divine values. However, nowhere in the
Gathas are sun, light, or glory in their physical or literal sense described
as objects of worship. Zarathushtra’s worship, reverence, praise and esteem
are reserved for Ahura Mazda and His divine values, alone. This is a
significant difference between the Gathas and the later texts.
Fire and the Checkmate Solution.
Let us consider fire. The first question we need to decide is: Does
Zarathushtra use "fire" literally or does he have something else in mind.
An answer is suggested by Y34.4 and Y43.4, where Zarathushtra describes fire
in terms of asha.
Lord, which possesses strength through truth [asha]…..” Y34.4.
truth-strong fire…..” Y43.4 [i.e. Thy asha-strong fire]
Now we know that actual, physical fire, may
obtain its strength from oxygen, and wood, or natural gas, or anything that
is flammable, but we cannot make a literal fire strong by truth or what’s
right. These are not qualities that affect, or are relevant to, physical,
literal fire. So these verses suggest that Zarathushtra is using fire as a
metaphor; possibly as a metaphor for truth (asha).
Consistent with this conclusion is the fact that
in all but one reference, fire is described as belonging to the Wise Lord,
just as truth is one of His attributes. And fire is also described as
“bright” or “pure” (both associated with asha). For example:
Y43.9 (also Y46.7, and 47.6).
fire, Wise One.” Y31.19.
Now it is true that all of the material world
“belongs” in a sense to the Wise Lord, who is described as the craftsman or
fashioner of the material world in Y44. However, we don’t find Zarathushtra
referring to “Thy earth” or “Thy waters” or “Thy air”. The fact that he
singles out fire as
“…Thy truth-strong fire…”
Zarathushtra is using fire as a metaphor for the Wise Lord’s cardinal
attribute – truth (asha), which is central to his thought.
This conclusion is reinforced by other ways in
which Zarathushtra uses truth and fire in the Gathas. He sometimes uses the
two as parallel concepts, and he sometimes uses them interchangeably. Here
In Yasna 43 verses 9 and 10, Zarathushtra uses
fire and truth as parallel concepts.
question, ‘Whom dost thou wish to serve?’ I then replied ‘Thy
fire. As long as I shall be able, I shall respect that truth is to have a
gift of reverence.
Thou reveal to me the truth, which I continue to summon…’
“Have ye the
mastery, have ye the power, Wise One, for the act to protect your
needy dependent – as I indeed am – with truth and good thinking?…”
“What help by
truth hast Thou for Zarathushtra who calls? What help by good
thinking hast Thou for me…..? Y49.12.
“…..Who has been
found to be the protector…..of me? Who other than truth and Thee, Wise
Lord, and best thinking…..?” Y50.1
The question that is asked in the verses quoted
above, is the same question that is asked in Yasna 46 verse 7 (which is the
first verse of the Kemna Mazda prayer), with one difference. Zarathushtra
interchanges truth with fire when pairing it with good thinking.
“Whom hast Thou
appointed as guardian for me, Wise One, if the deceitful one shall dare to
harm me? Whom other than Thy fire and Thy (good) thinking, …..”
And in Y43.9, he interchanges fire for truth (in
addition to using the two as parallel concepts, as we have seen above).
question, ‘Whom dost thou wish to serve?’ I then
replied ‘Thy Fire. As long as I shall be able, I shall
respect that truth is to have a gift of reverence.” Y43.9
Each of the above examples, taken individually,
might not be conclusive. But taken together, they warrant the inference
that Zarathushtra uses “fire” as something more than a simple, natural
phenomenon, that he uses it as a metaphor or counterpart for truth – a
conclusion that is corroborated in the later texts.32
“…As in harmony
with those things which are the laws of the foremost existence, the …33
judgment thus shall bring to realization the most just actions for the
deceitful as well as for the truthful man, and for the person for whom
falsity and honesty are held to be indifferent.” Y33.1.
And we know that to Zarathushtra, the laws that
govern existence, is the concept of asha in the worlds of both mind
and matter. So the law of consequences is a part of asha. And when
describing the agent that delivers the law of consequences, Zarathushtra
most frequently uses the material metaphor for asha – fire.
rewards Thou shalt give, through the heat of Thy truth-strong fire, to the
deceitful and to the truthful, …..” Y43.4.
“Now, we wish
Thy fire, Lord, which possesses strength through truth and which is the
swiftest, forceful thing, to be of clear help to Thy supporter but of
visible harm, with the power in its hands, to Thy enemy, Wise One.” Y34.4
“enemy” is evil and ignorance].
satisfaction which Thou shalt give to both factions through Thy pure fire
and the molten iron, Wise one, is to be given as a sign among living
beings, in order to destroy the deceitful and save the truthful.” Y51.9.
So Zarathushtra uses a material metaphor, fire,
to describe this aspect of asha – the law of consequences – a law
that helps to bring enlightenment through our choices and experiences in the
In short: the
concept of asha (the truth which underlies the way existence is
ordered) includes within it that perfect justice which generates the law of
consequences (that we reap what we sow), and also the beneficence of mutual
loving help (which helps to break the cycle of revenge and abuse), thereby
effectuating the change in understanding which results in our choosing what
is good and right, for its own sake, because that is the way we want things
Fire in some later texts:
Although this is a discussion of metaphor in the Gathas, I think it would be
worthwhile to touch upon certain aspects of the treatment of fire in the
Those Yasnas that are not a part of the Gathas,
comprise long and repetitive litanies of things that were worshipped or
praised.46 They were probably composed as chants of worship, over
a very long period of time. Some parts of them (and some parts of the
Visparad as well) show that their authors understood well certain Gathic
ideas. Others are very far removed from the thought of the Gathas and
include praise and worship of some of the old Indo-Iranian deities along
with Ahura Mazda and the amesha spenta. Although it is not accurate
to lump all these later Yasnas together under one classification, I will,
for convenience, call the Yasnas that are not a part of the Gathas, the
“Later Yasnas”.47 As litanies of worship, they do not have the
interest of a story, nor do they challenge and delight our minds, as do the
enigmatical puzzles of the Gathas. They nevertheless have value. They
sometimes contain golden strands of Gathic thought. They sometimes have
value as corroborative evidence. And they also provide insights into the
minds, beliefs, and some interesting practices, of their times.
