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Robert Charles Zaehner

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Robert Charles Zaehner (1913–1974) was a British academic who specialised in Eastern religions. Earlier he had served as an intelligence officer in Iran. While a professor at Oxford University, he wrote on the Zoroastrian religion, on mystical experience (articulating a typology), on the Hindu religion, and on comparative religion generally. His last books addressed similar issues in popular culture. He published under the name R. C. Zaehner.[1]


Life and careerEdit

Early yearsEdit

Born on 8 April 1913 in Sevenoaks, Kent, he was the son of Swiss German immigrants to England. Zaehner "was bilingual in French and English from early childhood. He remained a excellent linguist all his life."[2][3] Educated at the nearby Tonbridge School, he was admitted to Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied Greek and Latin, and also ancient Persian including Avestan, gaining first class honours in Oriental Languages. During 1936–37 he studied Pahlavi, another ancient Iranian language, with Sir Harold Bailey at Cambridge University. Zaehner thereafter held Prof. Bailey in high esteem.[4] He then began work on his book Zurvan, a Zoroastrian Dilemma, a study of the pre-Islamic religion of Iran.[5][6]

Zaehner enjoyed "a prodigious gift for languages". He later acquired a reading knowledge of Sanskrit (for Hindu scriptures), Pali (for Buddhist), and Arabic (for Islamic).[7] In 1939 he taught as a research lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford. About this time, after reading the French poet Rimbaud, and in Rumi the Sufi poet of Iran, as well as study of the Hindu Upanishads, Zaehner came to adopt a personal brand of "nature mysticism". Yet his spiritual progression led him in the mid-1940s to convert to Christianity, becoming a Roman Catholic while stationed in Iran.[8]

British intelligenceEdit

During World War II starting in 1943, he served as a British intelligence officer at their Embassy in Tehran. Often he was stationed in the field among the mountain tribes of northern Iran. After the war he also performed a more diplomatic role at the Tehran embassy.[5][9] Decades later another British intelligence officer, Peter Wright, described his activities:

"I studied Zaehner's Personal File. He was responsible for MI6 counterintelligence in Persia during the war. It was difficult and dangerous work. The railway lines into Russia, carrying vital military supplies, were key targets for German sabotage. Zaehner was perfectly equipped for the job, speaking the local dialects fluently, and much of his time was spent undercover, operating in the murky and cutthroat world of countersabotage. By the end of the war his task was even more fraught. The Russians themselves were trying to gain control of the railway, and Zaehner had to work behind Russian lines, continuously at risk of betrayal and murder by pro-German or pro-Russian... ."[10]

Zaehner continued in Iran until 1947 as press attaché in the British Embassy,[11] and as an MI6 officer. He resumed his academic career at Oxford doing research on Zoroastrianism. During 1949, however, he was relocated to Malta where he trained anti-Communist Albanians. In 1950 he secured appointment as Lecturer in Persian at Oxford University. Again in 1951-1952 he returned to Iran for government service. Prof. Nancy Lambton, who had run British propaganda in Iran during the war, had recommended Robin Zaehner for the Embassy position. Journalist Christopher de Bellaigue describes Zaehner as "a born networker who knew everyone who mattered in Tehran" with a taste for gin and opium. "When Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesmen, asked Zaehner at a cocktail party in Tehran what book he might read to enlarge his understanding of Iran, Zaehner suggested Alice through the Looking Glass."[12][13][14][15]

Zaehner publicly held the rank of Counsellor in the British Embassy in Tehran. In fact, he continued as an MI6 officer. During the Abadan Crisis he was assigned to prolong the Shah's royal hold on the Sun Throne from the republican challenge led by Mohammed Mossadegh, then the Prime Minister of Iran. The crisis involved the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company which had been in effect nationalised by Mossadegh. Zaehner thus became engaged in the failed 1951 British effort to topple the government of Iran and return oil production to that entity controlled by the British government.[16] "[T]he plot to overthrow Mossadegh and give the oilfields back to the AIOC was in the hands of a British diplomat called Robin Zaehner, later professor of Eastern religions at Oxford."[17][18][19] Such Anglo and later American interference in Iran, which eventually reinstalled the Shah, has been widely criticized.[20]

In the 1960s, MI5 counterintelligence officer Peter Wright questioned Zaehner about floating allegations that he had doubled as a spy for the Soviet Union, harming British intelligence operations in Iran and Albania during the period following World War II. Zaehner is described as "a small, wiry-looking man, clothed in the distracted charm of erudition." Wright wrote in his 1987 book Spycatcher that Zaehner's humble demeanor and candid denial convinced him that the Oxford don had remained loyal to Britain. Wright notes that "I felt like a heel" for confronting Zaehner.[21]

Although in the intelligence service for the benefit of his Government, on later reflection Zaehner did not understand the utilitarian activities he performed as being altogether ennobling. In such "Government service abroad", he wrote, "truth is seen as the last of the virtues and to lie comes to be a second nature. It was, then, with relief that I returned to academic life because, it seemed to me, if ever there was a profession concerned with a single-minded search for truth, it was the profession of the scholar."[22][23] Prof. Jeffrey Kripal discusses "Zaehner's extraordinary truth telling" which may appear "politically incorrect". The "too truthful professor" might be seen as "a redemptive or compensatory act" for "his earlier career in dissimulation and deception" as a spy.[24][25]

Oxford professorEdit

University positionsEdit

Before the war Zaehner had lectured at Oxford University. Back there at Christ Church several years after the war, he continued to work on his Zurvan book,[26] and lectured in Persian literature. His reputation then "rested on articles on Zoroastrianism, mainly philological" written before the war.[27]

In 1952 Zaehner was elected Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics to succeed the celebrated professor Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who had resigned to become Vice-President (later President) of India.[28][29][30] Zaehner had applied for this position. Radhakrishnan previously had been advancing a harmonizing viewpoint with regard to the study of comparative religions, and the Chair had a subtext of being "founded to propagate a kind of universalism". Zaehner's inaugural lecture was unconventional in content. He delivered a strong yet witty criticism of "universalism" in religion.[31] It drew controversy. Prof. Michael Dummett opines that what concerned Zaehner was "to make it clear from the start of his tenure of the Chair that he was nobody else's man."[32][33]

Zaehner continued an interest in Zoroastrian studies, publishing his Zurvan book and two others on the subject during the 1950s. Since 1952, however, he had turned his primary attention further East. "After my election to the Spalding Chair, I decided to devote myself mainly to the study of Indian religions in accordance with the founder's wishes."[34] He served Oxford in this academic chair, while also a fellow at All Souls College, until his death in 1974, and never married.[5][35]

Invited to deliver in Scotland the Gifford Lectures, Zaehner did so, traveling twice to the University of St. Andrews during the years 1967 to 1969. The subject he choose concerned the convoluted and intertwined history of the different world religions during the long duration of their mutual co-existence. He described the interactions as both fiercely contested and relatively cross-cultivating, being in peaceful isolation or in uncertain proximity. The lectures were later published in 1970 "just four years before his death" by Oxford University as Concordant Discord. The interdependence of faiths.[36]

Peer descriptionsEdit

As a professor, Zaehner "had a great facility for writing, and an enormous appetite for work. [Yet he] had a talent for friendship, a deep affection for a number of particular close friends and an appreciation of human personality, especially for anything bizarre or eccentric". Nonetheless. "he passed a great deal of his time alone, most of it in his study working."[37]

An American professor described Zaehner in a slightly different light: "The small, birdlike Zaehner, whose rheumy, color-faded eyes darted about in a clay colored face, misted blue from the smoke of Gauloises cigarettes, could be fearsome indeed. He was a volatile figure, worthy of the best steel of his age."[38]

His colleague in Iran, Prof. Ann K. S. Lambton of SOAS, recalled, "He did not, perhaps, suffer fools gladly, but for the serious student he would take immense pains". Prof. Zaehner was "an entertaining companion" with "many wildly funny" stories, "a man of great originality, not to say eccentricity."[39]

