Robert Charles Zaehner

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Robert Charles Zaehner (1913–1974) was a British academic who specialised in Eastern religions. He was also a former intelligence officer.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Born on 8 April 1913 in Sevenoaks, Kent, the son of Swiss immigrants to England, Zaehner "was bilingual in French and English from early childhood. He remained a excellent linguist all his life."[2] He was educated nearby at Tonbridge School. Admitted to Christ Church, Oxford, 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.[3] He then began work on his Zurvan, a Zoroastrian Dilemma, a study of the pre-Islamic religion of Iran.[4]

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).[5] In 1939 he acted as research lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford. About this time, apparently after reading the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, and Rumi the Sufi poet of Iran, as well as the Hindu Upanishads, Zaehner had adopted a "nature mysticism". Yet his spiritual progression led him to convert to Christianity, becoming a Roman Catholic while stationed in Iran.[6]

British intelligence[edit]

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 performed a more diplomatic role at Tehran until 1947.[4][7] 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... ."[8]

After the war, he continued for several years his work in Iran as an MI6 officer. Zaehner also resumed his academic research on Zoroastrianism for Oxford. 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.[9]

Zaehner then 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. Thus Zaehner became engaged in the failed 1951 British effort to topple the government of Iran and return oil production to an entity controlled by the British government, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which had been in effect nationalised by Mossadegh.[10] "[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."[11][12] Such Anglo and later American interference in Iran, which eventually reinstalled the Shah, has been widely criticized.[13]

In the 1960s, MI5 counter-intelligence 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.[14]

Although in the intelligence service for 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."[15] 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.[16][17]

Oxford professor[edit]

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,[18] and lectured in Persian literature. His reputation then "rested on articles on Zoroastrianism, mainly philological" written before the war.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21] 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."[22][23]

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."[24] He served Oxford in this academic chair, while also a fellow at All Souls College, until his death in 1974, and never married.[4][25]

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."[26] An American professor described Zaehner in a 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."[27] His colleague in Iran, Prof. Lambton, recalled, "He did not, perhaps, suffer fools gladly, but for the serious student he would take immense pains". Zaehner was "an entertaining companion" with "many wildly funny" stories, "a man of great originality, not to say eccentricity."[28]

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 proximity. The lectures were later published in 1970 by Oxford University as Concordant Discord. The interdependence of faiths, "just four years before his death".[29]

"Zaehner was a scholar who turned into something different, something more important than a scholar," according to Prof. Dummett, 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... ."[30] In theology he challenged the ecumenical trend that strove to somehow see a uniformity in all religions, not out of an ill will, but from a conviction that dialogue between religions must be based on a "pursuit of truth". If such profound dialogue rested on a false, superficial "harmony and friendship" it would only foster hidden misunderstandings, Zaehner thought, and result in a continuing mistrust.[31][32]

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."[33]

His writings[edit]

Zoroastrian studies[edit]

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.[34][35][36]

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.[37][38][39][40]

Zurvan could be described as divinized Time (Zaman). During 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).[41][42] 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 say, it is Ohrmazd who remains supreme, not Zurvan. On the other hand, adherents held that Zurvan was God of Time, Space, Wisdom, and Power, and the Lord of Death, of Order, and of Fate.[43]

The Teaching of the Magi (1956)[44] was Zaehner's second of three book on Zoroastrianism. It presented the "main tenets" of the religion during Sasanid times, arbitrarily the reign of Shapur II, a 4th century King. It sources were later Pahlavi books. Each of its ten chapters contains a translated text. Chapter IV, "The Necessity of Dualism" is typical, half being Zaehner's narrative and half from a Pahlavi work, here the Shikand Gumani Vazar by Mardan Farrukh.[45] Zaehner also wrote an article "Zoroastrianism" included in a double-columned book he edited, The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths first published in 1959.[46][47]

In his The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (1961), Zaehner adopted a chronological dichotomy. He first explores the 'dawn' era of 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." Zoroaster favored the "settled pastoral and agricultural community" as against the "predatory, marauding tribal societies". His theological and ethical dualism advocates for "the followers of Truth the life-conserving and life-enhancing forces" and against the "destructive forces" of the Lie.[48] For the dates of the prophet's life, Zaehner adopts the traditional sixth century BCE dates.[49][50][51]

