Zarathushtra - (Zoroaster)

 

 

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Volume 4

 

 

 

 

Making It Happen, Aramaiti.

Dina G. McIntyre

 

As one of Zarathushtra's "immortals" 1 aramaiti is an important part of Zarathushtra's theological system. Yet it is surprising to see how differently leading Zoroastrian thinkers translate or interpret its meaning. To Dastur N.D. Minochehr-Homji and T.R. Sethna aramaiti is divine wisdom.2 To A.A. Jafarey it is serenity.3 Bode and Nanavutty translate it as devotion,4 K.D. Irani as benevolence,3 Farhang Mehr as divine love,6 and S. Insler as piety.7

In my search for the meaning of aramaiti, I decided to comb through the Gathas and study each mention of aramaiti in them, to see if the context in which Zarathushtra used the word might give us some indication of the meaning he intended to ascribe to it. As with any analysis of Zarathushtra's thought processes, what I discovered was well worth the effort. I have obtained some insight into the meaning of aramaiti. And I have become aware that Zarathushtra's concept of "piety" and "worship" are quite unconventional. But such conclusions should not be accepted on the unsubstantiated word of any person, however well-intentioned. They require verification from the source. All quotations from and references to the Gathas in this essay have been taken from Insler's translation, though I do not know if he would agree with some or all of the inferences which I have drawn from his translation.

To understand aramaiti, we must understand xshathra. And the converse is also true. But let us start with xshathra. Vohu xshathra is good rule. And good rule is what occurs when authority or power is exercised with reason and intelligence (good thinking, vohu mano) and is committed to what is true and right (asha). In short, as the Gathas repeatedly tell us, good rule is the rule of truth and good thinking.8 Let us set good rule (vohu xshathra) on the back burner for a moment and consider how Zarathushtra used the word aramaiti.

In Ahunavaiti Gatha, Zarathushtra states that a person expresses aramaiti by action stemming from good thinking.

"By his action stemming from good thinking, the man of good determination has expressed his understanding and his virtuous [aramaiti],..." Y34.10.

In Ushtavaiti Gatha, Zarathushtra once again links aramaiti to actions:

"I know the Wise One who created it [truth] to be the Father of effective good thinking. And His daughter is [aramaiti] of good actions..." Y45.4.

And in Spenta Mainyu Gatha,, a person of aramaiti is described as:

"...one who has allied his conception with good thinking..." Y49.5.

It is clear from the above that Zarathushtra's concept of aramaiti is related to actions stemming from good thinking. In addition, in Ushtavaiti Gatha, aramaiti is linked with truth.

"...Through its actions, [aramaiti] gives substance to the truth..."Y44.6.

"...come thou hither...Hither where [aramaiti] is in harmony with truth, where sovereignty is in the power of good thinking, where the Wise Lord dwells in maturity." Y46.16.

But the clincher comes in Vohu Xshathra Gatha, where Zarathushtra summarizes what it is that makes a man of aramaiti virtuous -- it is his understanding, his words, his actions, his vision.

"Virtuous is a man of [aramaiti]. He is so by reason of his understanding, his words, his action, his conception [daena]..." Y51.21.

It would be reasonable to infer from this evidence that, as Zarathushtra uses the word, aramaiti means bringing to life the rule of truth and good thinking by our understanding, our words, our actions, our vision -- the proverbial good thoughts, good words, good deeds.

"But to this world He came with the rule of good thinking and of truth, and (our) enduring [aramaiti] gave body and breath (to it)...." Y30.7

Just as a skillful artist plays with colors, mixing, matching and complementing them to convey his thoughts and feelings, in the same way, Zarathushtra seems to enjoy playing with ideas -- mixing, matching and complementing them to convey his multidimensional vision. And the concept of aramaiti is no exception.

On the one hand, Zarathushtra refers to that concept in both the human and the divine spheres of existence9 -- God's wisdom, and our understanding; God's Word, and our good words; God's actions to help bring about the desired end, and our good actions.

On the other hand, Zarathushtra repeatedly uses aramaiti and xshathra as complementary concepts.10 With impeccable logic, Zarathushtra advances the unusual proposition that it is our understanding, our good words, and our good deeds that give life to God's rule (of truth and good thinking) here on earth-- not a servile, unquestioning obedience on our part,11 but an active voluntary commitment that includes the freedom to think, the freedom to speak, the freedom to act.

