What does ancient Iranian religion, science, and blackberries have in common? Join this short dialogue to find out my personal reflections on Zoroastrianism and the scientific discoveries.
– M., Let me tell you something about Zoroastrianism, shall I?
– I am all ears, tell me Roshan!
Zoroastrianism is by far one of the most ancient religions on earth that is existent until the current days. While it evolved as a spiritual thought over millennia, the name is owed to its reformer and Prophet – Zarathustra, who is believed to have lived around 1000 BC (See Enciclopaedia Iranica).
Zoroastrianism developed and become a national religion of Iranian people during the Sasanian period of Persian Empire in 3rd century BC, and continued until 7th century CE, when it suffered due to Islamic conquest, coupled by invasions by Turks and Mongols in the following ages. Nowadays, it is one of the world’s smallest religions, upheld by around 190,000 followers at most (See New York Times), with majority of them living in Iran and India. While this religion is mired in mystery, and by some mistakenly considered as a worship of fire, Zoroastrian teachings and philosophy can provide some fascinating insights into the nature of matter, energy and the universe.
-Tell me more about the fire
Perhaps it is quite telling that fire played such a pivotal role in Zoroastrianism. After all, it has been essential for the development of the human civilisations. It allowed our homo-sapiens ancestors to populate lands in colder regions, get nutrition from a wider variety of foods, and protect themselves from dangerous species. Yet, when fire is considered as a source of life, and factor of creating heat and energy, it is the element that allows us to contemplate a deeper spiritual symbolism of life and transformation.
In Zoroastrian literature, fire, also invoked by flame, means the energy within an entity, as well as an agency that produces energy. The scriptures of Zoroastrianism went further and identified five fires (or energies) creating the universe and pervading every other element of creation. These energies are: Barezi-Savangh (representing inorganic material), Vohu-Frayan (humans and animals), Urvazisht (plants), Vazisht (clouds) and Spenisht ( flame) (See Heritage Institute) .
-So energies create the matter…
That is correct. This notion of various energies creating material aspects of the universe is really fascinating if we look at it from the point of view of quantum physics. For many centuries, the classical science assumed that material world is essentially physical. Discoveries of quantum physics in 20th century proved this assumption wrong. On the quantum level, the atoms, considered earlier as a physical and tangible matter – are made of flashes of energy, ever so spinning and vibrating. This means that all that is material is fundamentally made of non-material energy.
-This is so contradictory, isn’t it?
Yes and no. It is contradictory from the Western rational standpoint based on Aristotelian logic (See Stanford Enciclopedia of Philosophy) , which assumes that A cannot be B at the same time (As in Erich Fromm, ‘The Art of Loving’) . In Zoroastrianism, it can. So it can in quantum physics. And this notion of duality is the key tenet of the Zoroastrian philosophy. It assumes that the world in which we exist is governed by two forces; the order and the chaos, the darkness and the light colliding with each other consistently in the act of creation, destruction, or transformation of everythingness around. While the chaos is represented by destructive forces in this world, the benevolent force is considered as an act of creation. Yet, both of these constructive and destructive powers come from the same source, the all-pervading god called Ahura Mazda. The name of Zoroastrian god itself is worth linguistic analysis: Ahura means ‘being’, while Mazda stands for ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’. These two seemingly different concepts combine the notion of existence and that of awareness, both complementing each other in duality of the universe.
-The dark and the light, just like in the Matrix?
Yes, however we should see them as complimentary parts of the ‘default’, of which the aim is an eternal transformation. While the transformation can be constructive, it may be also destructive. Yet, in essence, both come from the same source and are present in all experiences of our life.
-This is all fun and games, but what does it have to do with my life?
It has everything to do with you and I. This world is full of contradictions: joy is interwoven with pain, suffering with happiness, the night with the day. At every moment of time, these powers support transformation of our being, thoughts, habits, and destinies. Such change can only come about when we face both the ‘light’ and the ‘dark’ aspects of life, entwined with one other. We are the only ones to choose how we will react to and use both powers.
We all want to achieve the ‘good things’ and live a ‘good’ and ‘happy’ life, yet we should be aware how we define ‘good’ and what higher purpose such good serves. Falling for transient ‘goods’ or ‘joy’, be it in the form of food, drinks, drugs, relations, pride or anything else may bring suffering.
At other times the ‘bad’ may in fact be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps, you were disappointed with the results of your effort, or you were disappointed by relationship with others, your friend, family or the loved one. But then something good came out of this disappointment: it helped you to learn a useful lesson or created circumstances for some positive change in life.
Or simply, by observing at transformative effect of something, we may learn how to appreciate it. For instance, today it rained heavily, causing so many people to complain about the weather. Yet, the same rain that was the reason for some grumbles came as a blessing for the nature craving for mouthfuls of this drink of life. The rain was good for me too, because it made blackberries in the nearby park turn mature and sweet. And so I shall pick them on the coming Saturday morning.
That is what I have learned from Zoroastrian philosophy and the quantum physics.