Zoroaster reformed the old religion by making Ahura Mazdah [the Wise Lord] the creator, the only God. An innovation by Zoroaster were abstract notions, namely, the Holy Spirit, (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". Called the Amesha Spentas they are "aspects of God, but aspects in which man too can share."[52] 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. In Iran, 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".[53][54]

In Part II, Zaehner discussed the long decline of Zoroastrianism. There arose the teachings about Zurvan i Akanarak [Infinite Time]. The Sasanid Empire's ideological rationale was sourced in Zoroastrian cosmology and its sense of virtue. The Amesha Spentas provided support for human practice according to a favorable mean. As a principle it followed the treaty between Ohrmazd and Ahriman governing 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 the frashkart will happen, "the total transformation of this existence".[55]

Comparative mysticism[edit]

Zaehner wrote extensively on comparative religion,[56] 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.[57] In this regard, he questioned several elements in the thesis of Canadian Richard Bucke, developed in his influential 1901 book, Cosmic Consciousness.[58][59]

In his innovative book comparing the mystical literature and practice of Hinduism and Islam, he includes this theme of the diversity of mystical phenomena.[60] 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."[61] 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 interpretaion 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.[62] On these experiential foundations, Zaehner explores the spiritual treasures left to us by the mystics of the Santana Dharma, and of Islam.[63]

Like Aldous Huxley,[64] 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.[65] Here and elsewhere, he thus sets himself against Huxley's adoption of the Perennial Philosophy, an idea seeded with future misunderstandings.[66][67][68]

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.[69][70] 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... ."[71]

During the 1940s which he spent in Iran he had returned to the Christian faith, converting to Catholicism. Accordingly, he also published several comparative works expressly from that perspective. Zaehner did not leave his newly adopted Christianity at the door when approaching the subject matter of mysticism, but incorporated its insights into his work as an objective scholar.[72]


While an undergraduate at the college of Christ Church in Oxford, Zaehner studied several Persian languages. He also managed to teach himself a related language, Sanskrit, in which were written early sacred texts of the Hindus. Decades later he was asked to write a book on Hinduism. He insisted on first reading the very long epic, the Mahabarata, in Sanskrit.[73] The story of an ancient war, the Mahabarata is also a compendium of Hindu religion and way of life. In his short treatise Hinduism (1962) Zaehner discusses, among other things, the subtleties of dharma, and Yudhishthira the son of Dharma, who is the King of righteousness (dharma raja). Yudhishthira is the elder brother of the royal Pandava family that leads one side during the war of the Mahabarata. Accordingly he struggles to follow his conscience, trying to avoid slaughter and bloodshed, yet he finds that traditions and customs, and the Lord Krishna, seem ready to allow for the natural events of warfare. Zaehner discusses Yudhishthira and moksha (liberation), Yudhishthira and dharma, and karma, and later Yudhishthira and his 'return' as Gandhi.[74]

A chapter is devoted to Yudhishthira In the write-up of his 1967-1969 Gifford Lectures. Here Zaehner makes an analogy to the biblical Job. Yet their situations differed. Yudhishthira, who was ascetic by nature, faced the human condition and was not himself singled out for Divine disfavor, as was Job. The householder Job is portrayed as a faithful servant of his Deity. The leader Yudhishthira "let himself be tricked into a game of dice" gambling "his kingdom and family away." Yet, despite such a lapse, both generally followed their sense of righteousness, their conscience.[75]

In his Hindu Scriptures (1966) Zaehner presents his translations of selections from the Rig-Veda, the Atharva-Veda, and the Upanishads, and the entire Bhagavad Gita. He discusses these texts in his short Introduction. A brief Glossary of Names is at the end.[76] The same year Zaehner published a more complete edition of the Bhagavad Gita, a prized episode in the Mahabharata. Before the great battle, the Lord Krishna discusses with the Pandava brother Arjuna the enduring spiritual realities. Provided along with his translation, is a transliteration of the Sanskrit, and a detailed commentary drawn from Sankara, Ramanuja, and other sources. An introduction addresses Gita's place in the Mahabarata, later Hindu understanding of the work, and the Hindu teachings in the Gita. A useful Appendix is organized by concept or religious subject, and under each are quoted the relevant passages, giving chapter and verse.[77][78]

