FOOD FOR THOUGHT: "Ignorance is an outlook on life."
YOU ARE IN DARKNESS
by Mudarras Kadhir Gaznavi
We are getting closer to the present day belief systems, and the subject is getting more complicated. Because present day belief systems have either copied certain aspects of the past systems and/or taken over certain parts and amended them according to their needs. So what we have today includes all that confusion of thousands of years. As I have promised earlier you won't be bogged down by the very intricacies which kept these human inventions alive and created further incomprehensible phenomena. So the usual terminology of these belief systems will not be used unless it is necessary. Now its time to explain probably one of the most important belief systems, which had the greatest influence on the Greek thought and the present day 'belief systems of the book'.
A BRIEF HISTORY
CYRUS, ALEXANDER, AND THE HELLENISTIC AGE
The first ruler of the Persian Empire Cyrus the Great made Zoroastrianism a state religion which led to further spreading of the belief system and its influence.Cyrus (his name in old Persian is Kurush), the ruler of a small kingdom in the land called Persia brought together under his banner the tribes of Persis (people are the Persians of our day and the area is the modern province of Fars in Iran). Cyrus then revolted against his Median overlord Astyages and defeating him about 549 B.C. occupied the Median capital Ecbatana (modern Hamadan in Iran). Cyrus the Great invaded Asia Minor (Anatolia) later on, and the land of Babylon. Cyrus was the founder of the Achaemenid empire. His son Cambyses and later on Darius (522-486 B.C) enlarged his lands to the borders of Thrace, Egypt, Central Asia, and the Indus Valley. In the meantime Macedonian Kingdom under the leadership of Philip II invaded the whole of Greece. His son Alexander took over the kingdom in 336 B.C. and in the following 13 years Alexander captured all the Persian dominions, and encouraged Greek type dominions. Greek type cities (Alexandria in Egypt) were established throughout the Empire. Following his death in 323 B.C. the Empire was divided into three separate entities: Macedonian empire, Egyptian empire (Ptolemes were in charge), and Seleucid empire. Alexander the Great and the Seleucids who came with him have killed majority of the Persian priests who had been entrusted with the oral tradition of the 'good religion'. Nothing was written down. Because writing was considered as an unsuitable form of art which is alien for the sacred words. That is why a great deal of information on the practices of that era was gathered from the Greek and Persian texts.
For hundreds years, from western Europe to the borders of India, a cosmopolitan culture of Greek origin prevailed. This was called the Hellenistic Age.
PARTHIANS AND SASSANIANS - THE AVESTA COLLECTED
Persian Empire was rebuilt by theParthians - a north Iranian tribe. 200 years later, Parthians have started the process of adopting Zoroastrianism as the state religion. Eventually they drove Seleucids out of Iran and controlled the eastern Hellenistic lands between 250-229 B.C. Parthians were the first ones to collect in writing the traditions of the belief system. This written material has formed the basis of the Avesta - the sacred book of the Zoroastrianism. Parthians have fought continuously with Rome like Sassanians who have established their rule in 224 A.D. During their rule for almost 400 years they have reinstated the Zoroastrianism as the official state religion and established an ecclesiastic organization, comprising of the priests, magi, temples, rites and devotions. Unifying state and church was the Zoroastrian ideal. But one of the consequences of this unity was - as it used to be before the birth of ZZararathustra - the priests becoming over confident and extremely powerful. During their rule the Sassanians accomplished a national renaissance in arts and crafts and knowledge.
In the end with the Sassanian rule (after 224 A.D.) Zoroastrian-Zarathustran belief system was decreed the state religion. Avesta was collected, written, aPahlavi translation and a commentary were added. It is stated in the later Pahlavi texts that Greek and Indian material was incorporated into the Avesta. Greek material can be found in the cosmological myths:
Earth was created in the beginning in an embryonic and spiritual state. It was materia prima in the Aristotelian sense.
The creation of the 'Beneficient Immortal Ones'-Amesha Spentas is reinterpreted as being almost a Plotinian like procession of the ordered stages that lie between the 'One' (Plotinus' God) and the material universe.
Formation of the material world was effected by the transformation of light - the most basic, and subtlest element - first into water, then into ground, and later into heavy elements.
In the Sassanian period the dualist - Mazdaist doctrine, has replaced the monotheist doctrine of the Gathas of the Achaemenid period, and at long last it was accepted as unchangeable.
ARAB RULE AND ISLAM - ZOROASTRIANISM AND PARSEES
Under the rule of the Arabs the majority of the population was forced to adopt Islam.The Islamic occupying forces have destroyed most of the documents on Zoroastrianism. Islam was able to establish its rule in 300 years. In this period tolerance was shown to Jews and Christians. But Zoroastrians were the target of persecution despite the fact that their 'messenger' was also a recipient of a direct 'message' from the 'supreme being'. Zoroastrians fled the region and emigrated to India to find religious freedom. They settled in and around Bombay (modern Mumbai). It was 10th century A.D. These people were called Parsees (Persians). They maintained a firm grip on their religion but being too far away and cut off from their roots their belief remained static. The Avesta was used as a potent force in prayers but no one could read it. Two priests drew on mystical eastern beliefs in order to satisfy the need for a modern interpretation of Zarathustra's teachings. Further changes followed. Further reforms were made towards the concept of monotheism. Theosophy introduced further changes towards the mystical. Gujarati translations of the Little Avesta were produced by the Reform movement. Parsees were now able to read the Avesta but there was no one to interpret and disseminate the message. There were factions and splits and most of the old doctrine was lost under a mixture of other, more argumentative faiths.
