As we are actively discussing conversion in several different groups, I thought I'll post some related material and should any of you wish to use these references, please do so.
This was originally written in 1989 after meeting Mr. Ali Akbar Jafarey for the first time and being horrified at what he was preaching to our youth! I have editted the original article and made this into questions-answers format, like a catechism on conversion. Hope it will be useful.
The first question is "Whether or not Asho Zarathushtra converted others when he first started the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din"?
Answer: Here is an explanation regarding the difference between Devayasnis and Mazdayasnis, and who were the individuals Asho Zarathushtra "converted":
At the time when Asho Zarathushtra revealed His Din, only the Mazdayasni Religion was in existence. There were no other revealed religions in existence then! Hence, the statement that Asho Zarathushtra converted people from other revealed religions is unfounded.
Asho Zarathushtra is as hailed "paurvatatem", the First Revealer (Ha 33.14), and "ururost asto", the Foremost (ha 51.12). The language in which he taught, the Avestan, specifically the Gathic language, is older than the language of the Vedic Sanskrit! The Vedas were believed to be the world's oldest written scriptures, but philological studies of the Avestan language have proven that although the Sanskrit of the Vedas and the language of the Gathas (Avestan) are sister languages, the Gathic dialect is older! The Mazdayasnis are referred to as "pitriyanis", or "forefathers" in the Vedas, as documented by the Vedantin Scholar Mohandas J. Chatterjee in his book, "Hymns of Atharvan Zarathushtra". Hence, from the Vedas as well as from our own scriptures it can be conclusively proven that there were no other religions in existence except for the Mazdayasni religion when Asho Zarathushtra lived and preached. The fact that we pray, "Mazdayasno ahmi, Mazdayasno Zarthushtrish", indicates that Asho Zarathuhstra based his religion upon the existing Mazdayasni Religion which thereafter came to be called Mazdayasni Zarthushti Religion.
The only evidence the Gathas, other scriptures and even the Shah Nameh provide is that there were only two Nations and two groups of people when Asho Zarathushtra lived. They were the Iranis and the Turanis, or, in other words, the Mazdayasnis and the Devayasnis. These two groups or nations were in opposition to each other. "Yan" means "wisdom". (As in yanim mano, yanim vacho, yanim kshnothnem, the beginning of the Gathas wherein Asho Zarathushtra's Best, Wisest, Spiritual Thoughts, Words and Deeds are referred to.) The Tur-yanis (Turanis) were the evil sorcerers and evil doers. "Tur" indicates evil as employed in the words "Tur-Bar-Atur" and "Tur-e Frangras". Ar- yani or Irani means those who followed "ar" or spiritual wisdom. They were already the Mazdayasnis or Mazda worshippers who believed in One Supreme Creator, Ahura Mazda. It follows that the so-called conversions were only converting people from evil to good, from renouncing "tur" and complying to Asha, and not from one revealed religion to another. Moral conversion is the only conversion taught by Asho Zarathuhstra! Unless a person converts from within, unless a person leaves evil and turns to righteousness, would it help that person to simply become "good" by changing the name of one religion to another? No! No Prophet has endorsed to proselytise others unless to convert means to become morally better and this can be achieved by following the dictates of any revealed religion one is born into. If "convert" means to leave one's own religion of birth and adopt a newer, alien one, there is absolutely no equivalent word for "to convert" in the sacred Avesta.
Some notable Turani families embraced the Mazdayasni Zarthuhsti Din. "Turani" also indicated the individuals who lived in the region of Turan and who accepted the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din as taught by our Holy Prophet. Many Turanis "converted" to the Path of Asha as revealed by Asho Zarathushtra, foresaking the path of unrighteousness and worshipping many "gods". King Vishtasp was a Mazdayasni by birth and accepted the divine revelations of Asho Zarathushtra who preached at his court. Vishtasp did not "convert" from another alien religion to the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Religion! There was no other revealed religion to convert from! Additionally, Vishtasp did not forsake the old Mazdayasni Religion since Asho Zarathuhstra's revelations are based upon the foundations of the Mazdayasni Religion itself! Holy Zarathushtra's mission was to put on the right track all the Mazdayasni souls who had deviated from the right path and were influenced by the Devayasnis.