In my view, it is this concept -- this active and voluntary bringing to life of the rule of truth and good thinking, with our benevolent thoughts, words and deeds, as a friend and ally of God -- that is spenta aramaiti. In view of the fact that aramaiti functions at both the divine and the human levels, I have been unable to come up with one word that fits the concept exactly, (though "service" -- to the desired end by both man and God -- is close). But at the human level, the substance of the concept of aramaiti is identical to Zarathushtra's unconventional idea of how we must worship.

In a world where the local gods which men worshipped were fierce and numerous (Y32.12, Y44.20), and their priests corrupt and oppressive (Y32.12, Y46.11, Y48.10), Zarathushtra not only advanced the concept of monotheism, 12 but in addition taught that the kind of worship most pleasing to Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, was an adherence to truth, through good thinking (understanding) and through words and actions stemming from good thinking. In the Ahunavaiti and Spenta Mainyu Gathas, his unique concept of worship is specifically spelled out as follows:

"...I shall always worship all of you, Wise Lord, with truth and the very best thinking and with their rule through which one shall stand on the path of (good) power..." Y50.4.

"I... shall serve all of you, Wise Lord, with good thinking..." Y28.2.

"I shall serve all of you...with truth and with the reverence (worthy) of a sincere person. You, moreover, with the skillfulness of good thinking. Praising, I shall encounter you with such worship, Wise One, and with actions stemming from good thinking allied with truth..." Y50.8-9.

Explaining Yasna 50.4, quoted above, Insler states:

"Verse 4 now continues this motif by promising to worship and obey the Wise Lord with his own enduring values through which a good and virtuous rule, analogous to that of the Lord's own, might come to pass in this world." 13

This beautiful and unique form of worship -- the worship of God with his own enduring values -- is again reflected in Yasna 51.22, where Zarathushtra says:

"I know in whose worship there exists for me the best in accordance with truth. It is the Wise Lord as well as those who have existed and (still) exist. Them (all) shall I worship with their own names, and I shall serve them with love." Y51.22.

Insler explains that the words "those who have existed and (still) exist" refer to "those who are immortal; specifically, the good and enduring values of the lord."14 And that the words "them (all) shall I worship with their own names" mean, in essence:

"I shall worship truth with truth, good thinking with good thinking, etc."15

To me, Yasna 51.22, so interpreted is the quintessential prescription for worship. It warms the heart and delights the mind. To think that one's actions in the hustle and bustle of the real world can be acts of worship, if governed by truth and good thinking, gives meaning and beauty to what would otherwise be mundane acts and a purposeless existence. But this concept of worship raises an interesting question: Why does Zarathushtra personify the values with which he defines God? Why does he repeatedly address God in the plural, for example:

"I who shall serve all of you, Wise Lord,..." Y28.2.

"...worship of all of you, Wise Lord, ..." Y33.8.

"...Wise One and ye other lords, be present to me with support..."Y30.9

"...and all those forces existing under Thy rule, Wise Lord." Y34.10 (and also Y49.5).

Why does he address the benevolent spirit, truth, and good thinking as personages (Y29). Why does he on occasion, personify aramaiti and good rule (Y51.2, and Y33.11), when they all so clearly represent aspects of the one God, the Wise Lord? Jafarey suggests that this personification was a function of Zarathushtra's poetic art.16 Dastur N.D. Minochehr-Homji was of the view that Zarathushtra used this format to enable the people of his time, who were used to polytheism, to conceptualize the one God.17. And I think that both these conclusions are perceptive and correct.

However, Zarathushtra in the Gathas displays so passionate and uncompromising a commitment to the truth, and his reasoning processes are always so deep and on target, that I believe he must have had some very direct and valid reason for describing God, the Wise Lord, within the framework of the amesha spenta (the benevolent immortals). I have some speculations on the subject. I think he did so because the personified attributes are an integral part of Zarathushtra's prescription for how we must worship -- truth with truth, good thinking with good thinking, God's commitment to bring about the desired end with our like commitment.

In short, to quest for wisdom, truth and right with good thinking is not just a matter of ethics. It is not just a desirable code of behavior. It is an act of worship. To give the rule of good thinking and truth "body and breath" (Y30.7) through our actions in the real world is likewise an act of worship in the temple of life -- a form of piety more pleasing to God than any other.

Implicit in this framework is the idea that the good end can be reached only by like means. "The end justifies the means" is not a part of Zarathushtra's reality.

