On Pre-Zarathushtrian Influence - Facts and Fallacies
by Sarosh J. H. Manekshaw
In the past few weeks there has been some discussion in the (liberal) forum about the "Pre-Zarathushtrian" influence on the present day religion. There has also been mention of the need to remove all traces of "Pre- and Post-Zarathushtrianism" and, implicitly (and sometimes explicitly), to acknowledge only the Gathas as the sole religious work.
If I understand them correctly, the group of people advocating this position are basically stating that all the Younger Avestan works, (including the Yasnas, the Visperad, the Yashts, the Vendidad, and the Khordeh Avesta) should be expunged from the corpus of religious literature. Further, that all the Yazatas (since, in their opinion, they are Pre-Zarathushtrian beings) should no longer be considered worthy of worship. In addition, there are those who are also calling for the removal of the priesthood in its present form (hereditary, and restricted to males), and for the doing away with numerous rituals, again because they are not specifically mentioned in the Gathas, and hence are either of Pre- or Post-Zarathushtrian origin.
In this slightly lengthy essay, I will try to show the following:
That the statement: "Meher & Behram Izads, and the other Yazatas, were condemned by Zarathushtra because they were not specifically mentioned by him in the Gathas," can neither be proved right nor wrong - one simply cannot prove anything from a negative.
That Zarathushtra did, in fact, mention numerous Yazatas in the Gathas, as being beneficent beings.
That Zarathushtra classified all beings (both spiritual and material) as either "good" or "evil," - accepting the "good" and rejecting the "evil."
That we each now need to decide whether we consider the Yazatas to be either in the "Ahuric - spiritually good" or "Daevic - spiritually evil " category.
If individuals accept the Yazatas as belonging to the "Ahuric" class, then there is no reason to change the way Zarathushtis believe, because that was exactly what Zarathushtra preached in his Gathas.
If other individuals by their own "choice," wish to consider the Yazatas to be "Daevic," and hence reject them, then they are free to do so, but in doing so they are violating a fundamental principle laid down by Zarathushtra in his Gathas.
From what I have read lately, the statement has been made to the effect that since Meher Izad (Mithra) and Behram Izad (Vrethragna), and a lot of the other Yazatas, are not specifically mentioned in the Gathas, that Zarathushtra must have condemned them. The claim is that they are found in the present-day religion only because the "corrupt" priesthood, immediately following Zarathushtra, re-introduced these Yazatas into the religion, because they were the popular "gods" of the people.
May I assume that that is an accurate assessment of those "fundamentalists" who "by choice" wish to do away with the Yazatas? If not, I would like to be corrected with a more precise explanation.
If so, let us examine their statement further.
As any student should know, the most elementary rules of logic and science tell us that you CANNOT prove anything from a NEGATIVE.
True, Meher and Behram Izads (for convenience I shall only use these two names to represent the group of Yazatas) are not mentioned in the Gathas. But from their absence in the Gathas, we can draw no conclusion. Those who try to do so are merely using non-scholarly techniques to try to prove the unprovable. All we can say for certain is that they are not mentioned.
Thus, there is simply no way for anyone to prove the statement, "Meher and Behram Izads were condemned by Zarathushtra because they were not mentioned in the Gathas," either true or false.
I do hope that we can finally put this non-scholarly, unscientific and fallacious argument to rest.
So, is there any other proof that can be present to show that Zarathushtra condemned the Yazatas?
Now that at least one fallacy has debunked, what are the facts?
If the Gathas are silent on the mention of Meher and Behram Izads, how do we know what Zarathushtra’s position on the acceptance or rejections of these beings was? To answer this question we must look at the Gathas as a whole and try to draw inferences based on his extant writings.
In the Gathas Zarathushtra lists a pantheon of beneficent, spiritual beings. These include:
It is very obvious from this list that he considers multiple, beneficent, spiritual beings to exist, in addition to Ahura Mazda. That he specifically also mentions the Yazatas Sraosha, Atar, Ashi, etc, (and that he speaks of them in a positive vein) indicates that certainly the concept of the existence of lesser divine beings – the Yazatas – was something he approved of. (It should be noted that the term "Yazata" is not used by Zarathushtra in the Gathas, but I am using it here as a collective noun to describe the group of lesser, beneficent, spiritual beings.)
