What is Zoroastrianism?
Simply put, Zoroastrianism is the name given to the religion and beliefs based on the teachings which are 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 who Zarathushtra discovered by studying nature and who was proclaimed by Zoroaster to be the one uncreated Creator of all (God).
“Mazdaism” is a transliteration of Mazdayasna, which means ” Worshipper of Mazda.” Most followers of Ahura Mazda call themselves Zoroastrians or Behdini (followers of the Good Religion.)
Who was Zoroaster?
Zoroaster is generally accepted as an historical figure, but dating just when Zoroaster lived is fraught with difficulty. The most widely accepted calculations place him near to 1200 BCE thus making him a candidate for the ‘founder of the earliest religion based on revealed scripture’ while there are other estimates that date his life anywhere between the 18th and the 6th centuries BCE.
The Gathas and the chapter known as Yasna Haptanghaiti are all 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 the Avesta and which are written in what is called Young Avestan. Old Avestan and Vedic Sanskrit are both descendants of the Proto-Indo-Iranian language and the Gathic Old Avestan is still quite close in structure to the Sanskrit of the Rig-Veda in language usage.
However the Sanskrit of the Rig-Veda is somewhat more conservative in outlook and structure than the Avestan of the Gathas and so, based on the changes in the languages, scholars date the Gathas to around 1000 BCE, give or take a couple of centuries.
** But note also that the issue lies with how old is the Rig Veda, which no one seems to know with anything approximating certainty. There are also those who think the Gathas are older than the Rig Veda, Dastur Dhalla, and some other linguists see the Gaathic language as more complex and archaic.
Most of what we know about Zoroaster comes to us from a variety of sources, the Avesta, the Gathas, Greek historical works, archaeological evidence and oral history. Zoroaster was born on the cusp as societies shifted from being mainly nomadic to a more settled agrarian lifestyle. He lived in an area of the Middle East then known as Chorasmia ( An area roughly occupying present day Northern Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan)
He was married, he 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 converted with the first convert being a cousin.
These statements are all based on legends that have been woven in traditions. They probably contain some truths and facts, but there is no way of ascertaining them and thus cannot be taken as historical.
The later Avestan writings make Zoroaster a kind of ‘superman’, wrestling with demons and being tempted by Ahriman. The Gathas, however, show him an ordinary mortal, perplexed by his call, utterly certain of Ahura Mazda and bewildered by his lack of success. Eventually he converted King Vistaspa who reigned in eastern Iran and with the king’s conversion, Zoroastrianism became a force in the region and there, as well in India among the Parsees, 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 Zarathushtrian thought. Zarathushtra might best be considered, if we are to use modern terms to describe his doctrines, a Panentheist, that is he perceives a Supreme Being
Thus this Creator is immanent in Creation but also transcends it. In fact as has been said one can see Mazda Ahura as containing creation in a way.
Moreover, the very concept of Lordship and Sovereignty are different, Ahura which is often translated as lord was the name of a set of old arya Gods which were totally abstract lacking any form, they can best considered as energy since they have no body, yet they are personal.
In addition Mazda does not into impose Her/His will but rather teachs, persuades etc. Thus Mazda’s relationship with mortals is one of a partner, an ally, a friend and even a soul mate )
This being who is source of all that exists. The name Ahura Mazda contains both masculine and feminine elements. (Ahura, the Lord, is masculine while Mazda, Most or Super Wise or Knowledgeable, and Most or Super Giving or Generous One, is feminine.)
Ahura Mazda, according to Zoroastrian belief, is the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth. In the Gathas, which are the oldest texts in Zoroastrianism and which are considered to have been written by Zoroaster himself, the teacher gives devotion to no other divinity besides Ahura Mazda.
What are the Gathas?
The Gathas are scripture written in an ancient Indo-Iranian verse form. Gatha means ‘Song.’ There are 17 Gathic hymns, they exist both on their own and as part of the much larger Avesta. They are the earliest of the Zoroastrian writings.
What about Dualism?
Perhaps the most well-known of 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 in later Zoroastrian belief Ormazd and Ahriman.
This doctrine, however, is purely a product of later thought. In Zoroaster’s revelation,there is only Ahura Mazda who will ultimately triumph over the ‘lie'(Yasna 48.1.) But not here and not now. For now human beings must choose which of the two ‘forces’ they will serve, Truth or the Lie, this choosing is a life-long affair but righteousness begins by making the first choice for Ahura Mazda and for the Truth.
Quote:“…Listen to the best things with your ears, reflect upon them with an unbiased mind. Then let each man and women for him or her self choose between the two ways of thinking. Awaken to my doctrine, before this great event of choice comes upon you…” [Avesta: The Gathas: Song 3:2 (FreeTranslation)]
What about Converts?
There are two main groups who can be considered ‘cultural’ Zoroastrians, they are the Zoroastrian community in Iran and the Parsee community in India. The Parsees (refugees in India from the invasion of Iran by the Muslims) do not allow conversion at all. The Iranian community does but quietly and carefully for conversion from Islam is considered a crime in Iran.
But as well as these groups there are groups of ‘Gathas-only’ Zoroastrian converts by choice springing up throughout the world with the major centres for such groups being the US and South America. So it is indeed possible to convert to Zoroastrianism.
See also the article at: http://tinyurl.com/svs5k
What does Zoroastrianism teach?
This part of the article I have struggled with, the teachings of Zoroastrianism are deep and wide but I think the following quote from:
http://www.zoroastrianism.cc/universal_religion.html is perhaps the best definition I have read.
Quote:”… Zarathushtra’s is a message about a spirituality that progresses towards self-realization, fulfillment and completeness, 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 stultifying rituals, superstitious practices, fake spirituality and ceremonials. The God of Zarathustra, is not a God of “Thou shalt” and “Thou shall not”.
God in Zoroastrianism does not care what you wear, what and when you eat or where and when you worship. God instead cares how righteous, progressive and good you are.
1. God is not about fear guilt and Condemnation.
2. God is Wisdom Love and Logic.
3. God does not have favorites and does not discriminate on the basis of nationality, sex, race or class.
4. God treats humans with dignity and respect.
5. God is not a slave master, or despot, among his serfs.
6. God is man’s Soul Mate and Partner.
7. God is not Jealous, Wrathful or Vengeful.
8. Man is not sinful, fallen or depraved.
9. God has no opponent and heaven and hell are states of mind and being.
10. Man was created to progress to God-likeness and eliminate wrong from the Cosmos in partnership with God.
The Zoroastrian Religion pictures humanity as the growing and evolving creation of a God that respects it, and wants it to collaborate in the task of preserving, nourishing, fostering and refreshing this Living World and all it offers.
A Zoroastrian is supposed to progress towards God (Ahura Mazda) by their own choices. Choosing to do good, and to avoid choosing to do wrong or evil. Zoroastrianism is thus the first truly ethical religion of human-kind and teaches that mortals achieve their goal of god-likeness and spiritual completeness by fighting evil through good thoughts, words and deeds….”