Implicit in this framework is the idea of a balance of endeavor between the divine and the human, required to bring about the desired end. What the Wise Lord requires of us, he delivers of himself -- truth, good thinking, good words and actions, good rule.

Lastly, and most importantly, by describing God within the framework of the amesha spenta, Zarathushtra makes a subtle but clear assertion regarding the nature of man and God -- that the means and the end are the same, that there is, perhaps not an equivalence, but surely a unity of identity between the worshipper and the worshipped. And that when the means have been perfected in the worshipper so as to become the end, completeness is achieved, and the reason for mortality ceases.

In closing, let us consider how the above definition of aramaiti fits into the overall scheme of the amesha spenta. Asha is objective truth, knowledge, right,18 -- God's law which orders all aspects of the universe, both abstract and material. Vohu mano is good thinking, the means by which we ascertain knowledge, truth and right. And aramaiti is implementing or bringing to life good thinking, truth and right in our world (zam) with our good thoughts (understanding), our good words, and our good deeds, thereby bringing about good rule (vohu xshathra) here, and evolving towards completeness and immortality (haurvatat/ameretat).

The "proper" order of these benevolent immortals (amesha spenta), and what it means in terms of understanding Zarathushtra's message, has been the subject of much conjecture. Their order of appearance in Yasna 28, the first Gatha, is the benevolent spirit, truth, good thinking, aramaiti, and good rule. Completeness and immortality do not appear (in those terms) till several songs later. In other parts of the Gathas themselves, their order or appearance varies. I do not think there is any one "proper" order. I think Zarathushtra mixes, matches and complements these concepts in a kaleidoscopic manner to demonstrate different ways of looking at a multidimensional whole.

The variety enriches our understanding. As Windfuhr said , referring to the amesha spenta:

"These occur in ever different combinations in the stanzas of the Gathas, which follow each other in a quasi kaleidoscopic fest of ordered and reordered and mirrored images." 19

The depth and antiquity of Zarathushtra's poetry, affords endless hours of inferential thinking, all of it fascinating. When we differ, I think it is good to have confidence in your own good thinking, while considering other views with an open mind. For just when we think we know it all, we hear someone else's perceptions that compel us to re-think our own, and strike us with wonder at the depth and variety of Zarathushtra's thought -- truly a wise friend of the Wise Lord.

Dina G. McIntyre, 1989.


Dina G. McIntyre has a Bachelor of Science from Carnegie Mellon University (then Carnegie Institute of Technology), and a Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She has practiced law in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since 1963. She became interested in Zoroastrian theology in the early 80's and has studied the Gathas on her own since 1982. She relies primarily on Dr. Insler's translations which she enjoys comparing with the translation of Humbach, T.R. Sethna, Taraporewala, Moulton, Mills, Bode & Nanavutty, and Dinshaw Irani.


Footnotes:

  1. Called amesha spenta (benevolent immortals) in the later Avestan texts.
  2. Minochehr-Homji Chicago Lectures 1984, recorded on cassettes. T.R. Sethna, The Teachings of Zarathushtra, (1978).
  3. This publication, Issue No. 3, page 3.
  4. Bode & Nanavutty, The Songs of Zarathushtra, The Gathas, (George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., -- out of print).
  5. This publication, Issue No. 2, page 9.
  6. Ibid., No. 2, page 1.
  7. Insler, The Gathas of Zarathushtra, (E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1975) ("Insler" hereinafter).

    According to Insler, the Gathic word aramaiti is related to a Vedic word which means "respect" and to a Vedic expression which means "to serve". I asked Dr. Insler if he could provide us with some information regarding the linguistic bases for translating the word aramaiti, and he responded as follows:

    "The Avestan word armaiti is always pronounced with four syllables in the Gathas (armaiti) and has long been correctly identified with its Vedic cognate aramati. Its Avestan form merely represents the Middle Persian development of the original word, the details of which are well known. The Vedic word means "respect", and were I to translate the Gathas again, I would employ respect to express armaiti. In Zarathushtra's system the word functions as the opposite to taromaiti "disrespect, opposition", a term which is paired with assure "disobedience" at Y33.4. At Y45.11 the two opposing concepts are played against one another, when the text confronts "who has opposed or shown disrespect" with "who has respected", with these terms expressed by tar .mast and ar m mainstay respectively, both morphologically related to ar amity and taromaiti. Vedic also frequently uses the expression ram Kr "to serve" whose underlying meaning was surely "show respect."
  8. Here, for example, are some verses that describe good rule as the "rule of truth and good thinking":

    "...strength and the rule of truth and good thinking, by means of which one shall create peace and tranquility..." Y29.10.

