Reincarnation and the Zoroastrian Beliefs

The subject of reincarnation is a divisive and controversial issue in the Zoroastrian community. The tiny Zoroastrian  community is highly educated and westernized. The Parsis or the Zoroastrians of India are the most anglicised community outside the British Isles. Due to their anglicized and western standards a great number of Zoroastrians respond in a typical western fashion toward reincarnation and deny the existence of “a unique form” of reincarnation in the sacred Zoroastrian poetry, literature and ancient doctrine. Only the very orthodox or the esoteric Zoroastrians openly advocate reincarnation. 

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that the concept of reincarnation existed among the Pre-Christian Indo Europeans, and to examine if the christian/western counterarguments against reincarnation are compatible with the core Zoroastrian doctrine and beliefs.

Reincarnation has been an inherent part of the ancient Aryan beliefs among the Pre-Christian Germanic tribes and the Celts. They-along with all their fellow Indo-Europeans-did hold that the essential spiritual powers and abilities of the dead were passed on particularly to those who were of the same energy, mind/spirit with them. 
Classical authors mentioned a belief in immortality of the spirit/mind held by the Celts. The Greek ethnographer Poseidonus was probably the original source for most of these early references. He equated the Celtic doctrine with that of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras. Julius Caesar used Poseidonios as his source when he wrote:

A lesson which they[the druids] take particular pains to inculcate is that the spirit/mind does not perish, but after death passes from one body to another; they think this is the best incentive to bravery, because it teaches men to disregard the terrors of death.
[De bellico Gallico VI, 14]`

In the 1st century BC Alexander Cornelius Polyhistor wrote;

The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among the Gauls’ teaching that the consciousness/souls of men are immortal, and that after a fixed number of years they will enter into another body. 

Also, the Vikings seemed to believe in reincarnation, for we read in the poetic Edda: Sigrun was early dead of sorrow and grief. It was believed in olden times that people were born again, but that is now called old wives’ folly. Of Helgi and Sigrun it is said that they were born again; he became Helgi Haddingjaskati, and she Kara the daughter of Halfdan, as is told in the Lay of Kara, and she was a Valkyrie. 

It is well known that the judeo-christian concept of time  is linear. Yet, the Zoroastrian doctrine  like that of the ancient Germanic tribes does not view “time” in a simple matter of past, present and future. 

Linear time IS NOT an Avestan or Indo-Aryan concept. According to the most ancient sacred poetry of the Zoroastrians or the poetic gathas; Time is conceived of  being a PROGRESSION OF CYCLES, not in the sense of going round in a circle for things and events to repeat themselves incessantly, but as a series of CYCLES MOVING FORWARD like the waves on the ocean, moving forward rather than round and round. 

Time in the Gathic or Avestan terms is not to be viewed as static but a process of becoming. This concept of Evolving/Becoming/Change to New and Better Re-Making conveys the feeling of EVOLUTION in a PROGRESSIVE sense. 

This evolutionary/progressive doctrine applies not only to mortal humanity but the entire organic world. All creatures, all things animate and inanimate go through this progressive  process. “In other words we are here to rediscover the key to our own godhood, to realize the god within, that we are god-in the making or becoming; See the most sacred verse Yasna 27.13 or ahü vairyö. 

Since the Western attitude against reincarnation comes from the position of the early Church Fathers on the subject, i try to summarize their arguments against reincarnation here. Unfortunately, the early church fathers often replace their lack of counterarguments by vulgarity (e.g. Gregory of Nyssa, “The Making of Man” 28:3; Basil the Great, “Six Days Work” 8:2; or Lactantius, “Epitome of the Divine Institutes” 36). 

Without discussing their vulgarity and ridicule the following points summarizes their views:   A.) Reincarnation negates the sacrifice of Christ’s death on the cross for all our sins and is inherently a heathen idea/notion.

Zoroastrianism does NOT accept the notion that ANYONE can substitute in for the “learning journey” of another. 