The remnants of the 'good religion' could be found today at the Yazdi plateau. It is amazing that the Zoroastrian belief system is still alive despite the Islamic tyranny of the last 1300 years. Around 30.000 believers are thought to be existing still in Iran. More than 100.000 people are thought to follow their faith, in the form of Parsee religion, around Mumbai and other areas in western India.
'MESSENGER' AND THE BELIEF SYSTEM
ARYAS, ASHA AND ALL-POWERFUL PRIESTS
The nomadic tribes we know as Indo-Iranians but who called themselves, the noble ones,Aryas, have passed through northern Persia on their way to India around 2000 B.C. There they absorbed eventually the Indus Valley civilization. Some of them have settled in lands en route and adopted an agricultural way of life. Their religion was based on their past as nomads. They did not have any temples and images. Fire was the ritual central point. Their religion was simple, fatalistic, sacrificial and polytheistic. They had gods and satans but they were abstract forces rather than representational, drawn either from nature (wind, rain) or from the nature of man, relating to concepts such as truth or lie, victory or procrastination. There was sacrificial offerings to please the gods and to ensure that the world continued on the path of Asha. Priests had authority over the ordinary people and were possibly even more powerful than kings. Because only they had the knowledge to interpret the wishes of the supreme beings. They were the writers and introducers of those ideas, in the terminology they have invented. So naturally they were the only ones who could interpret their own invention.
ZARATHUSTRA - WHEN DID HE LIVE? - OR - DID HE EVER LIVE?
As people were living their relatively peaceful lives, 500 years later came a second wave of invading warlike nomads, using new weapons, causing misery and injustice in general. Into this era of change and movement came the messenger. He was called Zarathustra in ancient Iran. The name is corrupted into the Greek word Zoroaster (Hence the Zoroastrianism) later on. The origin of the name Zarathustra is said to be Zuryastara in Sanskrit. He is known as Zoroastres as well. You may choose the one you like.
Zarathustra is thought to have been born, among other places, in Azerbaidjan (Ataro-Patakan, Azerbaizhan). He may as well have been a native of the Greater Chorasmia. Although there are suggestions that he was a Midianite who fled there to avoid religious persecution. As it is with these belief systems there are numerous speculations. Anyway, Zarathustra had preached for 10 years with no luck. He set off for distant lands and at last managed to win one of the smaller princes, Vishtaspa (Hystaspes in Greek) over to his belief. This acted as a catalyst for the good religion to spread towards east and west Iran and to Medea. This religion is called also as 'Mazdaizm' based on the name of its supreme overseer Ahura Mazda. The codebook was called the Avesta. As it is customary with all these messengers we do not exactly know when Zarathustra has lived. Furthhermore it is not clear if he has actually lived. Some of the written sources quote statements like "Zarathustra lived 258 years before Alexander" with a note that "there is little reason to doubt this statement." Alexander, as you might have guessed is Alexander the Great and the occasion must be the conquest of Iran by him in 330 B.C. There are three alternatives as to when he has actually lived: 630-553 B.C., 628-551 B.C., 618-541 B.C.
But that is not the end of the story. Zarathustra is a matter of myth and legend. So the time when he was around is not clear. The date, around 600 B.C. is thought to have been set by the priests of the belief system and magi in later years. But recent research on Avesta suggests that Zarathustra must have lived at least 600 years earlier than this date most possibly around 1400 B.C. He is thought to have died at 77 years of age. He has lived for many years at the court of Hystaspes whose princedom is thought to have covered the present day Tadjikistan and Northern Baluchistan which may be described as Greater Chorasmia (Khorezm-Harezmi-Harzem). He has lived and taught among the semi-nomadic tribes far from Babylon and Western Iran. Zarathustra has reformed the original belief system of the ancient Iranians.
ZARATHUSTRAN BELIEF SYSTEM AND MITHRAISM
We don't have documents on the religion of the region where Zarathustra was born. Zarathustra's teachings are linked to Mithraism. As it is explained in pages on Mithraism in this site, Mithra was the ancient Persian god of light. Zarathustra also lived as that god figure. So a comparison with the closely relatedVedic belief system will give us an idea. Vedic Indians have Indo-Iranian origins as well. But it is impossible to know the developments between the Indo-Iranian period and the epoch when Zarathustra has appeared. The first thing that we know is that the Indo-Iranian belief system was polytheistic. Amongst the supreme beings (called 'daivas', or 'devas' in Sanskrit, 'heavenly ones' in English) there were also those like Mitra and Varuna, called as 'lords' or Asuras (Ahuras in Iranian) who all had distinct ethical personalities. These supreme beings were determined in accordance with the caste system in the society and each one of them was the supreme overseer of a caste. But Zarathustra rejected the cults of all the supreme beings except Asura (Ahura in Iranian) and Ahura Mazda.
