The Monistic Theory
by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ
Preface | Chapters:
10 11 12
Zoroastrianism and the Monistic Theory
The Zoroastrian religion or Zoroastrianism
was founded by Zoroaster (Zarathushtra) during the late 7th and early
6th centuries B.C. The religion he preached spread throughout Iran and
beyond, and influenced the later development of Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam, and of Greek thought. It was the State religion under the
Sasanian dynasty (A.D. 211-640). After the Arab invasion of Iran in 642
A.D., Islamic religion supplanted Zoroastrianism in Iran, and the
official language of Iran was no more Persian but Arabic. In the early
10th century (in the year 936 A.D.) many Zoroastrians emigrated to
India, and were called Parsis (Persians) there. Actually, there are
about 40,000 Zoroastrians in Iran, 92,000 in India, especially in
Bombay. There are small communities also in Karachi (Pakistan), in
London, Toronto, New York, Washington, California, Sidney, Hong-Kong,
Zoroaster is the corrupt Greek form of the
Old Iranian name Zarathushtra. No one knows for sure when he was born.
Thus, there was a Zarathushtra:
- In Hystaspa's reign (Behistun stone
inscription) 550 B.C.
- As stated by Xanthos, 600 years before
the Trojan war 1800 B.C.
- As recorded by Berosos, the
Babylonian 2000 B.C.
- In Vishtaspa's reign supported by the
comparative time required to write the Avesta and the age of its
- As recorded by Pliny, a couple of
thousand years before Moses: 4000 B.C.
Actual Zoroastrians like to have Zoroaster
living about 1500 B.C.
European scholars, based on some Iranian
tradition, believe that Zoroaster lived "258 years before Alexander."
This is taken to mean that 258 years before Alexander's conquest of Iran
(330 B.C.), the principal event in Zoroaster's life took place; i.e.,
either his first vision when he was 30, the beginning of his preaching
when he was 40, or his conversion of King Hystapes, when he was 42.
Zarathushtra's dates are therefore (since, traditionally, he lived 77
years) 630-553, 628-551, or 618-541 B.C.
Modern Zoroastrians like to call their
prophet: Spitama Zarathushtra. He is also called Zoroaster.
The Zoroastrian literature falls into two
The Avesta, the original scriptural
work, written in the ancient Iranian language, called Avestan; and
the much later text written in Pahlavi, a dialect of Middle Persian,
or in Persian.
The Avesta, the sacred book of ancient
Iran, contains the teachings of the prophet Zarathushtra, or Zoroaster,
and serves at the present day as the holy scriptures of the Parsis of
India and the so-called Gabars of Persia. It is known in Europe as
Zend-Avesta, since the time of A.H. Anquetil Duperron (c.1771) who
introduced the work to Europeans. Anyhow, one should keep in mind that
Avesta is the original text, while the Zend is only its Pahlavi
paraphrase and commentary.
The Avesta consists of the following
1. The Yasna, the
principal liturgical book of the Parsees, recited by the priest at the
solemn yasna ceremony, the general sacrifice in honor of all
deities. It is divided into 72 chapters.
a. The introduction (1-27),
consists mainly of invocations.
b. The Gathas (28-54) contain
the discourses, exhortations, and revelations of the prophet, written in
a metrical style and archaic language. All the Gathas (or Divine songs)
are then contained in the Yasna. There are Five Gathas which are the
very basic principles of the Zoroastrian Religion: Ahunavaiti Gathas of
7 songs, Ushtavaiti Gathas of 4 songs, Spenta Mainyu Gathas of four
songs, Vohu Khshathra Gatha of one longer song, and Vahishta Ishti Gatha
of one shorter song.
c. The so-called Later
Yasna (57-72) is also composed of invocations.
2. The Vispered is a minor
liturgical work in 22 chapters.
3. The Vendidad, the
priestly code of the Parsi, has also 22 chapters. It contains a
dualistic account of the creation (Ch. 1) the legend of Yima and the
golden age (chap. 2). In the remaining chapters, it is devoted to the
precepts of religion with regard to the cultivation of the earth, the
care of useful elements, the protection and the respect of the sacred
elements such as earth, fire, water, and air, and keeping the human body
from defilement and elaborate ceremonies of purification, of atonement,
and so forth. Thus, the whole Zoroastrian legislation is subordinate to
the underlying theme, the war against Satan and his noxious creatures,
the war against the evil in all its forms.
