If there is anything known about the Zoroastrian faith in the West, it is that it is a dualistic religion. "Zoroastrian dualism" has become a cliche often used in the field of religious scholarship as well as in popular accounts of religion. Is Zoroastrianism really dualistic? In a word, yes. But are the cliches true? What really is the nature of this dualistic doctrine? In this article I will attempt to describe this important aspect of Zoroastrian teaching.
Dualism, as the dictionary defines it, is a "theory that in any domain of reality there are two independent underlying principles, e.g. mind and matter, form and content." Another definition follows: "the theory that the forces of good and evil are equally balanced in the universe." (Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary) Neither of these definitions quite fits Zoroastrian dualism, though they have some relationship to it.
Zoroastrianism, in its 3500 years of existence, has only had one period in its history where there was centralized control of its doctrines, an official "orthodoxy." This was during the Sassanian Persian empire, c. 250-650 AD, when Zoroastrianism was the state religion. There have almost from the beginning been many different schools of thought in the Zoroastrian religion, including during that Sassanian era. Thus, there are many ideas within the Zoroastrian world as to just what the dualistic teaching means.
First, let us view the texts that define Zoroastrian dualism for the first time. The first statements about it come from the Prophet and founder himself, Zarathushtra. He states the doctrine in two places in his Gathas, the sacred hymns that form the core text of the religion's scriptures. The first passage consists of the first seven stanzas of Yasna 30, or song 3 of the 17 Gatha hymns. Here they are, as translated by Dr. Ali Jafarey:
"1. Now I shall speak to those who wish to hear of the two principles, which are of importance even to the wise. I shall also, with veneration for good mind and the good consideration of righteousness, have praises for the Lord, so that you may see brilliant happiness.
2. Hear the best with your ears and ponder with a bright mind. Then each man and woman, for his or her self, select either of the two. Awaken to this Doctrine of ours before the Great Event of Choice ushers in.
3. Now, the two foremost mentalities, known to be imaginary twins, are the better and the bad in thoughts, words, and deeds. Of these the beneficent choose correctly, but not the maleficent.
4. Now, when the two mentalities first got together, they created "life" and "not-living." Until the end of existence, the worst mind shall be for the wrongful, and the best mind shall be for the righteous.
5. Of these two mentalities, the wrongful mentality chose worst actions, and the most progressive mentality, as steadfast as rock, chose righteousness. Therefore, those who would please the Wise God, may do so by choosing true actions."
6. Between these two, the seekers of false gods did not decide correctly, because delusion came to them in their deliberations. Therefore, they chose the worst mind, rushed in wrath, and afflicted the human existence.
7. But to the person who chooses correctly, comes endurance of body and steadfast serenity through strength, good mind, and righteousness. Of all these, such a person shall be Yours, because he has come fully out of the fiery test."
The second mention of the dualistic teaching is in Yasna 45, verse 2:
"Now, I shall proclaim the two foremost mentalities of life. Of these, the more progressive one told the retarding one thus: Neither our thoughts, nor teachings, nor intellects, nor choices, nor words, nor deeds, nor consciences, nor souls agree." (Jafarey translation.)
In these two passages, and others related to them, lie a great richness of spiritual teaching. Yet in the ambiguity of the Prophet's words there is the potential for many varying interpretations. This interpretation has been the work of Zoroastrian thinkers, meditating and teaching on dualism, for the last 3500 years.
There are three major interpretations of Dualism currently discussed and believed among Zoroastrians. The first, the ETHICAL, takes its inspiration directly from the text of the Gathas. The second, the COSMIC, is more in line with the later traditions of the Zoroastrian religion, which also build on an interpretation of the Gathic doctrines. The third attempts to make a reconciliation between the previous two.
Zoroastrians have not always had direct access to the text of the Gathas. Centuries after Zarathushtra, the language he used to compose them, Avestan, had become a "dead" language, preserved only in liturgies and lawbooks used by priests. Even the priests did not have full comprehension of the ancient language, and understood the Gathas only through translations into a later language, Middle Persian or Pahlavi. Only in the modern era has direct access to the Gathas again been possible, through the translations of scholars trained in linguistics.
