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Zoroastrian perception of ascetic culture.

Asceticism and Worldly View of Life

Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, it is held, retain elements that derive from their ancient common Indo-Aryan roots.(1) Both are said to have inherited from the Aryan legacy a number of myths, rituals and beliefs. Equivalents between the Iranian and Indian religious concepts and social customs are to be found in the Avesta (Zoroastrian sacred writings) and in the Veda (Hindu sacred writings).

Several important Iranian divinities, such as Indra, Mithra, Yima, and Vivahvant, correspond with Indian deities, Indra, Mitra, Yama and Vavasvant. Again, Iranian concepts such as asha (truth, justice, order), khshatra (kingdom), aramaiti (humility, devotion), ameretat (immortality) and haurvatat (physical wholeness), are similar to Indian views, rta, kshatra, aramati, amrta and sarvatat. Affinities exist also between Iranian ritualistic observances of atar (fire) and haoma (libation) and Indian agni and soma.

Despite these common roots however, the religious ideals and virtues in Zoroastrianism have evolved quite differently from Hinduism. And this is perhaps best characterized in their respective attitudes to renunciation and worldly engagement. The religious ideal of the ascetic typical of many Hindus (and Jains) has essentially no counterpart in Zoroastrian teaching.(2) In fact, as Zaehner has stated, "Zoroastrianism abhors asceticism, and the ascetic virtues so highly prized in India find no place in it".(3)

The reason for the sharp opposition to the practice of renunciation in Zoroastrianism derives primarily from its basic ideals and concepts of virtue. The Zoroastrian religion is in principle a religion of action, energy, growth, increase, prosperity, spiritual and moral progress, and enjoyment of the good things of life. Worldly engagement is considered a valuable asset. Ascetics, hermits, mendicants, mystics, monks, and recluses, are totally unacceptable. The aim of each individual is to make oneself and others happy, to attain a state of high moral and ethical standards, and to help the world in its progress towards perfection. The key to achieve this aim is explained in three expressive words: humata, hakhta, and huvarshta, meaning good thoughts, good words, and good acts.

By "good thoughts", Zoroastrians are to concentrate their mind in contemplation of the divine being, to generate feelings of love towards others, and live in peace and harmony with all human beings. By "good words", they are to honour their commitment, to observe honesty and integrity in all their dealings, and prevent hurting the feelings of other human beings. By "good acts", they are to relieve the poor, deserving and underserving, to protect those who are in danger, to contribute generously to charitable causes, to enhance the prosperity and welfare of their community in particular, and of all humanity in general, and to encourage matrimony. And the guiding principle behind all words, thoughts, and actions is asa (Sanskrit rta), meaning truth, righteousness, and justice.

The growth in virtue of an individual is seen as part of the growth of the whole community. Marriage is specifically recommended as a great factor for leading a virtuous life, in addition to the moral, mental and physical comforts. To increase and multiply is a basic guiding principle in Zoroastrianism. In fact, the fundamental purpose of creation in Zoroastrianism is to eliminate the principle of evil, destruction, and negation, and this "can only be done by increase and yet more increase, creatures multiplying everywhere, with man as chieftain, king, and guide, until the whole creation, working in total harmony and concord, finally deals the death-blow to the principle of disunion which had existed from the beginning".(4) Thus, a virtuous or devout Zoroastrian is one who is happy, healthy, content, and prosperous. Consider the following admonition:

That man is good who is consistently good, who enjoys bodily health, is master of his own body, does not fret about his daily bread, is at peace with his household, and who increases his talents and the good things that are his. That man is consistently good who always enjoys himself. The man who enjoys bodily health enjoys health of soul. The man who does not fret about his daily bread is he who is content with whatever comes his way. The man who is at peace with his household is he who well maintains the fires, water, cattle, and men over whom he exercises authority. The man who increases his talents and the good things that are his, is he who does his own job.(5)

Peace, happiness, pleasure, enjoyment, matrimony, generosity, material prosperity, and spiritual progress are all equated with righteousness and virtue.

All this, no doubt, sounds very materialistic. But the guiding principle in Zoroastrianism for extolling the good things of this world is wisdom. The source of wisdom is God himself who imparts it upon his creatures so that they may be able to discern between good and evil, right and wrong. This is plainly stated in a passage in the Denkard:

Wisdom in the wise man shows in his perfect control over his own will, his training of his character, his ever-increasing cultivation of virtues, his good deeds, righteousness, and good repute among men. The source of wisdom is the Creator who is essential wisdom, and it is he who bestows it upon his creatures who themselves receive it through their own faculties.(6)

Through wisdom one realizes that this world is transient and that life on earth is simply a necessary preparation for the spiritual life in heaven. The following warning against placing undue reliance on this transient world is explicit:

