Aevo panto yo ashahe,
"There is only one path and that is the path of Truth."
Fragment of the Avesta.
In the sixth century B.C., King Cyrus (Emperor Khusro) of Persia freed 40,000 Jews from captivity in Babylonia, returned to them their treasure looted from the temple in Jerusalem, and helped them rebuild the temple of Solomon. (See Ezra I. 1-4.) He was tolerant to the Babylonians also, and aided the Egyptian priests in reviving their own religion and rituals. His wise rule put an end to the Assyrian and Babylonian practice of deporting conquered peoples and destroying their national identity.
To what generous religion did he himself belong? That religion is widely known as Zoroastrianism, founded in ancient Iran by the legendary figure Zoroaster, sometimes called Zarathushtra (nothing to do with Nietzsche!). It is well known to the students of comparative religion that Zoroastrian thought has influenced Judaism and Christianity.
It has been widely surmised that the magi who came to pay respects to the Christ child were Zoroastrian priests; even their names are mentioned in some apocryphal Christian documents.
Zoroaster, according to the tradition of his followers, was born in 6,348 B.C.E., but according to modern dating, 628 B.C.E. It is said that when the nurse assisting at his birth held his head, her hand shot away from it because of the heat emanating from his head. Ten years of his life was spent in a cave doing spiritual practices.
In Zoroastrianism, the highest god is Ahura Mazda, the 'Great Sacred Lord of Light and Fire.' He is surrounded by six shaktis, the Amesha Spentas, 'Beneficent Immortals': Spenta Mainyu (Holy Spirit), Asha Vahishta (Justice and Truth based on the laws of the universe), Vohu Mano (Righteous Thinking, equivalent to Vedic saumanasya, Universal Beautiful Mind); Kshathra Vairya (Desirable Dominion); Haurvatat (Wholeness) and Ameretat (Immortality, Sanskrit amrita). In the Avesta they are referred to as mantra-tanu, they whose bodies are mantras.
The sacred book of Zoroastrianism is called the Avesta. (The language in which it is composed, very closely related to Vedic Sanskrit, is Avestan.) The core of the sacred book is a collection of sacred songs, known as gathas, (from the root gai 'sing'), which are considered to be the words of Zoroaster himself.
The Vendidad, another of the five parts of the Avesta, contains this interesting statement:
'There are three kinds of cures; surgery, herbs and mantras. Mantra is the medicine of medicines.'
All followers of Zoroaster must be initiated at the age of seven in India, ten in Iran. At that time they receive the short-sleeved shirt and sacred thread that they will wear for the rest of their lives. Putting on the shirt reminds the devotee that he must perform only virtuous actions. The thread is long enough to be wound round the waist three times, the three circles standing for good thought, good word and good deed. The chief ceremony is the Yasna (Sanskrit yajna) performed before the sacred fire, with offerings of bread and milk and recitations of the Avesta.
Fleeing Muslim persecution sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries A.D., many Zoroastrians sailed to India as refugees, where they are known as Parsis, Persians. For 800 years they lived in the Gujrat State of India. When complete religious tolerance was declared in Bombay, soon after it came under the control of the East India Company in 1688, the Zoroastrians began to settle there, where they thrived and became well known for their philanthropy. They are among the leading industrialists of India, as well as scientists, political and social leaders, in spite of their very small numbers. Pockets of Zoroastrians still exist in Iran. Here are two examples of the Avestan wisdom translated by Sorabjee Pestonjee Kanga in his collection entitled: 'The Metrical Version of the Gathas in English', Bombay, 1934.
By strength of his good thought, good word, good deed,
He holds up high the flag of faith unfurled,
He spares no pains in preaching Mazda's creed,
Of peaceful brotherhood he sows the seed.
Spiritual truth, the source of every bliss,
Leads him onward, and he must needs succeed,
Let all right-thinking men remember this
No chance of doing good they ever miss.
Avesta, Gatha Vohukhshathra v. 20
Now offer up to Him your solemn songs
To the Omnipotent Lord, Who loveth all,
To Whom alone the universe belongs.
Good thought, good word, good deed, these words recall,
Their potent charm will thrive you here below;
Hereafter give you joys that never pall.
To gain His grace divine do not be slow,
Adhere to truth, the rest He will bestow.
Avesta, Gatha Ushtavaiti v.8.
"Retreat and Symposium on the Spiritual Philosophy of Zoroastianism" will be held at the Rishikesh Ashram,
in the serene environ at the foothills of the Himalayas
at the banks of the Ganges.
This has been initiated partly because
(1) The spirituality of this dwindling tradition is so little known and will enrich all participants, and partly because
(2) a sizable number of 'Parsis' from Mumbai (Bombay) area have been seeking initiation into the Himalayan Tradition as a result of the work of Mr. Sushil Nayadoo, their teacher**. The Himalayan Tradition believes in strengthening the faith of each according his own belief system, infusing a fresh spiritual experience into the same.
Spiritually significant stanzas of the Avesta will be read (in translation) and will be studied in a meditative context
Meditative worship and offering of the self into the inner fire will be taught in the course.
Of course, the regular teaching of yoga and meditation will be part of the daily study and practice guided by the teachers of the tradition.
Other eminent teachers from the Zoroastrian tradition are being invited to help guide the studies.
All are welcome to participate in this experience of the para-Vedic spirituality,
whose teachings so well resonate the traditions of yoga,
the Path of Fire and Light,
as the Zoroastrian (more correctly: Mazdayasnian) religion has been described.
For registration, please contact:
MY LAST DREAM FOR THIS LIFE, by Swami Veda
SWAMI RAMA INSTITUTE OF MEDITATION
Copyright 2003 West-Art, Prometheus 89/2003