Dear TZML friends,
Asho Zarathushtra (AZ) converted nobody! In fact, in his era which is approx. 8,300 years ago, none of the other great world religions had yet been codified/established! Therefore there was no other religion from which AZ could have converted anybody! Please read on for a fuller understanding........ .
Our recorded history stretches back to roughly 12,000 years ago, starting with Shah Gayomard (or Kayomarz), the 1st king of the Peshdadian Dynasty, to whom Mazda first imparted true religious knowledge. In all, there were 11 Peshdadian monarchs of very high spiritual stature, including Shah Jamshied (Yima), Shah Faridun, etc.
After the Peshdadians came the glorious Kaianian Dynasty, again with kings who were highly evolved, e.g. Kai-Kobad, Kai-Khushroo, etc. The "Kaianian Khoreh" (the brilliant aura that these kings possessed) is famous. It was in the reign of Kai-Vishtaspa (Gushtaspa) that AZ undertook his mission on Earth.
Before the time of Kai-Vishtaspa and AZ, the Aryans followed what is commonly called the "Mazdayasni" or Mazda-worshipping religion (Mazda = the Great Creator + yaz = to worship, to attune with). This religion of the ancient Aryans is referred to in our scriptures as the "Paoriyo Tkaesha" (= the Ancient/Old Religion).
Over time during the pre-Zarathushtrian period, certain "innovations" (i.e., deviations) were introduced into the Paoriyo Tkaesha by a certain section of the Aryan community. The Ancient Religion gradually took on a different complexion in certain important aspects among this section of people. One of these aspects was a dilution of monotheism, wherein the worship of the One Supreme Being was replaced by the worship of a pantheon of certain spiritual entities known as Daevas, i.e. various independent gods and goddesses --- in short, polytheism, or more correctly, henotheism. That section of the Aryans which worshipped the Daevas came to be known as "Daevayasnis" or Daeva-worshippers (Daeva + yaz = to worship, to attune with). There were other deviations too introduced by the Daevayasnis, such as iconism (idolatory), casteism, and passivity (e.g., asceticism). Naturally, all this did not sit well with the Mazdayasnis who had always endorsed monotheism, aniconism (no idols), non-casteism, and activism as essential original elements of the Paoriyo Tkaesha.
All these Daevayasni deviations spread rampantly, and the situation had come to a head by the time AZ made his appearance. The Aryans, though still living unitedly together in a common homeland, were divided into Mazdayasnis (Mazda-worshippers) and Daevayasnis (Daeva-worshipppers). Evidently, the deviant Daevayasni section had become very powerful indeed and were calling the shots, even in the royal court of Kai-Vishtaspa.
AZ's mission was twofold: (a) To restore, rejuvenate & resuscitate the Paoriyo Tkaesha to its original pristine levels, and to draw the deviant section of the Aryans back into the original religious mode; and (b) To reveal his own new transcendental revelations which he brought down with him as the "Ratu" (= saviour, prophet) appointed by Ahura Mazda (refer Gathas) --- AZ himself tells us in the Gathas that he is imparting the "agushtaa vachaao," i.e. the hitherto unheard-of or unproclaimed divine revelations.
It is important to understand that AZ retained all the authentic teachings & practices of the Paoriyo Tkaesha or ancient Mazdayasni faith and rejected only the deviant alterations, since he had come not to replace the Ancient Religion (of which he himself was a fire-priest (Athravan) by right of family lineage!) but to restore it to its pristine state. He came to construct, not to destruct.
Therefore, we find in the sacred Avesta several pre-Zarathushtrian teachings, references, etc. For example, certain references from the Meher Yasht have been conclusively established by the most modern scientific techniques to date from 11,500 years ago (i.e., 3,000+ years before the advent of AZ). While AZ retained the authentic portions of the Paoriyo Tkaesha, he also added his own marvellous new spiritual revelations. Indeed, due to these "agushtaa vachaao" (i.e., previously unheard-of or unproclaimed divine revelations) imparted by AZ, the very word "Avesta" signifies that which was NOT known. "A" is a negative prefix, "vid" means to know, and "ta" is an augmentative suffix. Thus, A+vid+ta = Avidta which through usage becomes Avista, Avesta. Compare this with the term "Veda" (also derived from the same root "vid" = to know) which signifies that which was known.
