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 Setting The World Alight: Reflections on the Frashkart

Effective Living

Antolak, Ryszard J.

Seeing Persons, Lighting Haloes..
Invitation and Response..
Divine Fire


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“And they will make a new world, freed from old age and death, from decomposition and corruption, eternally living, eternally growing, possessing power at will, when the dead will rise again, when immortality will come to the living, and when the world will renew itself as desired”   Yt19.11 (1)

This passage, one of the most beautiful to be found in the younger Avesta, proclaims at once with missionary zeal the goal towards which all Zarathushtrian efforts were directed: nothing less than the total transformation and perfection of existence (Frashkart).

Zarathushtra’s vision of the supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, was that of a good God: wholly benevolent, totally loving, the author of all quality, beauty, and of everything life-enhancing and positive. But precisely because he was entirely good, he was not all-powerful. He possessed a vulnerability that was an attribute of his goodness, a vulnerability present in all those who are sensitive and benevolent. Ahura Mazda desired Man to participate with him in bringing the creation to perfection. (Y31.21). Man was free to accept the call or to refuse it. The invitation was given freely, without any threats of punishment or promises of reward: the end result would be reward enough. The process towards its completion: a journey of creative self-discovery in which the individual would both find and fulfill his intrinsic humanity.

Answering this divine call, the followers of Zarathushtra saw themselves as a loose brotherhood of individuals working (each on his own initiative) in a common cause alongside their God to transform the world -- their thoughts, words and actions reflecting the longings of their prophet:

“May we be among those who bring about the transfiguration of the earth”  Y30.9  (2)

The means by which this desired end was to be accomplished was by an ever-greater growth and evolution of the ‘light of glory’ (xvarnah). This primordial light, uncreated because it was a natural property of the deity (Ys 12.1, 31.7, 35.10), was the energy out of which Ahura Mazda had created everything in existence including the divine beings of the pleroma. It was a light that filled the heavens, the ‘abode of light’ (Y31.20) but was undeveloped and latent in matter. The basic duality in the philosophy of Zarathushtra was not that of light against darkness, but of manifestation and latency of the light (the menok and getig states of existence). In addition, the word ‘xvarnah’ carried with it the implication of “destiny”, suggesting a positive bias in the universe towards the emergence and evolution of the light - a kind of anticipation of the Frashkart at the heart of creation: an assurance that,

“All shall be well..... and all manner of things shall be well”    (3).

But this was not the purely abstract light of the Gnostics and Manichaeans. It was not an alien presence imprisoned in the grossness of matter, calling out to the individual to free him,

“Out of the stinking body…out of this desolate place”. (4)

The light did not require the individual to reject matter or retreat into the rarefied world of the intellect. This radiance was an intrinsic property of matter. Man belonged to the earth and the earth belonged to Man. He would never be able to feel himself ‘at home’ anywhere else but in the material world. The Zarathushtrian conception of this interrelationship of man with nature was very strong. Man was not placed into the universe like an object among other objects in the way that the God of the Old Testament placed Adam into an already-completed garden. Rather he was born out of his environment like an apple from a tree, or ripples from a pond. (5) 

Hence arose the Zarathushtrian respect for all life and nature, a reverence which the prophet himself voiced in his songs:

“The radiance of the sun and the shimmering of the dawn at the break of
day are reflections of your glory” Y50.10   (6)

 and which his followers echoed:

We revere all the holy creatures that Mazda has created,
which were established holy in their nature…
and we revere all the springs of water…and the growing plants…
and the entire earth and heavens…even towards the lights without number.  Y71.6  (7)

When he looked about him at the physical world, the Zarathushtrian was confronted by the goodness of Ahura Mazda reflected, in some form or another, in every object and being which he saw; and (in the later literature) each element of the physical world was imagined as under the protection of one or other of the Amesha Spentas (Holy Immortals), the hypostases of Ahura Mazda. 

The final transfiguration of the world, its final ideal state (Frashkart), is an image of the universe ablaze with the auroral light of the xvarnah, a light illuminating all things animate and inanimate, bestowing meaning and value upon them, and opening up their dimension of transcendence.

Seeing Persons, Lighting Haloes
It is all too easy to imagine the xvarnah, so seemingly abstract and distant from everyday life, as merely some fanciful metaphor with relevance only for poets and philosophers. But this light of glory, about which so many books have been written, is exactly what makes each of us uniquely human. Its influence can be discerned in all the minutiae of human life. In order to gain a real ‘feel’ for the benefits of the light, it is necessary only to consider the concept of the ‘person’.

Most of us are able to experience a human being in one of two ways: as an object (a collection of tissues, chemical processes and electrical impulses) or as a person (an indivisible whole with a face and a name). Once an object is perceived as a person, a mysterious new dimension opens up: we recognize something that exists on a higher level than mere sensory perception. We respond to the infinite within the finite. To recognize a ‘person’ when all we have before us is a mass of physical characteristics - hair, teeth, tissues - is to perceive that object ‘qualitatively’, i.e., to see it in ‘a new light’: in the light of the xvarnah.