"Zaehner was a scholar who turned into something different, something more important than a scholar," according to Michael Dummett, a professor of philosophy at Oxford, who wanted to call him a "penseur" [French: a thinker]. With insight and learning (and his war-time experience) Zaehner shed light on key issues in contemporary spiritual life, writing abundantly. "His talent lay in seeing what to ask, rather than in how to answer... ."[40]

In theology he challenged the ecumenical trend that strove to somehow see a uniformity in all religions. He acted not out of an ill will, but from a conviction that any fruitful dialogue between religions must be based on a "pursuit of truth". If such profound dialogue rested on a false or a superficial "harmony and friendship" it would only foster hidden misunderstandings, Zaehner thought, which would ultimately result in a deepening mistrust.[41][42]

He died on 24 November 1974 in Oxford. "[A]t the age of sixty-one he fell down dead in the street on his way to Sunday evening Mass."[43]

His writingsEdit

Zoroastrian studiesEdit


Initially Zaehner's reputation rested on his studies of Zoroastrianism, at first articles mostly on philology in academic journals. He labored for many years on a scholarly work, his Zurvan, a Zoroastrian dilemma (1955). This book provides an original discussions of an influential theological deviation from the Zoroastrian orthodoxy of ancient Persia's Achaemenid Empire, which was a stark, ethical dualism. Zurvanism was promoted by the Sasanian Empire (224-651) which arose later during Roman times. Until the Muslim conquest, Zurvanism in the Persian world became established and disestablished by turns.[44][45][46]

Zurvan was an innovation analogous to Zoroastrian original doctrine. The prophet Zoroaster preached that the benevolent Ahura Mazda (the "Wise Lord"), as the creator God, fashioned both Spenta Mainyu (the Holy Spirit), and Angra Mainyu (the Aggressive Spirit) who chose to turn evil. These two created Spirits were called twins, one good, one evil. Over the centuries Ahura Mazda and his "messenger" the good Spenta Mainyu became conflated and identified; hence, the creator Ahura Mazda began to be seen as the twin of the evil Angra Mainyu. It was in this guise that Zoroastrianism became the state religion in Achaemenid Persia. Without fully abandoning dualism, some started to consider Zurvan (Time) as the underlying cause of both the benevolent Ahura Mazda and the evil Angra Mainyu. The picture is complicated by very different schools of Zurvanism, and contesting Zoroastrian sects. Also, Ahura Mazda was later known as Ohrmazd, and Angra Mainyu became Ahriman.[47][48][49][50]

Zurvan could be described as divinized Time (Zaman). With Time as 'father' twins came into being: the ethical, bountiful Ohrmazd, who was worshipped, and his satanic antagonist Ahriman, against whom believers fought. As Infinite Time, Zurvan rose supreme "above Ohrmazd and Ahriman" and stood "above good and evil". This aggravated the traditional 'orthodox' Zoroastrians (the Mazdean ethical dualists).[51][52] Zoroastrian cosmology understood that "finite Time comes into existence out of Infinite Time". During the 12,000 year period of finite Time (Zurvan being both kinds of Time), human history occurs, the fight against Ahriman starts, and the final victory of Ohrmazd is achieved. Yet throughout, orthodox Mazdeans insisted, it is Ohrmazd who remains supreme, not Zurvan. On the other hand, his adherents held that Zurvan was God of Time, Space, Wisdom, and Power, and the Lord of Death, of Order, and of Fate.[53]

Teachings, articlesEdit

The Teachings of the Magi (1956)[54] was Zaehner's second of three book on Zoroastrianism. It presented the "main tenets" of the religion in the Sasanid era, during the reign of Shapur II, a 4th-century King. Its chief sources were Pahlavi books written a few centuries later by Zoroastrians. Each of its ten chapters contains Zaehner's descriptive commentaries, illustrated by his translations from historic texts. Chapter IV, "The Necessity of Dualism" is typical, half being the author's narrative and half extracts from a Pahlavi work, here the Shikand Gumani Vazar by Mardan Farrukh.[55]

Zaehner contributed other work on this religion. His article "Zoroastrianism" was included in a double-columned book he edited, The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths, first published in 1959.[56] Also were articles on the folkloric survivals of the religion,[57] a chapter on Zoroastrianism,[58] among others.[59][60]

Dawn & TwilightEdit

In his The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (1961), Zaehner adopted a chronological dichotomy. He first explores origins, the founding of the religion by its prophet Zoroaster. He notes that the Gathas, the earliest texts in the Avesta, make it obvious that "Zoroaster met with very stiff opposition from the civil and ecclesiastical authorities when once he had proclaimed his mission." "His enemies... supported the ancient national religion." On moral and ecological grounds, Zoroaster favored the "settled pastoral and agricultural community" as against the "predatory, marauding tribal societies". His theological and ethical dualism advocated for "the followers of Truth the life-conserving and life-enhancing forces" and against the "destructive forces" of the Lie.[61] For the dates of the prophet's life, Zaehner adopted the traditional 6th century BCE dates.[62][63][64][65]

Zoroaster reformed the old polytheistic religion by making Ahura Mazdah [the Wise Lord] the Creator, the only God. An innovation by Zoroaster was the abstract notions, namely, the Holy Spirit, and the Amesha Spentas (Good Mind, Truth, Devotion, Dominion, Wholeness, Immortality). Zaehner interpreted them not as new substitutes for the excluded old gods, "but as part of the divine personality itself" which may also serve "as mediating functions between God and man". The Amesha Spentas are "aspects of God, but aspects in which man too can share."[66] Dating to before the final parting of ways of the Indo-Iranians, the Hindus had two classes of gods, the asuras (e.g., Varuna) and the devas (e.g., Indra). Later the asuras sank to the rank of demon following the invasion of India. Au contraire in Iran, where the ahuras were favored, while the daevas fell, spurred in part by Zoroaster's reform. In the old Iranian religion, an ahura [lord] was concerned with "the right ordering of the cosmos".[67][68]

In Part II, Zaehner discussed the long decline of Zoroastrianism. There arose the teachings about Zurvan i Akanarak [Infinite Time]. The Sasanid state's ideological rationale was sourced in Zoroastrian cosmology and sense of virtue. The Amesha Spentas provided spiritual support for human activities according to an articulated mean ("the just equipoise between excess and deficiency", Zoroastrian "law", "wisdom or reason"). As an ethical principle the mean followed the contours of the 'treaty' between Ohrmazd and Ahriman, which governed their struggle in Finite Time. Other doctrines came into prominence, such as those about the future saviour Saoshyans (Zoroaster himself or his posthumous son). Then with Orhmazd triumphant, the frashkart will happen, "the total transformation of this existence".[69]

Mystical experienceEdit

Zaehner wrote extensively on comparative religion,[70] as well as on mysticism. Prominent among his contributions, Zaehner criticised on several occasions the apparently simplistic idea of the mystical unity of all religions; he based his contrary ideas and proposals on the historic texts written by well-known mystics of various traditions, which contain descriptions of their experiences, often with their interpretive theology as well.[71] In this regard, he questioned several elements in the thesis of Canadian Richard Bucke, developed in his influential 1901 book, Cosmic Consciousness.[72][73]

In his innovative book comparing the mystical literature and practice of Hinduism and Islam, he includes this theme of the diversity of mystical phenomena.[74] He introduces here a description and discussion of five different types of mysticism to be found in Indian tradition: "the sacrificial, the Upanishadic, the Yogic, the Buddhistic, and that of bhakti."[75] Zaehner relies on Hindu mystics because of their relative freedom from creed or dogma. He leaves aside the first (of historic interest), and the fourth (due to the definitions of nirvana), so that as exemplars of mystical experience he presents: (a) the Upanishadic "I am this All" which can be subdivided into (i) a theistic interpretation or (ii) a monistic; (b) the Yogic "unity" outside space and time, either (i) of the eternal monad of the mystic's own individual soul per the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or (ii) of Brahman, the ground of the universe, per the advaita Vedanta of Sankara; and, (c) the bhakti mysticism of love, per the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Ramanuja.[76] On these experiential foundations, Zaehner explores the spiritual treasures left to us by the mystics of the Santana Dharma, and of Islam.[77]