So we can safely conclude that Zarathushtra, rather than condemn the Yazatas, very specifically made mention of some of them (as beneficent beings) in the Gathas. That all are not mentioned could be for many reasons, but certainly the fact is that he did NOT condemn them ALL as a group.
Let us try to fortify this point by examining another concept presented in the Gathas by Zarathushtra.
If we analyze the Gathas, we find that in them there is a sharp dichotomy between "good" and "evil." Zarathushtra repeatedly, and pointedly, makes this distinction in every one of his hymns. This dichotomy exists, for him, both in the spiritual world as well as in the material world. He does not list a "neutral" group. In other words, for Zarathushtra, all beings, both spiritual as well as human, were either "good" or "evil," with no in-between.
In the spiritual world he speaks of the pantheon of beneficent spirits - already listed above. He also mentions the pandemonium of evil spirits, including:
The Daevas, as well as:
In the material world, he draws the distinction between "good rulers" and "evil rulers;" between followers of the Truth (Ashavans) and followers of the lie (dregvants); as well as their respective priests – the Zaotars (the "good" priests, of which Zarathushtra was one, since he calls himself that in the Gathas) and the Karapans & Usigs (who were the evil priests of the cattle rustlers and the followers of the lie).
We can see from the Gathas that Zarathushtra categorized all beings, spiritual as well as human, into one of the two classes: "good" or "evil." Further, in the Gathas he continually entreats his followers to only accept and respect the "Ahuric" beings, and to reject and condemn the "Daevic" beings.
So, the question to ask is: In which category did Zarathushtra classify the Yazatas? Did he classify them in the "Ahuric" or "Daevic" class?
I think we can, beyond a reasonable doubt, conclude that he considered them to be "Ahuric." If we look at either the pre-Zarathushtrian or post-Zarathushtrian traits of the group of Yazatas as a whole, we can be certain that these were all beneficent beings. Why else would they have been considered as Yazatas (literally, worthy of worship)? Further, he had already, in his Gathas acknowledged certain Yazatas (Sraosha, Atar, Ashi, etc.) as "Ahuric" beings.
Thus, we can safely conclude from the Gathas that Zarathushtra, on the basis of the principle of differentiating between "good" and "evil" beings, could NOT have condemned the Yazatas as a class. If he had, that would have created a major contradiction in his principles and doctrines.
The community currently consists of two groups of individuals:
Group 1: These are the "Zarathushtis" who believe the Yazatas to be beneficent spirits. They see Ahura Mazda, the Amesha Spentas and the Yazatas jointly making up the pantheon of "Ahuric" beings. They believe in protecting and preserving the religion as it was handed down to them generation after generation, for 3,500 years.
Group 2: There are those who, by their "choice," wish to reject the Yazatas. They also choose not to recognize the Yasna, the Yashts, the Visperad, the Vendidad or the Khordeh Avesta as part of the sacred literature. In addition, they wish to abandon the priesthood, as well as time-honored rituals. They wish to destroy the Zarathushti traditions and model their new religion on Islamic / Judeo-Christian fundamentalism.
The individuals in Group 1 believe that the basic foundation of the Zarathushti religion is built on the Gathas, and that the structure of the religion is built around the Traditions developed over three and-a-half millennia – in other words, the Zarathushti religion is an evolving continuum from Zarathushtra's time to the present. They see the Yazatas as beneficent beings, and recognize that even Zarathushtra rejected the "Principle of Inclusion" since he called for including into his brotherhood only those who are "good," while totally rejecting the "evil."
The people in Group 2 have, by their own "choice," created for themselves a double contradiction. First, they claim that they believe in the exclusiveness of the Gathas, yet by rejecting the Yazatas they violate a most fundamental Gathic Principle: that Zarathushtra himself accepted all "Ahuric" beings. Second, they have on the one hand vigorously called for "total" inclusion yet, on the other hand, they are shouting for the rejection (exclusion) of the Yazatas from the pantheon of "Ahuric" beings.