We take for granted our remarkable ability to perceive persons: we hardly give it a second thought. Its sheer wonder becomes clear only once we experience someone who possesses no such intuition: the classic autistic person. Broadly speaking, the severely autistic individual can be described as being trapped in a world of physical matter and strict reasoning. He finds it difficult to communicate, to imagine or to deal with other people socially. Although good at learning complex rules, he is nevertheless incapable of reacting sympathetically to others because he can never imagine what anyone else is thinking: he has no concept of ‘mind’. The whole interior (infinite) world of the person as ‘person’ is unknown to him. His relationships are directed chiefly towards objects: which is how he perceives other people -- as objects. (8)

Science knows nothing of the person. (9) The person (the uniqueness of the person) cannot be expressed in concepts at all. It evades all rational definitions because all the properties by which it could be characterized can be met with in other individuals. Personality can be grasped only by direct intuition. Similarly, a face - the symbol of the person - differs from all other faces in very minute details, barely describable in words. Yet to other human beings, the recognition of these features as a unique person goes far beyond what science can explain. (10)

Once the internal world of another individual is revealed, by virtue of our recognition of him as a person (an object open to infinity), the whole world of human relations suddenly becomes possible: co-operation, intimacy, compassion, understanding, love..... Civilization.

When we fall in love with another human being, we are seeing that individual as more than just a person. For a time, the image we have of him or her is ‘complete’ (because illuminated strongly by the light), ‘whole’, and hence (whole-ly) holy. That atmosphere of wonder and colour that suddenly surrounds the object of our attentions (when coincidences abound, when the world suddenly becomes saturated with meaning and everything in creation revolves around this single human being), is a quality of the xvarnah. We are loving someone who does not (yet) exist. (11) We are seeing them as they will appear (one day) in the full light of the Frashkart.

The halo (the aureole, the nimbus) is one of the great abiding icons of Zarathushtrianism. This is the light which in Zarathushtrian as well as in Christian and Buddhist iconography, is to be found glowing about the heads of great kings, priests or holy men. Each of us has set at least one halo ablaze in the course of our lives. When we fall in love, it is as if we have lit up the beloved’s halo. Perceiving their dimension of transcendence, we recognize the divine in them. For what is a halo but a human being ‘lit up’ with the light of great love, value, or ‘destiny’? A lover does not love the physical body of his beloved at all, but the ideal image of her, the angel to whom she corresponds. Of course he does love her body also, but for the sake of her “person”: because it belongs to her and manifests her reality. That physical body can be old as a grandmother, sick, diseased, (barely recognizable as a human being), punctured by tubes and plugged into monitors, but still loved and adored for the person within it.

Invitation and Response
The transfiguration of the earth begins first in the hearts and minds of individuals. Only by transforming ourselves can we transform our world. The Zarathushtrian must attend to the fires of his own personal hearth before he can set the world alight. With his tools of good thoughts, good words and good deeds, he attempts to turn the base elements of his interior life, (the gross desires, the raw self-interest) into something radiant with light - the alchemical gold. In alchemy, this process was termed the ‘Magnum Opus’, Zarathushtra’s ‘fiery test’ (12), a process misinterpreted in the West as an attempt to turn physical lead into the gold of wedding rings and commercial bullion.

In Zarathushtrianism, every man is called. He is called out of himself to respond to his (finite) condition and his environment to the furthest limits of his possibilities: to ‘be awake’ (Y30.2) to reality and participate in the recreation of the world. Of course he may refuse the call (in which case his response will be negative). But he may be unable to break out of the circle of the ego: (he may not possess a sufficient degree of freedom to make the decision). Man is a centre of response, not primarily a centre of radiation. He determines himself by relating creatively to his environment. (13) His freedom, such of it as exists, is entirely vocational. Freedom is a response to an invitation to be taken out of oneself. To be free is to be creative. The individual cannot transcend himself from within; he can only be taken out of himself by another. This ‘other’ in Zarathushtrianism, is Vohuman.

In common experience, meanings and ideas seem to come to us from ‘outside’ ourselves, from beyond the ego; and they seem to be given to us all at once. We often talk of that knowledge that comes without prior reflection and which is truly ‘illumination’ (an immediate intuitive grasp of reality, totally different from the process of reasoning). (14) We speak of the ‘light’ of reason, of ‘dazzling’ logic, of ‘flashes’ of inspiration, ‘brilliant’ ideas, of someone being a ‘bright spark’, etc. All of these terms give some indication of the light that Vohuman embodies. He is the light of the mind by which we see (more) light. Vohuman (the Good, or Enlightened, Mind) was traditionally visualized in Zarathushtrianism as the archangel with responsibility for the whole animal kingdom, (including Man). This was because in the long evolution from instinctive animal, Vohuman was the force that unconsciously guided Man to his present stage of development, kindling the light of consciousness and self-awareness in his human ancestors. (This is an idea which today finds echoes in the Anthropic Principle in Physics and Cosmology). (15)

Although not the fullest revelation of Ahura Mazda, Vohuman is the one most accessible to Man. First of the immortals to reveal himself to Zarathushtra, he was the light by which the prophet was able to perceive the other hypostases of Ahura Mazda, the Amesha Spentas. So Vohuman is the door to the “abode of lights”. Through him, Man has arrived at a momentous stage in his evolution where he is able at last to take responsibly for his own actions.