You should not attach any value to the world, nor should you account it as anything, yet you should not abandon it. You should not attach any value to it because whatever is fated is bound to happen; and you should not account it as anything because it is transient and you will have to leave it; and you should not abandon it because spirit can only be won through the material world.(7)

Thus, all self-fulfilment and earthly engagement must be measured against the life of the spirit in heaven. In no way should preoccupation with this material world be allowed to interfere with one's spiritual progress. But by the same token, in no case should the abandonment of the world be entertained as a spiritual virtue. Unlike most other religions, individual self-denial, self-sacrifice, and self-injury in any form whatsoever are all regarded in Zoroastrianism as a blasphemy against life and an affront against God. On the contrary, an individual's self-fulfilment is seen as part of the universal self-fulfilment.

Now self-fulfilment is intimately linked with self-love. So to love God means to love one's self, one's life partner, one's children, one's relatives, one's friends and the entire human race. To develop this innate, God-given impulse of love means to grow in moral stature. And this can best be manifested through action, involvement and engagement with human beings all over the world. "Any withdrawal from the world is, then, a betrayal of God".(8) This means that at no time should a Zoroastrian see himself or herself as an individual in pursuit of a personal objective, but as a part of the whole human race in striving to conquer evil and establish the kingdom of God on earth. Thus, active involvement - not passive righteousness - is the main objective of a Zoroastrian.(9)

Purity-Impurity Laws

The duty to engage strenuously in the battle of good against evil is a daily endeavour that has been instilled in a Zoroastrian from childhood. And closely linked with this spiritual and moral duty is the strict observance of the paired concept of purity and impurity, symbolizing good and evil respectively.(10) In other words, ritual practices and symbolic gestures sustain the Zoroastrian doctrine of cosmic dualism. And there is no better evidence for this than the purificatory observances. They provide the best means whereby each Zoroastrian becomes the central protagonist in the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil in the material world. Any violation of purity rites is considered an act of impurity, which furthers the cause of evil. This means that Zoroastrian acts of purification serve as a means to ensure both on a personal and communal level the triumph of good over evil. In no way do these acts provide an expiation from sin - a notion central to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Zoroastrian purification ceremonies, therefore, assist in vanquishing evil.

Zoroastrian purificatory rituals are usually grouped into three categories. The most important category is the Bareshnum (or Barashnum i no shab), which ought to be undertaken by every devotee at least once in a lifetime. The next category comprises three rituals observed on special occasions: Padyab, Nahn, and Riman. The final category includes various acts to ensure a continuous state of personal and communal virtue and purity.

The Bareshnum is considered the highest form of purification and is restricted almost always nowadays either to priesthood candidates or to priests who desire to qualify themselves for the performance of certain religious ceremonies.(11) Irani Zoroastrians occasionally perform the ritual on children and adults who either suffer from impurities of birth, or have been polluted through contact with carrion.(12) The Ilm i Khshnum (an Indian Zoroastrian occult movement) permit laypersons as well as priests to undergo this purification ritual.(13)

All other three rituals, the Padyab, Nahn, and Riman, are less rigorous than the Bareshnum and are therefore undertaken more frequently by most Zoroastrians. These rituals are performed regularly at set times, or on specific occasions during one's life. Their observance ensures and maintains personal and communal purity of body, mind, and soul.

Thus, all Zoroastrian purificatory acts, including the consecration and use of sacred elements and utensils, are ultimately directed to combat cosmic evil. This symbolic value has played a significant role in the survival of the Zoroastrian faith throughout the centuries. But it is also equally important to realize that purity practices, even in their simplified versions, have served, and still do, as a means of expressing symbolically the essential Zoroastrian doctrine of eschatology. Every Zoroastrian devotee yearns for the final salvation of the universe and the immortality of human beings. By performing these purificatory rituals every devotee is reminded that evil, pain, suffering, and death can be counteracted and transcended until the final day of victory when perfection and immortality shall reign forever.

Fire, the great purifier, is considered as the truest symbol of purity. No Zoroastrian ritual or religious ceremony is complete without the presence of the holy fire.(14) The flame is considered to be the visible sign of Ahura Mazda's presence, the symbol of his truth (asa). According to tradition, fire was used by Ahura Mazda in the creation of cattle and human beings,(15) and fire will be used again by him when he brings about the final renovation of the universe.(16) Thus, fire is highly venerated and used as an object of worship among Zoroastrians.