Ahura Mazda is transcendent, immanent and impersonal.
In his transcendence he is beyond all creation,
On whom cosmos depends for existence.
In his immanence he is within all creation.
Ahura Mazda is not identical with that creation.
Creation is not Ahura Mazda's body.
Ahura Mazda has no spatial location.
Muslims will be able to detect their supreme creator's basic and exact characteristics in this definition.
The bull and the haoma (Sanskrit 'soma') plant were sacred in the Indo-Iranian belief system. Bull would be sacrificed and the priests and people would drink the fermented juice of the haoma plant at the sacred ceremonies. Zarathustra forbid these presentations to the supreme entities that he has rejected. To be an intoxicating drink this haoma juice must have been fermented. Intoxication is the perfect catalyst leading to a 'softened' perception, comprehension and skepticism all of which create a crooked perception of the environment as a whole and lead to a credulous person.
NO PRIESTS PLEASE!
Zaratusthra thought that the belief in the supreme entity should be an extremely intense personal experience - like his - and should not require priestly interpretations, so he sacked all the priests. This idea shows itself in Islam as well - exactly as it was formulated by Zarathustra. There is no class of priests-hodjas-imams in Islam, and the belief system does not allow any intercessor between the human being and the supreme entity. But the situation has never been as it was intended, and the heads of the Islamic sects and groupings, and the powerful and convincing imams has become the irtercessors between the believer and the supreme entity, showing the way, doing their interpretations, as if Kuran did not exist as the codebook of the belief system and 'the word of the supreme overseer',
Zarathustra has declared that the 'Wise Lord' should be worshipped by virtuous acts and not by meaningless ceremonies; by selfless love and not by the spilling of the blood. He took care to separate mythology and theology. But he preserved the presentation of fire. Because fire was the symbol of 'truth,' 'order,' and the 'original light of god', and to the people his message was clear: 'Stand up against the injustice.'
12.000 YEARS, AMESHA SPENTAS, SATANS, GOOD vs. EVIL
Zarathustran cosmology has four periods, 3000 years each.Ahura Mazda (within the light) and Angra Mainyu (down below in darkness) was ruling in Zurvan Akarana/Zeroana Akerne (endless time). At the end of first 3000 years Angra Mainyu scaled the emptiness in between and attacked Ahura Mazda. Ahura Mazda reasoned that unless restricted by real finite conditions their fight could go on forever and made an agreement with Angra Mainyu, and introduced a time limit to their war. Then Ahura Mazda read Ahuna Vairya, which is believed to be the core of the Zarathustran belief system. Angra Mainyu in great confusion fell to the abyss to stay there for another 3000 years. During this period Ahura Mazda has started creating. First he completed the spiritual creation which also included six Amesha Spentas. (Two of these appear in Kuran as Harut and Marut, the remaining four are the four archangels of Judaism and Islam, of course under different names). Then he has started the material creation. He created the sky, water, earth, plants, primeval ox and the primeval man (gayomart). Then Ahura Mazda presented the pre-existing spirits of men - the Fravashis - with a choice: They may continue forever with their existence in an embryonic form or attain physical bodies on the earth to ensure his victory over Angra Mainyu. They chose the latter proposition. In the meantime Angra Mainyu has completed an alternative creation including six satans for six Amesha Spentas (beneficient souls), and a hierarchy of angels for himself. His armies were formed by the evil forces like evil cins (jinn, genie, demon, evil spirit) dervec and fairies. Angra Mainyu responded to Ahura Mazda's each creation with his own. Ahura Mazda has always created the good and Angra Mainyu-Ahriman the evil.
BENEVOLENT RULER YIMA - NO UNION BETWEEN SEXES - ONLY FIRE IS BEFITTING
In the second part of theVendidad, these developments are said to have taken place during the reign of the mythological ruler Yima Khshaêtra (Yima Khshaêtra is called Cemşid in the hidden knowledge(!). Khisutros, Xisitros, Ziusudra, Atarhasis, Noah are the different names given to the same mythological person Utnapishtim, who is to be found in a Sumerian myth. The first three names have a striking similarity with the king's name, 'Khshaêtra'. Don't you think so?) . He was a kindly-benevolent and just ruler who emerged out of fire, (born) according to the secret knowledge. This process is called 'Kryasakti' which is the mysterious power of thought which enables it to produce external, perceptible phenomenal results by its own inherent energy. (Secret Doctrine, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky). Could this be the origin or one of the origins of the phenomenon called the mind over matter? After all a ruler of Yima's stature could not have been born of a lowly(!) act like the union between a man and a woman, could he? Moreover, in every religion woman is created later than man. This is what the mystic(!) teaching says. Fire is considered as the male and active principle in all creation. It is the symbol of the power of thought, which is the power of creation itself.
Zoroastrianism page 2