It is claimed by some that the "Hindu" sage Changragach converted to the Zarthushti Religion. As proven earlier, there was no other revealed, organised religion in existence at the time Asho Zarathuhstra lived and preached. The Prophet of the Hindus, Rama, was not born yet, as so stated by various scholars including Tagore and Mohandas J. Chatterjee. The late K.R.Cama has also asserted in "Zarathoshtnama" that before the advent of Asho Zarathushtra, there were no other religions in existence except for the Mazdayasni Din! Therefore, historically, Changragach could not have converted from one revealed, established religion (Hinduism), to another! The only conversion that took place was from Devayasni to Mazdayasni Zarthushtism. The Mazdayasnis accepted Asho Zarathushtra and his divine revelations as the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din. To spread righteousness and spiritual ecstasy, not only to other humans, but to all the Kingdoms of Nature as well, is the mandate of our Religion. Purity, brotherhood and the conversion of evil into good is the only doctrine of true "conversion" taught by our Holy Paigambar Saheb. Hence to maintain that Asho Zarathushtra proselytised the followers of other revealed religions is false.
The next question is: At the end of every Niyayesh and Yasht, we pray, "Daad din beh Mazdayasnan agahi, ravahi, goafrangani bad, haft keshvar zamin aedun baad". Does this not advocate conversion? Are we not mandated to convert others from all the seven regions or continents to the Mazdayasni Religion?
Answer: It is true that we pray these words daily but the connotation is incorrect. The sentence begins with the key word "daad", meaning the laws of the good Mazdayasni Religion! "Agahi" means wisdom (of the laws). "Ravahi" means obedience (to the laws, also to the soul or "ravan"), and "goafrangani" means praise (sing the praises of the laws). No fewer words have been more misunderstood and misinterpreted than these words of sublime homage to our Din!
a) In the above sentence, "agahi" indicates the wisdom of the "daad", the first word that begins the sentence! "Daad" means law and therefore, "agahi" or wisdom refers to the wise, spiritually progressive laws of the good Mazdayasni Religion that should be spread and increased over the seven regions of the Earth. The most sublime and the most exalted divine wisdom of the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din is to convert Angre Mainyu to Spenta Mainyu, and not followers of other revealed religions. It is the knowledge, the wisdom of this fundamental law of converting evil to good that a Zarthushti is required to spread on "haft keshvar zamin".
b) "Ravahi" denotes obedience. Obedience to the laws of Asha as prescribed by the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din. The immutable, fundamental and universal law of Asha is to convert one's own evil mentality into goodness and godliness. Hence, this obedience to the spiritual law of the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din is to be spread universally on all the seven "earths".
Obedience or "ravahi" also implies obedience to the dictates of one's soul ("ravan") which is divine and immortal. Being immortal, the soul is also omniscient and therefore, it chooses wisely before birth the time, parents, place and religion to which it will be born into. Ahura Mazda Himself has organised His creation into orderly groups. Yasna 19 illustrates the Divine Word, the mystic manthra of Ahunavar in detail. It explains the Will of Ahura Mazda and the establishment of the five main religions and their "ratus" or prophets as "pancha ratus" and "pancha tkaeshas". Since Ahura Mazda Himself has ordained different religions, it is spiritually ignorant to say that people can choose their religion reflectively. Religion, like parents, time and place of birth is pre-ordained. Every occurrence is through His Plan and Will. Therefore, "ravahi" indicates obedience to the soul and to His Will! Obedience indicates surrender, submission and not rebellious choices and preferential desires selected by the mind that is still in the process of evolving, spiritually imperfect and prone to err!
c) "Goafrangani" means praise. We praise the laws of the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din which give knowledge of the intimate workings of Nature, the laws which give us the wisdom to obey and choose wisely between the two paths of good and evil in every thought, word and deed. "Goafrangani" means we praise the laws of the great Mazdayasni Zarthuhsti Din, the Wisdom Religion, which teach us to turn "vauraya" (Yasna 31.3), from evil to good, to have faith in and to obey the teachings of our Holy Prophet Asho Zarathushtra!
