Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals
The life and teachings of Zarathushtra give an example, to those who tread the spiritual path, of the manner in which to begin the spiritual journey. Zarathushtra is said to have been born from the Huma tree. The interpretation of this idea is that the Spirit of Guidance does not come direct from heaven; he is born from the human family; the tree is the family.
It has been the great error of some religious people that out of devotion to their master they have placed him, through their imagination, on a pedestal, although they themselves could never prove him to be there when it came to reasoning. It could only stand on the horizon of faith. No doubt faith is the lamp which lights the path, but reason is the globe over it through which its light appears.
The purpose of this whole creation is fulfilled by attaining that perfection which a human being is intended to attain. All the saints, sages, prophets, and masters of humanity have been human beings, and they have shown divine perfection in fulfilling the purpose of being human.
Zarathushtra's spiritual attainment began by his communication with nature. He appreciated, adored, and worshipped the sublimity of nature, and he saw wisdom hidden in the whole of creation. He learned and recognized from that the being of the Creator, acknowledged His perfect wisdom, and then devoted his whole life to glorifying the name of God. To those who followed him on the path of spiritual attainment, he showed the different aspects of nature, and helped them to see what they could behind it all. He pointed out to his followers that the form, line, color, and movement which they saw before them and what attracted them so much, must have been accomplished by an expert artist. It could not all work mechanically and be perfect. A mechanism, however highly perfected, cannot run without the help of an engineer. Therefore, he showed them that God is not an imaginary object, though outwardly He is molded by man's imagination. In reality God is the Being: such a perfect Being that if one tries to compare Him with other living beings of this world, He is beyond comparison. He is the only Being.
The way of worship taught by Zarathushtra was to worship God by offering homage to nature. For nature suggests to the soul the endless and unlimited being hidden behind it all.
The source of Zoroastrianism is the same as the source of Hinduism, although Hinduism has been practiced in India and Zoroastrianism in Persia. The original source of these sister religions of the Aryans was sun worship, which is also the ancestor of the religion of the Hebrew prophets. Indeed, no religion can escape from this ancestry.
Even today the Zoroastrians worship the god Ahura Mazda by looking at and bowing to the sun. The symbolical meaning of this is the worship of the light, and especially the one Light which has not its like anywhere, which shines upon all things, by which all things are reflected, and upon which the life of the whole universe absolutely depends. This was the lesson given in ancient times to prepare men's minds to value light; in order that the soul may some day unfold and begin to worship the inner light, the eternal Sun, of which the sun is the reflection on the surface.
People have called the Zoroastrians fire worshippers. It is a fact. They keep a constantly burning fire in their place of worship, but they keep it before them when thinking of God, for fire purifies all things and the light within purifies all souls. It is in fact a great comfort to have a fire in a cold climate. Also, the burning of incense takes away dampness and makes easier the free and deep inhaling and exhaling of the breath. Besides on earth fire is the substitute for the sun, for its flame gives light. It is again an awakening of the mind to the light within.
The Zoroastrians also worship before running streams of water and different scenes of nature, which speak to the hearer of the divine immanence in them. And in their houses they have pictures of Zarathushtra, their prophet, with a torch in his hand, somewhat in the likeness of Christ, though his dress is different, being of ancient Persia. The teacher of every community is pictured in some particular way, and it inspires those who look at such a portrayal with the right attitude of mind.
All Zoroastrians, men or women, wear round their waists a cord of silk, called Zunnar, and consider it most sacred because of its religious significance. This custom has been observed by Zoroastrians from the beginning of their religion, for Zarathushtra himself wore this sacred thread, and it is still seen today among the Parsis, even though they left Persia, their original land, ages ago, and have mostly adopted the customs of India, where they took refuge after leaving their country. Many Hindus also wear a thread crossways over one shoulder.
The Parsis purify their thread with water, fire, and air; they untie and tie it several times during the day, and they consider this to be the most important part of their prayer. It is true that few among them will be found who know the real meaning of this prayer with the thread, but this is mostly so with the followers of any religion.
The moral of Zunnar is service. A soldier, a policeman, a postman, or a gatekeeper, when on duty has a belt on, which expresses that he is on duty – not free to do everything he wishes, but only that for which he is appointed. This explains that man, as the most intelligent of God's creatures, is not supposed to lead his life as he wishes, but to consider the duty for which he is born and the service that he must render to God and His creatures. As man is apt to forget all that is not in his own immediate interests, the loosening and the tying of the thread reminds him of his duty, as the belt reminds the soldier that he is on duty. The idea is that we are all servants of God, and that we must do all things for Him who has created us, supports us, and has engaged us in His service.
But the mystical meaning of Zunnar is still greater, for the vertical figure of man against the horizontally worn Zunnar; forms a cross. This means, as the Sufi understands it, self-denial: 'I am not.' When that first I, the false I is thus denied, then the next I, which is the real I, awakens, and God Himself realizes His Being, and accomplishes thereby the purpose of creation.
A keen student of the Zoroastrian scriptures, with an illuminated mind, will notice that every invocation that Zarathushtra has used, is as if he prayed to the light within to guide him by all evidences with which nature presented him; and to strengthen the conviction that all is from God, created by God, and ruled by God. The mystical meaning of Ahura Mazda, upon whom Zarathushtra called, is the universal breath.
Zarathushtra considered that there were three aspects of sin and virtue: Manashni, Gayashni, and Kunashni; thinking, speaking and doing. Which means that a sin can be committed not by action alone, but even by intending to commit it, or by saying 'I will do It.' and the same is true of virtue.
The chief point in the teachings of holy Zarathushtra is the path of goodness; and he separates goodness from badness, calling God all good and Satan all bad. According to this point of view, the Master, God was, as He is always, the ideal of worship. Nothing but good can be praised, and none but the good can be worshipped; and all that is bad naturally leads man astray and veils the good from his eyes. The spirit of evil was personified by the Master, as it had already been personified by the ancients, as Satan.
As the point of view makes all the difference in every teaching,
so it made a difference in this teaching of Zoroaster. Many,
instead of understanding the true spirit of this idea, have
drawn a line between good and bad, and produced so to speak
two gods: God, the All-good, and Satan the Lord of Evil. This
helped the people morally to a certain extent, but also deprived
many who could not grasp the real spirit of the Master, of the
realization of God, the only Being. The good God was named by
Zoroaster Ahura Mazda, the first part meaning literally
'indestructible' and the second 'Supreme God', and he called
the Lord of Evil Ahriman.