The presence and veneration of fire in all Zoroastrian homes is considered to be a symbolic action in the struggle against spiritual demons, death, and impurity. This symbolic association is attested in the Avesta, where fire is considered as the "divine purifier" who "takes away impurity" and "grants health and prosperity".(17) Similarly, the glory believed to reside in the enthroned fires within the Zoroastrian fire temples is thought to wage war against all spiritual demons and material impurities.(18) Thus, all sacred fires, whether for temple or domestic use, should be kept constantly burning. To extinguish the fire is believed to be a grave sin. Furthermore, fire (like water) is considered to be extremely vulnerable to pollution. Consequently, placing or dropping objects in it, other than those that are considered ritually pure, is believed to contribute to impurity. While it is a very important symbol in their worship, it is not worshipped as a deity.

Path to Salvation

Zoroastrians, as noted above, attach a special importance to the emphasis of the life-affirming and active dimensions of their faith. Indeed, to actively support the powers of good is to Zoroastrians the way of salvation. The ideas of fatalism, of original sin, of resignation or renunciation of earthly happiness, of asceticism, of mysticism, of contemplation, of being absorbed in God or Nirvana, and of rebirth or metempsychosis, are all foreign to Zoroastrian teachings. In fact, the opposite is precisely maintained. No other religion expresses as clearly as Zoroastrianism the affirmation of life, the upholding of the Good Principle, and the appeal to be active in shaping the world.

Naturally, the world is far from being perfect or complete; it is rather a battlefield for the confrontation between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman. Devout Zoroastrians are urged therefore to join this cosmic fight by their own free will (vasah) in order to support the Good Principle and to help the good to its final triumph. Renunciation, asceticism, and all other means that reject life are considered a betrayal of the good powers. Supporting the Good Principle means to fight against vice, lies, immorality, idleness, misfortune, illness, vermin, pests, and all other evil powers that threaten and impair life.

Ahura Mazda (or Ohrmazd) - the name of the supreme god of the Zoroastrian faith - is self-created, omniscient, omnipresent, holy, invisible, and beyond human conceptualization.(19) He is neither begotten, nor is there anyone who is his equal. He is, as his name implies, the Wise Lord, the Most Knowing One, and the Most Far-Seeing One.(20) In fact, in a passage recorded in the Avesta, Ahura Mazda says of himself: "My sixth name is Understanding; my seventh is Intelligent One; my eighth name is Knowledge; my ninth is Endowed With Knowledge; my twentieth is Mazda (Wisdom). I am the Wise One; my name is the Wisest of the Wise"?

This infinite wisdom, or omniscience, is absolute, so that he knows everything before it happens.(22) And, as such, he is all-pervading, so that there is no conceivable place where he is not. He is also changeless, first and foremost, the most perfect being, the greatest, the most powerful, the one who was, is, and will be forever.(23)

Ahura Mazda is the creator of the universe, the author of the celestial and terrestrial worlds.(24) He has brought forth rivers, trees, forests, wind, clouds, sun, moon, stars, and the seasons.(25) He guards heaven and earth from falling, and everything follows the sequence he has ordained from the beginning. He created the human body, and endowed it with life, mind and conscience.(26) He is the dispenser of every material good and spiritual blessing, because it is in his nature to be beneficent to all his creation.

As the sovereign lord of all existence and as the creator and sustainer of the entire universe, he rules according to his own will? He is a friend and helper of human beings, deeply interested in their welfare.(28) Hence, the righteous praise him with one accord as their father and lord, while the entire creation sings to his glory. Even the wicked who have been led astray by Ahriman (the Adversary), will ultimately seek his grace and mercy.

Ahura Mazda is the eternal source of all blessings and benefactions. To those who turn to him in joy and sorrow, and who trust in his infinite goodness, he is all merciful. His goodness extends to the good and evil alike, for his nature can never contemplate evil of any kind.(29) He knows the infirmities of human nature caused by his adversary, and therefore forgives the transgressions of the penitent. Naturally, his justice demands that each person receive his or her just dues. Thus, as the divine law-giver and as the sovereign judge, rebels have little hope of receiving their reward of merit from Ahura Mazda. Nevertheless, the wicked are not lost forever. For the all-merciful Ahura Mazda will ultimately, at the end of time, redeem them from their sinful past.

Thus, to know Ahura Mazda is to live in accordance with his divine will; to offer to him praise, worship, and devotion; to please him in purity of thought, word, and deed; to serve him not out of fear but out of love; and to further his cause by joining his forces to combat evil. Ahura Mazda has no beginning or end. His absolute nature, particularly his character of wisdom and goodness, remain unchanged forever.

