Wholeness and Immortality

Haurvatat and Ameretat are the last two of the seven Amesha Spentas, the emanations of God which Zoroastrians call the "Bounteous Immortals." They are not last in precedence, as there is no clearly defined hierarchy among the Seven, but they are last in that they are the latest to appear in the divine scheme of things. They are the virtues and gifts of the future, things devoutly to be hoped for, the signs of the Renewal at the End of Time.

The two Emanations, which are almost always referred to together, are both female in gender; this can be considered a result of linguistics, since the Avestan words Haurvatat (Wholeness) and Ameretat (Immortality) are of the female gender. But in the later thought of Zoroastrianism, in which the Bounteous Immortals become personified, these are indeed female entities.

Zarathushtra, in his Gatha hymns, mentions Haurvatat and Ameretat in many verses, though not as often as he does the other Amesha Spentas. Unlike other of the Seven like Asha or Vohu Manah, he does not treat Haurvatat and Ameretat as "instruments," (that is, in the Avestan "instrumental" case) through which Divine work may be done. Rather, they are either gifts attained, offered, or, in other interpretations, themselves the bestowers of divine gifts.

Zarathushtra describes Wholeness and Immortality as God's gifts to the righteous person in Yasna 31 (song 4),21:

"God Wise grants wholeness, immortality, abundance of righteousness, independence in dominion, and a lasting good mind to him who is His companion in mind and action." (Jafarey translation)

In Yasna 34 (song 7),1, Haurvatat and Ameretat are themselves offered by the singer of the Gathas:

"The deed, the word, and the veneration by which I give immortality, righteousness, and the motive for wholeness to the people, are very much offered by us, Wise Lord, to You." (Jafarey trans.)

Yet another translation of that same verse attributes Haurvatat and Ameretat to the Lord, offered through the believers:

"The action, word and worship through which you acquire immortality, truth, and the power of integrity (haurvatat), O Mazda Ahura, (a share) of these is offered to you by us who are present in large numbers." (Humbach-Ichaporia translation)

The whole idea of Haurvatat and Ameretat is colored by how their Gathic verses are translated. Avestan, the language of the Gathas, is a highly ambiguous language, in which meanings of the words change according to the word-endings. Many times the same word-ending can have two different meanings. Thus major theological concepts depend on how different translators use the Avestan text.

In the case of Haurvatat and Ameretat, in many Gatha verses it is ambiguous whether the two are subjects or objects of the poet's sentence. In Yasna 45 (song 10),5, Dr. Ali Jafarey takes Haurvatat and Ameretat as objects:

"....Those who pay it (the prophetic word) attention and reverence, shall have wholeness and immortality." Whereas Irach Taraporewala, an earlier translator, has taken them as subjects:

"...Those who obey them (Words) truly in their hearts,

To these shall come Perfect Immortal Life (Haurvatat and Ameretat)...."

In another Gatha verse, Y. 34 (song 7).11, the two are clearly the subject:

"Both wholeness and immortality lead to your splendor..." (Jafarey trans.)

In the Gathas, all the Amesha Spentas, or "Primal Principles" as Dr. Jafarey likes to call them, are highly abstract. But Zarathushtra does personify these concepts in his hymns, some more than others; Haurvatat and Ameretat are probably the least personified of the Seven. As the Zoroastrian religion developed, the personifications of all of them became more distinct until they attained a status similar to "archangels" in Zoroastrian spiritual life, ritual, and prayer.

In Zoroastrian tradition, each Amesha Spenta has guardianship over a sector of Creation, thus representing the Presence of God in the natural, physical world. In this doctrine, Haurvatat represents Waters, and Ameretat represents Plants. This attribution may go back to the Prophet himself. In Yasna 51 (song 16),7, the verse contains praise of God, the creator of the natural world:

"You, Wise One, Who have fashioned the world, the waters, and the plants by Your most progressive mentality, grant me, in accordance with good mind's doctrine, immortality, wholeness, steadfast strength, and endurance." (Jafarey)

Here waters and plants are paired with Haurvatat and Ameretat, and may be early evidence of the nature-connections of the Amesha Spentas. In the later texts of the Avesta, this is explicit, and in the Yasna, the great liturgical text of Zoroastrian ritual, Haurvatat and Ameretat are repeatedly honored: one as the divine guardian of the water and other liquids used in the libations of the ritual, the other as the guardian of the plant materials used in the ritual such as wood for the Fire, and the plants, fruits, and flour that make up the foods consecrated at Zoroastrian ceremonies.

There is, in this sense, also an ecological meaning to these two guardians and their Creations: in pairing Waters and Plants, the Zoroastrian tradition has realized how inseparable these two factors are in the natural world. And, since God is present in these Creations through the life of Haurvatat and Ameretat, it is of prime importance to keep Waters and Plants pure, unpolluted, and healthy. This is the ecological vision of ancient Zoroastrianism which is even more important for our own day and age.

