Zarathushtra - (Zoroaster)






Volume 3






Spenta Mainyu

Dr. Ali A. Jafarey


Enter Spenta Mainyu.

As long as the simple Zoroastrian believed in God, Hormazd, and his adversary the evil one, Ahriman, things went without spenta mainyu. The more learned said that it was an appellation of Hormazd. And long before them, in the good old days of the Vendidad, Ahura Mazda, the most spenta mainyu, had anghra mainyu as his opponent. According to the Zurvanites, who were perhaps as old as the Achaemenians in the 6th century BC, and as young as the authors of Bundahishn and Vichitakiha-i Zatsparam in the 9th century AD, good and evil were twins begotten by Zurvan Akarna, Boundless Time. So the simple Zoroastrian was, more or less, following tradition.

But with the advent of Zoroastrian studies, led and encouraged by western scholars, a change set in. Studies of the Gathas and the later Avesta revealed that spenta mainyu was referred to as an entity. And since then, almost all Zoroastrians and those who are well acquainted with the Zarathushtrian religion know the term spenta mainyu. Because the Gathas and the later Avesta were translated into English and other European languages mostly by Christian scholars who had the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit in mind, the term has conventionally come to mean the Holy Spirit. The general notion about it is that it has an adversary, Anghra Mainyu, the evil spirit. The two are locked in a pitched life-and-death combat. The victory, of course, will go to the Holy Spirit.



Spenta is derived by many philologists from an Avestan/Sanskrit root spi/svi, meaning "to expand, swell, increase." Many, therefore, render it as "incremental." The Pahlavi rendering of afzunik, meaning "increasing," fully supports the translation. This is further strengthened by the later renderings mahattama (greatest), gurutama (most important), and particularly, vriddhi

(increasing) in Sanskrit, and afzuni in Persian. There are other scholars who prefer to derive it from spit/svit, to be bright, to be white, and connect it with holiness. The renderings by most of these scholars range between beneficent, bounteous, bountiful, incremental, holy and virtuous. Each scholar has reasons for his/her rendering. While scholars have reason to differ, the familiar and convenient "holy" has been taken for granted to be the meaning so much so that fundamental Iranians, in their drive to purge Persian of all Arabic words, have replaced moghaddas with sepanta! "Holy" is in vogue, both with scholars and the laity.

I accept the traditional meaning on philological and contextual grounds. I render it as "progressive, promoting, promoter." As we shall see, it reflects the Gathic spirit better. The Gathas emphatically advocate progress and advancement.

Mainyu is, as far as I know, derived by every scholar from man, meaning "to think, contemplate, meditate." Although many know that yu is an agentive and instrumental suffix, none has bothered to translate it as "an instrument, a way, a mode of thinking," and therefore "mind, mentality." A few instances in the Gathas show that mainyu and manah are interchangeable (Y33.6, Y34.2). Pahlavi and Persian do not help much because they have the same word as menok and minu except for a few times when menishn, thinking, has been used. But one can say that they did see its connection with "mind" and "mental." Sanskrit renderings of adrsyah, paralokih, even manasah (mental), and other synonyms point towards an "invisible, outer" entity. Whatever the earlier renderings, the scholars have taken the by-now-popular translation of "spirit" as quite suitable to their interpretation of a perpetual war between the so-called twin spirits. It suits them better. A departure may well topple the dramatic dualistic theory.

Many present Ahura Mazda as Spenta Mainyu and therefore elevate Anhra Mainyu to make him an adversary of the God of Good, and thus continue to write on the continuous fight between the two. As a result, Zoroastrians have been characterized by many as the people who believe in dualism.

As already pointed out, there was a time when the Zoroastrians believed in this dualistic "theology". The Vendidad tells us this and so do the writings written by and/or ascribed to the Sassanians and to those who followed them. New light on the Gathas and the later Avesta has changed views among intellectuals. But we see again a recession, because with the coming into prominence of a new class of Zoroastrian scholars with their academic roots in the dualistic scholarship of the later Avesta, the theory of the dualism of Ahura Mazda and His adversary is making a reappearance in certain quarters.


