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Zoroastrianism


4) Good and Evil
The solution of the problem of Evil has been attempted by every Great Prophet, and though the ways of looking at it have been different in different lands and at different epochs, still there is a fundamental similarity of treatment. Zarathushtra has tackled the problem in His characteristic manner. He had made Asha the very key-stone of His Teaching, and we have seen that to Him Asha meant the Eternal law which impels all creation to progress Godwards. To Him life upon this Earth meant a constant endeavour to tread this Path. Life therefore was unceasing endeavour, a continuous activity-what the Hindus have named Karma Yoga, or the Religion through Action. The Prophet expected all his followers to be active partisans on the side of Asha; consequently all that helps the forward progress of humanity is Good, all that tends to hinder it is Evil.

Zoroaster preached about the two Spirits, but His Philosophy is by no means dualistic. This idea of dualism did, indeed, creep into the religion during the later stages of its development; but in the Teacher's own days and in His own words, the idea developed is most emphatically not dualistic. It is not dualistic in the sense usually understood, namely of conceiving two co-eternal, co-equal powers, one good and one evil, who are for ever at war with each other. The concept of Zarathushtra is something essentially different. He tells us that there are the Two Spirits-The Good and the Evil-at war with each other. They form the antithesis of each other in every respect. But in two must important respects His Teaching differs from the popularly conceived idea of 'Dualism'. In the first place the conflict is bound to have an end. The books, even the later books which were responsible for all this later confusion of thought, speak of the ultimate triumph of the Good Spirit (Spento-Mainyu) and the hiding of the Evil One (Angro-Mainyu) 'underground'. And the Prophet Himself categorically declares in the Gatha (Y., xxx, 10), 'Then indeed shall the support of Falsehood come down, and broken shall be its power', that Evil shall ultimately perish. If, therefore, one of the two powers in the so-called 'Dualistic' system is ultimately to perish, we cannot in reason say that the system teaches that these two powers are either co-equal or co-eternal.

And yet in another aspect and perhaps in a more fundamental respect is the system of Zoroaster not dualistic. The Two Spirits are not 'self-created' as may be expected in a truly 'Dualistic' system. For both these emanate from and are the creation of Ahuramazda. These Twin Spirits first emanate from Him, the Eternal Lord of all Life and these Twain working together create and maintain the whole of this Universe. As Prof. Jackson has very well expressed it, these Twin Spirits do not exist independently but each in relation to the other; they meet in the higher unity of Ahuramazda. They exist before the beginning of the world, but their opposition only comes to its expression in the world that we see.

Though it has not been very clearly stated that these Two Spirits are 'created by Mazda', still, at least in one place in The Gathas (Y., xxx, 1), I believe that such a statement is made. It is a disputed passage and the Pahlavi tradition seems to support this translation. This is not the place to enter into a grammatical discussion as to the meaning of this passage, but I would render the opening lines of that verse as,

    Now I will speak to those who desire (to hear), about these Two who are created by Mazda, which (teaching) is     indeed for the wise.

Then again in Yasna, xix, 9, Ahura Mazda speaks of the Two Spirits as His own, implying that they both emanated from Him. Thus though not explicitly, still by implication, we may conclude that the Two Spirits represent the double emanation from the Eternal, when the Eternal 'breathes out into manifestation'. They may be compared to the twofold Powers, Purusha and Prakriti (or Spirit and Matter), which have been postulated in the Yoga Philosophy of India as emanating from the Supreme Lord, Ishvara. Of course, I do not here wish to imply that all the subtleties of the Yoga system are to be found in the teaching of Zarathushtra, but I wish merely to draw a rough sort of analogy. Just as Ishvara in the very act of manifestation gives forth these Twain-Spirit and Matter-so also for the purpose of manifestation, according to Zoroaster, are needed the Twain Spirits, the Good and the Evil, 'created by Mazda'. They represent the two poles upon which the whole of manifestation and evolution revolves. Apparently opposed to each other in every respect, they are both necessary to create and to sustain the manifested universe. Their opposition is clearly and forcibly declared in the Gathas (Y., xxx, 4):

    And now when these Two Spirits together came, they in the beginning created Life and Not-Life.

