Zarthushti Myths - A First Issue

by Cyrus R. R. Cooper

Part I

Throughout our history it is a sad but true fact that whenever the Avesta Manthra has become misunderstood and or misrepresented by members of our community, one can perceive the very fabric of our religion and sense of identity being undermined. In order to resolve this and certain other misconceptions we decided to categorise them under the heading of Zarthushti Myths and produce this particular series of articles. The Myth that we wish to challenge in this first issue is the thought that Zarthusti religious incantations of Avesta Manthra can be understood, translated and then taught indiscrimately to all who wish to learn them.

Before the creation of our universe called Nisti, Dadar Ahuramazda recited the word Ahu and in the process created Asho Sarosh Yazad. This most holy Yazad is comprised entirely of Avesta Manthra and thus has no form.Yet such is his status that Avesta Manthra is the language used throughout Dadar Ahuramazdas eternal realm of endless fire and light known to us as Hasti. Because our ravaans are also inhabitants of this hasti Dadar Ahuramazda ordained that our prayers be written in Avesta Manthra so that they can gain spiritual advancement through the destruction of past bad thoughts, words and deeds called bud kerdars. Reference to this is mentioned throughout our prayers as ravaan bokhtagi which means soul advancment.

In accordance with Dadar Ahuramazdas divine plan there are 6 aasmans(heavens) inside hasti through which all ravans advance, before completing their journey by merging into the 9th aasman which is the abode of Dadar Ahuramazda Himself. At His behest, the secrets of our holy Avesta Manthra are ONLY gifted to those ravaans who have attained the highest level of the 5th aasman which is ruled over by Behram Yazad and Sheherevar Ameshaspand. Since Zarthushtis with ravaans of this advanced status and beyond are a rarity in our world, one can reject the claims of Zarathushtrian scholars and academics that they posses the ability to understand and then translate Avesta Manthra. The fact that there are some 60 + different translations of Yatha Ahu Vairyo alone by them, merely enhances our assertion. Some of these people have even obtained degrees in Avesta Manthra, yet if you ask them to recite or put into writing how are you, or have a nice day in the Avesta Manthra they will tell you that this is not possible. Avesta Manthra is solely for the usage and benefit of Zarthushtis who possesss ravaans inside of them, so to indiscriminately teach this knowledge to non-Zarthushtis is wrong because -

a) their souls are completely different to that of Zarthushtis who possess the divine conglomeration of ravaan, and

b) the heavens of non-Zarthushtis(mentioned inside Meher Nyaish) are just like non-Zarthushti souls confined to an existence inside nisti. Consequently the recital of Avesta Manthra by non-Zarthushtis will not enhance their soul advancment or eliminate their past bad thoughts, words and deeds.

From the myriad of examples available the following translations and quotations have been chosen from their own writings, which condemns the claims of Zarathustrian scholars that they can understand and translate our holy Avesta Manthra.

1 - We shall begin by referring you to J B Karanis Sons who published our daily prayers with English translations on the 1st November 1953. Here is their translation of Yatha Ahu Vairyo -

"As Ahura Mazda is the Sovereign Lord, so is the spiritual-chief even through the Divine Attribute of Truth and Righteousness.

He dedicates the deeds of the Good-Mind to Ahura Mazda.

He dedicates to Him the Divine Attribute of Power by being the Pastor of the poor."

Now consider Part 1 Daily Prayers of The Zoroastrians by Framroz Rustomjee printed in 1959 and their translation of Yatha Ahu Vairyo -

"Just as the Sovereign Lord (temporal Ruler of men) (is) all-powerful so also the spiritual Teacher (is all-powerful) similarly by reason of (his) knowledge of (the) Divine Law of Righteousness and practice of virtues.

The gift of the Good Mind (Divine Wisdom) (is meant) for the workers of (the) All-Wise Lord, in this life and the Power and Glory of God the Creator (is) to him (who) gives protection or support to the one in need."

In just these 2 translations one can count many differences.

