Dear Friends and Fellow Zoroastrians:
It is important that I mention right at the beginning of my talk that I am not speaking in the capacity of a research scholar or an authority on the subject of the Zoroastrian Religion, but as a lay-person, informing the listeners about a movement, a philosophy and a world-conception which deeply reveres the teachings of Zarathushtra, and which has an approach to the subject which is different from the conventional approach. Where this difference lies, I shall try to elaborate and clarify in my talk, which has the sole purpose of providing information for listeners. It should in no way be regarded as trying to convince or convert.
One of the fundamental principles underlying this philosophy and movement is the principle of freedom, and accordingly this speaker wishes to leave listeners free to accept or reject what is being presented. This very principle of freedom also underlies the basic tenets of the Zoroastrian religion, so there we have the foundation on which to base a dialogue.
Over the years scholars, historians, theologists and archeologists have toiled, studied and done research in various academic fields in order to provide information for those interested in these subjects. In their writings, commentaries and interpretations, these scholars make valuable information accessible to those who don't have the opportunity to be scholars but who, nevertheless, have the desire for more knowledge. Much knowledge which in former times was remote and the domain of a chosen few is now open to all who wish to acquire it. Yet time and again we observe that these research scholars also differ in their views, in their interpretations, sometimes even on very basic ideas, depending on the school they represent or the mode of interpretation they use. Why is this so? No doubt the method of research is scientific, the theories well-founded and the data meticulously worked upon by the highly qualified and well-trained scholars, but this does not change the given situation that external science can have recourse only to data of the material world. Scholars and scientists must rely on experimental results and documentation, which is not always available to lay inquirers.
Great truths of the past ages, spiritually significant events, had their physical-material working on the earthly plane, and these facts were documented by the seers and the scribes of those times. In later times, these truths have to be imparted in a form suitable for the epoch in which they are communicated. In our present epoch, the scientific one, the form of communication is scientific too, hence material.
In ancient times, when scientific thinking and intellectual activity, through which we can perceive the realities of the physical-material world, were not yet consolidated to such a degree as is the case in our times, there lived clairvoyants who could perceive, and thereby had direct access to, the realities of the supersensible and the spiritual worlds. Today in many circles one cannot even mention such things any more, because of a general tendency to deny the existence of a world other than the one which can be perceived by the senses. But even if individuals of the present times do not possess the gift of clairvoyance, the realm of pure thought has been proven to act as an organ of perception for realities which transcend the momentary and the visible. The proof of this is communicated to us by the seers.
At the turn of the 19th to the 20th century there lived an Austrian by the name of Rudolf Steiner. He was gifted with the rare combination of clairvoyance and highly developed scientific thinking. These faculties, combined with his love for humanity, enabled him to develop and establish a philosophy and Weltanschauung---(world conception) which he called Anthroposophy, the wisdom of the human being. Later he founded the Anthroposophical Society which has members from all walks of life in all parts of the world.
Dr. Steiner had a close connection to, and was influenced by, the teachings of Zarathushtra. These teachings are in harmony with the ideas of Anthroposophy, the spiritual science which Steiner inaugurated. According to Steiner, the evolution of humanity is directly linked with the development of human consciousness. The great initiates who have brought decisive impulses of spiritual and cultural renewal to their people and their times have the task on one hand to lead them and give them guidance, and on the other hand to form a link in general cultural and spiritual development over the ages.
Zarathushtra was the great initiate and spiritual leader of his people for his time. Every spiritual stream in the world has its particular mission. These streams are not isolated and are separated only during certain epochs; then they merge and mutually nourish each other. But conceptions of the world and life do not move through the air as pure abstractions. They are borne by Beings, by Individualities. When a system of thought comes into existence for the first time it must be presented by an Individuality, and when these spiritual streams unite and influence each other, something definite must also happen in the Individualities who are the bearers of the world-conceptions in question.
It was the Being of Zarathushtra, his Individuality, which was destined to receive the spiritual and cultural impulses in ancient Persia and impart it to the people of his times and of times to come. So lofty was the stage of development of Zarathushtra, that he could make provision in advance for the streams of culture which were to follow.
Occult research has shown how this has been possible. In order to understand and accept what one reads in the field of occult research, it is necessary to acquaint oneself with certain theories, one of them being the theory of reincarnation. Great initiates who have lived on earth in various epochs have had their pupils carry on their work in a different form in a later age because they could carry this knowledge with them from life to death into rebirth. This would have to be explained to those who do not believe in reincarnation.
A certain religion or a particular school of philosophy finds a renaissance in another epoch in a different part of the world and reappears in a metamorphosed form, as a new impulse. But when one follows the stream of thought and comes to the source, one observes that it is fundamentally the same spiritual impulse now in a new form. One can explain this phenomenon at various levels, one of them being from the point of view of the theory of reincarnation, that great souls closely connected to the founder of a religion or a philosophy, in later incarnations bring back the spiritual impulse, at a later period in another part of the world, in a form suitable for the prevailing circumstances.
