The Teachings of the Magi
4) The Necessity of dualism
Ahriman's shortlived triumph after his assault on Ohrmazd's material creation, the first stage in the cosmic battle between the two primeval Spirits, is now over: and this would seem a good moment to pause for a while to consider the philosophical basis on which Zoroastrian dualism rests.
The principal philosophical Zoroastrian text that has survived is the Denkart, a sizeable corpus of theological, mythological, and exegetic material dating from the ninth century A.D. The text of this work, however, is so difficult and corrupt that it would serve no useful purpose to reproduce any large portion of it in a work that is primarily intended for a non-specialist public. We will, then, again turn to the Shikand Gumani Vazar the text of which is in a far better state of preservation and which presents the arguments in favour of a dualist solution to the cosmic riddle both clearly and well.
The author, Mardan-Farrukh by name, who lived well after the Muhammadan conquest at a time when to be a Zoroastrian involved political disabilities, was a Zoroastrian not so much because this was the religion of his Iranian forbears, as because he was convinced that it was the true religion. In the tenth chapter of the Shikand he says: 'Now, as I have said above, I have always been earnestly anxious to know God and have been curious in searching out his religion and his will. In this spirit of enquiry I have travelled to foreign countries and (even) to India and have frequented many sects: for I did not choose my religion simply because I inherited it, but
I wanted (only the religion) which was mostly firmly bassed on reason and evidence and which was most acceptable (on these grounds). So I frequented many different sects until, by the grace of God and the power and glory and strength of the Good Religion, I escaped from the abyss of darkness and of doubts that were with difficulty dispelled. By the force of this religious knowledge... I was saved from much doubt and from the sophistries, deceptions, and evils of the sects, and particularly from that greatest and most monstrous of deceivers, the worst of false teachers, the "intellectually intoxicated" Mani.'
Mardan-Farrukh, then, was a Zoroastrian by conviction, and he was confirmed in this religion because it seemed to him to offer the only reasonable explanation for those perennial religious enigmas, creation and the undoubted existence of evil. From the seventh to the tenth chapters of his Shikand he marshals his arguments in favour of a dualist solution.
It is no accident that he singles out the religion of Mani for his especial condemnation though, at first sight, this may seem strange. For Manichaeism is as uncompromisingly dualistic as is Zoroastrianism, -but with what a difference! Manichaeism equates evil with matter, good with spirit, and is therefore particularly suitable as a doctrinal basis for every form of asceticism and many forms of mysticism. It profoundly affected Islamic mysticism, and through St Augustine has left traces in Christianity itself. Its basic doctrine that this world was constructed from the substance of Satan was profoundly abhorrent to the Zoroastrians whose attitude to the things of
this world was essentially what William James called 'healthy-minded.' Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, as religious types, stand at opposite poles: they are both, in their own way, extremes. Zoroastrianism sees the whole physical creation as in itself good; what corruption there is was subsequently introduced by Ahriman, as we have seen. The world of spirit is the exemplar of this world but not essentially different from it; and the future life is a natural paradise in which there is neither death nor old age nor disease nor any of the things that make life on earth difficult and tedious. These evils are finally destroyed in the last days when Ahriman is either
annihilated or totally incapacitated. For the Zoroastrian the body has its own essential dignity, inferior, it is true, to that of the soul, but dignity none the less. The Manichaean view that the body is composed of the substance of evil, that it is a prison and a carcase, is, to the Zoroastrian, unnatural, perverted, and blasphemous. Thus because the Zoroastrian sees man not as an immortal soul imprisoned in a mortal and diabolical body but as a harmonious whole the unity of which is temporarily disruped by death, but fully restored and glorified at the final Resurrection, he is bitterly averse to any form of asceticism and has, as a matter of historical fact, never
developed any form of mysticism. For him there is no dualism of matter and spirit; there is only a dualism of good and evil which is quite another matter. His hatred of the Manichee is instinctive and profound and, given the dogmas of each, absolutely reasonable.