In his 1971 book Evolution in Religion, Zaehner discusses Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), a modern Hindu spiritual teacher.[79] Aurobindo began as a nationalist in Bengal, as an early political leader for Indian independence. He later located to the then French port of Pondicherry where he developed into a yogin and religious teacher. Sri Aurobindo's writings present a vibrant view of Hindu traditions, a view that incorporates modern influence. He authored several commentaries on ancient Hindu scriptures.[80]

Gifford lecture[edit]

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 view of how the different religions have provided a mutuality of nourishment, and also have 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 and 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.[81][82]

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, as the risk of alienating those in the ecumenical movement whose longing for festival of conciliation caused them to overlook the stubborn divergence. "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.[83]

Popular culture[edit]

In his later book Our Savage God, especially in his essay "Rot in the Clockwork Orange",[84] Zaehner argued against aspects of an ancient monism which he saw as leading logically to excess, not only of the kind propagated by Timothy Leary, or even earlier by Aleister Crowley, but perhaps eventually, ultimately to the criminal depravity of Charles Manson. Accordingly, Zaehner provides a warning how the misuse of theology can result in horror.[85][86][87]


  • 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.[88]
  • 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.[89]
  • 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.[90][91][92]
  • 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'.[93][94]
  • 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.[95]
  • 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.[96]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ He published under the name R. C. Zaehner. Before becoming an Oxford professor he had been known as Robin Zaehner. Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987), pp. 243-244.
  2. ^ Zaehner, The Teaching of the Magi (1956; 1976), p. 5 "The Author".
  3. ^ 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."
  4. ^ a b c Alana Howard, "Gifford Lecture Biography."
  5. ^ Michael Dummett, "Introduction" pp. xi–xix, at p. xiii (quote), to Zaehner's posthumous The City within the Heart (1981).
  6. ^ Geoffrey Parrinder, "Robert Charles Zaehner (1913–1974)" in History of Religion 16: 66–74, 74 (1976).
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987) pp. 243-246, at 244–245 (quote). He was then known as Robin Zaehner.
  9. ^ 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).
  10. ^ 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 sowed the seeds of lasting mistrust.
  11. ^ Robert Fisk, "Another Fine Mess". "It was Zaehner who had cultivated the Rashidian brothers, each of whom had worked against German influence in Iran during the Second World War."
  12. ^ During the 1951 attempted overthrow, Zaehner is said to have enlisted the 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.
  13. ^ Fakhreddin Azimi, The Quest for Democracy in Iran. A century of struggle against authoritarian rule (Harvard University 2008), p. 153.
  14. ^ 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).
  15. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), p. 6 (quote).
  16. ^ Kripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom (2001), p. 162. Kripal compares Zaehner's Gifford lectures and his earlier Spalding inaugural lecture.
  17. ^ Wright, Spycatcher (1987), p. 245. Wright mentions an apparently contrary view: "The cords which bind Oxford and British Intelligence together are strong."
  18. ^ Zurvan, a Zoroastrian dilemma (1955).
  19. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), p. 8.
  20. ^ 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).
  21. ^ Zaehner's 1953 Spalding lecture, "Foolishness to the Greeks", was incorporated as an Appendix, pp. 428-443, in his book Concordant Discord (1970).
  22. ^ Michael Dummett, "Introduction" (1981) to Zaehner's posthumous The City within the Heart, at pp. xii-xiii, p. xii (quotes).
  23. ^ 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 (pp. 159-160).
  24. ^ Zaehner, "Preface to the New Printing" (1972), pp. v (quote) and vi (Hinduism and Buddhism), to a reissue of his Zurvan".
  25. ^ Cf. Kripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom (2001), p. 189.
  26. ^ Dummett, "Introduction" (1981), pp. xiii-xiv (quote).
  27. ^ Newell, Struggle and Submission. R. C. Zaehner on mysticisms (1981), p. iv (quote).
  28. ^ Lambton, "Obituary" (1975), p. 624 (quote).
  29. ^ Kripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom (2001), p. 181.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), pp. 6 & 7 (quotes).
  32. ^ Gregory Baum, "Forward" to Newell (1981), p. xi.
  33. ^ Dummett, "Introduction" (1981) p. xviii (quote).
  34. ^ 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).
  35. ^ 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).
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ Zaehner, Zurvan (1955, 1972), pp. 3-5 (dualism of Zoroaster, and development of Zurvan).
  38. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (1961) at 34, 42-46 (Zoroaster's teaching); 178–183 , 246–247 (Zoroastrian sects).
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Alessandro Bausani, Persia religiosa (Milano 1959, Rome 1960), translated as Religion in Iran (New York: Bibliotheca Persica 2000), pp. 42-47, 63 (Zurvan).
