Hegel on the Zend People and Zoroastrianism


Part from Hegel’s “Philosophy of History”.
by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770-1831, German Philosopher

The Zend People derived their name from the language in which the Zend Books are written, i.e., the canonical books on which the religion of the ancient Parsees is founded. Of this religion of the Parsees or Fire-worshippers, there are still traces extant. There is a colony of them in Bombay; and on the Caspian Sea there are some scattered families that have retained this form of worship. Their national existence was put an end to by the Mahometans. The great Zerdusht — called Zoroaster by the Greeks — wrote his religious books in the Zend language. Until nearly the last third of the eighteenth century, this language and all the writings composed in it, were entirely unknown to Europeans; when at length the celebrated Frenchman, Anquetil- Duperron, disclosed to us these rich treasures. Filled with an enthusiasm for the Oriental World, which his poverty did not allow him to gratify, he enlisted in a French corps that was about to sail for India. He thus reached Bombay, where he met with the Parsees, and entered on the study of their religious ideas. With indescribable difficulty he succeeded in obtaining their religious books; making his way into their literature, and thus opening an entirely new and wide field of research, but which, owing to his imperfect acquaintance with the language, still awaits thorough investigation.

Where the Zend people, mentioned in the religious books of Zoroaster, lived, is difficult to determine. In Media and Persia the religion of Zoroaster prevailed, and Xenophon relates that Cyrus adopted it: but none of these countries was the proper habitat of the Zend people. Zoroaster himself calls it the pure Aryan: we find a similar name in Herodotus, for he says that the Medes were formerly called Arii — a name with which the designation Iran is connected. South of the Oxus runs a mountain chain in the ancient Bactriana — with which the elevated plains commence, that were inhabited by the Medes, the Parthians, and the Hyrcanians. In the district watered by the Oxus at the commencement of its course, Bactra — probably the modern Balk — is said to have been situated; from which Cabul and Cashmere are distant only about eight days’ journey. Here in Bactriana appears to have been the seat of the Zend people. In the time of Cyrus we find the pure and original faith, and the ancient political and social relations such as they are described in the Zend books, no longer perfect. Thus much appears certain, that the Zend language, which is connected with the Sanscrit, was the language of the Persians, Medes, and Bactrians. The laws and institutions of the people bear an evident stamp of great simplicity. Four classes are mentioned : Priests, Warriors, Agriculturists, and Craftsmen. Trade only is not noticed; from which it would appear that the people still remained in an isolated condition. Governors of Districts, Towns, and Roads, are mentioned; so that all points to the social phase of society — the political not being yet developed; and nothing indicates a connection with other states. It is essential to note, that we find here no Castes, but only Classes, and that there are no restrictions on marriage between these different Classes; though the Zend writings announce civil laws and penalties, together with religious enactments.

