Zarathushtra and the Devil

Presented at the "Touching on the Gathas" seminar
in Vancouver On November 29, 1997
Shahriar Shahriari
September 30, 1997
Vancouver, Canada

While linguists and philologists are debating the concept of Angra verses Spenta Mainyu (and whether it even exists) in the Gathas; and while they are determining whether this refers to good and evil spirits (or mentality) verses God against Ahriman (Devil); the ordinary public are left in the cold, and are baffled as to which course is the correct one, and how it affects their lives.

Instead of trying to have a philological approach to this question, let us dissect it through a spiritual approach. However, before we do this, we need to define certain words and terminology.

Good:   anything that is perfectly aligned with the path of natural and moral progress (Asha).

Bad:   anything that opposes or impedes the progress along the path of Asha.

God:   the ultimate and primeval organized and proactive system or personification of creation and maintenance and progress.

Devil:   the ultimate personification or system of proactive destruction and regression, and the organized source of evil.

Gathas 30:9 states "May we be among those who renew the world." It is safe to say that this simple sentence outlines the purpose of life as defined by Zarathushtra. And it is safe to assume that Zoroastrians and Zoroastrian scholars unanimously embrace this concept of renovation. Therefore let us consider this as the ultimate goal of life and proceed from here.

In all the choices that we make in life, either consciously or unconsciously, we must answer one ultimate question: whether the end justifies the means. For instance is there any situation where telling a white lie may do more good than harm? Or would it be okay to kill someone such as Hitler? Are there any situations that will justify the undertaking of doing a lesser evil as a means of destroying a greater evil?

Instead of considering the scripture, and logically moving forward from there to arrive at a conclusion as to how we should approach the concept of good verses evil, and God verses Ahriman, let us take a reverse approach. Let us look at the two different answers to this question independently, and compare the outcome of the two.

1. Yes - the Reactive approach

If the answer to the above question is yes, then there is an underlying presumption, namely the presumption that one must fight evil at all costs. Those who sincerely believe in this statement are of the belief that in the world there are two forces, the forces of good and the forces of evil. In this duality of powers, we must side either with one or the other. In other words we either belong to the Army of Good or to the Army of Evil. There are no in betweens, simply because if we refuse to fight Evil and be on the side of Good, we are automatically siding with Evil by letting it proceed as it will.

In this approach the Army of Good is that which follows the laws and wishes of God, and the Army of Evil is that which follows the orders and instructions of the Devil. Therefore, either one belongs to God's army or to Ahriman's army.

If the supreme commander of the first Army is God, and that of the second is Ahriman, then it is safe to assume that God is the one who instructs us to follow Good, and Ahriman orders us to follow Evil. In other words, God is the first cause of Good, and Ahriman is the first cause of Evil.

To look at this situation clearly, we can easily recognize that we have created two independent and adversarial camps: the camp of God verses that of Ahriman. This division presupposes certain ideals. The ideal that God and Ahriman are two separate and independent entities; that God and Ahriman are adversarial powers, even if one is the lesser and the other is the greater power.

This cosmological power division can only assume that neither of the two independent powers was created by the other. (It is simply illogical to think that one would create an independent adversary to destroy oneself.) It also assumes that there are two independent sources of first cause: God being the first cause of all Good, and Ahriman that of all Evil.

This division, even if one power is greater than the other, can only exist if there is a multiplicity of, or in this case two, God's. In other words this is in direct violation of a monotheistic philosophy.

To summarize this approach, one can only assume that in this adversarial dualistic or polytheistic system, one is at the mercy of external forces, and by definition, needs to react to them according to the instructions and wishes of one or the other of the first causes.

2. No - the Proactive approach

In this approach the answer to the question of means and end is unequivocal and firm. The end never justifies the means.

This approach does not look at the external world as the battleground of two armies, but only as the manifestation of two conditions. It assumes that undertaking Evil ways, constitutes Evil in itself. That harsh and adversarial conditions should only be met with goodness and proactive constructiveness. In other words, we recognize this external reality, but choose what we want to do regardless of the circumstances. Circumstances can only affect our decisions in so far as modifying our approaches and methods, within the bounds of goodness.