Like Aldous Huxley,[78] he had taken mescalin, but Zaehner came to a different conclusion. In his 1957 book Mysticism. Sacred and Profane. An Inquiry into some Varieties of Praeternatural Experience. Included are descriptions of the author's experience with mescalin, Yet his primary aim is to uphold a distinction between an amoral monism on the one hand and theistic mysticism on the other. In part he relies on a personal experience recorded by Martin Buber.[79] Here and elsewhere, he thus sets himself against Huxley's adoption of the Perennial Philosophy, an idea seeded with future misunderstandings.[80][81][82]

According to Zaehner, Christianity and theistic religions offer the possibility of a sacred mystical union with an attentive creator God, whereas a strictly monistic approach instead leads to the self-unity experience of natural religion.[83][84] Yet Zaehner remained hopeful in the long run of an ever-increasing understanding between religions. "We have much to learn from Eastern religions, and we have much too to give them; but we are always in danger of forgetting the art of giving--of giving without strings... ."[85]

During the 1940s spent in Iran he returned to the Christian faith. Decades later he published The Catholic Church and World Religions (1964), expressly from that perspective. As an objective scholar, he drew on his acquired insights from this source to further his understanding of others. Zaehner "did not choose to write to convince others of the truth of his own faith," rather "to frame questions" was his usual purpose.[86]

Hindu religionEdit

His translations and the Hinduism book "made Zaehner one of the most important modern exponents of Hindu theological and philosophical doctrines... . The works on mysticism are more controversial though they established important distinctions in refusing to regard all mysticisms as the same," wrote Prof. Geoffrey Parrinder.[87] For Zaehner's Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (1960), and like analyses, see "Comparative Mysticism" section.


While an undergraduate at Christ Church in Oxford, Zaehner studied several Persian languages. He also taught himself a related language, Sanskrit, used to write the early Hindu sacred books. Decades later he was asked by OUP to author a volume on Hinduism. Unexpectedly Zaehner insisted on first reading in Sanscrit the Mahabharata, a very long epic.[88] More than an heroic age story of an ancient war, the Mahabarata gives us the foremost compendium on Hindu religion and way of life.[89]

The resulting treatise Hinduism (1962) is elegant, deep, and short. Zaehner discusses, among other things, the subtleties of dharma, and Yudhishthira, the son of Dharma, who became the King of righteousness (dharma raja). Yudhishthira is the elder of five brothers of the royal Pandava family, who leads one side in the war of the Mahabarata. Accordingly, he struggles to follow his conscience, to do the right thing, to avoid slaughter and bloodshed. Yet he finds that tradition and custom, and the Lord Krishna, are ready to allow the usual killing and mayhem of warfare.[90][91]

As explained in Hinduism, all his life Yudhishthira struggles to follow his conscience.[92] Yet when Yudhishthira participates in the battle of Kuruksetra, he is told by Krishna to state a "half truth" meant to deceive. Zaehner discusses: Yudhishthira and moksha (liberation), and karma; and Yudhishthira's troubles with warrior caste dharma.[93][94][95] In the last chapter, Yudhishthira 'returns' as Mahatma Gandhi.[96] Other chapters discuss the early literature of the Vedas, the deities, Bhakti devotional practices begun in medieval India, and the encounter with, and response to, modern Europeans.[97]


Zaehenr continued his discussion of Yudhishthira in a chapter of his book based on his 1967-1969 Gifford Lectures.[98][99] Zaehner finds analogies between the Mahabharata's Yudhishthira and the biblical Job. Yet their situations differed. Yudhishthira, although ascetic by nature, was a royal leader who had to directly face the conflicts of his society. His realm and his family suffered great misfortunes due to political conflict and war. Yet the divine Krishna evidently considered the war and the destructive duties of the warrior (the kshatriya dharma) acceptable. The wealthy householder Job, a faithful servant of his Deity, suffers severe family and personal reversals, due to Divine acquiescence. Each human being, both Job and Yudhishthira, is committed to following his righteous duty, acting in conforming to his conscience.[100][101]

When the family advisor Vidura reluctantly challenges him to play dice at Dhrtarastra's palace, "Yudhishthira believes it is against his moral code to decline a challenge."[102][103] Despite, or because of, his devotion to the law of dharma, Yudhishthira then "allowed himself be tricked into a game of dice." In contesting against very cunning and clever players, he gambles "his kingdom and family away." His wife becomes threatened with slavery.[104][105][106]

Even so, initially Yudhishthira with "holy indifference" tries to "defend traditional dharma" and like Job to "justify the ways of God in the eyes of men." Yet his disgraced wife Draupadi dramatically attacks Krishna for "playing with his creatures as children play with dolls." Although his wife escapes slavery, the bitter loss in the dice game is only a step in the sequence of seemingly divinely-directed events that led to a disastrous war, involving enormous slaughter. Although Yudhishthira is the King of Dharma, eventually he harshly criticizes the bloody duties of a warrior (the kshatriya dharma), duties imposed also on kings. Yudhishthira himself prefers the "constant virtues" mandated by the dharma of a brahmin. "Krishna represents the old order," interprets Zaehner, where "trickery and violence" hold "an honorable place".[107][108]


In his Hindu Scriptures (1966) Zaehner presents his translations of selected classical texts, the Rig-Veda, the Atharva-Veda, the Upanishads, and the entire, 80-page Bhagavad Gita. He discusses these writings in his short Introduction. A brief Glossary of Names is at the end.[109] "Zaehner's extraordinary command of the texts" wast widely admired by his academic peers.[110]

That year Zaehner published a more annotated edition of the Bhagavad Gita, a prized episode in the Mahabharata epic. Before the great battle, the Lord Krishna discusses with the Pandava brother Arjuna the enduring spiritual realities. Krishna "was not merely a local prince of no very great importance: he was God incarnate--the great God Vishnu who has taken on human flesh and blood." Provided after his translation, is Zaehner's long Commentary, drawn from the medieval sages Sankara and Ramanuja, ancient scriptures and epics, and modern scholars. His Introduction places the Gita within the context of the Mahabharata and of Hindu philosophy. Hindu religious teachings in the Gita are addressed in terms of the individual Self, material Nature, Liberation, and Deity. A useful Appendix is organized by main subject, and under each are "quoted in full" the relevant passages, giving chapter and verse.[111][112]

Sri AurobindoEdit

In his 1971 book Evolution in Religion, Zaehner discusses Sri Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950), a modern Hindu spiritual teacher, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a French palaeontologist and Jesuit visionary.[113] Zaehner discusses each, and appraises their religious innovations.[114]

Aurobindo at age seven was sent to England for education, eventually studying western classics at Cambridge University. On his return to Bengal in India, he studied its ancient literature in Sanskrit. He later became a political orator with a spiritual dimension, a prominent leader for Indian independence. In prison in 1908 he had a religious experience. Relocating to the then French port of Pondicherry, he became a yogin and Hindu sage. Sri Aurobindo's writings reinterpret Hindu traditions.[115] Radhakrishnan, later President of India, praised him.[116] "As a poet, philosopher, and mystic, Sri Aurobindo occupies a place of the highest eminence in the history of modern India."[117]

Aurobindo, Zaehner wrote, "could not accept the Vedanta in its classic non-dualist formulation, for in England he had come to accept Darwinism and Bergson's creative evolution." If the One being was "totally static" as previously understood "then there could be no room for evolution, creativity, or development of any kind." Instead, "the One though absolutely self sufficient unto itself, must also be the source... of progressive, evolutionary change." Aurobindo's Purna Yoga contemplated that its adherents would become the leaders of society, that they would achieve a progressive ascent that culminated in a mystic reunion with the One.[118][119] "It must be remembered that there is Aurobindo the socialist and Aurobindo the mystic."[120]

