Zarathustra’ s guide to good living

In the VI° and V° centuries BC, five of the greatest religions of the world are born ( or have been strongly reformed). These were buddhism, jaïnism ( both in India), taoism, confucianism ( both in China) and zoroastrianism in Persia ( now Iran).

Revered as one of the greatest prophets of all time, Zarathustra ( or Zoroaster) is believed to have given to his community, the mazdeists, a more evolved and ethical religion. The mazdeists were basically worshippers of nature. They worshipped different deities that they believed were dwelling in the nature, in the sun, in the moon, the stars, in earth, fire, wind and water. Temples were built for each deity, and idols were worshipped. Zoroaster denounced all this and founded a “pure” religion, free from idolatry.

The wisdom of Zarathustra is written in the “Zend Avesta”, the holy book of the zoroastrians. Two thirds of the original scripture which consisted of 350 000 words was destroyed during the Greek, Muslim and Mongol invasions of Iran. The one third that remains contains the lithurgical collection called “Yasna”. It is written in an ancient dialect which closely resembles vedic sanskrit.

The “Zend Avesta” teaches that the universe is ruled by two primeval powers, good and evil. The benevolent power is represented by Ahura Mazda or Ormuzd, and the evil one by Angra Mainyu or Ahriman. Ormuzd is supported by six deified virtues : good thought, right law, noble government, holy character, health and immortality. As to Ahriman, he is helped by most of the old nature deities of the popular faith. Somewhere between the two powers stand man. He has to choose between good and evil. If he chooses good, he will go the paradise; otherwise he will go to hell. The underlying faith is that good will triumph in the end and that evil will be extirpated.

But what is new is that choosing good doesn’t imply praying but working. The best work  lies in fighting invaders, destroying the wild, clearing fields, buiding bridges, irrigating barren land,…that is to say in promoting civilisation through good deeds. “Ahura Mazda is the spirit of civilisation and the only worship acceptable to him is the spreading of order and stability.” So, good has to be promoted and evil routed mercilessly. Indeed, Ahura Mazda stands for justice not for mercy. Emotion has no place in it. One has to be a man or woman of unbending good thought, word and deed. Animals like cows and sheeps have to be looked after properly while creatures like snakes and rodents have to be killed.

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