B.) The stay in hell is eternal (Matthew 18:8, 25:41,46, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Jude 1:6 etc.).  “The holy church of Christ teaches an endless aeonian (ateleutetos aionios) life to the righteous, and endless (ateleutetos) punishment to the wicked.”

The idea of “an endless misery” is fundamentally at odds with the core beliefs and dogmas of the Zoroastrians.  Zoroastrianism vehemently opposes the notion of a GD that creates imperfect, evolving creatures to punish them later for their imperfections in a demonic hell for ALL ETERNITY.  According to the Zoroastrian doctrine hell or “dúž ang.húsh” is a state of hellish or “dis-eased existence;” and is a creation of our OWN afflicted mind and spirit. This “dis-eased existence/state of being” only serves an EDUCATIONAL PURPOSE and ceases to be when the mind/spirit EVOLVES into “an awesome, most amazing and wondrous minoo; mind/spirit/consciousness or “vahishtem manö.” 

The word for HEAVEN or Paradise in modern farsi is “behesht,” derived from Avestan “vahishtem manö,” or the most amazing and wondrous mind/spirit/consciousness. 

Upon the arrival of “frashökérétí” or the brilliant renewal of the universe; hellish existence ceases to be. Thereafter, it will only be the ETERNAL PROGRESS of the “awesome, most amazing, wonderful mind/spirit,” See the 3rd line of Yasna 28.8.

Hell or dis-eased existence is a CREATION of MAN, and is of TEMPORARY DURATION. Hell ceases to be when LESSONS are LEARNED and PROGRESS has been made. The conscious energy  is NOT punished for endless ages, it is NOT punished to gratify the revenge of a so-called divinity. Conscious energy goes through the consequences of its actions/mistakes for the sake of HEALING, EVOLUTION and BETTERMENT/PROGRESS.

Zoroastrianism gives definite priority to the life ‘HERE and NOW’. Yet, past, present and future according to the poetic gathas appear to be part of the SAME CONTINUUM.

The state of the world/gaia/gó before “frashökérétí” is marked by mixture/myásaitä, 3rd line of Yasna 33.1.  We are  here to learn, evolve and progress. Our mistakes can and do create hellish existence here and now.   Hence, our soul/power to choose/úrvaan comes back to rework/dismantle the hellish house of lies/domain of delusions we have been creating here, 3rd and 4th line of Yasna 49.11. 

C.)  In lieu of reincarnation, when people resurrect  which body will they have?

Zoroastrianism teaches about an AGE OF ETERNAL PROGRESS upon the consummation of “frashökérétí.” An amazing, most wondrous age will usher in after the fresh and brilliant renewal of the creation/universe. This evolution/progress is not just spiritual and mental;  a FUTURE BODY will be fashioned to match the evolving consciousness.; known as “tanö passinö.”

Concerning a new, more lucid, more evolved physical body;  comparison could be made with the accounts of Haðókht Nask in the Zoroastrian sacred literature concerning the fate of the soul during the first three nights after death. There we read that the beautiful insight/vision of the deceased appear to him/her in the form of the most lovely, fair, tall maiden.

10.And the soul of the virtuous one addressed her, asking: ‘What maid art thou, who art the fairest maid I have ever seen?’11. And she, being the virtuous one own vision/insight, answers:  ‘O thou youth of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, of good religion, I am thy own vision/insight

Everybody did love thee for that greatness, goodness, fairness, sweet-scentedness, victorious strength and freedom from sorrow, in which thou dost appear to me;12.‘And so thou, O youth of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, of beautiful religion! didst love me for that greatness, goodness, fairness, sweet-scentedness, victorious strength, and freedom from sorrow, in which I appear to thee.13.……….14.‘I was lovely and thou madest me still lovelier; I was fair and thou madest me still fairer; I was desirable and thou madest me still more desirable; I was sitting in a forward place and thou madest me sit in the foremost place, through this good thought, through this good speech, through this good deed of thine; and so henceforth mortal men worship me …….. D.) Rejection of the preexistence of souls by the Council of Constantinople,  thus, by implication, the rejection of reincarnation. 

“If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and the monstrous restitution which follows from it, let him be anathema.”