Gifford lectureEdit

Zaehner gave the Gifford Lectures in Scotland during the years 1967–1969. In these sessions he revisited the subject of comparative mysticism focusing on Hinduism, then discussed Taoist classics, Neo-Confucianism, and Zen. In the course of the discourse, he mentions occasionally a sophisticated view: how the different religions have provided a mutuality of nourishment, having almost unconsicouslly interpenetrated each other's beliefs. The historically obfuscated result is that neighbouring religions might develop the other's theological insights as their own, as well as employ the other's distinctions to accent, or explain, their own doctrines to themselves. Although Zaehner gives a suggestive commentary at the conjunction of living faiths, he respects that each remains distinct, unique. Zaehner allows the possibility of what he calls the convergence of faiths, or solidarity.[121][122]

Regarding the world religions Zaehner held, however, that we cannot use such ironic syncretisms to leap to a unity within religions. His opinions might have conflicted with prevailing academic trends. "In these ecumenical days it is unfashionable to emphasize the difference between religions." Yet Zaehner remained skeptical, at the risk of alienating those in the ecumenical movement whose longing for a festival of conciliation caused them to overlook the stubborn divergence inherent in the momentum. "We must force nothing: we must not try to achieve a 'harmony' of religions at all costs when all we can yet see is a 'concordant discord'... . At this early stage of contact with the non-Christian religions, this surely is the most that we can hope for." His Gifford Lectures were later published by Oxford University Press as Concordant Discord. The Interdependence of Faiths.[123]

Popular cultureEdit

In his last three books, Zen, Drugs and Mysticism (1972), Our Savage God (1974), and City within the Heart (1981) [posthumous], Zaehner turned to address issues in contemporary society, drawing on his studies of comparative religion. He explored the similarities and the differences between drug-induced experiences and traditional mysticism. As an academic he had published on such issues before.[124][125][126] In the meantime, a widesrpead counterculture had arisen, which included artists, rebels, and college youth. Their psychedelic experiences were often self-explained spiritually, with reference to zen and eastern mysticism.[127][128] Consequently, Zaehner wanted then to reach this "wider public".[129]

Zaehner described various ancient quests to attain a mystical state of transcendence, of unification. Therein all contradictions and oppositions are reconciled; subject and object disappear, one passes beyond good and evil. That said, such a monist view can logically lead to excess, even to criminal acts.[130] If practiced under the guidance of traditional religious teachers, no harm usually results.[131][132][133] The potential for evil exists, however, through subtle misunderstanding or careless enthusiasm, according to Zaehner. After arriving at such a transcendent point, a troubled drug user may go wrong, feel licensed to do anything, with no moral limit. The misuse of a mystical state and its theology eventually can lead to horror.[134]

Zaehner warned of the misbehavior propagated by LSD advocate Timothy Leary,[135][136] the earlier satanism of Aleister Crowley, and ultimately the criminal depravity of Charles Manson.[137][138][139] His essay "Rot in the Clockwork Orange" further illustrates from popular culture the possible brutal effects of such moral confusion and license.[140] Yet Zaehner's detailed examination and review was not a witch hunt. His concluding appraisal of the LSD experience, although not without warning of its great risks and dangers, contained a limited, circumscribed allowance for use with a spiritual guide.[141][142]