4. The Yashts (i.e. songs of
praise) are a collection of invocations of angels, of mythology and of
legendary history, of vivid descriptions of Zoroastrian deities, of the
Iranian heroic saga and of the prophetic account of the end of the
5. The Khordadh Avesta
(i.e. the Little Avesta) is a collection of prayers.
Avesta and the twenty-one Nasks
In its present form, the Avesta is,
however, only a fragment of the old priestly literature of
Zoroastrianism. The entire corpus of Zoroastrian literature is said to
comprise two million verses divided into 21 books called Nasks.
Each Nask contains an original text known as the Avesta
and a commentary, called Zend. The term Avesta
originally was applied to the sacred texts ascribed to
Zarathushtra and his immediate disciples, but in the course of
time, it has come to be applied to all the sacred writings. Of the 21
Nasks, only the 19th the Vendidad, has survived intact. All
the others are in fragments or totally obliterated. Aside from religious
subjects, the Nasks \f0 dealt with medicine,, astronomy,
agriculture, botany, philosophy, government, home management and
Pahlavi Texts.- The majority of
Zoroastrian works were written in Pahlavi, in the 9th century, when the
national religion revived briefly and determined attempts were made to
prevent its traditions from disappearing completely under the triumph of
The Denkart (Acts of
Religion) is an encyclopedia of Zoroastrianism, written in 9
books, the first two of which are lost. It deals with moral questions,
as well as with theology and medicine. We can find in it an outline of
the history of mankind, more especially of the Iranian race, and the
legendary life of Zarathushtra. It discusses also the contents of the 21
books of the Avesta which were extant at the time of writing.
("Original Creation") deals with cosmogony, with the initial conflict of
Ormazd and Arihman, with the doctrine of man as a microcosm, and with
the history of the world from creation to the final resurrection.
Besides these two main works, we can find
many other books, apologetic or moral.
Persian Texts.- Many Zoroastrian books
written in the 13th, 14th, 17th, 18th centuries were written in Persian.
Among them, mention must be made of the Zardusht Nama ("Book of
Zoroaster"), the Sad Dar (One hundred Doors) which was translated
into Latin by the Orientalist Thomas Hyde in 1700.
We have only to remember that Avesta is
the Zoroastrian Bible. Avesta contains many parts, but the main message
of Zarathushtra is called Gathas. The keystone of the Gatha is Asha, the
divine law which governs the entire creation of Ahura Mazda. By Asha, we
must understand that it was the law of progress, movement, harmony,
goodness, justice, and love. Therefore the word conveys much more than
Zoroaster was one of the earliest sages to
teach monotheism. He proclaimed that Ahura Mazda (or Ormazd) is the
omniscient, omnipotent God, creator, sustainer, and promoter of the
world. He is the Absolute.
Ahura Mazda created the universe and with
it were born the Twin Spirits- born inseparable and parts of this world:
Spenta Mainyu, the Beneficent Spirit, and the other, Angre Mainyu (or
Ahriman), the Evil Spirit. They produce the spiritual and material
worlds and are always at war with each other. They do not exist
independently but in relation to one another and are parts of the
For a better understanding of these
theological view, we can associate Ahura Mazda to the Chinese famous TAO
or TAI JI, and Spenta Mainyu and Angre Mainyu to the YANG and the YIN of
the Chinese philosophy, or to the twin aspects of the universe: Energy
and Matter and their interplay.
Ahura Mazda represents the realm of
continuity, of immortality and of Absoluteness, while the Twin Spirits
belong to the sphere of discontinuity, of phenomenology, of contingency
and of mortality. If we accept the views of Mr. Albert Pike, author of
the famous Morals and Dogma, we can say that the creation took place by
emanation from Ahura Mazda. The first emanation is then Spenta Mainyu,
and the second emanation is Angre Mainyu. The Monistic theory, or the
Unity of Being, is personified by Ahura Mazda, and later on by the
theory of Fravashi, the divine element present not only in man, but also
in all things animate and inaminate.
