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Zoroastrianism

2) The Prophet

The modern inquirer would demand first of all to know the date of Zarathushtra and all the other material evidence there is about Him. As His date is even now not quite satisfactorily settled, we may here provisionally accept a date perhaps three or four centuries earlier than what used to be ascribed to Him. So we may agree with Prof. A.V.W. Jackson in putting Him as having lived about the beginning of the first millennium B.C. But we must also here mention an occult tradition which says that He lived at an age so remote it must be now called 'prehistoric', and there is another tradition which says that there has not been one Teacher, but several of that name, and that consequently the Teacher of whom modern scholarship and the Pahlavi traditions speak is the last of that name. Be that as it may, we are here content to examine the life that has come down to us in the Pahlavi traditions and has been amplified by modern scholarship. But whatever the personality of the Prophet may have been, His teaching is the most important gift He made to humanity. His life also, as has been preserved in the Parsi tradition, is a worthy life and full of its own lessons.

Zoroaster, Faroharr and Altar

Another point may here be touched upon, which has puzzled not a few scholars. It is the significance of the name Zarathushtra. It is well known that His personal name was Spitama, after an ancestor who was the founder of the family. Zarathushtra was very probably the title by which He was known after He had proclaimed His Message. Just in the same way we find that the Prince Siddhartha, after His Enlightenment, was known as the Buddha (the Enlightened One), and Jesus was known as the Christ (the Anointed). The name Zarathushtra (usually in its superlative form Zarathushtrotema) had been used in Iran to designate the Head of the Zoroastrian Church. The usual meaning, therefore, attached to this name, connecting it with ushtra (camel) does not seem at all appropriate. Far better is the suggestion made by some scholars, deriving the name from zaratha (golden) and the ushtra (light) from the root ush, 'to shine'. Thus this designation of the Prophet would mean 'He of the Golden Light', which is just the appropriate name to be given to one of the Greatest of the Light-Bringers of the world.

It has been well said by a Christian clergyman that 'the Cross of the Christ is of greater worth than all His miracles'. It is so with all the Great Teachers of humanity. Every one of them has been invested in later ages with a halo of mystic tradition, and has had miracles attached to His life upon earth. All this merely indicates that Their followers have regarded them as far above the average of mortal man, and that they thought Their lives to be specially precious to humanity; but unfortunately these very legends, many of them inventions of later superstitious ages, have tended in a great measure to obscure the real worth of Their teaching. There is also a certain 'family-likeness' between these mystic traditions which have grown up around the lives of these great Saviours. But it is certainly not the miracles They performed which constitute Their chief claim to greatness and to the gratitude of humanity. It is the Message which They proclaimed, the Eternal Truth which They sought to re-establish in the hearts of men and women; it is the Peace which They brought to countless suffering hearts that constitutes Their title to be called Saviours, Masters and Lords of the World. They in the fullness of Their Wisdom and Their Compassion have brought the most valued of Divine Gifts, the Message inspired by God Himself, and hence it is that Their names are remembered and worshipped by millions of men through countless generations. So also with the Saviour of Iran, it is not the miracles which He wrought that have caused His memory to be the most sacred heritage of His followers, but His great Message of Asha, and of Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. Still, as already hinted above, it may be useful and interesting to know something of the life of this Great Sage, to know something about Zarathushtra the Man.

In the warrior family of Spitama, connected also with the imperial family of ancient Iran, there was a good and learned man name Pourushaspa. He was deeply attached to the study of religion, and had gained a reputation for piety and wisdom. It is said that the blessing of God rested upon him and that his Son came to him as a visible proof of God's pleasure. When the proper time came he was united in marriage to Dughdhova, the daughter of Frahimrava, another nobleman of Iran. This lady too was as deeply devoted to religion and to the study of the higher problems of life, and as God-fearing and pious as her husband. They made an ideal pair and they were the right sort of parents for the future Prophet of Iran. They had five sons born to them, of whom Spitama was the third.

Prophecies about the advent of the Great Teacher had been current in Iran at that period. The whole of the Aryan world seemed at that time to be plunged into chaos; wickedness went unchecked, truth seemed to have left the earth, oppression of the weak and self-speaking seemed to be the only things that existed. Naturally the people were eagerly looking forward to a Saviour to bring order out of all this confusion, and to teach mankind anew the lesson of Righteousness which they had forgotten. The opening verse of the second chapter of the Ahunavaiti Gatha (Y., xxix) puts this very poetically. The Soul of the Cow (Mother-Earth) appears before the Throne of the Almighty with loud complaints of the oppression and the tyranny she has been groaning under. She asks bitterly the meaning of it all and wonders why she has been created. Verily the cry of the oppressed reached the Throne of the Heavenly Father and He in His mercy pointed out Zarathushtra as the one Saviour who could set matters right and bring relief to the Soul of Mother-Earth.