It is indeed true that Zarathushtra teaches a doctrine of two conflicting principles, one of good and one of evil. This is clear in both the Gathas and the later traditions. But what is the nature of these principles? Do they exist as real entities, actual beings with minds and will? Or are they abstract principles with no existence other than that of ideas, or tendencies, in the human or divine mind? Do Good and Evil only exist in the world of human actions, or is there good and evil in the natural world, the non-human world?
The ETHICAL view, which is inspired by a close interpretation of the Gathic text, helped by linguistic scholarship, claims that the two principles of Good and Evil are purely psychological, mental, and abstract, and that they are active only in the human mind, heart, and soul. The word that Zarathushtra uses for his two principles is mainyu, an Avestan word which comes from the root man, or "mind." This Indo-European root-word is the basis for our English words "mind" and "mental." Dr. Jafarey, in translating the Avestan, renders mainyu literally as "mentality." But most of the other English translations of mainyu use the word "Spirit." There is quite a difference between a "mentality" and a "spirit," - the first being a concept or a condition in the mind, but the second having the potential for a much more independent existence, such as that of a good or evil spirit. I will return to this distinction later.
The two principles in the Gatha passages are described in what we would now call "psychological" language: the better and the bad in thoughts, words and deeds, worst mind and best mind, wrongful and progressive. Psychology, for the prophet and poet Zarathushtra, would be expressed in personification and mythical terms, hence his use of metaphor in calling the two "twins." Jafarey's use of the word "imaginary" to describe the twins is rather misleading. "Imaginary" connotes something which is fanciful and has no reality. The Avestan word translated by Jafarey could mean either "seen in a dream/vision" or "self-active;" it is obscure. At any rate, the nature of the "twins" in Jafarey's interpretation is definitely psychological rather than mythological, and pertains to human consciousness. In reality, it is not the "twins," but the individual human person who must choose between Good or Evil.
"Each man and woman, for his or her self, select either of the two...the worst mind shall be for the wrongful, and the best mind shall be for the righteous." This choice between good and evil, whether in thinking, words, way of life, or actions, is the essence of Ethical dualism. Zarathushtra calls people to reject evil and choose good as the first and foremost religious act: "...those who would please the Wise God, may do so by choosing true actions." The dualism between Good and Evil, in the Ethical view, is one which is experienced only by sentient beings, whether human or divine. Good and Evil are essentially linked with consciousness, for only conscious beings can make a choice.
Throughout the Gathas, and in all later Zoroastrian teaching as well, Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, is an entirely good God. No evil of any kind can proceed from him/her, and Ahura Mazda, unlike God in the Semitic view, does not personally take vengeance or send punishments or temptations to His followers. Evil must then arise apart from the One Good God. This process is suggested in the Gathic text when the Prophet describes the primordial choice of the two mentalities: "the wrongful mentality chose worst actions, and the most progressive mentality, as steadfast as rock, chose righteousness." Zarathushtra does not speculate on the origin of the two mentalities - were they both created by God, or did they already exist simultaneously when they "first got together?" When did they first get together - in a mythical time before human beings, or in the first moral awakening of every human being? But Zarathushtra is clear about the choices. Evil arose when the wrongful mentality first chose worst actions - and it continues to arise whenever anyone chooses worst actions. It is a rebellion and a defiance of the One Good God and the universal law of Righteousness, which Zarathushtra calls ASHA.
Therefore, in the Ethical view of dualism, the conflict of good and evil exists only in the world of consciousness. It is again debatable whether Zarathushtra, in his Gathas, admits the existence of non-human consciousnesses like angels or devils; the main message concerns human beings. In the Ethical view, evil arises in this world only through the wrong choices and actions of human beings. All the things we view as wrong: war, pollution, crime, oppression, hate, deprivation, violence, are the result of human thoughts and actions. We human beings and our human society are the arena in which the battle of good and evil is fought. Each moral opportunity puts us in touch with the primordial conflict of the Two Mentalities, and each moral decision we make links us with Zarathushtra's call to choose Good or Evil.
