About Zoroastrianism


(based substantially on an article written by Fali S. Chothia)

Who are the Zoroastrians?

Zoroastrians are the descendants of the Proto-Indo-Iranian group of people, who in turn are descendants of the Indo-European family of nations. The Proto-Indo-Iranian group lived on the southern steppes of Russia called Airyanem Vaejah (present-day Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan), and began their migration westward towards Europe and southward towards the Indian subcontinent sometime between 8000 B.C. and 6000 B.C. During this migration, the ancestors of the Iranian and Indian Aryans separated, moving to present-day Iran (Aryana) and Northern India, respectively. Due to their ancestry, these groups shared a strong background and similarity of language, customs, beliefs, values and cultures, which over time have evolved and taken shape separately.

Over time, Zoroastrianism became the state religion of the mighty Persian empire – which at one time extended from Africa to China, from the Danube River in Europe to the plains of Judea in the Middle East, and up to Punjab and Sindh in India. Today, its followers number less than 200,000 worldwide. After the fall of the last Persian dynasty in the seventh century A.D. to the invading tribes from the Arabian Peninsula, several small groups of Zoroastrians moved to escape the proselytization and forced conversion to Islam. These groups sought refuge in isolated areas of Iran or fled to India, China, present-day Afghanistan and Russia, and other countries.

Who was Zarathushtra?

Zarathushtra was born in Iran, probably in the region that is now part of present-day Russia or Afghanistan. He was married and had children. His father was Pourushaspa and his mother was Dughdova. Long before the coming of Zarathushtra, the people of what is present-day Iran followed the “Mazdayasni” religion, one characterized by the worship of multiple deities. This caused a great distress to Zarathushtra. To seek a message from Ahura Mazda (God), he withdrew himself from the material world at an early age and spent several years in solitude. When he knew that he had heard the voice of God, he set out to preach. For ten years no one paid any heed to him; in fact, he was denounced as a heretic and sorcerer. This changed when he was received by King Vishtasp. So impressed was the King by Zarathushtra’s message that he publicly embraced the new religion, which then spread rapidly throughout the region. The success of the new religion was not liked by his opponents who by slander and deception succeeded in having him imprisoned on a charge of sorcery. Undaunted, he continued to spread his faith after his release from prison. His enemies, however, continued to persecute him. He died at the age of seventy-seven, at the hands of one of his enemies while praying in a temple.

What are the principal teachings of Zarathushtra?

According to Zarathushtra, the world is a battleground between the forces of good and evil. Ultimately, good will prevail over evil. The mission in life is to conduct oneself in such a manner that this ultimate victory is achieved. He urged his followers to live a full and useful life in this world, to appreciate all things that are good and beautiful in creation, not only to do good and desist from evil but also to fight evil, and to make others happy. He assured his followers that the strength of God would be given to those who fought evil, and stressed that an evil deed could be offset by a good one. As for happiness, the way to seek happiness was by making others happy.

He pointed out that in each of us there is a divine spark. It is up to us to recognize this divine spark or essence within us, to understand its capabilities and to try and so conduct ourselves that we reach the state of perfection in this world. As a practical guide for daily life, his prescription was simple:

Think good thoughts.
Speak good words.
Do good deeds.

Zarathushtra emphasized free choice. In one his first sermons he preached: “Ye who seek knowledge, please listen carefully to what I say, and perceive the truth in the light of reason, because it is possible for each man to have a separate creed.”

What are the most important Zoroastrian values?

Truth. Zoroastrianism stresses truth more than anything else. Man is equipped through mental consciousness to discern truth from falsehood, and has the free will to choose between right and wrong. The very first prayer a Zoroastrian child learns is devoted to truth. A free translation of that prayer – called Ashem Vohu – is: “Truth is the greatest virtue. It is happiness. Happy is who is truthful for the sake of truth”.

Charity. In the very second prayer a Zoroastrian child learns – the “Yatha Ahu Vairyo” – there is a line which says: “He who give assistance to the poor acknowledges the kingdom of God.”

Purity. Zoroastrianism puts value on purity – of both the body and the mind.

Dignity of labor. Hard work and the dignity of labor are emphasized in Zoroastrianism. In the Gathas, which are a record of the prophet’s conversations with Ahura Mazda, Zarathushtra asks “What is the way of furthering the Mazdayasni religion?” and Ahura Mazda replies “Incessant cultivation of corn, O Spitama Zarathushtra. Who cultivates corn cultivates righteousness.”

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