onsdag 6 januari 2010

Gathas: Poetry over prose

Dear Ardeshir

Friedrich Nietzsche - the most Zoroastrian of all western thinkers - agreed that poetry was superior to prose in the attempt to explore and understand Truth. Truth has be felt more than rationalized. Zarathushtra seems to have understood this too. His ambiguity is clearly constructed on purpose and those early Mazdayasni who learned to recite the Gathic poems before they were eventually written down must have fully understood this and agreed.

Do you know who this Antolak Ryszard is? He seems to be a most interesting writer.


2010/1/6 ardeshir farhmand

Dear Alexander,

thanks for ur kind words, i am glad that u seem to FULLY understand my position. i came across this article by ANTOLAK RYSZARD. i generally agree with him greatly BUT NOT ENTIRELY. i inserted my own words in CAPITAL LETTERS.

Several years ago, I was fortunate to be able to attend a public recitation of the Gathas (the poems of Zoroaster) in their original Avestan language. Although I hardly understood a word, I was strangely drawn to the haunting sonority of what I was hearing, the sheer beauty of the sounds and the rhythms of this ancient text. I began to wonder whether the intense current preoccupation with the literal “meanings” of the Gathas - Zarathushtra’s philosophy, his insights into the spiritual and mental elements of the human soul – might not be blinding me to their undoubted (SUB_CONSCIOUS) mytho-poetic elements.

