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The Beginning
Thousands of years ago, there was no organized religion. People worshipped various
pagan gods and goddesses. This lack of religion in the people’s daily lives meant that
there was no sense of ethics. People stole, killed, looted, and lied. In short, there was
According to myth, Zarthustra had a conversion
experience. An angel called Good Thought
appeared to him and took him before Ahura
Mazda (Wise Lord). Zarathustra recognized
Ahura Mazda as the one ture God.That was when
Ahura Mazda, the supreme creator of the
universe, sent the prophet Zarathustra down to
earth to teach the people a new religion.
Zarathustra (known to the Greeks as Zoroaster)
came down and taught the people that there was
one God, Ahura Mazda, and that he was all
powerful. He taught them that God was the supreme creator of all things, and that he
would reward their good deeds and punish their wrongdoing justly. The time and place
Zarathustra came is still debated, but most experts agree it was in the area known as
Persia (now Iran) around 1500 B.C.
What was life like on earth before
Zarathustra’s experience? What
element of religion does this fit
What is a conversion experience? What
element of religion (there are seven) does
this fit into?
Against overwhelming odds, the Zoroastrian religion has survived until the present,
although there are less than 200,000 still practicing the religion today. Most of these are
in India, Iran, North America, and Australia. A few are scattered through other corners of
the globe.
The sacred scripture of Zoroastrianism is called the Avesta. It includes the
Gathas (hymns) written by Zarathustra himself.
Ahunavaiti Gatha – from the Avesta
1. With outspread hands in petition for
that help, O Mazda, I will pray for the
works of the holy spirit, O thou the
Right, whereby I may please the will of
Good Thought and the Ox-Soul.
The Zoroastrians pray five times a
day, each prayer coming from one of
the parts of the Avesta
3. I who would praise ye as never before,
Right and Good Thought and Mazda
Ahura, and those for whom Piety makes an
imperishable Dominion to grow; come ye
to me help at my call.
Monotheism: Zoroastrians believe in one God. This was a radical idea at the time as
all other religions were polytheistic. For Zarathustra, the one true God was Ahura
Mazda who is eternal and universal goodness. He
controls the universe and the destiny of all human
Ethical Dualism: is the belief in universal forces of
good and evil. In Zoroastrianism, the universal
goodness, Ahura Mazda is opposed by the Lie, known
as Ahriman. Thus, for Zoroastrianism, evil really
existed and it could be seen in the world as Ahriman
was helped by demons known as daevas and drujs. One
specific hostile spirit was known as Shaitan, which is
related to the Hebrew name for evil, Satan.
Zarathustra believed that the universe was a
battleground for the forces of good and evil. He
Ahura Mazda fighting Ahriman
believed the battle would eventually be won by good
and predicted a future savior who would help restore
this goodness to the world. This is the concept of apocalypticism.
What other religions do you know of, that teach the concept of
apocalypticism and that a savior will come to save the world?
Zoroastrianists believed that humans must also be involved in this battle between
good and evil: we must choose between the Truth and the Lie. Each person’s
choice has eternal consequences. At the day of judgment, the wicked will suffer the
pains of the Worse Existence (hell) and the just will enjoy The House of Best
Purpose (Heaven). Humans determine their own destiny by choosing truth, goodness
and life or falsehood, evil and death. This is the concept of Ethical dualism.
Truly, there are two primal Spirits, twins renowned to be in conflict. In thought and word, in
act they are two: the better and the bad. And those who act well have chosen rightly between
these two, not so the evildoers. And when these two Spirits first came together they created
life and not-life, and how at the end Worst Existence shall be for the wicked, but the House
of Best Purpose shall for the just man. Of these two Spirits the Wicked One chose achieving
the worst things. The Most Holy Spirit, who is clad in the hardest stone, chose right, and so do
those who shall satisfy Ahuramazda continually with rightful acts.
The daevas indeed did not choose rightly between these two, for the Deceiver approached
them as they conferred. Because they chose worst purpose, they then rushed to Fury, with
whom they have afflicted the world and mankind.
Yasna 30.1-6
In your own words, describe ethical dualism.
Do you believe in it? Why?
Human Destiny
After death, Zarathustra teaches, each soul undergoes a judgment. The soul crosses the
Bridge of the Separator, which goes over an abyss of horrible torment but leads to
paradise. The ethical record of the soul is
judged; the good are allowed to pass into
paradise, but the wicked are cast into the
abyss. For Zoroastrianism, heaven is a
place of joy and sunshine. Hell is a foulsmelling, dark place where the tormented
are cursed to remain alone for eternity.
There is a promise also, of a series of
saviors, the Saoshyants, who will appear
in the world and complete the triumph of
good over evil. Evil will be rendered
ineffective and Ahura Mazda, the Infinite
One, will finally become truly
Omnipotent in Endless Light. There will
then take place, a general Last Judgment
of all the souls awaiting redemption,
followed by the Resurrection of the
physical body, which will once again meet its spiritual counterpart, the soul. Time, as we
know it, will cease to exist and the creation of Ahura Mazda will be gathered together in
eternal blessedness in the Kingdom of Mazda, where everything, it is believed, will
remain forever in a perfect state of joy.
In your own words, briefly explain what
Zoroastrians believe happens after death.
What does this remind you of?
Who are the Saoshyants? What is
their importance?
