Each spiritual tradition has distinctive teachings that are exclusive and sets it apart.
To know the Zoroastrian religion we have to understand its world-view and main teachings. The world-view is in the Pahlavi book Bundahishn and the philosophical and spiritual teachings from the Avestan Gathas:
- World-view (Cosmology): Creation and time-frame of the Universe.
- Teachings: 1.Monotheism 2.Two Spirits 3.Divine beings 4. Soul 5.Creations
I World-view (Cosmology): It is the understanding of the Universe right from the beginning. A world view is necessary to have a perspective on our life and surroundings, which enables us to answer the existential questions like who we are, from where have we come, and what is the purpose of our life.
Cosmogony gives the religious view of the beginning of Creations. In the beginning the supreme divine energy / Ahu dwelled in timelessness as Endless Light. He thought about creation, and from then on it came to be known as Mazda. Later the title Ahura became a part of the name, and He came to be referred to as Ahura Mazda.
He first created Asha – the immutable Law and Order on the basis of which the creations would be created. Then Spenta Mainyu was created as the creative benevolent Spirit to assist the process of creation – first the spiritual and then the physical. On the basis of the Law of Polarity Angra Mainyu, the Evil Spirit, came into existence. The creations were created from ‘Endless light’ which was made coarse by different grades. Ahura Mazda represents the purest light, then the divine beings in their hierarchical order, and then the material creations.
The account of creation contained in the Pahlavi book Bundahishn, symbolically divides the span of creation into 12 hazāra. It then divides it into four periods of 3 hazāra each.
The Pahlavi word hazāra is generally translated as a period of 1000 years, since hazār means a thousand, but this may just be a symbolic period of time. Traditional wisdom says that one hazāra may be about 7000 earth years.
In the first 3 hazāra, perfect spiritual creations were created. Angra Mainyu, owing to his inherent destructive nature, attacked them. Ahura Mazda protected the creations with the Ahunavar and Angra Mainyu was stupefied. After the 3rd hazāra, Ahura Mazda conferred with the divine beings and set up a period of 9 hazāra after which evil would be totally incapacitated. In the second of these 3 hazāra period Ahura Mazda created the material creations in a perfect state. The first two 3 hazāra periods are referred to as Bundahishn
The third and fourth hazāra periods are referred to as Gumezishn “the Mixture.” In this period Angra Mainyu attacked and inter-mingled with the 7 material creations. At the end of the fourth hazāra, there will be Vizarishn “the Separation.” The latter part of this period is marked by heightened conflict between good and evil.
At the end of the final hazara, Saoshyant, the last saviour will be born, last Judgement will take place, followed by Ristakhez (rising of the ‘dead’) and Tane-pasen (new body). The Zoroastrian concept of Tan-i-Pasin is similar to the concept of Resurrection in Abrahamic religions.
At the end of the 12 hazāra, evil shall be completely annihilated and vanquished, resulting in complete renovation. This event of distant future, known as Frashokereti or Frashogard (Renovation) will be brought about by the united, conscious efforts of men and Spiritual Beings. After this, creations will revert back to their perfect spiritual states.
In the Hindu philosophy, there are 4 Yugas –Sat, Treta, Dvāpar and Kali.
II The main religious teachings:
1.Belief in one God, 2.Existence of the spiritual world, 3.Two opposing forces in the Universe, 4.Immortality of the Soul, 5.Sanctity of Creations.
- Monotheism – Belief in One God – AHURA MAZDA
Mazdayasni belief system was the first to reveal the concept of Monotheism, that is, the belief in one Supreme Uncreated Force, referred to as Ahura Mazda ”Lord of Wisdom.” This Supreme power is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. Wisdom is His intrinsic nature. He sustains all His creations through wisdom. Since He is all-knowing, He is undeceivable.
Ahura Mazda is the sole creator and the absolute ruler of the Universe. He is without a beginning and an end and hence eternal and immortal. He has no equal or opponent. His power and intelligence governs the Universe. He is the bestower of all good things. All that is good and positive in the world comes from Him. He is kind, forgiving, understanding and merciful. He is a friend and brother to mankind, provided they lead a righteous life.
Ahura Mazda has fixed the laws of Nature, in accordance with which all creations operate. These laws work on the cosmic, as well as on the physical, moral and spiritual fronts. He never interferes in the working of these laws.
He is invisible to the physical as well as the spiritual world, a Spirit among the Spirits. He is full of light. By His thought-force, He first filled heavenly realms with light. The blazing sun and the radiant fire are the living representatives of Ahura Mazda on earth.
Ahura Mazda is aware of whatever man does. He is the supreme judge of man’s actions. He is totally perfect. He is present in all creations, and yet above them.
Ahura Mazda is the embodiment of Wisdom. At a cosmic level, Wisdom permeates the Universe. Every atom of matter and every cell of the body is intelligent. The universe organizes itself and reacts to its own internal events, just like the cells in our body.
- The Spiritual world
In the creation of the Universe, Ahura Mazda first created the spiritual world, in which He created Ameshaspands, Yazads, Ravans and Fravashis.
Ameshaspands “the beneficent immortals” are the uppermost in the hierarchy. They are seven in number. Though Ahura Mazda is the creator and preceptor of the other six, He is also one of them and works with one accord along with them. They preside over spiritual powers, virtues, material creations, as well as the human spiritual centres.
Yazad is a general term used for worshipful spiritual beings. The term Yazad signifies spiritual beings working in the universe as co-workers of Ameshaspands. They preside over creations like the sun, the moon, stars and the earth. Yazads can be invoked for help for various purposes.
