(Asho Zarathushtra, Yasna 28-4)
Owing to the coming of the Arabs in Iran-sahr, AND THEIR PROMULGATION OF HETERODOXY AND ILL-WILL, ORTHODOXY HAS VANISHED AND FLED from the magnates, and respectability from the upholders of religion; deep wonderful utterances and the proper reasoning of things, meditation for action, and word of true reason, HAVE FADED FROM THE MEMORY AND KNOWLEDGE OF THE POPULACE And for the sake of prestige, THEY HAVE DEFILED, WITH BLEMISHES, the word, dress, WORSHIP AND USAGES OF THE FAITHFUL.
(Zand-Akasih (Iranian Bundaheshn), Pehlavi Preface,
as translated by Sheth Behramgore T. Anklesaria, M.A.)
A nagging question that has been haunting many a student of our Sacred Lore is: why is our post-Sassanian Pehlavi literature silent about Asho Zarathushtra's unique and revolutionary teaching regarding Rebirth, even though this is so clearly evident in the Holy Gathas? I have found an answer to this bewildering question and would like to share it with my kind readers.
However, before we proceed further it would be appropriate to provide a gist of the authentic doctrinal position in the Holy Gathas relating to the Twin Laws of Kerdar (Keshash, Karma) and Rebirth, as well as to the Inter-life or "Se-shab" Period.
THE LAW OF KERDAR:- All acts and words shall bear fruit - evil to the Evil (akem akai) and good blessings to the Good (Yasna 43-5). (See also Vispa Humata.)
Since the Law of Kerdar "is ordained by Ahura Mazda" (ibid.), it is absolute and unchangeable in its operation. This clearly means that no one can suffer in this life UNLESS it is due to his bad Kerdar in a past life. For example, if a child is born blind, it cannot but be due to its past-life bad Kerdar.
Further, since the Law of Kerdar is ordained by Ahura Mazda as aforesaid, it is wedded to Divine Justice. Therefore, the result of past bad Kerdar can only be exactly commensurate with the sins committed; otherwise, it would amount to a mockery of the principles of Divine Justice.
The so-called "inequities" that we observe in our day-to-day life, such as a wicked person enjoying life to the full or a person of virtue suffering inordinately, are invariably the direct consequences, under Yasna 43-5, of the past-life good or bad Kerdar of that person. This is because, as testified in Yasna 31-13, all such "inequities" occur before the "piercing eyes (Omniscience) of Ahura Mazda" and are treated "in accordance with the Law of Asha." It just cannot be otherwise in a Universe governed by Divine Justice.
"When a beast of burden arrives, it does not go without the load. Similarly, it is not possible to thrust aside evil fate (dus-myazd, results of evil Kerdar) which has arisen" (Aogamadaecha Ha, 103). The human soul's accumulated Kerdar (of past lives) is referred to in this Ha as "the Stock," and it is prayed that the sins be eradicated from it. How can this ever be done except by the human soul itself working out its bad Kerdar in its succeeding lives? How the three Lords of Kerdar, viz. Meher, Sarosh and Rashnu Yazatas, help the soul to eradicate its "Stock"of evil Kerdar, is explained hereafter. Please note that this total evil Kerdar is allegorically referred to as "evil food" (dush-khvarethem in Yasna 31-20 and 53-6, akaish khvarethaish in Yasna 49-11, and dush-myazd in the last Uthamna prayer).
THE "SE-SHAB" OR INTER-LIFE PERIOD:- The soul of the wicked is given an opportunity to review once again its evil Kerdar of the life just ended. This is done in order to enable it to repent and atone for its misdeeds and to make a resolve not to repeat them. This work is accomplished by the departed soul during its long "Se-shab" Period, the extent of which is specifically given as under:-
A span of years equivalent to a "long human life": daregem ayu (Yasna 3120). Please note carefully that here the word used is "ayu," i.e., a human lifespan, and NOT a Zarvan comprising 12,000 or 81,000 years. According to Astrology, a long human life (dirghayu) starts from the age of 56 years and eight months when the Moon by Secondary Direction returns to the place it occupied at birth, for the second time;
Fifty-seven years: Se-shab punjah-haft sal (Patet Pashemani, Karda 12).
Apart from repentance and atonement for its evil Kerdar, this period is utilized by the discarnate soul in ascertaining the nationality and religion of its next birth:- Oh Ahura Mazda, towards which place on Earth (zam, indicating nationality) should I bend my knees? Whither shall I go for prayer (indicating religion)? - Kam nemoi zam, Ahura Mazda? Kuthra nemoi ayeni? (Hadokht Nask, 3:20,22,24.)