    "...(And) grow Thyself, in breath and body, through the rule of good thinking and of truth." Y33.10.
  9. Zarathushtra describes the Wise Lord not only as the Father of truth and good thinking, but also as the Father of aramaiti (Y44.3, 7; Y45.4). I think Zarathushtra uses "father" as a metaphor for source, warranting the inference that if truth and good thinking are a part of the Wise Lord, so too is the concept of aramaiti.

    Yasna 33.11 and 12 provide an excellent example of aramaiti at the divine and human levels respectively. In verse 11 aramaiti is one of the divine forces invoked by Zarathushtra to help him (and, by implication, all mankind).

    "The Wise One who is the Mightiest Lord, and [aramaiti] and truth which prospers the creatures, and good thinking, and (good) rule -- listen to me, ..." Y33.11.

    In verse 12, aramaiti is one of the benevolent forces at work in man, by means of which God is benefited.

    "Rise up to me, Lord. Along with Thy most virtuous spirit, Wise One, receive force through (our) piety [aramaiti], strength through (every) good requital, powerful might through truth, protection through (our) good thinking." Y33.12.

    Because aramaiti functions at both the divine and human levels, I am not persuaded that the word "piety" describes the full meaning of the word aramaiti, although it certainly reflects the human aspect of the concept.
  10. "Complements" are two or more mutually completing parts, making a whole.
  11. Even when Zarathushtra speaks of obedience, it is thinking obedience, not a blind, unquestioning obedience, that he advocates:

    "...As world-healer, promise us a judge, and let obedience to him come through good thinking, ..." Y44.16.
  12. If to Zarathushtra the Wise Lord was truth, it stands to reason that he viewed the fierce local gods of his time as error -- as figments of the imaginations of those who worshipped them. Referring to men of ill will, Zarathushtra says:

    "...Those who, with ill will, have increased fury and cruelty.....they have served the gods which is the conception of a deceitful person." Y49.4.

    As I understand Zarathushtra's words, these local "gods" of his time stood in opposition to the Wise Lord, Ahura Mazda, as error stands in opposition to truth, as nonexistence stands in opposition to life. For Zarathushtra, there was only one God -- the Wise Lord Ahura Mazda -- an unheard of concept in his time period, a concept that his contemporaries must have found mind-boggling.
  13. Insler, page 302.
  14. Ibid., page 109, footnote 26.
  15. Ibid., page 109, footnote 27. Dastur N.D. Minochehr-Homji and Dr. Jafarey translate and interprets this verse differently. According to them, this verse refers to a remembrance of good souls of the departed.
  16. Jafarey, advises that in Persian poetry the poet frequently personifies ideas or things which are the objects of his particular attention. Jafarey, The Gathas, Our Guide, pages 10-11.
  17. N.D. Minochehr-Homji, Chicago Lectures, 1984.
  18. Including that impartial justice which sets in motion the law of consequences, that we reap what we sow.
  19. Windfuhr, Observations on the Cosmology of Yasna 44, page 4. A Lecture delivered to the American Academy of Religions, 1988.

"...I believe in thoughts well thought,
I believe in words well spoken,
I believe in deeds well done.....

From The Zoroastrian Credo,
Jasamey Avanghey Mazda,
(translated by Dastur N.D. Minochehr-Homji, Chicago Lectures, 1984).

 

"This will make us understand the greatness of Zarathushtra. Though surrounded by believers in magical rites, he proclaimed in those dark days of unreason that religion has its truth in its moral significance, not in external practices of imaginary value; that its value is in upholding man in his life of good thoughts, good words and good deeds."
Rabindranath Tagore, The Religion of Man, page 74

 

"… one day I chanced to hear a song from a beggar belonging to the Baul sect of Bengal…..it was alive with an emotional sincerity. It spoke of an intense yearning of the heart for the divine which is in Man and not in the temple, or scriptures, in images and symbols…..
[Quoting from a Baul song]

 

"I would not go, my heart, to Mecca or Medina,
For behold, I ever abide by the side of my Friend.
Mad would I become, had I dwelt afar, not knowing Him.
There's no worship in Mosque or Temple or special holy day.
At every step I have my Mecca and Kashi;
Sacred is every moment."…..
[quoting from Chandidas, a medieval Bengali poet]

 

"How could the scripture know the meaning of the Lord who has His play in the world of human forms?"
Rabindranath Tagore, The Religion of Man
, pages 108, 214, 111.