On the subject of fire, the Later Yasnas
routinely and repeatedly called fire the son of Ahura Mazda. This is not
difficult to understand. In the Gathas, the Wise Lord is called the Father
“….. the Wise
One is the Father of truth.” Y47.2.
We have already seen that in the Gathas (and in
the later literature), fire is the material counterpart, or metaphor, for
truth (asha). So it is not surprising that fire became the central
feature of the ritual, and was called in the Later Yasnas, Ahura Mazda’s
son, just as truth (asha) is a central feature of Zarathushtra’s
teaching in the Gathas, and the Wise Lord there is called the Father of
truth. Did the creators of any of the Later Yasnas remember that
Zarathushtra used fire as a metaphor? I think some of them undoubtedly did,
although the Later Yasnas differ markedly from the Gathas, in that fire (and
other material elements) are worshipped in the Later Yasnas, whereas fire
and other material elements are never described or referred to as objects of
worship in the Gathas. Nevertheless, the authors of some of the Later
Yasnas, expressed their understanding of the metaphoric nature of fire in
Fire in all things:
The unknown author of Yasna 17.1148, reflected the belief of his
time, that everything has a metaphoric fire in it – men, animals, trees,
plants, the clouds and the world itself.49 For convenience, I
will segment verse 11, with Mills’ explanatory footnotes in square brackets.
thee, the Fire, O Ahura Mazda’s son! We worship
Ø the fire
Berezi-savangha (of the lofty use) [Mills footnote 2: “This fire is that
before Ahura Mazda and the kings.” The Bundahish adds that this fire is in
"the earth and mountains and other things which Auharmazd created in the
Ø and the
fire Vohu-fryana (the good and friendly) [Mills footnote 3: “This fire
dwells in the bodies of men and beasts…”],
Ø and the
fire Urvazista (the most beneficial and most helpful) [Mills footnote 4:
This is in trees and plants.”],
Ø and the
fire Vazishta (the most supporting) [Mills footnote 5: “This is in the
Ø and the
fire Spenishta (the most bountiful) [Mills footnote 6: “This is the fire
which is applied in the world (Bundahis, West, page 61).”],
Nairya-sangha the Yazad of the royal lineage [Mills seems unsure of this
reference. He says in footnote 7: “That N. is here referred to as connected
with the fire, seems certain; this fire corresponds with that of Vahram in
places of worship.” However, in Sirozah 1.9, as translated by Darmesteter,
this Nairyo-Sangha is identified as the fire that “dwells in the navel of
kings” SBE Vol. 23, page 8, and Darmesteter explains it in a footnote as
follows: “The fire Nairyo-sangha, as the messenger of Ahura, burns
hereditarily in the bosom of his earthly representative, the king.” SBE Vol.
23, page 8, footnote 5.],
Ø and that
fire which is the house-lord of all houses and Mazda-made,
Ø even the
son of Ahura Mazda, the holy lord of the ritual order, with all the fires.”
I find very appealing, the fact that there was no
divide or segregation between the ritual fire and the fire that dwells
(metaphorically) in all things. I like the idea that religion and life were
considered part of the same experience as reflected in this Later Yasna – a
very Gathic perspective.
The idea that divine fire pervades all things, is
a beautiful metaphor. But what was the author of this ancient Yasna (17.11)
using fire as a metaphor for? Was he using fire as a metaphor for the
energy or life force of Ahura Mazda – expressing the concept of the
immanence of the Wise Lord in all things? Was he using fire as a metaphor
for asha – as the underlying truth pervading the worlds of both mind
and matter? It is interesting that although each fire relates to a
different part of the material existence, these fires are called by
spiritual concepts implicit in the notion of asha – good and
friendly, most beneficial, most helpful, and spenishta (i.e. most
benevolent, or most advancing the forward progress of creation51).
In other words, was he using fire as a metaphor to illustrate that asha
pervades all things? It is difficult to say for sure. But each possibility
is beautiful, in its own way, and perhaps capable of being reconciled, when
you consider that the Wise Lord is asha personified, and that asha
is the core of each of His divine characteristics – the amesha spenta,
and that light or glory are used as metaphors to describe both the Wise Lord
The Fire Mountains.
A number of the Later Yasnas, including this same Yasna 17 at verse 14 says:
“And we worship Mount Ushi-darena which is Mazda-made and shining
with its holiness, and all the mountains shining with holiness, and of
abundant glory, and which Mazda made – .” Mills translation. SBE Vol. 31,
This reference to shining mountains of abundant
glory was a puzzle to me. It must have been important to the unknown
authors of the Later Yasnas, because it was repeated in more than one Later
Yasna (e.g. Y6.13, 17.14 and others). What did these authors mean by
“mountains shining with holiness, and of abundant glory”? Volcanos? A
metaphoric usage? The answer once again appears in Darmesteter’s
interesting footnotes to the Sirozah and the Ormazd Yasht. It seems that
the ancient kings of Iran, going all the way back to the legendary Kavi
Husravah (Kai-Khosrav), came upon a wonderful way of translating a core
theological concept into something tangible, that people in general could
feel good about, and relate to.