  • There is indeed a sharp division between those religions whose characteristic form of religious experience is prayer and adoration of Pascal's God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob on the one hand, and religions in which sitting postures designed to find the God within you are thought to be the most appropriate way of approaching the Deity.[143]
  • Aristotle claimed to have known God 'for a short time' only, but that was enough. He was never so immodest as to claim that he had known the Truth, for he knew that this is reserved for God alone.[144]
  • One quite arresting resemblance between Zoroastrianism and Christianity remains to be noticed. This is the Haoma sacrifice and sacrament which seems to foreshadow the Catholic Mass in so strange a way. ... [T]he Haoma rite with partially fermented juice became the central act of Zoroastrian worship... .[145][146][147]
  • The whole ascetic tradition, whether it be Buddhist, Platonist, Manichaean, Christian or Islamic, springs from that most polluted of all sources, the Satanic sin of pride, the desire to be 'like gods'.[148][149]
  • Jung has done in the twentieth century A.D. what the Hindus did in perhaps the eighth century B.C.; he has discovered empirically the existence of an immortal soul in man, dwelling outside time and space, which can actually be experienced. This soul Jung, like the Hindus, calls the "self"... [which is] extremely difficult to describe in words. Hence his "self" is as hard to grasp as the Indian atman.[150]
  • True, the human phylum did not split up into separate subspecies as has been the case with other animal species, but it did split up into different religions and cultures, each having its own particular flavour, and each separated from the rest. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit... the scattering of man which is symbolised by the Tower of Babel comes to an end: the Church of Christ is born and the symbol of unity and union is found.[151]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Before becoming an Oxford professor he had been known as Robin Zaehner. Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987), pp. 243-244.
  2. ^ Ann K. S. Lambton, Richard Charles Zaehner in BSOAS 38/3: 823-824, at 823 (1975). She identifies his ancestry as "Swiss German",
  3. ^ Editorial insert, "The Author", in Zaehner, The Teaching of the Magi (1956; 1976), p. 5 (bilingual).
  4. ^ Zaehner called Prof. Bailey "perhaps the greatest Indo-Iranian philologist of our time". Zaehner's 1972 "Preface to the New Printing" to his Zurvan, A Zoroastrian Dilemma (1972), p. vi. "My debt to him, as always, remains immense."
  5. ^ a b c Alana Howard, "Gifford Lecture Biography."
  6. ^ Lambton, Richard Charles Zaehner in BSOAS (1975).
  7. ^ Michael Dummett, "Introduction" pp. xi–xix, at p. xiii (quote), to Zaehner's posthumous The City within the Heart (1981).
  8. ^ Geoffrey Parrinder, "Robert Charles Zaehner (1913–1974)" in History of Religion 16: 66–74, 74 (1976).
  9. ^ Nigel West, At Her Majesty's Secret Service. The chiefs of Britain's intelligence agency MI6 (Naval Institute Press 2006) at 117. Nigel West is the pen name of Rupert Allason.
  10. ^ Peter Wright, Spycatcher. The candid autobiography of a senior intelligence officer, with Paul Greengrass (Richmond: Heinemann Australia 1987), pp. 243-246, at 244–245 (quote).
  11. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, "R. C. Zaehner" {website}.
  12. ^ Christopher de Bellaigue, Patriot of Persia. Muhammad Mossadegh and a tragic Anglo-American coup (2012). p. 193-194 (Lambton), p. 194 (description of Zaehner, Martin quote).
  13. ^ Ann Lambton, RCZ (1975), p. 623. In Iran stationed at the British Embassy during 1943-1947, and 1951-1952. Zaehner enjoyed a "large number of Persian friends."
  14. ^ 'Ali Mirdrakvandi, an Iranian peasant from Luristan, worked awhile for Zaehner. He wrote a fantastic story in his self-taught English. It was later edited by John Hemming and published, with a forward by Zaehner, as No Heaven for Gunga Din. Consisting of the British and American Officers' Book (London: Victor Gallancz 1965).
  15. ^ Cf., Zaehner, "Zoroastrian survivals in Iranian folklore" (1965), pp. 87-96, at 88-89 re 'Ali Mirdrakvandi and his book. Also: Part II (1992).
  16. ^ Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Iranian Intellectuals and the West. The tormented triumph of nativism (Syracuse Univ. 1996) at 33, 38–39. The 1951 coup staged by Britain alone failed due to Mossadegh's popularity and Iranian nationalism. Later in 1953 a joint American and British coup toppled Mossadegh, returned the Shah to power, and restored oilfields to Britain. But it sowed the seeds of a lasting mistrust.
  17. ^ Robert Fisk, "Another Fine Mess", Information Clearing House (2003). "It was Zaehner who had cultivated the Rashidian brothers, each of whom had worked against German influence in Iran during the Second World War." They were key players in the 1951 coup attempt. Fisk knew Robin Zaehner, "the British classics scholar who helped mastermind it."
  18. ^ During the 1951 attempted overthrow, Zaehner is said to have enlisted support of politicians, editors, aristocrats, army officers, tribal chiefs, businessmen, and others, including several associates of Mossadegh. Ervand Abrahamian, Komeinism (1993) cited in N.C.R.I.-F.A.C.
  19. ^ de Bellaigue, Patriot of Persia (2012), pp. 193-195, 197.
  20. ^ Fakhreddin Azimi, The Quest for Democracy in Iran. A century of struggle against authoritarian rule (Harvard University 2008), p. 153.
  21. ^ Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987) at 245–246. Wright states that, "I felt bitter at the ease with which the accusation had been made," and for his subjecting a loyal colleague to hearing the false charges made against him. "In that moment the civilized cradle of Oxford disintegrated around him; he was back behind the lines again, surrounded by enemies, alone and double-crossed" (p. 246 quote).
  22. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), p. 6 (quote).
  23. ^ de Bellaigue, Patriot of Persia (2012), p. 194. The job MI6 gave to Zaehner in Tehran was "ugly: to sow chaos in the heart of a sovereign government."
  24. ^ Jeffrey Kripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom (2001), p. 162. Kripal comments on Zaehner's Gifford lectures and his earlier Spalding inaugural lecture.
  25. ^ Wright, Spycatcher (1987), p. 245. Wright mentions an apparently contrary view: "The cords which bind Oxford and British Intelligence together are strong."
  26. ^ Zurvan, a Zoroastrian dilemma (1955).
  27. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), p. 8.
  28. ^ Sarvepalli Gopal, Radhakrishnan. A Biography (Delhi: Oxford University Press 1989), pp. 249-250, 257 (VP); 304-307 (P); during his last three years at Oxford, Radhakrishnan had served concurrently as India's ambassador to the Soviet Union (pp. 213-215, 228, 248, 257). He was the first Spalding professor, starting in 1936 (pp. 132-133, 145).
  29. ^ S. Radhakrishnan, Eastern Religions and Western Thought (Oxford University 1939, 2d ed. 1940; 1960), p. 20. Regarding his Spalding post: "the unprecedented appointment of an Asian to the Oxford Chair [is] motivated, I take it, by a desire to lift Eastern Thought... [indicating] its enduring value as a living force in shaping the soul of the modern man."
  30. ^ Vishwanath S. Naravane, Modern Indian Thought (New Delhi: Orient Longman 1978), p. 249. Radhakrishnan's "role has been described as that of a 'liaison officer' between East and West... as a 'philosophical bilinguist'... as a bridge builder facilitating intellectual commerce... ."
  31. ^ Zaehner's 1953 Spalding lecture, "Foolishness to the Greeks", was incorporated as an Appendix, pp. 428-443, in his book Concordant Discord (1970).
  32. ^ Michael Dummett, "Introduction" (1981) to Zaehner's posthumous The City within the Heart, at pp. xii-xiii, p. xii (quotes).
  33. ^ Cf. Gopal, Radhakrishnan (1989). During the last decades of the Indian independence movement, Prof. Radhakrishnan had criticized Christianity's unique claims (pp. 39-44, 195-197). He promoted an optimistic view of "a shrinking world" in which his generation would provide "spiritual oneness and create an integrated human community" (p. 149 quote). His Eastern Religions and Western Thought (Oxford 1939) discussed, e.g., Hindu influence on the ancient Greeks, and "common elements in Christianity and Hinduiism" (pp. 159-160).
  34. ^ Zaehner, "Preface to the New Printing" (1972), pp. v (quote) and vi (Hinduism and Buddhism), to a reissue of his Zurvan".
  35. ^ Cf. Kripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom (2001), p. 189.
  36. ^ Kripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom (2001), p. 181 (quote).
  37. ^ Dummett, "Introduction" (1981), pp. xiii-xiv (quote).
  38. ^ Newell, Struggle and Submission. R. C. Zaehner on mysticisms (1981), p. iv (quote).
  39. ^ Lambton, "Obituary" (1975), p. 624 (quote).
  40. ^ Dummett, "Introduction" (1981) at xi (quotes). Prof. Dummett here may refer especially to Zaehner's later, more popularizing books, e.g., on those counterculture drug users who associated their experience with mysticism. Yet Zaehner's work shed light on many regions.
  41. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), pp. 6 & 7 (quotes).
  42. ^ Gregory Baum, "Forward" to Newell (1981), p. xi.
  43. ^ Dummett, "Introduction" (1981) p. xviii (quote).
  44. ^ Zaehner, Zurvan (1955, 1972). The oldest reference for Zurvan found dates to the 12th (name), and 4th (sources unclear) centuries BCE (p. 20). Zurvanism had been installed at start of Sasanid rule as its state religion (p. 90), yet its status varied (pp. 112-113).
  45. ^ Touraj Daryaee, Sasanian Iran 224 -651 CE (Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa 2008), King Ardaxsir I founded Sananid rule as Zoroastrian, with labors by the priest Kerdir (p, 16); Zurvan in edict (p. 62).
  46. ^ Zaehner differs with Mary Boyce as to whether, during the prior Parthian period (247 BCE to 224 CE) in Iran, Zoroastrianism survived if not flourished, or was little practiced, confused and inauthentic. Zaehner chose the latter (the Sasanians "restored the Zoroastrian faith"). Compare: her Zoroastrians. Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1979, 1985), pp. 80–82; and, his Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (1961), pp. at 22 (quote), 175.