The dualistic view of the phenomenal world
is represented by the Twin- Spirits. Man then has the duty to follow the
suggestions of the Beneficent Spirit, to have good thoughts,
to say good words and to do good deeds.
The Zoroastrian Religion is based of
Good Thoughts (Humata), Good Words (Hukhta) and Good Deeds (Hvarshta).
The Zoroastrian Center in California
admirably presents a summary of Zoroaster's teachings as follows:
"Zoroaster proclaimed one Omniscient,
Omnipotent God as the creator, sustainer, and promoter of the universe.
His teachings explain how God's divine attributes are reflected in the
universe and in our living world. He advises people to acquire and
cultivate divine attributes, particularly "good mind" and righteousness
to elevate themselves in harmony with God and to listen to God's guiding
voice within them; to be creative and progressive; to work in harmony
with nature in creating an ever-better world; to establish a universal
fellowship in an ideal society chosen by people for peace and
prosperity; to attain perfection and immortality; and to become godlike
and live in divine happiness for ever after..." For me, it is a
Manifesto proclaiming that the world is the glorious manifestation of
God, that Man is great in so far as he can cultivate and be endowed with
divine attributes and can live a divine life. If the origin of man is
from God, his destiny - his Khawarenah, in Pahlavi - will be his return
Zoroaster teaches that Hell and Heaven are
"all in the soul". Hell consists of mental tortures originated from evil
thoughts, words and deeds. Heaven is mental bliss derived from good
thoughts, good works and good deeds. Zoroaster sustains that all
righteous men, living according to the divine laws, (Asha law, or
natural law) will be saved.
All the followers of Zoroastrianism must
be initiated at seven or at fifteen, when they are considered fully
grown to accept the responsibilities of their social life. The ceremony
is known as Navjote among the Parsis and as Sudred Pooshi among the
Iranians. In this occasion, the new initiate or the newborn, will wear
Sudreh and Kushti. Sudreh is a sacred shirt made of white moslim cloth.
Kushti is a sacred thread tied around the waist. It is prepared from the
wool of white lamb. Sudred and Kushti are the visible symbols of the
In studying Zoroastrianism, one of the
oldest religions in the world, we can see clearly the shift of the
Monistic theory, from the philosophical form into a religious one by
means of personification.
The Primeval Being, The Supreme Being was
personified and was named as Ahura Mazda. What was applied to the
Supreme Being in philosophy could be applied without change to Ahura
Mazda in Zoroastrianism. So Ahura Mazda is the Supreme Being through
whom everything exists. Beyond Him, apart from Him, and without Him,
nothing exists. He is brighter than the brightest of creation, higher
than the highest heavens, older than the oldest in the universe. He is
the best one (cf. Ys. 28.8\). He knows no elder, no equal. He is
the most perfect being. He is almighty (cf. Yasna 28. 5; 33. 11).
He is changeless (cf. Ys. 45. 3). He is the same now and for ever
(cf. Ys. 31. 7) He was, He is, and He will be the same
transcendental Being, moving all, yet moved by none. In the midst of the
manifold changes wrought by Him in the universe, Ahura Mazda remains
changeless and unaffected, for He is mighty (cf. Ys. 43. 4). He
will decide victory between the rival hosts of good and evil (cf.
Yasna 44. 15) He is the first possessor of felicity and joy (cf.
Ys. 45. 6). Everything comes from Him and through Him. He is the
Lord of all. Many are his attributes. They are not accidents of his
being, but are his very essence...
In dealing with the relation between the
Supreme Being and the phenomenal world, we can say that Being is both
transcendental and immanent. The same features can be ascribed to Ahura
Mazda. He is transcendent inasmuch as he is infinitely more sublime and
greater than his creatures. Yet he is not so remote and ineffable as not
to be approached and addressed and greeted by his ardent worshippers. He
is immanent in the sense that man can enter into close and loving
relations with Him and own Him as his father and brother and friend.
