When Lord Jesus was born, the angels sang a beautiful song in praise of the Lord and, in so doing, revealed the purpose of His descent:
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
Lord Jesus had come into this world of men in order to re-establish the true and the highest glory of God—peace on earth, and goodwill in the hearts of men towards all fellow-beings.
2. Law Governing the Lord’s Descent-
The law governing the Lord’s descent upon earth is the same all times, everywhere. There is descent of God for the ascent of man. The aim of every Avatara is to save the world from some great danger, to destroy the wicked and protect the virtuous. Says Lord Krishna: "Whenever there is decay of righteousness, then I myself come forth. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the evil-doers, for the sake of firmly establishing righteousness, I am born from age to age".
When unrighteousness grows and righteousness is on the wane, when the forces of undivine seem to be stronger than the divine forces, when world of God or Commandments of His Messengers is forgotten or disobeyed, when religious fanaticism follows the letter of the scriptures killing their spirit, it is then that Lord incarnates Himself on earth, to save man, to save righteousness. He takes human form when He comes down on the physical plane. He is called an Avatara.
3. Difference Between a Jivanmukta and an Avatara-
A simple Jivanmukta is like a star that glitters at night. He throws a little light only. Somehow or the other, he has crossed to the other shore through some Tapas and Sadhana. He cannot elevate a large number of people. Just as the waters of a small spring can quench the thirst of a few pilgrims only, so also, this Kevala-jnani can bring peace to a few persons only. Whereas, an Avatara is a mighty person. He is like a big Manasarovar lake. He removes the veil of ignorance of thousands of men and women, and takes them to the land of eternal rest, bliss and sublime.
The Avataras are one with the Supreme. They are not parts like the individual souls. Avataras or Incarnations are rays of the Lord. When the work of Loka-sangraha is over, they disappear from the world.
4. Kinds of Avataras-
Avataras are of various kinds. There are Purna-avataras, with full Kalas or rays. There are Amsa-avataras or partial incarnations. There are Lila-avataras.
Lord Krishna was a Purna-avatara. Sri Sankaracharya was an Amsa-avatara. Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Rama and others were Lila-avataras.
Krishna and Rama were the Avataras of Lord Vishnu. Dakshinamurthy was an incarnation of Lord Siva. Dattatreya was the Avatara of the Trimurtis—Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are three aspects of God. Brahma is the creative aspect; Vishnu is the preservative aspect; and Siva is the destructive aspect. There is no polytheism in the Hindu religion. Siva, Vishnu, Brahma and Sakti are different aspects of the one Lord.
5. The Ten Avataras of Vishnu-
The Bhagavata Purana is a chronicle of the various Avataras of Lord Vishnu. There are ten Avataras of Lord Vishnu. There are: Matsya (the Fish), Kurma (Tortoise), Varaha (the Boar), Narasimha (the Man-lion), Vamana (the Dwarf), Parasurama (Rama with the Axe), Ramachandra (the hero of the Ramayana), Sri Krishna, Buddha (the prince-ascetic, Founder of Buddhism) and Kalki (the Hero on a white Horse who is to come at the end of the Kali Yuga).
The object of the Matsya Avatara was to save Vaivasvata Manu from destruction by a deluge. The object of the Kurma Avatara was to enable the world to recover some precious things which were lost in the deluge. The tortoise gave its back for keeping the churning-rod when the gods and the Asuras churned the Ocean of milk. The purpose of the Varaha Avatara was to rescue, from the waters, the earth which had been dragged down by a demon named Hiranyaksha. The purpose of Narasimha Avatara, half-lion and half-man, was to free the world from the oppression of Hiranyakasipu, a demon, the father of Bhakta Prahlada. The object of Vamana Avatara was to restore the power of the gods which had been eclipsed by the penance and devotion of King Bali. The object of Parasurama Avatara was to deliver the country from the oppression of the Kshatriya rulers. Parasurama destroyed the Kshatriya race twenty one times. The object of Rama Avatara was to destroy the wicked Ravana. The object of Sri Krishna Avatara was to destroy Kamsa and other demons, to deliver His wonderful message of the Gita, and to become the centre of the Bhakti Schools of India. The object of Buddha Avatara was to prohibit animal sacrifices. The object of Kalki Avatara, who will appear before the end of the Kali Yuga, is the destruction of the wicked and the re-establishment of virtue.
6. Degree of the Lord’s Manifestation in Different Avataras-
The Rishis of yore have expounded the doctrine that Lord of the universe exists in sixteen expanding Kalas or digits of manifestation, that one digit of His life manifestation in the vegetable kingdom, two in the animal, and from five to eight in the human, according as we pass from the savage at one end of the scale to the highest evolved state at the other. The Lord’s manifestation in His Avataras ranges from nine to sixteen digits or rays. The full or Purna Avataras are those in whom all sixteen rays are present. Lord Krishna was a Purna-Avatara, with sixteen rays, Lord Rama was an Avatara of fourteen rays. Theosophists also make mention of seven rays, and so on, when they describe the stage of spiritual development of their Masters and Adepts.
