ZARATHUSTRA: The Man and The Message

The worlds oldest religion, the Zoroastrian faith, has influenced all the major world religions. Research has determined that Zarathustra, the founder of the Zoroastrian religion, lived centuries before Moses and Abraham. Zarathustra was the first in human history to introduce the belief in one God. He was also the first to put forward ideas of states of existence such as heaven and hell; judgment day; resurrection; and the idea of apocalypse. Over time, Zarathustra’s teachings were corrupted by his followers. This book, based on extensive study and research, aims to dispel the myths and beliefs the Prophet’s followers introduced that have no bearing on Zarathustra’s profound teachings. Many Zoroastrians have never read or just have a cursory understanding of the Gathas, verses Zarathustra composed, for humans to live a productive, harmonious life. The Gathas are simplified based on the works of Gatha scholars. The book covers historical background of the religion as well as offers meanings behind abstract concepts that are often taken literally.

The book can be purchased by writing to Arnavaz Sethna at ahsethna@yahoo.com The cost of the book is $10.00 plus postage and handling. Arnavaz Sethna will inform the interested buyer of the cost and payment arrangements. The author is donating the entire profits to the Library Committee of the Zoroastrian Association of Houston (ZAH.) There is no monetary incentive far the author in this self-published book. The Library Committee of the ZAH is dedicated to advance knowledge in all aspects of the Zoroastrian faith, history and culture.

About the Author
Meheryar N. Rivetna retired from Merck & Co., Inc. and now devotes his time to research and the study of the Zoroastrian religion.
He is an active member of the library committee of the Zoroastrian Association of Houston (ZAH) as well as on the FIRES (FEZANA Information Research Education System) committee. The ZAH library committee is dedicated to advance knowledge of the Zoroastrian faith, history and culture to keep the flame of Zarathustra’s teachings eternally burning and bright.

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9 comments

  • Interesting to see a handbook written by someone who retired from Merck & Co. and has now been focusing on disseminating info. on our religious scriptures. Why, you may ask? I myself spent 32 years at Merck & Co, here in Canada and retired as a Dir., Sales & Marketing way back in 2006. Being a Navar Murtab, I too had an opportunity to write in as simplistic terms as possible, the translation of the five Gathas, using Kanga’s and Taraporewala’s scholarly write-ups on the subject. In fact, out of all the verses of the Gathas, I selected around 30 of them which could be recited as daily prayers by all Zarathushtis, considering the relevance they may have in our daily lives. I posted this as a PDF titled, “In the words of Asho Zarathushtra”, on Zoroastrians.net a couple of years ago.

    Maybe the similarities between Meheryar and I, may end just on the details spelled above, albeit I stand corrected, if that isn’t so. Whenever people try to claim that Zoroastrianism is a universal religion, they usually means that their statement is made in a very liberal sense without any regard or respect for our religion as it ought to be. Their real motive is to have any John Doe off the street to claim the status of being a Zoroastrian! This thought process is very deceptive – while on one hand it exudes an inference of inclusivity and liberalism, on the other it insults the integrity of our blissful religion and labels whoever that follows the tenets and rituals of our religion as narrow-minded and primitive. Unfortunately in recent times, many part-time scholars have come about trying their darned best to reform the religion only to accommodate the inter-marriage situations.

    I humbly request those who perhaps might be preaching this universality message merely out of ignorance, to read the Vendidad and its translation to put their thought process in proper perspective.

    Ervad Jal Dastur

    • Meheryar N. Rivetna

      Dear Ervad Jal Dastur: While we have never met, I remember your name as one of the five Parsis employed at Merck & Co. during my 25 year career at the pharmaceutical giant.

      My stance as the Zoroastrian religion being a universal religion is the least bit liberal. It may come as a surprise to many, but it is a very “conservative” viewpoint. To begin, labels such as liberal and conservative do a grave disservice to the community and, more so, an injustice to the religious principles of Zarathustra. There is only ONE viewpoint and that is Zarathustra’s viewpoint. He did not give a “liberal” viewpoint nor a “conservative” one.

