Tuesday 21 December 2021

Choosing Between Good and Evil

Zarathustra’s teaching about Ahura Mazdā is apparently disturbed by a pronounced dualism: the Wise Lord has an opponent, Angra Mainyu, or Ahriman (the Destructive Spirit), who embodies the principle of evil; his followers, having freely chosen him, also are evil. This ethical dualism is rooted in the Zoroastrian cosmology. He taught that in the beginning there was a meeting between Spenta Mainyu and Ahriman, who were free to choose—in the words of the Gāthās—“life or not life.” This original choice gave birth to a good and an evil principle. Corresponding to the former is a kingdom of justice and truth and to the latter the kingdom of the Lie (Druj), populated by the daevas, the evil spirits (originally prominent old Indo-Iranian gods). However, the cosmogonic and ethical dualism is not a strict one, because Ahura Mazdā is the father of both spirits, who were divided into the two opposed principles only through their choice and decision.

The Wise Lord, together with the amesha spentas, will at last vanquish the spirit of evil. This message, implying the end of the cosmic and ethical dualism, seems to constitute Zarathustra’s main religious reform. His faith in Ahura Mazdā resolves the old strict dualism. The dualist principle, however, reappears in an acute form in a later period, after Zarathustra. It is achieved only at the expense of Ahura Mazdā (by then called Ormazd), who is conflated by later Zoroastrian theologians with Spenta Mainyu and brought down to the level of his opponent, Ahriman. At the beginning of time, the world was divided into the dominions of the good and of the evil. Between these, each individual is bound to decide. The same is true of the spiritual beings, who are good or bad according to their choices. From their freedom of decision it follows that human beings are finally responsible for their fates. Through their good deeds, righteous persons (ashavan) earn an everlasting reward, namely integrity and immortality. Those who opt for the Lie (Druj) are condemned by their own conscience as well as by the judgment of the Wise Lord and must expect to continue in the most miserable form of existence, one more or less corresponding to the Christian concept of hell. According to Avestan belief, there is no reversal and no deviation possible once a person’s decision has been made. Thus, the world is divided into two hostile blocks, whose members represent two warring dominions. On the side of the Wise Lord are the settled herdsmen or farmers, caring for their cattle and living in a definite social order. The follower of the Lie is a thieving nomad, an enemy of orderly agriculture and animal husbandry.

Eschatological teachings

The Gāthās, the early hymns, many of which may have been written by Zarathustra, are eschatological (concerned with last things). Almost every passage contains some reference to the fate awaiting individuals in the afterlife. Each act, speech, and thought is viewed as being related to an existence after death. The earthly state is connected with a state beyond, in which the Wise Lord will reward the good act, speech, and thought and punish the bad. This motive for doing good seems to be the strongest available to Zarathustra in his message. After death an individual’s soul must pass over the Bridge of the Requiter (Činvat), which everyone looks upon with fear and anxiety. After judgment is passed by Ahura Mazdā, the good enter the kingdom of everlasting joy and light, and the bad are consigned to the regions of horror and darkness. Zarathustra, however, goes beyond this, announcing an end phase for the visible world, “the last turn of creation.” In this last phase, Ahriman will be destroyed, and the world will be wonderfully renewed and be inhabited by the good, who will live in paradisiacal joy. Later forms of Zoroastrianism teach a resurrection of the dead, a teaching for which some basis may be found in the Gāthās. Through the resurrection, the renewal of the world bestows a last fulfillment on the followers of the Wise Lord.

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