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Books: 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.