The ancient pre-Islamic religion of Persia that survives there in isolated areas, and more prosperously in India, where the descendants of Zoroastrian Persian immigrants are known as Parsis, or Parsees. In India, the religion is called Parsiism.
Founded by the Persian prophet and reformer Zoroaster, the religion contains both monotheistic and dualistic features. It influenced the other major Western religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The ancients saw in Zoroastrianism the archetype of the dualistic view of the world and of man’s destiny.
Zoroaster was supposed to have instructed Pythagoras in Babylon and to have inspired the Chaldean doctrines of astrology and magic.
It is likely that Zoroastrianism influenced the development of Judaism and the birth of Christianity. The Christians, following a Hebrew tradition, identified Zoroaster with Ezekiel, Nimrod, Seth, Balaam, and Baruch, and even though the latter, with Christ himself.
On the other hand, Zoroaster, as the presumed founder of astrology and magic, could be considered the arch-heretic. In more recent times the study of Zoroastrianism has played a decisive part in reconstructing the religion and social structure of the Persian peoples.
Though Zoroastrianism was never, even in the thinking of its founder, as aggressively monotheistic as for instance, Judaism or Islam, it does represent an original attempt at unifying under the worship of one supreme god, a polytheistic religion comparable to those of other early peoples.
Its other salient feature, namely dualism, was never understood in an absolute rigorous fashion.
Good and Evil fight an unequal battle in which the former is assured of triumph.
God’s omnipotence is thus only temporarily limited. In this struggle, man must enlist because of his capacity of free choice.
He does so with his soul and body, not against his body, for the opposition between good and evil is not the same as the one between spirit and matter.
Contrary to the Christian or Manichaean (from Manichaeism, a dualistic religion founded by the Persian prophet Mani) attitude, fasting and celibacy are prescribed, except as part of the purification ritual.
Man’s fight has a negative aspect nonetheless: he must keep himself pure; i.e., avoid defilement by the forces of death, contact with dead matter, etc.
Thus Zoroastrian ethics, although in itself lofty and rational, has a ritual aspect that is all-pervading. On the whole, Zoroastrianism is optimistic and has remained so, even though the hardship and oppression of its believers.
Zoroastrian faith and philosophy
At present time there are about 200,000 Zoroastrians throughout the world. Most of the worlds Zoroastrians, who are about 100,000, are living in India and they are called Parsis.
Due to the Arabs’ invasion of Persia, which was cruel, most Parsis left their own country and emigrated to India in the ninth century.
Even, at present time, if Persians are asked about Zoroastrians identity, most of them will answer, those people are fire worshipers, and like Jews and other pagans and Christians, are unclean people ( See Koran Sura 9 Ayeh 28 ).
In western countries also, the people are not quite familiar with Zoroastrian philosophy. When they are heard of Zarathustra, they are reminded of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” written by celebrated German philosopher, Nietzsche.
Therefore, it can be rightly said that Zoroastrian philosophy, which was the main religious belief system of ancient Persians and, for several hundred years was the basis of the Parisian culture and their lifestyle, now is almost forgotten.
Therefore, our purpose is to fathom this aged Zoroastrian culture, in order to recognize the truth of such a rich philosophical faith, which has been the foundation of the ancient Parisian civilization and thus try to repudiate the incorrect pre-judgments against it.
Is Zoroastrian Monotheism, Philosophy or Religion in History?
It is easy to answer this question. A look at Zoroastrian philosophy shows that Zarathustra never assumed prophet-hood.
He never claimed he had associated with the Lord of cosmos whose wide galaxy extends more than 36 milliards (36 thousand million), light year, which lies beyond our imagination.
Zarathustra never ordered his followers to perform certain activities, but he recommended them to try to know the creator of the earth and heaven and adopt good manner, on the basis of their wisdom.
Therefore, Zarathustra was neither a prophet nor can we call his spiritual path a “religion,” rather he was a thoughtful benevolent who recognized his God on the basis of his wisdom and never said he had been missioned to bring any message from God to human beings.
The Life of Zarathustra
Due to the invasion of Arabs, Alexander of Macedonia, and the destruction of the Persian libraries, there are no reliable sources available to indicate the time Zarathustra lived, nor is there any detailed information about the place where he worked.
Therefore, it can be said that in the past some researchers would believe that Zarathustra had lived about six hundred to one thousand years before the Christ. However, today some other researchers estimate the life of Zarathustra up to four thousand years before the birth of Christ.
The birth and living place of Zarathustra is not also certain, but some historians suppose that he has been living in one of the Khorasan cities, like Neishapour, Harat, or Balkh.
It can be deduced from Gatha, the Divine Songs of Zarathustra, written by him that since he was persecuted by some of his contemporary theologians and religious leaders, he escaped his birthplace and appealed to one of the sovereigns of his time, called King Goshtasb. The king was impressed by Zarathustra’s teachings and followed him.
Why Zarathustra Revolted against Mithra?
Considering that Darius the Great, was affiliated with Zoroastrianism, in his petrographies, it is written that Zarathustra praised Ahura Mazda (God) as the creator of heaven and earth.
Herodotus, the Greek historian also testifies that the Persian religion at that time had been monotheism and they had been blaming idolatry. This is a good reason, why Zarathustra, revolted against Mithra, which was the Persian religion before him.
Because, in Mithra, the oneness of God was not known to the people, plus the fact that in Mithra, sacrificing animals and also consumption of narcotics and intoxicating beverages (called Haoma) that keeps the people from good reflection, were prevalent in Mithra and Zarathustra was against them.
For such reasons Zarathustra, rose against the Mithra belief system.
The Basis of Zarathustra’s Teachings
Zarathustra seems to have become convinced that all events of the world are based on cause and effects. He has, therefore, based his teachings on three principles: good reflection, good word, and good deed.