The people in the two groups are treading down two diametrically opposite paths. True, all individuals have the "choice" of which path to follow, but the choice should be made on complete knowledge (which implies studying for themselves and understanding the history and tenets of the religion – as opposed to just listening to what someone else has to say) and on reason (which implies looking beyond the "spin" put out by those who have a vested interest in promoting their point of view).
I recommend that we each think about the above and reach our own conclusions as to which we wish to choose – the path of fact or fiction.
With my best wishes,
Sarosh J. H. Manekshaw
Your essay is sound.
The holy Gathas are the abstract, philosophical, metaphysical fountainhead of our religion, but unfortunately, they are grossly (and deliberately) misunderstood by some. "If it's not there in the Gathas it's not there in the religion" is a howler of the first magnitude and a common refrain of certain cultists with vested interests and heterodox agendas. The first question to ask these crafty ignoramuses is: "Why do you fight tooth and nail to perform juddin navjotes when the Navjote itself is not mentioned in the Gathas?" Also, "Why do you consider the Three H's (Humata--Hukhta--Havarshta) as the be all and end all of the Zarathushtrian religion when this triad itself is not mentioned in the Gathas?"
This is not the place for me to expand on the real nature and purport of the holy Gathas. Suffice it to say for now, in the words of Prof. James Russell, that "Zarathushtra was under no obligation in the Gathas to provide details."
In the holy Gathas only three Yazatas -- Ashi, Sraosha and Atar -- are specifically mentioned. So what? Everything has its time and place. The Yashts, and not the Gathas, are the right place where the Yazatas are given full treatment.
The fact is that Asho Zarathushra himself coined the word "yazata" and certainly recognized them as a distinct class of divine entities!
This is a very well researched, informative and easy to read response to the members of Listbot. Thanks.
Those who belong to Group 2 are definitely not "Zarthushtis" and they cannot call themselves "fundamentalists" (as belonging to the Zarthushti religion) either, because:
1)they reject one of the most fundamental teachings of Asho Zarathushtra, namely, the worship of Spiritual Beings. If Asho Zarathushtra mentions the Spiritual World "mainyava" in the Gathas, consequentially, there ARE Spiritual Beings and as you have so succinctly proven, everything is either good or evil with no in-between, even where Spiritual Beings are concerned. Likewise, for the material creation "gaethya". We may safely conclude to which catagory these so-called "fundamentalists" belong to by their very act of heresy in rejecting the True Teachings of the Paigambar.
2) Till now, whenever our religion has been denegrated by heretics, the community members never claimed to belong to "fundamentalist", or any other such faction! These so-called "fundamentalists" are trying to form a new CULT because none of them are appointed by Ahura Mazda and His Divine Assembly, as was the selection made for our REAL RATU, ASho Zarathushtra, as revealed in the Holy Gathas themselves! These misguided individuals are lead by self-appointed "ratus", as full of limitations of the dual mentalities as is evolutionary possible on the human scale. Their leaders are not spiritually perfected Beings and so we may be doubly sure as to which catagory they belong between the good and evil! As you have pointed out, these individuals ARE incorporating Islamic and Judeo-Christian elements in our religious doctrines and they are correctly referred to as the "Gatha Alone CULTISTS". They cannot be called "fundamentalists" since they reject the FUNDAMENTAL teaching of Asho Zarathushtra, namely, the worship of Yazatas who are Spiritual Beings. Ahura Mazda and the Amesha-Spentas are also called "Yazataz", worthy of worship and to be attuned with!