To get back to our main stream of thought, let us recall that by the time of AZ the Aryans were religiously divided into the Mazdayasni and Daevayasni camps. A kind of thing similar to the religious Berlin Wall that divides the Parsis today into the orthodox and heterodox camps. In the same way that in spite of the orthodox vs. heterodox religious divide among the Parsis today we are still all Parsis belonging to the same community, the divide between the Mazdayasni and Daevayasni Aryans did not change the fact that they too were still all Aryans belonging to the same community!
Now look at it this way. Suppose you have a Parsi friend or relative who has gone religiously astray and has fallen a prey to the heterodox package of intermarriage, conversion, cremation, no rituals, discarding Vendidad, etc. etc. And suppose you succeed in persuading him to return to the right path of orthodoxy (Grk. orthos = right + Grk. doxa = doctrine, path). Would that be called "conversion"? OF COURSE NOT! You're simply bringing back one of your own community members who has deviated from the right track and gone astray. That's totally different from converting a person from one true God-given religion to another true God-given religion!
The above is the exact analogy of what Asho Zarathushtra tried to do over 8,000 years ago when there was a religious Berlin Wall dividing the Aryan community into the Mazdayasni and Daevayasni camps. He restored the Paoriyo Tkaesha to its pristine glory and sought to draw back into their original religious mode the many in the Aryan community who had deviated from the pure Mazda-worshipping religion and gone astray into Daeva-worshipping practices. He sought to bring them back to the right track. Is that "conversion"? OF COURSE NOT!
Please remember that at the time of AZ there was no other true religion in existence from which he could convert people! There was ONLY the Paoriyo Tkaesha (Ancient/Old Religion) of the early united Aryans. This had fallen into serious dissension & disrepair, and many had deviated and gone astray into Daeva-worship. And that's exactly why AZ was sent down by Ahura Mazda. I repeat: there was NO OTHER religion in existence at that time. The idea that AZ converted people from other religions is simply a non-starter. If any smart aleck tries to fox you with the question, "But didn't AZ convert the king Kai-Vishtaspa through the [allegorical] episode of the king's sick horse?", just fox him back with this simple reply: "Can you first please inform me FROM WHICH religion AZ converted King Vishtaspa? Was it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Jainism, or any other you'd like to name?"
Roni K. Khan
P.S.: For those who are wondering what happened next, let me tell you briefly. AZ succeeded in restoring the old Mazdayasni religion to its pure original state and added to that his own marvellous new Zarathushtri revelations (that's why we are known by the double-barrelled name "Mazdayasni-Zarathushtri"). Many of the Aryans embraced AZ's teachings and became his followers. But many others did not budge and remained in the Daevayasni camp. The religious strife became so intense that during or shortly after the mission of AZ, the two camps within the Aryan community split up in a Great Schism, parted company for ever and went their own separate ways.
I may mention that this split occurred when the Aryans were apparently located at around 50 degrees North latitude somewhere in Northern Eurasia. Later, the Iranian-Aryans migrated further Southwards and finally settled in the Iranian Plateau (Persia), while the Indo-Aryans took a different route and finally settled in the Indo-Gangetic Plain of North India. The split was complete, even physically/geographically.
However, having once been united and having shared a common homeland and culture for thousands of years in the remote past, these two branches of the Aryan family naturally share certain common features in religion, history & heritage, as well as in language --- Avesta and Vedic Sanskrit are actually sister languages!
But due to the religious divide and the Great Schism which resulted in much bitterness and enmity (various attempts at a reconciliation having failed), there are also naturally many major differences in religious doctrine and practice between the two branches. This is no better illustrated than by the terms "Daeva" and "Ahura." Ahura is the name by which the Iranian-Aryans refer to God. But did you know that when the Indo-Aryans use that very same word Asura ("s" & "h" being interchangeable between Avesta and Sanskrit) they take it to signify a demon? Now look at Daeva. This word comes from the root "div"/"dav" which can have two contrary meanings --- one meaning = to shine, and the other meaning = to deceive. The Indo-Aryans picked the first meaning with the good connotation (i.e., to shine) and applied the words Daeva and Daevi to signify their various gods and goddesses. No prizes for guessing what the Iranian-Aryans did! They picked the second meaning with the bad connotation (i.e., to deceive) and hence took Daeva to signify a demon. Tit for tat!
I'm going to resist the temptation to go on and on otherwise this posting will never end! Hope it has not been boring and that it has helped to clear up your queries.
If you want to gain some further insights into the question of conversion (in general as well as specific to our religion) please read my new book "Is The Zarathushtrian Religion Universal?". This is available from the publisher Mr. Giara at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mumbai phone no. 4166204 for Rs.100/- + postage.
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