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The good teachings
Monotheism & equality of the sexes, and conversion of faith in Zoroastrianism

Maneck Bhujwala
May 18, 2005

I am happy to see Maziar Shirazi's confirmation, in his article "Equal? please...", of the major correction I submitted earlier (in response to Vida Kashizadeh's erroneous claim that Zoroastrianism considered women as creation of Ahriman).

On Mr. Shirazi's disagreement about ancient Iranian religion being monotheistic before prophet Zarathushtra, I would like to restate the one reference of the Shahnameh of Iranian poet, Firdausi Tusi, which I had given in my previous posting.
In addition to that, I would like to give another reference "The religion of Zarathushtra" by the late Avesta and Sanskrit scholar, Dr. Irach J.S. Taraporewala, who writes about the religion of the ancient Aryans as follows:

"All great teachers have built upon the past traditions of the race. They have come to lead. They alter and adapt the Eternal Ancient Wisdom to the peculiar needs of that race... So also, the Lord Zoroaster found a certain mass of tradition in Iran, and the Message he gave to this branch of the human race was based upon what they had inherited from a dim and distant past..."

"The religious traditions inherited by these two great peoples, the Hindus and the Persians, were therefore the common Aryan traditions. In the Avesta, the great teachers of the Paoiryotkaesha (the ancient faith) have been invoked... This Ancient Faith has been named the Mazdayasna Faith -- the Faith that worships Mazda, the Great Lord of All. The Religion of Zarathushtra bears the same name, but with the epithet Zarathushtrish (i.e taught by Zarathushtra) added to it. This confirms the statement made above that the Prophet built up His system upon the ancient traditions of the race... "

In my reading of an English translation of the Rig Veda (the oldest scripture of the Vedic Hindu Aryans), I discovered that in the beginning they also believed in One Supreme Being and later developed deities representing the many attributes of the Supreme Being.

Dr. Taraporewala writes "But in course of time we find these subordinate Aryan Deities becoming more and more of importance and even usurping the position occupied by the Highest alone. Of course this applies only to what may be styled 'popular religion', for the Sages always recognized the fundamental unity, as the Vedic sage has sung 'The Truth is one, the Wise in many ways do call It'."

I agree with Mr. Shirazi that practice of religion sometimes varies from what the prophet teaches, and this happens in all religions, but the teaching about equality of men and women was clear. About the other deities, Dr. Taraporewala writes "They are henceforth not His equals, but His creatures and ministers. Even the highest among these Adorable Ones (Yazatas) worship Ahura and obey His Law of Asha. Among these Adorable Ones the first in rank are the Eternal Six known as the Holy Immortals..."

"The six Holy Immortals as described by the Master represent the six principle aspects of the Divine Lord... It is rather remarkable that three out of the Six Holy Immortals should represent the masculine aspects of God and the other three the feminine aspect. This is but one of the many hints we get in Zoroaster's religion of the absolute equality of the sexes... "

Mr. Shirazi claims that Zarathushtra's own married life represented polygamy, without giving any reference to where he gets this idea. According to our scriptures (including Gathas) Prophet Zarathushtra was married to one lady, Havovi. In fact, in the Gathas he exhorts marrying couples to remain faithful to each other. With the exception of some kings who may have had more than one wife for political reasons, the norm was to have one wife.

Women were allowed to tend to the home fire when they were not in their period, but priesthood was restricted to males also due to purity requirements which could be violated if unpredicted menstruation were to occur during ritual prayer in the temple (which had higher purity requirements).

As far as the unequal hardship for women for preserving purity, we should also recognize that God has made some differences that give extra hardship to women in child bearing that men do not have, but we do not say that God is unjust for doing so. From one perspective, the 40 days after childbirth were also to give rest to the new mother so she could build up her strength after the stress of childbirth. I remember my grandmother preparing food and caring for my mother after childbirth of my brother.

On Mr. Shirazi's recommendation to allow conversion, I had given several reasons why the community discourages formal conversion. On the other hand, anyone is free to study our religious teachings and incorporate them in their daily life. One does not need formal conversion ceremonies to learn and practice the good teachings. The real conversion that all true prophets have sought to lead their followers was to convert them from evil life to a good life. Some exceptions may be justified as in the case of Iranians whose ancestors were forced or coerced to give up their Zarthushti faith, and who sincerely study, respect and practice the traditional Zarthushti religion.

I agree with Mr. Shirazi that not all are motivated to convert for material gains. But we have to work out some criteria and provide some probationary period to determine the sincerity of the candidates.

Maneck Bhujwala is Co-founder of Zoroastrian Association of California (Southern California), co-founder and past president of Zarthushti Anjuman of Northern California and a member of the North American Mobed Council.

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