Avestá is the sacred lore of the Zoroastrians. Avestá is originally a term referring to the undiscovered wisdom of gáthá or melodious mánthrás of the seer/prophet in the form of their prose commentaries.
The origin of the term Avestá comes from the root vid; Old Norse vita, Gothic witan, German wissen, Latin videre, meaning “to know/see.” (Compare also with Old English wist in proverbial expression “Had-I-wiste cometh ever too late”) The beginning “a” is a “negation;” hence the meaning of the term Avestá is “Unknown or Undiscovered Wisdom.” Such rendition is in agreement with the poetic gathas of the prophet where he calls his teachings/lore as hereto unheard hence unknown, (See Yasna 31.1, 2nd rhymed verse line.)
Zand is middle Persian for the Avestan žnatá; Old Church Slavonic znati, Russian znat, Greek gno, Gnosis; “revelation, unfolding, knowledge of.” Hence Avesta ú Zand is the EXPOSITION OF UNDISCOVERED WISDOM.
I should add that Ma(n)zdá, the GD of Genius and Vision; is called žnátá in Öhrmazd Yasht verse 12, žnáta and žnöishta in Öhrmazd Yasht verse 13; as one with special and higher knowledge of mind/spirit matters and mysteries.
Western scholars however, are keen to drive Avestá from the Middle Persian apysták or abestág. Middle Persian apysták is the same as Proto Slavic písati “to write, scribe, what is written.” Considering the supremacy given to the verbatim memorization of the mánthrás in the Zoroastrian tradition; and the importance assigned to their oral transmission instead of putting them into written form, makes all such Western speculations highly unlikely. Furthermore, Christian Bartholomae’s derivation of the term Avestá from Old Iranian upa-stáv “upward praise,” appears rather fanciful.
The popular shia moslem term kashf-il asrar or “exposition of divine secrets,” a term mainly popular among Moslem theologians of Iran, Northern India and Pakistan appears to be a verbatim translation of Avestá ú Zand. (This observation was first made by Mr. Ali Akbar Jafarey and very correctly so.)
For Zarathúshtrá, this universe and all other worlds are MIND energy at every level. The way things work is by affinity between energies and their collaboration (See Yasna 46.6, 3rd and 4th rhymed verse line.) And mánthrás are “mind formulas” which contain the hidden wisdom of and effective melody for all levels of consciousness, existence.
Mánthrá is cognate of the Latin word Mentor (also in its usage in English and other languages,) the root is likewise preserved in most Slavonic languages for example Russian Mudrec “wise advisor.” In Odysseus Mentor is Athena the goddess of wisdom, courage and inspiration in disguise; as friend and adviser of Telemachus. The name appears to be an agent noun of mentos “intent, purpose, spirit, passion” (Sanskrit man-tar,) ultimately meaning a “wisdom/counsel that puts the powers of mind/spirit into motion.”
Mánthrás were HEARD. They came to prophet Zarathúshtrá not by the speculations of a limited intellect; but by the way of SONG and TUNE (Sraöshá), “intuition, melody and inspired poetry,” (See Yasna 28.5, 2nd rhymed verse line.)
Because they were composed in an intuitive poetic measure, they were later called gáthá or enchanting songs, Lithuanian giedoti: to sing. The corresponding Old Norse word galdr (plural galdrar) is derived also from a root for “singing” and were incantations/songs composed in a special metric measure, (Compare with Avestan gar in garö demanæ “abode of music, song.”)
Also Vedic gáyatrí (Sanskrit: गायत्री,) comes from the same root as gáthá, and is the feminine form of gáyatra, a Sanskrit word for “song or hymn.” Gáyatrí is an aspect of Saraswati, “inspiration, melody, the sound of intuition” and is the source of Brahma’s power. Brahma is also known as “vágish,” meaning “lord of voice, word, creative speech.” Without gáyatrí or sacred poetic measure, Brahma is unable to maifest/create.
At the core of the Avestá always stood the gáthá or the melodious mánthrás, the superb formulas of consciousness/existence, the guides of mind and spirit to unleash their undiscovered powers, the wise counsel on how to manifest the un-manifest vision and seer-wisdom (See Yasna 31.11, 2nd rhymed verse line and the ancient commentary of the same.)
And at the heart of the melodious mánthrás radiates the most powerful and the source of all gáthá or enchanting songs; the primordial yáthá ahü vairyö mánthrá or “the will to become godlike.”