“Listen to the ultimate Truth, consider it with a clear mind and decide for yourself, each man and woman personally which path to take: good or evil“  Y30.2   (16)

This element of freedom and choice in Zarathushtra’s philosophy is startling. It becomes all the more remarkable when we compare it to ancient Greek notions of freedom where the whole idea is heavily circumscribed. Homeric heroes were not responsible for their actions at all: it was the gods who led men to disaster, love, death, ruin, wealth, etc. Whenever they felt themselves stirred into motion, whipped to life by emotion, desire, reflection, or anger, the Homeric heroes knew that some god was at work in them, sweeping them up into a current of life greater than their own. No-one, not even old Priam, was able to accuse Helen of any guilt. “To me,” he said, “you are not the cause, only the gods can be causes”. (17)

We are, all of us, born with a potential for obedience. We all secretly long for someone to tell us what to do: we long for gurus, specialists and wise men. Milgram, in his famous experiments, described this as a kind of congenital flaw in adult human nature. (18) Zarathushtra too, seemed to have craved some kind of clear direction from his God: a series of commandments or authoritative instructions. (Y34.12) But in the end he did not receive any. He could no longer be treated as a child. In the same way, the Zarathushtrian must decide for himself, freely as a mature individual, whether he wishes to participate with Ahura Mazda in the creative process or not.

But the true extent of individual freedom is greatly exaggerated. (19) There is a common myth among us that we are always making momentous decisions about our lives, our careers, etc. We feel ourselves to be masters of our own fate, but any close examination soon teaches us otherwise. Anyone who has ever practiced meditation knows just how little control over his own mind he really has. Thoughts and images bloom without any conscious intervention; and it is extremely difficult to hold a single thought for more than a minute or two. Most (if not all) of these thoughts reflect the background of an individual’s inner desires and feelings. Desires and passions are the engines of our inner lives, operating fairly independently of our conscious selves. (But Man is neither a free agent nor a puppet, for both views presuppose a separation of the individual from his environment).

So what exactly is this free choice which Zarathushtra would have us make, and which lies at the heart of his whole philosophy? At its most basic, our freedom (such of it as exists) lies entirely in the choice of which emotional currents to follow; which images and appetites to cultivate in our minds; which thoughts to react to, which to let go. Of all the chaotic interior voices just on the borders of consciousness, Zarathushtra would have us listen only to the wise and the gentle ones - to conscience (Daena) or to the other voices reflective of an ‘enlightened mind’ (Vohuman). It is easy to become fascinated by the katabolic forces of greed, egoism, violence, pornography, etc., for they can be hypnotic.( 20) The Good Mind, however, is able to see things clearly in the ‘light of glory’. This is essentially similar to Rumi’s advice to us to:

“ …Water the fruit trees and don’t water the thorns.
Be generous to what matures the spirit and God’s luminous Reason-light.
Don’t honour what causes dysentery and knotted-up tumors” (21)

It may seem like common sense, but we all know that human beings are perfectly adapted for deceiving themselves. It is remarkable how easily we find credible ‘reasons’ for watering those thorny lusts and greeds of our secret internal lives,  

“the Daevas, .... the seeds of bad thoughts”  Y32.3   (22)

So our choice is ultimately whether to be on the side of the angels, or on the side of the egos: whether to give room to the energies that build up and support creativity and life, (the best choice) or to refuse the call and support the impulses that lead to stagnation, self-interest and decay. From this choice, everything else flows, absolutely everything: words, actions, evolution, the Frashkart itself.

Quantum Physics informs us that Consciousness is the missing link between the bizarre world of electrons and everyday reality. If the mere act of observing an electron can wholly alter the nature of the electron’s reality (wave or particle?) what, one wonders, might result from an observer observing himself? Constantly mindful, forever vigilant, the Zarathushtrian watches over the chaotic contents of his own mind, choosing to follow only those which reflect the Good God himself. (Here the symbolism of the Zarathushtrian priest tending his fire becomes highly significant). How he deals with this raw material determines what kind of human being he will become.

But how is one to decide which are the thorns and which the fruit trees? Having ‘seen the light’, and trusting his life to this new consciousness opening up within him, the Zarathushtrian is able to perceive the Truth (Asha), Reality. The light of Vohuman allows him to distinguish what really exists (exists fully with an infinite dimension) from what only appears to exist (finite being, incomplete realization subject to change). Truth is equated with Being; and it has value, because it is better to be than not to be. Asha is the Truth, the real divine order of things. Faith is only necessary in the darkness. In the presence of the Light, we are able to see, if not always clearly, the path that requires no faith. (23) The traditional Zarathushtrian promises as part of his daily prayers to worship the Good God Ahura Mazda, to abjure the Daevas and hence, to walk in the path of Asha. But because God is infinite, there is always an infinity of giving and receiving; and hence also, at every moment of one’s waking life, an infinity of choices to be made.