In this humanistic Ethical view of dualism, our responsibility is huge. Every morally good action we do advances God's work on earth and brings us closer to the Wise Lord, but every evil action we do, no matter how small, retards that work and distances us from God. This is a sober and even stark way: everything is up to us. We cannot blame our bad actions on an independent Devil who made us do it, or on the inscrutable plan of an incomprehensible God. If we do wrong, it is our fault alone, having given in to our own hostile mentality.
This is not a very comforting view for those who see a natural world filled with pain and suffering; animals tear each other to bits for food, harmless creatures die in floods or droughts, whole forests are destroyed in fires. Is this not evil at work? What about the "natural" evils of earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes which destroy the homes and lives of good people? And what about diseases and birth defects which afflict innocent children? Are these not evil? For an Ethical dualist, none of these things are really evil. A tornado has no choice as to where it touches down, and a virus or a genetic defect does not choose which child to torment. These non- human things follow the laws of nature, and they are morally neutral. They only seem unfair, or evil, to us conscious beings who can be hurt by natural causes.
Earlier I talked about mainyu , or "mentality." The mentality of Good is identified, in the Gathas, with an Attribute of God, called Spenta Mainyu. The word Spenta is another weighty Avestan word which means "holy," but also "growing or increasing." Hence Dr. Jafarey translated it as "Progressive." Other translators have rendered it as "Holy Creative," or "Bountiful," or "Benevolent." Thus Spenta Mainyu has thus been variously translated as "Progressive Mentality" (Jafarey) or "Bountiful Holy Spirit" (D.J.Irani).
The evil mentality also has an Avestan name, though it is not found in the Gathas but in later writings. It is called angra, or "hostile." The two principles in Ethical Dualism are named Spenta Mainyu, holy, good, and creative, and Angra Mainyu, hostile, destructive, and evil. One is an attribute or emanation of God, the other, a hateful feature of wrong consciousness and choice, with no divine attributes at all.
There is, as I mentioned, another translation of mainyu, and that is Spirit. This translation, which is favored by most Gatha translators despite its somewhat Christian sound, leads into the second interpretation of Dualism, the COSMIC form. The Gatha text, as we remember, describes the two mentalities, or Spirits, as if they acted independently, making their choices for Good or Evil. Is this just a poetic metaphor for a human, psychological reality? Or is it meant to be taken more literally, that Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu are indeed independent beings with consciousness of their own? What if Zarathushtra were actually singing about the conflict of a Spirit of Good and a Spirit of Evil?
Ethical dualists consider Zarathushtra's personifications only a literary device; the later dualists interpret them as actual theological realities. Other translations of the Gathas, equally possible linguistically, bring out the idea that Good and Evil are represented by personified, living beings. The two principles of Zarathushtra's verses are called "Twin Spirits," and they are thought of as having active lives, with thoughts, words, deeds, selves, and souls. From this personification, there arose another view of Dualism which would, in time, eclipse the strictly ethical-psychological view and become what is thought of as "classic" Zoroastrian doctrine.
Myth, or "sacred story," is part of all religions, and was part of the ancient, polytheistic Indo-Iranian religion which Zarathushtra rejected in order to establish his radical new monotheistic way. In the Gathas, the mythical elements are muted in favor of abstract moral philosophy and worship. But they were still there in Zarathushtra's world, and, after the Prophet's era, myth returned to Zarathushtra's religion. Not only stories of divine creation and conflict, but the God-forms of the old Indo-Iranian gods and goddesses were re-adapted into the Zoroastrian faith by the later priests of the religion, the Magi. Dualism, too, became mythologized, and went from abstract philosophy to sacred story.
Zarathushtra's two principles, Spenta Mainyu and "Angra" Mainyu, also changed as the religion evolved. Instead of being an emanation of God, Spenta Mainyu, the Good Spirit, became identified and united with Ahura Mazda Himself, so that they formed one Godhead, now known, in the later language of Middle Persian, as "Ohrmazd." And Angra Mainyu, the Spirit of Evil, became a name that chills even non-Zoroastrians: "Ahriman," the lord of lies and hater of mankind. Now the battle was not between one emanated mentality and another; it was between the God of Goodness Himself and an independent spirit of evil.
