Zoroastrianism is one of History’s greatest wonders. This world’s oldest religion has existed mainly in Central Asia and Iran (90%), and more recently in India (10%). It had once covered 2/3 of the then known world and more than 60% of the people of the world were its followers.
It is a religion which is so strong that its message has survived thousands of years and its beauty is still being discovered and admired. It has a universal ethical and spiritual message, but is exclusive in practice.
A. What is religion?
Religion means different things to different people. The different terms used for religion give us an indication about what religion means to different people of different cultures:
1. The word ‘Religion’ comes from two words ‘Re’ and ‘lege’ which means “bind together.” Thus the primary purpose of religion is to bring together: man with God and then man with other creations. Hence ‘unity’ and ‘harmony’ are the basis of ‘religion.’
2. The word ‘Dharma’ means “Duty, obligation.” Not to just think about the self but also think about others. This idea reflects in the Zoroastrian concept of ‘spenta.’
3. The word ‘Din’ means “religion.” It comes from √dī “to see within, to introspect.” Originally the word means divine knowledge acquired by introspection.
B. How to understand religion?
To understand any religion, it has to be considered through its three main aspects: 1. Ethics (goodness), 2. Teachings (The framework, world view and concepts), and 3. Practices (Based on teachings to derive practical benefits)
C. Why is knowing religion necessary?
Need for religion in life:
1. For identity and self pride, which can be known from the history of the religion.
2. For developing courage and self–confidence by understanding our own latent powers and the help provided to us by divine beings.
3. For knowing about one’s life and its purpose, through the philosophy of the religion.
4. For working on one’s inner happiness (spirituality)
5. For knowing the self and things beyond the physical body, through the concept of man.
6. For understanding the world, knowing things beyond the world of senses by studying cosmology.
D. What is necessary for being religious?
For being religious Knowledge, faith and goodness are necessary.
4 ways of approaching religion:
“Worship, adoration, propitiation and knowledge”, referred to in Zoroastrianism, as Yasnāicha, vahmāicha, khshnaothrāicha and frasastayaecha.
In Hinduism these approaches are referred to as Gnān, Bhakti, Karma and Yoga.
E. What gives religion a bad name?
Religion has acquired many negative connotations. It has become dogmatic, ritualistic and often fundamentalist. Religion gets a bad name when hatred, pride, ego, inferiority and superiority complexes propels it, instead of goodness.
F. Terms related to Zoroastrian religion:
Mazdayasni: Zoroastrians recognise Ahura Mazda as God. The term Mazdayasni means “a worshipper of Mazda” and is generally applied to Zoroastrians.
Zarathushti: The term Zarathushti means “a follower of Zarathushtra, a Zoroastrian.”
Mazdayasni Zarathushti: A believer of Mazda following the teachings of Prophet Zarathushtra, is known as Mazdayasni Zarathushti.
Parsi: The term ‘Parsi’, means “belonging to Pars.” Pars was a south-western province in ancient Iran. Many of our prominent Iranian kings like Cyrus, Darayus and Ardeshir were from this province. They referred to themselves as Parsas. Later the term acquired a religious connotation, and was used for the all Zoroastrian residents of Pars. After the Arab conquest of Iran, the term ‘Parsi’ was used for those residents of Iran who remained steadfast to the Zoroastrian Faith.
G. What is Unique about Zoroastrian religion:
1. Zoroastrian religion is the oldest revealed religion in the world, started in remote antiquity by Prophet Zarathushtra Spitama, who belonged to the Mazdayasni belief system.
2. Monotheism was established as a religious teaching for the first time in the history of mankind.
3. Fire was regarded by Zoroastrians as the living embodiment of Ahura Mazda in the material world. Though all ancient religions respected fire, Zoroastrian religion gave a very exalted status to fire, unparalleled in any other religion.
4. Veneration of nature and all natural creations is a central principle of the religion. The concept of nature was woven together with the concept of divine beings and man’s duty to look after them. It embodied into one unit the ethical, physical and spiritual worlds in a very beautiful manner and is enshrined in the Zoroastrian concept of the 7 Amesha spentas.