“Ushi-darena” means “keeper of understanding” (SBE
Vol. 23, page 33, footnote1). The “shining” of this mountain was a fire
that burned on the top of Mount Ushi-darena, symbolizing the enlightenment
that truth (asha) and its comprehension (vohu mano) bring.52
So by “shining with holiness” we see that once again, fire was being used as
a metaphor for truth and its comprehension (vohu mano).
This explains Mt. Ushi-darena, but what of the
other mountains shining with holiness, mentioned in Y17.14 (and other Later
Yasnas)? Again, we find answers in Darmesteter’s interesting footnotes to
later Avestan texts. The Glory (xvarena) was seen as illuminating each
segment of society – the priest, the warrior and the agriculturalist (in a
delightful equality) (SBE Vol. 23, footnote 1, page 7).
The glory (xvarena) of the warriors was
represented by the fire known as Adar Gushasp or Gushnasp, which King
Husravah settled on a mountain in Azerbaijan known as Mount Asnavant. (SBE
Vol. 23, footnote 7, page 7; and Bundahish 17.7, SBE Vol. 5, page 63).
The glory (xvarena) of the agriculturalist was
represented by the fire known as the Burzin fire. It was established by
King Gushtasp on Mount Raevant in Khorasan. (SBE Vol. 23, footnote 1, page
8, and Bundahishn 17.8, SBE Vol. 5, page 64).
The glory (xvarena) of the priests was
represented by the fire known as Adarapra, or Adar Farnbag. It was the
illumination of science and learning (SBE Vol. 23, footnote 2, page 7),
which at that time was the province of the priests and may have reflected
Zarathushtra's thought that religion is a quest for the truth (asha)
– in the worlds of both mind and matter (Y28.4 and 28.2). In the Bundahisn
it is written that this fire was originally established by Yim on a mountain
in Khvarizem and then was established by Kavi Vishtasp, “out of Khvarizem,
at the Roshan (‘shining’) mountain in Kavulistan, the country of Kavul, just
as it remains there even now.” (West translation, SBE Vol. 5, page 63) –
indicating that the author of the Bundahisn believed that the fire on these
mountains had burned for many centuries.
So the “mountains shining with holiness”
mentioned in Yasna 17.14 (quoted above) were mountains on which enormous
fires burned continuously, representing the presence of the divine glory in
each part of the community – a unifying symbolism, beautiful and
empowering. The fires must have been huge to make the mountains “shining
and of abundant glory”, indicating that these fires were visible from the
valleys below the mountains. It must have been an awesome sight, and oddly
comforting, for the people who lived there, to see those great fires
burning on those mountain tops, day and night – almost like an “all’s well”
beacon, down through the centuries. Considering the size of the fires, and
the fact that they burned continuously for centuries, it is doubtful that
there would have been sufficient resources of wood to feed them. It is more
likely that they were fed by natural gas. As Y17.14 says: “of abundant
glory, and … Mazda made – .” This might also explain the necessity of
moving the Adar Farnbarg Fire (first established by Yim in Khvarizem) to a
new location in Kavulistan. Perhaps the gas supply in the original mountain
had become diminished or exhausted, necessitating the move.
In searching for a material metaphor for truth (asha),
Zarathushtra could not have picked a more meaningful one than sun / light /
fire. In his time, the sun and fire, were the only sources of warmth and
illumination. They had no electricity (no light pollution at night either –
the stars must have been a wonderful sight!).53 The sun was
necessary to sustain life and grow food. The hearth fire was the center of
the home, giving warmth and light, and cooking what nourished his people.
As such, light / sun / fire reflect well the central role that asha
plays in Zarathushtra’s thought – making things clear, enlightening and
nourishing mind and soul, warming lives, gladdening hearts and promoting
well-being – an ever-present reminder of the divine in all things.
Some Thoughts on Zarathushtra’s Purpose in Using Metaphors.
Why did Zarathushtra feel it necessary to express
his ideas, sometimes explicitly, and sometimes in masked form through this
system of metaphors in which the Wise Lord’s divine forces of truth, good
thinking, completeness and immortality are linked to such material objects
as fire, sun, cow (and what it produces – milk and butter), water and plants
(including bread which is made of water and plants).
Insler demonstrates54 that butter (azuiti),
milk (iza), and the sacrificial cake or bread (draonah) which
are ritual components intended (symbolically) as refreshment for the Wise
Lord, appear in the Gathas as the masked forms of good thinking and truth
(butter and milk – which come from the cow) and immortality and completeness
(the sacred bread – made from grain [plants] and water, the material
metaphors for completeness and immortality). He suggests that by overlaying
such material (ritual) items with abstract meanings, Zarathushtra expresses
the idea that the aramaiti of the man who follows the precepts of
truth and good thinking is a parallel way of worshiping and refreshing Ahura
Mazda as are the symbolic material refreshments of the ritual.
And he concludes that Zarathushtra's technique of
continually shifting references from the material to the abstract – of using
these material symbols (cow, milk, butter, bread) interchangeably with their
abstract counterparts – was Zarathushtra's way of demonstrating that the
worlds of mind and matter -- the spiritual and the material -- feed and
bleed into each other, that they both form homologous systems which belong
to a single design of nature, and that the Wise Lord is best served, not
only by means of ritual offerings, but by worshipping Him with His own
divine values, by means of which we reach immortality and completeness –
that our immortality and completeness are the best offerings we can give
"..... Your enduring worshipful offering has been established to be
immortality and completeness." (Y33.8).
