Zoroastrian Mysticism and Illumination
Dr. Daryoush Jahanian
Mysticism is the science of discovery of truth and recognition of God (1) (2) There are two ways of fulfilling this goal, one through illumination of the mind and reason, the other, by the means of spiritual refinement of vices and attainment of virtues that lead one to the state of illumination. The impetus for treading this path is not reward of heaven or hell, but merely the love of God. The goal is to envision the Beloved and unite with Him as Saadi spells out: (3).
Man can reach the point
There is no mediation or ceremony in this path; the only line of communication with God is Love.
Mystical words are often analogical and allegorical and in such cases should not be inferred in physical and mental vocabulary; rather, they must be construed in spiritual and abstract terms with a wide range of connotations. For example, ‘fire’ may denote fire of love, mind, truth and divine light. An ordinary poem may have a profound meaning and broad range of interpretation: (3)
Every thread divided, then united by a knot
It refers to a restored friendship that still carries indignation (the knot) (4).
Zarathushtra in the Gathas, alludes to the divine mystic lore (Ys.48.3) (5) (6) (7) and longs for the acquisition of divine knowledge (Ys.50.9). He teaches that the attainment of wholeness and immortality leads one to the illumination whereby God is realized (Ys.34.11). Relation between man and God is based on love (Ys.46.2, 44.1). One should review the words of Zarathushtra repeatedly to perceive the true love of man for his God: "I am longing for your vision and communion (Ys.33.6), come to me in person and in sight (Ys.33.7) rise within me (Ys.33.1)" (8)
One should note that the mysticism of the Gathas is devoid of asceticism and hermitage since in practical life, God is realized by service to humanity and active participation in the promotion of the living world:
But engagement in this process is by willingness and freedom of choice since even the Divine Dominion is a chosen one. (Ys.51.1). (8)
During the life of nations, various concepts have been developed which over the generations, have been expanded. They are rooted in the national and psychological aspects of life. Examples are concepts of mind reading in India and illumination of mind in Iran, but the difference is that the latter like many Persian mystical concepts stems from the Gathas of Zarathushtra. Illumination is a power of mind that can be attained through meditation (Ys.43.15) and profound concentration, but it may not be attainable by everyone. Zarathushtra defines it in the best term as "vision through the mind’s eye, in Ys. 45.8. It can also be viewed as "inner conception" (9) Hatef, an eighteenth century Persian poet in his famous mystical poetry, reflects on illumination when he says:
Look through the heart’s eyes, to see Existence
Sohravardi, in this context contends "After I have made my discoveries through illumination, I search form reasons to explain them, and even if those reasons were discounted, I have no doubt about the accuracy of my findings." (9)
In the teachings of Zarathushtra, illumination can be attained through mental strength and spiritual excellence; in this set up, fire is the means of illumination for the discovery of God, which in the Persian mysticism, is the fire of love. In the Gathas, although the impetus is love, fire indicates the bright mind whereby God is realized. Here, it is imperative to clarify Ys. 29.8 by quoting Jafarey: (10) "In the west (Abrahamic religions), God discovers man and appoints him prophet; in the east (Zoroastrianism and Buddhism), it is man who discovers God and Truth," and in Ys.29.8, it is Zarathushtra who through Vohu Manah (bright mind) realizes God. This is quite contrary to the efforts of several authors who have presented this Yasna as Ahura Mazda appointing Zarathushtra as prophet. Even Ys. 44.11 which often has been translated as Zarathushtra having been chosen as the first teacher, literally means the prophet recognizes God first and denies others. (5) Only in Ys. 31.2 the prophet declares that he as a teacher is ordained (5) or known (9) by the Wise Lord to teach the hitherto unheard words (Ys.31.1)
‘Fiery Test’ is a spiritual refinement process by which the righteous and wrongful are differentiated, (11) and those who pass have attained wisdom, strength and serenity and belong to God (Ys.30.7) (8). This is very hard undertaking in which one requires laborious work, tolerance and perseverance. As in alchemy, gold stone is purified in the oven, in the words of Shams: (12) "the lover too should reside in the fire of oven, as gold." (13). The process is called by Zarathushtra the ‘Fiery Testy’ in which vices are refined and virtues attained as a ‘molten metal’.
(1) Maollen, M., Persian Mysticism, Pardis, Persian Paper ,No.70, Vol.2, p 7.
(2) Farrokh, R.H., Sufism and Mysticism, Rahavard Persian Magazine, No. 30, p. 24, 1993.
(3) Translation by D. Jahanian.
(4) Mirabadi of Washington University, Department of Persian Literature, offers another version: In the philosophy of mysticism, the follower is looking for this kind of indignation because this is a process of knowing more about the creator of Love, God. This indignation is not animosity between beloved and lover, actually it is a pleasure for the follower to get closer to his Deity." In mystical terms when a severed thread is united by a knot, the two ends come closer together.
(5) Taraporewala, I. S., The Religion of Zarathushtra.
(6) Bode, F. A., Songs of Zarathushtra
(7) Azargoshasb, F. Gathas, The Songs of Zarathushtra, (in Persian).
(8) Jafarey, Ali A., Gathas, Our Guide.
(9) Vahidi, H. A Research in Zoroastrian Culture (in Persian).
(10) Jafarey, Ali A. Zoroastrianism and its Influence in Other Religions, Lecture in Kansas City, November 1990.
(11) Here, fire represents the Divine Wisdom who differentiates the two groups and as the means of justice determines their rewards by delivering Asha (truth and justice).
(12) Shams Tabrizi, Persian poet.
(13) Razi, H., Ghotbeddin Ashkevari, bi-monthly ‘Fravahar’, No. 334, (in Persian)
Reproduced with permission from USHAO, Nov-Dec 2001 issue.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, January 30, 2002.