THE MESSAGE OF ZARATHUSHTRA
With the aid of Kavi Vishtaspa and the sages, the Good Religion advanced well. Zarathushtra began giving practical shape to the new order. He formed a society of his companions, calling it Maz Maga, literally “Great Magnanimity,” the origin of the term Magus/Magi. The promoters were Zarathushtra, Vishtaspa, Ferashaoshtra, Jamaspa, and Maidyoimaha. The aims and objectives were to serve and be attuned to the Creator and the created. To be a member, one had to know God, to be honest, to be a thinker, to be industrious, to be peaceful, to enjoy a married life, and to pray in earnest.
The society was simple. It promoted brotherly bonds and was sparing of rituals. It had no professional priests. The members gathered in an enclosure or open ground, perhaps three times a day, to face the light-the sun in the sky or fire in a holder-now cleansed of all organic offerings to blaze better with dry wood and certain sweet-smelling plants. They sang a few devotional songs, and then the teacher spoke to them encouraging them to lead a good mental and physical life. They did not waste their time on superstitious rites, ceremonies, or worship of the dead. They looked at nature with clear minds, not awe. They held in esteem the sun, moon, stars, winds, clouds, rains, earth, waters, plants, and animals in such a way as to use them the best they could, but never to abuse them. Nature was to be benefited from in a natural way that would not defile, diminish, or destroy it. Man was here to cooperate with nature in his own interest, not to conquer it ruthlessly, otherwise he would bring ruthless consequences on himself.
Zarathushtra disapproved of nomadism. He viewed nomads as consumers without being producers. Their search for fresh land, after overgrazing their own, resulted in waste and feuds. Their poverty induced them to rob the better off. Zarathushtra was the first to start a movement to settle the landless people. He is, therefore, called Vâstâr, “settler” of the people on vâstras, self-sufficient “settlements.” He established these settlements, and the people became Vâstrya-fshuyant, industrious settlers. He gave the world a new class of working people. On the priority list of the people to be settled were drigu, persons who had suffered persecution at the hands of the antagonist zealots and had lost all they had except their firm faith in universal truth.
Zarathushtra wanted to do everything in the proper way, at the proper time and place, and with proper means-all with wisdom and consideration. This would give positive results, with no harm to anyone else and therefore with no dispute. But if someone coveted others belongings, home, village, or country, he had to be “corrected” through the proper means. He was, therefore, the first to establish what could be termed as a “defense” department, meant only to defend one’s rights and freedom. There was no war, no aggression, in the religion of Good Conscience. Even defenses were not aimed at repelling the aggressor, but at correcting him and making him a useful person in the promotion of peace, prosperity, and liberty. Freedom was for all.
Good Conscience overthrew the yoke of slavery, eradicated war, and trained free and honest men and women. Men and women enjoyed perfect equality. Everyone got the fair rewards of his or her efforts. If, however, some were in an advantageous position, it was understood they would lend a helping hand to those less fortunate and make them also strong in body and mind. Zarathushtra was the first to acknowledge freedom of belief, thought, word, and deed. He left it to each individual to choose the right path. But everyone was not able to develop his or her own cohesive world view. Only the wise could. As soon as Zarathushtra realized this, he left the weak-minded and approached the sages. It was then that his success was soon and sure. The wise were not born, however, they were raised. Therefore Zarathushtra thought of training people in wisdom.
Zarathushtra started yet another movement — a literacy campaign. He called in Jamaspa: “Sage Jamaspa Hvogva, I teach you my message in a poetic and not in an unpoetic language, so that it shall always stay with you as prayers of glorification with the divine inspirations. Whoever distinguishes between law and lawlessness … is, through righteousness, a wonderful counselor.”
Jamaspa did retain Zarathushtra’s message, because later tradition says that he collected the Avesta in the fortieth year of the founding of the religion. Thus Zarathushtra founded the first regular school for training disciples. Classes were held daily. He and certain senior companions attended. His message, now arranged in meter and stanzas, was taken up. The teacher first sang a stanza to music, also composed by Zarathushtra. He then explained it and opened it to questions and answers. He sang again, because now it could be understood better. The disciples sang it next and the class closed until the following day.
