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What Do Zoroastrians Believe?

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Beliefs Cosmology In Zoroastrian cosmology, the head of the manifested universe is Ahura Mazda, the “Wise Lord.” He is the universal and pervasive source and fountain of all life. But behind or beyond Ahura Mazda is Zarvan Akarana, Boundless Time and Boundless Space, the unmanifested absolute from which the manifested Logos, Ahura Mazda, came forth. Ahura Mazda is depicted in the Zoroastrian scriptures as a kind of trinity: “Praise to thee, Ahura Mazda, threefold before other creations.” From Ahura Mazda came a duality: the twin spirits of Spenta Mainyu (the Holy or Bountiful Spirit) and Angra Mainyu (the Destructive or Opposing Spirit). The twin spirits are popularly thought of as good and evil, but rather they are two principles that represent all the opposites of life. In her lecture on “Zoroastrianism,” Annie Besant has this to say of them: Good and evil may be said to only come into existence when man in his evolution develops the power of knowledge and of choice; the original duality is not of good and evil, but is of spirit and matter, of reality and non-reality, of light and darkness, of construction and destruction, the two poles between which the universe is woven and without which no universe can be. . . . There are two names again that give us the clue to the secret, the “increaser” and the “destroyer,” the one from whom the life is ever pouring forth, and the other the material side which belongs to form, and which is ever breaking up in order that life may go on into higher expression. After the trinity of Ahura Mazda and the twin spirits that emanated from him is a sevenfold expression of the divine reality. These seven are called the Amesha Spentas or Holy or Bountiful Immortals, the Highest Intelligences. They are sometimes thought of as archangels and sometimes as aspects of Ahura Mazda himself. These seven mighty intelligences are also guardians of various kingdoms of nature. They are as follows: Ahura Mazda himself. Just as the One Wise Lord is part of a trinity including also the twin spirits of bountiful increase and of destructive opposition, so too is he one of the sevenfold intelligences. The One Lord is present everywhere. Vohu Manah, Good Mind. It is divine wisdom, illumination, and love—the mental capacity to comprehend the next one of the Amesha Spentas, Asha Vahishta. Vohu Manah is associated especially with the animal kingdom. Asha Vahishta, Highest Truth. Often translated as “righteousness,” the word asha is etymologically the same as the Sanskrit term rta, and thus is the dharma or Plan by which the world exists. Asha Vahishta is the order of the cosmos, the ideal form of the universe. It is associated with the element of fire. Khshathra Vairya, Desirable Dominion, is divine strength and the power of Ahura Mazda’s kingdom. In theological terms, it represents the Kingdom of Heaven; in human terms, it represents the ideal society. Khshathra Vairya is associated with the sky and with the mineral kingdom. Human beings can realize the power of Khshathra Vairya when they are guided by Good Mind and Highest Truth. Spenta Armaiti, Holy or Bountiful Devotion, theologically is the attitude of piety and devotion; ethically, it is the attitude of benevolence. It is associated with the element of earth. Haurvatat, Wholeness, is the state of perfection, complete well-being, spiritual and physical integrity. It is associated with the element of water. Ameretat, Immortality, is the state of immortal bliss. It is associated with the plant kingdom. These seven can be thought of either as cosmic principles or as human principles (the macrocosm-microcosm). It is through our use of a good mind (Vohu Manah), practicing love and devotion (Spenta Armaiti), and following the path of righteousness (Asha Vahishta) that we can bring about the ideal state of things (Khshathra Vairya), in which ultimately perfection (Haurvatat) and immortality (Ameretat) will prevail. Human beings are not bystanders in life. We are the prime agents through whose actions the promise of Ahura Mazda will be fulfilled. With Ahura Mazda, we are co-creators of the ideal world. Under the Amesha Spentas are other intelligences called Yazatas, sometimes compared to angels. Together with human beings, the Yazatas are the hamkars or helpers of Ahura Mazda. Worldview Zoroastrianism views the world as having been created by Ahura Mazda and as meant to evolve to perfection according to the law or plan of Asha, the divine order of things. The law of Asha is the principle of righteousness or “rightness” by which all things are exactly what they should be. In their most basic prayer, the “Ashem Vohu,” repeated every day, Zoroastrians affirm this law of Asha: “Righteousness is the highest virtue. Happiness to him who is righteous for the sake of righteousness.” This is the central concept in the Zoroastrian religion: Asha is the ultimate Truth, the ideal of what life and existence should be. Duality exists as part of manifestation, but human beings also have freewill to choose between the dual opposites. As they have the power of choice, they have also the personal responsibility of choosing well. Spenta Mainyu, the Bountiful Spirit, promotes the realization of Asha. Angra Mainyu, the Destructive Spirit, violates Asha. We have a choice between them, between spirit and matter, between the real and the unreal. Personal salvation is attained through making the right choice. And the salvation of the world, called “Frashokereti,” is the restoration of the world to its perfect state, one that is in complete accord with Asha. As human beings make the right choices in their lives, they are furthering the realization of Frashokereti. Life after Death What happens after death? According to the Zoroastrian tradition, after the death of the body, the soul remains in this world for three days and nights, in the care of Sraosha, one of the Yazatas or angels. During this period, prayers are said and rituals performed to assure a safe passage of the soul into the spiritual realm. On the dawn of the fourth day, the spirit is believed to have crossed over to the other world, where it arrives at the allegorical Chinvat Bridge. At the Chinvat Bridge, the soul meets a maiden who is the embodiment of all the good words, thoughts, and deeds of its preceding life. If the soul has led a righteous life (one in accord with the divine Plan), the maiden appears in a beautiful form. If not, she appears as an ugly hag. This image, fair or foul, confronts the soul, and the soul acknowledges that the image is an embodiment of its own actions and thereby judges itself, knowing whether it is worthy to cross over the bridge to the other side or must return to earth to learn further lessons. By another account, after the soul meets its own image, it appears before a heavenly tribunal, where divine justice is administered. Good souls go to a heaven called Vahishta Ahu, the Excellent Abode. Evil souls are consigned to a hell called Achista Ahu, the Worst Existence. One account reflects a belief in reincarnation; the other does not. In the oldest Zoroastrian scriptures, heaven and hell are not places, but states of mind that result from right or wrong choices. Zoroaster spoke of the “drujo demana” or “House of Lies” and the “garo demana”or “House of Song,” to which souls are sent. Some say that the fall of the soul into the House of Lies means a return of the soul to earth, the realm of unreality or lies.