The chief point — that which especially concerns us here — is the doctrine of Zoroaster. In contrast with the wretched hebetude of Spirit which we find among the Hindoos, a pure ether — an exhalation of Spirit — meets us in the Persian conception. In it, Spirit emerges from that substantial Unity of Nature, that substantial destitution of import, in which a separation has not yet taken place — in which Spirit has not yet an independent existence in contraposition to its object. This people, namely, attained to the consciousness, that absolute Truth must have the form of Universality — of Unity. This Universal, Eternal, Infinite Essence is not recognized at first, as conditioned in any way; it is Unlimited Identity. This is properly (and we have already frequently repeated it) also the character of Brahm. But this Universal Being became objective, and their Spirit became the consciousness of this its Essence; while on the contrary among the Hindoos this objectivity is only the natural one of the Brahmins, and is recognized as pure Universality only in the destruction of consciousness. Among the Persians this negative assertion has become a positive one; and man has a relation to Universal Being of such a kind that he remains positive in sustaining it. .. The Persian Religion is therefore no idol-worship ; it does not adore individual natural objects, but the Universal itself. Light admits, moreover, the signification of the Spiritual; it is the form of the Good and True — the substantiality of knowledge and volition as well as of all natural things. Light puts man in a position to be able to exercise choice; and he can only choose when he has emerged from that which had absorbed him. But Light directly involves an Opposite, namely, Darkness; just as Evil is the antithesis of Good. As man could not appreciate Good, if Evil were not; and as he can be really good only when he has become acquainted with the contrary, so the Light does not exist without Darkness. Among the Persians, Ormuzd and Ahriman present the antithesis in question. Ormuzd is the Lord of the kingdom of Light — of Good; Ahriman that of Darkness — of Evil. But there is a still higher being from whom both proceeded — a Universal Being not affected by this antithesis, called Zeruane-Akerene — the Unlimited All. The All, i.e., is something abstract; it does not exist for itself, and Ormuzd and Ahriman have arisen from it. This Dualism is commonly brought as a reproach against Oriental thought; and, as far as the contradiction is regarded as absolute, that is certainly an irreligious understanding which remains satisfied with it. But the very nature of Spirit demands antithesis; the principle of Dualism belongs therefore to the idea of Spirit, which, in its concrete form, essentially involves distinction. Among the Persians, Purity and Impurity have both become subjects of consciousness; and Spirit, in order to comprehend itself, must of necessity place the Special and Negative existence in contrast with the Universal and Positive. Only by overcoming this antithesis is Spirit twice-born — regenerated. The deficiency in the Persian principle is only that the Unity of the antithesis is not completely recognized; for in that indefinite conception of the Uncreated All, whence Ormuzd and Ahriman proceeded, the Unity is only the absolutely Primal existence, and does not reduce the contradictory elements to harmony in itself. Ormuzd creates of his own free will; but also according to the decree of Zeruane-Akerene (the representation wavers) ; and the harmonizing of the contradiction is only to be found in the contest which Ormuzd carries on with Ahriman, and in which he will at last conquer. Ormuzd is the Lord of Light, and he creates all that is beautiful and noble in the World, which is a Kingdom of the Sun. He is the excellent, the good, the positive in all natural and spiritual existence. Light is the body of Ormusd; thence the worship of Fire, because Ormuzd is present in all Light; but he is not the Sun or Moon itself. In these the Persians venerate only the Light, which is Ormuzd. Zoroaster asks Ormuzd who he is? He answers: “My Name is the ground and centre of all existence — Highest Wisdom and Science — Destroyer of the Ills of the World, and maintainer of the Universe — Fulness of Blessedness — Pure Will,” etc. That which comes from Ormuzd is living, independent, and lasting. Language testifies to his power; prayers are his productions. Darkness is on the contrary the body of Ahriman; but a perpetual fire banishes him from the temples. The chief end of every man’s existence is to keep himself pure, and to spread this purity around him. The precepts that have this in view are very diffuse; the moral requirements are however characterized by mildness. It is said: if a man loads you with revilings, and insults, but subsequently humbles himself, call him your friend. We read in the Vendidad, that sacrifices consist chiefly of the flesh of clean animals, flowers and fruits, milk and perfumes. It is said there, “As man was created pure and worthy of Heaven, he becomes pure again through the law of the servants of Ormuzd, which is purity itself; if he purifies himself by sanctity of thought, word, and deed. What is ‘Pure Thought’? That which ascends to the beginning of things. What is ‘ Pure Word ‘? The Word of Ormuzd (the Word is thus personified and imports the living Spirit of the whole revelation of Ormuzd). What is ‘Pure Deed’? The humble adoration of the Heavenly Hosts, created at the beginning of things.” It is implied in this that man should be virtuous: his own will, his subjective freedom is presupposed. Ormuzd is not limited to particular forms of existence. Sun, Moon, and five other stars, which seem to indicate the planets — those illuminating and illuminated bodies — are the primary symbols of Ormuzd; the Ainshaspand, his first sons. Among these, Mitra is also named: but we are at a loss to fix upon the star which this name denotes, as we are also in reference to the others. The Mitra is placed in the Zend Books among the other stars; yet in the penal code moral transgressions are called “Mitrasins” — e.g., breach of promise, entailing 300 lashes; to which in the case of theft, 300 years of punishment in Hell are to be added. Mitra appears here as the presiding genius of man’s inward higher life. Later on, great importance is assigned to Mitra as the mediator between Ormuzd and men. Even Herodotus mentions the adoration of Mitra. In Rome, at a later date, it became very prevalent as a secret worship; and we find traces of it even far into the middle ages. Besides those noticed there are other protecting genii, which rank under the Amshaspand, their superiors; and are the governors and preservers of the world. The council of the seven great men whom the Persian Monarch had about him was likewise instituted in imitation of the court of Ormuzd.

The ritual observances of the religion of Ormuzd import that men should conduct themselves in harmony with the Kingdom of Light. The great general commandment is therefore, as already said, spiritual and corporeal purity, consisting in many prayers to Ormuzd. It was made specially obligatory upon the Persians, to maintain living existences — to plant trees — to dig wells — to fertilize deserts; in order that Life, the Positive, the Pure might be furthered, and the dominion of Ormuzd be universally extended. External purity is contravened by touching a dead animal, and there are many directions for being purified from such pollution. Herodotus relates of Cyrus, that when he went against Babylon, and the river Gyndes engulfed one of the horses of the Chariot of the Sun, he was occupied for a year in punishing it, by diverting its stream into small canals, to deprive it of its power. Thus Xerxes, when the sea broke in pieces his bridges, had chains laid upon it as the wicked and pernicious being — Ahriman.

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~ by metadave on December 29, 2007.

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