Zoroastrianism has another way to stress upon Ahura Mazda's immanence in
men by sustaining that every man has his Fravashi - a God's element - in
the kernel of his Being.
The twin polar forces - the positive and
the negative forces -, or spirit and matter are personified by Spenta
Mainyu and Angre Mainyu.
According to the Gatha Ahunavaiti,
Yasna 30: In the beginning there was a pair of two twins, two spirits,
each of a peculiar activity; these are the Good and the Base, in
thought, word, and deed.
Choose one of these two spirits! Be good,
So with the creation of the universe,
enter two opposing forces, two opposing entities; be they called light
and darkness; day and night; joy and sorrow; misery and happiness;
Spenta Mainyu and Angre Mainyu. This couple of forces coexist in the
phenomenal world, as two divergent directions, or as the obverse and the
reverse side of the same coin. Anyhow, the personification of the evil
has enriched the demonology of the world with a famous personage, that
is, Satan. Born in Zoroastrianism, He made his appearance in the
biblical field, via the Book of Job, written in the post-exilic
period (circa 450). Both in Zoroastrianism and in Christianity, Satan
become soon a fierce adversary of God, and apparently has a powerful
reign over this world.
Spenta Mainyu can be called also
Vohu-Manah and Angre Mainyu, Ako Mano.
Vohu-Manah is then the positive,
constructive Good mind, and Ako-Mano, the negative, destructive Evil
mind...If you follow Vohu-Manah in your life, you will grow spiritually,
progress and prosper but by following Ako-Mano, you will cause harm to
yourself as well as to your community.
The concept of Fire in Zoroastrianism is
of deep scientific philosophy. It does not mean the worship of physical
fire. Fire or Light is regarded as the cosmic symbol of Ahura-Mazda, the
symbol of universal energy, the flame of consciousness, the light of
reason and the glow of pure emotion and love in every heart. It just
serves as altar symbol in Zoroastrian religion, like the Cross in
Christianity, or the Black Stone of Mecca in Islam.
It will be interesting for modern man to
know that intellect is finite and it cannot reach the infinite. Man must
transcend the limitations of intellect and enter into what Zarathushtra
calls the region of Sraosha- Intuition which dispels darkness, conflict
and confusion in the human mind. The relativity of Good and Evil, right
and wrong is transcended and the subject and object are merged together
in one flash of intuitive light. Then Truth dawns upon the consciousness
Zoroastrianism teaches, also, that things
happen in Nature and in Man not by the whim of some hidden invisible
dictator, but by the operation of the Immutable Law of Asha - the law of
harmony, order, truth, causation and purity. Zarathushtra gave a
scientific teaching regarding the law of cause and effect - the law of
Karma. At several places in his Gathas he reiterates: "As you sow, so
must you reap." With this law of Asha is tied up the conception of
happiness and misery, heaven and hell. Those who follow the law, walk on
the path of truth, righteousness and goodness out of which happiness
comes. Those who break the law, punish themselves and suffer misery.
Heaven and Hell are no places and locations, they are the subjective
states of man's spiritual consciousness. God is a Loving Father. He
never punishes man and hurls him into Hell for eternal condemnation. The
greatest good in life is Goodness itself which brings happiness.
Zarathushtra says: "Happiness to him who gives happiness to others
It is written in the Gatha:
Who hears the Truth and lives it in his
Soul-healing Lord of Wisdom he becomes;
To spread true teachings, Ahura, his
Are eloquent and able to convince;
O Mazda, through Thy Fire blazing
Unto each man his place do Ye assign,
The Wise, who follow the Soul-healing
The Light Eternal shall be their abode...
Zoroastrianism an ancient faith for modern Man. p. 38-39.
Pamphlet given by Mobed Bahram Shahzadi.
I. J. Taraporewala, The Religion of Zarathushtra, Printed by Arun
Naik at Akshar Pratiroof Pvt Ltd, 42. Amgekar Marg. Wadala, Bombay
400031 and Published by B. I. Taraporewala, India House No 3, August
Kranti Marg. Bombay 400036., pp. 144-145.
Preface | Chapters:
10 11 12