7. The Divine Form of an Avatara-
Some people say: "How can we take Krishna as the Lord or Bhagavan? He took birth and died. He is only a man". This is a false statement. This is the utterance of an ignorant child. Lord Krishna only manifested himself, for the time being, to do Loka-sangraha work, to effect the solidarity or well-being of humanity, and then disappeared. Lord Krishna is Lord Hari Himself. There is no doubt of this.
Lord Rama is the Supreme Soul, the Antaryamin, the protector of all beings. He is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. He is Lord Hari. He was never born. He never died. Lord Hari simply manifested in the form of Rama to do Loka-sangraha and then vanished.
Lord Rama and Lord Krishna had no physical bodies. Their bodies were not made of five elements. They had divine forms. They had Chinmaya bodies, though to all appearance, it looked like flesh. They had no real birth and death like human beings. They appeared and disappeared, just as a Yogi does. Their bodies were not left in this world. There is no destruction for their bodies.
Just as a tailor who makes coats for others can make a coat for himself also, God who has created bodies for others, can create a body for Himself as well. There is no difficulty. He is omnipotent and omniscient. As He has control over Maya, He is fully conscious of His divine nature though He assumes a form. Still He is infinite and unconditioned.
Sometimes, the king visits the jail and enters the cell of a prisoner to see how matters are getting on in the prison. He does this for the good of the prisoners. He is quite independent, and yet, out of his own free will, he himself enters the cell. Even so, an Avatara puts on a body out of His own free will for the ascent of man. He is quite independent and has absolute control over Maya, like the king; while the Jiva is a slave of Avidya, so long as he has no Self-realisation.
8. Contact with Avataras-
Some people want to have contact with Avataras without being endowed with proper qualifications. Even if an Avatara appears before you, you will not be able to find Him out. You have not got the eyes to see Him as such. You will take Him for an ordinary man only. How many were able to detect the divinity of Lord Krishna? Did Jarasandha, Sisupala and Duryodhana recognise Him as the Avatara of Lord Hari? Very few people, like Bhishma, recognised Lord Krishna as the Avatara. That is the reason why the Lord says: "The foolish disregard Me, when clad in human semblance, ignorant of My supreme nature, the great Lord of beings".
It is only a saint who can understand a saint. Only a Jesus can understand a Jesus. How can a patient know the merits of a doctor?
A neophyte or beginner in the spiritual path should prepare himself gradually. He must get spiritual instructions from various Upa-gurus and follow them strictly. He should make himself fit to approach a Brahma-nishtha Guru. To practise meditation, and to see the Lord in meditation.
If you are endowed with the Four Means of Salvation, if you have burning Vairagya like that of Lord Buddha or Raja Bharthrihari, if you possess forgiveness and patience like the Avanti Brahmin of Ujjain, if you have devotion to the preceptor like Trotaka or Padmapada, you can contact Avataras and sages now, in this very second.
Can you serve like Florence Nightingale? Can you obey like a soldier in the battle-field? Can you be generous like Ranti Deva? Can you spend sleepless nights in devotion to the lord, like Mira? Can you do Tapas like Dhruva? Can you stick to your convictions like Mansoor and Shams Tabriez? Can you be fearless like the sage who met Alexander, the Great, on the banks of the Indus?
If you say Yes, you will have Self-realisation this very second. You will contact Avataras and full-blown Yogis this very second. First deserve, and then desire.
9. God-realisation through Worship of Avataras-
You can attain God-realisation through worship of Avataras like Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. Many have already attained God-realisation in this manner. Tukaram, Ramdas, Surdas, Mira Bai and Tulasidas have seen God face to face. Their powerful writings bespeak their high spiritual attainments.
Worship Lord Rama or Lord Krishna at all times, with all your heart and with all your mind. Glorify Him in your heart. He will soon reveal Himself to you and you will feel His Presence. You will attain immortality and eternal bliss.
God reveals Himself to His devotees in a variety of ways. He assumes the very form which the devotee has chosen for his worship. If you worship Him as Lord Hari with four hands, He will come to you as Hari. If you adore Him as Siva He will give you Darshan as Siva. If you worship Him as Mother Durga or Kali, He will come to you as Durga or Kali. If you worship Him as Lord Rama, Lord Krishna or Lord Dattatreya, He will come to you as Rama, Krishna or Dattatreya. If you worship as Christ or Allah, He will come to you as Christ or Allah.
All are aspects of one Isvara or Lord. Under whatever name and form, it is Isvara who is adored. Worship goes to the Indweller, the Lord in the form. It is ignorance to think that one form is superior to another. All forms are one and the same. All are adoring the same Lord. The differences are only differences of names due to differences in the worshippers, but not in the object of adoration.
The real Jesus or Krishna is in your own heart. He lives there for ever. He is your Indweller. He is your partner always. There is no friend like the Indweller. Resort to Him. Take refuge in Him. Realise Him and be free.
Sri Swami Sivananda.