It is this renewal which saves the religion or philosophy from dying out, or even worse, from hardening into a set of laws and dry theories which have no relevance to the life and times of present -day human beings striving for self -knowledge and an understanding of the world. This renewal further saves the religion or philosophy from gross misinterpretation at the hands of unenlightened people. Here again, freedom has to be exercised. Everyone encountering a new, or renewed, religious teaching must evaluate it by sound judgement and a feeling for truth, before he or she can believe in it and be nourished by it.
Anthroposophy as a spiritual science helps contemporary people to become aware of the spiritual side of earthly events in a language easily understood by means of pure reason and reflection.
For one born of Zoroastrian parents, basic knowledge of the Good Religion is acquired by means of stories, books, rituals and ceremonies. It is the bond of religious tradition, strengthened through active participation in religious ceremonies and prayers, that is maintained within the family and handed down from generation to generation. Yet time and again we see that many a pious follower of the Good Religion reaches a stage in his or her life when doubt and questioning begin to cloud the mind.
One reason that can be given for this attitude is that practical understanding of the religion and its impact on daily living is at times not strong enough to connect the follower of the religion to his or her general activity in daily life. There are fundamental principles of the religion which tend to remain only ideas and ideals, because practical life in modern times has changed to such a degree that it cannot cope with the ideals. The idea fails to become reality. Let us take an example: agriculture. It was Zarathushtra who showed the people of his times that the earth, if left barren and untended, would fall prey to the dark forces. For this reason agriculture, the culture of cultivating the earth so that it would become a bearer of the corn and the fruit which would grow by means of the light of the life-giving sun, the rain and the air, became the principle culture of our forefathers.
In this manner, the four elements combined to provide the human being with nourishment which would sustain him and help him to fight the good fight against the dark forces as represented by Ahriman. Through the intake of this food, the human being imbibes also the forces of the sun which free in him the light which vitalizes the knowledge and carries it into human life through right activity. But in our increasingly materialistic world, which is being dominated by Ahriman to an alarming degree, even agriculture has been adversely affected. Artificial chemical fertilizers, poisonous insecticides and lack of understanding of the advantages of crop rotation
have damaged the living organism that is earth. Anthroposophy has recognized the working of Ahriman also in this sphere according to Zarathushtra's teachings and a new form of agriculture, bio-dynamic agriculture, has been developed which enables the farmer to cultivate the earth and grow corn and fruit without the dependence on destructive methods which the farming industry in present times so willingly employs. The idea is re-humanization in all spheres of active life by means of which the sun-being can assert itself through the good deeds of consciousness. In this manner the power and influence of Ahriman recedes into the background.
Materialism, which kills all religious belief and feeling and which dehumanizes the human being, may not disappear completely, but can be dealt with or balanced out in this manner. Materialism is a necessity in modern times; it cannot be overlooked nor can it be denied. It is excessive materialism which binds and chains the human being to the domain of the Ahriman forces. By harnessing this force and using it in the interest of spiritual progress, one can overcome its negative qualities and thereby free oneself. The Zarathushtrian teaching stresses the revitalizing and renewing of the earth through righteous activity. It is the will which frees us to choose the Good, even though Ahriman appears in us and around us in the most varied forms imaginable, increasing his influence with the passage of time.
Steiner stresses the need of modern human beings not to take this ethical and cosmic battle as an abstract concept, but to recognize its reality through wakefulness, through consciousness. Right consciousness is the best weapon against Ahriman. It is this very wakeful consciousness which has the freedom to choose between the light forces, rather than choosing the narrow confines of hardened intellect which fail to transcend the world of the senses in all its limitations. Thus the ancient religion of Zarathushtra has to be experienced anew and made relevant for all aspects of human life on earth.
Another realm which is not sufficiently taken into consideration in our lives is the realm of sound. When a Zoroastrian says his daily prayers and understands what he prays, he can consider himself fortunate for having had the possibility to learn the language of our prayers. The force of thought behind the prayer intensifies the effect.
But the power of sound alone, when the prayers are recited correctly has an effect too, because the use of the consonants and the vowels and their combination within the words helps us to connect ourselves with the positive aspects of the stars and the planets, thereby weakening the negative aspects. This science of understanding the workings of the spoken word helps us to use the word as a means of healing education. What is taught is very important, but even more important is the manner in which it is taught. Within the time given to me to speak on the subject today, I have tried to make my listeners aware of one approach to our religion, without going into details of the actual results such a method of investigation delivers.
You will agree with me when I say that our religion can be understood and practiced on many levels, depending upon the individual; it is a state of mind. I am sure there are no two Zoroastrians who have an identical understanding of the good religion and its practice, but that each one strives to the best of his efforts and abilities to realize in daily life by one's actions, what one thinks and feels, so that one's thoughts, words and deeds should be good and in harmony with the environment.
This talk was given by Aban Bana to Vohuman.org, a Zoroastrian Educational Institute.