This cosmic dualism has misled many otherwise well- educated Western thinkers to regard Zoroastrianism as a religion that has two gods - a "Good God" and a "Bad God." This is the cliche that has literally "bedeviled" Western ideas about Zoroastrianism. But this notion of Two Gods has never been part of Zoroastrian belief. Zoroastrians have always believed that there is only one God, Ahura Mazda (or Ohrmazd). Angra Mainyu, or Ahriman, may appear to be powerful and even to have divine characteristics, but he has never been divine. From Zarathushtra's teaching onwards, the Evil Spirit is considered a subordinate entity in rebellion against the One God and His Truth. His reign is temporary, and he is not eternal.
This doctrine was made clearer as, in the later traditions, Ohrmazd and Ahriman acquired a storyline and a time line. The "first beginning of Creation" was the beginning of the conflict of Good and Evil, long before human beings were created. This mythological teaching was already evident in the Zoroastrianism of the 4th century BCE, as Greek sources show. The story and unfolding timeline of the conflict of Good and Evil must have been told in oral tradition for thousands of years, but is only available to us in texts that were written long after the Arab conquest of Iran, since so much of Zoroastrian scriptures have been destroyed.
The details of the story are for another article; the basic outcome is that the physical world, which is morally neutral in the Gathic view, becomes involved in the dualism of good and evil. The entire Universe is divided into two camps, one under the domination of Ohrmazd, and the other under Ahriman. Therefore, there is now a Good Creation and an Evil Creation. The Earth, and the physical world, is a battlefield between the two; it is described as the "World of Mixture," where neither Good nor Evil have yet prevailed.
The Vendidad, the Zoroastrian law-book and compendium of myth, describes how Ohrmazd created many lovely regions of the earth, and Ahriman, in turn, created counter-creations of evil and corruption to ruin those lands and their animals and people. The animal world is divided into realms of good creatures helpful to humankind, such as cattle, horses, and dogs, and harmful realms of evil creatures, called khrafstras, such as snakes, flies, roaches, and rats. The tradition states that God created human beings to help Him in His battle against the Evil One, Ahriman, and that our greatest duty in this world is to advance the cause of the Good. In this view, the physical world has been invaded and corrupted by evil. Evil is now part of nature - so that when storms, earthquakes, drought, or plagues afflict human and animal life, it is the work of Ahriman, and explainable in a cosmic scheme of meaning.
Cosmic-dualistic belief encompasses the practice of ritual purity. This concept, which was part of the common Indo-Iranian heritage of both Zarathushtra's people and the ancient Hindu Indians, is absent in the Gathas, except perhaps for one disputed passage at Yasna 48.5. But, as the cosmic-dualistic view became the foremost doctrine of the later Zoroastrians, maintenance of purity became important not only for hygienic and ecological purposes but as a major tactic against the onslaught of Ahriman. Ahriman pollutes the world, but human beings, through the practice of ritual purity, can combat the pollution of evil, thus reclaiming the world for Ohrmazd. Much of Zoroastrian ritual involves the establishment and maintenance of ritual purity. Every ritual act, rightly done, fights against the pollution of Ahriman. Even non-ritual acts such as cleaning house, taking care of good animals, and refraining from speaking falsehood are effective acts against the evil in the physical as well as the spiritual world.
