Philosophy of the Religion
Philosophy and Teachings
Each religion has distinctive teachings that sets it apart from other religions. Every religion propounds an ethical system which is similar in various religions and cultures and is open for adoption by the other people. Every religion also has unique and distinct teachings and philosophy on which is based the ritual dimension, which is exclusive to the religion.
The basic teachings and Philosophy are as under:
I Cosmogony: Creation, world view and time-frame from the beginning to the end.
II Teachings about: 1. Monotheism 2. Two Spirits 3. Divine beings 4. Soul 5. Creations 6. Man-his constitution duties and obligations.
A world view is necessary to keep our personal life in perspective with our life’s purpose and our surroundings, right since the beginning of Time till the end of the world. As a human, man starts to questions himself as to who he is, from where he has come, and what is the final purpose of life. Cosmogony helps man to answer these fundamental questions.
Cosmogony can be simply described is the religious view of the Creation of the world. According to the Pahlavi tradition, in the beginning there was perfect Light (spiritual energy) in which Ahura Mazda dwelled. Then Ahura Mazda thought about creating creations. First He created Asha – the immutable Law on the basis of which the creations would be created.
Thereafter, Spenta Mainyu was created as the creative benevolent Spirit. On the basis of the Law of Polarity Angra Mainyu came into existence. First the spiritual world was created. The divine beings came into existence as different manifestations of the pure light. Ahura Mazda represents the purest light, then the divine beings in their hierarchical order.
The account of creation is contained in the Pahlavi book Bundahishn, which symbolically states that the entire span of creation is of 12000 years. It then symbolically divides it into four periods of 3000 years each. The Pahlavi word hazāra is generally translated as a period of 1000 years, but it should not be taken literally, as it just symbolises a long period of time.
In the first 3000 years perfect spiritual creations were created. Angra Mainyu, owing to his inherent nature for destruction, attacked them, but Ahura Mazda chanted the Ahunavar and Angra Mainyu was stupefied for the next 3000 years. Ahura Mazda conferred with the Fravashis and set up a period of 9000 years after which evil would be totally incapacitated.
In the next 3000 years Ahura Mazda created the spiritual prototype of creations, and then created the material world and material creations in a perfect state. The first two periods of 3000 years, are referred to as Bundahishn “the beginning of creations.”
The third and fourth 3000 year periods are referred to as Gumezishn “the period of Mixture.” In this period Angra Mainyu attacked and evil inter-mingled with the 7 material creations. At the end of the last 3000 years, 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 this period, Saoshyant, the saviour will be born, last Judgment will take place, followed by Ristakhez (rising of the ‘dead’), Tane-pasen (new body) and Frashokereti (Renovation). Evil will be completely annihilated. After this, creations will revert back to their perfect spiritual states.
The Indian concept of Yuga is similar to the idea of Hazāras. According to Indian texts there are 4 Yugas –Sat Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvāpar Yuga and Kali Yuga.
The apocalyptic Zoroastrian concept of Tan-i-Pasin is similar to the concept of Resurrection in Abrahamic religions.
Zoroastrian Cosmogony assures that at the end of the 12000 years period, evil shall be vanquished by good, resulting in complete renovation. This event of distant future, known as Frashokereti or Frashogard will be brought about by the united, conscious efforts of men and Spiritual Beings.
1. Monotheism – Belief in One God – AHURA MAZDA
Avestan texts were the first to reveal the concept of Monotheism, the belief in one Supreme Uncreated Force, 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. He is all-knowing and undeceivable.
Ahura Mazda is the First Principle, the sole creator and the absolute ruler of the Universe. He has no equal or opponent. His is the only power and intelligence that governs the Universe. He is the most beneficent Spirit, 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.
The spiritual and material worlds are manifestations of Ahura Mazda’s intelligence. He is the creator of all creations. He has fixed the laws of Nature, and all creations operate according to these laws. Over and above the cosmic front, this law works also on the physical, moral and spiritual fronts. Ahura Mazda never interferes with the working of this law.
Ahura Mazda 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, the brightest light visible to us, is the most beautiful emblem of Ahura Mazda. The radiant, blazing fire is the living representative of Ahura Mazda on earth.
