Emergence of Zoroastrianism and The Legacy of Zarathushtra
At first, Zarathushtra preached among ordinary people on the streets but met harsh resistance from the conservative priesthood, and his teachings were dismissed. For twelve years he refused to give up and was highly determined to spread the divine message but ultimately he was only able to convert fourteen people other than his family members. This resulted in him taking the decision of leaving his home town together with his family and his followers and travelling to places where he had formerly travelled in order to gain more followers. The rulers and priests of the new places to which Zarathushtra and his followers travelled, refused to accept his philosophy due to the fear of losing authority and power over people. Many were ignorant and did not take the time to think about what was preached or they did not believe his words.
Time went by and Zarathushtra was now 42 years old. One day Zarathushtra received news that gave him hope. He had heard about a wise and just king named Vishtaspa who ruled in a nearby land. Zarathushtra thought that the king would be wise enough to listen to him and therefore, he and his followers did not hesitate to visit this king. Once again, they were on their way.
When they reached the royal court of king Vishtaspa, he accepted Zarathushtra's visit and invited him to his residence. The king had granted Zarathushtra an audience with priests and counselors to listen to his philosophy and if necessary, initiate a debate. As expected, Zarathushtra received numerous questions from the audience and he had convincing answers for all of them. King Vishtaspa became very impressed by the wisdom of Zarathushtra and after a few days of thinking, he decided to convert. He advised his subjects, priests and counselors to do the same but to first think thoroughly and choose wisely. This was a breakthrough for Zarathushtra. Even though Zarathushtra had convinced many about his philosophy, his popularity in the royal court created enemies. Little did Zarathushtra know that a few priests had planned a plot against him. The priests had placed objects related to black magic in Zarathushtra's room at the king's residence and they then told Vishtaspa to search his room. When Vishtaspa found the objects, he accused Zarathushtra of blasphemy and imprisoned him while denying him food and water.
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Zoroastrian fire temple housing a sacred fire which has been burning constantly for about 1500 years in the city of Yazd, Iran ( hoexbroe.dk)
One day, the beloved black horse of Vishtaspa caught an incurable disease and no physician could cure the horse. While in prison, Zarathushtra heard about the dying horse and he offered his help. Vishtaspa reluctantly gave Zarathushtra the opportunity and by his surprise, Zarathushtra managed to cure the horse. This event caused Vishtaspa to realize that he had been wrong and he fully accepted the Zoroastrian faith. He punished the subjects who had plotted against Zarathushtra and he made Zoroastrianism the state religion of his land. This turning point resulted in the spreading of Zoroastrianism to neighboring lands and the establishment of Zoroastrianism as a world religion during ancient times. At the royal court of Vishtaspa, Zarathushtra wrote parts of the holy Zoroastrian book called Avesta which is some of the oldest literature of mankind. The seventeen hymns of Avesta which are called the Gathas are still considered to be written by Zarathushtra himself. Zarathushtra spent 35 years at the royal court of Vishtaspa before he passed away at the age of 77.
Vishtaspa established the sacred fire which is still used by Zoroastrians as a symbol of pureness and light. He also planted a cypress tree in memory of Zarathushtra called the Cypress of Kashmar, which thrived in the land for more than two millennia until the Arabs invaded Persia in the 7th century and cut down the tree. Today stands another cypress tree named the Cypress of Abarkuh in the city of Yazd in Iran, which the Arabs did not manage to cut down due to resistance from local people. This tree is about 4,500 years old and is the oldest tree in Asia and the second oldest tree in the world.
The Cypress of Abarkuh in the city of Yazd in Iran ( Wikimedia Commons )
The Legacy of Zarathushtra
Zarathushtra's Iranian philosophy and the Zoroastrian religion profoundly inspired and influenced mankind for millennia up until today. Zoroastrianism greatly influenced religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. It also influenced Greek philosophy. The core of Zarathushtra's message was that he emphasized free will, the freedom of choices. He considered man to be intelligent enough to distinguish between right and wrong, that all the responsibilities of one's deeds are given to the individual and God cannot be blamed. He meant that nobody is the servant of God, but one can choose to work in harmony with God and to choose the right and loving way of living in order to gain knowledge and wisdom, both spiritually and scientifically. He also meant that an enlightened person can make choices in the nature of their spirit. According to Zarathushtra, God is not a dealer, neither is he a buyer nor a seller, and does not need to be flattered by man. He emphasized the fact that regardless of gender and ethnicity, good words, good thoughts and good deeds , which are the three keystones of the Zoroastrian religion, ultimately defines you. He thus meant that regardless of gender and ethnicity, all deserve equality when following the Truth.
Ancient Persian fire temple still in use ( cbh.az)
Featured image: A old tomb of the Zoroastrianism religion in the Sulaymaniyah province, Kurdistan. The inside has been robbed and is empty. ( Wikimedia Commons )