I agree with Insler’s insightful conclusion
regarding this equation between the components of the ritual and Ahura
Mazda's divine forces, illustrating Zarathushtra’s unique way of worshiping
the Wise Lord – not only with ritual items, but also with His own divine
values in our thoughts, words and actions. I would like to suggest a few
additional reasons (there well may be many more).
Perhaps Zarathushtra employs a system of material metaphors (not limited to
ritual items) such as cow, cattle, draft-oxen, pastures, plants, pastor,
fire, water, et cetera, as masked forms of abstract ideas, to demonstrate
that, at least in our reality, the worlds of mind and matter -- the
spiritual and the material -- each have a part to play in fulfilling the
purpose of existence; that the divine needs to be experienced in the
material. And conversely, material words and actions bring divine concepts
to life in our world and in our beings.
By giving each divine value a material
counterpart, in a system of metaphors, perhaps Zarathushtra wishes to
demonstrate his understanding that it is through the medium of the material
world that spiritual perfection is obtained, which in turn results in
perfecting the material world – an interesting paradox.
The material and the spiritual, (flowing
seamlessly into and out of each other), enable us to achieve the twofold
purpose of existence -- to perfect ourselves and, in the process, to perfect
our world (by personifying these divine values with our thoughts, words and
I think this concept of personification is one of the core concepts of
Zarathushtra's thought. We see it without metaphor in Zarathushtra's name
for the divine – Mazda, or Ahura Mazda, or Mazda Ahuro.
With inspired insight, Professor Paul Thieme, after a careful
linguistic analysis concludes that "Mazda" is not an adjective but a
noun, and means, in fact, Wisdom personified:
would then be not 'the wise lord' but Lord Wisdom, or 'Wisdom, the
Lord', that is personified Wisdom….. 'wise lord' is what anybody in power
may be called, who uses this power in a fair, just and circumspect way.
Personified 'Wisdom' is something quite different: ….. Not a god qualified
as 'wise', but only Personified 'Wisdom' can be characterized as 'father of
the truth (…Y47.2)".55
This concept of personification is also apparent
in Zarathushtra's treatment of spenta mainyu, which, as a concept is
simply an alternative – the benevolent way of being – but which also is
personified in the Wise Lord's way of being, as is apparent in the many
references in the Gathas to His spenta mainyu.
"…Thou, the Wise
One, hast come into the world with Thy virtuous spirit [spenta…mainyu]
(and) with the rule of good thinking….." Y43.6
"…Him who is
beneficent through His virtuous spirit [spenta mainyu] to those who
A moment's reflection makes it clear that divine
values in the abstract have no existence, other than as an alternative, a
possibility, a potential. It is only when they become a part of us (through
our choices and experiences in thought, word and action), that they are
brought to life, given substance, given reality – in short, personified.
This personification is suggested with subtle skill by Zarathushtra in sets
of related metaphors. Here are a few examples:
The good vision – the vision of truth and good
thinking – has as its material metaphor, the cow. And Zarathushtra uses
the metaphor, cattle, or draft-oxen of truth, for those who personify the
good vision in their thoughts, words and actions.
In the same way, milk and butter, which come from
the cow [vision of truth and good thinking] are used as metaphors for truth
and good thinking as well. Yet Zarathushtra also uses milk and butter as
metaphors for a person who personifies these values. ("But
that man, Wise One, is both milk and butter (for Thee), namely the one who
has allied his conception with good thinking….." Y49.5).
completeness and immortality, have as their material counterparts, waters
and plants. Plants (which contain water) nourish the cow (good vision), as
"pasture of truth and good thinking" Y33.3. And plants are also used metaphorically
for those who personify ameretat and therefore nourish the good
vision [cow] ("…And the Wise One shall increase the plants for her
– good vision]
In the Gathas, each characteristic of the Wise Lord is either associated
with, or has a metaphoric counterpart in, some aspect of the natural world
-- animal, vegetable, mineral, fire and the celestial, as the following
The Wise Lord (Ahura Mazda),
His benevolent way of being (spenta mainyu)
and all his divine forces (the amesha spenta)
The Wise Lord,
Truth (asha) and good thinking (vohu mano)
Truth, right (asha)
Good thinking (vohu mano)
The good vision (the vision of a world governed by truth and good
Those who personify truth and good thinking (the good vision)
Truth (asha) and good thinking (vohu mano)
milk and butter
Those who personify truth and good thinking
milk and butter
Completeness, perfection (haurvatat)
Non-deathness, immortality (ameretat)
Truth and good thinking which nourish the good vision (the
Those who have attained haurvatat and ameretat
(i.e. who personify truth, good thinking and all the amesha spenta)
and thereby nourish the good vision (the metaphoric cow)
(which include water).
In using this system of metaphors, is it Zarathushtra’s purpose, to suggest
that in our reality, there is no divide between the divine and the natural
world, each being a part of the other? to demonstrate the
interconnectedness of all things? to suggest, in complementary fashion, the
immanence of the divine in all things, and, at the same time, the path to
completeness? to suggest that the evolution to completeness and non-deathness
is not restricted to humans, but includes all the living? One can but
16. Which raises an interesting question: If asha
is an attribute of the divine, and is also a part of the natural order of
the material world (among other things), (a) was Zarathushtra expressing the
idea of the immanence of the divine in the material world, or (b) was he
simply expressing the idea that the Wise Lord’s truth underlies or orders,
the material world (among other things)? A reasonable argument could be
made for both points of view.