  47. ^ Zaehner, Zurvan (1955, 1972), pp. 3-5 (dualism of Zoroaster, and development of Zurvan).
  48. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (1961) at 34, 42-46 (Zoroaster's teaching); 178–183 , 246–247 (Zoroastrian sects).
  49. ^ Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians. Their religious belief and practices (1979), dualism: pp. 19-21, cf. 9-10; Zurvan heresy: pp. 67-70, 112-113, 118-123.
  50. ^ Alessandro Bausani, Persia religiosa (Milano 1959, Rome 1960), translated as Religion in Iran (New York: Bibliotheca Persica 2000), pp. 42-47, 63 (Zurvan).
  51. ^ Zaehner, Zurvan. A Zoroastrian dilemma (1955, 1972): Zurvan supreme (pp. 90, 91 quote).
  52. ^ Farhang Mehr, The Zoroastrian Tradition (Element, Rockport 1991), moral dualism (pp. 71-76).
  53. ^ Zaehner, Zurvan (1955, 1972), finite Time, victory of Ohrmazd (pp. 106-107 quote, and 100-101); Zurvan as God (p. 219), as Lord (pp. 239, 248, 254).
  54. ^ A short (156 pages) book published by George Allen and Unwin for a series, Classics East and West.
  55. ^ Zaehner (1956), Chapter IV, pp. 52-66. The "main tenants" quote at p. 11.
  56. ^ Zaehner (1959; 1967), "Zoroastrianism" article at pp. 209-222,
  57. ^ "Zoroastrian survivals in Iranian folklore" (1965) and its posthumous "Part II" (1992).
  58. ^ The Convergent Spirit (1963), chapter 5, "Solidarity in God," pp. 130-156.
  59. ^ In his The Comparison of Religions (1958; 1962), chapter IV, "Prophets outside Israel" pp. 134-164, discussion at pp. 135–153.
  60. ^ Concordant Discord (1970), in chapter XIX, "Beneath the Sun of Satan" pp. 385-403, at pp. 387-394.
  61. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight (1961), p. 25 (Gathas); p. 35 (quote "opposition"), p. 37 (quote "enemies"); p. 40 (quotes "settled", "marauding"); p. 42 (quote "Truth" and "Lie").
  62. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight (1961), p. 33 (dates [of Sasanian priests] were pegged to year of Alexander's conquests).
  63. ^ Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin, La religion de l'Iran ancient (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France 1962) translated as Religion of Ancient Iran (Bombay: Tata 1973), pp. 99-100. Classic Greeks assigned his dates to 6000 years before Plato. The "native tradition" of the 7th century CE placed him 258 years before Alexander (6th century BC). The author here concludes 600 BC at the latest (concurrent with Buddha and Confucius), perhaps 1000 BC per "linguistic evidence".
  64. ^ Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, volume 1 (Leiden/Köln: E. J. Brill 1975) at 190. Boyce notes that the 6th century dates were suggested by Sasanian priests, but are known to be artificial. She favors an earlier dating, 1400 to 1000 BC, for the prophet Zarathushtra or Zoroaster. His Gathas are linguistically comparable to the Rig Veda, dated at 1700 BC, and the pastoral social economy described in the Gathas fits that time period.
  65. ^ Mehr, The Zoroastrian Tradition (1991), pp. 3-5. Mehr gives a date of 1750 BC for Zoroaster, stating reasons similar to those of Boyce.
  66. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight (1961), pp. 54-55 (Ahura Mazdah); 45-46 ("mediating" quote), 71 ("aspects" quote).
  67. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight (1961), pp. 37 (Varuna as asura, Indra as deva), 39 (asuras lawful), 66 (Ahura Mazdah and Vouruna), 82-83 (laws of Zoroaster, asura), 132 (Rig Veda, Avesta). Regarding another subject, the application of Georges Dumézil's theories to Zoroastrian theology, Zaehner criticizes its accuracy (pp. 49-50).
  68. ^ Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, v. 1 (1975): Vedic deva and Avestan daeva, Vedic asura and Avestan ahura (p.23); deva Indra (p. 32), Varuna as asura (p. 36); the lawful Ahura Vouruna in Iran as forerunner of Ahura Mazda (pp. 48, 53); Zoroaster rejects the heroic warrior Indra as daeva, as "violent, lavish, reckless" (p.53).
  69. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight (1961), pp. 181-184, 193-247 (Zurvan); pp. 284-301 (Sassanid state: the mean at 285, 286 & 289, 287 (quotes), the treaty at 286-287, castes at 284-285); pp. 58-60, 299, 317-318 (Saoshyans), pp. 228-229, 296, 302 (frashkart).
  70. ^ E.g., At Sundry Times (1958); Christianity and other Religions (1962). See also Zaehner Bibliography. He focused primarily on Hinduism and Islam, yet he demonstrated wide learning across many areas.
  71. ^ E.g., Zaehner, Mysticism. Sacred and Profane (1957, 1961) at 168.
  72. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), pp. 46-48.
  73. ^ Richard Maurice Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness. A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (Philadelphia: Innes and Sons 1901; reprint: Dutton 1969).
  74. ^ Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (1960, 1969), "Preface" at vii–viii.
  75. ^ Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (1960, 1969) at 6–11. Zaehner references S. N. Dasgupta, his A History of Indian Philosophy (Cambridge 1951), and his Hindu Mysticism (Chicago 1927).
  76. ^ Zaehner, Hindu and Muslem Mysticism (1960, 1969) at 19, 6 & 10; (a) 7–9, 17; (b) 9–10, 13, 17; (c) 11, 14–16, 17–18. Zaehner quotes at length from Martin Buber on mystical experience, at 17–18.
  77. ^ Junayd (pp. 135-153), and Ghazali (153-175) are later discussed in Zaehner's Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (1960, 1969).
  78. ^ Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (New York: Harper and Row 1954).
  79. ^ Zaehner, Mysticism. Sacred and Profane (1957, 1961) at v of the "Preface".
  80. ^ Zaehner, Our Savage God (1974) at 10–12.
  81. ^ Zaehner, Mysticism. Sacred and Profane (1957, 1961) at 25–26, 27–29.
  82. ^ Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (New York: Harper and Brothers 1945).
  83. ^ Zaehner, Mysticism. Sacred and profane (1957): two chapters discuss Theism and Monism, another two Mescalin (drug-induced states). The Triune Divinity of Christianity is briefly addressed at pp. 195-197.
  84. ^ William Lloyd Newell, Struggle and Submission: R. C. Zaehner on Mysticisms (University Press of America 1981), pp. 5-6.
  85. ^ Zaehner, Christianity and Other Religions (1970), p. 147 (quote).
  86. ^ Dummett, "Introduction" (1981), p. xvi (quote).
  87. ^ Parrinder. RCZ (1975), pp. 66-74, at p.74.
  88. ^ Pripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom (2001), pp. 159-160.
  89. ^ Barend A. van Nooten, The Mahabharata (New York: Twayne 1971). The most influential work of literature in India; yet not a revealed text like the Vedas, but on par with ancient law books and puranas (p.81). Written in Sanskrit (p.52), by "the mythical saint Vyasa" ("arranger") about the 4th century BCE (p.43).
  90. ^ "The Mahabharata is a strange kind of book," writes Zaeher. As a major hero "Yudhishthira shows sympathy" for criticism about the "injustice" in the caste laws (dharma) for warriors (kshatriya). Zaehner, Hinduism (1962, 1966), p. 108 (quotes).
  91. ^ Cf. van Nooten, The Mahabharata (19171), synopsis pp. 5-42.
  92. ^ Chapters 3 moksha, and 5 dharma.
  93. ^ Zaehner, Hinduism (1962, 1966), Yudhishthira: pp. 64-66 (moksha); 107-108, 111, 115-125 (dharma). Warrior caste karma (p.59), dharma (pp. 108-111, Yudhishthira's protest at 111). The Bhagavad Gita describes Krishna's teaching to the Pandava brother Arjuna before the battle of Kuruksetra (pp. 92-100). Yudhishthira is "ordered to do so by the Lord Krishna", i.e, to "lie" (p.117, quote).
  94. ^ Cf. Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), pp. 180-185 et seq. (Krishna advocates war prompting Yudhishthira's dilemma, and opposition), pp. 154, 181 (following Krishna's urging Yudhishthira utters a "lie").
  95. ^ Buddhadeva Bose, The Book of Yudhisthir (Hyderabad: Sangam 1986), pp.66-70 (Krishna and Yudhishtriya, at Kuruksetra), at 67 (the "half truth").
  96. ^ Zaehner, Hinduism (1962), Chapter 8, Gandhi at pp. 170-187, Gandhi and Yudhishthira at pp. 170-172, 174, 178, 179, 184. "Gandhi's dilemma was the same as Yudhishthira's". Was dharma a tradition, or was it his conscience? (p. 170 quote, p.171). The book closes with the modern poet Rabindranath Tagore (pp. 187-192).
  97. ^ Hinduism (1962), Chapters 1, 2 & 4, 6, 7.
  98. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), Chapter IX, "The Greatness of Man and the Wretchedness of God", pp. 172-193, which devotes attention to Yudhishthira (pp. 176-193).
  99. ^ See section below "Gifford Lectures".
  100. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970): Yudhishthira and Job (pp. 178, 179, 355). The Book of Job proper becomes focus of Zaehner in Ch. XVII, pp. 346-355. Yudhishthira and Krishna (177-182, 184-185, 188-190); kshatriya's "duty of killing and being killed in war" (p. 176).
  101. ^ Book of Job, ch. 1; ch. 2, v. 1-10: God permits Satan to devastate Job and his family. Later without guile Job disputed accusations that he was being punished for commensurate sins, e.g., he says aloud to God, "You know very well that I am innocent" (ch. 9, v. 7).
  102. ^ Van Nooten, The Mahabharata (1971), p. 16 (quote).
  103. ^ The Mahabharata. 2. The Book of the Assembly Hall 3. The Book of the Forest (University of Chicago 1975), translated and edited by J. A. B. van Buitenen, Book 2, chapter 51 (pp. 125-127, at 125-126): Yudhishthira first agrees to the game of dice at Hastinapura. The second time Yudhishthira agrees to roll the dice, it is expressly stated because he cannot disobey his elder, Dhrtarastra (bk. 2, ch. 67, v. 1-4; p. 158). Vidura and Dhrtarastra are his uncles.
  104. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970). p. 179 (quotes about the dice game).
  105. ^ Zaehner, Hinduism (1962, 1966), p. 107 (the fateful game of dice).
  106. ^ Bose, The Book of Yudhisthir (1986), pp. 26, 29:n1, 87:n1 (Yudhishthira rolls the dice, commentary). Among nobles of India then, dice games were an "addiction" or "chief indulgence", p. 29:n1.
  107. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970, p. 177 (quote: holy); p. 179 (quotes: defend, justify); p. 177 (Draupadi's quote about Krishna). Yudhishthira at first "defends the established order" (pp. 178-179). He prefers the brahmin's dharma over the kshatriya's (pp. 177, 179, 184, 188). Draupadi attacks Krishna (pp. 177-178, 347), attacks Yudhishthira (p. 186). Yudhishthira does not attack Krishna, but becomes disgusted with "a warrior's duty to kill," saying after the destructive war:

