Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Eastern Religions » Zoroastrianism

Also known as Mazdayasna, Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest active religions. Unsurprisingly, the precise date of its founding is uncertain, but it was probably in the 3rd to 2nd-millennium BCE.

However, some scholars have placed its founding, or at least its founder, as having lived in the 7th or 6th century BCE. According to tradition, Zoroaster (Zarathustra) was born to a poor family who lived in Rhages, near the current location of Tehran.

The religion of his day was Vedism, the polytheistic religion that influenced Hinduism in India. As a child, Zoroaster may have been trained as a priest in Persia, but he later rejected the priesthood. At the age of twenty, he left his family to meditate in the mountains, where he experienced his first vision. Ten years later, he had another vision. In this vision, he was released from his material body, and transported to heaven, where he met the Ahura Mazda, a great god. This experience led to the inspiration of a series of hymns to the god, which became known as the Gathas.

Despite his enlightenment, Zoroaster found it difficult to persuade people in his homeland that he had the answers. Rejected in his own land, and persecuted for his ideas, he left home.

When he was forty-two, he was able convert a local king, who was known as Vishtapa, who ruled a small kingdom somewhere in northeast Persia. With this as a base of operations, Zoroaster's religion spread throughout Persia, eventually becoming the official religion of Ancient Persia, one of the major empires in the world, for a thousand years.

Zoroastrians believe that Zoroaster was chosen by God to receive his revelation, this being the primary message of the Gathas. He also wrote the Yasna Haptanghaiti, also a book of hymns. It is believed that he wrote more than that, but his other works have not survived.

Unlike most Eastern religions, Zoroaster emphasizes personal religion, perhaps derived from God having appeared to him personally. Men and women in Zoroastrianism have a personal responsibility to choose between good and evil. On the basis of the choices that a person makes, he or she will be judged in the next life. Those in whom good deeds, good thoughts, and good deeds outweigh the evil will go to heaven, regardless of gender or social status.

This offended priests and princes who had considered heaven to be theirs alone.

Zoroaster taught that God was wholly good, and the creator of everything except that which is evil. God is not responsible for evil. The evil in the world comes from Angra Mainyu, a Destructive Spirit who rules in hell, and is the creator of the demons. Angra Mainyu has opposed God from the beginning. Although similar to the Christian Satan, Zoroastrians do not believe that Angra Mainyu is a fallen angel, as that would make God responsible for evil.

God also created a number of heavenly beings, including the Amesha Spentas, who became known as the sons and daughters of God. Each of the Amesha Spentas is believed to be responsible for protecting one of the six creations that make up the Good Creation of God: cattle, fire, earth, metal, water, and plants. The seventh creation is mankind, the representatives of God.

Zoroaster taught that the world was essentially good, except for the spoilage that occurs due to the attacks of evil. Zoroastrians look forward to a day when the battle of good versus evil will reach a climax, and good will triumph, restoring the world to its perfect state. On that day, the dead will be raised and judged, the wicked will be sent to hell, and the good will live with God for eternity.

As one of the world's oldest religions, Zoroastrianism has influenced many of the other major religions.

Islamic tradition holds that Zoroaster was the founding prophet of the Magians. Although his name does not appear in the Qur'an, he is regarded as one of those prophets whose names have not been mentioned. Ahmadi Muslims view Zoroaster as a Prophet of God.

Manichaeism views Zoroaster as one in a line of prophets, along with Jesus and the Buddha, of whom Mani was the culmination.

Zoroaster is seen as a Manifestation of God in the Baha'i Faith, a station shared with Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Bab, the founder of the Baha'i Faith.

Western civilizations tended to view Zoroaster as a magician, a sorcerer, or an astrologer, although there is a view that the Wise Men from the East who appeared at the birth of Jesus were Zoroastrians.

Although one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions, Zoroastrianism is now one of the world's smallest religions. In 2006, it was estimated that there were fewer than 200,000 Zoroastrians in the world. They are split into two denominations or sects: the Iranis and the Parsis, with largely geographical differentiation.

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