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The Vision of Zarathushtra

Effective Living


Professor Keikhosrow Dinshah Irani



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Three thousand five hundred years ago, among the Indo-Iranian tribes who had moved from north of the Caspian Sea to the plateau of Eastern Iran, the Prophet, Zarathushtra, brought forth a profound vision which reconstructed the nature of ancient religiosity. He repudiated the sacrificial cults of blood and flesh offerings, rituals producing magical effects operated by gesture or incantation. He replaced them not just with a new religion, but a radically new notion of religiosity, rooted in wisdom and conscience, constituting a View of the World and a Way of Life.

The Prophet envisioned the Divinity, Ahura Mazda, as Creator of a scheme of Perfect Goodness, the enunciation of a deep Truth for the totality of creation in accordance with which existence would evolve in perfection and harmony. This Truth is called Asha in the Gathas, the hymns of Zarathushtra. Such a profoundly philosophic view of Asha is an abstract concept capable of being grasped by reflective thought alone, though being the blue-print of a perfect world.

The world we live in, however, is a theater of actions in which progressive and harmony-producing forces are opposed by destructive and divisive ones, where both good and evil intentions, attitudes and social vectors are found. This flawed existence, Zarathushtra saw and recognized as frustration of the divine scheme of Asha.

From his View of the world the theology develops thus. He declared the existence of the Good-Mind, Vohu Manah, and the Spirit of Benevolence, Spenta Armaiti. The Good-Mind enables us to recognize the flawed world for what it is, the Spirit of Benevolence inspires us to better this world and ultimately to transform it towards perfection, i.e. bring about the actualization of the Ideal Truth, the vindication of Right and Justice.

The commitment to such a life of bringing about a happy, harmonious, morally perfect social order is what the Prophet offered, as the Mazdayasni faith. He asked his listeners to attend to his teachings, and with care and clear mind, choose a life of intelligent reflection and active benevolence.

To live and to teach this Way of Life became for him the religion, a profound metaphysic in which obscurantist ritualism could find no place: in which the human being was conceived as the locus of wisdom, of moral concern, with the absolute freedom to think, to judge, and to act.

For Zarathushtra, it is we who will perfect social existence, because through our wisdom and benevolence we shall make the right choice, without any externally imposed prescriptions or injunctions; and in that process finally eliminate evil; for when evil is not chosen by free-willing individuals through their own rational choice, then evil loses its influence, it is destroyed.

The recognition of the absolute freedom of the Individual as the essence of his humanity is an intrinsic element of the philosophy, since free-choice alone is the ground for responsibility. This of course, does not imply that a person is justified in doing whatever he pleases. It only means that he has to make the choice and bear the responsibility for it. He cannot avoid the choice, nor the ensuing responsibility under cover of higher command, divine injunction, obligatory submission, or some such religious or quasi-religious notion.

Consider the message of the Prophet in his own words (in liberal translation, of course*). These are his responses to four queries:

(All quotations in this paper from the Gathas of Zarathushtra are from the translation by Dinshah J. Irani)

I. Query: What was Zarathushtra giving to humanity in his teachings?

O Ahura Mazda, and O Spifit of Truth and Right,
Do ye grant me and my followers such authority and power
That with the means of the Good-Mind we may bring the world peace and happiness;
Of which Thou, O Lord, art indeed the original promoter!

I shall take the awakened soul to the exalted abode with the help of the Good-Mind,
Knowing the blissful rewards of the Wise Lord for righteous deeds.

As long as I have power and strength I shall teach all to seek for Truth and Right. Y28:9

II. Query: What is the commitment he seeks of the faithful,

Such an enlightened outlook is very close to Zarathushtra's ideology, and this vision of a progressive future sets the Zoroastrian commitment fully in accord with the Western ideal of a free society progressively understanding the World and transforming it to a state of our collective well-being.

The simplicity of the Vision, a concern for the moral and social aspects of human existence, is this: There can be no morality in action alone, as there can be no morality without action. For the essence of the moral lies in the functioning of the Good-Mind, which through reflection and articulation implements happiness, and harmony-promoting actions. Actions performed through considered, not prescribed, choice. Inevitably, it is this choice, and this choice alone, for which one is responsible, here and hereafter.

This is a vision of a perfecting world and moral order, brought to that state by rational and thoughtful human beings, dedicated to promoting the Truth, by the power of reason, not force or social machination. For ultimately the clarity of Truth requires no additional mechanism to generate its acceptance, and no foundation other than Truth can secure a just and peaceful social order.

Not only is this a vision of a perfecting world, but also of perfecting humans, finding self-realization in this life and passing to a state of immortal bliss to what the Prophet called the Abode of Songs. At this point I can do no better than to give you the words of the Prophet on this matter.

All these, indeed, gather unto Thee, O Mazda!
They who have done Thy work,
Whose actions accord with the Truth,
Whose words proceed from the Good-Mind,
Whose Inspirer art Thou from the very beginning.

At the last turning of life
To the faithful making the right choice according to his norm
Doth Ahura Mazda, the Lord Judge, in His sovereign power
Bestow an end better than good.
But to him who shall not serve the cause of good,
He giveth an end worse than bad,
At the last turning of life.

With Truth moving my heart,
With Best Thought inspiring my mind,
With all the might of spiritual force within me,
I venerate Thee, O Mazda, with songs of Thy praise.
And at the last when I shall stand at Thy Gate
I shall hear the echo of my prayers from Thy Abode of Songs.