      The universality of the Zoroastrian faith does not suggest “any John Doe off the street” claiming status of being a Zoroastrian. Since you are well versed with the Gathas, you must know very well that Zarathustra, in those timeless verses, promises Ahura Mazda to “convert” as many people he can to follow the Wise Lord’s principles. Since you are well versed with Kanga and Taraporewala’s translations, I draw your attention to Ha 31.3 to emphasize this point. But this is not the only stanza where Zarathustra promises Ahura Mazda to grow adherents to Zarathustra’s teachings, I could give you many more. Of course, many, to satisfy their prejudices put a spin on these stanzas instead of using their “Vohu Manah” (wisdom, intellect and a rational mind.)

      Put the Gathas aside for a moment. The Zoroastrian devotee is expected to promulgate Zarathustra’s principles to the better part of humankind in the following scriptural verses: The Hoshbam prayer; Khorshed Niyaesh (verse 18); Din-no-Kalmo; Meher Yasht (Fargard 92); Ys 61.10; Ys 42.6.

      Furthermore, the Zoroastrian scholar Dasturji Maneckji Dhalla, in many of his writings, categorically states that the Zoroastrian religion is a universal religion and humankind would benefit from the Prophet’s wondrous teachings. But wait. There will be many who will jump to state that Dastur Dhalla was a “liberal” priest. Okay. How about arch-conservatives such as Dastur Darab Peshotan Sanjana and Dastur Rastamji Edulji Dastoor Peshotan Sanjana who are emphatic that the Zoroastrian religion is a universal religion? I refer you to Rastamji Sanjana’s The Parsi Book of Books: The Zend Avesta and Zarathushtra and Zarathushtrianism and to Darab Sanjana’s The Collected Works Of The Late Dastur Darab Peshotan Sanjana. These two Dasturs are known “conservatives.”

      Let me conclude with what the Zoroastrian scholar, a staunch Christian, James Hope Moulton said in a lecture titled T”he Zoroastrian Inheritance” he delivered to Parsis at the Bengali School Hall on Feb. 11, 1916. Here’s what he said:

      “I cannot believe there are any among you who want to have a monopoly of a pure doctrine of God, a lofty view of duty, and the promise of happiness as the eternal reward of well-doing. I feel that we may ask for your sympathy and even your help in putting such an emancipating gospel before people whose only idea of God is one of terror. It must be possible to entertain this unselfish ambition without clashing against the principle which forbids you enlarging the Parsi community. I can assure you, from experience in other circles of religion, that such a passion for sharing the good things of your ancient faith with multitudes who are in spiritual darkness is the one certain way of bringing a new springtide of life into your own people and into your own individual souls. May the Wise Lord Himself give you wisdom and blessing!”

      Meheryar Rivetna

  • Dear Meheryar,

    I read your mini novel with interest, and while I understand and agree with a couple of your comments, I am not so sure that I agree with the rest of them. I may still say though that the example that you’ve given of Zarathushtra mentioning to Ahura Mazda that He will do His best to bring as many people to accept the religion is correct, but I question your interpretation and the conclusion you are drawing from this quote.

    First off, during the period of 1600 -1700 BCE, the majority of the population were Mazdayasnis in Iran to begin with – so the so called conversion you’re talking about were primarily related to Mazdayasnis, who of course were all over the place at the time – some idol worshipping, others worshipping the Sun as their God, and so on. Zarathosht Saheb wanted to bring forth the message that Ahura Mazda is the one God people need to worship and abolish the idol worshipping amongst other things – His goal was to convert Mazdayasnis to Mazdayasni Zarathustis – one can hardly call this ‘conversion’ from today’s standpoint! The same holds true with what Jesus was trying to do with his congregation and that was to reform Judaism.

    Also, please note that nobody in their right frame of mind is prohibiting the world NOT to practice good thoughts, good words and good deeds – of course, all of us need to encourage everyone to follow the precepts of Zarathushtra and Zarathushti religion. However, one should not connect this ideology to saying that because John Doe practices good thoughts, words and deeds that he becomes a bonafide Zarathushti. We cannot talk about Zarathushtra’s preaching all by itself without bringing into the picture His religion called Mazdayasni Zarathushti. You ought to know that when you speak of a religion, you then need to bring into the discussion the tenets and rituals of the religion. While we adore and respect the Gathas to our last breath, we cannot overlook other scriptures as the Vendidad, which clearly articulates the need for a true Zarathushti to follow certain rituals, along with other dos and the don’ts.