Within this broad sphere of action chosen by the soul as stated above, it has to work out and suffer the fruits of "a part" (baga; Sk. bhaga) of its total Kerdar as may be mercifully "allotted" (bakht) to it by Meher, Sarosh and Rashnu Yazatas at the Judgment that takes place towards the end of the "Se-shab" Period. This allotment (bakht) of a part (baga) of the total Kerdar becomes that soul's Destiny (Bagobakht) for its new life on Earth.
The provision of such an Inter-life Period ("Se-shab") is a unique feature of the Religion of Zarathushtra, and it is, indeed, a matter of great pride for us that this has now been fully corroborated by modern spiritual investigations. (See my four articles on the subject that appeared in The Jam-e Jamshed Weekly on 11081996, 06-10-1996, 13-10-1996 and 2710-1996, respectively.)
I need hardly add that the very clear specification of an Inter-life Period is the greatest testimony in favour of the phenomenon of Rebirth: there is no doubt about it.
REBIRTH:- Yasna 49-11 describes in the clearest and most unequivocal terms the phenomenon of Rebirth in all its aspects as expounded for the first time by Asho Zarathushtra centuries ago. It runs as follows:
"The souls of evil rulers, evil doers, evil speakers, those with evil conscience, evil thinkers and the followers of Untruth DO COME BACK (paiti urvano paityeinti) by reason of their 'evil food' (i.e., the bad fruits of their evil Kerdar). Truly, they are the dwellers of the 'Region of the Lie' (Drujo-demanay) (i.e., the human environment on Earth in which alone the Lie can, and does, prevail)."
In the course of the decades-long discussion that has been going on about the subject of Rebirth, at no time has it ever been asserted by any religious head or scholar that the above translation of Yasna 49-11 is incorrect, whether etymologically, grammatically or otherwise. The oft-repeated aspersion that it is influenced by Theosophy is so puerile that we can safely ignore it.
The discarnate souls of the sinners, which, due to their gross wickedness, are not able to proceed further, stop at the threshold of Chinvat, the Bridge of Selection, and thence return to the "Region of the Lie," that is, take birth again. (See Yasna 46-10, 46-11 and 51-13.)
Such souls of the wicked have thus to pass through several Cycles of Births and Deaths - so very aptly referred to in Yasna 34-7 as the "Wheels of Happiness and Misery" (aspenchit sadrachit Chakhrayo), till each of them INDIVIDUALLY attains the destined goal of human life, viz. Perfection and Immortality (Yasna 44-18; Hormazd Yasht 25).
COLLECTIVE JUDGMENT AT THE END OF A ZARVAN:- The Compassionate Lord has further provided that at the end of this current Human Cycle or Zarvanay Daregho Khvadhata extending to 81,000 years from the birth of Gayomard, a COLLECTIVE JUDGMENT will take place. Those souls which may not have attained perfection and immortality by then will be segregated and made to pass through a "Fiery Test" and cleansed of their blemishes, thus being given a chance to continue their spiritual progress further during the next Human Cycle or Zarvanay Daregho Khvadhata. (For the astronomical basis of this 81,000 year Cycle, please refer to the Note at the end of this article.)
As H. J. Rawlinson rightly asserts, "There is little doubt that the conquest of the Punjab by Darius profoundly influenced Indian culture. Probably through this channel India received her script; and the resemblances between the system of administration of Chandragupta and that of Darius are too close to be fortuitous." (See 'Rock Records of Darius the Great' by Dr. Maneck B. Pithawalla, p. 9.)
Further, G. R. S. Mead states that the conquest of North India by the Achaemenides (521-330 BC) "led to the introduction of this systematized body of doctrine into Indian thought, for it is precisely at this period that we there meet with time cosmogonies together with the allied tenets of the Wheel of Becoming, and of metempsychosis - ideas which can no more satisfactorily be derived from the native elements of Vedic folk faith than they can be in the West from Greek folk religion" (emphasis mine). (See 'Quests Old and New,' pp. 127-9.)
It seems to me that at or about this epoch the wise Upanishadic Rishis accepted the Twin Laws of Karma and Rebirth. These have since then become an integral part of Hindu Philosophy.
Incidentally, it was also during this period, when the national language of the Persian Empire was Pehlavi, that the Hindu Rishis coined their most Sacred Word AUM () by joining the initial letters of the Twin Name of God, AU(har)M(azd)! Its well-known Glyph is nothing but the letter "M" for Mazda attached to the letter "A" for Ahura! For an extensive discussion on this topic, please see my book 'In Search of Divine Light' ("IS-O-DiL"), Mazdayasnie Monasterie, Bombay 1994, pp. 205-7, 311, 316, 343, 505.)