An old woman slips and falls on the sidewalk. I must decide (immediately) whether to help her or not. If I want to, I can find a variety of very plausible ‘reasons’ (rationalizations) (24) for not helping her - I will be late for work; there is bound to be someone more qualified to help; the police will want to interview me; the woman will think I am trying to rob her, etc., etc. On the other hand, there will be gentler voices in my mind telling me that this woman could be seriously hurt; that she may need immediate help; that I would want someone to help me if I was in her position.....I must decide which of these thoughts to entertain, and what my conduct should be (25). And this is what the Zarathushtrian alchemy is at root: not some prayer or pious intention, but at every moment of my waking life making small, apparently insignificant, decisions in thought and deed whose consequences could be momentous. If I do decide to help, my decision may appear irrational to my ego. It may, nevertheless, be rational in the wider sense of improving life for everyone: bringing a little light (xvarnah) into the world. I must consider what kind of world I am creating at this moment; whether my actions lead ultimately to the lights of the Frashkart, or to the hell of the Daevas.

In deciding to help the old woman, I am not seeking a reward; nor am I following a divine commandment (how can one command someone to honour, respect, or love?) I do it because it is the right thing to do. It is Asha. It is part of being human. All rewards are (in the end) shackles - fame, sex, drugs, power, beautiful houris - the physical as well as the nonphysical. Rewards are the honeyed traps of predators, symbols of our dependency and lack of freedom, and we should avoid them if we can. Zarathushtra himself, while seeming to ask Ahura for ‘rewards’ and ‘commandments’ finally admits that:

“The choice of Righteousness is its own vindication.
The choice of Evil, its own undoing” Y49.3   (26)

The real ‘rewards’ come with being mature and exercising wholeness (holiness, health) and integrity (Haurvatat). One cannot reward another person with well-being. No-one can force another to be healthy or ‘fulfilled’. Similarly, any ‘punishment’ will also be purely personal: the failure to evolve, the poverty of imagination, of lost opportunities; a self-loathing, lack of self-esteem, etc.

Our response to the divine call then, must be creative if it is to be free and personal. (27) The more unique our response, the more free it will be. The rosebush does not ask the oak how to grow acorns. Both plants reach out for the light, but each has its own response to the presence of sunlight and soil. Answering the call of reality in full freedom, Man is called to become an artist with God in the creation of the great work (Frashkart) and he is entirely at liberty to create according to his own vision. Even at the molecular and cellular levels, matter is bubbling up ever new creative schemes and compounds under the pressure of divine light. Our creative response is merely a “higher”, more sophisticated form of this basic universal creativity.

Psychiatrists tell us that subconsciously we expect sex to provide a mystical unity, the spouse a divinity, the home a heaven. The world of the Frashkart is the only place where all these desires can be fully satisfied; and there is a homesickness for it which many of us feel but cannot articulate fully. The search for it has been visualized as a journey because man has always seen himself as a wayfarer, always setting forth, responding to the invitation of further horizons. It is a journey of self-discovery to the East (but not to the physical East), from where the source of all light (the sun) rises; or to the Mountain of the Dawns (where Zarathushtra received his own illumination). It is a search for the lost part of one’s self, the part that makes one complete and infinite. We cannot begin the journey unarmed, or unprepared. At the very door of the imagination lie pent-up resentments, obsessions and passions waiting for an opportunity to erupt. Unique to each person, these have to be dealt with before the journey begins. Instead of conquering the world and attempting to dominate other people, we need to conquer our own demons. For this reason Pathanjali places Yama as the prerequisite of any spiritual quest. (28)

Divine Fire
The divine light, the sacred fire, the so-called ‘fire-temples’, the aureoles, the Mountain of the Dawns, the Peak of Judgement, the Auroral fires, the Chinvat Bridge - the symbolism can easily become heady, the imagery intoxicating. Reason begins to lose its foothold here. But to remove such poetic elements at the heart of any philosophy or religion is to rip out its heart and corrupt its truth. For religions, as well as philosophies, live and breathe by the quality of their poetry: by their ability to set hearts alight and not just heads. Sometimes it can be more instructive to follow the images of thought to where they lead us, rather than rush immediately to dissect with the intellect. (We are reminded that Zarathushtra was first and foremost a poet, and proud of it). One of the utterances of the Delphic Oracle was that only poetry could be accepted as truth in every age.

So many traditions bear witness to the experience of the uncreated light that it is impossible to indicate even a tiny representative sample here. It is the fire of the Burning Bush seen by Moses (29); the pillar of fire before the Israelites in the desert (30). It is the Kibriya. It is the tongues of fire revealed to the apostles of Christ at Pentecost (31); and the light of the Transfiguration glimpsed by them on Mount Tabor (“Lord, Lord, this is a good place to be”) (32). The Manichaeans, blinded by its beauty, looked in disgust at the material world that had become dark and dead for them in contrast. Rumi wrote eloquently in praise of it, but at first he was terrified of its illumination:

“I lost my world, my fame, my mind The sun appeared and all the shadows ran
I ran after them but vanished as I ran Light ran after me and hunted me down” (33)

The Islamic philosopher who borrowed more elements from Zarathushtrianism than any other was probably Suhrawardi. For him the universe was an infinite sea of lights: nothing existed that was not light. It is interesting to note that Suhrawardi reserved a special place for Vohuman in his Philosophy of Lights. Whereas he equated the other Amesha Spentas roughly with Plato’s Archetypes (his latitudinal order of lights), Vohuman (Bahman) he considered the primary ‘archangel’ of the longitudinal order: the first light emanating from the Godhead, the nearest to the supreme Godhead himself (Hormuzd).(34)