17. The word “Righteousness” which many translators have
used for asha, is not, in my view, satisfactory, in that it does not
include the application of asha to the world of matter. In addition,
it comes with the wrong kind of baggage in our culture – that of the
puritan, the hypocrite, the sanctimonious who use it to control people
through fear. Such baggage is no part of Zarathushtra’s notion of asha,
or his thought that religion is an on-going quest for truth and what is
right, with an inquiring mind/heart that is free to choose, make mistakes,
learn from its mistakes, and so grow in its understanding of the truth,
(which is also an understanding of the divine).
18. It is interesting that course of the sun and stars, and
the waxing and waning of the moon, are all asked about in the verse which
speaks of the father of truth (asha) – “what fits”, the natural order of
19. The difference between a metaphor and a simile is as
follows: A metaphor is when the form of one thing is used to describe
another, e.g. “Her eyes are stars.” A simile is when the form of one
thing is likened to another, e.g. “Her eyes are like stars.”
20. In the later texts, aramaiti is translated as "rightmindedness".
That to Zarathushtra, the concept of aramaiti means the realization
of truth and good thinking (i.e. giving these divine values substance,
making them real, with thoughts, words and actions) may be seen from the
"But to this world He came with the rule of good thinking and of truth, and
(our) enduring [aramaiti] gave body and breath (to it)…" Y30.7.
"…Through its actions, [aramaiti] gives substance to the truth…"
[Referring to the Wise Lord]
"…And His daughter is [aramaiti] of good actions…" Y45.4.
"Virtuous [spento] is the man of [aramaiti]. He is so by reason of his
understanding, his words, his action, his conception…" Y51.21.
One cannot give "body and breath" (30.7 above) or "substance" (44.6 above)
to truth or to the rule of truth and good thinking, by rightmindedness
alone. Nor are "actions" included within the meaning of rightmindedness
(45.4 above). Indeed, Y51.21 demonstrates clearly that "understanding",
"actions", "words", and "vision" are all included within the meaning of
aramaiti. In addition, "rightmindedness" is no different from "good
thinking" (vohu mano). Zarathushtra would not have had two redundant
21 Perhaps worth mentioning is the enigmatical
Y50.10, where, in my opinion, Zarathushtra indulges in a triple metaphor.
things which Thou hast brought to realization,
as well as those things which Thou hast reached by Thy action,
and those things which one shall esteem, through good thinking, in his
the lights of the sun, the bright bull of the heavens –
these are for your glory, Wise Lord allied with truth.” Y50.10
In this verse, the “lights of the sun” appear to refer
to the three things that precede that term, specifically:
1. Those things which Ahura Mazda has brought to
2. Those things which He has reached by His action,
3. Those things which one shall esteem, through good
Zarathushtra mean by #1 “Those
things which Thou [Ahura Mazda] hast brought to realization…”?
In light of the fact that Mazda is called the Father of truth
(Y47.2), good thinking and aramaiti (45.4), the creator of truth (Y34.10)
and good thinking (Y44.4, 7), and the fashioner of aramaiti and xshathra,
(rule) (Y44.7) it would be reasonable to conclude that #1 above refers to
the amesha spenta, the divine values which the Wise Lord has brought to
What does Zarathushtra mean by #3 “…Those things which one shall esteem, through good
In the Gathas, the amesha spenta are objects of reverence, praise or esteem
– sometimes together with Ahura Mazda, and sometimes by themselves. This is
done with good thinking in Y28.2, and Y51.7.
#2 is more
difficult to puzzle out – “those things which Thou hast reached by Thy action…”.
We know that the concept of completeness (haurvatat) includes the
attainment of all of the amesha spenta. And haurvatat is one
of the Wise Lord's characteristics. Therefore those things which He has
reached by His actions (#2 above) could also refer to the amesha spenta.
my view, the “lights of the sun” in Y50.10 quoted above, is a metaphor for
the attributes which Ahura Mazda personifies – “lights” referring to the
amesha spenta, and the “sun” referring to the possessor of these
attributes – the Wise Lord (who “has the appearance of the sun…..” Y43.16).
The “bright bull of the heavens” in my view, refers to the previously
mentioned sun. All of these references are metaphors.
22. Translations of the Gathas vary widely in translating
certain words as glory or light. For example:
The word vahme in Y34.2 and 45.6, and its variants in Y45.8, 46.10,
46.17, 48.1, 50.7, 50.10, 51.2, and 53.2 are translated as “glory” by Insler,
and “glorification” by Jafarey (except in 53.2, where Jafarey translates as
“veneration”). Humbach translates these words as “laudation”. Taraporewala
(citing Bartholomae) translates as “devotion” “worship” or “adoration”,
while noting that it derives from the Skt. root “vah-” which has
three possible meanings, one of which is “to shine” (See IJS Taraporewala,
The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra (Hukhta Foundation reprint, 1993) (“Taraporewala”
hereinafter), page 553. In Y50.10, without explanation, Taraporewala
translates as “glory”.
Similarly, roacha and its variants are universally translated as
having to do with light, e.g. “luminous” or pl. “lights” (Insler); “light(s)”
by Humbach, Irani, Jafarey, Mills, Moulton and Sethna; and “Realms of Light”
by Taraporewala. However the word raochebish is very differently
translated: e.g. as “throughout your days” by Insler without explanation in
his commentary; “lights” by Humbach, Mills, and Sethna; “Heavenly lights”
by Irani; and in Y31.7 Mills translates the word as “illuminating objects,
lights, or shining stars” (SBE Vol. 31, footnote 2 page 44).
spite of this diversity in the translations of specific words, there seems
to be a consensus that light is used (as a metaphor) to describe Ahura Mazda
and His divine attributes, the amesha spenta – perhaps because
Zarathushtra sometimes expresses the same idea in different ways, so even
though there may be differences in translating individual verses, his
meaning often comes through, regardless.
