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Source: Sacred Books Of The East

The study of religion, like the study of poetry, brings us face to face
with the fundamental principles of human nature. Religion, whether it be
natural religion or that which is formulated in a book, is as universal
as poetry, and like poetry, existed before letters and writing. It is
only in a serious and sympathetic frame of mind that we should approach
the rudest forms of these two departments of human activity. A general
analysis of the "Zend-Avesta" suggests to us the mind of the Persian
sage Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, fixed upon the phenomena of nature and
life, and trying to give a systematized account of them. He sees good
and evil, life and death, sickness and health, right and wrong, engaged
in almost equal conflict. He sees in the sun the origin of light and
heat, the source of comfort and life to man. Thus he institutes the
doctrine of Dualism and the worship of Fire. The evil things that come
unexpectedly and irresistibly, he attributes to the Devas: the help and
comfort that man needs and often obtains by means which are beyond his
control, he attributes to the "Holy Immortal Ones," who stand around the
Presence of Ormuzd. As he watches the purity of the flame, of the limpid
stream, and of the sweet smelling ground, he connects it with the moral
purity which springs from innocence and rectitude, and in his code it is
as reprehensible to pollute the fire by burning the dead, or the stream
by committing the corpse to its waves, or the earth by making it a
burial-place, as it is to cheat or lie or commit an act of violence. The
wonders of Nature furnish abundant imagery for his hymns or his
litanies, and he relies for his cosmogony on the faint traditions of the
past gathered from whatever nation, and reduced into conformity with his
Dualistic creed.

"Zend-Avesta" is the religious book of the Persians who professed the
creed of Zarathustra, known in classic and modern times as Zoroaster.
Zoroaster is to be classed with such great religious leaders as Buddha
and Mohammed. He was the predecessor of Mohammed and the worship and
belief which he instituted were trampled out in Persia by the forces of
Islam in the seventh century of our era. The Persian Zoroastrians fled
to India, where they are still found as Parsis on the west coast of
Hindostan. The religion of Zoroaster was a Dualism. Two powerful and
creative beings, the one good the one evil, have control of the
universe. Thus, in the account of the creation, the two deities are said
to have equal though opposite share in the work. This is indicated by
the following passage--

The third of the good lands and countries which I, Ahura Mazda
(Ormuzd) created, was the strong, holy Mouru (Merv).

Thereupon came Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), who is all death, and he
counter-created plunder and sin.

This constant struggle of the two divinities with their armies of good
and bad spirits formed the background of Zoroastrian supernaturalism.
The worship of the Persians was the worship of the powers of Nature, and
especially of fire, although water, earth, and air, are also addressed
in the litanies of the "Zend-Avesta." The down-falling water and the
uprising mist are thus spoken of in one passage:--

As the sea (Vouru-kasha) is the gathering place of the waters,
rising up and going down, up the aerial way and down the earth,
down the earth and up the aerial way: thus rise up and roll
along! thou in whose rising and growing Ahura Mazda made the
aerial way.

The sun is also invoked:--

Up! rise up and roll along! thou swift-horsed Sun, above Hara
Berezaiti, and produce light for the world.

The earth was considered to be polluted by the burial of the dead, who
are to be exposed in high places to be devoured by the birds of the air
and swept away by the streams into which the rain should wash their
remains. But the principal subjects of Zoroaster's teaching was the
struggle between Ormuzd and Ahriman and their hosts "The Holy Immortal
Ones" and the Devas, or evil spirits. This is the basis of all the
activities of the world and, according to Zoroaster, is to result in a
triumph of the good.

Zoroaster taught that the life of man has two parts, that on earth and
that beyond the grave. After his earthly life each one should be
punished or rewarded according to his deeds.

The "Zend-Avesta" cannot be dated earlier than the first century before
our era. It consists of four books, of which the chief one is the
Vendidad; the other three are the liturgical and devotional works,
consisting of hymns, litanies, and songs of praise, addressed to the
Deities and angels of Goodness.

The Vendidad contains an account of the creation and counter-creation of
Ormuzd and Ahriman, the author of the good things and of the evil things
in the world. After this follows what we may call a history of the
beginnings of civilization under Yima, the Persian Noah. The revelation
is described as being made directly to Zoroaster, who, like Moses,
talked with God. Thus, in the second fargard, or chapter, we read:--

Zarathustra (Zoroaster) asked Ahura Mazda (Ormuzd):--

"O Ahura Mazda (Ormuzd), most beneficent Spirit, Maker of the
material world, thou Holy One! Who was the first mortal, before
myself, Zarathustra, with whom thou, Ahura Mazda, didst
converse, whom thou didst teach the religion of Ahura, the
Religion of Zarathustra?"

Ahura Mazda answered:--

"The fair Yima, the good shepherd, O holy Zarathustra! he was
the first mortal before thee, Zarathustra, with whom I, Ahura
Mazda, did converse, whom I taught the Religion of Ahura, the
Religion of Zarathustra. Unto him, O Zarathustra, I, Ahura
Mazda, spake, saying: 'Well, fair Yima, son of Vivanghat, be
thou the Preacher and the bearer of my Religion!' And the fair
Yima, O Zarathustra, replied unto me, saying: 'I was not born, I
was not taught to be the preacher and the bearer of thy

The rest of the Vendidad is taken up with the praises of agriculture,
injunctions as to the care and pity due to the dog, the guardian of the
home and flock, the hunter and the scavenger. It includes an elaborate
code of ceremonial purification, resembling on this point the Leviticus
of the Bible, and it prescribes also the gradations of penance for sins
of various degrees of heinousness.

Next: Discovery Of The Zend-avesta

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