All truly great symbols overflow the boundaries of meaning and invade the world of the senses. Light (perhaps the greatest symbol of them all) is no exception. Many of the early Christian saints such as Gregory Nazianzen, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus, Macarius of Egypt, Andrew of Crete, John Damascene, Symeon the New Theologian, Euthymius Zigabenus, etc., all spoke of the Divine Light as if they had seen it with their bodily eyes. For if the intensity of the light is in some way a ‘measure’ of ‘wholeness’, some argued, then surely it should be experienced by the ‘whole man’ and be perceptible to the physical senses as well as to the intelligence. “I had often [bodily] seen the light”, (35) wrote Symeon the New Theologian in the eleventh century in defence of this position - and we have to believe him. But the dispute as to whether the light could in fact be seen with the bodily eyes split the Christian Orthodox Church. Gregory Palamas (the Byzantine ‘apostle of light’) healed the rift in the fourteenth century with a series of compromises, but he still remained tantalizingly ambiguous on the subject:

“The light has sometimes also been seen by the eyes of the body,
but not with their created and sensory power; for they see it
after having been transformed by the spirit…”(36)

Yet the basic intuition of a synchronism between the spiritual and the sensual continued to be felt and expressed. Writers like Rumi and Ibn Arabi conceived of the spiritual and the sensual as ‘conspiring together’ (37) in some mysterious and irrational fashion. And Suhrawardi, when defining his fifteen varieties of spiritual light, seemed often to be describing what are known today as ‘photisms’: intense flashes before the eyes sometimes experienced by people who practice meditation. Varying in intensity from pinpoints to large areas of bright and coloured lights, these photisms have been experienced by far too many people for them to be easily dismissed. Individuals as varied as Ibn al-Arabi and Emanuel Swedenborg have investigated them, (the latter thinker believing them to be internal ‘signs of approval’). (38)

Is the divine light then purely intellectual; is it spiritual, physical; or perhaps all three? Is it a property of the very nature of God, or merely his energy? In the end, the real nature of this light defies all attempts to grasp its full significance, because you cannot demonstrate that which is itself the cause of all demonstration.

The Light of Eternity

“He who will work with me, Zarathushtra, to bring about the great Renovation…
for him there will be all honor and contentment in this world and a fitting state
in the world beyond” Y46.19   (39)

Zarathushtra’s vision of the last things (Frashkart) included a final judgment, immortality and eternal life, (Ys 51.13, 45.7) images that readily influenced many of the other major religions. But in my opinion, we can never really be sure what he, himself, understood by these concepts. In the Avesta, ‘Immortality’ and ‘Perfection’ (Amertat and Haurvatat), are most often spoken of as if they were a pair, (Ys 45.10, 31.21) and this information (perhaps) provides us with a clue. 

‘Integrity and immortality’: an eternity of endless days repeated ad nauseam? Perhaps. But there are other eternities. The life of man is composed of an indefinite number of discrete eternities: -  the eternity of the moment at the breast; the eternity at the first recognition of a mother’s face; the bone-painful eternity of first love (with which we are imprinted for the remainder of our lives). Each of these infinities is complete in itself, and the material fact that time seems to end them does not negate the greater awareness that they are indeed eternities, complete and whole immortal morsels of eternity; immortal because complete, eternal because time itself closes the circle of their completeness. Eternity is not just the endless extension of Time (this is temporal immortality, or ‘everlasting life’). Eternity lies around us in fragments (we search for the whole and the whole searches for us); and each fragment is itself an eternity because it is whole, organic bliss. How would we ever know if we were in eternity? How could we recognize it? It is possible only from the outside, once we emerge from the shell of its all-encompassing completeness.

Science can give us insights here. Mathematicians and physicists inform us that infinities are most often to be found between the boundaries of limits. Between the integers 3 and 4, for example, there exists an infinity of real numbers, e.g., 3.1, 3.11, 3.111, etc., etc.: infinity held back, as it were, behind the barricades of limits. But if the distance between here and there is infinite it is nevertheless easy to cross over. It is as if the cracks in the sidewalk reached down to unfathomable depths, but we walked over them confidently every day. Indeed, we do seem to cross countless infinities every day of our lives, especially in our dealings with others (for the distances between two individuals can be greater that the distances measured by astronomers). This perhaps illustrates why Vohuman (linked so closely with the scalpel of the conscious, rational mind) is not the full revelation of divinity.

Intimations of the Frashkart already lie about us here and now if we know how to look. We collect morsels of it when we cultivate a garden, (our word for paradise comes from the Persian word for garden) sing a song, or fall in love. The breath of eternity hangs over everything that is truly alive. (40) Whatever actions a Zarathushtrian performs in his daily life, whatever thoughts he thinks with his good mind (Vohuman) become ‘holy’ (whole-ly) filled with meaning:(41) (for what is meaning if not revelation, something ‘revealed’ by the light).

“Even to sweep and dust a room is to restore order, and so is a way of worshipping Asha.
To work and earn a living for oneself and one’s family is an act pleasing to Ahura Mazda,
for one contributes thereby to the dignity and self-respect of man;
and to set aside coins for charity is to honour Khshathra, lord of metals..” (42)

We must attain the ability to see ‘with the two eyes’ (43) as Ibn Arabi termed it: the ability always to keep one eye on the material Getig state, and the other fixed firmly on the spiritual, the world as it will appear at the end of Time in the light of the xvarnah.

