Asha and Commerce

It’s easy to see the prominent role of moral dualism in Zoroastrianism. It is not always quite so obvious what the characteristics of Good and Evil are considered to be. Ultimately, I think the best answer is that Good and Evil have no characteristics. To associate characteristics with these principles is equivalent to giving names to them, and to name Good and Evil is the essence of idolatry. Of course, Zoroastrianism does offer names for Good and Evil. The question is, how can Good and Evil be associated with actual phenomena? Though we ought to take care in making such a judgment, I think it safe to say that drawing a moral demarcation between general principles is not quite so hazardous as drawing such demarcations between men.

There are two readily recognizable boundaries between Good and Evil in traditional Zoroastrianism:

  • between the Truth and the Lie (Asha and Druj)
  • between life and death

That is to say, as far as particular values are concerned, Zoroastrianism values truth and life above all else.

I’ve been thinking about the Zoroastrian idea of truth, which is called “Asha”, the cousin of the Hindu principle Rta. Asha and Rta both represent universal order, but Asha carries a strong moral connotation. It connotes societal order that results from honesty in human relations. It is such honesty that is the fabric of human commerce, and I am using the broadest definition of “commerce,” including not only the exchange of goods and services, but also intellectual commerce, social commerce, cultural commerce, and even spiritual commerce. Without honesty and trustworthiness, commerce cannot thrive and society loses its very fabric. Hence it can be seen that the two named characteristics of Good and Evil in Zoroastrianism—Asha and Druj—exhibit the emphasis that Zoroastrianism places on human relations, i.e., commerce.

In a nutshell, to value Asha is to value human society. In recent years, we have repeatedly witnessed the damage that a lack of honesty and trust can do to an economy, but that is only a particular instance of a general principle of human commerce, to say nothing of the internal, psychological society of the individual.