Gathic Picture.

The Gathas provide us with an entirely different picture: The term "spenta mainyu" has been used fifteen times in the Gathas (Y28.1, Y33.12, Y43.2, 3, 6, 16, Y44.7, Y45.6, Y47.1-6, Y51.7) and twice in Haptanhaiti, (Y36.1-2), a later text composed in the Gathic dialect by someone other than Zarathushtra. In these writings, there is no trace of any adversary of God, or any struggle, combat, battle, or war between the so-called good and evil forces at the divine level. The Gathas do not mention anhra mainyu at all. In other words, anhra mainyu does not exist as a compound word, a formalized term, in any of the texts in the Gathic dialect -- not in the five Gathas (composed by Zarathushtra), nor in Sarosh Hadokht (Y56), Fshusho Manthra (Y58), Fravarti (Y11.17 to Y13.3), and Yenghe Hataam! The dualism of "Good and Evil," highly dramatized in the later Avesta, is simply not related to the divine spenta mainyu. That dualism is a separate subject of human behavior on this earthly life and lies outside the scope of this article.


Subtle Faculty.

Let us know first where spenta, mainyu, spenta mainyu, and akin words occur in the Gathas.

Spenta (alone) Y29.7, Y34.2, Y43.3-5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, Y44.2, Y45.11, Y46.9, Y47.3-4, Y48.3,7, Y51.16, 21.
Mainyu (alone) Y30.3-5, Y31.3, 7, 12, 21, Y33.9, Y44.2, Y45.2, Y53.7.
Spenta Mainyu Y43.6, Y44.7, Y45.6, Y47.1, 5, 6.
Spenishta Mainyu Y33.12, Y43.2, Y51.7.
Mainyu vohu Y34.2
Mainyu spenta Y28.1.
Mainyu spenishta Y30.5, Y43.16.
Manyu Y28.11, Y31.9, Y32.9, Y44.11, Y45.8.
Manyu vahishta Y33.6
Manyu spenishta Y47.2.

The above instances concern God, man, both, and occasionally aramaiti (serenity). But, as already said, spenta mainyu is related directly or indirectly, to God. One thing is evident that while Ahura Mazda is the establisher/creator/parent of vohu manah (good mind), asha (righteousness), Khshathra (dominion), and aramaiti (serenity), and grants haurvatat (wholeness), and ameretat (immortality) to the person who truly observes these principles, spenta mainyu and atar (fire) belong to Ahura Mazda. They are so subtly abstract that they are not a separate entity to be established or created. They are two divine faculties, thinking and illuminating.

Should one take all these instances one by one and at the same time take into consideration the adjoining stanzas as well as the relative song, one would realize that the Gathas depict spenta mainyu as the subtle divine faculty of the continuous creation and expansion plan of Ahura Mazda. Zarathushtra, in his quest for truth, discovers that it is the "spenta mainyu" aspect of the Supreme Being that fashioned the joy-bringing world (Y47.3). Above all, it was through spenishta mainyu that God "created the wondrous wisdom of good mind by means of righteousness." (Y43.2 Jafarey translation). In fact the entire quest enlightens Zarathushtra to realize that God is not simply spenta but spenishta the most progressive (Y43.4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15). It made him realize his own self (Y43.7) and know that the purpose of his acquiring knowledge was in quest of righteousness.(Y43.9).

The progressive mentality plays a vital part in human progress. One may be "a person of very small means, a person of great strength" but if he is righteous, he has been promised the best. (Y47.4-5). God grants "good to both these parties through the progressive mentality by means of fire (enlightenment) because with the growth of serenity and righteousness, it shall convert many a seeker." (Y47.6, Jafarey translation). "He receives the best from the most progressive mentality who speaks words of good mind with his tongue and performs, with his own hands, deeds of serenity."(Y47.2 Jafarey translation). Wholeness and immortality are "the refreshing splendid goals achieved through the best mind." (Y33.8-9, Jafarey translation). "One whose soul is in accord with righteousness is a progressive man. (Y34.2). "The person who seeks the best life and prospers through righteousness is a great promoter and a treasure for all (Y44.2 Jafarey translation). "One knowing the divine teachings is progressive and wise like the Wise One. (Y48.3 Jafarey translation). A progressive person advocates putting down fury and checking violence, and wishes to strengthen the promotion of good mentality's actions. (Y48.7).