“If anyone says that there will be a single unity of all rational beings, their substances and individualities being taken away together with their bodies, and also that there will be an identity of cognition as also of persons, and that in the fabulous restitution they will only be naked even as they had existed in that pre-existence which they insanely introduced, let him be anathema.”

Zoroastrianism teaches about a preexisting brilliant idea, word of knowledge/wisdom, spiritual prototype of things called FRA-VASHI, or the forth spoken word/voice of wisdom, See Yasna 45, 1-6, Yasna 23 and Yasna 26.

The Fact is that Zoroastrianism teaches a unique form of reincarnation very similar to the ancient Germanic tribes and different from the typical Eastern types.


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13 Responses to Reincarnation and the Zoroastrian Beliefs

  1. zaneta says:

    very very interesting-much to think about here-THANKS for this article, i found it very helpful

    • Oghma says:

      “The Fact is that Zoroastrianism teaches a unique form of reincarnation very similar to the ancient Germanic tribes and different from the typical Eastern types.”

      How did you conclude this? It seems to me, based on the above article, that the closest thing in Zoroastrianism to reincarnation is meeting a maiden in the afterlife who is the product of your good words, thoughts, and deeds.

      This seems very different from being reborn into a different body after a fixed number of years.

      Any clarification would be appreciated.

  2. bahman rusi says:

    I didn’t see here any direct proof of existance of teaching about reincarnation in Zoroastrianism

  3. alexkopf says:

    thanks for this article, i regard it as a intruduction into this subject. if you have any more material /articles on reincarnation in zoroastrismus, please send me an email. thanks!

  4. alexkopf says:

    thanks for this wonderful article, it is an introduction for me into this subject, if you have more material/articles on the subject, please contact me via email.

  5. Mr.Palsi Nadersha Bhathena says:

    Thank you for beautiful Article, Our Journey is Eternal, Those who believe in it no explanations Require.

  6. Zhang says:

    What is real is real, what is unreal is not.

  7. John Easter says:

    I’m posting this information based on my own research that I’ve done over the last few years which I think mostly supports Herbad(priest) Ardeshir Farahmand’s article on reincarnation.

    Reincarnation and the Gathas
    John Easter 2014

    An ancient pre-Achaemenid Zoroastrian expression of reincarnation would not be the same as it is taught in Indian based Dharmic religions such as modern Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Although the Zoroastrian concept of Asha is related to the concept of Rta in the Rig-Veda and Rta is considered the equivalent of Dharma in modern Hinduism. In fact while Zoroastrianism is usually recognized as the foundational influence behind Judaism and Christianity its actually much more closely related to Hinduism and Buddhism. However pre-Zoroastrian Indo-Iranian religion and pre-Achaemenid Zoroastrianism would of had an expression of reincarnation much closer to the other Indo-European pagan religions rather than the Dharmic religions of India which formed later.

    The Gathic Avestan language used in the Gathas, composed by Zarathushtra Spitama from Greater Iran, and the Vedic Sanskrit language used in the Rig-Veda, composed by the seer poets from India, is very close and was close enough that they could have probably talked to each other and understood each other. The ancient Iranians and the Indo-Aryans(Indians) emerged from the common Indo-Iranians who in turn were an early offshoot of the Indo-Europeans in general.

    Gathic Avestan, like its close relative Vedic Sanskrit, is a very fluid language and the words contain multi-layered meanings. Many, including Daena(spiritual vision/conscience) and Tushna-Matay(meditation), convey numerous allusions referring to the mind/spirit, luminous consciousness, mental awareness, and personal insight, similar to the Vedas and that which would later be expressed in later Hindu and Buddhist texts. However the poetry of the Gathas, as distinct from the Vedas, have an unique emphasis on the continuous development of consciousness as well as the improvement of the physical existence for the sake of renewal and the betterment of living beings. This is not incompatible with the basic concept of reincarnation nor contradictive with Garo Demane (House of Music and Songs) or Heaven. Unfortunately this isn’t quite as easily apparent in English translations of the Gathas because even the most literal and technically correct translations are stilted to focus on a more singularly direct meaning of the words for the sake of easier comprehension.