    I would like to conclude by saying that the message in your response which with all due respect is totally misinterpreted and misconstrued to say the least – and when such a message is disseminated to others, the result is nothing more than getting others completely misguided. I understand you may not have a bad motive in all this, but your book is very likely to attain this undesirable result.

    This is how I see wrong things like the one mentioned above happens around us:

    “Gradually though no one realizes exactly how this happens…
    the unthinkable becomes tolerable,
    and then acceptable, and then legal,
    and before you know it, it becomes applaudable!”

    Unfortunately, there are more people with your kind of thought process and few like mine in the world today – hence the above quote in the context of our discussion becomes a reality. The only thing I can say is, there is still time for the “reformists” to slow down in their attempt to defile our pure and blessed religion.

    Ervad Jal Dastur

  • Meheryar N. Rivetna

    Dear Mr. Dastur,

    Thank you for your response which I read with much interest.

    If Zarathustra categorically states that he will endeavor to bring many, many people to his flock, I cannot see what there is to interpret. Because this affirmation is clearly enunciated in several other stanzas, as well.
    Yes, the religion practiced before the Prophet’s coming was a mish-mash of practices that Zarathustra disavowed setting a coherent system of beliefs and practices. Conversion is “changing” from an established set of beliefs to a new, or if you wish, “reformed” beliefs and practices. If I convince an atheist to believe in a Supreme Power, I have “converted” him/her.

    The profound triad of Good Thoughts, Words and Deeds is, I must say, very poorly understood by a vast majority of Zarathustra’s followers. He did not suggest with this trine to think “pleasant thoughts”, “speak kind words” or show “acts of common courtesy.” While all these are important in a social setting, what Zarathustra conveyed was that our thoughts, words and actions must be geared towards perfecting the world—the beautiful concept of “frashokereti.” “Leave the world a better place than when you found it” was voiced by the founder of the scout movement Lord Baden-Powell, but it is really fundamental to Zarathustra’s triad. (If you subscribe to Fezana, you may want to read my article on this subject in the latest issue.)

    Rituals are important to the point that they symbolize the principles of the religion. They do not offer any salvation or benediction as improperly believed. In this, I quote not only Dastur Dhalla, but other “conservative” priests I mentioned in my last post. (Be happy to give you specific sources, if needed.)

    Your quote “Gradually though no one realizes…it becomes applaudable” is spot on. And that is precisely my argument. The religion is corrupted by borrowings from Hinduism, Theosophy, mysticism, occultism, Sufism…you name it. We have followers of a cult (the name of which shall not cross my lips), with these ideologies, masquerading as the tenets of the Zoroastrian religion.

    The Vendidad was not compiled by Zarathustra nor his early disciples. It is the work of the Magi who “self-converted” to the Zoroastrian faith. There is ample historical evidence to support what I am saying. (Brevity does not allow me to give details about the Magi, but I am certain you are familiar with that part of our history. It is also discussed in my book.) The Vendidad does have some good principles of hygiene to observe for our personal well-being. It also has directives to horse whip (“Aspahe-astra”) or flog (“Sraosha-karana”) someone 500 times or 1000 times for burying the corpse of a dog or a human being among many other bizarre offenses. The Vendidad is loaded with mythical geographical locations and names of mythical kings. Now, I grant you that what the writers of the Vendidad (and even many Yashts) say is, in all likelihood, figurative and must be understood in proper context—which is exactly the point of my book. Nevertheless, rules to bury your hair and finger-nail clippings does not constitute prayer. Do you know anyone who observes those prescriptions?

    Lastly, I would hardly consider myself a “reformist.” My objective in all this is to bring awareness to the founding principles and teachings of Zarathustra. A “conservative”, by definition, is one who preserves (conserves) the founding principles of a religion or a nation. A conservative does not institute beliefs and practices that contravene the founding principles of a Prophet or founding fathers, as it were. Hence, I am a true conservative and those who consider themselves conservative are really “liberal”, because they have introduced beliefs and practices that are alien to Zarathustra’s basic teachings.

