“Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.20)
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परस्तस्मात्तु भावोऽन्योऽव्यक्तोऽव्यक्तात्सनातन: ।
य: स सर्वेषु भूतेषु नश्यत्सु न विनश्यति ॥
paras tasmāt tu bhāvo ’nyo
’vyakto ’vyaktāt sanātanaḥ
yaḥ sa sarveṣu bhūteṣu
naśyatsu na vinaśyati
1. One who descends
This is the literal meaning to the Sanskrit word. To know the meaning is important. Otherwise, there is the vulnerability to being cheated by the pretender. The person posing as a spiritual leader but who is actually an adversary, who either does not believe in a higher power or is desperate to usurp the authority and the accompanying benefits for themselves, can fool a person into thinking that anyone can become an avatara.
To become means to transform. To transform means to change the nature. Usually, this involves adding on. Strength. Wisdom. Experience. Expertise. Perception. It can also involve renunciation, which can grow through steady practice in the manner of a monotonically increasing function.
The principle of the avatara is one who is already there. They are always in that position. They are steady. They descend, like changing locations, such as from the top of a mountain and down to the ground. The only difference is that there is no fall. The avatara is still in the topmost position, even when traveling amidst the mortals.
2. Exposes the limits to the asuras
The avatara exposes the limits to the asura class. We identify that class more by spirit of endeavor than lineage due to birth. The asura thinks that they can become the topmost person. Employing cunning maneuvers, they can rise to the top. Diplomatic one day, mercilessly violent the next. Whatever it takes to put others beneath you and to remind them of that fact on a daily basis.
There are limits to the potency of the asura. They cannot be perfect in their exercise of authority. Their strength might fail them. Just a one percent weakness is enough to fall into the category of mortal. When someone is mortal, the defeat is only a matter of time.
The avatara often delivers that defeat. They show up as time, which is one representation of their amazing potency. The avatara catches the asura by surprise. In their foolishness, they lost their way. They thought they could remain steady, but when facing the avatara they are no stronger than an ant trying to defeat an elephant.
3. Reveals the unlimited aspect of the Divine
Whereas the mortals are limited, the avatara is unlimited. He has potency beyond imagination. He gives but a glimpse into that power, but even the ability to perceive is limited. I can only note down what I see, but my window of observation is packed between the time of waking up and falling asleep.
The avatara is always in the topmost position. They can show strength that is beyond measure. Therefore, one of the names to describe the avatara is Adhokshaja. None of the amazing qualities can be accurately measured, since measurements automatically create boundaries, which are also limitations.
4. Persuades for a return to the original home
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the avatara descends from the spiritual world to give a reminder as to the original home of the living entities. We are not part of this temporary world.
In foolishness we try to change the rules. We try to turn the temporary into permanent. Everything is always changing. Not even the body can remain the same. Just a week ago, I was looking fit and healthy. Today, when in front of a mirror it appears that I have aged ten years.
नासतो विद्यते भावो नाभावो विद्यते सतः ।
उभयोरपि दृष्टोऽन्तस्त्वनयोस्तत्त्वदर्शिभिः ॥
nāsato vidyate bhāvo
nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ
ubhayor api dṛṣṭo ’ntas
tv anayos tattva-darśibhiḥ
“Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent [the material body] there is no endurance and of the eternal [the soul] there is no change. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.16)
The avatara canvasses for return to the original realm, which is of a different nature. That realm is eternal. It is not annihilated. It is not subject to a schedule of dissolution or a doomsday clock. It is also never created; hence the realm is sanatana.
The avatara either provides explicit instruction, such as in the case of Shri Krishna delivering Arjuna and Uddhava, or shows the example of behavior in dharma, such as with Shri Rama and His time as leader of Ayodhya.
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जनः ।
स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते ॥
yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas
tat tad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute
lokas tad anuvartate
“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)
We do not have to remain in the temporary world. Dharma is the way for reaching the place of sanatana. Dharma is for remaining in the company of the one who periodically descends, who arrives as the avatara, to rescue us from illusion.
Always as Almighty to stay,
Never in changing way.
Avatara from above descending,
Grace through wisdom extending.
As leader from their example to get,
Culture into many generations set.
Of eternal home reminding,
Support in Him finding.
Categories: the four
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