Perceptive readers would have already noticed that the crucial words in the said Pehlavi Preface to Zand-Akasih are "HETERODOXY" (dus-Dinih) and "PROMULGATION" (rubayinitan). It is quite obvious from this that here it was NOT a case of any "individual heterodoxy" of the type now prevalent among some of our co-religionists in India as well as abroad, such as discarding Sudreh/Kashti, marrying outside the fold, cremating the dead, etc. It was a heterodoxy imposed by an alien government under a "Firman" or Decree promulgated by it, the violation of which could attract serious consequences, including instant death. Apparently, the main targets were:- (1) Fire-worship, (2) Intercalation of a month every 120 years as Kabiseh to keep the then current Dini-Sal Calendar fixed, and most important, (3) the Zarathushtrian Revelation of Rebirth.
Parallel examples are the East India Company's "proposed" ban on the publication of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita on the plea that it might incite fraternal conflicts, and the British Government's ban on the custom of "Sati" in India.
As a safe way out of the doctrinally calamitous situation arising out of the Arab Promulgation against the concept of Rebirth, it seems that the then Religious Heads of the Iranians had no alternative left other than to adopt
First, it was decided to throw a "veil" on the Zarathushtrian belief in Rebirth for the time being, in the hope that in the future when better times arrived it could be restored. Devout Pehlavi writers maintained a studied silence on the subject. Moreover, some of our religious texts, e.g. certain Yashts, were deliberately suppressed or selectively expunged "lest they fell into Arab hands." Even the Hadokht Nask which deals, inter alia, with the life after death, stops abruptly at that very point. Evidently, its latter portion dealing with Rebirth was struck down. Fortunately for us, however, the abstruse Holy Gathas remained untouched.
Secondly, in order to fill the void created by the forced "veiling" of the Zarathushtrian doctrine of Rebirth, the cautiously wise religious leaders of those dark times fell back upon and emphasized the other Zarathushtrian teaching pertaining to Ristakhiz, Frashogard and the Day of Collective Judgment at the end of the current Human Cycle (Zarvanay Daregho Khvadhata), which we have shortly described earlier in this article. This tactical shift fortunately fitted like a glove with the corresponding Islamic teaching.
Within a couple of centuries after the draconian Promulgation, the revelation of Rebirth "faded from the memory and knowledge of the populace," and by the time most of our Pehlavi books came to be written (from the 8th to the 10th centuries AD) it was virtually forgotten. And that is the position prevailing to this day.
Our Pehlavi texts dealing with the subject of the life after death have therefore to be read with this in mind.
Consider, for instance, that it was expected of every Zarathushtrian family to keep the household hearth-fire (Atash Dadgah) ever-burning, just as women during menstruation were expected to remain withdrawn. These practices were assiduously observed by our people until just a few decades ago. But today, due to various environmental factors operating in this century, they have fallen into disuse, have elided from the public consciousness, and are all but forgotten. These are modern examples of what may be called "collective amnesia."
As a result of the astronomical function known as the Precession of the Equinoxes, the Vernal Equinox or the First Point of Aries (Fravardin/Hormazd) moves around the Zodiac by a retrograde motion of 50" a year, i.e., one degree in 72 years and 30 degrees or a Sign in 2,160 years. To traverse the whole Zodiac it takes 25,920 years, which period is known as the "Plato's Year." When any such two Periods coalesce, a cuspal or Sandhi Period equal to half the number of years taken to traverse one Sign (i.e., 1,080 years) intervenes. In other words, the Plato's Year actually comes to 27,000 years (25,920 plus 1,080). Three such Periods constitute one Zarvanay Daregho Khvadhata! The current ZDK began in or about 9,564 BC after the Great Deluge - "az Gayomard unda Sosiosh."
The Arabs followed the above Zarathushtrian mode, but instead of 2,160 years they took 1,000 years per Sign, thereby arriving at 12,000 years for the whole Zodiacal Circle (the Hazara System). Later on, the Iranians also adopted this Tajik System (as recorded in the last chapter of the Bundaheshn) for calculating the World Periods. The Twelve Hazaras will end in or about 2,412 AD. For a fuller discussion and the Table of Hazara Periods, please refer to "IS-O-DiL," op. cit., pp. 432-33.
By Behram D. Pithavala
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