The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Iranian Religions: Zoroastrianism
Of Means and Ends
By: Dina G. McIntyre
It gives me great pleasure to be a part of this distinguished colloquium on New Approaches to the Interpretation of the Gathas. The perspective from which I speak is that of both a practitioner and a student of Zarathushtra's teachings, as expressed in the Gathas. One of the great challenges in studying the religious thought of Zarathushtra is to endeavor to find out what he said, rather than what we might like him to have said. So a measure of objectivity is necessary. On the other hand, unlike science, religious thought cannot be studied on the basis of clinical analysis alone. It needs to be understood in the context of the vision that impels the prophet's thoughts. A successful study of the Gathas, in my view, requires a combining of these two perspectives. So in addressing my subject, I will attempt to bring to it as much objectivity as I can. And I will also consider how Zarathushtra's abstract thoughts interact with the subjective reality of experience.
It is a matter of deep regret to me that I am neither a linguist nor a philologist. I do not know the Gathic language. The translation on which I primarily rely is that of Professor Insler, and all references to the Gathas in this paper, are to his translation 1, although he may, or may not, agree with all of the inferences that I draw from his translation. One of the reasons why I like the Insler translation so much, is that, for the most part, he assigns a specific English word for a specific Gathic word, and he translates the phrases as literally as possible. This gives a non-linguist like myself, a chance to become aware of the subtle and multiple shades of meaning which abound in the Gathas. Often, you will find a phrase which, at first glance, seems quite simple and obvious, but which a more careful reading reveals has multiple meanings, all of them valid. Such discoveries you will not be able to make, using an interpretive translation. I truly think that we have barely scratched the surface of Gathic thought. With our improved understanding of its ancient language, I believe a careful analysis of its verses and puzzles will yield rich dividends of thought and spirituality.
Using the tools of my profession, I have developed a method, or a means, of studying the Gathas that has proved both fruitful and interesting. This method is analytical. Of course, it is not the only way of studying or appreciating the Gathas. There are many equally valid ways to relate to these magnificent hymns. But if we want to puzzle out the inner meanings of the Gathas, I think we must not neglect the analytical approach. And if you use this approach, you will find that the beauty of the ideas it reveals, is moving and exciting, and exquisitely complements the beauty of verse and meter. The method I use entails first, analysing the verses in detail, studying each strand of thought that a verse contains 2. The next step is to gather together, or correlate, verses dealing with similar ideas or themes that are scattered throughout the Gathas, -- the way a detective might gather clues -- study them, and then draw reasonable inferences, based on this evidence.
But detailed analysis, and the drawing of inferences alone are not enough. In dealing with a text as ancient, and as full of ambiguities and metaphors and multiple meanings, as the Gathas, we need a system of checks and balances to ensure that our analysis, and the inferences we draw, accurately reflect Zarathushtra's own thoughts, rather than what we might like his thoughts to have been. The system of checks and balances that I use, is to look for corroborative evidence. Zarathushtra often expresses the same idea in many different ways throughout the Gathas. If I find corroboration, if I find that the analysis, or the inferences I have drawn, are expressed elsewhere in the Gathas, I feel reasonably assured that I am on the right track.
Of course the Gathas, with their ambiguities, their many-layered meanings, and puzzles, do not always provide rock-solid corroborative evidence -- the smoking gun type of evidence. Inevitably, you will find yourself speculating on the basis of ambiguous, multi-dimensioned verses. In my view, there is nothing wrong with speculation, so long as we give the basis for it, and so long as we don't try to pass speculation off as fact. So if you should hear anyone, myself included, expound a conclusion that just doesn't make sense to you, don't accept it automatically. Look for the evidence on which it is based. Then look for corroborating evidence. And decide for yourself whether or not the conclusion is valid.