d) "Haft keshvar zamin": "haft" means seven and "zamin" indicates earth. Some philologists have translated the word "keshvar" as the seven terrestrial continents of the Earth. The word "keshvar" indicates "karsh" or "kash" meaning to draw circles or talismanic rings. "Keshvars" are certain rarefied locations in the regions of upper space separated from the terrestrial Earth and they should not be confused with the seven continents of this Earth. Our continents are not round circles and they are not talismanic rings. They keep drifting, change size and the numbers are also variable as in the beginning there was only one vast continent that later broke into several pieces creating the seven continents that are incidental.
Yasna 32.3, (Ahunavaiti), refers to our Earth or "geti" as "bumiyao haptaithe" or the "seven earths", synonymous with "haft keshvar zamin". The Vendidad, one of the original 21 Nasks, elucidates further on these "earths" and refers to these "haft keshvars" by describing them as Vouru Bareshti (situated in the north-west of "geti"), Vouru Zareshti (situated in the north-east). Fradadafshu (south-west) and Vidadafshu (south-east). Arezahi is in the west and Savahi is located in the east of "geti". In the centre is "Khvanirath"! Bundahishn and Yasna 11.7 also place "Khvanirath" as centrally located. As is evident, these seven "earths" are regions that are situated in pairs! Our physical continents are not in pairs, neither are they round and our Earth cannot be said to be in the centre of the other six continents! Additionally and significantly, the Vendidad, differentiates the Earth or "Khvanirath" as being combined with "imat" or "this", meaning the "terrestrial earth", while all other "keshvars" are combined with "avat" or "that/those (upper) earths", indicating them to be rarefied, luminous orbs different from the terrestrial "Khvanirath". "Khvanirath" alone is declared to be known to, and is accessible to man! Hence, it is abundantly clear that "keshvars" indicate certain regions of upper space and not the seven terrestrial continents of this Earth.
When we pray the words, "may the wisdom, obedience and praise of the laws of the excellent Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din ever increase and spread over the seven regions", we maintain that we "convert" the followers of other "apara-tkaesha" or later religions to convert their own evil to righteousness. Unless and until all souls attain to spiritual wisdom, Frashogard cannot be attained. We can effectively spread the knowledge, obedience and fame of the great Mazdayasni Zarthuhsti Din on all the regions of "haft keshvar zamin" by disseminating the moral conversion preached in the Gathas and other scriptures, of converting Angra Mainyu into Spenta Mainyu. We can spread the fame of the law that grants every man the freedom to choose consciously between the two paths of good and evil in every thought, word and deed performed. The immutable law of justice is taught as a consequence of selections made in every thought, word and deed committed during earth life. Heretics read the word "proselytise" where no such word is even remotely hinted at, in our Niyayeshes and Yashts!
To spread "agahi, ravahi, goafrangani" on "haft keshvar zamin" only means that may we spread the wisdom, obedience and praise of the laws of the excellent Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din on all the seven regions; laws that teach to convert one's inherent vices to virtues! The law is not to convert others from one revealed religion to another but to practice the moral conversion of choosing righteousness over the evil tendencies of the spiritually imperfected mind.
Question: It is also maintained by some that all Zarthushtis are advised to become "missionaries" and convert others to the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Religion! Do the Gathas impart such a teaching?
Answer: Definitely not! The Gathas are the most sublime teachings of our Paigambar Asho Zarathushtra! He is called "ramzgo" or one who spoke in a mystic tongue! Every Prophet has revealed the spiritual teachings in parables and hidden the loftiest mysteries under a mystic veil. The Gathas are no exception. Yasna 48.3 calls the teachings "guzra-senghaongo" meaning secret or hidden; Yasna 50.6 refers to the Gathic stanzas and the revelations contained therein as "razeng", meaning occult or mystic! When Asho Zarathushtra addresses the disciples as "messengers", ("thwoi dutaongho", Yasna 32.1), and advises them to go to far off lands to spread the universal truth with regard to "converting" their own and others, the advice given is indeed mystic and refers only to the inner, true conversion! Haptan Yasht (karda 8), also a part of Yasna 41.6, reveals the same teaching, that is, to become "doorat asho-isho" (holy ashavans), in order to "convert". Emphatically, the words "convert" and "missionary" do not mean conversion in the so-called missionary style that the Gatha Alone Cultists are currently carrying on!