Ahura Mazda oversees all creatures with His sharp, piercing gaze. He is aware of whatever man does. He is the sole decider, and the supreme judge of man’s actions. He is without a beginning and an end and hence eternal and immortal. He is totally Perfect. He is present in all creations, and is yet above them, on account of His Wisdom.
Ahura Mazda is the embodiment of Wisdom. He created and sustains the universe through Wisdom. At a cosmic level, Wisdom permeates every atom of the Universe and at a personal level it permeates every cell of the body. The universe organizes itself intelligently and reacts to its own internal events much as the cells of our body do.
2. The Spiritual world:
Ahura Mazda first created the spiritual world and created Ameshaspands, Yazads, Ravan (Souls) and Fravashis (Guardian Spirits) in it.
Ameshaspands “the holy immortals” are the highest Spiritual Beings in Avesta. The concept of Amesha Spentas is present in the Gathas, though the word is not there. With Ahura Mazda, the Ameshaspands are seven in number. Ahura Mazda is their father and preceptor. They work in the universe with one accord. They preside over spiritual powers, virtues, and material creations, as well as on the spiritual centres in humans.
Yazads is a general term used for worshipful spiritual beings, hence technically, even Ahura Mazda and the Ameshaspands are considered as Yazads. The term Yazad, as it is used today, signifies the spiritual beings working in the universe as co-workers of Ameshaspands and presiding over various creations like the sun, the moon, the stars and the earth. The Yazads can be invoked, either individually or collectively for help for various purposes.
3. Two spirits or forces:
In the world, there are two spirits or forces at work–Spenta Mainyu “the beneficent spirit” and Angra Mainyu “the evil spirit.” These two are diametrically opposed cosmic forces which have existed prior to the creations. In the Gathas it is stated: At tā maiyu pouruye, that is, the two spirits were there from the beginning. Duality came in with the two spirits, when the creations were created.
The two spirits operate at various levels. The good spirit is life-giving and benefiting. The Evil Spirit is harmful, deceitful, wicked, negative, destructive and life-destroying. It is the duty of each human being to shun evil, thwart its wicked designs, and promote the growth and prosperity of god’s good creations.
The two spirits manifest in man as mentalities. It is man’s duty to be on the side of the good, fight against physical, mental, moral, emotional and spiritual evils, and not allow them to grow on him. Evil is parasitical in nature. It can exist only if man allows it to grow and thrive on him. The destructive spirit cannot exist on its own.
Since man has consciousness, he has the free will to choose between Good and Evil. Man’s good acts are rewarded and evil acts are punished in this world and the next. The Avestan Philosophy is one of Freedom of moral choice and Responsibility. It is not a philosophy of Commandments that are laid down to follow.
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.
Evil is devoid of wisdom and is ignorant. It could not get a foothold in the spiritual realm as there was total wisdom and no ignorance. It manifests in the relative world through man’s ignorance.
As a universal force, evil is ever ready to destroy life. In scientific terms it may be compared to entropy which is the universal tendency for order to break down into disorder. The breakdown of orderliness is inherent in the physical makeup of the universe, and is at the main reason why earthly things deteriorate and age over time. Intelligence has creative power and it can create orderliness from chaos.
Both Spenta and Angra – Intelligence and Entropy – have existed since the beginning of time. Every positive attitude, every evolution and growth is a monumental victory for intelligence. But the nature of the material world is such that it has to finally dissipate and hence entropy catches up with evolution. Anything that can be created needs to be destroyed as it has a finite existence. At this level, existence necessitates non-existence and thus the destructive spirit is in a way a necessity for the relative world.
Evil acts as a polarity in contradistinction to the good. It is necessary for the functioning of the world. However, since evil by its very nature is parasitic, negative and destructive, it has to be curbed and controlled.
In the material world man was given the option to choose. This resulted in a divergence of thoughts which gave ignorance a chance to creep in and manifest itself. Evil, in the material world, comes into existence with man’s wrong choices. When man’s level of consciousness will rise and man will start to live with total awareness, he will make correct choices, and then evil will become ineffective and redundant, as it will not have a host to latch on to. When mankind totally moves away from evil, it will be totally annihilated and cease to exist.