The Zoroastrian religion lays tremendous emphasis on morals and ethics. A Zoroastrian
is expected to make a conscious effort every moment of his life, to reject all forms of evil
and the lie - in thought, word and deed and endeavor at all times to walk on the path of
Asha is the Law Eternal, the Cosmic Law of Order and Harmony on which the entire
Universe is based. It is through Asha that Ahura Mazda created the universe and it is
through Asha that mankind will attain perfection and be one with Ahura Mazda.
It is only by walking on the path of Asha that man can attain union with his maker. The
Avesta is quite explicit on this point, "There is but one path, that of Asha, all other paths
are false paths”
What occurs during the last judgment?
What is Asha? Put the definition in your own words.
According to Zoroastrianism, it is the sum total of a man's thoughts, words and deeds
which will determine the fate of his soul in the other world - it is these thoughts, words
and deeds, good or bad, which will lead his soul either to he gates of heaven or to the
pathway of hell.
The Zoroastrian scriptures enumerate a number of virtues, which a Zoroastrian should
aspire and endeavor to cultivate and a number of vices from which he should guard
himself and struggle to keep away.
Some of the virtues (not necessarily in the order of importance) are as follows:
(a) Unflinching faith, devotion and love for Ahura Mazda and His prophet,
(b) Offering the Faraziyat (obligatory) prayers
(c) Observing and upholding all the tenets (laws) and traditions of the religion and
community, particularly with regard to:
respect and reverence for fire and offering worship to the one and only supreme
ritual purity in day-to-day life
mental and physical hygiene
marrying only within the community,
the lawful method for the disposal of the dead,
Performing and participating in all the necessary high and holy liturgical
ceremonies and rituals,
Remembering the holy fravashis (festivals)of the dead and observing all the
parabhs, gahambars and other feasts and festivals;
(d) Speaking the Truth always. Avesta: 31.19 "A truth-speaker receives honour and is a
master without fear
(e) Moderation in matters of food, drink and other worldly pleasures. Neither
fasting nor gluttony and neither celibacy nor lechery is desirable;
(f) Charity and love for all human beings. Zoroastrianism does not look down upon
acquisition of wealth. In fact, wealth is seen to be fundamentally positive, provided it is
put to judicious use and used for the well being of others.
(g) Industry and honest toil. According to Yasna 46.12 "those who make the world
prosperous through good thoughts and honest endeavours are those who live a virtuous
life in good thoughts. The Visperad (7.1) also praises, "industry and courage."
Conversely according to the Visperad (18.2), "a man who is idle is worthy of hell";
(h) Keep a promise at all cost. In fact Yasna 61.3 strongly advises, "keep away from a
covenant breaker and from one who tampers,"
(i) Aspire for higher knowledge and acquire wisdom under a proficient teacher;
(j) Respect ones elders and superiors. "He who does not show respect to an elder will
never receive honour" (Yasna 29.6);
(k) Honesty and integrity in ones dealings in this world;
(l) Forgiveness, mercy and tolerance
What virtues would be accepted within our society?
What virtues seem a little strange to you? Why?
And now for the vices from which a Zoroastrian should guard himself and struggle to
keep away:
a) Anger and jealousy- According to the Yasna 49.4 "Those who promote wrath and
jealousy are of evil intellect;"
b) Greed and idleness- Yasna 16.8 warns "Keep away from the greed of a wicked man",
while the Visperad states, "a man who is idle is worthy of hell";
c) Arrogance-Little knowledge, power and wealth often makes a man arrogant.
Arrogance leads to other vices and the road of ruin.
d) Apostasy - According to Vendidad (15.2) "if a person, being a member of the good
religion, willingly accepts the commandments of another religion and speaks pejoratively
of our religion, he becomes a sinner";
Based on the quotation from the Vendidad, what do you think “apostasy” is?
e) Adultery
f) Sloth - In the Vendidad (11.9): "May the demon of slothfulness which increases
idleness depart";
g) Foul language - The Denkard consider use of foul or abusive language as a sin equal
to telling lies;
h) Petty and unwarranted quarrels, arguments and violence;
i) Bad company and literature;
j) Malice and vengefulness;
Which vices are also considered vices in our society? Which ones are not? Why do
you think this is?
Their worship includes prayer which is to be done 5 times a day. An important ritual is
the Fire ritual. Fire is a symbol of the purity of Ahura Mazda. A Fire burns continually
in the temple, also know as agiaries or "places of fire. Priests who tend it are careful to
maintain ritual purity, covering their mouths with a special cloth. Worshippers wash
themselves before offering sandalwood and money. In turn they receive ashes which
they rub on their face. Priests are known as magi and were known for their holiness,
wisdom and powers of divination.
Where do we see an “eternal fire”
in the Catholic church?
Zoroastrians neither bury their dead, nor
cremate them. Fire is sacred to Zoroastrians
and the earth too would become contaminated
if bodies were placed within it. Death is
considered to be the domain of the evil being Ahirman and his temporary victory in this
earthly plane. Death and decay cannot overwhelm the spirit but they can contaminate the
physical world around them. So there is nothing much to do with the dead, other than let
the body remain isolated and decay, untouched and unobserved by living people.
Zoroastrians leave their dead in towers called dakmsas or “silent towers” where the body
is left to be consumed by carrion animals and decay naturally. After a few weeks, when
the flesh is completed disintegrated, the bones are collected and stored in deep wells
where they are allowed to disintegrate slowly.
Zoroastrianism Today
When Islam conquered Iran in the 10th Century C.E., the Zoroastrians moved to India
where they are known as the Parsis. There are also a few, small, communities in
Australia, United States, and parts of Russia.