To summarize: the method I use, in a nutshell, is: analyze, correlate, draw inferences, and corroborate. I'd like to show you how this method plays out, with a few illustrations from the Gathas themselves. Let's start with an analysis of two phrases in verses 5 and 7 of Yasna 28. In verse 5 Zarathushtra says:
"Truth, shall I see thee, as I continue to acquire both good thinking and the way to the Lord?........(Y28.5).
At first glance, what Zarathushtra is saying seems quite obvious. If we make a diagrammatic sketch of this quotation, it would look something like this.
The meaning of the first part is quite clear. An attainment of good thinking is truth. But in the second part, what does Zarathushtra mean by "the way to the Lord?" ONE answer may be found in Y33 verse 5: Here, Zarathushtra says:
If you read these two verses together, it would be reasonable to infer that "the paths straight in accord with truth wherein the Wise Lord dwells" in Y33.5, is what Zarathushtra means when he speaks of "the way to the Lord" in Y28 verse 5. If we factor this into our diagram, it would look like this:
So when we read these two verses together, we see that Y28 verse 5 contains a meaning that is more subtle and profound than was apparent at first glance. It says, among other things, that as we acquire the paths of truth we see truth. Or, stated another way: the reward for truth is truth itself. If we put the results of our analysis so far into tabulation form, it would look like this.
Before going on, let me leave you with a question: If the "way" leads to truth, and if the "way" also leads "to the Lord", is Zarathushtra equating God and truth? Let's now turn to Y28.7. Here, Zarathushtra says:
At first glance, it seems obvious that Zarathushtra is saying that truth rewards us with good thinking. On further reflection, we might conclude that by "the attainments of good thinking", Zarathushtra is referring to wisdom. So a second meaning might be that truth rewards us with wisdom -- which makes good sense. But this phrase has yet another meaning, which you understand when you read it together with our old friend Y28 verse 5. In that verse, you may recall, Zarathushtra said that as we acquire [or attain] good thinking, we see truth. In other words, an attainment of good thinking is truth. Now, if we transplant this idea -- that an attainment of good thinking is truth -- into to verse 7, the third meaning becomes clear. If truth rewards us with the "attainments of good thinking" (Y28.7), and if one of the attainments of good thinking is truth itself (Y28.5), then in verse 7, the reward of truth is also truth itself 4. So that simple phrase in Yasna 28.7 which, at first glance has one clear meaning, actually has at least three.
We could derive even more meanings from these two verses, especially from "the way to the Lord" in Y28 verse 5, but this is enough to illustrate my point regarding Zarathushtra's multi-dimensioned technique, and the benefits of analysis and correlation as a method or means for studying the Gathas.
Before we leave these two verses, I would like to show you in tabulation form, the results of the analysis we have just gone through. It demonstrates the exquisite point-counter-point technique which Zarathushtra so often uses to express his ideas:
If you look at this tabulation, it becomes apparent that in these verses, truth and good thinking are both what generate the reward, and they are also the reward itself. In short, in these particular instances, truth and good thinking are both the means and the end. This to me was a breathtaking discovery. But how could I be sure that I was on the right track, that this is what Zarathushtra really meant. We turn to our system of checks and balances. We look for corroborative evidence. And we find it in abundance. Here is one example. In Y28 verse 10 Zarathushtra says:
If you read this verse carefully, it becomes apparent that truth and good thinking are both what makes a person deserve a reward, and also the reward itself. This verse corroborates the conclusion we arrived at earlier, that truth and good thinking are both the means and the end.
If I were to stop with this conclusion, you would have an incomplete idea of Zarathushtra's means and ends. If we were to collect all the verses which deal with means and ends in the Gathas, we would see that Zarathushtra's means and ends encompass, not just truth and good thinking, but other divine attributes of Ahura Mazda as well. We cannot take the time to correlate and analyse each of these verses. I'll simply mention a few examples, and let you analyse them yourself. In Y33.13 7, the reward for good thinking is good rule (which is the rule of truth and good thinking 8). In Y31.21 9 the reward for good spirit and actions is good thinking. In Y43.10 10, the reward for aramaiti (loving service to the rule of truth and good thinking 11) is truth. In 46.12 12 the reward for truth and aramaiti is good thinking, and so it goes.
