18 September 2005

Definition of an Avatar

A proper way to analyse the SB phantasmagoria is to present a proper definition of an avatar so that it becomes easier to see if SB fits within such parameters. For now, we'll lay aside the question of whether an avatar is unlimited and is therefore not bound by the strictures of mortals. Recently on the discussion boards a quote from a Kriya Yoga organisation was supplied by an SB adherent in support of their contention that an avatar is susceptible to material miseries and the like. Here is the supplied quote in full:

"The title Avatar describes a fully freed soul incarnating directly from God on this physical planet or elsewhere. An Avatar fulfills a highly spiritual task in the name of God and returns to God after accomplishing his task. His Love for God and his creation is beyond description and imagination, his faith in God absolute as there is no difference between an Avatar and God."

We should also not here that the (generous) definition supplied by the Sai Organisation is as follows:

"An incarnation of God, taking a form according to the age in which the incarnation occurs. Special manifestation of God on Earth."

Elsewhere in Sai literature we note that an avatar is described as "an incarnation of God in human form". It is this very humanity of the avatar that we shall seek to discuss. At the outset, we can observe the obvious conflict(s) in the two definitions provided by the above-mentioned organisations. The former definition appears to be unclear about the ontological status of an avatar and seems to be confused as to whether an avatar is actually God or "someone else"with faith in God. In short, the former definition appears to posit a duality.

The latter definition by the Sai Organisation at least is clear on the matter of the avatar's inherent divinity. The qualifying statement referring to taking a form according to the age is a curious one, and I cautiously assume that whoever made this definition has done his homework and is referring to Bhagavata Purana 10. 8.13, or would that be too much of a high expectation?

But at least we are clear than an avatar is indeed a "special manifestation of God on earth", even if they do say that He comes in a human form.

One of the most disturbing things that Sai Baba has said follows thus:

"The Avatar behaves in a human way so that mankind can feel kinship with Him, but rises to His super-human heights so that mankind can aspire to reach those heights."

By itself it seems reasonable for an avatar to behave in a human way in order to foster friendly relations with mortals, but the dangerous conclusion of believing that the avatar actually is a human and suffering the similar tribulations of a human due to being possessed of a human body is widely prevalent among SB devotees. Not only is it demeaning to suggest such a thing but it is as palpably ridiculous as assuming that a prison governor becomes a prisoner when entering the prison for the purpose of inspection!

The SB adherent who contributed the Kriya Yoga definition (LDW) offered this as the conclusion that she made from that quote:

"Since an avatar is NOT dependent on form, he can take the form of an animal or anything else for that matter, but usually does so as a manifestation of an aspect of the avatar rather than as an 'incarnation,' for short periods of time for the purpose of Divine Intervention."

This makes no sense whatsoever. The appearance of an avatar in the form of an animal or whatever is immaterial since Hindu mythology records such appearances in the form of a fish (Matsya), tortoise (Kurma), and so on. It is widely accepted among devotional scholars that each avatar is a manifestation of God in His fullness, possessing the total range of His powers even if not they are not exhibited or not required to do so. The Dvaita/Tattvavada school of philosophy has made a rigorous analysis of this.

As far as I am aware, the school of Sri Vaishnavism (codified by Ramanujacharya) also believes this. Manifestation of an "aspect" is a status that is reserved for minor empowerments of special souls such as Jesus Christ, Buddha, Prophet Muhummad, Guru Nanak, etc.

LDW further contributed:

"Krishna IS a human who incarnated as the embodiment of Divinity, PERIOD. Krishna IS God in human form as are ALL Masters. Now, do you want to argue with me about that? And don't give me the crap about the form being DIVINE. Any idiot knows that. The point is He is born into a human body. He looks like a human and acts like a human and does experience human travails like any human but his REACTION to them is different."

And considering that this was an interpretation of the Kriya Yoga definition, trying to make sense of this would be beyond human ken. Not only is it so painfully self-contradictory but it betrays a deep-seated ignorance as well.

How exactly is it possible for a human to incarnated as an "embodiment of divinity"? And within the same breath it is declared that Krishna is God in human form? The adherent would do well to make up her mind; is Krishna God or a mortal human? For devotees of Krishna, the answer is abundantly clear.

The premise that since "God comes down to the earthly level He must take a human body" is false and misguided. I can guarantee that anybody who says this would not be able to submit even one scriptural quote in support of this argument. Rather, it is stated everywhere that God (even avatars) have a "body" that is made of pure sac-cid-ananda. It is not a material form at all, it is just pure spiritual substance. Yes, it looks like a human body (providing that the avatar has taken a humanlike form) in which case it would be more correct to say that the avatar is humanlike, not human.

It is quite sad how SB devotees justify every one of SB's illnesses by claiming that he suffers such because he is either taking it on himself on somebody's behalf, or he is just pretending to act like a human in order for mankind to "feel kinship with him". Little do they realise that because Sai Baba is not an avatar, every disease that he suffers is real. Every stone that he treads underfoot hurts. Every hair on his head is vulnerable, and he is just as mortal as the rest of us. He has been blind in one eye for so many years and has undergone several hip operations; all of this cannot be written off as "leela". This is precisely the kind of institutional blasphemy that is inculcated by SB and his org.

To get back to the matter at hand, I find it just typical how SB devotees exhibit their spiritual ignorance by doing what they are most famous for and grabbing at any definition of a subject and following it as if it is inviolable spiritual truth. LDW has done this by ignoring the usual definition of an avatar as given even in SB circles, and has opted to draw her conclusions from the Kriya Yoga definition instead. So that is what we will analyse:

"The title Avatar describes a fully freed soul incarnating directly from God on this physical planet or elsewhere. An Avatar fulfills a highly spiritual task in the name of God and returns to God after accomplishing his task. His Love for God and his creation is beyond description and imagination, his faith in God absolute as there is no difference between an Avatar and God."

