Zarathustra – The Mystical Prophet
As terms like consciousness, spirit, soul and similar cannot be defined in precise terms, so is mysticism. In wider sense, we could reckon for mystical any philosophy that brings into the focus faith in preference to science and rationalistic way of thinking. Nevertheless, there have been many philosophers whose teaching included both.
Mysticism in philosophy and in religion quite often is indistinguishable from the poetic mysticism, because many mystical philosophers have been at the same time writers and poets, especially those from Eastern philosophies and religions. For all that, mystical philosophy speaks about the union of man with the divinity, in a mystical trance or ecstasy.
Mysticism as religious experience par exellance, has been a subject of study of American psychologist and philosopher William James. He views personal religious experiences at the center of mystical states of consciousness. In defining the term ‘mysticism’ James refers to four basic distinctions which include – unutterableness, noetic quality, transience and passiveness. The first connotes the fact that the quality of mystical experience must be experienced personally and in a direct way, and it cannot be communicated to others. The distinction of noetic quality enables a deep intuitive insight in these states, sometimes called enlightenment, revelation and the like. The third characteristic concerns these states of consciousness, i.e. transience. This does not seem to be universal, because in case of some mystics these states can last for a long period of time, and by some they can even turn into a continuous state, without returning into everyday, normal state of consciousness. The fourth characteristic is passiveness. James views that concentration exercises or physical exercises (he meant probably yoga) help entering into a mystical state of consciousness. So passiveness can be regarded as essential characteristic just conditionally. The passiveness in fact originates when one has already transcended the normal waking state of consciousness, and then he experiences the feeling of being taken by some ‘higher force’.
James omitted one very essential characteristic, that is love and desire for the union with the absolute, the striving to reach the very origin of the being, as says French theologian Louis Gardet. However, he makes difference between oriental religions, where the path to the absolute leads through the immanence of the mystics of one’s own self, and monotheistic religions, where this path leads through the union and access to depths of ‘God of faith’.
The first beginnings of mystical philosophy could be attached to the names of great philosophers and founders of religions– Zarathustra, Hermes and Moses.
Zarathustra – The Mystical Prophet
The name of Zarathustra is mentioned for the first time in Plato’s work Alcibiades, where he calls him the son of Ormuz. The teachings of Plato and Platonists were under the direct influence of Zarathustra, especially Plato’s teaching about the ideas. In Proclus’ commentary of ‘Parmenides’, this philosopher cites Zarathustra’s work, where are mentioned ideas.
Legend tells us that at the age of 30, Zoroaster had a heavenly vision in which an angel brought him to the deity Ahura Mazda, who instructed him to found a new religion .The visions continued over a 10-year period. He rejected many of the ritual practices of the Aryan-derived religion, especially the sacrificial slaughter of cattle and the drinking of intoxicating haoma.
The basic element of his belief system is the duality between good and evil which is the result of a choice initiated by Ahura Mazda, the world’s creator. One of the twin spirits engendered by Ahura Mazda, named Spenta Mainyu (“Beneficent Spirit”) chose good and life, while the other, Angra Mainyu (“Destroying Spirit,” or Ahriman), chose evil and death. As a result, humans must make the same choice, since they will be judged accordingly upon their death. The just will be rewarded with entrance into paradise, or the “House of Song,” and the wicked condemned to the “House of Evil.”
In an ancient hymn, Zoroaster declares:
Truly, there are two primal Spirits, twins renowned to be better and the bad. And those who act well have chosen rightly between these two, not so the evildoers. (Yasna 30:3).
Besides this, Zarathustra is also the predecessor of monism in philosophy. The first principle of all things he called monad. Under this term he understood that, which in itself contains all, and which at the same time is not contained by anything.
This monism is seemingly in contradiction with the duality of two supreme principles in Zarathustra’s religion – the creator Ormuz and destructive spirit Ahriman. But the fact is, there is no real contradiction, because these contrasts find resolution and reconciliation in one highest unity.
In Zoroastrism, Ahriman is not considered as born of God, not even as the ‘fallen angel’.This is because by that, God would become responsible for evil alone. Ahriman is seen as entirely independent evil spirit, who wants to destroy the perfection of God’s creation. In spite of this seeming dualism, we could consider Zoroastrism as monotheistic religion. For Ormuz is the supreme divinity. He is the creator of heaven, earth and man, as well as of divine beings, that can be compared with archangels and angels. This God is the principle of truth and good. Beside him there are no other gods.
Prophet Zarathustra regards this world as good in its essence, but the attacks of Ahriman do corrupt him. People have their personal responsability to choose between good and evil. According to their free will in choice they make, they will be judged on the other world. Zarathustra speaks of the cosmic battle between good and evil, which will last for three thousand years, according to the prophecy. After that, the evil will be destroyed, Ahriman disabled, and then will take place the renewal of the creation. The earth and heaven will be merged then, to create what is best in both worlds. That, in short, is Zarathustra’s teaching. It, in fact, has its roots in the ancient religion of Indo-Iranian (or Aryans), i.e, people that settled in India and Persia, about 3000 BC. We can get only the approximate picture, by comparison with Vedas. While there are numerous resemblances with Hindu religion, there are differences too.. As just one example, the word ‘do-eva’, in sacred script of Zoroastrism ‘Avesta’ denotes evil spirits, while in Hindu religion ‘devas’ mean divine spirits,or spirits of light.
Zarathustra’s religion passed from generation to generation, by oral tradition. The first attempts of systematic collection of old tradition took place during the Parthian dynasty, which ruled over Persia from the 2nd century BC to 3rd century AD. So it was made up ‘Avesta’, the sacred book. Here in the book prophet Zarathustra is represented in a mythical manner, as a man endowed by supernatural powers. However a part of the book includes his eulogies, gatha. They seem authentic Zarathustra’s words. Distinct from this, in the rest of ‘Avesta’, the words are only ascribed to the prophet. In the eulogies gatha, Zarathustra points at divine mystical tradition. He yearns for acquisition of the divine knowledge. He teaches that achievement of wholeness and immortality leads to enlightenment, where one can attain the knowledge of God alone.
The relation between man and God, to Zarathustra, is based upon love. To achieve the pure love of God, it is necessary to live Zarathustra’s words: ‘I yearn for your figure and union with you, come to me alone and grow inside me”. From these quotes, of the sacred book, one can see the importance of mysticism for this religion. The purpose of man is union with God. According to the Prophet, that man, by good thought, fairness and piety, and through the perfection of his being can unite himself with God.