As father and creator of all good things, Ahura Mazda created the two realms: the spiritual (menog), which cannot be seen, and the material (getig), which can be seen and is liable to destruction. Of Ahura Mazda's mundane creatures, the first was the sky, the second water, the third earth, the fourth vegetation, the fifth animals, the sixth mankind, and the seventh fire.(30) The creation of Ahura Mazda's spiritual powers (sometimes thought of as archangels) consist of a group of six celestial beings called Amesha Spenta (or Amahraspand, meaning Holy Immortal, or Bountiful Immortal), who stand second in rank to Ahura Mazda, and together with Ahura Mazda at their head form a heptad - a number to which mystical potency is attributed.(31)

Ahura Mazda created them to aid him in his work.(32) Each has a specific character and an assigned sphere to act on behalf, or as agent, of Ahura Mazda.(33) This means that each Amesha Spenta fulfils a twofold function: on the spiritual side each represents, or personifies, some specific virtue; and on the physical side each presides over some material object as its guardian spirit. Accordingly, some material creation is consecrated to each Amesha Spenta.

These six Amesha Spenta surround the throne of Ahura Mazda and dwell in the unseen world. They sit upon thrones of gold in paradise,(34) and descend on paths of light to receive the special oblation offered them by pious adherents of the Zoroastrian faith during the ritual worship dedicated to them.(35)

Each Amesha Spenta fills a prominent place in the Zoroastrian faith; each has a special month assigned to his or her honour;(36) each has also a special day as a holy day; and each has a particular flower as an appropriate emblem.(37) Along with Ahura Mazda, the Amesha Spenta are to be propitiated and honoured by the faithful.(38) The existence and propitiation of the Amesha Spenta is a characteristic feature of the Zoroastrian faith which probably originated with Zoroaster himself.(39)

Next in rank to the Amesha Spenta, Zoroastrians recognize a group of minor spirits or divinities (sometimes thought of as angels) called Yazata (or Yazad, Izad, Fereshte, meaning Adorable Ones, Worshipful Beings), who carry out still further the will of Ahura Mazda. Their number is, theoretically, legion;(40) but the extant Avesta mentions some forty names.

The Yazata consist of both gender and represent abstract ideas or virtues as well as concrete objects of nature. Two distinct orders may be recognized in the Avesta: celestial or spiritual (mainyava), and terrestrial or material (gaethya), though no indication is given as to where a particular Yazata belongs.(41) Many of them are said to preside over both the spiritual sphere and the material phenomena. Often the names of the Yazata designate merely the objects of nature that they personify. Sometimes, praise and sacrifice are offered more to the concrete objects of nature than to the Yazata presiding over each object. This dual aspect of the Yazata as presented in the Avesta makes it difficult to distinguish the actual impersonation from the personified object. Some even lack a real character.

One of the major functions of the Yazata is to help and grant various blessings to those who invoke them with offerings and sacrifices.(42) They are said to gather together by the hundreds and thousands to pour upon the earth the light of the sun.(43) They protect and help individuals during war or peace, provided that these individuals propitiate them with praise, invocation, and offerings. The usual manner of propitiating the Yazata is to invoke each one separately by name, or in pair, or in the company of his or her associates. Sometimes all the Yazata are invoked collectively under the comprehensive title of "all Yazata" (vispe Yazata).(44) And, in fact, the entire book of the Visparat, literally meaning "all lords," is dedicated to numerous Yazata. In actual practice, the principal Yazata seem to be those to whom a day in the month is assigned as a holy day, or to whom a special season is consecrated as a form of ritual worship.(45)

The Fravashi (or Fravarti, Fravahar, Fraohar) are the prototype of all life, both of humans and beasts. In other words, they are the celestial originals of terrestrial duplicates - the double of every heavenly and earthly being or element. Even Ahura Mazda, the Amesha Spenta, and the Yazata, all have their personal Fravashi.(46) But so do also every individual, sky, earth, water, plant, animal, and all objects created by Ahura Mazda.(47) Thus, every entity or element, from the highest divine being to the tiniest object on earth is endowed with a Fravashi. Each individual possesses a Fravashi from the moment of birth right through till death. This Fravashi is the higher double of the individual, and acts as a divine voice, a guardian spirit, and a true guiding friend. It remains unaffected and untouched (i.e., pure and sinless) by an individual's thoughts, words, or actions. Throughout the individual's span of life, it warns, admonishes, protects, applauds, criticizes, counsels, and threatens, according to the situation at hand. Nonetheless, the individual alone is responsible for the good or evil done in this world, with its concomitant reward or punishment in the next world. At death, the Fravashi of the individual returns to the celestial realm to live as an individualized Fravashi of that person.

In contrast to all these divine forces created by Ahura Mazda to represent the principles of goodness are the forces created by Ahriman to represent the principles of evil. Evil, in the Zoroastrian faith, is considered to have as independent and complete an existence as good. Both exist entirely separate from each other and are primeval. Neither good originates from evil, nor evil from good. The fundamental purpose of all human beings is to maintain the well-being of the created order of Ahura Mazda. He is absolutely good and, therefore, cannot be considered the creator of any kind of evil, natural or moral. All the evil in the world is the creative work of Ahriman.