23. This is based on the Insler translation, and would not
be an accurate statement of all other translations.
24. Eight times in all. Here are the remaining instances
of its use to describe Ahura Mazda:
“…for the glory of Him, the Wise One, …” Y53.2.
“…for the glory of the Mighty One.” Y51.2.
“…these are for your glory, Wise Lord allied with truth.” Y50.10.
“…the victories of your glory…” Y50.7.
“…If, … one shall defeat deceit by truth, …..then one shall increase Thy
glory, Lord…” Y48.1.
26. The Gathic yaso.hyen is translated as “attains
glory” by Insler (without explanation). Humbach in Vol. 1 of his work
translates it as “they honor” (page 187), but in his commentary in Volume 2,
he explains that the Vedic yasah means honor, glory, and he
translates yaso.xiien as “they honor, glorify.” (page 224). I am not
clear on how Jafarey translates it. Taraporewala translates yaso as
attainment, and xyen as “there shall be the attainment” (page 773).
27. Yasna (Haptanghaiti) 37.4, as translated by
Humbach, in The Gathas of Zarathushtra, Vol. 1, page 146. Professor
Humbach translates spentem ameshem as “prosperous (and) immortal”.
In this verse, the term is a reference to asha as an amesha spenta.
28. It is interesting that the Gathic word used to describe
Jamaspa as “glorious” is xvarena.
29. There is one other instance in the Insler translation of
the use of “glorify”. It appears in the context of what man can do for
Ahura Mazda. In Y45.10, Zarathushtra says:
“I shall try
to glorify Him for us with prayers of [aramaiti], Him, the Lord who is
famed to be Wise in His soul…..” Y45.10.
The Gathic word which Insler translates as “glorify” is mimayzo (the
“y” being pronounced “gh” according to Taraporewala). It is explained by
Insler in his commentary as belonging to the Vedic “mahayati”, meaning
extols, glorifies (page 260). Jafarey and Taraporewala translate the word
as “exalt” (Jafarey), and “seek to exalt” (Taraporewala). It well may be,
therefore, that this word has nothing to do with the literal meaning of
“glorify” as in “to make bright, or radiant”. I mention its use in Y45.10
only for the sake of completeness.
30. In Y31.3 Zarathushtra uses the parallel technique in a
slightly different way.
“…..That satisfaction which Thou hast created for both factions together
with Thy spirit and hast promised (to them) through fire and truth
think he mentions "fire" here in parallel with truth (asha) in order
to emphasize the aspect of asha which is the law of consequences,
with respect to the ideas expressed in this verse.
31. The full verse, Y46.7 reads as follows:
“Whom hast Thou appointed as guardian for me, Wise One, if the deceitful one
shall dare to harm me? Whom other than Thy fire and Thy (good) thinking,
through whose actions one has nourished the truth, Lord? Proclaim
that wondrous state to me for the sake of the (good) conception.” Y46.7.
it reasonable to infer that “fire” is used in this verse as a metaphor for
truth, when truth itself is mentioned (without metaphor) a few words
later? I think it is. I think that Zarathushtra was trying to express the
idea that it is through the operation of asha (including the law of
consequences) in the material world (fire) and its comprehension, good
thinking, that asha is nourished and the “wondrous state” realized.
That “fire” in this verse (Y46.7) is indeed the masked (or metaphoric) form
of truth [asha] is also suggested by an earlier verse in this same
Yasna 46, where Zarathushtra expresses the concept of the Wise Lord
supporting or protecting, through truth and good thinking, without metaphor.
“…..I lament to Thee. Take notice of it, Lord, offering the support
which a friend should grant to a friend. Let me see the power of good
thinking allied with truth!” Y46.2.
32. In a Pahlavi fragment (which E.W.West estimates was
written in the 7th century, and which he has appended as an
Appendix to his translation of Shayast la Shayast, but which he states is
not a part of it, footnote 1, page 372), it is written that the fire of
Ahura Mazda is a “counterpart” of Ardavahisht (asha vahishta – the
best truth). SBE Vol. 5, page 375. Both Mills and Darmesteter make the
comment that in the later texts fire and truth are frequently associated.
Unfortunately, they do not cite the textual sources on which they base this
conclusion. Mills, in footnote 1 to Yasna 1.4 states that asha vahishta
and Ahura Mazda’s Fire are “Constantly associated together in the later
Avesta.” SBE Vol. 31, page 197. Darmesteter in his introduction to the
Ardibehesht Yasht states that Asha Vahishta has an abstract character, as an
amesha spenta, as well as a concrete character, “and in his concrete
character, the genius who presides over the …Fire.” SBE Vol. 23, page 41.
33. The string of dots indicates that I have omitted the
word “(final)” which Insler places in parentheses to indicate an
interpretive insertion by him. This is one of the rare instances in which I
do not agree with Professor Insler. Based on what I see in the Gathas, I
think that the “judgement” is an on-going thing in our lives, as part of the
law of consequences, and not a one-shot, final future event.
"…Him who offers solicitude (to us), the Wise Lord who,
together with His clever advisor, truth [asha] has judged the just and the
unjust." Y46.17. Notice that judgment is associated here not only with asha
but also with the Wise Lord's solicitude for us. So we have the idea of
solicitude (love, care concern) being associated with the justice that is
inherent in asha.