He was wise enough to recognize that all the motives of human beings are based on action and reaction. Because the receiver of every good deed in this world will react accordingly with the good behavior.
Therefore, in the realm of interaction, if human beings act favorably, they receive favorable reaction and vice versa. In this regard, if a person robs another one, he should not be surprised when someday he will be robbed as well.
Zarathustra never imagined praising a God who is a bribe taker. The one, who is bribed by worship and then he rewards his worshiper with a part of paradise. The Almighty God is not a dealer, he is neither a buyer nor a seller, and does not need also to be flattered by his creatures.
The almighty God of Zarathustra, is the initiator of justice, kindness, and truthfulness and guides his creatures to the same principles. That is why, Zarathustra, has based his philosophy on good reflection, good word, and good deed.
In Zarathustra’s philosophy, everybody has the liberty to choose the right way, out of his/her good reflection and since human wisdom is more related to good reflection, thus the followers of Zoroastrianism should proceed to the propagation of science and education.
In this manner, Zoroastrianism becomes the forerunner of knowledge and enlightenment.
According to tradition, “Faravahar,” is the symbol of Zoroastrianism.
Briefly, it can be said that “Faravahar,” is the spirit of human beings that have existed before his/her birth and will continue to exist after his/her death.
It is important to know that “Faravahar,” should not be confused or replaced by the creator or Ahura Mazda. It is unfortunate, that some writers do not want to accept the fact that contrary to many religions, Zoroastrianism has never believed in anthropomorphism any feature for God. In no part of Gatha, there is also any mention of the face of God.
Zarathustra says in Yasna 31:8:
“O’ Mazda, when I was looking for you with my wisdom and speculation faculties and tried to find you with the eye of my heart, I recognized that you are the starter and the end of everything, you are the source of wisdom and reflection and you are the creator of truthfulness and purity and the judge and justice for the behavior of all the human beings.”
To achieve their goals, groups of writers accuse Zoroastrians of idolatry and to support their baseless allegation, they refer to a petrography of a member of Sassanids, living more than one thousand years before the advent of Zarathustra.
These writers should be referred to the writings of Herodotus, the Greek historian, who has been living about five hundred years before Christ. Herodotus reports in the first book, section 131:
“Persians are against making idols, construction of temples and houses for God and those who are involved in those activities, as considered ignorant persons. In my view, contrary to Greeks, Persians, do not like idols.”
Due to the fact that in Faravahars figure, both “Sepanta Minu,” the symbol of goodness and “Ankareh Minu,” the symbol of wickedness are carved, they seem to believe that Ahura Mazda and Ankareh Minu are fighting against each other.
Undoubtedly, this attitude which is the basis of Zarvan philosophy is incorrect and does not justify the Zoroastrian philosophy. Unfortunately, in the course of history, sometimes we encounter some biased writers who confuse the reality of historical events.
There are some writers, who are willing to ignore the impact of the Persian culture in the promotion of science, and philosophy.
As an example, contrary to all the available documents, they say that Abu Ali Sina, has been an Arab scholar, or they do not admit that the Suez Canal has been constructed by Darius, the Great.
Explanation of the Faravahar Symbol
- The Faravahar’s face resembles the face of a human being and therefore, indicates its connection to mankind.
- There are two wings in two sides of the picture, which have three main feathers. These main feathers indicate three symbols of “good reflection,” “good words,” and “good deed,” which are at the same time the motive of flight and advancement.
- The lower part of the Faravahar consists of three parts, representing “bad reflection,” “bad words,” and “bad deed” which causes misery and misfortune for human beings.
- There are two loops at the two sides of the Faravahar, which represent “Sepanta Minu,” and “Ankareh Minu.” The former is directed toward the face and the latter is located at the back. This also indicates that we have to proceed toward the good and turn away from bad.
- There is a circle in the middle of the Faravahar’s trunk. This symbol indicates that our spirit is immortal, having neither a beginning nor an end.
- One hand of the Faravahar points upwards, showing that we have to struggle to thrive.
- The other hand holds a ring. Some interpreters consider that as the ring of the covenant, representing loyalty and faithfulness which is the basis of Zarathustra’s philosophy.
In Zoroastrianism, the Faravahar or human spirit embodies two opposing indicators of good and bad. This will clearly show the Zarathustra’s philosophy that everybody should try to promote his/her Sepanta Minu (positive force) and suppress his/her Ankareh Minu (negative force).
As a result of such a spiritual struggle toward goodness and avoiding evil, everybody will be able to thrive in all the walks of his/her life.
Since, the ring of the covenant, which is located in the center of the Faravahar’s trunk is the symbol of the immortality of the spirit, it can be inferred that more human beings try to promote their own Faravahar, more their spirit will be elevated in the other world after they pass away.
For that reason, ancient Persians would never mourn the death of their beloved ones, because they would believe that their spirit will be elevated to a higher level in the other world.
Naturally, when we believe that at the time of death, the spirit of the dead bodies would be elevated to a higher level, we have to joy at their departure to another world, rather than being heartbroken, though their loss may be intolerable for us.
In this way, in Zoroastrianism, on the basis of one’s Faravahar, everybody is responsible for his/her own deed. For this reason, Cyrus the Great and most of the other Persian ancient kings, according to historical documents, not only never forced anybody to be converted into Zoroastrianism, they even respected the belief system of others.
In this regard, the Human right’s Charter of Cyrus the Great at the conquest of Babel reads:
“I ordered that no one is permitted to abuse anybody or to damage the cities. I ordered that no house should be damaged and no one’s property should be violated and ransacked. I ordered that everybody should keep to his/her belief system and be free to worship his/her own God. I ordered that all the people should be free in their thoughts, choosing the place of their residence and no one should violate the rights of others.”