That is why Zarathushtra too "chooses for himself spenishta mainyu, the most progressive mentality of God, so that a new life is breathed into the physical body, serenity prevails throughout the divine dominion" (Y43.16), and wholeness and immortality are achieved (Y47.1). It is the progressive mentality that separates the two parties of mankind on earth -- the righteous who promote their world and the wrongful who retard their living (Y47.5). It is again the progressive mentality which "enlightens" the wrongful to seek truth and ultimately become righteous (Y47.6).

This enlightenment is called fire, symbol of light, warmth, and energy, by the Gathas (Y46.7) and Haptanhaiti (Y36.1,3) It is this light, warmth, this energy that Zarathushtra prays that every benevolent person will have. He sings:

"Moreover, may the best of blessings come to the person who gives blessings to others. Wise One, may his knowledge grow throughout the days of his long life of joy through Your most progressive mentality, the mentality through which You created the wondrous wisdom of good mind by means of righteousness."
(Y43.2, Jafarey translation).

Asho Zarathushtra wants every person to be godlike, choose spenta mainyu, the enlightening light, the invigorating warmth, and the vitalizing energy, rather the intuitive mind to be creative, a promoter, and progressive in our joy-bringing world. Spenta mainyu is, the Gathas tell us, the guiding inspiration, the enlightening intuition, the constructive promotion in our good lives. It is the divine spark in us. Let us maintain and brighten it more. Let us, like Asho Zarathushtra, choose for ourselves spenta mainyu to make our mission of propagating manthra (the thought-provoking message of the divine Manthran, Zarathushtra) prevail in the "sun-bathed" dominion of God! Let us join him in a meditative prayer from the Gathas:

"Wise Lord, rise within me, grant me courage through serenity, good gifts of prayers through the most progressive mentality, full vigor through righteousness, and felicity through good mind.

To support me, wide-watching Lord, reveal to me the force of Your sovereignty, the blessings of good mind. Show me through progressive serenity, righteous conceptions.

Now as a dedication, I Zarathushtra offer to the Wise One the very life-breath of myself and the first fruits of my good mind, deeds, and words, gained through righteousness, with my ear to the divine voice; in fact, my whole strength."
(Y33.12-14, Jafarey translation).

Ali A. Jafarey, 1989.

Dr. A. A. Jafarey, studied Avesta and Pahlavi with Dr. Manek Pithawalla, Principle of the Parsi High School in Karachi, and later with Dastur Dr. M.N. Dhalla, High Priest of Pakistan, under whom he also studied the Gathas. Dr. Jafarey has a Doctorate in Persian Literature from the University of Karachi, worked briefly for Aramco in Saudi Arabia, then founded his own business in Tehran offering translation services to commercial ventures. He worked for 17 years in the Ministry of Culture and Arts in Tehran, where part of his duties involved the supervision of doctoral students in Persian Literature at the University of Tehran. Since 1963 he has served as a Board Member and Trustee of the Ancient Iranian Cultural Society, first in Tehran and now in Los Angeles. He has written 11 books in Persian and English on the Zarathushtrian religion, and in 1981 published a translation of the Gathas in Persian. An English translation, The Gathas, Our Guide, Ushta Publications P.O. Box 2160, Cypress CA 90630 is now available.


Sketches of Ahura Mazda.

(Quotations from the Gathas)
(Insler translation).


"...the Lord, beneficent through truth, virtuous and knowing..."


" Thou, Wise Lord,
instruct me
through the eloquence befitting Thy spirit..."


"...this Zarathushtra chooses
that very spirit of Thine
which is the most virtuous of all, Wise One."


"Yes, I have already realized Thee
to be virtuous
when he
[spenta mainyu]
attended me with good thinking..."


"...Thou, the Wise One, hast come into the world
with Thy virtuous spirit and
with the rule of good thinking..."