35. Indeed, the core characteristic of asha – what
fits – in the world of mind and spirit, is beneficence. In Y30.3 the person
who makes the correct choices is called "beneficent".
"…And between these two, the beneficent have correctly chosen…" Y30.3.
And the Wise Lord himself is described as being beneficent through asha,
thus establishing that beneficence is a characteristic of asha.
“Give, o truth, this reward, namely, the
attainments of good thinking…..” Y28.7.
38. If life is an evolution to perfection and completeness,
as Zarathushtra taught, then in order to attain perfection, it stands to
reason that we would have to experience everything there is to experience.
The difficulties we experience – whether earned or unearned – are nothing
more than teaching devices, the kinds of things that sculpt our souls. As
such they may be “heavy blessings” but they still are blessings.
39. Thus we see again, that the means (asha as the
law of consequences) and the end (what we become – asha personified)
are the same.
40. Later Yasna, Y17.11, SBE Vol. 31, page 258.
"…Someone like Thee, Wise One, should declare to me, his friend, …"
"…Take notice of it, Lord, offering the support which a friend should grant
to a friend…" Y46.2.
See also Y43.14. In 43.14 Insler, Bode & Nanavutty, and T.R. Sethna
translate the word fryai as "friend", Taraporewala as "beloved." In
Y44.1, Insler and Bode & Nanavutty translate fryai as "friend",
Taraporewala as "lover" and Sethna as "who is fond of you". In Y46.2,
Taraporewala and Bode & Nanavutty translate the words fryo fryai as a
lover to his beloved. Insler and Sethna as a friend to a friend.
"…Him, the one who offers solicitude…" Y45.7.
"…the glories of Him who offers solicitude (to us) the Wise Lord…" Y46.17.
"What help by truth hast Thou for Zarathushtra who calls? What help
by good thinking hast Thou for me…?"Y49.12.
"…have ye the power, Wise One, … to protect your needy dependent – as I
indeed am – with truth and with good thinking?…" Y34.5
"…Who has been found to be the protector of my cattle?
[metaphor for followers of the good
Who of me? Who other than truth and Thee, Wise Lord, and best thinking,…?"
44. A conclusion that is echoed in
"…(But) in due
course [aramaiti] shall come to terms with one's spirit where there has been
45. There are a number of verses in the Gathas which might be
(and which by some have been) interpreted to say that we should return evil
for evil, or bad for bad. Integrity requires that we examine these verses
objectively to ensure that we understand Zarathushtra's thought as
accurately as possible, for there are too many of these verses for us to
dismiss them as isolated, inconsistent aberrations.
Some of these verses are simply an expression of the law of consequences –
that we reap what we sow, described without the metaphor of fire. For
"…Thou didst determine actions as well as words to have their prizes,
namely, bad for the bad, a good reward for the good…" Y43.5. (Other examples of this sort appear in:
Y30.8, 32.12, 46.8, 46.18).
But other verses present more of a puzzle. Here they are:
"…who shall bring about what is bad for the deceitful one either by word or
by thought, or with his hands, …" Y33.2.
would do evil to the deceitful one (as) in accordance with the wish of Him
who has upheld the truth…"Y51.8.
"Wise One, the deceitful are not able to deflect those who are properly
truthful from this virtuous spirit..…a man…shall be loving to the truthful
person and bad to the deceitful one." Y47.4.
What is Zarathushtra saying here? Is he saying that the end (getting rid of
evil) justifies the means (do anything you want to them, however "bad" it
may be)? I don't think that is an accurate interpretation because it is
illogical, and Zarathushtra was eminently logical. We cannot eliminate evil
by acting wrongfully towards wrongdoers. If we act wrongfully towards
wrongdoers, we simply are creating more wrong, not eliminating it. But
quite apart from the illogic of such an interpretation, I think it is
inaccurate because it does not square with the textual evidence, for at
least three reasons (there doubtless are more).
such a conclusion would be inconsistent with the overwhelming evidence of
the Gathas that a fundamental teaching of Zarathushtra is that the amesha
spenta are both the objective and the path to the objective. The means
and the end are the same. (See Part 3.1 of this piece, Metaphor in the
Gathas. See also Of Means and Ends, in the First Gatha
Colloquium (WZO, 1998), pages 85 to 107; also at: www.vohuman.org and
www.zarathushtra.com.). A necessary conclusion from this premise is
that a good end can be achieved only through good means. A good end cannot
be achieved through wrongful means.
such a conclusion (that we should do bad (as in "wrong") to those who are
bad) is inconsistent with the rest of the language in two of the three
verses quoted above. For example, in both Y51.8 and Y47.4, the act of being
"bad" or "evil" to the deceitful one is linked with truth (asha).
In Y51.8, doing
"evil to the deceitful one" is linked to acting
"… in accordance
with the wish of Him who has upheld the truth.."
so the quality
of the act to the deceitful one would have to be something that is in
accordance with asha. Similarly, in Y47.4, Zarathushtra speaks of
"…bad to the deceitful one" right after he states that the deceitful are not able to deflect
those who are truthful through spenta mainyu (a benevolent way of
being). So it stands to reason that the quality of the act to the deceitful
could not be inconsistent with being truthful through a benevolent way of
There are other verses in which Zarathushtra specifically states that we
will defeat deceit with asha, with the amesha spenta and with
goodness. For example:
"If, during the times after this (present) one which is under the workings
of evil, one shall defeat deceit by truth [asha], …then one
shall increase Thy glory, Lord…"Y48.1.
