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Twin Mainyus - The Gathic Doctrine[i]

Comparative Religion


Bagli, Ervad Dr. Jehan



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The doctrine of Twin Mainyu, is the seminal notion that serves as a nucleus for the genesis of the concept of dualism in Zarathushtrian religion. Basically humanity perceives the structured world in binary opposites. The most profound opposites  universal among the human experiences are those of light and darkness. Religious and spiritual traditions have historically associated light with goodness, and darkness with emanation of evil. One finds this association starting with the Vedic era  in (Upanishad 4.37), through Hebrew bible as in Ge.3, Ps.27.1, Is 2.5; through  Chinese  religious  traditions, all the way to the modern  Christianity  in the gospel of John 8.12. Synchretic Zarathushtrian tradition that evolved out of the early Gathic religion is no exception to these universal phenomena.  Our later tradition believes in a constant lock of a cosmic combat between the two primal principles, Ahura Mazda, representing light and Anra Mainyu representing darkness.

The specificity of the Gathic dualism of Zarathushtrian faith, as opposed to the syncretic viewpoint, resides in the ethical conduct, in context with the opposite ontological principles. It is therefore important to examine in some depth, the Gathic scriptures, to attempt and understand the thinking of the prophet on this issue. Prophet Zarathushtra in that early dawn of civilization, appears to sense the basic universal concept of the two opposites, at the very core, at the absolute focus, that moulds the human  conduct, namely, the human mind. The mind, that unique metaphysical entity, gifted by the creator to the humans is the one, that has the ability to recognize and choose between the truth and falsehood, between the right and wrong.  Doctrinally speaking, humans are endowed with that  most important divine attribute of the creator, Vohu Mano. 

Prophet Zarathushtra, in his perception of the two opposing primal principles appropriately defines them as Mainyus. the term finds its derivation from the av. root 'mana' meaning to think.

In Ys.30.2 of the Ahunavaiti Gatha, prophet addresses the entire humanity with the words:

Listen with your ears, the best,

Ponder with an enlightened mind

The teaching of your choice. 

Each human being, for oneself.       

In the very next verse (Ys. 30.3) he speaks of what is the best.

In the beginning two mental aspects  which are twins

Mutually disclosed themselves in thoughts, words, and deeds

The one of them as the better  and the other bad.

The key word of importance in this verse is that the two mentalities are twin (yema) suggesting the common source of their origin. What better common source can there be for the two opposing  mentalities?  A rational inference to this question has to be the human mind. The prophet ends this verse by referring to the  choice between them by the intellectuals and the ignorant.

In the subsequent verse (Ys 30.4) the prophet articulates over the genesis of existence  through these two mental aspects.

When these two mentalities came together

At the very beginning they created life and non-living

The prophet continues -till the end of time when there will be the worst state of mind for the deceitful and the for the righteous the best state  (meaning  happiness) of mind.

The most crucial terms here that needs to be understood are Gaemcha and Ajiaitimcha.  Many translations western as well as zarathushtrian, gloss over these together as life and not-life or life and death.  At the outset the term  gaem appears  twice in the Gatha  (Ys 30.2, 43.1) and is derived from Gaya meaning life. So philologically  there appears to be no discrepancy with the translation of Gaemcha as  life.  there is however a clear discrepancy with the translation of the term  Ajiaitimcha. one can outline clear rationale  why not-life or death are unsuitable.

Firstly a direct negative of Gaemcha would be  Agaemcha meaning  not-life, but prophet does not use  that term.

Secondly the Avesten term for death is derived from the verb 'mar' meaning to kill. The derivative Mareta or Maretan (as in Gayo Maretan) referring to mortal, implying subject to dying. The actual word death is used very sparingly in the Gathas. only once  is Merethyu (Ys 53.8). so the translation as death seems clearly incompatible.

Thirdly  the term jiaiiti is derived from jvas  meaning living. This  has been used at least 8 to 9 times (Ys 31.15, 32.5, 32.11, 32.12, 32.15, 33.10, 46.4, 46.8, 53.9) in association with livelihood and way of life. the proper and most suitable translation for the word ajiaitimcha should be non-living or a life not worth living.

Putting all this together we arrive at  a parable which says, "at the beginning two mental aspects came together  to create life and non-living". How do we decipher it ?

An examination of  Ys 30  clearly reveals:

(a) That all the verses 2-6 of this Yesna are focused on the mind, thinking, and the choice.