 

Sketches of Ahura Mazda.

(Quotations from the Gathas)
(Insler translation).

 

 

"The Wise One is the first to heed
His agreements..."
Y29.4.

 

"...regarding with clarity of vision,
Thou dost look upon
all these things with truth."
Y31.13.

 

"...I know the Wise One
who created it
[truth] to be
the Father of effective good thinking.
And His daughter
is
[aramaiti] of good actions...."
Y45.4

 

"...the Lord of existence in Thy actions."
Y31.8.

 

"...The Wise One is Lord
through such actions
stemming from good spirit."
Y45.5

 

"...I have ... seen the Wise One...
to be Lord of the word and deed
stemming from good spirit..."
Y45.8.

 

"...Thou art the Lord
by reason of Thy tongue (which is)
in harmony with truth
and by reason of Thy words
stemming from good thinking, of which
Thou, Wise One,
art the foremost revealer."
Y51.3.

 

"...thee, o truth,
and good thinking
and the Wise Lord and (those others)
for whom piety increases
their unharmable rule...."
Y28.3.

 


 

Selections from the Gathas.

(Insler translation).

 

 

"When, Wise One, shall [aramaiti] come
along with truth,
bringing peace and pasturage
throughout the dominion?
Which men
shall stop the cruelty (caused) by the
violent deceitful persons?
To which man
shall come the understanding
stemming from good thinking?"
Y48.11.

 

"Yes, those men shall be
the saviors of the lands, namely,
those who shall follow
their knowledge of Thy teaching
with actions
in harmony with good thinking
and with truth, Wise One.
These indeed have been fated to be the expellers of fury."
Y48.12.

 

"...I shall serve all of you...with truth...
You, moreover, with
the skillfulness of good thinking."
Y50.8.

 

"...I shall always
worship all of you, Wise Lord,
with truth
and the very best thinking"
Y50.4.

 

"May the Creator
instruct through good thinking
the course of my direction,
in order to be
the charioteer of my will and my tongue."
Y50.6.

 

"...Yes, I shall swear to be your praiser, Wise One, and I shall be it, as long as I shall have strength and be able, o truth..."
Y50.11.


 

A Contemporary Perspective.

(An excerpt from a Lecture delivered to
the American Academy of Religions, November 1989)

Professor K. D. Irani

 

How is Zarathushtra's view of the world and way of life applicable to the contemporary world? Perhaps the simplest way to answer that question is to identify the values one would wish to promote in social existence.

The first value would be knowledge, for not only is it a value in itself, it is also the indispensable requisite for rational formulation of policy.

Then satisfaction for the widest possible range of subjects. In any policy for bringing about satisfaction, one must have due regard for individual freedom. It is a human tendency to turn one's policy decisions into ideologies and impose them upon others for their own benefit regardless of their wishes. This is a violation of the individual's self-determination, which is not only explicitly declared by Zarathushtra in the Gathas, but becomes the sole basis for one's responsibility and consequent salvation.

And lastly, justice. Asha in the social context is justice -- i.e., one should get what one deserves. Or to put it in the form given by John Stuart Mill, no person should receive undeserved burdens or misery. The question of what to do with those who enjoy undeserved benefits is hard to answer. That all these values cannot always, or even usually, be jointly promoted is obvious. But that is exactly where reason is called upon to make evaluative judgments or preference.

The Zoroastrian way of life is not an easy one. It does not have the confidence that Utopians have about their social visions. It points the way with a confidence in the good-mind being able to see the Truth, for when Truth, either in fact or in morals, is clearly recognized then it cannot be denied either in thought or in action.

K.D. Irani, 1989.


Professor Kaikhosrov Irani teaches  philosophy at the City College of New York. where he is a Professor Emeritus and past Chairman of the Department of Philosophy. He is Director of the Academy of Sciences and Humanities of the City University of New York, and a member of the Academy of Science in New York, the American Philosophical Association, the Philosophy of Science Association, and the American Academy of Religion. He has lectured in his field at such institutes of higher learning as UCLA, the Universities of Michigan, London, Goetingen, Vienna, Sweden, Finland, and Rome. He is a popular lecturer at national and international conferences on the subject of Zoroastrianism. He has studied the Gathas on his own for many years, and relies primarily on the translations of Humbach, Insler, Mills, Bartholomae, Taraporewala, and that of his father the late, great, Dinshaw Irani.


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