A Beginner’s Guide to Zoroastrianism
What is Zoroastrianism?
Simply put, Zoroastrianism is the name given to religion and beliefs based on the teachings attributed to the Persian religious leader Zararthushtra (in Greek Zoroaster, in later Persian Zartosht). Mazdayasna (worship of Ahura Mazda) is the name of the religion that recognizes the divine authority of Ahura Mazda, the creator that Zarathustra discovered by studying nature and who was proclaimed by Zoroaster as the only uncreated Creator of all (God).
“Mazdaism” is a transliteration of Mazdayasna, which means “Mazda Worshiper”. Most of Ahura Mazda’s followers call themselves Zoroastrians or Behdini (followers of Good Religion).
Who was Zoroaster?
Zoroaster is generally accepted as a historical figure, but dating just when Zoroaster lived is fraught with difficulties. The most widely accepted estimates place it around 1200 BC. C., which makes him a candidate for the “ founder of the oldest religion based on revealed scriptures ”, while there are other estimates that date his life between the 18th and 6th centuries BC.
The Gathas and the chapter known as Yasna Haptanghaiti are written in Old Avestan and the language used in these passages is much older than the language used in other parts of the Zoroastrian writings which are called Avesta and which are written in what is Young calls. Avestan. Old Avestan and Vedic Sanskrit are both descendants of the Proto-Indo-Iranian language and Old Gothic Avestan still has a fairly close structure to Rig-Veda Sanskrit in the use of the language.
However, the Sanskrit of the Rig-Veda is somewhat more conservative in perspective and structure than the Avestan of the Gathas and therefore, depending on the changes in languages, scholars date the Gathas around 1000 BC. C., more or less a couple of centuries.
** But keep in mind also that the problem lies in the antiquity of the Rig Veda, which no one seems to know with any approximate certainty. There are also those who think that the Gathas are older than the Rig Veda, Dastur Dhalla, and some other linguists see the Gaatic language as more complex and archaic.
Most of what we know about Zoroaster comes from a variety of sources, the Avesta, the Gathas, Greek historical works, archaeological evidence, and oral history. Zoroaster was born on the cusp when societies shifted from being primarily nomadic to a more settled agrarian lifestyle. He lived in an area of the Middle East that was then known as Chorasmia (an area that roughly occupies present-day northern Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan).
He was married, had three daughters and three sons, and it was at 30 that he received enlightenment. He preached for many years before his wife and children were converted, the first convert being a cousin.
All these statements are based on legends that have been woven into traditions. They probably contain some truths and facts, but there is no way to determine them and therefore cannot be taken as historical.
Avestan’s later writings make Zoroaster a kind of ‘superman’, fighting demons and being tempted by Ahriman. The Gathas, however, show him an ordinary mortal, perplexed by his calling, completely unsure of Ahura Mazda, and baffled by his lack of success. He eventually converted King Vistaspa who reigned over eastern Iran and with the king’s conversion Zoroastrianism became a force in the region and there, as well as in India among the Parsis, it still survives.
Who is Ahura Mazda?
For Zoroastrians, God (called Ahura Mazda), is the beginning and the end, the creator of everything visible and invisible. Although it is recognized that the concept of “God”, like many others, is slightly different in Zarathustra’s thought. Zarathustra might be better considered, if we are to use modern terms to describe his doctrines, a panentheist, that is, he perceives a Supreme Being.
Therefore, this Creator is immanent to Creation, but also transcends it. In fact, as has been said, one can see the Mazda Ahura as containing creation in some way.
Also, the very concept of Lordship and Sovereignty is different, Ahura, which is often translated as lord, was the name of a set of ancient arya gods that were totally abstract and lacked in any form, they can be better considered as energy since they have no body, but they are personal.
Furthermore, Mazda does not impose His will, but rather teaches, persuades, etc. Therefore, Mazda’s relationship with mortals is that of a partner, an ally, a friend, and even a soul mate)
This being that is the source of everything that exists. The name Ahura Mazda contains both masculine and feminine elements. (Ahura, the Lord, is male, while Mazda, the Most or Super Wise or Knowing, and the Most or Super Giving or Generous, is female).
