4. Concept and role of Humans

Role of Man in the universe: Human being is the most precious of God’s creations. He has been entrusted sovereignty over other creations, by virtue of the power of his thought and speech. Man has been created with a purpose. It is with the active and willing participation of man, that Frashokereti “the final renovation” will happen.

Man has the freedom to either tread the good path of virtue, industry and philanthropy, or the evil path of vice, slothfulness and selfishness. However, he will have to face the consequences of all his actions.

Man and evil: In this world, man has to safeguard himself from various types of evils (daeva), which can be physical (men, animals, creatures, germs, contagion, disease), moral (vices and bad temperament) or spiritual (evil spirits and forces). 

The human body is sacred. It is the duty of each person to keep it pure.  However, purity in Zoroastrian religion is not just bodily and physical, it also extends to the unseen aspects encompassing material creations. In order to safeguard oneself from all types of evil and be in touch with the spiritual world, man has to observe the laws of ritual purity given by the religion, in daily life.

Safeguard against evil: All Zoroastrian religious institutions, rituals and acts are governed by laws of ritual purity. Zoroastrian fire-temples and places of worship are built with special boundary lines (Av. karsha, Phl. Kash, P.Guj. pāvi), which are furrows or channels, marked on the ground or constructed in the floor, to enclose ritually purified places. When the ritually purified place is in use, the boundary lines must not be crossed or else the ritual purity is vitiated.

All Zoroastrians –males and females, priests and laymen – have to observe the laws of ritual purity in their daily lives, in order to preserve Divine Energy in accordance with the principles of Asha and Khvarnah. Prayers and Fire are the main mediums through which man can augment his Khvarnah “Divine Energy.” They are also his links to the spiritual world.

Human Constitution: It is in light of the above, that is, ritual purity, safeguard against evil and divine energy, that we have to understand the make-up of man.

A human being is made up of nine constituents (Yasna 55.1). Out of these, three are physical, three semi-spiritual and three spiritual. A human being is made of earthly elements which are endowed with spiritual powers, without which life cannot be sustained.

After death, the physical constituents decompose. Spiritual pollution sets in the physical body when it is attacked by the fiend of putrefaction (druj-i-nasu), and hence the physical body has to be disposed as soon as possible, without harm to other creations. The invisible elements of three semi spiritual constituents disintegrate gradually into nature, and the immortal spiritual constituents survive indefinitely after death.

A human being is geared towards spirituality from birth for two main reasons. Firstly he has come from the spiritual world and deep down within he knows his original home. Secondly, the composition of a human being is essentially spiritual along with physical constituents.

I The Physical

The Avestan tradition about the physical body is different from the Western or Indian notions. It is neither hedonistic and materialistic on one extreme, nor ascetic and puritanical on the other.

Spiritual constituents, faculties and beings can reach deep down into matter. The very purpose of existence is to realise divinity in perfect bodily form. It is one’s duty to keep the body so clean that it can serve as an abode for the divine beings. When man does not allow Evil to dwell in his body, it will disappear from the world.

Physical evil can either generate within the body or may come from outside the boundaries of the body. In the struggle between good and evil, the body is an outer wall of defense. It is for this reason that one has to be vigilant and alert about safeguarding one’s body.  This idea is unique to the Zoroastrian religion and is in stark contrast to some of the Eastern and Western attitudes, which see the body as a citadel of sin.

Moreover, one’s body is the gateway to one’s moral and spiritual nature. It has to fight a battle against spiritual demons to keep them at bay. The main ones are: Greed (Av. āzi, Phl. āz), Envy (Av. arēshk), Lust (Av. vasna; Phl. waran), Wrath (Av. aēshma; Phl. ēshm) and Shame (Av. fsharema; Phl. nang).

In the material world, the body is more important than the soul, as it is the ‘shield of the soul.’ The body and the soul need to complement each other so that no evil comes to the other because of it. In Zoroastrianism, spirituality is not meant to be separate from the body, since at every stage of spiritual growth, the body is the greatest ally of the spirit.

The three physical components make up the visible corporeal body. They are necessary for survival. As long as there is life, the human body has power to resist evil. However, when life departs, the physical constituents decompose and the human corpse becomes a source of physical and spiritual contagion. It is a danger to all living creations and hence is to be disposed as soon as possible, with the least contamination to the other creations. A speedy disposal of the body is also beneficial to the release and progress of the soul and other non-physical constituents.

The three physical constituents are:

1. Tanu, the physical body, which comprises of the outer covering made up of muscles, sinews and skin.

2. Gaethā,the body’s soft organs like the eyes, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.

3. Azdi, the skeletal frame of the body.


II The Semi-spiritual

The semi-spiritual constituents act as a link between the physical and spiritual. They are invisible, yet finally perishable. They gradually disintegrate after death.