Esoterically, these words referred to the saints and sages, the holy ashavans, who have already travelled far on the Path of Righteousness (ashoi) to convert their own evil into good. The righteous ones never convert people from religion to religion but themselves and others from unrighteousness to righteousness! To spread "ashoi" or righteousness does not mean proselytise! "Ashoi" or righteousness is universal as is the teaching regarding righteousness given by every revealed religion through their respective prophets! To act righteously and to ask any individual to forsake the religion of birth is antithetical. There are righteous and unrighteous individuals within every community! It matters not what religion a person is born into as long as that individual obeys the tenets of the religion of birth and leads a righteous life. Good thoughts, words and deeds are not a Zarthushti monopoly. No religion teaches bad conduct. These three universal precepts of good thoughts, good words and good deeds are universally taught by all the prophets and many non-Zarthushtis do religiously practice these three fundamental virtues.
To understand the true conversion that takes place within, of vices into virtues, the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Religion teaches through Yasna 55 that the primordial "ruvan" is divided into 9 components, namely fravashi, baodang, urvan (immortal parts), keherp, tevishi, ushtan (meta-physical), and azda, gaetha, tanu (physical parts). After its long peregrination through all the "keshvars", when the soul or "urvan" becomes spiritually perfected, it is able to re-unite all its meta-physical and physical components that were so far experiencing consciousness on their own individual planes of existence. Being spiritually perfected, the soul then combines these components with baodang and fravashi in life everlasting. The united soul thus becomes a complete entity after drawing unto itself the different components that were scattered throughout the varied Kingdoms of Nature. Hence, these words regarding the missionaries refer to the ashavans who travel far on the Path and have been able to convert their "own", meaning the components of their own soul by uniting them into one complete whole through spiritual perfection. This teaching is similar to the Egyptian tale of Osiris and Isis. The mystic teaching regarding "converting" one's own and others may also mean that the Divine Missionaries, the Perfected Souls, as Guides, direct other seekers, of other religions, on the Right Path to become spiritually perfected. There is no mention of converting others from religion to religion! Even the Prophet of Islam has admonished his disciples not to proselytise others of the "Book", meaning those who are born into another revealed religion. In the Bhagvad Gita as well, Shri Krishna admonishes his disciples, "para dharma bhai", meaning there is spiritual danger in following an alien faith, forsaking one's own religion of birth!
In fact, if our religion propagated conversion and sent missionaries, Cyrus the Great would have surely converted all the Jews! He did not, in keeping with the true teachings of the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din! Darius the Great could have also converted people from 28 Nations who were under his rule but Zarthushti Kings always respected other religions and their followers in keeping with the teachings of our Prophet. They did not convert individuals because conversion, meaning to proselytise from one religion to another, is totally alien to our faith; it is unZarthushti. Such actions are a heresy! In fact, Darius the Great, in keeping with the teaching and practice of boonak- pasbaani, has inscribed his lineage at Naqsh-e Rustom as, "parsa parsahya puthra arya aryachithra", meaning, (I am) Parsi, the son of a Parsi, an Aryan, of Aryan lineage! Unfortunately, some Sassanian nobility deviated from the true teachings and committed the spiritual sin of intermarriage. Princes born of juddin mothers were instigated to commit treason, patricide and heresy against the religion and this started the beginning of the end of the Empire. To proselytise from religion to religion does not help any individual to become "better". Our Prophet has not advocated proselytism but only the true, inner conversion and to become "missionaries" of righteousness!
Hopefully, we will discuss some more questions next time.
Zoroastrian Matrimonial Page
Traditional Zoroastrianism Home Page
Saga of the Aryans Home Page