    "Cursed be the kshatriya code, cursed be physical strength, cursed be violence through which we have been brought to our present pass. Blessed be long-suffering, self-control, purity, freedom from strife and slander, refusal to do another harm, truthful speech, the constant virtues... "(p. 184).

  108. ^ The Mahabharata [Bks. 2 & 3], trans. and ed. by von Buitenen (1975), Yudhishthira about the brahmins (cf. bk. 3, ch. 177; pp. 563-565). [under construction].
  109. ^ Zaehner (1966), Introduction, pp. v-xxii; Upanishads, pp. 33-245.
  110. ^ Reardon, A Theological Analysis of R. C. Zaehner's Theory of Mysticism (2012), pp. 134-135, at 135 quote.
  111. ^ The Bhagavad Gita with commentary based on the original sources (1966) by R. C. Zaehner, translated with introduction and appendix. From Zaehner's Introduction: quote re Vishnu (p.6); Sankara and Ramanuja (pp. 3, 4, 8; R. p.40). Translation pp. 43-109, Commentary 111-403, Appendix 405-464, (cf. pp. 4-5).
  112. ^ Gopal, Radhakrishnan (1989), pp. 179, 204-205. His predecessor, Prof. Radhakrishnan, had published a translation of the Gita in 1948. Cf. Zaehner, BG (1966), p. 1:n2.
  113. ^ Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (Paris 1955; New York: Harper and Row 1959, 1965), was the book that established his public profile.
  114. ^ Zaehner delivered the same three lectures in Delhi, Calcutta [Kolkota], and Madras [Chinnai], at Christian colleges, and a related fourth at Madras University. The lectures comprise his Evolution in Religion (1971). An Appendix contains his short meditation on Death (pp. 115-121), given at St. Stephen's College, Delhi.
  115. ^ E.g., Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita (Arya 1916-1920; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 9th ed. 1996; reprint: Lotus Press, Wisconsin).
  116. ^ "Aurobindo was the greatest intellectual of our age and a major force for the life of the spirit." Radhakrishnan in 1950, quoted by D. Mackenzie Brown, The White Umbrella. Indian political thought from Manu to Gandhi (University of California 1958), pp. 124, 179:n7.
  117. ^ Naravane, Modern Indian Thought (1978), pp. 193-219, esp. 196-198 (Aurobindo biographical), quote at 198.
  118. ^ Zaehner, Evolution in Religion (1971), p. 10 (quotes). His teaching was a "clear break" from Sankhya Yoga which "made the sharpest distinction between Spirit and matter" and from the Vedanta of Sankara (p.10). Aurobindo "makes a clean break with traditional values" (p. 29).
  119. ^ Naravane, Modern Indian Thought (1978). The process of evolution is preceded by involution (p. 207), or the descent of the Absolute into the material world; thereafter comes its subsequent creative evolution or ascent (pp. 204-205). Aurobindo's "aim is to combine the western and eastern theories of evolution" (p. 208). Yoga at p.203.
  120. ^ Zaehner, Evolution in Religion (1971), p. 36 (quote).
  121. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970). Preface. Zaehner writes of the "missing link" between Zen and theism ( p. 304), and "the Hindu bridge" (p. 297), as pathways to convergence.
  122. ^ Newell, Struggle and Submission (1981), pp. 24-33 (convergence, solidarity). A false convergence is also possible (p. 252).
  123. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), p. 383 ("unfashionable" quote), p. 7 ("force nothing" quote). Cf. p. 296-299: ecumenical strategies Christian and Zen.
  124. ^ In Mysticism, Sacred and Profane (1957), Zaehner had discussed in a scholarly fashion the mescalin experience and eastern religions.
  125. ^ With Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (1960), Zaehner further articulated his understanding of comparative mysticism.
  126. ^ Cf. Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970).
  127. ^ Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Richard Alport, The Psychedelic Experience. A manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (New Hyde Park: University Books 1966).
  128. ^ R. E. L. Masters and Jean Houston, The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience (New York: Holt Rinehart Winston 1966), per Zaehner, ZDM (1972), e.g., p. 77.
  129. ^ Zaehner, Zen, Drugs and Mysticism (1972), "Foreword" p.9.
  130. ^ Zaehner, A City within the Heart (1981), pp. 34-35: mystical states, Neo-Vedanta non-dualism of the Hindus, and Zen (practiced in America); p. 36: excess, the deity Indra as a killer in the Kaushitaki Upanishad, and his follower. Cf. excess in western religion, pp. 30-31.
  131. ^ Zaehner, Zen, Drugs and Mysticism (1972), p. 125-127 re Zen, per Abbot Shibayama. Per Jiddu Krishnamurti, p. 115.
  132. ^ Abbot Zenkai Shibayama, A Flower does not Talk (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle 1970), pp. 105-110, esp. 105-106, the "Self before you were born" p. 108; re Zaehner, ZDM (1972), p. 81.
  133. ^ Radhakrishnan, Eastern Religions and Western Thought (1939, 1960), pp. 102-103: "When the Upanishad says that 'sin does not cling to a wise man any more than water clings to a lotus leaf' it does not mean that the sage may sin and yet be free, but rather that any one who is free from worldly attachments is also free from all temptation to sin."
  134. ^ Zaehner, Our Savage God (1974), pp. 47, 288, 306 (Charles Manson's "mysticism").
  135. ^ Zaehner, Zen, Drugs and Mysticiam (1972), Leary: pp. 66-67, 69-75, 83-87.
  136. ^ Timothy Leary, The Politics of Ecstasy (New York: G. P. Putnam 1970), a source for Zaehner, ZDM (1972), p. 67:n9.
  137. ^ Zaehner, Our Savage God (1974), Crowley: pp. 40-47; Manson: pp. 47-72. Zaehner tells how Manson was underprivileged, son of a teenage prostitute (p.51), an ex-convict whose maleducation trickled down from local occult sects (pp. 46, 59). His enemy was society (pp. 48-50, 55-56, 306-307). He preached to die to the world, by exhaustion, drugs and sex, to break-down the ego (pp. 60, 62, 69), in order to attain an indifference (pp. 60, 66-67, cf. 80). So broken, his followers committed horrific crimes (pp. 47, 56, 67).
  138. ^ Ed Sanders in his The Family (New York: Dutton 1972; reprint Avon 1972) describes the occult indoctrination used by Manson, and his loopy rationale of the murders. Zaehner quotes it and obtained knowledge of Manson's crimes from it. Zaehner, OSG (1974), pp. 9, 45:n8, 61.
  139. ^ Zaehner, The City within the Heart (1981), chapter "The Wickedness of Evil" pp. 27-44, which begins with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and ends with Manson (pp. 35-44).
  140. ^ The crazy, soul-killing violence of the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess and of the 1971 film of Stanley Kubrick are discussed in unavoidable graphic language by Zaehner in his essay, "Rot in the Clorkwork Orange" pp. 19-73, at 35-40, in Our Savage God (1974), esp. p. 36.
  141. ^ Zaehner, Zen, Drugs and Mysticism (1972), pp. 133-134.
  142. ^ Cf. The Economist, June 25, 2011, "Acid Test. Research into hallucinogenic drugs begins to shake off decades of taboo" p. 95; e.g., medical treatments, biotechnology.
  143. ^ Zaehner, Our Savage God (1974) p. 234 (quote).
  144. ^ Zaehner, The City within the Heart (1981) p. 136 (quote).
  145. ^ Zaehner, The Comparison of Religions (1958) p. 152 (quote). "Haoma is both a plant and a god. ... As a god Haoma was the son of Ahura Mazdah, the Wise Lord (Yasna 11:4). ... The purpose of the sacrifice is to confer immortality on all those who drink the sacred liquid--the life-juice of a divine being pounded to death in a mortar" (pp. 152-153).
  146. ^ Cf., Zeahner, Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (1961) at 85–94, re the Haoma rite.
  147. ^ Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, vol.1 (Leiden/Köln: E. J. Brill 1975), pp. 164-165. Boyce criticizes Zaehner's presentation of the Haoma ritual in his Teachings pp. 126, 129; and Dawn and Twilight pp. 93-94. She says he marshals scripture, and evidence on the divine presence, death, and resurrection in the Haoma sacrifice, so that it resembles "the Christian communion rite". "But if all the material is properly taken into consideration... its intention appears as something very different" (p. 164). She cites A. Berriedale Keith, The religion and philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads, vol. II (Harvard Oriental Series 1925, reprint 1970), pp. 332. Keith states that for the Brahman soma ritual, there was "no serious or real feeling for the death of a god" (p. 460). The same applies for the Iranian haoma (Keith, p.326,n2), in Boyce (p.165).
  148. ^ Zaehner, Our Savage God (1974) p. 235 (quote).
  149. ^ Cf., Zaehner, Mysticism. Sacred and Profane (1957, 1961), p. 49: re Richard Jefferies' strong opposition to ascetic practices.
  150. ^ Zaehner, "A New Buddha and a New Tao" pp. 402–412, at 403 (quote), in The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths (1959; 1967), edited by Zaehner.
  151. ^ Zaehner, Matter and Spirit (1963) at 199 (quote), cf. p. 19.


