A Short Introduction to Zoroastrian Religion
The Zoroastrian religion is founded by Zarathushtra in ancient Avestan language or Zoroaster in Greek or Zartosht in Farsi, the Persian Iranian language. Zarathushtra was one of the earliest and perhaps the first prophet to teach monotheism, the belief in one God. He preached a new doctrine of good, evil and retribution. And he gave the world the triple motto of Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.
Zarathushtra’s complete name is Zarathushtra Haechataspa Spitama. “Zoroaster” is most current of various Greek forms of his first name. He was born around 1738 B.C. in northeaster part of the Iranian Plateau.
Zarathushtra proclaimed one Omniscient, Omnipotent God as the creator, sustainer and promoter of the universe. His teachings explain how God’s divine attributes are reflected in the universe and in our living world. He advises people to acquire and cultivate divine attributes, particularly “ good mind and righteousness; to elevate themselves in harmony with God and to listen to God’s guiding voice within them; to be creative and progressive to work in harmony with nature in creating and ever-better world; to establish a universal fellowship in an ideal society chosen by the people for peace and prosperity; to attain perfection and immortality; and to become godlike and live in divine happiness for ever after.
Zarathushtra called the religion he founded the Good religion. A person, when initiated as a Zarathushti and thereafter when praying, declares; “I, with my appreciations and convictions, choose for myself to be a worshipper of Omniscient God and a Zarathushti. I appreciate Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. I appreciate the Good Religion of worshipping Omniscient God, which overthrow yokes yet sheaths swords, teaches self-reliance and is righteous.”
This declaration, which is a part of larger creed, provides an outline of what a Zarathushti is. Men and women enjoy truly equal status. A person is free to choose for him or herself, after sufficient learning and reasoning, the religion he or she considers the best. Therefore Zarathushti does not abhor or denounce other religions. In his or her eyes, other regions, too, are great, good and beautiful.
Zarathushtis reject polytheistic or many-god cults, magic rites, mysterious rituals and irrational ceremonies. They condemn violent crime and treachery. They uphold freedom of thoughts, speech and action in a healthy society. And they protect and promote the environment in which they and others live. Zarathushtis strive to be precise and righteous in every act of life. Such conduct, however, requires a fair knowledge or past and present beliefs, religious, societies and above all, nature. A Zarathushti should be wise, vigilant, self-reliant, active, creative, progressive, peaceful, tolerant and above all, kind and loving. A Zarathushti loves God and God’s creation.
Just as the Cross, the Star of David and Mecca serve as altar symbols for Christians, Jews an Muslims, Light is to the Zarathushtis a blazing symbol of divine illumination, enlightenment, warmth, love and energy. The Zarathushti says his or her prayers before a lighted incense burner, a candle or a lamp. He or she may face other luminaries, the sun, the moon, and the stars when praying to Omniscient God. A perpetual fire is kept in a special vase in the house of worship. And so is a light in a Zarathushti house.
Influence on Other Religions
Scholars of comparative religion assert that the Zarathushti religion, which was the state region of a dominant but tolerant empire for over 1000 years, greatly influenced the religions of its neighbors, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Close contact was made between Zarathushtis and Biblical peoples when Cyrus the Great, who was a Zarathushti, freed the Jews from the Babylonian captivity in 539 B.C. Since then and until recently, Iran has been a haven Jews to Diaspora and for the persecuted Christian denominations.
Cyrus the Great, Messiah of the Jews and Creator of the First Charter of Human Rights. A Zoroastrian King and a defender of Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds for all humans. Click Here to know more about him.
Founded and taught in eastern Iran in 1700 B.C., the Zarathushti religion spread all over the Iranian Plateau by the 6th century B.C. It was instrumental in the founding of the world’s first universal empire buy the Acaemenaians under Cyrus the Great in 550 B.C. The empire was not bound by linguistic or ethnic frontiers. While earlier conquests had meant the total destruction of the vanquished, the Achaemenians’ tolerance was not only political, but also religions and ethnic.