His opposition to Islam and Christianity is on quite other grounds: they are not reasonable. For not only is he thoroughly at home in this world, he also dislikes mysteries and mystification. Further it is no accident that he himself calls his religion 'the Good Religion,' for there is one dogma on which he firmly takes his stand, -God is good. According to the Zoroastrian the Moslem God is not good, neither does he pretend to be, while the Christian God advertises Himself as Good, and plainly is not. Once you admit the reality of evil, then God is responsible for it unless Evil is an eternal principle co-existent with God and irreconcileably opposed to Him. Evil is not
a privation as the Christian would have it, but a substance, and it does not need, therefore, to be explained away. It is not the world, nor even of the world, as the Manichaeans hold; it is rather a pure spirit, the negation of life, and naked aggression; it is wrong-mindedness, stupidity, blind self-assertiveness, error. There is no unity in the Cosmos as it is, nor is there unity in eternity. How could there be? since evil is a fact, not a problem. The Zoroastrians claim to face the fact rationally, and it is because they have consistently done so that they have not survived as a world religion, for 'religions are based on certain fundamental assumptions which, of their
nature, do not admit of logical proof,' and one of these is the unity of the creative principle. This Zoroastrianism flatly denies.
If, then, one accepts a fundamental duality in Being itself, the classic problems of religion disappear. Evil exists from all eternity: it is aggressive by nature and the good principle who is omniscient must, therefore, defend himself against it. There is no mystery about creation either.
'David said, "O king, since thou hadst no need of us, Say, then, what wisdom was there in creating the two worlds?"
God said to him, "O temporal man, I was a hidden treasure;
I sought that that treasure of loving-kindness and bounty should be revealed".'
So said the Moslem mystic, Jalal-al-Din Rumi. Pure verbiage to the Zoroastrian. God needs his creation as much as creation needs God, for his creation is his defence against Ahriman. Monotheism cannot 'explain' creation. There is no straight answer to the enigma of why a perfect and self-sufficing Being should create an imperfect world in which his creatures, as often as not, suffer torment. On the other hand 'creation' can be 'explained' as a hard necessity if God has to protect himself against a pitiless enemy who is co-existent with himself. God did not, according to the Zoroastrians, bungle his creation, nor does he 'repent' of it as Jevovah habitually does: he devised
it as a trap in which to ensnare his enemy and as a machine in which the latter would be finally destroyed. He foresaw that Ahriman would temporarily corrupt his whole creation, including Man, his masterpiece; and foreseeing this and because he is good he did not send Man into the front line without first obtaining his consent. Man is the instrument of his victory and through Man's co-operation with God the Adversary is finally and utterly overthrown. Man suffers at the hands of Ahriman but at least he has the comfort of knowing that he is not being tormented by an all-powerful Being who is his own creator. The Zoroastrian does not know the predicament of Job.
God is good: that is the first Zoroastrian dogma, and to this Mardan-Farrukh returns again and again. In the chapter a translation of which follows, he develops three main lines of thought. First the existence of good and evil is empirically verifiable and this dichotomy is traceable to first causes. Secondly since God is by definition a rational (and omniscient) being his creation must have a rational motive. Thirdly, if it is admitted that God is good, then it necessarily follows that evil cannot proceed from Him, however indirectly.
Good and evil, he argues, are contrary realities just as much as are darkness and light, fragrance and stench, sickness and health, and so on. They are differing and antagonistic substances, not merely different in the function they have to perform as, for example, are the opposites of male and female. This is shown by the fact that they cannot co-exist and are mutually destructive. Mardan-Farrukh then goes on to argue that since good and evil are demonstrable facts in the material world and since the latter derives from a spiritual or unseen prototype, it follows that there is a dichotomy in that world too, -a dichotomy that leads inevitably to two first causes which
are mutually antagonistic and irreconcileable.