They three semi-spiritual constituents are:

4. Kehrp, the invisible etheric body is the receptacle of energies and the location of energy centres. The baodhangh (Av. divine intellect) and ravān (Phl. soul) are also connected to the kehrpa. It is the astral form of the body. All animate creations and even divine beings have a kehrpa.

It is the counterpart of the physical body. Its condition affects the physical body and vice versa. Hence it is an important component in healing. Zoroastrian practices for ritual purity, which are embodied in its ritual observances referred to as tarikats, are meant to safeguard the kehrp and keep it clean.

Kehrpa is the unseen boundary which protects one from mental, elemental and spiritual evils. If breached, it has to be repaired as soon as possible. It is highly susceptible to good as well as evil influences of the surroundings. The kehrpa merges into its elements after the disintegration of the physical body. Hence, the speed of the disintegration of the kehrpa largely depends on the speed of the disintegration of the physical elements of the body. Finally, the kehrpa merges with the cosmic lights through the sun light.

5. Ushtān is the life energy which gives heat and force to the body. It circulates though our breath in the body along with oxygen. It gives life to the body by permeating every cell and keeping it warm. A healthy ushtan results in a healthy body and long life. After death, ushtan merges with air. The Avestan ushtan is akin to the Prāna of the Indian and the Ki of the Oriental traditions.

6. Tevishi is the desire body, created and nurtured by the feelings and emotions arising out of the mind. It can be compared with the vāsnā sharir “desire body” of the Indian tradition. It is a cumulative result of man’s tendencies, desires and inclinations. Values, beliefs and religion mould and shape the tevishi, which then becomes the driving force for man’s thoughts, words and actions.

Each individual has a distinct tevishi. Animals too have the chain of desire-thoughts-actions, but man has the power to transcend it. When man transcends tevishi, he gets closer to attaining divine status.

The tevishi affects the physical body too. Psycho-somatic science delves at length on this connection. A balanced mind and emotions, help the body to heal itself.

The tevishi is very strong at the time of untimely and violent deaths like accidents, suicides, murders and wars. At such times it is difficult for the soul to break free from the worldly bonds and desires which have been unfulfilled on account of the sudden death. All traditions advise man not to think materialistic thoughts but engage in reciting or hearing divine chants at the approach of death.

Tevishi is made up of thought energy and it merges with similar energies in space after death of a person.

III The spiritual

The spiritual constituents are invisible, immortal and indestructible. They survive indefinitely after death in the spiritual dimension. These components by themselves, do not make man divine, but their proper use lead man to spiritual evolution.

They three spiritual constituents are:

7. Baodh/ Baodhangh: It is the repository of the innate wisdom, and embodies the Consciousness which covers the conscious, sub-conscious and super-conscious levels of the mind. Through these three levels, it permeates every cell of the body. It closely manages the delicate balance of life and hence, when it separates from the body, death takes place.

The baodh works at the following three main levels of the mind

Conscious level: It manages the senses, sense perceptions, reasoning, rationalizing and decision making.

Sub-conscious level: It manages the automatic functions of the body and the involuntary processes that regulate life, like breath, heart pumping and blood pressure. It is also the store house of the thoughts, emotions and information collected throughout life.

Super-conscious level: It works with divine intelligence and energies in the universe. It is instrumental in receiving divine inspiration and guidance.

8. Urvan is the Soul, which is potentially divine. It is the Chooser of man’s actions, after receiving inputs from the mind and other faculties. It gets reward or retribution after death for actions performed during the life time. The soul is judged on the fourth day after death, after which it is given its due place in Vahishtaahu “Heaven”, Hamestagān “purgatory” or Dushakhva “hell.” Before the end of time, all souls which have not yet reached Garothman will have to undergo a second and final Judgment which will be sort of an ordeal, especially for the souls who have not been able to advance.

9. Fravashi is God’s essence which guides man. Every human being has a personal Fravashi, which acts like its Guardian spirit. It guides the soul during life and even after death. The Fravashi is incorruptible, and hence it is never judged.

The image of the Fravashi is an enduring ancient Iranian symbol, since the Achaemenian times. In this image, the central circle is symbolic of Perfection and God. The wings signify spirituality. The human face is the connection of the Fravashi to humans. The two tassels at the bottom are reminders of the principle of polarity. The image of Fravashi reminds man of his unity with creations, his divine origin and his life’s purpose.

Other divine faculties

To help man fulfil his divine purpose, human beings have been endowed with several powers and faculties, over and above the nine constituents.

These are: Ahu (awareness, the overself), Daenā (introspective quality, conscience, questioning one’s actions) good from evil), Vir (Will Power), Hosh (Discernment of good from evil), Kherad (Wisdom), Khvarnah (Divine Energy), Aoj (Strength) and Jān (life). With their help man had to make the utmost of his God given gifts and be the perfect man that Ahura Mazda expects him to be.

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