Among the miracles accompanying His birth, two may be mentioned here. Even while in the mother's womb, the Child glowed with such Spiritual Light that everything around her was illuminated with the radiance, and the light increased in brilliance as the time for the birth approached became one blaze of splendour. And the Divine Child smiled as soon as born, and all Nature rejoiced in sympathy,-the trees, the waters and all the good creation exclaimed with joy:

     Fortunate are we that the Teacher is born, Spitama Zarathushtra.

The Child was named Spitama from the famous founder of the family. The wicked trembled when they knew that He had been born, and they tried to destroy Him while yet an infant. But time after time He was samed, for He had a mission to fulfil in the world, and till He had faithfully carried it out there was none who could hurt a hair of His head. Pourushaspa marked with delight and wonder the signs of greatness in his Son, and to avoid all danger he retired with his family into seclusion.

The Child received the training usual in those days from the hands of a devout and very wise father, who early turned His thoughts to things of Heaven. At the age of fifteen (when the youth of ancient Iran used to enter upon their worldly life) young Spitama went into absolute seclusion to commune alone with His Maker and to prepare for His great task. Whither He went and what He did has never been fully revealed. As with other Great Teacher, we have but vague traditions and legends about a life led amidst dreary wastes, of years spent in sternuous meditation upon the Eternal 'Riddle of Life'. In one part of the Avesta (Vd., xix) we have an account of His temptation by Angro-Mainyo (the Evil One). Just in the same way we read of Siddhartha tempted by Mara, the Arch-fiend, and of Jesus tempted by Satan. The Evil One offered the sovereignty of the world to Spitama for one blessing from His lips upon the 'creation of Evil'; but Spitama was firm, He replied:

     No, I shall not renounce the Good Religion of the Worshippers of Mazda, not though life and limb and soul      should part asunder.

This was the final test, and the Fiend fled howling towards the North. Good had triumphed, the Prophet now stood forth in His full stature, as Zarathushtra, 'He of the Golden Light'. He was then thirty years old.

The new Prophet was not at all well received in the land of His birth, Western Iran, and for a considerable time His only disciple was Maidhyoi-Maongha the son of Pourushaspa's brother Arasti. But He never faltered and He never doubted even though He met with repeated rebuffs.

At last in the 12th of His ministry, the Prophet left His native province and travelled eastwards to far off Bactria, where ruled Vishtaspa. The King received Him kindly and showed himself inclined to His Message. Zarathushtra performed several miracles in the presence of the King and his court, and held long discussion with the learned men there. Slowly and surely the Truth He proclaimed gained firm hold over the King and his people. There were several set-backs, and once the enemies of the Prophet contrived to put Him in prison and thus scored a temporary victory. But in the end Vishtaspa became openly a convert to the Zoroastrian Faith.

This was the most important event in the history of the Religion. This was the turning point; for from this time onwards the temporal power of Iran stood identified with the Faith taught by Zarathushtra, and its success and progress were assured. The immediate effect of the conversion of Vishtaspa was that other members of the Royal family and the Court also accepted Zoroaster as their Teacher. Among the latter there were the two famous brothers Frashaoshtra and Jamaspa (surnamed 'the Wise') of the family of Hvogva. Their names and that of Vishtaspa are mentioned in the Gathas and we feel that they are as much living personages there as the Prophet Himself.

The spread of the Religion through Iran and the other lands, once begun, was fairly rapid, but it was not without some wars and fighting. The Pahlavi tradition mentions at least two such wars, and some passages of the Gathas might very well have been uttered by the Prophet on the eve of some of these battles. But through all this fighting the Religion emerged stronger and more firmly established.

After forty-seven years of very sternuous effort for the establishment of the Faith the great Prophet passed away at the age of seventy-seven. Iranian tradition says that He met the death of a warrior fighting in defence of His Fire-Temple which was attacked by the enemy. There is also another tradition, mentioned by Greek writers, that He was killed by 'a fire from Heaven'. In any case the end was worthy of the Greater Teacher and the dauntless Soldier in the cause of Truth and Righteousness.

Great as His life had been in sternuous effort and uncomprising adherence to Truth, the greatest legacy left by Zarathushtra to humanity is the Religion to which He gave His name. Even to-day, many centuries after His time, and many hundreds of miles away from the ancient land of its birth, the Religion He founded is a living Faith. The followers it claims to-day are but few, still it is a living force in the lives of its adherents. For it embodies the Eternal Truth of God and it has carried consolation and blessing to millions of human beings through all the ages. The Parsi community has always prospered in India, because they have clung steadfast to their Faith, and they are sure that as long as they continue to do so the blessings of their Prophet will be theirs.

Abstracted from : The religion of Zarathushtra, I.J.S. Taraporewala, Madras, 1926

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"Fortunate are we that the Teacher was born, Spitama Zarathushtra."
(Yasht xiii. 94.)

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