Ahriman, then, is considered to be the inveterate foe of the supreme God, Ahura Mazda, and the origin of all suffering, affliction, bodily deformities, evil, and death.(48) His place was originally in the pit of endless darkness.(49) But in the beginning of Ahura Mazda's creation he rushed upon the entire world to bring harm and destruction.(50) For every one of Ahura Mazda's benevolent spiritual powers, Ahriman conjured up an opposing malevolent creature of equivalent rank and power as aides to counter-balance every good creation of Ahura Mazda with an evil one of his own. Thus, the phenomenal world consists of a pair of conflicting opposites: light/dark, truth/falsehood, health/sickness, rain/drought, pure/impure, good creatures/noxious creatures, life/death, heaven/hell.

Because Ahriman is not omniscient, he cannot foresee his own final defeat.(51) And since he is an after-thinker, he knows nothing of events to come. He is stupid, ill-informed, totally ignorant, and blind.(52) He was not even aware of the existence of Ahura Mazda until he arose from his eternal place in the abyss.

As coexisting with Ahura Mazda and equally uncreated (though this doctrine is not fully developed in the Zoroastrian scriptures), Ahriman prompts all human beings to perform evil deeds and instigates discord, violence, and licentiousness.(53) He deceives human beings and obstructs them from heating and accepting the message of Ahura Mazda.(54) He is a father of lies, a murderer from the beginning and the source of death.(55) He is an oppressor of mankind's happiness as well as the inveterate enemy of Ahura Mazda.(56) He rules over a large host of evil spirits that will all be worsted eventually in a decisive combat.

One of many of Ahriman's malicious acts is to infest the earth with noxious creatures, such as snakes, scorpions, lizards, frogs, and many others.(57) Hence, killing these noxious creatures are considered by Zoroastrians a meritorious deed. Again, Ahriman introduced evil into vegetation by producing weeds, thorns, poison ivy, and many other harmful elements of nature.(58) But little does he realize that his evil existence will cease at the hands of Ahura Mazda when the end of his allotted time arrives.(59)

Just as there are six Amesha Spenta, so there are six archdemons (seven, if Ahriman is included) who fight constantly with the six Holy Immortals.(60) Ahriman produced each of these six archdemons in exact opposition to Amesha Spenta for their diabolical work in disrupting the entire plan of Ahura Mazda.(61) Their strongest weapon against humanity is deceit or falsehood. Those who associate with these demons in this world deserve to have demons for their companion in the next. Little do these archdemons know, however, that they will be routed in the end by their counterparts, and totally perish at the final conflagration.(62)

Opposing the Yazata are the demons (daeva) or evil spirits, whose number are legion, though the Avesta mentions only about forty-five by name.(63) These hordes of evil spirits are poorly depicted in the Zoroastrian scriptures. In many cases their traits appear blurred, though on the whole they seem to be diabolic, of fiendish character, and the embodiment of all that is evil.(64) They are of both gender and their motive is to assault, to create trouble, to plot against, to bewitch, to seduce, to destroy, and to kill all human beings while they are in this world; and to torment the souls of the wicked after death.

All demons are instigators of some evil. Consequently, they should be abjured and relentlessly put down.(65) When the righteous shall triumph at last, when humanity shall reach perfection at the final restoration of the world, then all the demons, including the archdemons and Ahriman, will sink to their original pit of darkness and perish forever.(66)

The Zoroastrian concept of dualism, as noted above, is not the metaphysical dualism of spirit and matter as the Pythagorean and Orphic religions taught and Plato and other philosophers believed. It is the dualism of two opposing personified forces in the universe, a good God and an evil Adversary. This type of thinking may be described as cosmic dualism, since the entire cosmos, heaven, earth, and the underworld, along with their inhabitants, are all involved in the opposition between the powers of good and evil, or Ahura Mazda and Ahriman respectively.

Ahura Mazda personifies the principle and source of all good: success, glory, honour, physical health, and immortality. Ahriman embodies the principle and source of all evil: misfortune, disaster, war, sickness, and death. Ahura Mazda created heaven, earth, and mankind. Moreover, he represents light, truth, justice, and life. Ahriman is the originator and initiator of all evil. He represents darkness, falsehood, injustice, and the absence of life.(67)

The struggle of Ahura Mazda and Ahriman in Zoroastrian teaching extends over the entire seen and unseen worlds. This world is a great battle-field in which the beneficent powers of Ahura Mazda ceaselessly contend with the baleful forces of Ahriman. Light struggles with darkness, the vivifying waters with drought and barrenness, warmth with icy conditions, useful animals with beasts of prey, industrious peasants and herdsmen with marauding nomads, civilized people with barbarians, and the destructive forces both in nature and in society are not guided by some chance or blind laws, but by the warring of benevolent and malevolent powers.

