Zoroastrianism, the People, Community and the Creed

  December 13, 2023   Read time 3 min
Zoroastrianism, the People, Community and the Creed
Zoroastrianism is the smallest of today’s world religions. There are an estimated 200,000 followers. This is a tiny minority compared with world religions such as Christianity and Islam, both of which have more than one billion followers. Yet Zoroastrians or, as many of them prefer to be called, Zarathushtis, are a proud and active group.

Zoroastrians are scattered all over the world. In Iran, the land where Zoroastrianism was born, only a small number of Zoroastrians remain. There are today about 30,000 Iranian Zoroastrians, or Zartoshtis. The largest concentration of Zoroastrians by far, about 70,000, live in India, where they are known as Parsis, a name that refl ects their Persian heritage. Another 5,000 live in India’s neighbor Pakistan. Zoroastrians have established themselves in many countries. There are formally organized Zoroastrian federations in Australia and New Zealand, in England, in Singapore, in Germany, and in Scandinavia among other places. North America has 20,000 Zoroastrian followers who belong to Zoroastrian organizations—in Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, California, Washington State, Arizona, and Toronto. In the rest of the world, mainly Dubai, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore, there are a further 30,000.

Zarathustra revealed his vision of the good religion in a series of psalms, or Gathas. The Gathas are personal expressions of Zarathustra’s belief in the supreme God Ahura Mazda and conversations with him. There are many other scriptures such as the Yasna, the liturgy of sacrifi ce; the Visperad, a minor liturgical text that contains praises to Zoroaster and other spiritual leaders, the Videvdad, (also called the Videvdat), which contains the Zoroastrian creation story as well as the framework of Zoroastrian law; the Yashts or hymns to angels and heroes; and the Khurda (or Khorda) Avesta (“Little Avesta”) which is essentially the Zorastrian book of common prayer. The bulk of the Zoroastrian beliefs and rituals are based on these and the Gathas.

There are three basic principles of Zoroastrianism. They are: One God—Zarathustra preached the existence of one supreme God, whose name, Ahura Mazda, means “Wise Lord.” Ahura Mazda is the creator of the universe and all things in it, including humankind. Zarathustra taught that Ahura Mazda is all-good and all-wise. He is the father of truth and goodness. He brings love and happiness and is to be loved and respected, never feared. The Twin Spirits: Truth and The Lie—According to Zoroastrian belief Ahura Mazda fi rst created consciousness and a knowledge of perfect good, which is the spirit of Truth, or Spenta Mainyu. He then created the material world. According to Zoroastrian cosmogony good and evil spirits have been in existence since the very beginning of created time, even before the creation of the spiritual and material worlds. Zarathustra called the Spirit of Evil “The Lie,” which later came to be called Angra Mainyu or Ahriman. The struggle between the Spirit of Truth and The Lie, which never agree, governs all human thought and activity. Free Will—Ahura Mazda does not command every aspect of human life. At the time of creation he gave humanity the gift of free will. As Zoroastrians, men and women must think and reason for themselves. They have the freedom to choose good over evil. Free will and intellect give them the choice to do the will of Ahura Mazda—to live according to the Spirit of Truth.

The goal of those who follow Zoroastrian Din—the Zoroastrian religion—is to live the truth according to the principles of Ahura Mazda. Religion, Zarathustra taught, was within the individual. Each person is called upon to live according to a simple creed: • Good Thoughts—Humata • Good Words—Hukhta • Good Deeds—Huvarshta Zoroastrianism is a happy and optimistic religion. Pessimism and despair are considered sins—they represent giving in to evil. Zoroastrians are taught to love life and to enjoy life’s pleasures. They are encouraged to work hard, to strive for excellence, to marry and raise families, and to be active members of the community. Enjoying festivals and social life is part of their philosophy, as is the duty to support one another in times of trouble. Zoroastrians believe that when they fi ght society’s ills, such as sickness, poverty, and ignorance, they are working together with Ahura Mazda toward creating a perfect world. They do not practice self-denial and asceticism—that is, suffering for the sake of religious purity. In Zoroastrianism to withdraw from the world is considered sinful. Instead Zoroastrians live fully in the world, enjoying all the good things in their earthly life.

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