(b) The entire corpus of the hymn is directed to the humanity at large.

(c) The prophet also speaks of the humanity as belonging to opposing classes of ashavan -the righteous and dregvatam (Ys 30.4)- the wicked or hudaongho -the intellectuals  in contrast to duzdaonghao (Ys 30.3) - the ignorant.

Considering these factors, we can rationalize, that the phrase "creation of  life  and non-living" must imply that "the better mentality  creates a life following the path of Asha  while the bad one generates a way of life not worth living". Theologically therefore, Spenta Mainyu  leads to a life of righteousness while the other Mainyu, -as it is not directly named in the Gathas- generates a worthless way of life.

In summary prophet presents:

1) A common source for two mentalities, the human mind.

2) That humanity has to choose between them

3) The better mental aspect leads to a life following Asha, the bad one generates life not worth living.

With this as the functions of the two mentalities, let us examine major difference between the Gathic doctrine versus its evolution in the Syncretic religion.  While in the later tradition the two mainyu enjoy a coequal status,  that is unequivocally not the case in the Gathas.  We note in Ys 30.6 and 7 the prophet clearly elaborates what the proper choice of humanity should be. he stresses that, "those who made the choice of the "bad mentality" followed wrath, hatred, and afflicted the human existence while those who chose the "better mentality" shall survive the final judgment". In keeping with this we note that the term Spenta Mainyu -selfless  or progressive mentality- appears in the gathas 16 times in contrast, the other term Anra Mainyu as such is absent in the Gathas.   ( only once in a linguistically modified form the term Akashcha-mainyu occurs in Ys. 32.5). taking this in context with  the  two key attributes of the creator, Vohu Mano (good mind) and Ashavahishta (absolute righteousness) the prophet proclaims to the humanity, that only by choosing Spenta Mainyu - the benevolent or selfless mentality, - will it succeed in temporal world,  to  evolve the good mind  that can recognize that immutable law of nature vested in the concept of  the supreme righteousness.  Zarathushtra thus clearly defines the importance of Spenta Mainyu -the better way of thinking over the bad one.

So what were the factors that caused this fundamentally reflective dualistic thought to undergo profound transformation with time?

As we approach the Younger Avestan era we see the religion of Zarathushtra gradually spreading westward, from its source of origin, in northeastern Iran.  With this,  the religion encountered the early organized prescriptive faith of Mesopotamian civilization controlled by that median tribe - the Magi. This powerful priesthood  adopted and accepted the teachings of zarathushtra. In doing so the   Magi  ensured the transmission and perpetuation of the religion through the entire Iranian world of the time. However there was a heavy price tag associated with this. This powerful priesthood concomitantly  elected, to make some profound changes in the philosophical, theological and ritualistic aspects of the Gathic religion, to satisfy their needs, for aspirations of power.  Many pre-zarathushtrian divinities and rituals were  reincorporated in the Gathic religion during this period. The pantheon of Yazatas non-existent in the Gathas evolved through the incorporation Verethraghana, Tishtriya, Mithra and Ardevi Sura Anahita in this era. The pre-zarathushtrian  Haoma ceremony could very well have reentered the Yasna ritual at this time.

Among the most poignant reinterpretation introduced by the Magi was in the realm of the Doctrine of Twin Mainyus.   The Magi who adopted the religion centuries later  reduced this philosophically reflective concept of ethical duality into a  radical one, in nature. as Prof. Fox ( Fox D. A. J. Am. Acad. Rel. 1967, 35, 133) writes, “ Magi added a number of innovations to Zoroastrianism. none more significant than their  clear-cut rigid dualism in the concept of a deity”.   They  evolved  Zurvan -the divinity of time - as the supreme daity, and explained the Twin Mainyu as Ahura Mazda and  Anra Mainyu emanating from Zurvan. Ahura Mazda the supreme Gathic divinity was thus reduced to an issue of Zurvan coequal with its adversary.  This concept became  deeply rooted with  time in the syncretic zarathushtrian faith that evolved. Even though the reverence to Zurvan has receded with time, the coequal nature of the two mainyu has remained an accepted misconception. 