In Ethical dualism, non-human beings such as intermediate divinities, angels, spirits, and demons either are thought not to exist at all (in the more radical views) or are completely subjective, without direct effect on the physical world. All conscious action is taken by human beings alone. But in Cosmic dualism, the world is full of beings both visible and invisible, which are allied on one side or the other. There are the personified Amesha Spentas, the Attributes of God now considered as great Archangels, and there are the rehabilitated ancient Iranian divinities, the yazatas, considered as angels. There are personifications of the forces of Nature, and divinized souls of holy Ancestors and Zoroastrian saints; great heroes and kings of ancient Iran, and the grand radiant soul of the Prophet Himself. All this spiritual army of light is arrayed against Ahriman, his minions, and his hideous mob of demons, in an inner apocalypse. We human beings are part of this macrocosm, and thus we can, if we choose and act rightly, consider ourselves warriors of the Light against the forces of the Darkness. Unlike the plain world of Ethical dualism, where the only moral actors are human beings on the neutral stage of the physical world, the world of Cosmic dualism is an extravagant drama played out in an elaborate theater of many levels, populated with countless spiritual and physical beings, each aligned to one side or the other, and the plot takes eons to unfold. In the Ethical view, rituals are subjective, having their effects only on the human heart and mind. But in Cosmic dualism, rituals are thought to effect both the physical and spiritual world; thus effective actions are both moral and ritual. In the cosmic drama, every one of us has the opportunity to be a hero, both man and woman, weak and strong, from little child to aged elder.
Both Ethical and Cosmic dualism often inspire a major theological question: If God is all Good, then why does He allow Angra Mainyu, or Ahriman, to ravage the world? Could He not tip the balance in favor of the Good, if not intervene decisively? Some Cosmic dualists indeed state that Ahura Mazda is not all-powerful, and that, according to the mythical timeline, Ahriman must prevail during a set time-period in sacred history. The Ethical dualists do maintain that God is both all-good and all-powerful. But there is one thing that not even an all-powerful God can change: the free-will of a conscious being. If God violates a human being's free will, this is an act of coercion, and thus evil - which is impossible for God. Therefore, humans are free to choose evil, despite God's omnipotence and goodness. And, in the Cosmic view, Ahriman also chose evil freely - thus setting in motion the machinery of ruin.
The timeline of Zoroastrian sacred history, whether in the Ethical or the Cosmic view, is linear. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Zarathushtra, in his Gathas, described the "beginning," and he also looks forward to the end. Here is where both Cosmic and Ethical dualism converge. Ever since the time of the Prophet, Zoroastrians have looked forward to the End of Time when all things will be renewed. This is called the frasho-kereti, or literally, "Making-afresh." At the end of time, Good will triumph, and Evil will be defeated for ever. In both Ethical and Cosmic dualism, human actions are crucial for making this Renewal of All Things happen. The moral imperative, and the goal, is the same in both views: righteous action and cleaving to God and His/Her divine Order, ASHA. As Zarathushtra says in Yasna 30.9, a few verses after his passage on the Two Spirits/Mentalities, "And may we be among those who make this life fresh!"(Jafarey trans.) The goal of the End Times is set before all people.
The Zoroastrian doctrine of dualism greatly influenced Jewish, and in later times, Christian thinking. Echoes of both Ethical and Cosmic dualism can be found in the Bible. The Jews first encountered Persia and Zoroastrian philosophy at the end of their captivity in Babylon, when the Persians overran the area and their king Cyrus freed the Jews to return to their homeland. During that period (6th century BCE), and afterward, Jewish contact continued with Persia. In that early period, there may still have been Zoroastrian priests and scholars who knew the old Avestan language and could study and teach directly from the Gathas. These thinkers may have professed the Ethical view rather than the Cosmic, and thus Jews may have exchanged ideas on Ethical dualism with their Persian neighbors. At that same time, Jewish sages and scribes were re-editing their own scriptural texts into the five books known as the Torah. Deuteronomy, the fifth book, was re-written during the Exile. In this book, at Chapter 31:15, there is a clear and familiar statement of Ethical dualism, adapted into the Jewish context:
"See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of YHVH your God that I enjoin on you today, if you love YHVH your God and follow His ways, if you keep His commandments, His laws, His customs, you will live and increase, and YHVH your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to make your own. But if your heart strays, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawn into worshipping other gods and serving them, I tell you today, you will most certainly perish....I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live...." (Deut. 31:15-19, Jerusalem Bible translation)
Centuries later, Jews were again inspired by Zoroastrian tradition, this time the Cosmic-dualistic. The mythologized timelines of Zoroastrianism contributed to the formation of Jewish apocalyptic thought, which is also concerned with sacred history and the cosmic battle between Good and Evil. Such apocalyptic motifs can be found in the book of the prophet Daniel, which is a very late addition to the Old Testament, full of Persian influence (Daniel, after all, served at the court of the Persian king).