Now, granted that there are two independent principles one of which is by nature aggressive and the other of which is by nature pacific and wise, it follows that the wise principle will do everything in its power to ward off the attack which cannot fail to materialize. God, moreover, is wholly good, and it is therefore impossible that any goodness can be added to him: he is not capable of improvement or increase. He is, moreover, also a rational Being, and the actions of rational beings are motivated either by a desire to obtain a good which is not yet theirs, or to repel a hurt. The universe is a fact, and according to Zoroastrian dogma it is not eternal but has an origin, and
it is God who has originated it, not Ahriman. Therefore, since God is a rational Being, it follows that it can only have been created in order to repel the injury that God might himself suffer from Ahriman's malice. Thus creation is God's plan for bringing evil to nought, and with the destruction of the evil principle God can become 'all in all,' which he never was before. For, according to the Zoroastrians, God, though perfectly good, is not infinite, for he is limited by the contrary principle. The good, though not susceptible of any addition, could nevertheless be harmed and therefor diminished by the onslaught of evil. So God exteriorizes the spiritual and material worlds
from himself, ensnares Ahriman in this 'exteriorization' which is his creation and destroys him in it. Ahriman, when the battle is over, is not destroyed as a substance,- for a substance is by definition indestructible, -but he is, to use the Pahlavi word a-kar-enit,
he is 'put out of action' or 'deprived of actuality': he is relegated to an
eternal potency which can never be actualized again, or in more everyday
language for people unfamiliar with the Aristotelian jargon, 'they drag Ahriman
outside the sky and cut off his head.' Only so does Ohrmazd himself achieve
wholeness and infinity, 'for so long as evil is not annihilated, he whose will
is good has not perfectly fulfilled what he wills' (§56).
Mardan-Farrukh's last argument used to demonstrate that God cannot, however indirectly, originate evil, is that a perfect being cannot originate what is imperfect. The imperfection that undoubtedly exists in creation must then be due to an agency other than God, and that is Ahriman. Were God capable of producing anything imperfect, it would imply imperfection in himself, and he should not therefore 'be worshipped as God or as perfectly good': in fact by ceasing to be perfectly good he ceases to be God.
This, then, is the case for Zoroastrian dualism. Its great merit is that it absolves God from any breath of evil and explains how it could be that creation was actually necessary. It stands wholly opposed to Islam which was to supersede it and there could not really be any modus vivendi between the two, since Zoroastrianism stands squarely on the goodness of God and cares not at all for his unity whereas Islam asserts above all things the absolute unity and unicity of God, his absolute transcendance and total incomprehensibility; and since the Moslem God is as capable of leading astray as he is of guidance, it is no accident that among his ninety-nine names that of 'good'
is absent. The Zoroastrian God is reasonable as well as good; there is nothing 'numinous' about him. Ohrmazd and Allah are not compatible, and inevitably the good God of reason was forcibly ejected by the mysterium tremendum imported by the Semites.
- Shikand Gumani Vazar, chapter VIII
'(1) Another proof that a contrary principle exists is (2) that good and evil are observable in the world, (3) and more particularly in so far as both good [and bad] conduct are defineable as such, (4) as are darkness and light, (5) right knowledge and wrong knowledge, (6) fragrance and stench, (7) life and death, (8) sickness and health, (9) justice and injustice, (10) slavery and freedom, (11) and all the other contrary activities which indisputably exist and are visible in every country and land at all times; (12) for no country or land exists, has existed, or ever will exist (13) in which the name of good and evil and what that name signifies has not existed or does not exist.
(14) Nor can any time or place be mentioned in which good and evil change their nature essentially.
(15) There are also other contraries whose antagonism is not [one of essence but] one of function, species, or nature. (16) Such is the mutual antagonism of things of like nature as (for example) male and female, (17) (the different) scents, tastes and colours; the Sun, Moon, and stars whose dissimilarity is not one of substance but one of function, nature, and constitution, each being adapted to its own particular work. (18) But the dissimilarity of good and evil, light and darkness, and other contrary substances is not one of function but one of substance. (19) This can be seen from the fact that their natures cannot combine and are mutually destructive. (20) For where there is good,
there cannot possibly be evil. (21) Where light is admitted, darkness is driven away. (22) Similarly with other contraries, the fact that they cannot combine and are mutually destructive is caused by their dissimilarity in substance. (23) This substantial dissimilarity and mutual destructiveness is observable in phenomena in the material world.
(24) The material world is the effect of the spiritual, and the spiritual is its cause, (25) for the effect is understood through the cause. (26) That the former gives testimony of the latter is obvious to ant expert in these matters. (27) That the material is an effect and the spiritual the cause can be proved by the fact that (28) every visible and tangible thing emerges from an unmanifest to a manifest state. This is perfectly clear. (29) Thus man and all other visible and tangible creatures are known to proceed from the spiritual world which is invisible and intangible. (30) So too the mass, shape, length, and breadth (of a man) are those of his parent. (31) The body of man and of
other creatures is the manifestation which derives from the unmanifest and invisible thing which is in the seed of their fathers, (32) and the seed itself which was in the fathers' loins becomes manifest, visible, and tangible. (33) So we must know with a necessary knowledge that this visible and tangible material world was created from an invisible and intangible spiritual world and had its origin there. (34) Similarly there can be no doubt that the visible and tangible (material world) indicates the existence of an invisible and intangible world which is spiritual.
