Zoroaster / Zarathustra (c 550-523 BCE) was a prophet and spiritual teacher who founded the religion of Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster was a religious reformer teaching a monotheistic religion based on choosing between light and darkness / truth and falsehood.
Zoroaster was born in Northeast Iran, close to the border of modern day Afghanistan (Old Persian Empire). His exact birth place is uncertain and there is considerable uncertainty about the time period in which he lived. He is know to have spoken an old Iranian language (Avestan – closely related to Vedic Sanskrit)
Little his known about his early life, though his name Zoroaster is derived from the ancient translation of ‘camels’.
Zoroaster was born into a priestly caste who dominated the religious and social practices of the day. The religion which Zoroaster was born into was loosely based on a form of Hinduism. It it known that the religious practises of the time involved animal sacrifices and there were rigid caste structures. There was also significant use of intoxicants, such as the Haoma plant. The religion was polytheist, with a variety of gods and powerful beings worshipped.
When Zoroaster was thirty years old, he had a startling religious experience whilst performing a purification rite. This experience transformed his spiritual and world view, and as a consequence he began to teach a new spiritual philosophy.
Firstly Zoroaster taught the belief in one Creator / One God, and rejected the worship of some deities, (Devas) which Zoroaster considered were harmful because they delighted in conflict and war. Zoroaster taught that life was a continuous choice between good and evil, and people must be careful to choose the right path. This fight between good and evil can also be described as a mental struggle between aša (truth) and druj (lie).
“In the beginning there were two primal spirits,
Twins spontaneously active,
These are the Good and the Evil, in thought, and in word, and in deed.”
- Ahunuvaiti Gatha; Yasna 30, 3.
Zoroaster taught that his followers must always seek to adhere to the truth, and choose in thought, word and action that which helps the divine force in the world. Zoroaster believed that it is this continual acceptance of the right path, which brings us closer to God and helps us to become co-workers of Ahura Mazda (term for God) in creating a better world.
“He who upholds Truth with all the might of his power,
He who upholds Truth the utmost in his word and deed,
He, indeed, is Thy most valued helper, O Mazda Ahura!”
- Ahunuvaiti Gatha; Yasna 31, 22.
Zoroaster also rejected the use of drugs and animal sacrifice. Zoroaster also wanted to break down caste barriers and reduce the power of the priestly caste over the common people. Zoroaster believed that religious practises had become too formalised and were more about outer show than inner significance. Zoroaster taught his followers to follow quiet spiritual introspection
“A reflective, contented mind is the best possession.”
- Ushtavaiti Gatha; Yasna 43, 15.
Zoroaster believed everyone was equal before God. However, his radical philosophy and challenge to the existing social and religious system, made him unpopular and he found that he had to leave his place of home and so moved to the land of Bactria, where King Vishtaspa ruled.
King Vishtaspa and his queen, Hutosa admire the philosophy of Zoroaster and decided to accept his ideas, making it the official religion of their kingdom.
Zoroaster is credited with writing the Yasna Haptanghaiti and Gathas; these are hymns / sacred texts which are the philosophical core of Zoroastrianism.
The religious ideas of Zoroastianism spread to Western Iran and it became a well-established religion.
The philosophy of Zoroastianism had an important influence in ancient Greece and Judaism. Greek philosophers took inspiration from Zoroaster. Greek and Roman writers also attributed to Zoroaster – the powers of ‘magic’ and ‘astrology’. But, these works were primarily what Greek and Romans (and later Christians) imagined the doctrines of Zoroastrianism to be.
Although Zoroaster is not specifically mentioned in the Qu’ran, he is considered a prophet and founder of the Zoroastrianism religion, and worthy of respect. Ahmadi Muslims view Zoroaster as a Prophet of God and describe the expressions of Ahura Mazda, the God of goodness and Ahraman.
Zoroaster also appears in Manichaeism and the Bahai Fath as a prophet and manifestation of God.