Ahura Mazda, according to Zoroastrian belief, is the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth. In the Gathas, which are the oldest texts of Zoroastrianism and are considered to have been written by Zoroaster himself, the teacher does not give devotion to any other divinity besides Ahura Mazda.
What are the Gathas?
The Gathas are scriptures written in an ancient Indo-Iranian verse form. Gatha means “Song”. There are 17 ghatic hymns, they exist both by themselves and as part of the much larger Avesta. They are the first writings of Zoroaster.
Perhaps the best known of the later Zoroastrian doctrines is the doctrine of dualism or ditheism. This posits that Ahura Mazda has two ’emanations’ called Spenta Mainyu (Good Mind) and Angra Mainyu (Bad or Evil Mind). These became the later Zoroastrian beliefs of Ormazd and Ahriman.
This doctrine, however, is purely the product of later thought. In the Zoroaster reveal, only Ahura Mazda will finally triumph over the ‘lie’ (Yasna 48.1). But not here or now. For now human beings must choose which of the two ‘forces’ they will serve, the Truth or the Lie, this choice is a lifelong matter, but righteousness begins by making the first choice for Ahura Mazda and for Truth.
Appointment:“… Hear the best things with your ears, reflect on them with an impartial mind. Then let each man and woman choose for themselves between the two ways of thinking. Awaken to my doctrine, before this great event of the choice comes upon you … “ [Avesta: The Gathas: Song 3:2 (FreeTranslation)]
What about the converts?
There are two main groups that can be considered “cultural” Zoroastrians: the Zoroastrian community in Iran and the Parsi community in India. The Parsis (refugees in India from the invasion of Iran by the Muslims) do not allow conversion at all. The Iranian community does it, but quietly and carefully, because converting from Islam is considered a crime in Iran.
But in addition to these groups, there are groups of Zoroastrian ‘Gathas only’ converts by choice that spring up all over the world, with the main centers for such groups being the United States and South America. So, in fact, it is possible to convert to Zoroastrianism.
See also article at: http://tinyurl.com/svs5k
What does Zoroastrianism teach?
In this part of the article that I have struggled with, the teachings of Zoroastrianism are deep and broad, but I think the following quote from:
http://www.zoroastrianism.cc/universal_religion.html is perhaps the best definition I have ever read.
Quote: “… Zarathustra is a message about a spirituality that progresses towards self-realization, fulfillment and fulfillment, as a good creation of a totally good God. It is a message of freedom – freedom to choose, freedom from fear, freedom from guilt, freedom from sin, freedom from brutalizing rituals, superstitious practices, false spirituality and ceremonials. The God of Zarathustra, is not a God of “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not”.
God in Zoroastrianism does not care what you wear, what and when you eat or where and when you worship. Instead, God cares how fair, progressive, and good you are.
1. God is not about fearing guilt and condemnation.
2. God is Wisdom, Love and Logic.
3. God does not play favorites and does not discriminate on the basis of nationality, sex, race, or class.
4. God treats human beings with dignity and respect.
5. God is not a slave master or despot among his servants.
6. God is the soul mate and partner of man.
7. God is not jealous, angry, or vengeful.
8. Man is not sinful, fallen, or depraved.
9. God has no opponents and heaven and hell are states of mind and being.
10. Man was created to progress in the likeness of God and eliminate evil from the Cosmos in partnership with God.
The Zoroastrian Religion describes humanity as the growing and evolving creation of a God who respects it and wants it to collaborate in the task of preserving, nurturing, fostering and refreshing this Living World and all that it offers.
A Zoroastrian is supposed to progress towards God (Ahura Mazda) by his own decisions. Choose to do good and avoid choosing to do evil or evil. Zoroastrianism is, therefore, humanity’s first truly ethical religion and teaches that mortals achieve their goal of God-likeness and spiritual fulfillment by fighting evil through good thoughts, words, and deeds … “