    My apologies if I misconstrued your comments in your first post.

    Thank you for a stimulating discussion.

    Meheryar

  • Dear Meheryar,

    While I somewhat admire your perseverance in getting latched to your own thinking, quite frankly, I wasn’t interested anymore to read your long drawn out information which I guess you’ve derived from various sources, and that too in a very helter-skelter fashion. You know what? It’s totally useless – no matter, how much we go back and forth we will still be at different ends of the spectrum. So best thing – let’s leave to each, their own.

    I’ve just finished writing a book (ready to be published) which is basically on redefining the current People Management practices. In there, I’ve borrowed an ancient quote and have added a one-liner extension of my own to it based on my experience. I’ll leave you with that one to ponder upon:

    He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not is a fool – shun him.
    He who knows not, and he knows that he knows not is ignorant – teach him.
    He who knows, and knows not that he knows is asleep – wake him.
    He who knows, and he knows that he knows is wise – follow him.

    However, my experience dictates even a fifth category where some people reside, described as:
    He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, BUT THINKS HE KNOWS is dangerous – stay away from him.

    Take care and stay safe.

    Ervad Jal Dastur
    PS: You ask “Do you know who observes those prescriptions?” You’re damn right, I do! You are communicating with him. I’m blessed that while my children and their spouses all have high academic profiles, they have been blessed by Ahura Mazda to strictly follow virtually all the stated rituals albeit in today’s environment. Sir, we have a special Prayer Room wherein we have a lighted Divo 24/7, and a special room with separate entrance for the Ladies room. None of us step out of the house without reciting our prayers for around more than an hour. So please don’t see the world through your lenses alone. May Ahura Mazda grant you Vohu Manah to help you renew your thought process towards Light, away from darkness, which sometimes is just an illusion of light.

  • Meheryar N. Rivetna

    Dear Mr. Dastur,

    Congratulations on the publication of your book. I wish you mush success with it.

    You may want to consider adding one more line to the quote you speak of:

    A man who knows not, and thinks he does, when exposed he knows not resorts to insults.

    My views are formulated by several years of study and examining all viewpoints whether I like them or not. They are not helter-skelter.

    I, too, have a divo in my home 24/7. It is not a robotic practice. To me, the flame (fire) is representative of Asha Vahishta—Ahura Mazda’s attribute of Truth and Righteousness; hence, a reminder that I must pursue truth no matter how much I get challenged, put down or insulted. No lance can penetrate the armor of steadfastness I wear.

    My perseverance comes from my training in sales and marketing at our esteemed company where you held similar positions, I understand. As you must well know, you do not give up on a customer because a sale gets turned down; until you come to the point of no return which I believe is where we are as you also have stated. I have other customers to call upon who see the value in my product. So this is my last post on this subject. You may have the last word if you wish.

    I have no illusions of darkness being light. I was in research before my transition to sales. I know light and understand light-literally and figuratively. Thank you for understanding that.

    Best wishes to you,

    Meheryar

  • Meheryar Saheb,

    I take it that you’re not a Navar Murtab, or else you would have claimed even a stronger armour under that qualification.

    Also, one little tip for you, as I’m not familiar as to how good or not you were in Sales – ‘Never loose your cool when interacting with your customers’. Your recent write-up exudes your anger within. It’s not worth it.

    That’s fine with me – please call on other customers.

    A final word of advice from the former Dir., Training & Development, as you leave from my sales call – “Please refrain from twisting the meanings and interpretations of our scriptures with your next set of customers. Some wise clients may see right through you, as you bamboozle your way by claiming your scholastic expertise in our religion. Finally, please do yourself a favour, forget about mentioning and spreading the word that the Vendidad is the work of some Magi who self-converted to our faith – that would be a sure way to lose your customers, by clearly displaying your disrespect to one of the most highly coveted scriptures within our Faith. Did your claim to fame on Zoroastrianism made you aware that the Vendidad is the scripture that a mobed prays all night to become Murtab? Probably not!”

    Very Best,
    Ervad Jal Dastur

  • Meheryar N. Rivetna

    Dear Mr. Dastur,

    There must be some magnetic powers you possess that I cannot resist responding to your posts contrary to my assurances. But if I can learn from you, I am so much the better.