The Avestá was divided after the words of yáthá ahü vairyö mánthrá, into 21 volumes. 3 multiply by 7 or 21, is the arithmetic value for boundless wisdom and infinite ability to learn and discover.
Seven volumes dealt with mánthrás, their MULTIFACETED meanings and their many modes of exposition and scholarship. These 7 volumes were called gáthic or the poetic part.
Seven other volumes dealt with the formula and melody of the mánthrás in bringing about the desired effect and activating conscious forces and mind energies at various levels of consciousness. These volumes were called haðá mánthric, powerful prose discourses with poetic mánthrás prefixed and suffixed to them.
The last 7 volumes consisted of dátic, literally “established design or rules.” These volumes dealt with rules, regulations, laws and temporal sciences of the time. Their ELABORATE and DETAILED laws dealt with keeping the elements pure and undefiled, animal rights, cleanliness, fighting disease, death and contagion, protection and improvement of kin and blood, importance of marriage, family and kinship, vigor courage and rights for both women and men equally, love of learning and wisdom.
The Zoroatsrian laws are many and extremely elaborate, to say that Zoroastrianism has no laws is absurd and wishful thinking. But the many Zoroastrian laws never obsessed with sexual repression or human-centered morals and self-righteousness. The dátic rules sincerely and authentically confirmed the gáthic teachings and ideals in a temporal world.
While, the gáthic and haðá mánthric lore are considered timeless and boundless, the dátic laws are temporal. According to the holy Denkart, while the spirit and purpose of the dátic laws does not change, their mode of implementation does change based on evolving times.
As the holy Denkart so brilliantly puts it in Book 3, chapter 25, question and answer 9: The whole point about Avestá or “the undiscovered wisdom” of the poetic gathas or the mánthrán is; that while their poetic measure is settled and not a sound, syllable or word may be altered, however since they reveal wisdom and vision, and unleash the undiscovered powers of mind/spirit, gáthás are capable of absorbing a variety of novel ideas and brilliant thoughts beyond their expressed poetry.
Hence, the domain of the poetic gathas and their undiscovered wisdom or Avestá as the unknown knowledge becomes infinite, and potentially any brilliant thought or wise teaching can claim to be included within the purview of their “undiscovered wisdom” or Avestá as long as it can establish a connection between itself and the luminous thought form of the gáthá mánthrán or the source of all gáthá or enchanting songs; the primordial yáthá ahü vairyö mánthrá.
The holy denkart maintains that the tradition of discovering the code and unknown wisdom of the mánthrá derives from the original inspiration or intuition behind their poetic composition. The process of exposition and exegesis is thus viewed as a direct continuation of the original inspired poetry and an extension of it, not something separate from it.
Contrary to the unsubstantiated Western allegations, gáthá exegesis and gnosis goes back to the Avetan age and represents few thousand years of unbroken living tradition in the form of the Middle-Persian translations of the Avestán originals.
The holy denkart extols the glories of the multifaceted meanings ascribed to the poetic gathas and maintains that if there were a singular determinate meaning of the gáthá or melodious mánthrá verses there would be an end and limitation to their wisdom, (See denkart, Book 9, Baghan Commentary of Yasna 27.13, chapter 1.)
As we read in Yasna 55.7: Sraöshá, who first sang (sráva) the enchanting gáthás, the five gáthás of Zarathushtra, the Spitamá, the wise and virtuous, with their meter and verse, their well-constructed poetic measure, their gnosis (zaiñtí,) the questions which they pose, and the answers which they give, in their perfect recitation from memory and heart,…….The same words concerning the sacred verse meter, poetic measure, question, answer, memorization and gnosis appears at the end of each chapter of the poetic gathas in the Vispered footnotes, (See Vispered 14.2, 4- 15.2, 16.4, Prelude to 18, 18.3, Prelude to 19, 19.3, Prelude to 20, 20.3, Prelude to 21, 21. 4, Prelude to 22, 22.2, Prelude to 24, 24.2.)
This brilliant state of consciousness is the key to understanding and decoding the mánthrá in order to fathom the deepest mysteries of mind/spirit, the structures of the cosmos, consciousness and the wondrous aspects of the mind of ma(n)zdá; the GD of vision, wisdom and genius.
I like to conclude with Yasna 50.2, 4th rhymed verse line; “Make clear and bright to me the record of all that exists and the laws of manifesting/creation.”