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Zarathushtra’s Seminal Contribution to Mankind Beyond Theology[i]


















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[1]

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[2].  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 perfection.

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 philosophies.

  • Pythagoras, stimulated by Zarathushtra’s logic revised pagan Greek mythology.

  • 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 research.

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.[3]

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”.[4]

He championed 3 great innovations – the domestication of cattle; improving cereals by mutation and hybridization (ages before genetic engineering); and the beginning of irrigation.[5]  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 Darius.

Zarathushtra Turns Swords into Plowshares[6]

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 engineers!

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 Asha.

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 to humans.

  • 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 perfection.

[1] Keki R. Bhote: “The Quintessential Principles of Zoroastrianism”, Parliament of World Religions, Chicago, IL. Sept. 1993

[2] Claudia Walis: “The Evolution Wars”, Time Magazine, August 15, 2004

[3] Mary Settergest: “Plato Prehistorian”, Linois Farne Press, Hudson, New York, 1990

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] Mary Boyce: “Zoroastrians – Their Religions Beliefs and Practices”, Rutledge and Kegan Paul; London

[i] 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.