Zarathushtra’s theology, as the mother of all monotheistic religions is
well known. This article seeks to shed light on the genius of his
little-known secular achievements.
Zarathushtra’s Pristine Theology: A Capsule Summary
God as architect of the universe
His Law of Asha governing order in the physical world and ethics in
the spiritual world.
Man’s freedom to follow the ethical path or choose evil
The consequence of the ethical path is happiness. Following the
evil path brings suffering
Gods’ gift of the Good Mind, heart and conscience to guide man along
the ethical path
Man’s active duty to fight the ills of society
Man at center stage in moving mother earth to perfection
We now move to Zarathushtra’s outstanding secular contributions.
Creation vs. Evolution: Zarathushtra’s Unification
There is a raging debate between creationists, led by Christian
fundamentalists and evolutionists about the start of life.
The creationists start with Adam and Eve (or with “Intelligent Design”
as a code word for God). The evolutionists say that the universe
started with “the big bang” followed by the formation of stars and
planets: molecules, DNA, biological organisms; neurological complexities
and eventually to marine life, vegetation, animals; and finally man.
Zarathushtra brilliantly ties creation and evolution together in his Law
of Asha. Even evolution must have a creation, which he calls God. The
law of Asha, while favoring order allows random order, even disorders to
exist – in short, evolution, both in the physical and spiritual worlds.
The miracle is that despite the many opportunities for disorder (e.g.
earthquakes, wars), our world is evolving more orderly to God’s goal of
Zarathushtra’s Impact on the Greek Philosophers
Westerners assume that philosophy started with the Greeks. The leading
Greek philosophers, however, were deeply moved by Zarathushtra’s
Pythagoras, stimulated by Zarathushtra’s logic revised pagan Greek
Socrates, moved by Zarathushtra’s ethics, reformed the failing Greek
material world with spiritual and cultural values.
Plato was fascinated by Zarathushtra’s precepts of God and creation,
the Law of Asha: man endowed with reason, and the worlds slow but
sure march to perfection.
Zarathushtra – the Eternal Poet
The Gathas are the quintessence of Zarathushtra’s theology, but they
also represent poetry at its finest; and sung as hymns they have a
hypnotic effect of deep religiosity, as it undoubtedly captivated
Zarathushtra’s own audiences.
Further, poetry is easy to memorize, yet difficult to alter, so, as
poetry, the Gathas were an ancient tape recorder, passed on from
generation to generation without tampering. Without the poetic format,
Zarathushtra’s own words and the sublimity of his message would have
been lost for eternity.
Zarathushtra’s Innovations in the Secular World
The enormity of Zarathushtra’s many “firsts” in secular matters, can
best be appreciated when we realize that he lived at the very dawn of
history – around 1700 B.C. according to Zoroastrian scholars or even
further back around 5500 B.C., based on the latest archeological
With the tools of the modern archeologist – satellite photography,
atomic clocks, DNA sampling etc., all more accurate than the old
carbon 14 dating – Historical milestones of the Neolithic period
have been moved back in time by 3000 to 4000 years, placing
Zarathushtra around 5500 B.C.
Zarathushtra – Champion of Agriculture
Of the 3 major revolutions of history – The agricultural revolution of
Zarathushtra’s age, the 19th century industrial revolution
and the late 20th century digital revolution, the first was
more fundamental and profound than the other two. It moved entire
societies from the nomadic/hunter age to the agricultural age.
While Zarathushtra did not invent agriculture, he was a leader in its
institutionalization. In the schism between the nomadic Aryans who
wanted a nomadic life (and eventually wandered off to India) and the
Aryans who opted for a settled agricultural life, Zarathushtra
championed the farmer. He says:
“the earth is most joyous when the faithful sow the most grain, water
the soil that is most dry or drain the ground that is most wet”.
He championed 3 great innovations – the domestication of cattle;
improving cereals by mutation and hybridization (ages before genetic
engineering); and the beginning of irrigation.