When Cyrus, himself a Zarathushti, conquered Babylon in 539 B.C., he freed all captive people, including the Jews who had remained in bondage for 70 years. He helped restore all the temple destroyed by the Babylonians. That is whey the Bible calls him the Lord’s “shepherd and anointed… whose right hand I have holden…” (Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1). A description of how Cyrus helped the returning Jews to rebuild their ruined temple is found in Ezra 6:3-4 and 6:14-15. Cyrus was the first ruler to declare what we call today “Human Rights”. Cyrus’ successors—Darius the Great, Artaxexes and other Great rulers—are known for their respect for different religious and racial groups.
The Achaemenian empire was put to an end by Alexander the Macedonian (generally known as the Great) in 330 B.C. The Iranian regained their independence under the Parthians in 250 B.C. The Parthians, also Zarathushtis, are also known for their tolerance. Christ was born when the Parthian empire was at its peak and was an upper hand rival of the pagan Roman Empire, which persecuted the Jews and still later the Christians. The Parthians were succeeded by the Sassanians in 224 A.D. The Sassanians, themselves of the priestly class, made the Zarathushti religion their stat religion. Yet Jews, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus found a place in their realms, which rivaled the Roman Empire.
In 652 A.D., the Arabs, fired by the zeal of their new religion – Islam—conquered Iran, and Zarathushti Iran ceased to exist. Mass conversions, largely through force and concessions, have eroded the number of Zarathushtis who once had the greatest number of followers of any religion in the civilized world. Today there are only about 125,000 Zarathushtis left in the world. 30,000 are in Iran and 80,000 are in India, where they are known as Parsis. (A small band of Zarathushtis migrated from Iran to India in the 9th century to escape Muslim prosecution, much like the Pilgrim Fathers who came to America). The rest of the present day Zarathushtis are scattered all over the world. And about 5,000 of them have come to settle in North America, of whom 1500 are in Southern California.
The Zarathushtis in North America have their associations and centers in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and certain other cities.
California Zoroastrian Center is one of them. Like its sister organizations, it is a nonpolitical and nonprofit establishment. It works to promote the noble cause of the Zarathushti religion and serve the increasingly active Zarathushti community.
The center arranges religious classes in English and Persian ,both for children and the adults. It holds religious and cultural lectures by prominent scholars; performs initiation, marriage and memorial ceremonies; celebrates the six seasonal thanksgiving festivals known as Gahanbars and also other religious festivals. It maintains the local Zarathushti cemetery. Its reference library has some 4000 books on religion, history, geography, art, language and literature. It has its modest-publication. Its quarterly publication which is called “Chehrename: appears in Farsi but also contains a few pages in English.
With funds provided by the Rustam Guiv Foundation and donations made by other Zarathushti philanthropists, a new building was completed at the cost of approximately one million dollars in early 1986 and the Center moved into it by the end of February 1987. It has a payer room, a hall and a capacity of 630 people, a library, an office, three apartment for scholar guests and 71 parking spaces. It s a winged figured depicting the Divine lorry and four pillars with bull-heads which usher in the visitors.
California Zoroastrian Center is open, daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Please
call visit and/or write and note that you, your family members and friends
Zarathushti or otherwise—are all welcome to each and all the classes and
function the Center holds.
*Published by California Zoroastrian Center.
The First Declaration of Human Rights by Cyrus the Great
The founder of Persian Empire, 532 BCE
Cuneiform clay tablet known as Cylinder of Cyrus,
uncovered in Temple of Marduk in Babylon, currently at British Museu
The Actual Cylinder as Preserved in British Museum
I am Cyrus, the king of the world, great king, legitimate king … son of Cambyses … whose rule Bel and Nebo loved and whom they wanted as king to please their hearts.
When I entered Babylon as a friend and established the seat of government in the place of the ruler under jubilation and rejoicing, Marduk, the great lord (induced) the magnanimous inhabitants of Babylon (Din Tir) (to love me) and I daily endeavored to praise him. My numerous troops walked around in Babylon in peace, I did not allow anybody to terrorize (any of the people) of the country of Sumer and Akkad. I strove for peace in Babylon (Ka Dingir ra) and in all his (other) sacred cities. As to the inhabitants of Babylon (who) against the will of the gods (had/were … I abolished) the corvee (yoke) which was against their (social standing). I brought relief to their dilapidated housing, putting an end to their main complaints. Marduk, the great lord, was well pleased with my deeds and sent friendly blessing to myself, Cyrus, the King, who reveres him, to Cambyses, my son, as well as to all my troops, and we all (praised) his great (name) joyously, standing before him in peace … I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Sumer and Akkad who Nabonidus has brought to Babylon (su sa na) to the anger of the lord of the gods unharmed in their chapels, the places which make them happy.