Ravans are the souls and Fravashis are the guardian spirits of all creations
Human beings in the material world have to work in tandem with the spiritual world.
- Two spirits or forces: After Ahura Mazda created Spenta Mainyu “the beneficent spirit”, Angra Mainyu “the evil spirit” was created on the basis of the law of polarity. These two diametrically opposed cosmic forces work in the universe.
Spenta Mainyu is wise, life-giving and benefiting. Angra Mainyu is harmful, wicked, destructive and life-destroying. He is devoid of wisdom, is full of deception and thrives on ignorance. It exists in the material world on account of man’s ignorance and wrong choices.
The two spirits manifest in humans as mentalities. Evil is parasitical in nature. It can exist only if man allows it to grow and thrive on him. Man should not allow physical, mental, moral, emotional and spiritual evils to grow on him. Men should strive to be on the side of Spenta Mainyu.
Metaphorically, the good spirit is compared to light and the evil spirit to darkness. Light has an existence of its own and can dispel darkness, but darkness cannot exist on its own. At a moral level, evil is a moving away from goodness, just as darkness is moving away from light. Evil is thus illusory and transitory. It is only as real as an image in a mirror.
In material terms, evil may be compared to entropy which is the universal tendency of order to break down into disorder. It is inherent in the physical makeup of the universe, and is the core reason why earthly things deteriorate and age over time. The nature of the material world is such that it has to finally dissipate and hence entropy catches up with evolution. Anything that is created needs to be destroyed as the world has a finite existence. Existence necessitates non-existence and thus the destructive spirit is in a way a necessity for the relative world.
Since man has consciousness, he has the free will to choose between Good and Evil. When man’s consciousness level rises and man lives with awareness, he makes correct choices, evil becomes ineffective and redundant. When mankind totally moves away from evil, it will disappear. Man’s good acts are rewarded and evil acts are punished in this world and the next.
Zoroastrian Philosophy is that of Freedom of choice with Responsibility. It is not a philosophy of Commandments that are laid down to follow.
Animals: Animals possess a Fravashi. They also have a Baodhangh working at an elementary, evolutionary and instinctive level. They do not possess a soul, and they do not have to choose. They can’t rationalize and judge. They do not have awareness or an advanced conscious will.
On the basis of the law of polarity, they have been divided into Gospand “beneficent animals” and Khrafastar “harmful/noxious creatures”. Cattle and most domestic animals are Gospands, whereas wild animals, reptiles and insects are referred to as Khrafastars. In his fight against spiritual, moral and physical evils, man is advised to nurture and protect the Gospands and exterminate the Khrafastars if they are a threat to the good creations.
The Indo-Iranian preference and liking for dog is well known. According to Zoroastrianism, dog is the only animal which has the inherent, instinctive power to recognize and repel evil.
Cats and snakes are considered evil. Even the Evil Spirit is referred to as a snake (Vd.22.2). Though the Khrafastars may be helpful in a limited way, their overall worth to mankind is less than the danger that they pose to the good creations.
- Immortality of the soul after death:
Recognition of spiritual elements – within the self and in the Universe are necessary for the knowledge and evolution of the self. According to the Avesta, every human being is mortal, and death is destined for all. Death is seen as a transformation and not total destruction. It is the ‘passing away’ of life-giving spiritual elements from the physical body leading to its decomposition. Every person has spiritual components, one of which is the soul, which is immortal and outlives the physical body after its destruction (death).
A corpse is considered the greatest source of contagion and putrefaction (nasu) and has to be disposed in a way that causes least harm to humans and least pollution to creations. For this reason, Avestan tradition has recognised the mode of disposal of dead which involves exposure of the corpse on an elevated place to sunlight and scavenging birds.
Soul is rightly referred to as urvan; that is the “chooser.” It is the only spiritual constituent which exercises a choice. It is responsible for the good or evil actions done by man in this life. After a man passes away, the soul remains in this world for three days and nights in the care of the divine being Sraosha. During this period several rites and rituals are performed, to ensure a safe passage of the soul into the spiritual realm.
At the dawn of the fourth day, the soul crosses over to the spiritual world through the allegorical Bridge chinvato peretu (Chinwad Puhl) ‘the selection bridge’. The Daena or Kerdar ‘representation of action (in life)’ confronts the soul in the form of a maiden. If the soul’s actions in life were good, the Daena appears as a beautiful lady, but if the soul’s actions were wicked, the Daena, appears frightful, and the soul experiences misery and distress. Thereafter the soul appears before a heavenly tribunal, and divine justice is administered. Good souls go to heaven and souls of the evil are dragged to hell. In the end evil shall be vanquished. At this time all souls will have to pass through the Final Judgment and will pass on to a blissful, spiritual state.
- Creations: God created the creations in seven stages. Among the seven creations – sky (metals), water, earth, plants, animal, man and fire – man has been created superior. Every creation is sacred and man is enjoined to maintain its purity. A divine being presides over each creation. Thus respecting the creations amounts to respecting the divine being presiding over it.
Polluting the creations would also allow evil to get a foothold over them. Many Zoroastrian practices, like the mode of disposal of the dead, are geared towards protecting the sanctity and purity of the creations.
Next to man, fire is the most important creation as it entrusted the task to fight evil along with humans. Fire gives light, warmth, life and energy. Zoroastrians connect with Ahura Mazda through fire.