By now, you are probably aware that I am addressing the subject of my talk, Of Means and Ends, at more than one level -- at the level of a method or means for studying the Gathas, and also at the level of Zarathushtra's philosophy regarding the ultimate goal of existence, and how we reach it. Let's move on and consider the use of inferences as a tool for studying the Gathas.
Many of Zarathushtra's most interesting and profound ideas are derived from inferences. But there is a danger in drawing inferences unless you are sure of the underlying facts. To illustrate: suppose, before you went to bed at night, you looked out of your window, and everything was clear and dry. And when you woke up the next morning, everything was covered with snow. Even though you did not actually see it snowing, it would be reasonable to infer that it snowed during the night. That's a very strong inference. What else could it have done. I suppose one could infer that a large plane flew over the neighborhood during the night, with a snow machine, creating artificial snow as they do on ski slopes, and blew it down on us. But that would be very unlikely. That would be a very weak, improbable inference to draw from the facts. But if you listened to the evening news and heard that a nearby ski resort had decided that this would be a great way to advertise, and if in addition, the weather report said that there had been no precipitation the night before, then that weak, improbable inference becomes a strong inference. In short, if an inference is to be worth anything, we first have to ascertain the underlying facts, with accuracy, and then draw inferences from those facts.
There are many wonderful themes or strands of thought in the Gathas that yield fascinating conclusions when you correlate them, draw inferences, and look for corroboration in the internal evidence of the Gathas themselves. But to use this method successfully, it is important to gather together all the verses that deal with a particular theme or idea, before you attempt to draw inferences, otherwise, your inferences may not be accurate.
To illustrate this method, let's look at Zarathushtra's use of the term "BEST" (Vahishta). If you gather together, or correlate, each use of the word "best" (vahishta) you will see that he uses this word primarily in five different ways. I will give you a few examples of each of the five ways, and put the corroborating evidence in footnotes, so you have the full picture.
First, Zarathushtra uses the word best, vahishta, to refer to Ahura Mazda, Himself, and also to His cardinal attributes, truth (asha), good thinking (vohu mano), and His benevolent spirit (spenta mainyu). Here are some examples. He says:
In the second group, Zarathushtra uses "best" (vahishta) to refer to God's Word, His teachings 13.
At first, it might seem that there is no connection between the use of the word "best" to describe God and his divine attributes, as we saw in the first group, and the use of "best" to describe His teachings. But we know from other parts of the Gathas, that His Word, His command, His teaching, is, the path of God's divine attributes 14. -- of which truth, good thinking, and a benevolent spirit are the cardinal attributes.
Third, Zarathushtra uses the word "best" (vahishta) to refer to words and actions which implement God's teachings 15. For example:
Fourth, Zarathushtra uses "best" (vahishta ) to refer to the reward for such actions 16.
"Best thinking" in this last verse is an abbreviation for the House of Best Thinking, or the House of Good Thinking, which is one of Zarathushtra's terms for paradise, or heaven 17.
Fifth, Zarathushtra uses the term "best" (vahishta) to refer to paradise. He does this in a number of ways: In Y32.15 and 16, he equates the "best" with being brought to the House of Good Thinking. Referring to evil priests and princes, he says:
In Y46 verse 10, Zarathushtra defines what is "best for existence" as "truth for the truth and the rule of good thinking."
In Y44 verse 2, Zarathushtra links the "best existence" to salvation 18. He asks Ahura Mazda:
And how does he define salvation? As truth and good thinking.
