Friday, August 20, 2010

The Zend Avesta of Zarathustra

Book Review: The Zend Avesta of Zarathustra - translated by Dr.Edmond Bordeaux Szekely

This is a translation of one of the main historical texts of Zoroastrianism (called Mazdayasnianism by followers). This early belief system had a strong influence on many following belief systems, including Christianity and Judaism. When the Jews were subjects of the Persian empire there were new ideas incorporated based on Persian dualism – good/evil – heaven/hell – God/Devil – became more emphasized. In fact the word –devil – derives from the word deva – meaning "shining one" in Sanskrit. In the Vedas the devas and the asuras are in a perpetual war with the devas considered the higher more enlightened demi-gods caught up in their own pride and the asuras less enlightened demi-gods caught up in their own jealousy. However, in the Zend Avesta the devas are considered evil and the asuras – called ahuras are considered the true divine beings. This may have reflected some very ancient tribal conflict among the early Aryan tribes.

The Zend Avesta is mostly praises to Ahura Mazda – The Supreme Being of Light and Creator. The text is attributed to Zarathustra, or Zoroaster – a holy man early in the 2nd millennium BC (though some say much later to 600 BC) thought to be from Afghanistan- then part of a pan- Persian empire – or pan-Indo-Iranian society of sorts.

There is some reference to the pre-Zoroastrian nature religion with much similarity to the cosmology of the early Vedic Aryans. Perhaps the praises of the Fravashis – the unmanifest guardian spirits of all beings – are from this tradition. There are also quite a few language similarities of Vedic times and Avestan Persian. The God Mithra is venerated as he is occasionally in the Rig Veda. However, the Cult of Mithra propagated by later Persians and spread out by the Romans via underground temples throughout the Roman empire is a much later manifestation. Avestan Persian language shares a lot with early Sanskrit – terms like haoma = soma = the sacred plant drink praised both in the Zend Avesta and the Rig Veda ; yasna = yajna = sacrifice, usually a fire rite of burnt offerings performed by both Vedic and Zoroastrian priests – though in much different forms. The form of the hymns is similar to the Rig Veda indicating the common orgin and language of these peoples.

The first stanzas are Ahura Mazda explaining creation to Zarathustra. Here he created the Kingdoms of Light, Preserver, Eternal Life, Wisdom, Work, Love, Peace, Power, Food, Health, Joy, Sun, Water, Air, and Earth. All these are given as Ahuras or Fravashis. In the first verse he creates Light. In the second verse – 1. I cast my shadow, Angra Mainyu , 2. Who is all Death – so as he creates all these Angra Mainyu counters by creating their opposites.

So we see that from the beginning of this belief system there is a strong dualistic framework where the desirable is separated from the undesirable. This Persian Dualism had a strong influence on other belief sytems – especially those that were under the various Persian empires at one time or another.

The idea of Asha – or the Cosmic Law/Holiness/Truth/Order/Goodness is praised as desirable and those who adhere to the principles are called Ashavans. In the part called the Gathas – said to be the oldest part of the Zend Avesta – I understand it as saying that the Cosmic Order –Asha – is also within us and we have free will or choice to recognize and adhere to it or ignore it. So in Thought, Word, and Deed one should strive to adhere to the Cosmic Order.

I do not know if this is considered a good translation or not. Also I am not sure if it is complete or just selected texts. Dr. Bordeaux Szekely was said to be expert in several ancient languages. He also started something called the Biogenic Society which has to do with trying to live as the Essenes did.

There seems to be little in detail, example, or story from the Avesta. Hymns and praises are the jist of the book. There is encouragement to strive to do that which is just, good, and moral. There is also a quest for a Better World. I can see how one could study these hymns and derive benefit (as with most belief systems). As with most religions Zoroastrianism has a long and strange history – at one time a powerful priesthood sometimes at odds with the Persian royalty – suppression after the Islamic conversions – later loss of a real homeland – the Parsees who migrated to India are Zoroastrian – I heard too that the Kurdish people in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey also have some Zoroastrian-type traditions though currently repressed.

1 comment:

  1. Do you have any idea where the ideographs following Szeleky's text originate?