It assumes that good and evil are mental and moral choices only. They are generated in our mind and in our conscience. If we are wise we will automatically choose good, and if we are ignorant we will choose the expedient and the evil.

It assumes that for the physical Universe to come into being, a physical duality was required. For example, we need to have darkness for light to exist, or day and night can not exist without one another. Warmth and cold are simply two contrasting conditions, which enable us to distinguish one from the other. This is the physical sphere, which is governed by physical laws.

Similarly there is a moral sphere, with good and evil as a dualistic condition of its being, and this sphere is governed by moral laws.

God created both spheres and both laws. We simply discern conditions of each sphere, and based on our judgments we make choices. The choices that we make will lead to action or inaction, which will cause results based on the physical and moral laws.

In this approach there is no Devil. There is only one system of creation or God, which is the first cause and creator of both physical and moral spheres and laws. When there is only one God, then there is monotheism in its true sense.

To summarize, a truly monotheistic system requires us to recognize the world as it is, and recognize our power of choice in this world. If we can truly choose, then we can choose not only good but also evil. If we are wise, we will choose goodness, and if we are ignorant we may not. It is with this wisdom that we recognize the only way we can renew the world, is by being proactively creative and constructive.

Zarathushtra s approach

In Yasna 43.5 Zarathushtra clearly declares that there is only one God as the first cause, the Creator, the maintainer, and as the one who will be there eternally, to the end.

As divine and sacred I recognized Thee, O Mazda Ahura, when I realized Thee as the First and eternal when life began; and when Thou ordained rewards for good thoughts, words and deeds; and when Thou specified through Thy wisdom that evil shall be the lot of wicked persons and that good persons shall reap the fruit of their goodness. Thus it will continue up to the end of creation.

(Firouz Azargoshasb translation)

Thou art Divine, I know, O Lord Supreme,
Thou wast the First, I know, when Life began;
All thoughts and words and deeds of men shall bear
Fruit, as laid down in Thine Eternal Law
Evil to Evil, Blessings Good to Good,
Thy Wisdom thus ordains till end of time.

(Irach J.S. Taraporewala translation)

Then did I realize you as the Most Bountiful one, O Mazda Ahura, when I beheld you as the First at the birth of life. Since you have ordained that deeds and words shall bear fruit, evil comes to evil and good blessings to the good. In your discerning judgment (this will go on) till the end of creation.

(T.R. Sethna translation)

Verily I believed Thee, O Ahura Mazda, to be the supreme benevolent Providence,
For I beheld Thee as the Primeval Cause of all creation.
For by Thy perfect Intelligence Thou shalt render just recompense for all actions, good to the good, evil to the evil, till the last day of creation.

(Dinshaw J. Irani translation)

As the holy one I recognized thee, O Wise Lord,
When I saw thee at the beginning, as the birth of existence,
Appoint a recompense for deed and word:
Evil reward to the evil, good to the good,
Through thy wisdom, at the last turning-point of creation.

(Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin translation)

I realize you, God Wise, to be progressive when I saw You at the birth of life, and found that You have ordained that actions and words should have consequences: bad for the bad, and good reward for the good. It shall be so through Your excellence until the final turn of the creation.

(Ali A. Jafarey translation)

According to Zarathushtra, there is no Devil. We are the ones who may choose goodness or create evil. In other words, the Devil is only in our own minds. Therefore, if we truly get to know ourselves, and come to be in command of our minds, we need not fear Ahriman.

Our approach

It is a well know fact that Zarathushtra declared that we have the freedom to choose. He advised us to listen intently and think deeply before we make our choices.

While we can dogmatically start an endless spiritual debate, much like the current philological debate, it is wiser to take a more practical and realistic approach:

It is a clear fact that our mythologies have a deep and direct effect on our psyche and subconscious mind. If we choose a "war" mythology, we will create a "war" reality for ourselves. On the other hand, if we opt for a "choice" mythology, we will create a "choice" reality in our world.

Since we have the freedom to choose, let us side with the one that is most desirable, and aligned with the "renovation of this world".

Shahriar Shahriari
September 30, 1997
Vancouver, Canada