    No, I am not a navar/martab. But I grew up in an environment where I was surrounded by practicing priests and those ordained, but not practicing. My experience is that, with few exceptions, many of them knew very little beyond the mechanical practices of what they had learnt. Many did not know nor cared what the prayers meant.

    Never mind all that. I do not dispute the importance of the Vendidad in our religion. Yes, I know the mobed prays the Vendidad all night to qualify for martab. All this is true and I do not question it.

    Also, I am not an academic scholar and have no illusions of being one. I claim to be well read and have acquired knowledge one finds lacking in the average Zoroastrian (particularly the Parsis.)

    Coming to the Vendidad, there is an abundance of scholarly research that the Vendidad is not the work of Zarathustra nor his early disciples. All research I have come across indisputably states that the “laws of purity” were compiled a few centuries after the Prophet’s passing. Not all at one time, but the writing was spread out over years and there are many who assert that there is unquestionably Magian influence. They look at philology, grammar, history of the era among many areas of their respective research to come to this conclusion. Just to name a few: Moulton, Zaehner, Haug, Gershevitch, Dastur (Maneckshaw Navroji) who are all highly respected scholars. There are many more. I wish I could paste the relevant pages from journals, texts and such. Maybe someday when we meet I would love to share that with you.

    I know I do not need to tell you, but you know that all the later Avesta that we consider scripture has its foundation in the Gathas. They are all built up on the hymns of the Prophet.

    In all what we call Younger Avesta there are elements of fantasy and myths that cannot be considered prayer. This is not my imagination, but vividly stated in Dastur Maneckji N. Dhalla’s autobiography “The Saga of A Soul.”

    My sales record? Due to many re-organizations we went through my sales tenure was broken up a couple of times, but if I put my sales career in a span of five years then I was a three time VP award winner.

    Take care and thank you for your patience.

    Respectfully,

    Meheryar

  • Meheryar,

    I have been too busy to even respond to your posting – however, I took some time out to cut and paste a part of the presentation titled “Parsi Identity… lost?” which was developed very nicely by Sarosh Manekshaw of Houston in December 2010.

    The following bullet points would suffice to provide some perspective to you of what actually transpired during 16th to 18th century when British East India Company came to India. As per this presentation, the names of some people that you proudly talked about in your postings are the real villains of our Parsi community at large – looks like you too are singing the same song from their hymn book. Anyways, as per Asho Zarathosht Saheb, each of us have to make a choice, and be prepared to accept the consequence. You have made yours, so be it.

    Here’s the content of the slides in a chronological order for your perusal – enjoy!

    • In 1813 the East India Company was forced to permit missionaries to enter India
    • In 1829 the Rev. John Wilson, a Scottish missionary arrived in Mumbai
    • He was impressed by the Parsis’ outstanding character and progressiveness
    • Thus, the Parsis became a target community for Rev. Wilson’s evangelical efforts

    • He studied the then available (Antiquetil du Perron’s) translations of the Avesta and Bundahishn
    • Set about attacking Zoroastrianism by vilifying the doctrines of the religion
    • Published these attacks in a series of articles in the local newspaper
    • Several individuals responded to this attack and a debate raged in the community
    • They, unschooled in Western education, proved to be poor defenders of the faith
    • Their contradicting defense further added to the confusion

    Wilson’s attack was on the following grounds:
    1. Zoroastrianism robbed God (Ahura Mazda) of his glory by admitting to the powers of an Evil Spirit
    2. Because of the veneration of the Amesha Spentas and Yazatas, Zoroastrianism was polytheistic
    3. Because of its veneration of fire, water and the earth, it was a form of nature worship
    4. That the Avesta was not written by Zarathushtra
    5. Zarathushtra was not a prophet, since there is no record that he performed miracles

    • The only coherent defense was by Dastur Edul Sanjana, of the Wadiaji Atash Behram, who strongly defended the orthodox position
    • He, too, was viciously attacked by John Wilson
    • This confrontation left the community in disarray, since they felt that even their priests were unable to satisfactorily defend the religion
    • Wilson’s attack had the desired effect of spreading confusion, and left several (especially the educated Parsis) distressed that they were unable to defend or explain their beliefs and doctrines to the British