Zaehner's worksEdit

  • Foolishness to the Greeks. Oxford University, 1953 (pamphlet). Reprint: Descale de Brouwer, Paris, 1974. As Appendix in Concordant Discord (1970).
  • Zurvan. A Zoroastrian Dilemma. Oxford University, 1955. Reprint: Biblio and Tannen, New York, 1972.
  • The Teachings of the Magi. A compendium of Zoroastrian beliefs. George Allen & Unwin, London, 1956. Reprints: Sheldon Press, 1972; Oxford, 1976. Translation:
    • Il Libro del Consiglio di Zarathushtra e altri testi. Compendio delle teorie zoroastriane. Astrolabio Ubaldini, Roma, 1976.
  • Mysticism: Sacred and Profane. Clarendon Press, Oxford University, 1957, reprint 1961. Translations:
    • Mystik, religiös und profan. Ernst Klett, Stuttgart, 1957.
    • Mystiek sacraal en profaan. De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 1969.
    • Mystique sacrée, Mystique profane. Editorial De Rocher, Monaco, 1983.
  • At Sundry Times. An essay in the comparison of religions. Faber & Faber, London, 1958. Alternate title, and translation:
    • The Comparison of Religions. Beacon Press, Boston, 1962.
    • Inde, Israël, Islam: religions mystiques et révelations prophétiques. Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1965.
  • Hindu and Muslim Mysticism. Athlone Press, University of London, 1960. Reprints: Schocken, New York, 1969; Oneworld, Oxford, 1994.
  • The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1961. Translation:
    • Zoroaster e la fantasia religiosa. Il Saggiatore, Milano, 1962.
  • Hinduism. Oxford University Press, London, 1962. Translations:
    • Der Hinduismus. Seine geschichte und seine lehre. Goldman, München, 1964.
    • L'Induismo. Il Mulino, Bologna, 1972.
    • L'hindouisme. Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1974.
  • The Convergent Spirit. Towards a dialectics of Religion. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1963. Alternate title:
    • Matter and Spirit. Their convergence in Eastern Religions, Marx, and Teilhard de Chardin. Harper & Row, New York, 1963.
  • The Catholic Church and World Religions. Burns & Oates, London, 1964. Alternate title, and translation:
    • Christianity and other Religions. Hawthorn Books, New York, 1964.
    • El Cristianismo y les grandes religiones de Asia. Editorial Herder, Barcelona, 1967.
  • "Zoroastrian survivals in Iranian folklore," Iran, v. 3, pp. 87–96, 1965. Part II, Iran, v. 30, pp. 65–75, 1992. {JSTOR}
  • Concordant Discord. The Interdependence of Faiths. Clarendon Press, Oxford University, 1970. Gifford Lectures 1967-1969. Translation:
    • Mystik. Harmonie und dissonanz. Walter, Olten/Freiburg, 1980.
  • Dialectical Christianity and Christian Materialism. The Riddell Memorial Lectures. Oxford University Press, London, 1971.
  • Evolution in Religion. A study of Sri Aurobindo and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Clarendon Press, Oxford University, 1971.
  • Drugs, Mysticism and Make-believe. William Collins, London, 1972. Alternate title:
    • Zen, Drugs, and Mysticism. Pantheon Books, New York, 1972.
  • Our Savage God. The Perverse use of Eastern Thought. Sheed & Ward, New York, 1974.
  • The City within the Heart. Crossroad Publishing, New York, 1981. Introduction by Michael Dummett.


  • Hindu Scriptures. Translated and edited by R. C. Zaehner. J. M. Dent, London, 1966.
  • The Bhagavad Gita. With commentary based on the ancient sources. Translated by R. C. Zaehner. Oxford Univ., London, 1969.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths. Edited by R. C. Zaehner. Hawthorn Books, New York, 1959. Three reprints:
    • The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths. Beacon Press, Boston, 1967.
    • The Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Living Faiths. Century Hutchinson, London, 1988.
    • Encyclopedia of the World's Religions. Barnes and Noble, New York, 1997.

Criticism, reviewsEdit

  • Albano Fernandes, The Hindu Mystical Experience: A comparative philosophical study of the approaches of R. C. Zaehner & Bede Griffiths. Intercultural, New Delhi 2004.
  • George Kizhakkemury, The Converging Point. An appraisal of Professor R. C. Zaehner's approach to Islamic mysticism. Alwaye MCBS, New Delhi 1982.
  • Jeffrey John Kripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom. University of Chicago 2001. Chapter III (pp. 156–198) on Zaehner.
  • William Lloyd Newell, Struggle and Submission: R. C. Zaehner on Mysticisms. University Press of America, Washington 1981, forward by Gregory Baum.
  • John Paul Reardon, A Theological Analysis of R. C. Zaehner's Theory of Mysticism. Dissertation at Fordham University, New York 2012. {website}
  • Richard Charles Schebera, Christian and Non-Christian Dialogue. The vision of R. C. Zaehner. University Press of America, Washington 1978.
  • K. D. Sethna, The Spirituality of the Future: A search apropos of R. C. Zaehner's study in Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard De Chardin. Fairleigh Dickinson University 1981.
    • Carlo Cereti, "Zaehner, Robert Charltes" in Ehsan Yarshater, editor, Encyclopaedia Iranica. {website}
    • Robert D. Hughes, "Zen, Zurvan, and Zaehner: A Memorial Tribute... " in Studies in Religion 6: 139-148 (1976-1977).
    • Ann K. S. Lambton, "Robert Charles Zaehner" in B.S.O.A.S. 38/3: 623–624 (London 1975).
    • Geoffrey Parrinder, "Robert Charles Zaehner (1913–1974)" in History of Religions 16/1: 66–74 (Univ.of Chicago 1976).
    • F. Whaling, "R. C. Zaehner: A Critique" in The Journal of Religious Studies 10: 77-118 (1982).
  • Michael Dummett, "Introduction" at pp. xi-xix, to Zaehner's posthumous The City within the Heart (1981).

External linksEdit