"...May the Wise Lord listen,
in Whose glory I have taken counsel
with good thinking...."


"...The most Mighty One,
the truthful Lord,
virtuous in His action..."


"...the Wise One
who offers support (to us)."



Selections from the Gathas.

(Insler translation).


"The priest who is just
in harmony with truth
is the offspring
from the best spirit..."


"...the one who has allied his conception with good thinking.
Any such person of piety
is of the (same) good lineage
with truth and all those (other forces) existing under Thy rule, Lord."


"The Wise Lord...shall give the
permanence of good thinking's alliance
to him, the one who is
His ally
in spirit and actions."


"Thou art the
virtuous Father of this spirit..."


"Moreover, (I wish) for this person
the best of all things...
to be understanding all his days... understanding
through Thy most virtuous spirit,
Wise One..."


"...the deceitful
are not able to deflect
those who are properly truthful from this virtuous spirit..."



Editor's Note: Some Evidence.


The concept of the benevolent spirit1 (spenta mainyu) in the Gathas is a puzzle wrapped in a mystery.

If we were to study all of the instances in which Zarathushtra refers to the benevolent spirit in the Gathas at close range, one by one, they might at first seem like a contradictory jumble.

But if you step back a few paces and study them as you would a fine painting, with an overview perspective, some interesting conclusions begin to emerge.

The first is that in the Gathas the benevolent spirit operates at more than one level -- in all aspects of existence,2 in both man and God.

Part of the confusion as to the nature and identity of the benevolent spirit is generated by the fact that Zarathushtra, on occasion, refers to him as an entity,3 the way he refers to truth and good thinking as entities.4 In my view this was, in part, Zarathushtra's way of conceptualizing the nature of the Wise Lord, Ahura Mazda.

That spenta mainyu, the benevolent spirit, is a part of the Wise Lord, and operates at the divine level cannot, I think, be doubted. The Gathas are full of instances in which he is so identified.5

But what I find particularly interesting is that scattered throughout the Gathas, amidst all the abstract ideas and sophisticated thinking, are descriptive references to the benevolent spirit, which when brought together create the following portrait. It

  • created life6
  • is benevolent,7
  • is supportive,8
  • is a kindred spirit with the loving man,9
  • attends with good thinking,10
  • gives understanding,11
  • is a "spirit of great determination",12
  • motivated the Wise Lord to create truth and good thinking13 which among other things, are the means for achieving the desired end,
  • chose the truth,14 the source of its virtue being truth,15 and
  • motivated the creation of the material world16 which is the arena for spiritual growth -- one of the many instances of subtle complementation17 in the Gathas.

In the vernacular of the undergraduate student, the benevolent spirit provides us with both lecture and lab, leaving it to us to earn the grade.

It would be reasonable to infer from the above evidence, that the benevolent spirit represents love, support, a built-in guidance system, assisting us to quest for truth and meet the exigencies of life by attending with good thinking.

With his usual uncanny knack for hitting the nail on the head, Dr. Insler suggests that in the Gathic scheme of things, the benevolent spirit represents the source of benevolent instincts and feelings (love), and is the force which motivates God to create truth and good thinking to give us a means of finding happiness, and salvation from ignorance, violence and cruelty.

I had often wondered where, in Zarathushtra's pantheon of immortals the concept of love belonged. To see it in spenta mainyu did not occur to me before I read Dr. Insler's essay. But a careful review of the evidence, I think, bears him out.

And if in addition the benevolent spirit "attends with good thinking", it would be reasonable to infer that it is also the source of wisdom. But whether we view it as motivating the creation of good thinking, or being the source of good thinking, it seems clear to me that the benevolent spirit and good thinking are two parts of the same whole, each containing within itself some aspects of the other.

In my view, the benevolent spirit and the other immortal forces are a part of the essence of what is God -- life, love, wisdom, truth, pure goodness, an active, determined agent (friend and ally) in our mutual efforts to bring about the desired end.

It is perhaps an expression of Zarathushtra's profound insight that he sees these forces in man18 as well as in God, conveying in this subtle way his understanding of the relationship between the two, and of the nature of God and man.