In the texts of the Younger Avesta, particularly in many of the Yashts and in some of the later Yasnas ( Yt. 13.71,77; Ys 61.2;), the term Anra Mainyu was profusely quoted as the demonic spirit responsible for the evil creation. We note this nowhere more pronounced than in Videvdat or Vendidad, (Vd. 19.1, 6, 4). In contrast with the Gathas, where Zarathushtra at no time refers to a total compartmentalization  of creation into two groups; chapter one of Videvdat  - a text written  circa 2nd century C.E..  (almost 1800 years after the time of the prophet) - enlists all the good creation as that of Ahura Mazda against the entire counter creation of Anra Mainyu.

The thinking of the Greek philosophers was also highly influenced by the profound re-mythologisation of the Gathic faith by the Magi. This has left a great paucity of the comprehension of the Gathic teaching. as Gerschewitz mentions ( Gerschewitz I., Jour. Near Eastern Stud. 1964, 23, 12) the  Greek philosophers of 4th century B.C.E..  understood zarathushtrian faith  as a religion of Oromazdes and Areimanios  the two gods, as depicted by the magian doctrines. 

This becomes evident from their writings.  For example, Plutarch addresses prophet Zarathushtra as  “zoroaster the magus”.  according to Theopompos (400 B.C.E..) the two contrasting divinities were alternatively supreme for three millennium each,  and after this time they are in deep conflict for the next three thousand years, clearly a non-gathic concept of the Younger Avestan era.  Diogenes Laertius  quotes Aristotle saying, “...magi are more ancient even then the Egyptians,  and according to them there are two first principles ....one called Zeus and Oromasdes and the other Hades and Areimanios” (M. Boyce, History of Zoroastrianism vol. ii, p 281). These expressions, have left a profound imprint of the misconceptions, of the  ethical dualism of the Gathic faith even to this day.

As we approach the Pahlavi era the contrast of the Avestan dualistic concept is even more strongly  magnified. The efforts of the ninth century theologian Mardanfarrokh i Ohrmazddadan, the author of Shikand Gumanig Vijar,  and a profoundly commited duelist brings the subject to a stage of consummation. The author  focuses on the basic premise that Ahura Mazda is all good and under no circumstances can he be responsible for the creation of evil.   If evil arises from him that would clearly make him imperfect and therefore unworthy of worship by the human.  This is extensively elaborated in ch. 11 of his treatise (SGV. Ch. 11. 13-16, 103-111).  It must be realized that Mardanfarrokh is clearly  developing  on the theme,  that had, by 9th century become one of the central tenets of the faith,  viz., the struggle between the good and the evil symbolized by  Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu.   

The author is so profoundly obsessed with  evil, that he presupposes it to be a creation of a  divinity, and that he ignores the possibility of it arising from the bad thoughts, bad words, and bad deeds through the wrong choices made by the humanity.

The Gathic concept of Twin Mainyus demands a critical evaluation of the truth embedded in the message of the prophet. Taken in context with the notion of choice, that humans have to make, in this temporal existence, it presents a tanet that defines the responsibility of humanity to the creation.

It is  under the influence of the dynamic Iranian cultures, that the Gathic concept of the “Two mainyu that came together  to create the  life and non-living” (Ys. 30.4) was all but forgotten. the notion elaborated by zarathushtra, that it is only by choosing one or the other mentality, that the humanity (as well as the divinity) will be directed to good or evil, was completely overshadowed.  The Gathic dualism coupled with Vohu Manah - the good mind, and Asha Vahishta, the absolute truth,  that presents a view of the control by, and  responsibilities of the humanity within the creation, has thus become ill-defined with time.  

Today as we stand on the threshold of 21st century, it is crucial for us to make a concerted effort  to understand what has happened in the long and rich history of our faith. What has caused the Gathic concepts such as that of the Twin Mainyus, of the divine Fire of Ahura Mazda, to undergo these profound erosion. It is absolutly essential that we bring this to the attention of our youth - the generation that will assume the responsibility of perpetuation of our faith in the next century. It is imperative that we build the bridge of knowledge that spans the gap, so that the off-spring of this generation is better equipped to handle the problems of perpetuation than the generation gone-by.

It is thus evident , that the ethical dualism of the Gathas resides in close proximity  with choice made by the humanity through the exercise of their freewill. To make the perfect choice of their own freewill, is the plane of evolution that will be synchronous with the beginning of Farshokereti (Ys 34.13) - the resurrection of absolute perfection.

[1] Presented at the Second North American Gatha Conference,   Houston, Texas, August 31-sept. 2 1996