To Zoroastrians, therefore, the universe is an eternal battleground between a pair of coexistent, divine and opposing principles. In every sphere and in every situation which demands a decision between two opposites, human beings have to make a choice between these two principles. The eventual triumph of Ahura Mazda indicates that the principle of good is more beneficent and more powerful than the principle of evil.

Thus, Zoroastrian teaching depicts Ahura Mazda and Ahriman as two adversaries having contrary and incompatible natures: good versus evil. They seem to have existed in this state from the beginning, since the question of their origin is not raised.(68) What is emphatically stated, however, is that good is good and evil is evil, and it is impossible for the one to proceed from the other. To deny the existence of a separate principle of evil is unthinkable in Zoroastrian belief, because it is tantamount to imputing evil to Ahura Mazda.

If Ahura Mazda is good then he cannot produce evil; if he is perfect then nothing can be added to him. All the evil and injury in this universe is caused by Ahriman. How can one conceive of Ahura Mazda as an omnipotent and wholly perfect god if Ahriman is responsible for evil and can invade and hold sway over the creation of Ahura Mazda? The answer lies in the limitation of the power of Ahriman and the triumph of Ahura Mazda in the end. Ahriman is never equal to Ahura Mazda. He is handicapped by possessing "backward knowledge" as it were. He cannot foresee what Ahura Mazda invents; all he can do is to set up an opposed power, a means of attack. Hence, Ahriman is limited in power, knowledge, and time, and ultimately doomed to defeat.

The implication of this cosmic dualism is that human beings, according to Zoroastrian teaching, are not merely passive spectators of the war between Ahura Mazda's and Ahriman's host of allies, on whose issues their fortune and existence depend. Every individual is by her and his own choice engaged in this cosmic warfare contending for the defeat of Ahriman and the ultimate triumph of Ahura Mazda. The whole conflict is therefore a war of moral choices: right or wrong, truth or falsehood, justice or injustice. In one sense, then, human life is regarded as a war or self-defence against evil spirits. Those persons who pray to Ahura Mazda daily and live a pious life; who are humble, patient, truth speakers, and pure of heart; who possess good virtues and characteristics; and who avoid wrath, greediness, jealousy, enmity, lying, stealing, laziness, and asceticism, establish the proper relationship with the spiritual powers and maintain the purity and well-being of the created order of Ahura Mazda. Asceticism, renunciation, celibacy, and fasting have no place in Zoroastrian teaching.

This means that the whole human drama, indeed, the ultimate purpose of existence is reduced to just one element: choice. Every person is genuinely free to pursue either of two paths: good and evil. One's choice here and now determines one's eternal destiny.

This freedom to choose between good and evil and the inevitable consequences of such a choice evolve from a moral triad: purity of thoughts (humata), words (hukhta) and deeds (huvarashta), or impurity of thoughts (dushmata) words (duzukhta), and deeds (duzvarshta). This triad is, in turn, an inseparable component of three elements which constitute the greatest gifts of Ahura Mazda to mankind: body, soul, and mind. The most precious of these three is the mind - the faculty that distinguishes right from wrong, pure from impure, truth from falsehood, good from evil. Consequently, there is no recourse to atonement or intercession and no provision for them. Eternal salvation rests on the efficacy of one's own good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.

The practical nature of Zoroastrian teaching is quite obvious. Human salvation is constituted on the full realization of life, not the negation of it. The duty of each individual is to side with the good so that the evil will be ultimately vanquished and the good will triumph to reign supreme.

The sum and substance of this moral triad determines also the fate of every individual after death. At death, the soul of an individual stays with the body for three days.(69) On the fourth day, the soul journeys to the place of judgment by crossing the "Chinvat Bridge" (possibly a ford over an underground river, guarded by supernatural dogs), which spans the abyss of hell and leads to paradise on the other side.(70) If in the balance the records of that soul's life on earth is represented by a weighty accumulation of good thoughts, words, and deed, then the soul meets its own conscience in the shape of a "fair maiden" and crosses without difficulty to paradise. But if the reverse is the case, then the passage over the Chinvat Bridge becomes an entirely different experience for the soul. The bridge turns on its side presenting a knife-edge footing like the edge of a sword, and the soul perceives its own conscience in the shape of an "ugly hag" and plunges into the abyss of hell.(71)

While paradise is a place of beauty, light, pleasant scents, and bliss to be enjoyed by those who adhere in life to the Zoroastrian moral and ceremonial teachings,(72) hell is a place of horror, misery, darkness, evil smells and suffering for those who violate in life the same Zoroastrian teachings.(73) If the good and evil deeds done in life exactly balance, then the soul remains in an intermediate place called hamestagan (or hamestagna, hamestakan) until the day of resurrection and final judgment. Here the soul suffers no torment except the seasonal temperature of heat and cold.(74) This "limbo" state is conceived to be located in the region between heaven and earth, and the place is of considerable discomfort but without intense torture.