The tradition also sees a spiritual dimension in the pairing of Haurvatat and Ameretat as waters and plants: these entities represent heavenly food which will be given to the righteous in the heavenly world. To return to the Gatha verse Y. 34.11, an alternate translation gives Haurvatat and Ameretat this meaning:

"Both integrity and immortality serve you as food..." (Humbach-Ichaporia). The word here translated as "food," in the original Avestan, closely resembles the word for "splendor," and thus the Prophet's ambiguity - or sacred wordplay - leads to very different interpretations. The interpretation of food, both earthly and heavenly, is reinforced by the frequent pairing of Haurvatat and Ameretat with two other abstract words which mean "steadfast strength and endurance," the result, perhaps, of earthly and heavenly nourishment. The later Zoroastrians adopted the concept of the two as food and drink, and thus the "Zamyad Yasht," a praise-hymn to the spirit of the Earth and the heavenly Glory, says:

"Haurvatat and Ameretat shall smite both hunger and thirst; Haurvatat and Ameretat shall smite the evil hunger and the evil thirst." (Zamyad Yasht, v.96, Darmesteter translation)

Whether Haurvatat and Ameretat are considered abstract qualities, ritual offerings, guardians of nature, heavenly food, or all of the above, they have a place in Zoroastrian spiritual life as divine goals, attainments at the higher level of one's spiritual path; they are virtues at the end of time, leading into Paradise.

What do some contemporary Zoroastrian thinkers say about Haurvatat and Ameretat? Dr. Ali Jafarey, usually the most earthy and humanistic of Zoroastrian commentators, seems almost mystical when talking about Haurvatat and Ameretat. The two are "...the ultimate goal, and represent the completion of our evolutionary development and the achievement of our life on the earth. (They) depict the eternal communion with God." (Dr. Ali Jafarey, THE GATHAS, OUR GUIDE)

Dr. Farhang Mehr, in his book THE ZOROASTRIAN TRADITION, is even more mystical - almost Neo-Platonic - when describing Haurvatat and Ameretat: "Perfection, Haurvatat, purports self-realization and wholeness...Immortality, Ameretat, is the quality of eternity and immutability. Life in its widest connotation is in God, with him, and for him. He is not begotten, nor perishable and has no beginning and no end. Through him the universe exists and life is sustained. Ameretat is free from time and space." (Mehr, pg. 28)

The Zoroastrian philosopher K.D. Irani takes a more psychological approach. To him, Haurvatat, translated as "Integrity," represents the undivided self, "freedom from guilt, resentment, and regret," a state of "peaceful and prosperous harmony with the world around him....Haurvatat is the state of the self where the mind has grasped the Truth and acted accordingly." Attaining Haurvatat means rejecting irrational thoughts and motives, rising above fanaticism, self-righteousness and delusion, transcending self- interest in order to attain Integrity. Ameretat, for Dr. Irani, means not just immortality, but an immortality of bliss, even Heaven, earned through righteous deeds - "an extension and elaboration of the perfection of Haurvatat into eternity." (Dr. Kaikhosrov D. Irani, from an article published in "AN INTRODUCTION TO THE GATHAS OF ZARATHUSHTRA," March 1990)

This is high and lofty thought, but what might these two Virtues mean for us, struggling with life on earth, far from Heaven? As with the other Amesha Spentas, the Zoroastrian spiritual way teaches that we can strive to realize these divine Attributes in ourselves. Thus Asha in us makes us righteous and truthful, Vohu Manah in us makes us intelligent, rational, and thoughtful; Kshathra in us teaches right use of power, while Armaiti makes us devoted, loving, and benevolent. Realized within us, Haurvatat leads us to wholeness and health of both body and mind. Ameretat leads us to hope of immortality, a bright goal for us to strive for.

In the course of our lives, whenever we have moments of health and clarity, vitality and hope, there are Haurvatat and Ameretat. Whenever we look forward joyfully to a future of accomplishment and achievement - rather than a despairing life of drudgery, poverty, and declining health - there are Haurvatat and Ameretat. We may, during our daily life, only have a glimpse or two of these Attributes - a shining foretaste of things which might be so. But with time, these glimpses may become more common, the result of spiritual work and fervent hope. In a way, the attainment of Haurvatat and Ameretat is similar to what other faiths might call Enlightenment or the Beatific Vision. It is an attainment which we know is possible, but for now it remains on the luminous horizon. Hannah M.G. Shapero Ushtavaiti 10/31/95

Copyright 1995, 1996 Hannah M.G. Shapero Republished by permission of the author.