Untitled Essay, Research Paper
Introduction Some time in the history of the universe, no one is quite sure when, there was born a man. This man would eventually be the first to found a monotheistic religion. The name of this man is Zoroaster; the name is actually a corruption of Zarathushtra. Zoroaster’s birth date, along with whether his religion is actually monotheistic, is a subject of great debate. The opinions concerning his birth, and consequently about the beginning of this great religion, range from as early as 6000 years before Plato to as late as 500 B.C.E. In any case he was born somewhere in Iran, although whether in the East or West is also arguable. In the early writings the people belonging to this religion are called Zarathustris; the system he taught is called Mazdaism. The present day followers are called Parsees. Zoroaster removed the multiplicity of deities from religion and created a faith in which there were two, or perhaps, one God. All other higher beings were regarded as demons, or evil spirits. No one knows for sure the different stages of popularity that Zoroastrianism experienced. We do know that at the time of Darius I, 558?-486 B.C.E., it was protected by royalty. Later, however, Zoroastrians were continually chased by the members of the Islamic religion through Kathiawar in India, and Surat, and finally they settled again in Bombay. The universe is the battleground. The opponents are Mazda Ahura, later to be known as Ahura Mazda, and Anra Mainyu, later call ed Ahriman. Ahura Mazda is the good force and the bad is Ahriman. The battle will last till Ahura Mazda defeats Ahriman in the year 12,000 (we are now presumably around 11,500). This is the world and its future in accordance with Zoroastrian beliefs. Zoroaster Zoroaster had a very non-conforming mind and was forced to flee his parents’ house without his parents’ consent because of the rebuking he gave to those who sacrificed cattle or drank intoxicating haoma. He fled to the mountains and gave himself to God. Sometime between the ages of thirty and forty an angel appeared to him and brought him to the throne of the highest God, Ahura Mazda. After this occurred, the prophet tried for twelve years to convert people, but to no available. During this period many visions were revaled to him. A milestone in the progression of the religion occurred when Zoroaster converted Vishtaspa,the king of Persia. He also converted the king’s son, brother, counsellor, and grand vizier. Zoroaster married, along with two other women, the counsellor’s daughter. Zoroaster was killed at the age of seventy-seven by Ardshataspa, a neighboring prince, who invaded Vishtaspa’s capital. According to the Parsees, Vishtaspa is the father of Darius, who reigned from 521-485 B.C.E. Another view holds that Zoroaster lived 258 years before Alexander the Great; he would have therefore lived between 570 and 500 B.C.E. The Greeks tend to place him six thousand years before Plato. Ahura Mazda, while not necessarily discovered by Zoroaster, was found on an inscription dating around 714 B.C.E. In ancient Persia, before Zoraoster’s reforms, religion was polytheistic. Zoroaster objected to these dieties and referred to them as demons. Many of the rituals and Gods that he removed were later reinstated due to the fact that the people were still emotionally attached to them. We can see this from the fact that on the epigraphs of Artaxerxes II Mnemon (404-358 B.C.E.) the Mithras and Anahita, ancient gods, are mentioned. Temples and images of God were also introduced into the religion at a later date. Zoroastrian Beliefs The Zoroastrian religion is based on the fundamental concept of a constant battle of good against evil. The good is represented by Ahura Mazda while the bad is represented by Ahriman. Ahura Mazda created this world as a trap for Ahriman. Human beings draw Ahriman into this world; he will jump at any chance to cause others to do evil. He will then be entering Ahura Mazda’s world, and when people choose good over evil voluntarily this will weaken Ahriman to the point where he can be destroyed. It is hard to reconcile the two opposing views on the dieties in the Zoroastrian religion. The claim is made that the religion is monotheistic; it is also alleged that the opposing forces in the world, good and evil, are represented by two equal gods. Modern day Parsees resolve the contradiction by explaining that Ahura Mazda has always and will always stand above all. Anra Mainyu, or Ahriman, was only created due to an evil thought that once entered Ahura Mazda’s head. The real opponent of Ahriman is Spenta Mainyu, the good spirit. The world is divided into three sections. The upper world is bathed in light, the earth is divided into seven sections, and the underworld is a dark place. The forces of good and evil will do battle for the twelve thousand years of the world’s total existence. In the beginning, as Ahriman attempts to kill Ahura Mazda, he is stopped and pulled away. Both of the Gods agree to a period of peace that will last 9,000 years. During the first three thousand years Ahura Mazda creates angels, good spirits, and Frava shis. These Fravashis are the original heavenly images of men living in the upper world. During the next three thousand years the Fravashis come down to earth. There they lead a perfect sinless life. Anra Mainyu is angry because of the advantage he sees the Ahura Mazda has gained over him in preparation for the