It is interesting that in the later Avesta, the "best existence" (ahu vahishta) is the term for the heaven above the endless lights 19. And in Persian, the word behesht, is used as a synonym for heaven. Behesht is a later linguistic form of the Avestan word vahishta. What inferences can we draw from this collection of verses. Once again, it may help to look at the facts in tabulation form:
I am aware of only one use of the word "best" (vahishta) in the Gathas, which does not appear to be linked to God and his divine values in one form or another. It appears in Y46 verse 6. I do not know if this inconsistency requires some particular insight which, as yet, is not clear to me, or if there is some other reason for it. It is one of the Gathic puzzles I have not yet figured out.
But setting aside, for a moment, this one inconsistent use of the term "best" (vahishta), what conclusions or inferences would it be reasonable to draw from this body of evidence. To me, one of the most startling conclusions is Zarathushtra's idea of the nature of heaven, or salvation. The above verses suggest, among other things, the conclusion that heaven, or paradise is that state of being that we achieve, when we attain completely, or when we perfect, God's divine values.
This brings us to the concept of perfection or completeness -- haurvatat. As with so many Gathic concepts, haurvatat is reflected in the material, as well as in the spiritual existences. Although the material and the spiritual existences intertwine in 1001 ways, in Zarathushtra's philosophy, I will limit my discussion of haurvatat today, to its reality in the world of mind and spirit.
Similarly, it is definitely incomplete to speak of haurvatat without also considering its companion concept ameretat. It too, like haurvatat is one of the ends or goals of existence in Zarathushtra's scheme of things. However, a consideration of ameretat would require us to address questions which in my view have not adequately been addressed by students of the Gathas to date 23. To do justice to ameretat would require consideration of a body of evidence, which would make this paper unmanageable. So in wrapping up this discussion of Zarathushtra's means and ends, I limit myself, to the spiritual aspect of haurvatat, and leave ameretat for another day.
Haurvatat has been translated as completeness, or perfection 24. If we collect and study all the verses in which this term haurvatat appears, some unusual things become apparent. The Gathas suggest that first, we achieve completeness or perfection through our own endeavors. Second, God gives it to us. And third, we give it to God 25. Here is the evidence:
First, we earn it:
Second, it is given to us by God.
Third, we are told that when we follow the path of God's divine values, we give completeness to God. Zarathushtra brings us to this conclusion in two steps. First, he suggests that our completeness and immortality are the best offerings that we can give to God. For example:
Then Zarathushtra takes us one step further. In Yasna 45 verse 10, he says:
We see the idea that we give completeness to God even more clearly in the famous Yasna 47 verse 1:
It would be reasonable to infer from this collection of verses, that by following the path of God's divine attributes, man not only achieves completeness at an individual level, but in so doing, both receives and gives completeness to God. In short, man is not complete without God, nor God without man.
To date, I have found no "smoking gun" corroborative evidence of this extraordinary conclusion, and we are now entering the realm of speculation 26. However, this conclusion -- that man is not complete without God, nor God without man -- is echoed in a universally acknowledged idea of Zarathushtra's that is implicit throughout the Gathas --- the idea of the in-dwelling God, the idea that the spirit of God lives within each person, the idea that there is -- not an equivalence -- but a unity of identity between man and God. If this is so, then although He is perfect and complete at His level, as long as He is a part of us too, it stands to reason that He cannot achieve ultimate completeness until we do too.
If this idea is true, it has a significant and compelling corollary. If God is not complete without man, nor man without God, then it needs must follow (as the night the day), that man cannot be complete unless his fellow man also achieves completeness 27.
In other words, it is not enough for each of us, individually, to attain perfection or completeness, by our own endeavors. We cannot achieve ultimate completeness, unless every other person 28 reaches this same state of perfection or completeness. If God is not complete without man nor man without God, the conclusion is compelling: man cannot be complete without his fellow man.
