Values and Commitments

Understanding how moral values and a sense of obligation can come from beliefs and experience;

 

Evaluating their own and others’ values in order to make informed, rational and imaginative choices.

Rules and Ethical Guidelines

The primary ethical value which Zoroastrians is to practice good thoughts, words and deeds. However, this clearly raises the question, what makes something good or evil? Good is considered to be anything which is life supporting conducive to order, harmony (asha) and peace. Anger, lust and greed are emotions regarded as evil because they threaten this order. That which is good is how Ahura Mazda created it and is each individual’s duty to care for. This Good Creation encompasses the environment, the animal world and other people, and Zoroastrians believe it their duty to fight evil in all its forms, both physical and spiritual.

The fundamental feature of the Zoroastrian moral code is to be good and to do good, and the community is expected to practice these virtues in every-day life. One who follows the way of asha is an ashavan, leading as righteous and virtuous life as he or she is able.

Thus, Zoroastrians aim to be caring, generous, truthful (a term for evil is ‘the Lie’) and trustworthy. For believers, untruthfulness is a form of evil.

Zoroastrians aim to identify with the personified qualities of the Divine:

With holy spirit and best thought, with action and word in accordance with truth, they shall offer Him integrity and immortality. The Ahura (Lord) is Mazda (wisdom) though (His) power (and) holy devotion (Yasna.47:1).

Zoroastrians adopted Aristotle’s idea of the Golden Mean. This is the idea that virtue is the mid-point between opposing vices, thus extremes of asceticism and debauchery are to be avoided.

Many Zoroastrians are doctors because they believe that by keeping people healthy they are better able to do the work of Ahura Mazda. However, working as a doctor often involves making difficult decisions, for example, the ethical, moral and sinful implications of euthanasia and abortion. Sin for Zoroastrians is thinking, saying or doing anything which adversely affects any part of the Good Creation.

Individual and Social Responsibility

Zoroastrians regard their religious duty as practicing good thoughts, words and deeds. At the time of judgment, after death, the good will be balanced against evil thoughts, words and deeds. If the good outweighs the evil the soul passes across a bridge of judgment (Chinvat Bridge) to heaven; if the evil outweighs the good then the soul falls into hell where it is punished until the day of resurrection. Thus it is an individual’s deeds and not beliefs that determine their fate in the afterlife. Ultimately, all people are equal, from the same initiation ceremony (Naujote) for males and females, to the rituals after death where everyone regardless on social or religious status are exposed in the same Tower of Silence (Dokhma).

Zoroastrians believe that idleness is a sin. A word for evil is ‘the Lie’ so being truthful is very important. Charity is an important virtue for Zoroastrians with many becoming significant benefactors within their community. For example, Bombay’s first western-style hospital, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the National Centre for the Performing Arts were all established through Zoroastrian philanthropy.

In Zoroastrianism, beliefs in human rights and social justice flow continuously from religious beliefs. Humans are individually created as fellow workers (hamkars) of God in the fight against evil. Humans should care for other human beings and the creation, as all are part of the Good Creation. All human beings are born with free will and so can choose to reject their religious duty. However, any rejection of religious or social responsibilities will be punished in the afterlife.

While not all are born equal, all people are equally called, created and cared for by Ahura Mazda. Historical Zoroastrian Iran identifies people being born into distinct classes – royalty, priests, nobles and workers. However, even during ancient times, everyone had the same religious duties and underwent the same religious rites at birth, initiation before adolescence and after death. Among Parsis in India all, rich and poor alike, priest and lay, are exposed in the same Tower of Silence (dokhma). Even where there is no dokhma everyone’s funeral is the same.

Citizenship

Citizenship is a more complicated, and perhaps a more western concept. In ancient Iran there was a strong sense of being Iranian and, apart from the royal harem, marriage between Iranians was expected to reinforce the sense of being a distinct people, all of whom were members of a nation created by Ahura Mazda. In the modern Diaspora, be that in India, Pakistan or the West, there is a clear expectation of loyalty to the country of residence. For example, in the Indo-Pakistan war there were Parsi generals on both sides.

There is therefore no sense of there being any conflict between being Zoroastrian and being British. As Zoroaster lived around 1500 and 1200 BCE, terms such as human rights, social justice and citizenship were unknown. Zoroaster converted the local monarch resulting in Zoroastrianism becoming became the religion of the kingdom.

Citizenship would therefore not have been conflicted with Zoroaster’s example or his teaching on individual responsibility and gender equality, and modern Zoroastrian teachers explicitly support such concepts. Being a Zoroastrian involves resolving to fight evil in all its forms as well caring for the Good Creation and practising good thoughts, words and deeds.

Crime and Punishment

In Zoroastrianism a person is rewarded and punished according to their thoughts, words and deeds, with rewards and punishments made to fit the crime. In medieval times, the Book of Arda Viraf (Righteous Viraf) told the story of a priest, who had visions of heaven and hell. The text gives an idea of what are seen as virtues and vices. For example, an agriculturalist occupies a high place in heaven for he helps the Good Creation to grow. In contrast, a wicked king who killed and tortured people is himself flogged.

While Zoroastrians believe perpetrators of crimes will be punished in the afterlife, they also accept that in a law abiding society punishment may be necessary for the overall benefit of the community.

Euthanasia and Abortion

Zoroastrians consider euthanasia and abortion to be wrong as they involve the taking of life, and by implication, the destruction of Ahuru Mazda’s creation.

Health

Zoroastrians believe that good health is the state which Ahura Mazda wishes for everyone and is the natural condition in which the first human was created. All suffering is therefore an affliction of the force of evil Angra Mainyu (Middle Persian, Ahriman). Since the world is the Good Creation of Ahura Mazda (Middle Persian, Ohrmazd) humans have a duty to care for it and expand it through having children, caring for animals and by agriculture. In modern times this attitude has been applied to industry also.

War

War is destructive of the Good Creation, so is seen as undesirable, although may be necessary to ensure a peaceful existence. With this in mind, a number of Zoroastrians have held important positions in the army, navy and air force of their home country.

As Zoroastrians in India and in the Iranian homeland have for over a thousand years been a minority, war has never been a realistic option. However, when Muslims invaded the Gujarat in the 13th century Parsis fought alongside the Hindus to repel the invader.

In the days of the ancient Zoroastrian Persian Empire (6th century BCE to the 7th century CE) the kings went to battle and took priests (magi) with them to lead prayers before going into battle. Rock reliefs dating from the Sasanian era (3rd to 7th centuries) show the king triumphantly trampling his enemies underfoot just as Ohrmazd will one day trample Ahriman. It appears that the Iranian monarchs saw themselves as expanding order (Asha) throughout the world to overthrow the evil chaos wrought by enemies, such as when Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonians and set the Jews free from their exile.

Wealth and Poverty

In a world where poverty and wealth co-exist wealth is viewed as honourable providing it has been gained honestly and is shared through charitable giving. However, there is little to demonstrate much discussion of this as an issue in Zoroastrianism as sharing ones wealth is an expectation rather than an option.

The Environment

Zoroastrians believe Ahura Mazda created the world so people, therefore, have a duty to care for it. This, they claim, makes them the first environmentalists. Although creation (Bundahishn) is assaulted by the forces of evil causing suffering, decay and death, it nevertheless remains ‘the Good Creation’ and people have a duty to enjoy it.

Traditionally Zoroastrians have eaten meat, although some Parsis have at least avoided beef and others become vegetarians as a mark of respect to the Hindu culture in which they lived. However, this is a recent development as it was believed that Ohrmazd created everything for a purpose, with the purpose of cattle being to feed humans.

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