Dina G. McIntyre,
The Editor.


  1. Not being a linguist, I am not competent to comment on whether mainyu means spirit or mentality. However, with due respect for my friend Dr. Jafarey, from a purely logical point of view, it seems to me that Zarathushtra must have had a reason for identifying spenta mainyu and vohu mano as two separate immortals in conceptualizing what he was trying to convey. I am therefore not persuaded that mainyu means mentality.
  2. "Yes, I shall speak of the two fundamental spirits of existence, of which the virtuous one would have thus spoken to the evil one: 'Neither our thoughts nor teachings nor intentions, neither our preferences nor words, neither our actions nor conceptions nor our souls are in accord.' " Y45.2

    "Yes, there are two fundamental spirits, twins which are renowned to be in conflict. In thought and in word, in action, they are two: the good and the bad..." Y30.3.

    In his discussion on Y30, Insler has this to say:

    "Existence is permeated by two motivating spirits which stand in total opposition to one another. Through their conflicting interests they have taken their stand at the opposite poles of good and evil in thought, word and action,...Cutting across all modes of existence with their opposing values, these pervasive spirits have forced mankind, by imposing these contrary categories upon all dimensions of life, to equally make a decisive choice with regard to its alliance with the essence of good or with the essence of evil, which, so to say, exist in the nature of things..." Insler, The Gathas of Zarathushtra, page 160.

  3. See for example Y43 in which Song Zarathushtra says with poetic repetition,

    "...I have already realized Thee to be virtuous, Wise Lord, when he [referring to spenta mainyu] attended me with good thinking..." Y43.5,7,9,11,13,15.
  4. In Y29, for example, the entities referred to are the Wise Lord (Ahura Mazda), truth, good thinking, and the benevolent spirit.
  5. Y28.11, Y43.16, Y31.3, Y33.12, Y43.2,6, Y44.7, Y45.6, Y47.2,3, Y51.7. Excerpts from some of these verses are quoted in Sketches of Ahura Mazda, and Selections from the Gathas, in this Issue.
  6. "Furthermore, when these two spirits came together, they created life and death,...."Y30.4.
  7. "...Him who is beneficent through His virtuous spirit to those who exist..." Y45.6.
  8. " reverence of him, (our) support, the spirit virtuous through truth..." Y28.1.
  9. "...the loving man...For such a person, virtuous through truth, watching over the heritage for all, is a world-healer and Thy ally in spirit, Wise One." Y44.2.
  10. See excerpts from Y43 quoted in footnote 3 above.
  11. Y43.2, quoted in Selections from the Gathas in this Issue.
  12. Y31.9.
  13. "...Thy most virtuous spirit, Wise One, by reason of which Thou didst create the wondrous powers of good thinking allied with truth." Y43.2.
  14. "...(But) the very virtuous spirit [mainyus spenisto] ...chose the truth..." Y30.5.
  15. Y28.1.
  16. After asking questions about the creation of truth, good thinking and the material world, Zarathushtra says: "By these (questions), Wise One, I am helping to discern Thee to be the creator of everything by reason of Thy virtuous spirit." Y44.7.
  17. I use the term "complement" in the following sense, as defined in Webster's International Dictionary (2d ed. 1956):

    "That which fills up or completes...That which is make perfect or to complete a symmetrical whole; one of two mutually completing parts."
  18. The clearest evidence of this is Y47.1, which is quoted by Dr. Insler at the end of his essay "Human Behavior and Good Thinking" (Issue No. 1 of these materials). For examples of the benevolent spirit in man see Y33.6, Y45.5, 8, Y47.1,4, Y48.8, some of which are quoted in Selections from the Gathas, in this Issue.

    The 6 verses of Yasna 47, which is the first chapter in the Spenta Mainyu Gatha, contain a delightful and subtle complementation of the benevolent spirit in God and in man.
Verse 1 in man,
Verse 2 in God,
Verse 3 in God,
Verse 4 in man,
Verse 5 in God (and man?)
Verse 6 in God (and man?).

It could reasonably be argued that this is just a coincidence, and not an intended complementation. What do you think?

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