Even more direct Zoroastrian influence can be found in the writings of the Jewish Essene sects. Some of these texts are popularly known as part of the "Dead Sea Scrolls" collection. The Essene "Manual of Discipline" contains classic Cosmic dualism: the view of the righteous Essenes as the Sons of Light, battling against the evil Sons of Darkness:
"He (God) created man to have dominion over the world and made for him two spirits...they are the spirits of truth and of error. In the abode of light are the origins of truth, and from the source of darkness are the origins of error. In the hand of the prince of lights is dominion over the sons of righteousness; in the ways of light they walk. And by the angel of darkness is the straying of all the sons of righteousness, and all their sin and their iniquities and guilt....And all the spirits of his lot try to make the sons of light stumble; but the God of Israel and his angel of truth have helped all the sons of light. For he created the spirits of light and of darkness, and upon them he founded every work and every service. One of the spirits God loves for all the ages of eternity, and with all its deeds he is pleased forever; as for the other, he abhors its company, and all its ways he hates forever." (Essene Manual of Discipline, from The Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Millar Burrows)
Early Christianity built on these Zoroastrianized Jewish foundations. The well-known Christian figure of Satan, who tempts and torments human beings and even Christ himself, and to whom much of the world is given, is very much like the Ahriman of the cosmic dualists. And the vividly described Hell of the New Testament looks much like the mythic Zoroastrian underworld where wrongdoers are punished. Christianity and Zoroastrianism, developing parallel to each other as well as in close geographic proximity, exchanged many ideas about the spiritual world, especially in regard to dualism, Heaven, and Hell.
The famous Prologue to the Gospel of John contains a form of cosmic dualism, united with Hellenized Jewish ideas to give philosophical support to the presence of the Christian God- incarnation. In this text, Jesus is the creative Word, and the Light, of God:
"All that came to be had life in him. And that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower..." (John 1:3-5, Jerusalem Bible)
Ethical dualism also appears in the Gospel of John: "...Though the light has come into the world, men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil. And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it, for fear his actions should be exposed; but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may plainly be seen that what he does is done in God." (John 3:19-21, Jerusalem Bible)
These same dualistic metaphors of light and darkness, exposure and concealment, truth and falsehood, can be found in the Gathas of Zarathushtra, composed perhaps 1500 years earlier than John's Gospel.
There are other ways in which the dualism of Zoroastrianism has entered Western thought. Religions and ideologies such as Manichaeanism and Gnosticism, which arose in Persia and the Middle East in the early centuries of our era, extended the boundaries of cosmic dualism. In Manichaean and Gnostic thought, the entire physical world is the production of an evil entity, and is completely corrupt, except for the "particles of light" or soul-essence trapped in the prison of matter. The work of humanity is not to redeem the world, but to escape it by rejecting matter as much as possible. This form of dualism, which can lead to an otherworldly contempt for the physical world and the human body, influenced major Christian thinkers, especially Saint Augustine, and can still be recognized in some areas of Christianity today.
But it is important to remember that this Manichaean dualism of soul against world, of mind against body, is not the true Zoroastrian dualism. Zoroastrians, whether they are cosmic or ethical dualists, believe in the continuity of the physical and spiritual, not their separation. What is done in the physical world affects the spiritual world, and vice versa. Zoroastrianism has never called the entire physical world evil; rather, it rejoices in the goodness of the world which was created by an all-good God.
Other Western schools of thought have attempted to generalize dualism in non-religious ways. System-building philosophers like Hegel proposed a world-view of alternating opposites, both in the material and social world, which would then be resolved into a "synthesis" of the two opposites. This Western dualism is not really Zoroastrian. Though Zarathushtra did contemplate pairs of opposites in the natural world in his Gathas (light and darkness, sleep and waking, night and day, in Yasna 44) the only true Zoroastrian dualism, whether in the Ethical or the Cosmic view, is the dualism of Good and Evil. Zarathushtra's purpose is not to create a philosophy of Being, but to lead people to God and to right action. Thus, in the Zoroastrian view, there can be no reconciliation or "synthesis" between the two opposites of Good and Evil. "Neither our thoughts, nor teachings, nor intellects, nor choices, nor words, nor deeds, nor consciences, nor souls agree." (Yasna 45.2, Jafarey trans.) Nor will they ever agree.