final battle. He tries to bring evil to the world, but he is rendered powerless by the sacred Ahunavairya formula that Ahura Mazda utters. In the next three thousand years Anra Mainyu invades the world. He kills the early man and animal and disperses demons throughout the world. However a human couple arises from the seed of the early man and a cow from the seed of early animal. These beings are mixed and must choose between the good and evil that now inhabits the world. The final three thousand year period begins and Ahura Mazda sends Zoroaster down to the world. Zoroaster had been in fravashi, or spiritual, form since the beginning of the second period. After Zoroast er’s death, every thousand years till the end of this three thousand year period, a prophet will arise. This prophet will come from a virgin who is fertilized by remnants of Zoroaster’s seed, which is preserved in a lake. The prophet will bring about an improvement in society for a short period of time. The last of these prophets, Saoshyant, or “helper”, will bring about a resurrection of the dead. The final fight will then occur and the death of Ahriman will take place. All evil will disappear and the world will be cleansed by a fiery stream of metal which will bring about a complete transformation, or Frashokereti. Ahura Mazda will rule over all forever. Zoroastrian Literature The main source for the teachings of Zoroaster is the Avesta. These are the only writings which come directly from Zoroaster and are written as if spoken to him by God Himself. Due to the fact that the Iranians couldn’t write, all this information was passed down orally; this, in part, led to the eventual loss of this material. Around the fifth century an Avestan alphabet was created for this purpose. These documents date back to 1323. The Gathas are sacred literature which are difficult to translate and are believed to inclu de rituals, prayers, hymns, visions of God, His purposes, and prophecies. The Gathic portions of the Yasna were preserved by being included in the Yasna writings which involved the worship process of every day. The younger Avestan parts of the Yasna were being written throughout all the centuries eventually having seventy-two sections. These contained many topics and protected the basic Gathic texts. Some of the Extended Avesta was taken from the Yashts which were hymns addressed to the lesser divine beings and were very poetic. These were written in the Avestan dialect. The Gathas on the other hand, were memorized due to their holiness. The Vendidad were written in the late younger Avestan period. They included laws on purity and on fighting evil. The Visperad is an extension of the Yasna and the Vendidad. They dealt with the seven holy days of faith. The Nayesh and Goh were prayers recited, on the average, eight times a day. They were for priests as well as lay persons. Some were directed at certain forces of nature and were said less frequently. The Khorda, or Little Avesta, is a book of common prayers. Each Khorda had the same prayers but in different orders. They were previously memorized and only said by priests, but now, because they are printed, are said by everyone. The Great Avesta is grouped into twenty-one nasks, or books. They were last written in the sixth century and contain all the previous works and much more. They included the life and legends about the prophet, the religious doctrine, the end of days, law, creation of the world, and science. These were placed in all the temples, but during the Islamic period all the temples were destroyed and not a copy remains. A book, the Denkard, has a detailed summary of these works in Pahlavi and it seems that the Extended Avesta took a quarter of the whole canon. The only reason that the Pahlavi survived is because they were used extensively and therefore known by heart, and priests made copies of them at their houses. Zands, or intrepertations, on the Avesta have always been written. The old ones are included with the Avesta. This continued until the fourth century when the Sasanians, the last Zoroastrians to rule Iran, c hanged the language to Middle Persian, or Pahlavi. The ones written in this Pahlavi language are the only ones that fully remain of the Zand and so are considered the Zand. The Yashts are the only part of the Avesta not to have a Zand written together with it. The Pahlavi works were written as if being said aloud. Because of this free style of being written they were changed or added to freely by future people. In subsequent times the Zoroastrian community was very persecuted and they were lowered to a group of poor and intellectualy isolated people. They reduced the writings to the basics and much of their writings are simply copies of previous texts. They also left their Pahlavi writings for the more current Persian. As the religious community moved about they translated their writings into many of the different languages of the places where they were residing at that time. Not much was added and even the writings they retained were copied with mistakes. In later times, from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, because of the split in the Zoroastrian communities, one being in Iran and the other in Persia, the writings were not very frequent. The writings basically consisted of Parsi questions to their Iranian counter parts, usually about law and purity, and the answers. These writings were known as the Persian Rivayats. From