Images of the Frashkart are bound up with an ‘incandescence of the inward layers of beings’ (44) - a process by which the world slowly begins to lose its opacity, without ever losing its concreteness, somewhat in the way that a person with a face and a name becomes discernible to the mind from a mass of physical details. This light from within (like the light that lit up the subterranean Var of Yima (45)) shines from every object revealing a universe that is at once familiar and intensely personal, imbued with meaning and beckoning with wonder like the atmosphere of a fairy tale (which is the atmosphere of the real human world):

“When the mystic contemplates this universe, it is himself (nafs, his Anima) 
that he is contemplating  (46)                                        

The light of the Frashkart also reveals and exposes the inner condition of every soul, and this revelation can be painfully shocking. The tension between what the individual could have become, and what he has become, constitutes (in part) his personal ‘reward’ or ‘punishment’. He sees at last ‘in a new light’ the child-soul he has nurtured (or maltreated) throughout his life coming towards him (in person) on the Chinvat Bridge, the ‘bridge of judgment’ (Y51.13):

“..to the men of evil deeds, of evil thoughts, their depraved souls shall go to meet them with that which is foul In the house of the lie they will truly find their abode”  Y49.12  (47)

or in the words of a later writer:

“Everything that we hide today, unwilling to disclose the depths of our hearts to repentance,
will be exposed then in the light…before the entire universe,
and what we are in reality will appear openly” (48).

I have been told that devout Jews praying at the wall of Jerusalem sway backwards and forwards in imitation of a candle flame before the roaring fire of God. I don’t know if this is true, but I hope it is. It has always been coupled in my mind with another image: of a Magian tending his fire for a lifetime, and finally becoming a part of it. These combined images, of the swaying Jew and a fiery Magian, are my personal icons of the Frashkart: human beings burning in the divine light of which love and persons and divine revelation are made.

“Heaven is made from the smoke of hearts who burn away.
Blessed is the one who burns away like this” - Rumi. (49)

May we, too, be among those who bring about the Transfiguration of the world.


  1. Yt19.11. in Corbin 1976 (1990) pp. 13-14

  2. Y30.9. in Corbin 1976 (1990) p.15

  3. Julian Of Norwich. Ch 31.

  4. Mandaean text in Jonas p.88

  5. Man is part of the material world in a seamless unity. His humanity includes his physical body and his environment. He cannot exist in isolation from them. Any attempt to set the ‘self’ against the ‘body’ (or the individual against his environment) is to set up conflict within a single organic unity. The (purely cerebral) distinction between ‘body’ and “mind” or ‘body’ and ‘spirit’ is analogous to the division between ‘subject’ and ‘object’: i.e., it is the same reality seen from different viewpoints - from within, and from without.
    As a creation of the Good God, the entire universe (I believe) is intended for perfection and is moving towards Haurvatat. The crossing of the Chinvat Bridge by an individual soul is only the beginning of a process that will end with the entire universe, the whole nature belonging to the person, following on behind (but it will be a completely transformed, perfected universe)
    The xvarnah liberates matter from its inherent inertness and finitude: animating it, directing it, moving it towards reality, and transfiguring it. The Getig becomes drawn towards the Menok state until they are both, as it were, in intimate contact (at the Frashkart). But the Frashkart should not be seen as an event solely in the future. It can be experienced here and now, in the same way that ‘spirit’ can be found in the direct experience of the concrete natural world. Unless the created world shares in the glory of the Frashkart, matter itself can have no intrinsic value or meaning - and Man’s role in it becomes, not to perfect material reality (not to ‘heal existence’) but exactly to escape from it; in which case the Manichaeans and the Gnostics were right all along. The ethical implications are grave. If Matter is intrinsically worthless, then we have two basic choices: we can either avoid it, (practice asceticism); or we can do what we like with it - use it as the raw material of exploitation and domination (and this exploitation will extend also to the physical bodies of humans as well as animals).

  6. Y50.10. (Azargoshasb transl.). See also Y32.10

  7. Y71.6. (L. H Mills)

  8. Autistic children (in general) never develop the ability to pretend play. They cannot tell or understand jokes at all. They have a great desire for things to remain the same: to stay unchanged. They cannot understand a belief at odds with current reality and find it difficult to distinguish between the appearance of an object and what it really is. Most importantly, they never develop the ability to reflect upon their own actions. Autistic children seldom use such words as ‘believe’, ‘know’, ‘imagine’, ‘dream’, ‘remember’. They have difficulties understanding emotions even, but do use emotional words such as ‘kiss’, ‘smile’, ‘hug’. There are 5 times more men with autism than women.
    Asperger’s Syndrome is sometimes referred to as ‘mild autism’. We all have this syndrome to some degree or other: it is to be literally-minded, unable fully to understand another’s point of view, to have a great desire for security, to be single-minded, etc. Although Asperger’s Syndrome people are often highly intelligent, about 70% of them don’t use words referring to mental states to explain a character’s action. They cannot really relate to others. They use logical reasoning and other cognitive processes to work out theory-of-mind tasks and so think carefully before answering questions. They are bad at taking hints and keeping secrets. Their speech is pedantic, and stereotyped. They cannot show empathy. But many are very highly intelligent. There are over 12 times more men with Asperger’s Syndrome than women. Some people have argued that Asperger’s Syndrome is an extreme form of the ‘male brain’.