And in another place Zarathushtra declares (Y., xlv, 2):

    I will speak of the Spirits Twain at the first beginning of Life, of whom the holier spake thus to the wicked one:

    Never shall our minds harmonise, nor our doctrines; neither our aspirations, nor yet our beliefs; neither our     words nor yet our actions; neither our hearts nor yet our souls.

The first quotation given above is very significant-'they created Life and Not-Life'. This constitutes the fundamental opposition of this pair, and it virtually amounts to saying that they correspond in the essence to the idea underlying Purusha and Prakriti or Spirit and Matter. This quotation is in fact the clearest expression of the fundamental difference between the Two Spirits that is to be found in the Zoroastrian Scriptures. If we look upon them as in a sense representing the two phases of the eternal activity of God, namely creation and dissolution, we may better understand their true importance. It was probably in this sense that, in later times, the Zoroastrian Divines attributed to the Evil Spirit such 'evils' as the creation of extreme heat and extreme cold, of plagues of vermin and noxious creatures.

As time went on and as the true Teaching of the Prophet receded further and further into oblivion, a new and curious idea began to overlay this original idea of the Two Spirits. The later Zoroastrian theologians seem to have forgotten that destruction is also part of God's work; that one side of His activity, as shown in the progress of the universe, consists in renovation and renewal, which is impossible without the destruction of what has ceased to help in the forward march of Creation and has thus become 'evil'. This forgetting of the fundamental conception of the Evil One as an Aspect of God Himself led, in later times, to a marked divorce between the functions of Angro-Mainyu (the Matter or Not-Life Aspect of God). And in exact proportion as the Evil and the Good Spirits became estranged from one another did the former also get estranged from his Creator. And just at the same rate did the Good Spirit become more and more indentified with Ahuramazda. And at last in Sasanian times (as represented by the Theologians of the Vendidad) we find, instead of the Good and Evil Spirits, Ahura and Ahriman (Angro-Mainyu) forming the fundamental Pair. How far this view had been influenced by the doctrines of Judaism, Christianity and Buddhist (in its more popular forms with its hosts of demons and evil spirits) would form a very interesting piece of work in Comparative religions. Here it may be sufficient to state that Angro-Mainyu in the Vendidad, far from being 'a Creation of God', has become the Arch-Opponent of the Almighty, very much as Satan did after 'he fell from Heaven'. Thus we read in the very first chapter of that book that when Ahura Mazda created various fine lands for the people to dwell in, this Arch-Fiend, Ahriman, 'counter-created' various plagues therein in order to drive away God's own people from their homes! This later idea of Ahriman is decidedly unphilosophical and inconsistent with the other dogma, simultaneously put forward, of the omnipotence of God. And it is certainly opposed to the original teaching of Zarathushtra, which, as we have already seen, admitted no other at God's level. This later conception was, due to a misunderstanding of the Prophet's teaching, very possibly under the influence of Semitic theology. And assuredly this later conception of Ahriman is responsible both for the philosophic confusions and the superstition that crept into Sasanian Zoroastrianism, and also for the belief among foreigners that Zarathushtra's religion was 'dualistic'.

Whatever the subsequent history of the Evil Spirit may have been in Iranian Theology, there cannot be any reasonable doubt that the original concept as it emanated from the mind of the Master Himself and embodied in the Gathas is the purest and the most philosophical explanation of the existence and the origin of Evil. 'Life and Not-Life', this phrase conveys the very essence of the whole teaching. It must, however, be borne in mind that in the Gathas we find only the main points of the teaching jotted down rather than a 'connected' system of philosophy. Each verse contains one or two ideas expressed in terse and often highly phonetic language. Each verse represents some idea but the connection between the verses themselves is often not expressed at all. Only long and patient thought and meditation, coupled with a life lived according to the teaching, would slowly bring out clearly the connecting links. All one can do at present is to take up the scattered hints from various verses of the Gathas and other Hymns and carry them forward to their logical conclusions.

