The Monistic Theory

by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ

TOC | Preface | Chapters: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19

Chapter 4

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, Singapore etc

The Prophet: Spitama Zarathushtra

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 language                                                                                              3000 B.C.

- 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.

Zoroastrian sacred scripture

The Zoroastrian literature falls into two distinct parts:

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 parts:

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 world.

5. The Khordadh Avesta (i.e. the Little Avesta) is a collection of prayers.

The larger 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 hygiene.

Pahlavi and Persian texts

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 Islam.

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.

The Bundahishn ("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. [1]

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 mere righteousness. [2]

Main teachings of Zarathushtra

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 universe.

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 to God.

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 Zoroastrian Religion.

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, not base!

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. [3]

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. [4]

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 of man.[5]

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 [6]

It is written in the Gatha: 

Who hears the Truth and lives it in his life,

Soul-healing Lord of Wisdom he becomes;

To spread true teachings, Ahura, his words

Are eloquent and able to convince;

O Mazda, through Thy Fire blazing clear,

Unto each man his place do Ye assign,

The Wise, who follow the Soul-healing Lord,

The Light Eternal shall be their abode...[7]


[1] Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1972, volume 23, Article on Zoroastrianism, pp.1011-1015.

[2] Pamphlet given by Mobed Bahram Shahzadi, priest of California Zoroastrian Center, in Westminster.

[3] Ib.

[4] Ib.

[5] Zoroastrianism, an ancient faith for modern man, p. 39. Pamphlet given by Mobed Bahram Shahzadi.

[6] Zoroastrianism an ancient faith for modern Man. p. 38-39. Pamphlet given by Mobed Bahram Shahzadi.

[7] 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.

TOC | Preface | Chapters: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19