  9. The word ‘person’ comes from the Latin ‘persona’ which was the megaphone-mouthed mask worn by Greek actors on the stage and through (per) which the sound (sona) came. In other words, it meant exactly the opposite of what it means today. It was merely the outward aspect of an individual.

  10. The face for us denotes unity and presence. There is something disturbing about the idea of an individual without a face: yet we know ourselves without faces. Our own faces are directly invisible to us.

  11. The perception of love usually lasts for such a short time because the ego begins to think of ways of hanging onto the love, of having it and controlling it. But love is not about being in control. We do not talk about ‘falling in love’ for nothing. Controlling (‘possessing’, ‘having’) love is a sure way of losing it, of falling out of love.

  12. Ys 30.7, 32.7, 51.9

  13. One of the chief characteristics of Man is that he is capable of intransitive and gratuitous acts i.e., acts not totally subject to pure determinism, or self-interest (such as works of art). This is something we do not find in the animal world. And this provides for man the title of poet (not by virtue of his language but his actions). In the same way, the creation of the world by Ahura Mazda was also a gratuitous act, as was His willingness to allow Man a part in perfecting it.

  14. We can talk of the moment before we understand something, and the moment after we understand it. But between these two moments we are speechless to describe what is happening. Meaning truly seems to come to us as “revelation”.

  15. The Anthropic Principle in Cosmology and Quantum Physics is a group of ideas which postulates that the universe must have properties which favour life (and human life in particular) to evolve: that ‘the odds’ seem to be stacked too firmly in favour of life surviving and evolving in our universe for it all to be just coincidence. There are (at least) three forms of the Anthropos Principle at present: ‘Weak’, ‘Strong’ and ‘Participatory’. The Strong Anthropos principle goes furthest in proposing that the universe has somehow ‘deliberately’ set the conditions for life to evolve, because it ‘requires’ the presence of biological life (and humankind in particular) in order to fully exist (since integral reality can only come about when ‘objectivity’ and ‘subjectivity’ are in dialogue). Two gentle introductions to the subject can be found in
    Marshall, I., & Zohar, D. Who’s Afraid of Schrodinger’s Cat. The New Science Revealed. Bloomsbury 1997 and Ferris, Timothy. The Whole Shegang. A State of the Universe Report. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1997 p. 298

  16. Y30.2. (Azargoshasb, slightly adapted)

  17. Homer. The Iliad III,164. For a definitive study of ancient Greek notions of freedom, see Dodds. Western philosophy, which followed the main current of Greek philosophy rather than the Zarathushtrian one, has left us with such notions as are expressed when we hear that, “Something got into me”, “I wasn’t myself”; or the growing feeling that everything bad must be someone else’s fault. No-one takes responsibility any more for his own actions; litigation is a common solution to most of life’s ills.

  18. Stanley Milgram in his famous experiments on obedience talks of the, “fatal flaw nature has designed into us, and which in the long run gives our species only a modest chance of survival,” namely, “the capacity for man to abandon his humanity, indeed the inevitability that he does so, as he merges his unique personality into larger institutional structures” [Milgram p. 205]. Details of his classic experiment on obedience can be found in his book.

  19. Many behavioral scientists today would deny that human beings possess any free will at all. Man, they tell us, is part of a dynamic web of countless interrelated processes of his whole environment. He responds to these stimuli in the same way that a river ‘responds’ to days of rain, blockages or drought. A ‘normal’ person, they would argue, ‘chooses’ a course of action which is most economical in relation to his interior and exterior stimuli. So it is possible to say that his actions are determined by all these factors.

  20. Among psychiatric patients, auditory hallucinations are usually more common than visual ones. In many such people, the voices coming from within are felt to be coming from ‘outside’ themselves. The majority of these voices are hostile, obscene, suggesting lewd acts, verbally abusing the subject. Most voices heard (but not all) are hostile, seeking to destroy the person bodily and mentally. They often act against the patient’s conscience. Most of them speak nonsense. Many reproach the subject about events in his past, etc., etc.

  21. Jalal-ud-din Rumi, in Barks and Moyne p. 71

  22. Y32.3. (L. H Mills). Anyone who has ever worked closely with seriously mentally ill people knows that the Daevas are not merely a poetic device. The interior lives of vulnerable people can become invaded by those voices which all of us have on the edges of consciousness. The Gathic rejection of the Daevas then becomes no poetic conceit for them; and it is not an option for those not in ‘Good Mind’ (Vohuman).

  23. Far from being a constraint on freedom, Asha enables an individual to use his freedom effectively. I like David Jones’ association of ‘religio’, ‘ligament’ and ‘obligatio’, all of which have a common root. They all imply a binding which supports a limb, allowing it to move. It is the ‘binding’ quality of the ligament which allows the limb to exercise its mobility. Cut the ligament and you sever the body’s ability to use her freedom. Asha is exactly the ligament which binds the individual to Ahura Mazda.