(35) Since we have seen that in the material world contrary substance exist and that they are sometimes mutually co-operative and sometimes mutually destructive, so (must it also be) in the spiritual world (36) which is the cause of the material, (37) and material things are its effects. That this is so is not open to doubt (38) and follows from the very nature of contrary substances. (39-40) I have shown above that the reason and occasion for the wise activity of the Creator which is exemplified in the creative act is the existence of an Adversary. (41) For it is a known fact that activity proceeds from an agent in two ways; it is either voluntary or natural. (42) The voluntary is of
three kinds. (43) Two kinds are attributable to knowing and wise (agents), (44) (that is) either actions aimed at appropriating what is advantageous and good (45) or (actions) aimed at repelling and warding off what is disadvantageous and harmful and (which comes) from an external source. (46) One kind is attributable to agents of perverted intellect who are without (real) knowledge. (47) Such actions are haphazard and irrational. (48) Actions proceeding from knowing and wise persons cannot be irrational or unmotivated.
(49) Since the wise, omniscient, and omnipotent Creator is self-sufficing, his perfection consists in his having no need for any advantage or increase which he might desire from outside. (50) So we must conclude that the reason and the occasion for his actions must all be of one kind, (51) (namely) to repel and ward off whatever damage might accrue to him from an external adversary who could harm him; and this is the whole reason and occasion for the act of creation.
(52) This too (must be considered): the wise Creator desires (only) what is good; (53) his will is wholly good, (54) and his creative activity is in accordance with his will, (55) and the will of a wise One who wills only what is good can only achieve its full fruition by destroying and annihilating evil; (56) for so long as evil is not annihilated, he whose will is good has not perfectly fulfilled what he wills.
(57) Now the goodness of the wise Creator can be inferred from the act of creation and from the fact that he cherishes and protects (his creatures), that he ordains and teaches a way and method by which evil can be repelled and sin averted, (58-60) and that he repels and wards off the Adversary who attacks the body; (it can be inferred too) from the organs and faculties of the body (afflicted as they are) by pain and sickness (which come to them) from outside and (which also are) inside the body. All animals and plants are sustained and brought to frution and made to increase by the sustaining and nutritive power called in Religion the Fravahr which co-operates with nature (61) and
by the four assimilative(?) faculties, the attractive, retentive, digestive, and excretory. (62) Through the Creator's great wisdom these faculties co-operate harmoniously in repelling all manner of pain and sickness (brought on) by the Adversary who strikes at random and whose will is evil. (63) There are other faculties too which co-operate. (From all this) it can be concluded that the Creator wills (only) what is good.
(64) It is suffering and death that destroy the body, not the Creator whose will is good and who preserves and maintains the body. (65) This is clearly so because a wise Creator does not regret or repent of what he has done, (66) nor does he destroy his creatures or make them of no effect, (67) for he is wise and omniscient. (68) It is only possible to attribute regret and repentance for what one has done to one whose knowledge is defective, whose reason is imperfect, and who is ignorant of the final outcome, (69) for knowing and wise persons do not commit actions without cause or occasion. (70) Similarly the actions of ignorant men of perverted intelligence who are ignorant of the final
outcome will be haphazard, without cause or occasion.
(71) But the wise (Creator) will dispose wisely and act in accordance with discrimination in warding off from his creatures (the Adversary) whose actions are haphazard and who does not know the final outcome. (72) He, the (demon) whose actions are haphazard, is walled up and circumscribed within a trap and a snare; (73) for it is plain that a moving and living substance cannot be warded off or destroyed in an infinite void, nor is there any security against his harmfulness (74) unless he is circumscribed, uprooted, and made captive. (75) When he is circumscribed and made captive, he is susceptible to suffering and heavy chastisement. (76) But until he is completely conscious of his suffering
and fully aware that his actions are based on a wrong knowledge, he continues to have utterly false views of what has befallen him. (77) His experience of suffering (is due to) the complete power of the omnipotent Creator.