  41. ^ Zaehner, Zurvan. A Zoroastrian dilemma (1955, 1972): Zurvan supreme (pp. 90, 91 quote).
  42. ^ Farhang Mehr, The Zoroastrian Tradition (Element, Rockport 1991), moral dualism (pp. 71-76).
  43. ^ 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).
  44. ^ A short 1956 book published by George Allen and Unwin for a series, Classics East and West.
  45. ^ Zaehner (1956), Chapter IV, pp. 52-66.
  46. ^ Zaehner (1959; 1967), article at pp. 209-222,
  47. ^ Cf. Zaehner, The Comparison of Religions (1958; 1962), Zoroastrianism discussed at pp. 134–153, in chapter "Prophets outside Israel".
  48. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight (1961), p. 25 (Gathas); p. 35 (quote "opposition"), p. 37 (quote "enemies"); p. 40 (quotes "settled", "marauding"); p. 42 (quotes "Truth" and "Lie").
  49. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight (1961), p. 33 (dates were pegged to year of Alexander's conquests).
  50. ^ 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.
  51. ^ Mehr, The Zoroastrian Tradition (1991), pp. 3-5. Mehr gives a date of 1750 BC for Zoroaster, stating reasons similar to those of Boyce.
  52. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight (1961), pp. 54-55 (Ahura Mazdah); 45-46 (quote), 71 (quote).
  53. ^ 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 the subject of the current application of Georges Dumézil's theories to Zoroastrian theology, Zaehner criticizes its accuracy (pp. 49-50).
  54. ^ 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).
  55. ^ Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight (1961), pp. 181-184, 193-247 (Zurvan); pp. 284-301 (Sasanid state); pp. 58-60, 296, 299, 317-318 (Saoshyans).
  56. ^ 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.
  57. ^ E.g., Zaehner, Mysticism. Sacred and Profane (1957, 1961) at 168.
  58. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), pp. 46-48.
  59. ^ Richard Maurice Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness. A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (Philadelphia: Innes and Sons 1901; reprint: Dutton 1969).
  60. ^ Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (1960, 1969), "Preface" at vii–viii.
  61. ^ 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).
  62. ^ 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.
  63. ^ Junayd (pp. 135-153), and Ghazali (153-175) are later discussed in Zaehner's Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (1960, 1969).
  64. ^ Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (New York: Harper and Row 1954).
  65. ^ Zaehner, Mysticism. Sacred and Profane (1957, 1961) at v of the "Preface".
  66. ^ Zaehner, Our Savage God (1974) at 10–12.
  67. ^ Zaehner, Mysticism. Sacred and Profane (1957, 1961) at 25–26, 27–29.
  68. ^ Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (New York: Harper and Brothers 1945).
  69. ^ 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.
  70. ^ William Lloyd Newell, Struggle and Submission: R. C. Zaehner on Mysticisms (University Press of America 1981), pp. 5-6.
  71. ^ Zaehner, Christianity and Other Religions (1970), p. 147 (quote).
  72. ^ See Zaehner bibliography.
  73. ^ Pripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom (2001), pp. 159-160.
  74. ^ Zaehner, Hinduism (1962), Yudhishthira: pp. 64-66 (moksha); 107-108, 111, 115-125 (dharma); 170-174, 178-179, 184 (Gandhi).
  75. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), Chapter IX, "The Greatness of Man and the Wretchedness of God", pp. 172-193, mainly about Yudhishthira. His analogy to Job at pp. 178, 179 (quote). Job proper becomes the focus of Zaehner later, pp. 346-355.
  76. ^ Zaehner (1966), Introduction, pp. v-xxii; Upanishads, pp. 33-245.
  77. ^ The Bhagavad Gita with commentary based on the original sources (1966) by R. C. Zaehner, translated with introduction and appendix.
  78. ^ Prof. Radhakrishnan had published a translation of the Gita in 1948.
  79. ^ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) is also here discussed by Zaehner.
  80. ^ E.g., Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita (Arya 1916-1920; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 9th ed. 1996; reprint: Lotus Press, Wisconsin).
  81. ^ 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.
  82. ^ Newell, Struggle and Submission (1981), pp. 24-33 (convergence, solidarity). A false convergence is also possible (p. 252).
  83. ^ Zaehner, Concordant Discord (1970), p. 383 ("unfashionable" quote), p. 7 ("force nothing" quote). Cf. p. 296-299: ecumenical strategies Christian and Zen.
  84. ^ Zaehner, Our Savage God (1974), at 19–73.
  85. ^ Zaehner, Our Savage God (1974), Leary, p. 211; Crowley, pp. 40-47; Manson, pp. 51-72.
  86. ^ Here Zaehner appears aware of Ed Sanders, The Family (1972), with its theatrical, philosophical view of the murders.
  87. ^ Dr. Leary is 'the kernel' of Zaehner's earlier book Drugs, Mysticism, and Make-Believe (1972).
  88. ^ Zaehner, Our Savage God (1974) at 234.
  89. ^ Zaehner, The City within the Heart (1981) at 136.
  90. ^ Zaehner, The Comparison of Religions (1958) at 152. "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).
  91. ^ Cf., Zeahner, Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (1961) at 85–94, re the Haoma rite.
  92. ^ 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).
  93. ^ Zaehner, Our Savage God (1974) at 235.
  94. ^ Cf., Zaehner, Mysticism. Sacred and Profane (1957, 1961), p. 49: re Richard Jefferies' strong opposition to ascetic practices.
  95. ^ Zaehner, "A New Buddha and a New Tao" at 402–412, 403, in The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths (1959; 1967), edited by Zaehner.
  96. ^ Zaehner, Matter and Spirit (1963) at 199.