  24. Rationalization is a familiar concept in psychology. It refers to a cognitive accommodation to emotional and motivational factors within the individual, i.e., an individual will give 'reasons' or explanations to justify his own (irrational) behaviour or feelings. For example, he failed a quiz "because the questions were unfair”. Similarly, a hypnotized subject can be asked to stand on one leg fifteen minutes after a session and not to remember having been asked to do it. When he is later asked why he has done so, the subject invariably gives no end of plausible 'reasons' for his action such as, his foot 'was hot’, or he ‘wanted to know what it felt like on one leg’, etc. This is illustrative of a seeking and accepting of reasons for an unconscious and irrational act. Here, reason has become a tool for reaching those conclusions to which the instincts, or one’s general disposition, prompt one.

  25. The images we fill our minds with, and the voices which fill our heads, determine to a great extent, what kind of people we will become. This is why images can corrupt as well as inspire. It is for this reason that in Zarathushtrianism, the images we choose to cherish and hold in our minds will judge us in the end (i.e., determine our future).

  26. Y49.3. (D. J. Irani)

  27. Following one’s greed, for example, is not an act of freedom, because the greedy man is unable to act against the wishes and desires of his ego. Only the ability to potentially act against one’s own best interests (against the desires of the ego) is indicative of developed freedom (and wisdom).

  28. Pathanjali, in his Aphorisms of Yoga, places Yama (moral duty) as the first of the eight steps of yoga. Defined as rejection of all lying, covetousness, violence, incontinence and theft, yama is seen as the foundation upon which all other disciplines of ecstasy and mystical life are built. Before the practice of the various yogic postures (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayamas) now so fashionable in the West comes yama: rejection of violence, greed, deception. It is the soil out of which all the other seven disciplines of yoga emerge. Yet for most people in the West who still have a religious predilection, yama is the end-goal of religious life, its highest expression. Beyond it there is nothing higher. Even those trendy teenagers who assiduously practice the asanas and who have some idea of their religious significance, tend to perceive all the other disciplines of yoga as aids towards yama. But for Pathanjali, yama comes first

  29. Exodus 3.2

  30. Exodus 14.24

  31. Acts Of the Apostles. 2.3

  32. Matthew 17.2-3; Mark 9.2-6; Luke 9. 29-31.

  33. Jalal ud-din Rumi in Harvey p.59.

  34. See Razavi p.61

  35. Lossky p.118

  36. Palamas, in Mantzaridis p.100

  37. Corbin 1969 (1997) p. 144

  38. Swedenborg in Van Dusen p.22. “Such a flame appeared to me so often…that hardly a day passed in which a flame did not appear as vividly as the flame of a household hearth. It was a sign of approval”. Tahanavi, the encyclopedist, described the first degree of contemplative vision of God as, “accompanied by continual flashes of lightning occurring at short intervals” Quoted in Lewisohn p. 177.

  39. Today we are only beginning to understand the importance of physical light for the body. The body requires to be bathed in negatively charged biophotons. This is its fuel. Like plants, the human body photosynthesizes light. Not all the light that passes through the eyes is required to see objects. A large percentage of the light travels to the hypothalamus, to the pituitary and to the pineal glands, i.e., to the centres which regulate many of the most important life processes: hormone production, reproductive functions, autonomic nervous system, stress response, emotions and metabolic functions. In winter, with shorter days, we become depressed. Less of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, serotonin, is activated. Muscle-tone and growth decline. The body closes down as if for sleep, in other words, ceases to live an active life; becomes vegetative. Some sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) even contemplate suicide, and all of us become accident prone and susceptible to illnesses.

  40. Y46.19. (D. J. Irani)

  41. Experiences which are fully ‘lived out’ tend to leave no trace behind them, leave no memory or record. They are not to be found in ‘history’, because history is ‘dead’ and the real living world has not yet passed away, not yet become ‘fact’ (facio, faeces, etc.) Anything that is truly alive has no history and no ego.

  42. The ancient Zarathushtrians transformed the physical landscape of their native Iran and Azerbaijan into a mythical landscape resonant with meaning (an Iranian version of the Australian Aborigines’ “Dream Time” landscape. Only here it was not a dream, and not in the past). Mount Sabalan became the ‘Mountain of the Dawns’, Mount Terak in the Alburz became Mount Hukairya, etc.

  43. Boyce, p.615

  44. Chittick p.24

  45. Teilhard de Chardin p. 131

  46. In Iranian legends, Yima (the original Good Shepherd) ruled over a Golden Age in the very distant past. Eventually, he was instructed by Ahura Mazda to build an underground shelter (or Var) where he was to store the “seed” of the finest men, animals and plants (two of each - male and female) and to wait there until the time came for him to restock the world, returning the Earth again to its original Golden Age. According to legend, he is still there waiting. Although the Var was completely subterranean and sealed from the light of the sun and stars, it was nevertheless lit up with its own intrinsic lights: “uncreated lights and created lights” (Vend 2.40). The story can be found in Vendidad 2 and elsewhere. Yima is also mentioned briefly in the Gathas (Y32.8), so it is just possible that Zarathushtra himself may have known an earlier version of this story.

  47. Ibn Arabi in Corbin 1976 (1990) p. 82

  48. Y49.12. (D. J. Irani)

  49. Lossky p122

  50. Rumi in Harvey p.279



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