(78) When once he has reached full realization of what he suffers at the hands of omnipotence, the wise Creator puts him out of action and hurls him into the infinite Void. (79) Then the good creation will have no fear of him; it will be immortal and free from adversity. (80) Perfect is the wisdom and discrimination of the omniscient Creator of the good and (perfect is) his foreknowledge of what needs to be done.
(81) The dissimilarity of things is proved by looking at them. (82) Dissimilarity is of two kinds as has been stated above; (83) one is dissimilarity in function, the other dissimilarity in substance. (84) Dissimilarity of function involves co-operation and likeness of faculties, (85) but dissimilarity of substance involves incompatibility and opposition. (86) It is obvious that [substantially dissimilar] things cannot co-exist in one place. (87) If (all) things were one, this One would be nameless, (88) for it is only through the possession of a name that one thing can be distinguished from another. (89) That evil is principially distinct from good can be inferred from the fact that neither
is the cause of the other. (90) That each exists in and by its own essence (91) is proved by the eternal antagonism and opposition between the two.
(92) If it should be objected that since there is a multiplicity of contraries (93) e.g. good and evil, darkness and light, fragrance and stench, life and death, sickness and health, pleasure and pain (94) etc., then there must also be a multiplicity and a diversity of principles, (95) the reply is (96) that although the contraries may go by many names and be of many kinds, yet they are all subsumed under two names, (97) and these two names which are (like) a seed which comprises all the rest, are good and evil. (98) The various names and species (apart from these) are (only) branches (deriving) from these two seeds; (99) and nothing exists that is not included in these two names. (100) There
never has been anything nor will there be anything which is neither good nor evil a mixture of the two. (101) Thus it is abundantly clear that there are two first principles, not more, (102) and that good cannot arise from evil nor evil from good.
(103) From this we must infer (104) that what is perfect and complete in its goodness cannot produce evil. (105) If it could, then it would not be perfect, (106) for when a thing is described as perfect, there is no room for anything else (in it); (107) and if there is no room for anything else, nothing else can proceed from it. (108) If God is perfect in goodness and knowledge, plainly ignorance and evil cannot proceed from Him; (109) or if it can, then he is not perfect; (110) and if he is not perfect, then he should not be worshipped as God or as perfectly good.
(111) If (on the other hand) both good and evil originate in God, then he is imperfected so far as goodness is concerned. (112) If he is imperfect in respect of goodness, then he is imperfect in respect of right knowledge. (113) And if he is imperfect in respect of right knowledge, then he is imperfect in respect of reason, consciousness, knowledge, wit, and in all the faculties of knowing. (114) And if he is imperfect in reason, consciousness, wit, and knowledge, he must be imperfect in respect of health; (115) and if he is imperfect in respect of health, he must be sick; (116) and if he must be sick, then he is imperfect in respect of life.
(117) Should it be objected that a single substance like man is seen to originate both good and evil actions, (118) the reason is that man is not perfect in any single respect; (119) and because he is not perfect in respect of goodness, he gives rise to evil. (120) (So too) because he is not perfect in respect of health, he is subject to sickness, (121) and for the same reason he dies: (122) for the cause of death is the conflict of two contrary accidents in one substance, (123) and where there are two contrary accidents in one substance, there are sickness and death to be observed.
(124) Should it be objected that good and bad actions have no (real) existence until they are (actually) performed, (125) the reply is (126) that is no more possible for an action to exist without an agent than it is for an accident to exist without a substance in which it can inhere; (127) for it is an acknowledged fact that it cannot exist in its own essence or by its own devising. (128) So when a man is angry, Vohuman (the Good Mind) is far from him, (120) and when Vohuman is present within him, anger is not; (130) and when a man tells a lie, truth is far from him, (131) and when he speaks the truth, falsehood has no place in him and such a man is called truthful. (132) Similarly when sickness
attacks (a man), health is not in him; (133) and when health supervenes, sickness departs, (134) for a substance cannot change (lit. "move"), but there can be no movement except in a substance.'
Abstracted from : The Teachings of the Magi, R.C. Zaehner, London, 1956
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