    • Despite Wilson’s persistent attacks, he was only able to convert one Parsi
    • On May 1, 1839, Dhanjibhai Nauroji, a 16-year old, was baptized a Christian by Rev. Wilson
    • This conversion caused outrage, and unified the community in its opposition to proselytization
    • The case was challenged in court, but the British justices ruled in favor of Wilson
    • This incident raised the necessity to defend, preserve and protect Parsi Identity

    • Martin Haug was a Lutheran, German scholar teaching Sanskrit in Pune
    • He also studied the Avesta and was the first Western scholar to isolate the Gathas from within the Yasna, as the words of Zarathushtra (1859)
    • He stated that Parsis should only focus on the Gathas
    • Haug concluded that Zarathushtra’s theology was a rigid monotheism, with Ahura Mazda creating both the Good (Spenta Mainyu) and the Evil (Angra Mainyu) Spirits
    • This was anathema to the orthodox view that Ahura Mazda could not conceivably be associated with the creation of evil

    • Martin Haug deflected Wilson’s charge of polytheism by stating that these were later concepts added by ignorant priests
    • By doing so, Haug dichotomized the religion into two periods: (1) The original pure religion of Zarathushtra, and (2) the later priestly corruption
    • Haug’s concepts of Zoroastrianism were championed by the elite, reformist Parsis, who could now present themselves to the British as followers of a monotheistic, progressive, Protestant-like religion

    – Wilson’s attack left the Parsis in disarray about the nature of their doctrines
    – Haug defended the religion against Wilson’s charges, but compounded the error by mischaracterizing the religion as monotheistic, and then dichotomizing it by proposing two separate theologies
    – This was the start of and basis for the present theological differences between the Reformists and the Orthodox

    • Culture and Traditions –
    – The Wilson attack on the Parsis forced the community to become more introspective
    – It brought about communal unity
    – It brought to the front the question of Parsi Identity and to defend it against outside attack
    – Haug helped the elite, Western-minded Parsis to better ingratiate themselves with the British

    • By mid-1850s merchant princes were in decline, as manufacturing took over trade
    • College educated Parsis now formed the new elite
    • The core group of Parsi reformists met as students at Elphinston Institute
    • This group funded and started numerous schools and libraries
    • They recognized that for the community to progress, girls must also be educated
    • English education, as well as close interaction with the British, led to an Anglicization of the reformed Parsis
    • The Parsi reformist developed a fondness for all things British – their language, sports, fashion, food, consumer goods, and their customs and manners
    • “The Parsis wanted to be like the British and to be liked by the British” (Hinnells)
    • They rapidly assimilated in with the British
    • By aping British customs, the Parsis considered themselves to be a Colonial Elite
    • While the reformists ingratiated themselves with the British, it was at the cost of them abandoning their Parsi cultural identity

    • Western education not only led to taking on British culture, but the reformists started to question the basis of their religion as well
    • They were dismayed by past ignorance of the state of religious knowledge by the priests
    • In 1851 the Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha (Religious Reform Association) was founded by Nowrozji Furdoonji, with the goal of promoting social and religious reform
    • The reformists reinterpreted the religion to reject all things traditional that did not meet their rationalist view

    • While previous elders had appealed to communal unity and sense of identity, the reformists appealed to critical thinking
    • The reformists denounced the tradition as ignorant and superstitious
    • Rather than maintaining communal harmony and unity, the reform movement led to a split in the community
    • The reformists now considered themselves the new elite and caretakers of the religion
    • The reformists focused on the Gathas, considered the religion to be monotheistic, condemned ritualism, and simplified and translated prayers into the vernacular
    • Blamed the priests for the state of religious ignorance

    • One of the leaders of the reformist movement was Kharshedji Rustomji Cama
    • He studies Avesta and Pahlavi in France and Germany and returned to Mumbai in 1861 and started teaching
    • Started 3 schools of Parsi priests
    • K.R. Cama was also responsible for introducing the Fasli calendar
    • The foremost reformist of this period was Dasturji M. N. Dhalla of Karachi
    • Went to Columbia University to study under Prof. A. V. W. Jackson – a stunch Protestant

    Ervad Jal Dastur

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