Exploring some of the ultimate questions that confront humanity, and responding imaginatively to them;
The ups, downs and meaning(s) of life’s journey.
For most Zoroastrians the deepest spiritual experience is to pray before the temple fire. They believe that here, they stand in the presence of Ahura Mazda, where the sounds and power of the Avestan prayers induce a trance like state. As the prayers are believed to give spiritual protection Zoroastrians find them comforting.
A fundamental Zoroastrian belief is Ahura Mazda created the world, and created it perfect (all suffering, misery, disease and death are external assaults by the cosmic force of evil Angra Mainyu). They naturally have a sense of awe and reverence before the wonders of nature. As they believe the world is the Good Creation of Ahura Mazda, there is a religious obligation to enjoy it and misery that could be avoided is a sin. This means that community gatherings are invariably happy (and usually noisy) occasions.
Many educated Iranian and Parsi Zoroastrians reject much of the later priestly literature emphasising their belief in, and practice of, good thoughts, words and deeds. The ritual fire is therefore of less symbolic importance but remains spiritually uplifting.
Traditional Zoroastrianism does not believe in rebirth (although some modern Parsis do under Hindu influence). Zoroastrians believe that every person is created to fight evil and expand the Good Creation. Humanity was created perfect, immortal, sinless, without need and happy. All misery, suffering, disease and death are afflictions of an independent force of evil (Ahriman). Each individual has free will and so can choose to practice Righteousness (Asha) or follow the path of evil, but will be judged according to their thoughts, words and deeds in this life.
Iranian Zoroastrians and more liberal Parsis stress the rationality and logical nature of the religion, and find support for their views in the Gathas (Hymns of Zoroaster). Traditionally, the religion talks about the creation of the universe and views history as the battle ground between good and evil. It looks forward to the renovation (frashegird or frashokereti), when good will ultimately triumph over evil, when the saviour (Soshyant) will come, the dead will be raised and the final judgment will take place. At this point good will be rewarded and evil punished, before passing into the ideal existence where heaven and earth come together in what is literally, the best of both worlds.
Fundamentally, it is personal identity that is most important to individual Zoroastrians, alongside the link between their race and their religion.
Many Zoroastrians, both in India and the West, are scientists, and find no conflict between their scientific knowledge and their religion. Zoroastrian Scientists believe the Hymns of Zoroaster do not contradict scientific law, (the only exception to this being his teaching on creation and judgement after death at the Chinvat Bridge). Some of the myths in the later Middle Persian (Pahlavi) literature are accepted as figurative and therefore are not seen to disagree with current scientific thinking.
This more abstract interpretation of belief finds no difficulty with science but the more traditional Parsis nevertheless believe that science is concerned with different issues from their religious belief and so the two are not in conflict.
Because of the belief in the Good Creation everyone has a religious obligation to care for it and many Zoroastrians claim they were the first environmentalists and put a religious value on the world. A number of American Parsis are scientists who declare their work is to bring about a greater appreciation of creation. However, it is still uncommon for Zoroastrians to discuss links between religion and science. The rare exception to this was in the early 20th century following the publication of A Modern Zoroastrian by Samuel Laing. In 1890 Laing argued that, with the discovery of electricity and the recognition of the positive and negative forces associated with this, Zoroastrian beliefs of dualism of good and evil had been vindicated. For Zoroastrians, it is this conflict between good and evil that causes the most thought. Therefore, the discovery of positive and negative forces in association with electricity’s powerful magnetism led to discussion among Zoroastrians of the link between science and religion.
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