May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask Bel and Nebo daily for a long life … (six lines destroyed) and always with good words remember my good deeds … that Babylonians incessantly cherished me because I resettled them in comfortable habitations … I endeavored to strengthen the fortification of Imgur-Enlil and the great fortification of the City of Babylon … the side brick wall by the city’s trench which the former king (had built and had not finished). This was finished around (the city), that none of the former kings, despite the labor of their yoked people, had not accomplished. I rebuilt and completed with tar and brick … and installed large gates … entrances were built by cedar wood covered with brass and copper pivot … I strengthened all the gates… I saw inscribed the name of my predecessor, King Ashurbanipal.
On this historical turning point, by order of Cyrus, all the captive nationalities
held as slaves for
generations in Babylon were freed and the return to their homeland was financed. Among the liberated captives were 50,000 Jews held in Babylon for three generations whose return toward the rebuilding of their temple in Palestine, a policy that was followed by Darius and his successors. Some of the liberated Jews were invited to and did settle in Persia. Because of such a generous act, Cyrus has been anointed in the Bible. He is the only gentile in the Bible, who has been titled Messiah, an is mentioned explicitly as the Lord’s shepherd and his anointed (Messiah). Other references to Cyrus are attested in Isaiah 45:4 where Cyrus is called by name and given a title of honor; he is also called to rebuild the God’s city and free His people (Is. 45:13) and is chosen, called and brought successful by God (Is. 48:14-15).
What took place after the victory in Babylon was contrary to the standard of the time. Based on the inscriptions of the neighboring countries (Assyrians, Babylonians), it was customary to destroy the vanquished cities, level houses and temples, massacre the people or enslave the population, replace them with snakes, wolves and even carry away the soil to make the land barren. But here, peace and liberty replaced the massacre and slavery, and construction substituted for destruction. After Cyrus, his son Cambyses ruled for eight years (530BC to 522 BC) and captured Egypt, and as a sign of respect toward their culture and religion, he prostrated himself before the goddess, Meith and paid homage to Apis, the Egyptian totem (Bull).
Courtesy of www.Vohuman.org, a Zoroastrian Educational Institute
The case for Zarathushtrianism at the turn of the 3rd Millennium
The time was ticking away. Most of the nations of the world celebrated the beginning of the new millennium all over the planet in major cities with songs full of joy and promises. Ironically, the symphony performing in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas the birthplace and holy shrines of the 3 major religions of the world with the same Abrahamic root was the acclaimed composition of the late German composer, Richard Strauss. Was it a coincidence or was it intentional? It was a symbolic gesture as to the future of our tiny planet and where we may be heading in the new millennium.
Strauss composed his masterpiece that is internationally known as the “Splendid of God” based on Frederick Nietzsche›s book “Thus Sprauch Zarathsuhtra”. He adapted the title of Nietzsche›s book for his composition, and thus gave a vocal representation to the contents of the book. For me, as a believer in the universal framework of Zarathushtra, which was laid out in his grand vision, about 4000 years ago and so aptly manifested in his ever-lasting, ever-fresh Gathas, it was a confirming moment.
The moment was an affirmation of a conviction that based on the very essence of the Zarathsuhtra’s messages, ethical forces of perfection and progressions are at work and are leading us to that ideal world. The world that we shall all be a part of in love and affection, in caring and passion, in joy and sorrow. A new world for us and generations to come.
The moment was a reflection of a belief system that is built upon the ever-lasting principles of “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds”. It was a time to realize that, the progression of our human society about 6.8 billion strong is towards, enlightenment, understanding and knowledge. It was about realizing the current state of human accomplishments and trying to make progress to even higher grounds. This precious moment was an affirmation to respecting the nature and this tiny planet we call mother Earth, a place to preserve, cherish and prosper.