I feel that I must wonder where the KY people get the idea than an avatar is a soul, albeit "fully freed"? In this regard I feel that I must present an argument that was originally quoted by Sri Madhvacharya, the founder of the Dvaita/Tattvavada school of Vedanta philosophy. In his rigorous analysis and exegesis, Madhvacharya quoted the Paramopanishad as scriptural evidence for one of his key concepts:

"The difference between the jIva (soul) and Izvara (Creator), and the difference between jaDa (insentient) and Isvara; and the difference between various jIvas, and the difference between jaDa and jIva; and the difference between various jaDas, these five differences make up the universe."

We will note here the first difference; that between the soul and God. The UTTER difference between God and the soul is one of the hallmarks of the Tattvavada philosophy, and such a premise can be supported by a number of scriptural arguments. The Kriya Yoga definition of an avatar thus fails to hold as a logical and coherent explanation of the nature and function of an avatar.

It remains only for SB devotees to think carefully about the spiritual conclusions that they draw from dubious sources, as placing your entire faith on a shaky basis does not bode well for the future. I can only repeat that what I have said in the past, that it is up to the SB devotees to educate themselves and familiarise themselves with the vast body of scriptures available in order to attempt to have some understanding of God, which would also be Sai Baba's advice. As for the proper definition and function of an avatar, the clear answer has been given by Krishna Himself:

Ajo 'pi sann avyayAtma
bhUtAnAm izvaro 'pi san
prakRtiM svAm adhiSThAya
sambhavAmy Atma-mAyayA

"Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all living entities, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form."

yadA yadA hi dharmasya
glAnir bhavati bhAratha
abhyutthAnam adharmasya
tadAtmAnaM sRjAmy aham

"Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion, at that time I descend Myself." - Bhagavad-gita 4. 6-7

Copyright © Sai Baba EXPOSED! 2005-2007. Discuss this post!

Return To Main Page


  • I fully agree with you and the gita verses

    The Gita is not sectarian, in fact it just deals with the jiva or the living entitiy.

    It teaches about 5 important topics:-
    1) Isavara - God
    2) Jiva - Living entity
    3) Kala - Eternal Time
    4) Prakriti - Material Nature
    5) Karma - Action and reaction

    Of these Kala, Prakriti, Jiva and Isavara are eternal, Karama is not.

    The whole of the Gita(whith sanskrit transliteration) is available for online reading here:-

    Aslo the full Bhagavatam is avalibale online here :-

    You could also download these books from :-

    Here are a few links which might be of interest for your reference:-
    1) A great enclyclopedia of so many things inlcuding so many books and topics :-

    2) The gita, bhagavat and other part of vedic sanskrit literaure is available at this site and is free to read:-

    3) This is stephen knapps site , he has a lot of interesting information:

    4) Here are some interesting mystical experiances by a person by the name of Atma Tattva Das
    (Including a not so mystical encounter with Sai baba)

    Best of luck in your journey and may you attain untimate success with hindu shastras.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 26 September, 2005 17:18  

  • There is some confusion regarding this concept of 'avatar' and man boasting himself as GOD and a real divine soul existing on earth as a human being. We feel that anybody can attain to divinity by pure self-less service, love and austerity. Anybody can attain God-hood by attaining to purity. There are persons born with the qualities that we ascribe to God although God is beond all qualities. The concept of 'God exisiting on earth' ('avatar purusha) on this sensate objective world is simply that of a person with qualities of 'non-attachment to worldly objects' and samacitta/ equanimity. What do we lose if x, y or z says that he is a God-incarnate, or 'going to be born as God' again and again? It is left to his free will as long as he does not fool others, cheat others or affact others' faith and dupes them. If we are sensible enough and ourselves become divine beings in our thoughts, words and action that is enough. As Confucious puts it, "even if one person becomes pure and simple, loving and self-less there is one scoundrel less in the world!
    In matters of spiritual existence, it is absolutely essential to pursue the knowledge of the Self ('atmajnyan') and attain to purity of thoughts, words and action. Let every body strive to know his self and attain to divinity by the knowledge of the Self. Bhagavad-Gita implores, "attain to THAt by knowing thy Self (atma), THAT (Supreme Soul/ the Lord Spreme) cannot be known by any other means other than the Self (atma); do not neglect the Soul.-"uddhaaret atmanaatmanam...aatmaanavasadayet".Taitteriya Upanishat reiterates this doctrine. So, let us not bother about what others are and what others do and let us concentrate on our own Self through spiritual exercie of knowing our Self. Never go to another human being for help in spiritual matters since no onw who is an 'attained' soul is ever of any use to us. He is a Muni (Silent).
    It is very important that we should not run behind any body in this pursuit of knowledge of the Self. Since all are traveling in the same boat torn apart in the rough seas of this spaceship earth; no other human being can help us except a divine force! So trust in Lord Krishna who sits as he Antaryamin, the Witnessing Self within our own inner precincts of the heart and guides us if we seek His guidance by keeping our senses withdrawn, mind and intellect quiet, and our individual Prajnya merged in His supreme /Mahat Prajnyaa. Dr. T.N.Achuta Rao.

    By Blogger Sri Sri Chaitanyananda (Belagavi), at 09 September, 2007 13:38  

Post a Comment

<< Home