Animals: On the basis of the law of polarity, and also due to the fact that animals work by instincts and not by conscious will, they have been divided in Zoroastrian religion into Gospand (Av. gao spenta) “beneficent animals” and Khrafastar “harmful/noxious creatures.” Cattle and most domestic animals belong to the former category, whereas wild animals (especially the cat family), reptiles and insects belong to the latter category.
As a part of man’s fight against spiritual, moral and physical evils, he is advised to nurture and protect the Gospands and exterminate the Khrafastars which harm the good creations. Each animals possess a Fravashi that is a guardian spirit. They also have a Baodhangh (consciousness) working at an elementary, evolutionary and instinctive level. However, they do not possess a soul, and hence are not responsible for the choice of their actions.
Among animals, the Indo-Iranian preference and liking for dog is very well known. Dog is preferred over all other animals on account of its unique inherent natural power and propensity to fight evil. Moreover dogs are sincere and faithful, and they guarded the house, the farm and the sheep in ancient times.
Animals like cats and snakes are considered evil. The Evil Spirit is referred to as a snake (Vd.22.2). They are looked down upon. Zoroastrian don’t keep them as pets. Though they may be helpful in a limited way, the danger that they pose is greater than their overall worth to mankind.
4. 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. Every person has spiritual components, one of which is the soul, which is immortal and outlives the physical body after its destruction (death).
According to the Avesta, every human being is mortal, and death is destined for all. Death is seen as a transformation for the spirit and the body. It is not viewed as total destruction. It is the ‘passing away’ of life-giving semi-spiritual and spiritual elements from the physical body leading to its decomposition.
A corpse is considered the greatest source of contagion and putrefaction (Av. 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 Dokhmenashini, that is, exposure of the corpse on an elevated place to sunlight and scavenging birds as the best mode of disposal of dead.
In India, especially in Mumbai, most Zoroastrians subscribe to this mode of disposal. The corpse is placed in an enclosed circular stone structure, referred to as dakhmaa, constructed on an elevated place, exposed to sunlight and scavenger birds. In Iran, till the nineteen sixties, Zoroastrians chiefly subscribed to Dokhmenashini, but later on were forced to change to burial as the mode of disposal. The Zoroastrians settled outside the Indian sub-continent had to adopt other modes of disposal of the dead.
Divine Justice for the Soul:
Soul is referred to as urvan, that is, the “chooser.” It is the only spiritual constituent in man which could exercise a choice, and hence has to face the consequences for it. It is responsible for the good or evil actions done by man in this life, The other two spiritual constituents, baodh and fravashi, are totally good and incorruptible. 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. Some of these are Sachkār (final bath and preparation); Gāh-sārna (chanting of Gatha Ahunavaiti); the Kardeh of Srosh (expressing repentance for the soul), Uthamnā (paying condolences and last respects). Certain other prayers like Dron-yasht (Bāj), Yasna and Afringan are also performed during this period in fire-temples.
At the dawn of the fourth day, the soul appears before a heavenly tribunal, and divine justice is administered. The divine beings Meher, Rashne, Ashtad and Sarosh are present during the process. The soul is judged according to the life it has led in this world and then assigned its place in the next dimension.
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 as a frightful hag, and the soul experiences misery and distress. Then the soul crosses over to the spiritual dimensions by crossing the allegorical Bridge chinvato peretu (Chinwad Puhl) “the selection bridge.” If the thoughts, words and actions of the soul have been in good, the bridge widens allowing the soul to comfortably cross it. However, if the thoughts, words and actions are wicked the bridge narrows down to as much as a sword’s edge. If the soul is reluctant to go, its Daena as the wicked hag pulls it through the bridge.
Good souls go to heaven, which is referred to as vahishta ahu (later Bahesht) “the excellent abode.” Souls of the evil are dragged to hell, which is referred to as achishta ahu “the worst existence” or dush ahu (later Dozakh) ‘the bad existence.’
Zoroastrianism promises that, ultimately evil shall be vanquished. At that time all souls, good or evil, will have to pass through the Final Judgment by going through a symbolic river. thereafter all souls will be raised in a blissful, spiritual state in an apocalyptic even known as Ristakhez (lit. “rising of the dead”). They would then undergo the apocalyptic event of Tane-pasen “the future body” where each soul be given a body similar to the one they had on earth, made of identical elements in a spiritual form. This whole event of making afresh or making anew the souls and the world is known as frashokereti or Frashogard “renovation.”