Zarathushtra’s teachings were easier to memorize in the form he gave them, because they were poems, songs, prayers, and a message, all in one. They were “mânthra,” thought-provoking recitations. Moreover, their poetic form helped to keep Zarathushtra’s message pure and pristine with little room for adulteration. The high sanctity accorded to the songs has preserved them so perfectly well that they constitute the only believable miracle of Zarathushtra.
Thus his message was kept alive. His disciples were trained and the religion was promoted as their education progressed. Zarathushtra’s disciples called his message Gâthâ, sublime songs.
Meanwhile, Zarathushtra had become a kind husband and a loving father, because he had married a woman named Hvovi (meaning “Self-going”). They had six children in all: Son Isat Vâstar (Strong Settler), daughter Freni(Loving), daughter Thriti (Third), son Urvatatnara (Befriending People), son Hvare-chithra (Sun Bright) and daughter Pouruchistâ (Full Intellect). We are not certain as to when he got married. The Avesta tells us only the name of his prospective wife, but later tradition says he turned down his first proposal because the girl was not willing to discuss the union face to face. Perhaps he married late when he was at the court of Kavi Vishtaspa. The Avesta says that Hvovi was a disciple. Her name heads the list of female workers of the religion. Thus she is the first prominent woman Zarathushtrian. The names of their children also reflect the spirit of Good Conscience — none of them had been named in the agricultural tradition — and therefore indicate that he married late. If so, he was over forty when he married and would have been in his seventies when his youngest daughter Pouruchista got married at the age of fifteen.
Zarathushtra blessed his companions for spreading his thought-provoking message. He wanted the wise to propagate Good Conscience throughout the world — a world of friendship and fellowship, caring and thoughtfulness, peace and prosperity, and perfection and eternity. His message was not for a chosen people. It was for all. It was universal. This is why Zarathushtra, who continuously emphasized that one should promote one’s home, village, town, and country, never mentioned his own birth, race, birthplace, or country. Until his message had spread, however, the movement toward peace and prosperity could not start. Zarathushtra became, therefore, the first teacher to train disciples – missionaries — to teach and propagate the religion without boundaries of cast, creed, color, race, or nation.
Soon Zarathushtra’s missionaries went to far-flung places, never to return home but to live abroad and preach. Thus a missionary tradition was established which was later vigorously pursued by the followers of Buddha, Mani, Jesus, Muhammad, and others. Zarathushtra’s school flourished long.
It appears he was followed by Jamaspa and then Saena, son of Ahum Stuta, as heads of the school. Saena was the eighth person to join the fellowship and therefore was one of the earliest of Zarathushtra’s companions. The Avesta says that Saena trained one hundred disciples. Later tradition adds that the school served for three centuries and a disaster, perhaps the end of the Kavi dynasty or the fall of the succeeding patrons, brought an end to it. Zarathushtra loved and revered his companions.
He immortalized the names of several of them in his Gathas. It appears that it was upon his bidding that the names of some two hundred fifty people, twenty-seven of them women, are revered in the Farvardin Yasht in the chronological order of their choosing Good Conscience and joining the Great Fellowship. In that list, Zarathushtra is the first among men, Maidyoimaha the second, Vishtaspa the twenty-first, his heroic son Spento-data the fiftieth, Ferashaoshtra the fifty-third, and Jamaspa the fifty-fourth. Zarathushtra’s wife Hvovi is the first among the women. His three daughters follow next, and Hutaosâ and Humâyâ, wife and daughter of Vishtaspa, are the fifth and the sixth. Most of the married women have their husbands’ names mentioned as well. The maidens are remembered with “kainyâ,” maiden or Miss, preceding their names.
