Ethics And Virtues
Ethics and morality are the ground rules which enable men to live a righteous life. All religions have a system of ethics, which is more or less similar in all religions, though the emphasis may differ.
It has been scientifically proved by Dr. Michael McCullough at the National Institute of Healthcare Research in America, that people who are religious are healthier and have a far longer life, mainly because they lead a more ethical and moral life.
Zoroastrianism is credited with one of the most logical systems of ethics and morality. Generally all of Zoroastrian ethics, virtues and morality are summed up in the three words Humata, “Good thoughts”, Hukhta “Good words” and Hvarshta “Good deeds.”
Most Zoroastrian ethics are built within the system of Angelology where some of the divinities, apart from presiding over creations also preside over virtues. Zoroastrian religion was the first religion to tell man, that he was in this world for a purpose – to fight against evil (vi-daeva) and further the good creations of Ahura (ahura-tkaesha). This purpose of life made man to see his life in a new angle altogether. Zoroastrian religion gave a solid moral order on which man had to base his life. The main Zoroastrian virtues are embodied in the concept of the Amesha Spentas: Wisdom (Ahura Mazda), Charity /Beneficence/ Selflessness (Spenta Mainyu), Good intentions / peace / Moderation (Vohu Manah), Truth /Righteousness/Purpose (Asha), Benign Leadership (Khshathra Vairya) also Industry, hard work, dignity of labour; Humility/Devotion (Spenta Armaiti), Quest for Perfection (Haurvatat) and Awareness of Immortality of Soul (Ameretat).
Wisdom: The virtue of Wisdom is the cornerstone of Zoroastrian religion. Even the name of its God – Ahura Mazda means “Lord Wisdom”. Ahura Mazda created the world and sustains it through His Wisdom. With Wisdom one has to fight against evil, further the creations of good and fulfil one’s purpose in life. A man having wisdom knows the result of one’s actions, the end of one’s body and recognizes the enemies of the soul (vices) – az – greed/avarice; niyaz – need/want, eshma – wrath; arask – envy/jealousy; nang – shame/disgrace; varrun – lust, ken – revenge, bushasp – laziness; druj – lies/deceit – in order to overcome them.
Zoroastrianism recognises two types of wisdom – acquired wisdom and innate wisdom. Both are a gift of the divine being Bahman, who presides over the mind. Innate wisdom can be tapped if one takes the mind to the highest level of consciousness. In Zoroastrianism and most other Eastern religions, innate wisdom is considered higher than acquired wisdom.
Pahlavi books regard Wisdom as the highest virtue. One having wisdom is supposed to be the richest man and such a man cannot be harmed by Ahriman. A man having wisdom can attain to God, divine beings and Heaven. Again, such a man is said to be able to preserve health of his body and work towards the redemption of his soul, because the affairs of both the worlds can be managed by wisdom.
Selflessness (Spenta ): The virtue of Selflessness, when first promulgated by Zarathushtra was unique in the history of mankind, as uptil then, man had just learnt to live for himself. Prophet Zarathushtra taught that man is not an island, but is connected to other human beings, as well as to each and every creation of the world. Selflessness implies that one does not seek one’s own good and advantage at the cost of harm to others. Such selflessness is, as it were, worshipping God. So if man had to be happy, and if he wanted salvation for himself, he had to take care of all other humans and creations. This gave birth to the beautiful Zarathushti idea of “Happy is he who makes others Happy”.
The virtues of Charity and Kindness are by-products and logical extensions of the virtue of Selflessness.
Charity: Zoroastrians have taken the virtue of charity to new heights. Charity is not only a means of elevating social depravity, but it is regarded as the highest act of righteousness. However, one has to be mindful as to the end result of charity. Charity should only be done towards righteous and deserving people. Charity should be done knowingly and discerningly, for if charity is done ignorantly then it reaches Ahriman. A man who gives charity to the righteous is not only assured of manifold returns but also a place in the Highest Heaven. Each Zoroastrian is expected to give a certain part of his honest earnings to Charity.
Zoroastrians throughout the world are very closely associated with the virtue of charity, and their charities in Mumbai, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries are legion.
Kindness: Zoroastrians are enjoined to be kind towards all humans, which includes their near and dear ones, their friends, towards the unfortunates of the society like the poor and the destitute and also towards animals.
Truth /Righteousness/Sincerity /Honesty:
Being Truthful means being righteous, honest and sincere in thoughts and words and actions. The practice of the virtue of Truth results in our life being orderly and finally gives Ushta – inner happiness. Being Truthful gives birth to other virtues like sincerity and honesty. The divine beings Ardibahesht (Asha), Rashna and Ashtad preside over the virtues of ‘truth, rectitude, order.’
Herodotus records that speaking the Truth was one of the first things taught to Iranian children, along with the art of archery and riding of a horse. Moreover, he states that the Iranians considered a lie as the most disgraceful thing, and the next was to owe a debt, especially since a debtor is obliged to lie.
Friendship, brotherhood, love:
Being a friend means being able to understand, help and share. The divine being Meher (Mithra) is the Yazata who presides over friendship, love, justice, sanctity of promise, and also over courage, bravery, chivalry, and martial qualities and virtues of warriors and kings.
The virtue of friendship is taken to new heights when we are told that Ahura Mazda Himself, extends his hand in friendship to a righteous man who treads the Path of Righteousness. Even Zarathushtra promises to be a friend of a righteous person.
One should not take one’s friends for granted and have to be nice and courteous to friends. However while taking friends one has to ascertain his character. One is advised never to befriend a debtor, a person who shirks his duties, and a person who is disobedient to his parents. An old friend is compared to old wine, the older it becomes, the better it gets in quality. Deception of a friend is considered a grievous sin.
Obedience, Discipline (Sraosha):
The virtue of Obedience covers two aspects: 1) Obedience to God by following the rules of the religion and laws of nature as taught by the prophet. 2) Obedience to elders and seniors, which included Kings (rulers), parents and teachers.
The divine being Sraosha presides over the virtue of obedience. He also presides over other virtues like religious inspiration, intuition and revelation which are a result of being Obedient.. Obedience is possible only if one is disciplined and hence the virtue of discipline goes along with Obedience.
Industry, Dignity of Labour, Hard-work (Shehrevar) :
Zoroastrianism teaches dignity of labour. Proper use of hands and feet in doing lawful and timely deeds is advocated in Visparad 15.1. To till and cultivate and to grow corn is as good as to increase holiness. Work is worship, and idleness is a sin against religion and society, because an idle man is a burden on society.
According to Zoroastrian religion the evil being Bushāsp , who is the demon of laziness, idleness and sloth tries to persuade men not to be industrious. It is referred to as having “long hands”, because it is easy for idleness to take hold over industrious men if they are not vigilant.
Thrift (born out of Wisdom):
Thrift and economy are important virtues of Zoroastrian daily life. In Vendidad 5.60 it is enjoined that one must not waste even a trifling thing. However, stinginess and miserliness are vices and are to be avoided at all costs.
Duty, Responsibility (Leads to life’s purpose- Ardibahesht):
In Pahlavi books, duty is referred to as kār, which means “one’s appointed work”. He who performs his allotted duty in life, automatically performs a meritorious deed.