The doctrine of reincarnation is a contentious issue in Zoroastrian philosophy. According to me, it is not distinctly mentioned anywhere in the Avesta. Moreover, it is not compatible with its theology and world view, on account of the following:
Remembrance of souls of departed ones, right since ancient times.
Linear cosmogony having an end at a point of time.
Heaven, hell and purgatory for all souls till the end of time.
Second judgment of wicked souls before the end of time.
No mention of cyclical return of souls in any Avesta / Pahlavi text (Zome proponents of re-ncarnations do see the teaching in Yasna 49.11 and the Pazand Dhup saran prayre, but this has been disputed). In Pahlavi books like the Ardaviraf Nameh which deal exclusively with the state of soul after death, there is no mention of re-incarnation. It only talks of heaven, hell and purgatory.
My personal belief is that the souls of people who die a violent and sudden death, cannot pass over to the spiritual realms on account of their very strong desire bodies at the time of death. Hence they have to stay back in the corporeal world and take on another physical body to partially or fully fulfil the overwhelming desires they had at the time of their death.
The doctrine of Karma (action and reaction) can be considered a part of Zoroastrian philosophy, in as much as it talks about:
Good blessings assured to the doers of good, and harmful recompense being assured to the perpetrators of evil.
Every thought, word and action being accounted for and having individual and collective reactions.
The soul being responsible for all thoughts, words and actions and getting reward or retribution in this life and the next.
Among the seven creation –sky (metals), water, earth, plants, animal, man and fire – man has been created superior. Every creation is sacred and their purity has to be maintained. An Ameshaspand presides over each creation. Thus respecting the creations amount to respecting the Ameshaspand presiding over it.
Man has to take care of all creations and not pollute them in any way, since polluting them would give evil a foothold over them.
Creations, especially the luminous ones are considered necessary for spiritual health of a person as they are conduits and / or store houses of khvarena “divine energy.”
Many religious injunctions, like the mode of disposal of the dead, have been laid down to protect the sanctity and purity of the creations.
6. Man and his obligations:
A human being is the most precious among God’s creations. He has been entrusted sovereignty over other creations, by virtue of his thought and speech. Man has been created with a purpose. It is with the active and willing participation of man, that divine beings will bring about Frashokereti – the final renovation of the world. Man has been endowed with several faculties to help him fulfil his divine purpose.
According to the Avesta, a human being has nine constituents, three physical (Av. tanu, gaetha, azdi), three semi-spiritual (Av. kehrp, ushtan, tevishi) and three spiritual (Av. baodh, urvan, fravashi). After death the three physical constituents putrefy and decompose. They have to be disposed as soon as possible. The three semi-spiritual (invisible yet physical) constituents merge into the elements gradually, and the three spiritual constituents are immortal and survive indefinitely after death. vv Man has to safeguard himself from various evils, which are referred to as daeva in the Avesta. Evil can be physical (evil men, wild animals, noxious creatures, germs, contagion, disease), moral (vices and bad temperament) as well as spiritual (evil spirits, entities and forces). Purity, according to Zoroastrian perspective is not just bodily and physical, it also extends to the environmental realms encompassing all material creations.
Zoroastrianism considers the human body as sacred. It is the duty of each person to keep it in a pure form. In order to safeguard oneself from evil, man has to observe certain laws of ritual purity in his everyday life. These laws are based on the principles of Asha and Khvarnah.
Religious institutions and rituals are governed by these laws of ritual purity. Fire-temples and places of worship are built with special boundary lines (Av. karsha, Phl. Kash, Guj. pāvi), which are furrows or channels, marked in the ground, to enclose ritually purified places.
In the Avestan tradition, observing the laws of ritual purity in daily lives is essential in order to preserve Divine Energy. Prayers and Fire are the two main mediums through which man can augment his Khvarnah. They are also the links which connect to the spiritual world.
Once man is able to know understand, avoid and fight the different types of evils in the world, he is ready to fulfil the obligation of evolving his mind and soul and making it worthy of the Heaven.