3) Last but not the least, as very ably pointed out by Ervad Phiroze Masani in "Zoroastrianism Ancient and Modern", the names of all the Yazatas are not found in the existing Gathas because: a)the Gathas are a part of the last Nask, the 21st, called the Staot-Yasn Nask that contains the entire Visperad, Yasna and most importantly Yasna Haftanghaiiti (Haptan Yasht) that does mention the Yazatas and Spiritual Beings. In other Nasks, such as the Husparam Nask, the rituals of the Sacred Beings is revealed; and the Bagan Nask contains most of the Yashts that are dedicated to the Yazatas. Portions of some of these extant Yashts are found within the Gathas. Thus, the absence of several Yazatas in the Gathas can be accounted for when we consider the Avesta to be a whole integrated revelation of Asho Zarathushtra and not just the Gathas, as important and spiritual as they are! b)The Gathas are themselves incomplete because the fourth and the fifth Gatha, namely, the Vohukhashthra and VahishtaIshti, have only one chapter each; yet, at the conclusion of each, the word "hundata" is used, meaning "collection". This indicates that some chapters ("ha")from these two Gathas are missing and these misssing chapters may or may not have contained the names of the rest of the Yazatas. You HAVE pointed out that one cannot prove something by negation! Especially, when the Gathas are not even a complete BOOK by themselves and do not exist independantly of the Yasna but are a fragmental part of the Yasna that contains the entire 72 chapters! And, the Yazatas are indeed mentioned in these sections of the Yasna. Also, that the Gathas are intricately woven into the fabric of the ENTIRE Avesta and are a part of the essential RITUALS such as Ijeshne, Vendidad and Nirang-e-Din!
Heretics, such as these so-called "fundamentalists" do not acknowledge that religion is not simply a "mental exertion" based on man-made logic. Religion teaches about the Spiritual World that our physical senses are incapable of experiencing. Religion is a communion, a way of life and we know through certain yogic disciplines that the "logical", subcelestial mind, in fact, is a hindrance to spiritual communion. It is not the "mind", full of "choices", that communes with the Divine. Divinity is Spirit and therefore, it is the Spiritual Soul that communes with the Divine Spirit while the mind, the medium between the spiritual and the physical worlds, is essentially subjugated. Maintaining that an individual has the "right" to choose this or that section of the REVEALED teachings that a Prophet reveals to His followers is indeed unthinkable and not in keeping with the "Good, Spiritually Enlightened Mind" these heretics claim to possess! All spiritual leaders have emphasized that on the spiritual path one needs to OBEY, unconditionally, and follow without doubts, HIS Divine Revelation that only the Prophets have experienced!
Sarosh, I know that I have gone beyond the limits of usual comments, but please, I wish to add very blatantly that these cultists contradict their own beliefs and logic WHEN it suits them. To illustrate, on one hand they oppose our belief in scriptures other than the Gathas; but when it suits them to push ahead their agenda of spurious juddin navjotes, they do not hesitate to recite the Yasna 12, Declaration of Faith, commonly caled "Jasme Avanghe Mazda". This Yasna 12 is non-Gathic because the 12th Yasna is not one of the "songs" included in the Gathic "ha(s)"! (The extant Gathas contain only Yasna 28-34; 43-51, and 53. Hence, Yasna 12, to them, is non-Gathic!) This just exposes the hollowness of their beliefs. To bring home some more instances of their fallacies, they perform the ritual of navjote or "sudreh-pushi" knowing they oppose the performance of rituals and that this very ritual of navjote is itself not mentioned anywhere in the Gathas! Yet, to suit their convenience in order to accept juddins as "Zarathushtis", these Gatha Alone Cultists perform this ritual that is not mentioned in the Gathas! What is ludicrous is that these so-called "Fundamentalists" do NOT believe in Manthra, in the performance of Yasna, in the worship of FIRE although Fire IS mentioned in the Gathas and many other such injunctions that ARE Gathic! The word Vidaevodat or Vendidad, referring to both the text and the ritual, appears in Sarosh Hadokht, karda 4 and 5. In these two kardas, Manthra-Spenta, Vendidad and Long-Standing Traditions are mentioned together. If Vendidad was not a tradition of Asho Zarathushtra (like the worship of Yazatas), or a part of His core belief, it would not be mentioned together with Manthra-Spenta ("sound" or resonance that destroys "druj", and scientifically proven to be so), and other Zarathushtrian Long-Standing, meaning venerable traditions!
The last paragraph was a comment I could not hold back. These misled individuals should be content at creating their own CULT, far, far removed from any association with the Mazdayasni Zarathushtrian Din. It is only when they try and destroy and denegrate OUR TIME-TESTED RELIGION that has survived for millennium without their kind of "reforms" that we take up the gauntlet and fight for the religion for which our ancestors in Iran gave up their lives for!
Thanks, Sarosh and thanks to members of TZML for their patience.