the mid-nineteenth century and on the Parsis prospered greatly. This brought about an increase in the amount of literature. The literat ure was written in many languages including Gujarat (one of the previous places of residence) and English. These consisted mainly of the religion’s beliefs and observances. The Zoroastrian religion makes an abrupt turn at this point and changes from its previous highly orthodox religion and writing. The society is hurt and confused because of a sudden plunge into modernity. The society searched for new ways to explain the older writings. The writing is transformed into one writing influenced by the beliefs of many of the surrounding religions including Christianity and Hinduism. Some writings simply talk of a belief but advocate no actual observance requiring any actions. Into the twentieth century the writings decrease and show a greater influence by the Muslims. Zoroastrian History From around 550-330 B.C.E. the Iranian tribes left the steppes where they had been previously living and conquered and moved into modern-day Iran. The eastern Iranians brought the Zoroastrian faith to the western Iranians, the Meads, and the Persians. It became the religion of the Achaemenian empire. The Avestan writings, however, remained in the eastern dialect. Alexander slaughtered many of the Zoroastrian priests thereby also harming the transmission of the texts. The Asacids, from north-east Iran, later established the second Iranian empire. The empire was called the Parthian empire. The few written records they had indicated a tolerance of the Zoroastrian religion. This empire ruled from approximately 144 B.C.E. through 224 C.E. The Sasanian period was from 224 to 651 C.E. By this time Zoroastrianism had returned to many of the things that Zoroaster had taken out at the beginning of the religion. They had gone back to their old ways of sacrificing, drinking haoma, and believing in more than one God. However, even as the orthodoxy of the religion declined, its popularity increased to the greatest point in its history. After the fall of t his empire Persia was converted to Islam. About fourteen thousand remain in Iran today. The others either converted or moved to India, where different religions were more tolerated. The Zoroastrians there are called Parsees, and most live around Bombay. They number about 150,000. They have greatly prospered, and probably owe this to their honesty and generosity. Ethics Zoroaster based his concept of good and evil on the things that happened to be good and bad for the people of his time. Animals which were used for cattle bearing were considered good and created by Ahura Mazda. On the other hand, animals which were harmful to cattle were created by Ahriman. Large families were praised, and any attempt to stop sex from having children was forbidden. The main purpose of man is always to make good decisions and to fight with Ahura Mazda against the forces of Ahriman. Life after Death Cadavers are unclean and therefore should not be allow ed to touch the holy fire and earth. The Zoroastrians have devised a way of dealing with this in which they place the dead bodies on dakhmas, the towers of silence. Certain people who have received this position by inheritance, as it is unholy, bring the bodies into these towers. Once placed on the towers of silence the bodies are devoured by vultures in a matter of hours. Water is then poured over the bones and is run into the sea. Modern ways of dealing with the dead are by placing them into cement containers or by burning with electricity. Spiritually, after a person dies, his body remains in the area in which he died for three days. After this his conscience appears to him in the form of a woman. If the person had a bad conscience the woman is ugly; if he had a good conscience the woman is beautiful. The woman then takes him over a bridge called the Chinvat Peretu, the accountants’ bridge. If the person led a good life he walks over the bridge into paradise; if he led a bad l ife he falls to hell. If the person is not evil nor good he reaches the intermediate kingdom, Hamestakans, which is between paradise and hell. After the end of the world is reached, the spirits will be returned to their bodies and it is only then that their final fate will be decided. Conclusion In conclusion I think that the following observation correctly summarizes the enduring contributions of Zoroastrianism. It is an inspired ideology which is based upon three beli efs: there is a battle between good and evil, there will be an end to the world together with a final divine judgment and the purification of earth, and there is a paradise, a perfect society in heaven. These ideas have had far reaching effects upon other religions and people. Zoroastrianism has brought a concept of a sense of the religious meaning of history along with a stronger monotheism and ethics. It has removed the religious identification with nature and states of consciousness. There are those that believe that the Ancient Hebrews only adopted the concepts of a resurrection of the dead, an end to the world, and a final judgment, once they came into contact with the Zoroastrians. All of these ideas are presently important to the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. We can all see how far reaching and important the Zoroastrian religion has been on the evolution of the important religions out of which most modern civilizations have evolved.