Once again, I have no direct corroborative evidence of this last conclusion, although there are verses in the Gathas that hint of this idea, and I have footnoted them for your information 29. However, the idea that man cannot achieve ultimate completeness unless his fellow man does also, finds an echo in the concept of frashokereti. In Zarathushtra's scheme of things, salvation, as he defines it (truth and good thinking, Y51:20) will ultimately be achieved by all. This of course raises an interesting question: Given the freedom to choose, how can we be certain that all the living will eventually choose what's right, and that frashokereti will be achieved? The answer to this question lies in another fascinating Gathic puzzle, but it is beyond the scope of this paper.
Getting back to the idea that man is not complete without his fellow man, when the idea first hit me, my immediate reaction was negative. When I come across ideas in the Gathas, I like to see how they play out in what we optimistically call the "real" world, -- the material world in which we live. In our world, we have some wonderful people, and we also have some real jerks -- megajerks and minor jerks. There was no way I could imagine my completeness having anything to do with theirs -- to say nothing of the unfairness of the situation. If sanctimonious little me makes all those tough choices, and attains perfection or completeness at an individual level, why should I be denied ultimate completeness with God just because some other jerk can't make it? But the more I thought about this idea, the more I appreciated its validity in a number of ways. I'll give you three examples.
First example: take a look at the savage hatreds that exist in our world. The Serbs with their ethnic cleansing, the communal riots in India, the troubles in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, the prejudices of people all over the world who hate because they perceive others as somehow "different" from themselves, for whatever reason, or because they are caught up in a cycle of revenge and recrimination. If each of these opposing factions were to come to the understanding that if everyone doesn't make it, no one makes it, the futility of what they are doing to each other might become clear to them.
A second example. If we cannot achieve ultimate completeness unless everyone achieves it, it becomes clear to us that we cannot be smug and self-satisfied with our own individual accomplishments, although they are a necessary first step. We have to use our spirits and minds to help each other make it. It sometimes seems that there is no limit to the problems that chain our souls -- crimes of violence, drugs, the greed for power and wealth that translates into junk bond scandals and destructive corporate take-overs, to name a few, all so detrimental to the human condition and the human spirit. But there is also no limit to the ingenuity of the human mind in breaking these chains for all of us, if we are motivated by the right spirit. This might be done by finding global solutions to global problems, or by a simple act of friendship, one-on-one.
A third example of the validity of this idea -- that we cannot achieve ultimate completeness unless everyone achieves it -- is that it requires us to separate the person from what he does. It suggests to me that I can hate and oppose the wrongful conduct of a person, but that I must not hate the person. That's tough. But if I can do it, it helps to break the cycle of hatred and recrimination that we so often get caught up in.
Do I believe that God is not complete without man, nor man without God? I don't know. I don't know that my mind is capable of comprehending what does or does not complete the Infinite. Do I believe that man cannot achieve ultimate completeness without his fellow man? I don't know. I can only say that after my initial skepticism and rejection, the idea strikes a responsive chord in me. And it has made a big difference in my thinking. But the real question is not what I believe. The question is: what did Zarathushtra believe.
You and I, we can agree or disagree about what Zarathushtra said, or what he meant. But fortunately for us, he has given us an excellent formula for winning out. I can do no better than to quote his own words. He said:
Dina G. McIntyre, is a Zoroastrian who was born in India and came to the United States to attend college. She received a bachelor of science degree from Carnegie Mellon University (then Carnegie Institute of Technology), and a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Law. Dina has practiced law in the United States since 1964. She has two sons who also are practicing lawyers. Prior to her retirement she was a member of the bar of all federal and state courts in Pennsylvania, as well as the United States Supreme Court. She has been a student of the teachings of Zarathushtra since the early 1980s, and was the Editor of a 12 lesson course on the Gathas called An Introduction to the Gathas of Zarathushtra, which she distributed world-wide in 1989-90. She has lectured on the teachings of Zarathushtra at various conferences and seminars in the United States, Canada, England, India, Venezuela, and at the World Parliament of Religions in 1993. Her writings on the teachings of Zarathushtra have appeared in various Zarathushti Journals and websites
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