The first such conclusion we can draw from the very definition of the Two Spirits-as Creators of 'Life' and 'Not-Life'-is that both are as the two poles of the same Eternal Source of all Life; that both are (to vary our metaphor) the First Creators and the First Ministers of His Will. The Absolute willed to manifest, and from unity He became Duality. Angro-Mainyu is as essential for Creation and Manifestation as Spento-Mainyu. This point is very finely brought out in the Sraosha Yasht (Y., lvii).

In that Hymn, in the very first verse, Sraosha is described as paying His homage to all the Beings who have helped to create the universe:

    Among the creatures of the Great Ahura,
    He was the first to worship the Eternal;
    He first did worship the immortals Holy,
    The Six that stand around the Throne of Mazda;
    He also worshipped first the Twin Maintainers,-
    The Twin Creators,-who create together
    The manifold creation all around us.

Sraosha (Obedience to the Divine Will) is here shown as recognising the Two as among the Supreme Manifestations of the Will of the Eternal. Evil is necessary in the world in order that Good may ultimately triumph. Spirit must unite itself with Matter in order to realise completely the fullness of its stature. That Good shall come out triumphant in the end has been maintained by Zoroastrian theology throughout its long history. And when we characters Evil as 'Not-Life', we only imply that until Spirit returns to the Eternal Source from which it emanated, Matter serves as the shadow, that it only appears as Evil. In other words, Evil, in itself does not exist; or to put it paradoxically, Evil has but a negative existence.

A second implication is with regard to human conduct. Evil is found in the world in order that we may strengthen ourselves by learning to overcome it. For life to a true follower of Zarathushtra is a constant and sternuous effort not merely in being good but also in fighting and overpowering evil. Evil has to be regarded, so to say, as a whetstone for a Zoroastrian to sharpen his determination upon. Evil is like Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust,
    Part of that power which still
    Produceth good whilst ever scheming ill.

Another, and perhaps a more remote, implication from these ideas is that complete freedom is left to the individual to choose his own side in the eternal battle. The sternuous Zoroastrian must stand upon his own legs. No Prophet, no Saviour intercedes for him or bears his burden. The Lord Zarathushtra points out the Path and stands as a glorious example to all mankind, and is very ready to guide and help and inspire. But each individual has got complete freedom to choose his own path in life; and once the choice is made every step upon the path chosen must be trodden by his own feet. According to Zoroastrian theology each human being has a principle within himself called urvan which is often translated as 'soul'. The literal meaning of urvan is 'the chooser'; for it is that within the human being which enables him to choose between the right and the wrong, between the temporary and the eternal. Zarathushtra, even while he first proclaimed His Message, said:

    Hear with your ears the Great Truths, consider them with clear thought, deciding between the two and     choosing, -man by man, each one for himself.

Once the choice is made, the Eternal Law, which declares that a man shall reap exactly as he has sown, steps in and determines the future progress of the individual.

Thus we see that the Lord Zarathushtra has worked out a very satisfactory solution of the problem of the existence and the origin of Evil. He has taught that Evil is but a negative aspect of the Divine Life, only 'the Shadow of the Eternal', for it has created 'Not-Life'. Evil by itself does not, cannot exist; but it is relative, depending upon the distance from God at which the individual stands upon the Path of Asha. Angro-Mainyu is terrible indeed as long as He has power to tempt people with material and temporary happiness, or to confound their intellects and souls. He has tempted Sages always, and often quite successfully. He tempted Yima and led him to his fall. He tried to tempt the Master Himself (as Buddha and Christ were also tempted later) but failed. When this last temptation was overcome, the Master stood up in His full glory as Teacher of the World, as Zarathushtra (He of the Golden Light). Then He explained to mankind what Evil was in reality-the Shadow of the Light Eternal, of God Himself. For He had conquered Angro-Mainyu and assuredly He had the best right to explain to humanity the true nature of Evil.

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

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"And now when these Two Spirits together come, they in the beginning created Life and Not-Life."
(Gatha Ahunavaiti, Y., xxx, 4.)

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