    Interestingly Middle Persian texts from the Sassanian era refer to people as obtaining the Tano-Passino , which means Final Body, during the Frasho-Kereti or renewal. In the Gathas the equivalent term is “at kehrpem utayuitish” meaning renewing/eternal youth in corporeal form and is obtained through “the serene flow of thoughts, or streaming mind-power.”. The meaning of Tano-Passino as the Final Body may be a distant echo of reincarnation from the Rig-Veda or the general background of Indo-Iranian religion, which in turn comes from the older Indo-European religion.

    The Rig-Veda itself portrays rebirth itself and among descendants as desirable and even requesting it from the Vedic gods. Texts from the related Indo-European Germanic culture, the Helgi lays of the Poetic Edda and the Norse/Icelandic sagas, including Finnboga Saga, Viga Glum Saga, Svarfdaela Saga, and the story of Olaf in the Flateyjarbok, also seem to hint at this same idea. Other Indo-European peoples, Celts(the Gauls and druids), Balts(in ancient Lithuanian religion), Greeks(see the story of Er in the Republic by Plato), and the Italic Romans(see book 6 in the Aeneid by Virgil), hint at this as well.

    The Rig-Vedic verses, 10.16.3 and 10.16.5, either mentions being reborn in Heaven or on Earth. The Rig-Vedic verses, 2.33.1 and 6.70.3, mention being reborn through one’s descendants. See Wendy Doniger, The Rig Veda pp. 48-51, p. 206, and p. 221

    Kabbalistic Judaism also expresses a form of reincarnation that is not mechanical nor karma based but rather a willing agreement with God to return and help others. The basic notion of continuing on to help others is similar to the concept of humans as hamkars(co-workers) of God as the continuous helpers of renovating existence in Zoroastrianism. Similar non-Indo-European expressions of non-Indian/karma based reincarnation are also described in many Native American religions. See Amerindian Rebirth: Reincarnation Belief Among North American Indians and Inuit by Antonia Mills and Richard Slobodin.

    Rig-Vedic or early Hinduism at some point was influenced by the Shramana which were groups of forest ascetic philosophers from the kingdom of Magadha within India. Many Shramana groups, but not all, focused heavily on concepts such as karma, a specifically karma only based form of reincarnation, and a liberation from life and reincarnation/rebirth known as Moksha or Nirvana. Shramana groups were influenced by the Vedas but did not use the Vedas. Buddhism and Jainism emerged from Shramana discourse and are considered related surviving expressions of Shramana, Jainism possibly being the oldest of all Shramana groups, while Vedic Hinduism was heavily influenced by Shramana philosophy as first shown in the Upanishads and then later Hindu texts.

    The original basis of these Shramana religions or philosophies is that life is ultimately full of suffering and needs to be transcended. This perspective is different from Zoroastrian thought which doesn’t agree the life experience and physical existence is inherently negative. Zoroastrianism or Mazda-Yasna(Wisdom-Worship) expounds that life and physical existence is inherently good while also acknowledging the profound extent of both mental and physical suffering contained and experienced within.

    Suffering and negativity are described in the Gathas as the distortion, dissolution, disharmony, decaying, and spoiling of artfulness, creativity, consciousness, life force, and nature. Humans are understood as hamkars(literally co-workers) of God meant to continuously improve the existence, both physical and mental, and alleviate all forms of physical harm and mental suffering for people and the Guesh Urvan(the souls of animals) alike. Such an objective likely requires numerous spiritually/mentally developing lifetimes upon many different worlds throughout this Asatavat(physical) dimension.

  8. Vahbiz says:

    This article is REALLY interesting!!! Thank you so much! 😀

  9. Pingback: Mazda, Odin and the Sacred Fire of Zoroaster – rainwindandwolf

  10. Pingback: DUALISMO E RENASCIMENTO NA FÉ DOS ZOROASTRAS – Desvendando os Deuses

  11. medina says:

    reincarnation has nothing to do with zorostrianism,it is an abrahamic religion and reincarnation is alien to all abraham religions

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