2 - The next example relates to a book entitled The Persians C 1975 Time Life Books Inc. All rights reserved. Fourth European English language printing 1978. Author being a non-Zarthushti named Jim Hicks. This most beautifully illustrated book contains much of the modern day scholarly accounts of Iran and our Zarathushtrian religion. The book is very well written and yet it contains numerous erroneous and derogatory comments based upon the translations made by these self same scholars of our Avesta Manthra. However to the authors credit mention of the various discrepancies and inaccuracies made in the translation of Avesta Manthra are made on Page Numbers 96/97, some of which are quoted as follows - "Scholars have not had an easy time determining precisely what the prophets original teachings were. The answers must lie within the Avesta itself, and specifically in a group of hymns called the Gathas, which Zoroaster is thought to have written down; the texts that Anquetil-Dupperon and subsequent experts used for translation were finally recorded nearly a thousand years after the prophet lived and preached. During that interval the prayers quite certainly underwent little change. But when they were at last committed to writing around the Fourth Century AD, it was in a language, called Avestan, that still defies complete comprehension. What Anquetil - Dupperon pored over for a full decade continues to confound scholars. The meaning of individual words is still in dispute - giving rise to disagreement about entire concepts, etc, etc."

3 - Finally let us refer you to Yashts in Roman Script With Translation by Tehmurasp Rustamji Sethna 1976. At the end of this book of prayers is a concise explanation of the many translations given inside the book, wherein the reasons for the discrepancies between different scholarly translations are expounded upon. Please consider the following quote in brief from Pages 442/3:

"Of far greater importance is the re-interpretation of words. Inevitably there is a large number of words in the Avesta whose meanings are unknown and a further large number whose meanings are imperfectly known, and such unknown or imperfectly known words are particulary numerous in the Gathas. If one proceeds to select suitable extreme meanings for the known words one can translate Gathas (or for that fact any ancient text that carried a sufficient number of unknown words) in any way one likes.

Our translations are certainly a bit different from the traditional translations of the previous scholars but we feel they bring out the spirit of the religion clearly for the young people to understand. No finality is claimed. These translations are put up to scholars for scrutiny and correction. No rights are reserved for publications. Only dictionary meanings are used. Each word was looked up in the dictionary and its meanings written. At times the word was not found in the dictionary and a word very near to it had to be found which enabled us to locate the word. Sometimes meanings of compound words did not give conveniencing ideas. Such words were splitted up and their meaning along with the meanings of the root words were considered by adopting Prof. Pictets principles and fresh sentence made and if that gave a good idea of the spirit of the religion that meaning was adopted". These are but a selected few examples and yet from them one can deduce that our Zarathushtrian scholars and academics in all truth do not understand or possess the ability to translate our holy Avesta Manthra. Moreover when in doubt they simply make a translation which in their personal estimation best complies with the spirit of the religion. Avesta Manthra lies beyond the scope of their intelligence and level of spirituality, and yet we are encouraged by certain Zarthushti Associations in England and North America to purchase their literature and then accept their accounts of our holy Zarthushti religion and homeland of Iran. The reasons for this are quite simple. These associations cannot be funded and maintained without the acceptance, support and patronage of non-Zarthushtis. Since there is also a genuinely large interest in our religion and past history, through these Mythological translations of Avesta Manthra one can gain influence, prestige and most importantly of all financial gain.

In Part 2 excerpts from a famous Zarthushti scholars works on our most holy Avesta Manthra shall be imparted. His comments are somewhat blunt and to the point, but they do undoubtedly convey a genuine proof from one who studied this subject for many years that Avesta Manthra lies beyond the scope of scholars and academics. It is however very interesting to note that even he makes the point that an understanding and translation of Avesta Manthra can only be made "if it is possible, by a Zarthushti and no-one else".


Cyrus Cooper.

PS. Whilst on a week long lecture tour in The USA last April of 1998, this particular subject was raised by The President of one Zarthushti Association. I thanked him for asking this particular question and very briefly gave an answer, whilst simultaneously showing the above mentioned texts to The President. Afterwards all those present were invited to see this proof.

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