The bliss of souls in heaven and the torment of those in hell are not regarded as a final state. When the appointed time arrives, three saviours will appear, at an interval of a millennium each, to herald the Messianic Age.(75) These three saviours will bring to completion and perfection the work of reclaiming humanity from evil and will regenerate the universe. When the appointed time arrives, all the dead, righteous and wicked alike, will arise on the spot where they died.(76) Thus, earth and sea will surrender their dead and all will be gathered before the judgment seat.(77) The souls of both the righteous and the wicked will be reunited with their bodies - the bones being demanded back from the earth, the blood from water, the hair from plants, and the life from fire - so that they are reconstituted once again in their original materials.(78) Then, these reconstituted individuals will assemble in one place and know of each other's deeds performed on earth.(79) Next, the righteous and the wicked will be separated from each other and sent in their reconstituted form to heaven or hell for three days. The wicked will be cast into the depths of hell where frightful punishments, torture, filth and darkness will be their share. The righteous, on the other hand, will enter heaven and enjoy every imaginable bliss in the realm of endless light. And all those in whom good and evil do not outweigh each other but balance will remain in the intermediary place called hamestagan.

Three days later, both the righteous and the wicked will be purified by walking through a molten metal.(80) Now, all will speak in one tongue and proclaim their praise to Ahura Mazda and his entities. Then an ambrosia of immortality will be given to all. The result will be the ultimate triumph of Ahura Mazda. Then there will come the great conflagration in which the world will burn in a fantastic holocaust. Ahriman and all his followers, including the pit of hell and its inhabitants, will be burned and annihilated. Everything will be totally destroyed and a new universe will come into being. Finally, there will follow an eternity of bliss, and the will of Ahura Mazda shall prevail supreme.

Thus the whole fabric of the ascetic and unworldly view of life is in direct antagonism to the active and wordly spirit of Zoroastrianism. And there is no better way to conclude this discussion than to quote at length the pertinent words of R.C. Zaehner:

... Zoroastrianism sees man as God's protagonist in this world in the battle against the Lie. Any withdrawal from the world is, then, a betrayal of God; for man was created for the work he has to do, not vice versa. His allotted task, his khwarr, pre-exists him, and he must do it to the best of his ability. He must both cultivate the moral virtues of which truth and generosity rank highest and promote material prosperity as well. He is here to fight the Lie both on a spiritual and a material level, but fight he must. Only so can he draw near to God, who is himself the Spirit of Increase. He has the duty to develop his moral character, but he also has the duty to be happy; for by being happy he resembles God, misery being characteristic of demons Further, he must see himself not merely as an individual, but as a part of humanity as a whole, part of God's army striving to vanquish evil; he must see himself as part of an irresistible movement which is destined to rout out the last vestige of evil and to grow into the plenitude of life.(81)


1 See Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastriansim, vol. 1 (Leiden/Koln: E.J. Brill, 1975), pp. 3-177; R. Frye, The Heritage of Persia (Toronto: Mentor Books, 1966), pp. 37-48; G. Dumezil, Les dieux des indo-europeens (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1952).

2 There have been a few exceptions among Parsees in India, particularly during the seventeenth century. For a brief description of such movements and their literature, see M.N. Dhalla, Zoroastrian Theology From The Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York: AMS Press, 1972; orig. 1914;), pp. 311-318.

3 R.C. Zaehner, The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1961), p. 276.

4 Ibid., p. 275.

5 DkM 267 (DkM = D.M. Madan, ed., The Denkard, Bombay, 1911).

6 DkM 318.19ff.

7 DkM 547.21ff.

8 Ibid., p. 283.

9 On this matter, see Farhang Mehr, The Zoroastrian Tradition (Rockport, MA.: Element, 1991), pp. 56-70.

10 For a recent study on purity-impurity, see J.K. Choksy, Purity and Pollution in Zoroastrianism: Triumph over Evil (Texas: University of Texas Press, 1989).

11 Videvdat 8; 9; 19; Persian Rivayats 593; 595-596.

12 See M. Boyce, A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 112.

13 Choksy, Purity and Pollution, p. 42.

14 M. Boyce, "On The Sacred Fires of Zoroastrianism", BSOAS 31/1 (1968): 52-68.

15 Bundahishn 1.3.

16 Zadspram 34.50.

17 Yasna 25.7; 36.1; Ataxsh Niyayishn 1.1.

18 Zadspram 3.82-83.

19 Yasna 4.7; 29.4; 31.13; 45.5; Yasht 1.7, 8, 12, 13-14; Videvdat 2.1; 19.20. The following section is condensed from S. Nigosian, The Zoroastrian Faith, pp. 72-97.