On this last point, he paved the way for Iran’s world-famous underground
canals to carry water from the snows of mountains to parched fields,
without evaporation, hundreds of miles away – the great feat of emperor
Zarathushtra Turns Swords into Plowshares
Zarathushtra’s people had been oppressed and cowed by rapacious warriors
and domineering priests. The patron saint of the warriors had been
Mithra, the Aryan
God of war. Zarathushtra not only undefiled Mithra, but also eliminated
him completely in his Gathas. Instead he weaned the warrior away from
senseless fighting on to useful help for the farmer.
Similarly, priests who had enjoyed the highest status in the old Aryan
caste system, had been exploiting the poor. Zarathushtra put the tiller
of the soil at the center of his religious system, ahead of both warrior
and priests; he opposed the meaningless rituals of the priests and
animal sacrifices. He lamented the mindless destruction of mother
earth, symbolized by the innocent cow. He urged the clergy to pay less
attention to temples and cleanse their souls by becoming rural social
Zarathushtra – The Economist
By championing agronomy Zarathushtra transformed the economic
landscape. In the nomadic hunter age, people spent all their waking
hours scrounging for food. In the new settled life they had more time
for leisure. Arts and crafts flourished. Garments went from animal
skins to woven cloth. Pottery – that metric of archeological dating –
advanced to high furnace temperature glazes of excellent quality.
By dint of his personality, officials were persuaded to lower crushing
taxes on the people. Prosperity became the new crop!
Zarathushtra – The Man of Science and Medicine
Zarathushtra freed the mind from dogma and superstition with God’s gift
of “Vohu Manah” – Good Mind. Zarathushtra stressed that the answers to
life’s mysteries lay not in others’ opinions but in each person’s
scientific independent inquiry.
The study of astronomy started with the prototype Aryans during the long
winter nights in the Arctic Circle before the ice age. Zarathushtra
channeled these studies so that the later Magi priests acquired world
fame in astronomy. The Zoroastrian era spawned a whole body of
knowledge in health and medicine. In those ancient days, the science of
herbs cured a whole range of illnesses – from arthritis to
cardiovascular diseases. Today, doctors roam the under developed world
to search for herbal remedies! Unfortunately, Greek armies and Arab
fanaticism destroyed whole volumes of Zoroastrian medical literature.
Zarathushtra – The Champion of Women’s Rights and Human Rights
Zarathushtra taught that women should have equal rights with men – at
home, in commerce, in temples and for inheritance. No other religion
has elevated the fair sex to this level of parity.
His crusade extended to the larger issue of all human rights and justice
– individual rights over state rights; the rights of the agriculturists
over the warrior or priest; and of the oppressed over the tyrant. His
was not the later Hammurabi Law code of 1750 B.C. but the higher law of
The Master Eco-Theologist
Of all of Zarathushtra’s many-splendored contributions, none sparkled as
much, or endures for eternity, as his eco-theology – the interdependence
and unity of all the elements of mother earth – plant, mineral, animal,
human – and its march to perfection.
In today’s world, still chocking with air pollution and contaminated
water, Zarathushtra was the original environmentalist long before
the Kyoto treaty! He preached that it was man’s duty to preserve
air and water purity as God had designed.
In today’s world recklessly wasting the earth’s mineral resources
Zarathushtra was the earliest conservationalist. Even in that early
Bronze Age, he decried the over-mining of metals like copper and not
allowing land to lie fallow to replenish its nutrients.
In today’s world where there is still mindless cutting down of trees
and disappearance of wooded lands and thousands of species of plant
life, Zarathushtra was the premier botanist. He bemoaned the
massive cutting down of trees that turned forests into deserts. He
introduced and sanctified the use of fruits, flowers, grain and
plants through religious ceremonies rich with their symbolic value
In a world where there was wanton cruelty to animals and their
slaughter in ridiculous religious sacrifices, Zarathushtra was the
first animal rightist, evoking, in his Gathas, the tableau of a
weeping earth witnessing such callous slaughter.
Zarathushtra charged that man alone with the gift of Vohu Manah, was the
shepherd of God’s flock. This was Ahura Mazda’s grand design to move
our world, however troubled it may be, slowly but surely toward
This article was posted on vohuman.org on June 29, 2006. A
similar version appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of HAMAZOR,
the journal of World Zoroastrian Organization.