The moment was about the state of Humanity with all its Good and Evil. It was about the principle of “Freedom of Choice” so powerfully and so eloquently advocated by Zarathushtra, in many pages of his Gathas. A principle so profound in Zarathushtra’s vision that a baby born into a Zarathushtrian family who have been faithful for millennia, is not considered Zarathushtrian, until he/she reaches an age to “Ponder and Think” about the belief and then either “Choose” or “Not to Choose” it.
The moment was a point in time, to prove that we are moving towards the wisdom based on knowledge and understanding and away from prejudice, bigotry and superstitions. It was a time to tell us all, that the new world to come, wants all her citizens to be equal in all rights. There will be no divisions among citizens of the new world. This world will not and cannot be divided into two camps of masters and slaves, Men and Women.
It was a proof that, we all are here to help God who knows nothing but Good, to make a better world in many different ways that each one of us can. It was a proof that eventually Good will pay off and evil will go down to defeat. <<It was about this remarkable statement that the most famous physicist or perhaps most famous scientist of the last century delivered. A remarkable statement in one of his speech, which in my personal opinion resembles the basics of the Zarathushtra’s vision. When asked about his idea and belief on religion, Albert Einstein this great scientist of the 20th century said;
" The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge."
In Zarathushtrianism, there exists no such thing as a “Blind Faith”. There is no “Fear of Death” neither “Fear of Life”. All is based on logic and morals. The vision is based on an ethical and rational progression towards perfection of knowledge and humanity.
That faithful moment in Bethlehem for me, was about the “Law of Righteousness”, or “Ultimate Truth”, one of the most fundamentals of Zarathushtra’s vision. It reminded me of the great works of Steven Hawking of Cambridge and the amazing resemblance between what Zarathushtra called “Ultimate Truth” and what Hawking called “Remarkable Truth”, which for the sake of reference, I have presented it below. «Where do we come from?
How did the universe begin? Why is the universe the way it is? How will it end?”
All my life, I have been fascinated by the big questions that face us, and have tried to find scientific answers to them. If, like me, you have looked at the stars, and tried to make sense of what you see, you too have started to wonder what makes the universe exist. The questions are clear, and deceptively simple. But the answers have always seemed well beyond our reach. Until now.
The ideas, which had grown over two thousand years of observation, have had to be radically revised. In less than a hundred years, we have found a new way to think of ourselves. From sitting at the center of the universe, we now find ourselves orbiting an average-sized sun, which is just one of millions of stars in our own Milky Way galaxy. And our galaxy itself is just one of billions of galaxies, in a universe that is expanding. But this is far from the end of a long history of inquiry. Many more questions remain to be answered, before we can hope to have a complete picture of the universe we live in.
I want you to share my excitement at the discoveries, past and present, which have revolutionized the way we think. From the Big Bang to black holes, from dark matter to a possible Big Crunch, our image of the universe today is full of strange sounding ideas, and remarkable truths. The story of how we arrived at this picture is the story of learning to understand what we see.»
It is the collection of these moments as proof that beneath the “Supreme Intellectuality” of Zarathushtra’s God, Ahura Mazda, there are divine attributes that collectively bring about the all Goodness of “Supreme Intellect”.
And it was a moment to once again, prove it is the “Universalism of Zarathushtra” that is conquering the hearts and capturing the minds of all citizens of the world who happen to know him, read his manifest, ponder on his philosophy, analyze his doctrine and choose for themselves free of any pre-built dogma or prejudice what each one of them think is the best for the ethical and rational progression of our human society towards perfection.
And, the time is ticking away taking us to where we all will be one with the God of Zarathushtra, the God of all Good, Bliss and Happiness.
(courtesy of www.Vohuman.org, a Zoroastrian Educational Institute)
Some Historical Facts
Did You Know:
- That, the first declaration of «Human Rights» in the world was created
by Cyrus the Great, the King of Persia about 2500 years ago.
- That, when slavery was a norm in many societies, Persia (Ancient Iran)
not only had banned it, but also paid her Persian and foreign work force
and provided maternity leave for women workers.
- That, men and women were equal and there were women who were navy admirals,
and even ruler of the country.
- The above historical facts are the basic fabrics of the Persian (Iranian)
culture. The culture that has been the birth place of the Good Religion
And You, our Dear Fellow Human, whoever you are, wherever you live and whatever you believe in, know these facts and be proud as we are all part of one big family of «Humanity».