Meanwhile, the great emphasis placed by Zarathushtra on founding a home was manifested when his youngest child Pouruchista married. The bridegroom, according to later tradition, was Jamaspa. Zarathushtra took the opportunity to immortalize his advice to all uniting couples: “The reward of this Fellowship shall be yours as long as you remain united in weal and woe with all your heart in wedlock … May each of you win other through righteousness.”
Newer than New
A look at the new society founded by Zarathushtra reveals that everything was fresh, even the names. The Farvardin Yasht shows that Zarathushtra had retained his and all those names that depicted the agricultural aspect of the society. Yet among the two hundred fifty names mentioned in the yasht, there is not a single one that yielded the faintest trace of the faded religious precedents — no single or compound names with Mithra, Verethraghna, Vayu, or any other Aryan deity. We see Saena (Eagle), one of the earliest to join, retain his name, but his father bears the name Ahum Stuta (Life-praising). Did the father have this name before the advent of Good Conscience? This is hardly possible. Did he have a name that praised a “daeva?” It is most probable that he did. He and others in his category must have changed their names to suit the new spirit.
An array of meaningful names — Strong, Settler, Loving, Befriending People, Full Intellect, Sun Bright, Promoter of Goodness, Progressive Law, Refresher, Good Mind, Good Deed, Good Life, Guardian of Good, Accumulator of Good, Promoter of the Highest Good, Worshiper of the Wise, Devoted, and many many more never heard before in the Indo-Iranian lore — all short compound nouns — are testimony to the new life of the companions and their kindred.
During the forty-odd years of his teaching, Zarathushtra had spoken much good — of God and creation, man and woman, mind and body, good and evil, home and society, freedom and equality, science and culture, peace and stability, promotion and progress, and universal fellowship and general development. All had heard him speak on all these subjects, but no companion has reported him to have advised what to eat, what to wear, what to build, when to work, when to retire, what to celebrate, or how to mourn.
Was Zarathushtra not concerned with daily life? He was concerned and he could easily have instituted taboos like many other founders of doctrines have done, for he lived a life of his age — the bronze age of about four thousand years ago. But he was well aware of his changing world. Any instructions on daily life would grow old and out-of-date, and if it became a tradition to be zealously adhered to, it would prove an obstruction to progress.
Zarathushtra believed in a constant and continuous renovation of the world. So he said: “May we be among those who make life fresh. You, lords of wisdom, and you who bring happiness through truth and precision, be single-minded in the realm of inner intellect.” He petitioned the lords of wisdom of every age to unite in mind through truth and inner intelligence and continue refreshing and renovating life on earth. Time does not stop. Why should the world stop and stagnate!
Zarathushtra did not treat his followers as children who should be directed with “do’s and don’ts.” He treated them as mature and understanding, strong enough to discriminate between good and bad. Mankind holds a high position in the religion of Good Conscience. Men and women are neither children nor servants of God, but friends, lovers, and beloveds who can, if they choose, progress to become “godlike.”
Zarathushtra was happy. He had delivered his message, won the wise to the religion, established life on new principles, rendered the country prosperous, trained disciples who were busy in expounding and expanding the message abroad, gotten his youngest daughter married, and had in every act contributed to the growth of Daenâ Vanguhi, the religion of “Good Conscience” for the world. He had succeeded in his mission. Many years had passed between the day of introduction and the day of fulfillment of the religion. Later tradition puts it at forty-seven years. One could see all these years in Zarathushtra’s rich wrinkles. He had advanced in years, advanced in wisdom, advanced in work, and advanced in mission. He was a successful messenger, a successful founder, and a successful promoter — a sweeping success.
Late one evening, he bade his companions good-bye and retired. The next day they found him in his eternal sleep, with a smile on his face. He had been granted “the good life forever.” He had become immortal. Zarathushtra had come laughing, he made the world laugh and smile, and went smiling — the giver of serenity sublime. Tradition says that Zarathushtra passed away on 10 Ardibehesht, on about 30 April in the forty-eighth year of the establishment of the religion (48 ZRE) at the ripe age of seventy-seven years and forty days — circa l690 BCE.