Zaehner's works[edit]

  • Foolishness to the Greeks. Clarendon Press, Oxford University, 1953. Pamphlet. Reprint: Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1974. Appears as an Appendix to Concordant Discord (1970).
  • Zurvan. A Zoroastrian Dilemma. Clarendon Press, 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, London, 1972; Oxford University Press, London, 1976.
  • Mysticism: Sacred and Profane. Clarendon Press, Oxford University, 1957, reprint 1961. Translation:
    • Mystik, religiös und profan. Ernst Klett, Stuttgart, 1957.
  • 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; translated by Eva Meyerovitch.
  • 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.
  • Hinduism. Oxford University Press, London, 1962. Translations:
    • Der Hinduismus. Seine geschichte und seine lehre. Goldman, München, 1964.
    • L'hindouisme. Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1974; translated by Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch.
  • 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:
    • Christianity and other Religions. Hawthorn Books, New York, 1964.
  • Concordant Discord. The Interdependence of Faiths. Clarendon Press, Oxford University, 1970. 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, reviews[edit]

  • 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 DC, 1981, forward by Gregory Baum.
    • Ann K. S. Lambton, "Obituary: 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).
  • Michael Dummett, "Introduction" at pp. xi-xix, to Zaehner's posthumous The City within the Heart (1981).

Other material[edit]

  • Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians. Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1979.
  • Peter Wright with Paul Greengrass, Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer. Stoddart, Toronto, 1987.

External links[edit]