20 Yasna 29.6; 33.13; 45.3; 46.19; 48.2-3.

21 Yasht 1.7, 8, 15.

22 Yasna 43.6; 45.4.

23 Yasna 1.1; 28.8; 31.7; 43.4; 45.10.

24 Yasna 31.7; 50.11.

25 Yasna 44.3-5; 51-7.

26 Yasna 31.11.

27 Yasna 28.7; 29.6; 45.3; 48.2-3.

28 Yasna 28.11; 31.21; 43.1-3; 46.2.

29 Menog i Xrad 8.22; 38.4; Zadspram 1.17; Dadastan i Dinig 37.127.

30 Yasna 19.2, 4.

31 Yasna 27.15; 37.4; 35; Yasht 1.1-3; 2.13; 13.83; 19.16, 24-25.

32 Yasht 1.25; 2.1-3; 19.18.

33 Yasht 19.18-19; 28.7; 58.5.

34 Vendidad 19.32.

35 Yasht 3.1; 13.84; 19.17.

36 Bundahishn 25.20;

37 Bundahishn 27.24.

38 Yasht 19.14-20; Visparad 19.1-2; Shayest ne-Shayest 15.4-31.

39 Yasna 30.9; 31.4.

40 Yasht 6.1; Visparad 8.1.

41 Yasna 1.19; 3.4; 7.4; 16.9; 22.27; 25.8; 71.5; Yasht 6.4; 19.22.

42 Yasna 65.12, 14.

43 Yasht 6.1.

44 Yasna 1.19; 2.18; Yasht 11.17; 17.19.

45 Yasna 16.3-16.

46 Yasna 23.2; Yasht 13.80, 82, 85.

47 Yasht 13.74, 76.

48 Yasna 29.1; 30.4, 6; 31.3; Videvdat 2.29, 37; 20.3; 22.2.

49 Bundahishn 1.39; Zadspram 1.17; Dadastan i Dinig 37.28.

50 Bundahishn 3.11, 14; 6.1; Zadspram 2.3.

51 Bundahishn 1.16.

52 Bundahishn 1.19.

53 Bundahishn 3.17; Dadastan i Dinig 37.8; Menog i Xrad 45.8.

54 Bundahishn 1.8, 10; 28.1-6.

55 Bundahishn 3.17; Dadastan i Dinig 37.46, 72, 81-82.

56 Bundahishn 3.15, 24; Zadspram 4.3, 10.

57 Bundahishn 3.15; Zadspram 2.9.

58 Bundahishn 3.16, 24; 27.1; Zadspram 2.11.

59 Bundahishn 1.3.

60 Bundahishn 1.24, 27; 30.29; Videvdat 10.9; 19.43, 49.

61 Dadastan i Dinig 37.59.

62 Bundahishn 30.29.

63 Yasna 27.1; 57.17; Yasht 9.4; 19.18; Bundahishn 28.12, 14-46; Vendidad 10.16.

64 Yasht 10.50; 13.57; Vendidad 18.54-55; 19.3.

65 Yasna 34.5.

66 Dadastan i Dinig 37.20.

67 Yasna 29.1; 30.4, 6; Videvdat 2.29, 37; 20.3; 22.2.

68 Yasna 30.3; 45.2.

69 Yasht 22.1-6, 19-24; 24.54; Videvdat 19.27-29; Dadastan i Dinig 28.5.

70 Yasht 3.4; Bundahishn 12.7; 19.36.

71 Dadastan i Dinig 21.3, 5, 7; 25.6; 34.3-4; 85.7.

72 Yasna 30.11; 43.5; 45.7.

73 Yasht 22; 24; Bundahishn 13; 28; 30; Arda Wiraz Namag 27; 28; 29; 36; 38; 48; 49.

74 Yasht 22; Dadastan i Dinig 27.2.

75 Menog i Xrad 2.95.

76 Bundahishn 30.7.

77 Yasht 3.18-21, 56-58; Bundahishn 30.

78 Bundahishn 30.6.

79 Bundahishn 30.10.

80 Yasna 32.7; 51.9.

81 R.C. Zaehner, The Dawn and Twilight, p. 283.

Solomon Nigosian, Ph.D., Department of Religion, University of Toronto, author of several books and of numerous articles published in professional and academic journals.
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Author:Nigosian, S.A.
Publication:Journal of Asian and African Studies
Date:Feb 1, 1999
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