5. It was a religion which gave mankind the freedom of choice and asked them to use their faculties to choose between good and evil. It allowed them to choose their thoughts words and actions, with a sense of responsibility and cautioned them to be in readiness to bear the consequences.
6. Zoroastrianism has a cosmic character. There is an inter-connection between Macro (Universe) and Micro (Man). What is outside is also within. Energy, consciousness, order, strength, love and perfection have Macro as well as Micro characters.
7. Asha is the Cosmic Law which underlies all creations from the atom to solar systems. It governs everything – from the cell to a universe.
8. Importance of the mind in shaping human life and destiny in the material and spiritual worlds.
H. What is the basis of Zoroastrian religion?
The best definition of Zoroastrian religion comes in the oft repeated phrase: Fravarane mazdayasno zarathushtrish vidaevo ahura-tkaesho, that is: “I profess to be a Mazdayasni, follower of Zarathushtra, who is against negativities, and is a promoter of life.”
This definition is re-iterated in this line: Khshnaothra ahurahe mazdao taroidite angrahe mainyeush, “For propitiation of Ahura Mazda and contempt of angra mainyu (the evil spirit)”.
I. Misconceptions about Zoroastrian religion
Misconceptions about the religion arise either because of ignorance, bias or too simplistic interpretations of the lofty religion.
Misconception 1. Zoroastrian religion is just about Humata “good thought” Hukhta “good word” Hvarshta “good deed.”
Fact: Religion is not just about Humata “good thought” Hukhta “good word” and Hvarshta “good deed.” These 3 words form a very small part of the ethical framework of the religion. In fact these words have a much deeper significance. Moreover, being good is a requirement of all religions
Misconception 2. “Freedom of choice” in Zoroastrian religion allows one to do whatever one wants.
Fact: The “freedom of choice” in Zoroastrian religion is only between good and evil in life, and one has to be prepared to face the consequences. If there was total freedom of choice, there was no need for the prophet and other advanced souls to come to this world to teach men the right way of living.
Misconception 3 : Zoroastrians worship fire.
Fact: Zoroastrians consider fire as the living, breathing representative of Ahura Mazda on earth. It is the creation which most resembles Ahura Mazda, who is full of light, energy and life. Zoroastrians worship Ahura Mazda through fire, and get his blessings and energy through the agency of fire. Zoroastrians do not focus their worship to fire and thus do not worship in itself.
J. Impediments to a religious way of life
There are several difficulties which a person faces in order to adopt a religious way of life. Some of them are:
1. Ignorance: Ignorance often is connected with excuses like – there are no religious materials, authentic books and teachers.
2. Fear/Shame (lack of pride) /Inferiority Complex (about one’s identity).
3. Lethargy: Lethargy to practice religion seeps in through many guises – excessive wealth, luxury, aping western culture and lifestyle and excessive freedom.
4. Indifference: People often become indifferent to religion. They say that – the religion is not meant for us, it is meant for old people, it is the opium of the masses, it is not suited to our life-style etc.
5. Convenience: Many a times people develop their own style of religion by borrowing from philosophies and practices of other religions.
K. Efforts necessary for being religious
Being religious does not come automatically. Will, determination and efforts have to be made, especially in the beginning stages. As it is stated in the Shahnameh even the great king Faridun had to make efforts to rise to greatness.
Faridun farrokh fireshteh na bud, Ze mushko ze amber serashteh na bud,
Ba dādo dehash chun ān nikui, Ba dādo dehash chun Faridun toi.
“Glorious Faridun was not born an angel, neither was he made of musk and amber. By observances and charity he became good. By observances and charity, you too can become like Faridun.”
After starting a religious life, one has to make efforts to maintain it and keep evolving.
Just knowing and understanding religion is not enough. Religion can be of value only if it is practiced in all aspects daily life – in thoughts as well as practice. In this course, we will concentrate on the aspect of “knowing” the religion. The desire to practice will automatically follow if one believes in the teachings.