"…How might I deliver deceit into the hands of truth in order to destroy
it in accord with the precepts of Thy teaching…" Y44.14
of the Wise Lord's teaching is the path of the amesha spenta (see
Part 3.1.2 of this piece Metaphor in the Gathas].
"Those who, with ill will, have increased fury and cruelty…whose evil
effects one has not yet defeated with good effects…" Y49.4.
These verses give the key, in my view, to a correct interpretation of being
bad to the deceitful, as expressed in Y33.2, 51.8, and 47.4, quoted above.
At one level, I think Zarathushtra means "bad" in the sense that we should
not do anything that will prosper the deceitful or make them successful. We
should oppose and retard those who are being deceitful, bring their
deceitful activities to a bad (unsuccessful) end.
But at another level, I think Zarathushtra was playing with words as another
way of expressing a basic thought – that you destroy "bad" with what is
"good" i.e. "good" being "bad" for (or destructive of) the "bad". To
illustrate: Imagine, if you would, a person engaged in perpetrating a
swindle, a fraud. What would be "bad" for such a person? Revealing the
truth of the matter, which would defeat the swindle and expose the fraud.
So the truth would be "bad" for the person engaged in perpetrating the fraud
(bad). "Bad for the bad" in that sense.
46. In the Gathas, fire, the cow (or earth for those who so
translate that word), the plants and waters, are used as material metaphors
for divine qualities – qualities which Zarathushtra also sees in man.
However in the Gathas, such material objects (whether as metaphors or not)
and good men and women, are never mentioned as objects of worship. By
contrast, in the later Yasnas, such material objects and good men and women
are repeatedly offered worship, along with the Wise Lord and the amesha
spenta. I am inclined to think this practice may have started as the
worship of the divine in the material. Later, perhaps, with the
devastations of war, conquest, persecution and time, the idea behind the
practice became lost.
47. We know that the language of the later Avestan texts is
somewhat different from Gathic, indicating that a long enough period of time
– several centuries at least – would have had to elapse from Zarathushra’s
day, for such linguistic changes to have occurred in a society where change
did not occur at as fast a pace as it occurs today. In addition, there is
the evidence of the Later Yasnas themselves. One of them speaks of “…..
the Zarathushtrian law, and its long descent;" (Y25.6 SBE Vol. 31, page 277,
Mills transl.) indicating that by the time this particular Later Yasnas was
composed, the Gathas already were ancient. Some of the Later Yasnas that
are far from the thought of the Gathas well may have been pre-Zarathushtrian
in origin in that they offer praise and worship to a number of ancient
Indo-Iranian deities. That parts of the Later Yasna were of
pre-Zarathushtrian origin is suggested by some of the later Yasnas
themselves. The A Airyema Isho prayer (which is Yasna 54) first praises the
Gathas and then says: “…And we sacrifice to the Praises of the Yasna which
were the productions of the world of old.” (Y54.2 SBE Vol. 31, page 293),
indicating that they pre-dated the Gathas. Similarly, in Yasna 55 (not a
part of the Gathas) verses 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are devoted to praising and
venerating the Gathas, whereas verse 6 is devoted to venerating the:
“…Praises of the Yasna which were the production of the ancient world,
those which are (now) recollected and put in use, …” Y55.6, SBE Vol. 31,
See also Y71.18 (not a part of the Gathas) “And we sacrifice to the (Yasna’s)
ending words, to those which end the Gathas. And we sacrifice to the
bounteous Hymns themselves…. And we sacrifice to the Praise-songs of the
Yasna which were the products of the world of yore…..” SBE Vol. 31, page
48. SBE Vol. 31, page 258, Mills translation.
49. This same thought is discussed in the Bundahisn,
Chapter XVII, SBE Volume 5, pages 61 to 64, as translated by West.
50. SBE Vol. 5, page 62.
51. According to Taraporewala, the Pahlavi translation or
understanding of the meaning of “spenta” or its variants, includes the idea
of advancing the forward progress of creation. Taraporewala, page 356.
52. In Yasna 62.4 (not a part of the Gathas), fire (as a
metaphor for truth) is described as increasing understanding. “Give me, O
Fire, Ahura Mazda’s son! … an expanded mind, and nimbleness of tongue for
soul and understanding, even an understanding continually growing in its
largeness, and that never wanders…”Y62.4, Mills translation, SBE Volume 31,
53. It is interesting that Mills translates a reference to
the Wise Lord’s truths in the Gathas Y31.7, as “…(His) glorious (conceptions
first) clothed themselves in the stars” [Mills footnote: “Raocebis
certainly means, with illuminating objects, stars or shining lights”] SBE
Volume 31 page 44. In the Later Yasnas, the stars too, are used as
metaphors for Ahura Mazda and His divine attributes, the amesha spenta
(and perhaps those who have attained them in a double entendre). In Yasna
12.1, it states “…to Ahura Mazda…the holy One, the resplendent … the
glorious…whose are the stars, in whose lights the glorious beings and
objects are clothed.” SBE Vol. 31, page 248. Mills sees in that verse
(12.1) a reflection of the Gathas Y31.7. In Yasna 36.6 (of the
Haptanghaiti) the sun and stars are used as metaphors for the Wise
Lord’s “body”. Mills translation, SBE Vol. 31, page 285. In Yasna
58.6,the Fshusho-Manthra, referring to the amesha spenta this
Later Yasna says: “…and may the creative stars of Ahura Mazda, the
Creator, shine down on us, and round about us…” [Mills footnote 3: “Lit.
‘may we be closely beheld by the creative lights,’ &c.”] Mills translation
SBE Vol. 31 page 308.