Whatever else may be said of him, Zarathushtra was certainly someone who was “inspired”, powerfully inspired: an example of a specific type of human being hard to understand from a (PSUEDO) rationalist point of view. FOR ZARATHUSHTRA TALKS ABOUT A CERTAIN LOGOS VERY SIMILAR TO HERCALITUS He believed he had had a series of personal encounters with the very Source (or Sources) of Existence, and he attempted to convey the force and import of those encounters to his followers through the medium of Poetry.
It is curious that if, as some believe, Zarathushtra’s message was solely concerned with mental concepts and intellectual matters, (LIMITED INTELLECTUAL POWERS OF ONE"S BRAIN VS CONSCIOUSNESS AS A WHOLE) he should have chosen to express himself entirely in poetry, and not in prose. History, of course, can provide us with many examples of philosophic treatises written in verse. Lucretius’s “On the Nature of the Universe” comes immediately to mind. But that Latin author’s work can hardly be called a prayer (SPIRITUAL FORMULA,) or a vision, or an ecstatic (PASSIONATE) utterance. Many of the Gathas, in contrast, most certainly can.
Zarathushtra was a poet in every sense of the word, and proud of the fact. He was not merely a versifier, gleeman or rhymester. As a poet, he would instinctively have known that prosaic thought is unable to bear the full weight of meaning that Poetry is so amply able to express.
Poetry is not, after all, primarily an intellectual pursuit. It speaks to the whole man, not just to the intelligence; it speaks to the heart, the emotions, the imagination, to the rational as well as the non-rational(SUB CONSCIOUS) parts of us. It is also concerned with aesthetic experience, with “beauty”, paradoxes, and the whole controversial area of “poetic inspiration”. Poetry is inherently multi-layered, and (PARADOXICAL) ambiguous in meaning. It never confines itself to a single, literal meaning .It is to be deciphered like a hidden code. If Zarathushtra had wanted the Gathas to be a a code of Law) he would most certainly have used prose.
One of the most insidious trends besetting language today is, I believe, the passion towards finding the literal meaning of a text. In essence, this is the idea that it is possible to extract from a piece of literature a single meaning, pure and uncontaminated by other meanings: the single meaning intended by the writer. “Mind-reading” would better approximate to such an idea. Language, however, (and particularly Poetic language), is not mathematics. It is often wiser than its users, possessing a life all of its own. When using everyday language, we ourselves are often unaware much of the time that we are in the realm of poetry.
It is difficult, for example, to speak for any length of time without using metaphors of one sort or another: (does the road really "go" to town or is it you who goes? Does a house really “stand” on the street etc?) Sometimes a writer himself is not fully aware himself of the depths of meaning he is imparting to a phrase he writes. The phrase merely “comes into his head” and he uses it. Only later does he wonder at the depths of his own utterance. Such is the nature of poetic inspiration, and Zarathushtra was full of it. Unfortunately, we still do not know enough about the Avestan language to be able to point out all the poetic word play in the Gathas with any confidence. Nevertheless, it is almost certainly there.
Poetry is the basis of Zoroastrianism. Religion and Poetry, we need to remember, have common roots, which go far back into history. Prose, on the contrary, is a symptom of man divided against himself. The Gathas of Zarathushtra were sung, chanted, recited, perhaps even danced to (who knows?). They were not the chapters of a dry thesis in prose by an absent-minded college professor). Most of them are the ecstatic emotional (PASSIONATE) prayers of a mystic VISIONARY) to his God (SPIRIT); some are glimpses of powerful visions, one at least may be called a drama. Nyberg in his “Religions of Ancient Iran” (1938) (and after him Widengren) even portrayed Zarathushtra and his first disciples as a “group of ecstatics, and his psalms, or Gathas, [as] a liturgy of ecstasy”. Those who seek in Zarathushtra’s work a cohesive system, hard facts and defined concepts, may feel threatened by the fluidity and ambiguity which is the hallmark of classical poetic utterance. Even if Nyberg may have exaggerated his description of Zarathushtra’s followers somewhat, his point is nevertheless well taken. Several medieval Persian writers attribute the origins of the dancing Mevlevi dervishes (founded by the poet and Sufi, Jalal-ud-din Rumi), to an unbroken tradition stretching all the way back in history to the era of the “ecstatic Zoroastrians”.
Zoroastrianism did not disappear from Iran with the Arab invasion. It survived, and influenced to some extent the religion of its conquerors in Iran. There was even a renaissance in the ninth and tenth centuries in the south of Fars that produced the monumental compilation of the Denkart. We know that the mystical, poetical element in Zoroastrianism influenced the development of Sufism there. Sayedd Haydar Amoli in the latter half of 14th Century, even publicly declared that: “Sufism is the essential truth…. of the religion of Zoroaster, prophet of the religion of Pure Love, whose symbol is the flame upon the fire-altar”.
Suhrawardi, of course, was the most famous Iranian philosopher who attempted to “develop” many of the surviving mystical elements of Zoroastrianism. He produced by this means a whole new “philosophy of illumination” which he hoped would be acceptable to Islam. His optimism, however, was ill founded. He was executed in Aleppo on the orders of Saladin. Nevertheless, his ideas were to find fertile ground among the wider Zoroastrian Diaspora.
"In Mogol India, the mythological aspects of Suhrawardi's writings appealed to a mystical group of Iranian and Parsi intellectuals led by one Adhar Kaywan, a Zoroastrian priest. For them, Suhrawardi, with his allusions to the doctrines of light and darkness among the ancient Persians, provided an intellectually respectable form of Zoroastrian wisdom - one that was expressed in such productions of this school as the "Dasatir" and the "Dabistan al-madhahib". A more philosophical expression of the Indian school is found in Hirawi's Persian commentary on the "Philosophy of Illumination" “
(The Philosophy of Illumination (Hikmat al-ishraq). Suhrawardi. Translated by John Walbridge & Hossein Ziai. Brigham Young University Press.1999 p. xxiii)
So powerful was the poetic message of Zarathushtra that something similar(IDENTICAL) to a bardic tradition appeared shortly after his death, with the Gathas as its central recitation. Transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation over hundreds of years, the Gathas survived the momentous and bloody centuries that followed. Long after the literal meaning of the words had been forgotten,(IN FACT THERE HAS BEEN ALWAYS AN ELABORATE BODY OF COMMENTARIES TO THESE POEMS, SO THE MEANINGS WERE NEVER FORGOTTEN BUT PHILOSOPHICALLYand SPIRITUALLY ELABORATED ON) the power and attraction of the poetry remained to unite and draw the faithful together like a warm bright fire on a cold night.

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