Must we be dualistic in thinking about dualism? We have seen that the Ethical and the Cosmic ways of thinking, despite some points of similarity, are quite different. The Zoroastrian proponents of the views, like the Two Spirits (or Mentalities) themselves, seem never to agree. Much earlier in this article I mentioned that there was a third way to look at Zoroastrian dualism, which tries to create a reconciliation between the Ethical and Cosmic views. Is it possible to find a solution in which both ways are true; a way to combine the Gathic teaching of Zarathushtra with the later traditions of the Zoroastrian successors?
Already in ancient times, an attempt had been made to reconcile the Two Spirits by identifying them as the twin sons of a single divine Father. Ohrmazd and Ahriman were, in this doctrine, the sons of Zurvan, the personification of Time. (Zurvan literally means "time.") Thus they were primordially connected; the origin of the Two, which Zarathushtra had not specified, was revealed, and there was, in the deepest heart of Being, unity rather than duality. This doctrine, known as "Zurvanism," flourished along with mainstream Zoroastrianism for centuries. Its influence in the religion is highly disputed among scholars, but it seems to have disappeared as a religious movement some time after the Arab conquest.
The Zoroastrian philosopher K.D. Irani has proposed a modern reconciliation of the Ethical and Cosmic viewpoints which would be true to both while retaining the authentic dualism of the tradition. In Dr. Irani's view, Good and Evil are indeed independent entities with the capability for action. He regards Zarathushtra's language about their thoughts, choices, words, and deeds as more than just literary metaphor. Dr. Irani describes Good and Evil as both forces and attitudes. He considers them as "vectors": - pre- existing quantities having direction, outside of the individual human consciousness. The potential, and the structure, of Good and Evil would exist even before human beings.
In this conception, the Twin Spirits, Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu, also have an existence that is neither totally in the world of the human mind nor totally involved with the physical world. In order to understand this view of Dualism, the definitions of "reality" need to be broadened beyond the limits of "real" and "imaginary", or "physical" and "mental" - themselves dualisms that limit insight. Dr. Irani suggests a model of reality along the lines of that held by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung: the concept of "archetypes" and the "archetypal world." These are things which, though perceived by human minds, go beyond the individual and live in their own, non-physical but very real, world of archetypal reality. Zarathushtra's Two Spirits exist in this "archetypal world," and therefore they have both a "cosmic" existence and a "psychological," or ethical existence.
This idea of an Archetypal World did not begin with Jung; it is a common theme in many ancient philosophies and religions. Because it is somewhat mystical and not "scientific," rationalists, including Zoroastrian rationalists, dislike it. But it is here that the reconciliation of the two views of Dualism might lie: in a wider concept of reality that transcends dualistic thinking.
The story of Zoroastrian dualism is long and complicated; it has brought us from 1500 BCE to the present, and is still part of our lives, whether we are Zoroastrian, Jewish, or Christian. Jews and Christians disagree about whether there will be a resolution to Dualism; some Christians believe that hell, the domain of evil and punishment for sinners, is eternal and will persist when the drama of the universe is done. Others, doubting that an all-merciful God could condemn wrongdoers to eternal suffering, believe that at the end of time, all things will be redeemed and that God will be all in all.
Zoroastrians have never doubted the ultimate goodness of God. Believing Zoroastrians, no matter what their idea of Dualism, all have the same hope and the same expectation. Though the world appears dark now and Ahriman appears to win the battles, the victory in the Great War will go to Ahura Mazda and the forces of Goodness and Light - as long as there are good human beings to strive on the side of the angels, or their better ethical impulses. Then, when the war is over, Ahriman, Evil, and its dark corruption will be banished from all the worlds and disappear forever, and Dualism itself will come to an end.
Hannah M.G. Shapero