J. P. Vaswani is one of India's most loved and respected spiritual leaders. He is the living, moving life force at the helm of the renowned Sadhu Vaswani Mission, an international, non-profit, social welfare and service organization with its headquarters in Pune and active centres all over the world. A scientist turned-philosopher, Vaswani is also a fluent, powerful and witty speaker, an inspired writer and is the youngest 99-year-old you will ever meet.
There is hardly any pious Hindu who is not familiar with this sloka from the Bhagavad Gita, in which God makes his divine intention known to us.
That God descends among us to help us is a great truth, yet a divine mystery. This is the avatar rahasya. The Lord descends among us as an avatar, when dharma declines. He comes to help and heal, to protect the world, to save humanity from sinking and to bring us closer to Him. This is a great truth, a divine mystery which we should acknowledge, that He descends among us to help us ascend towards Him.
He reincarnates time and again for the benefit of humanity. This He reveals to us in His avatar as Sri Krishna, when he assumed the role of the Gitacharya, as Arjuna's teacher. The Lord's avatar rahasya is the mystery of all mysteries, the eternal birthlessness, the eternal presence and the divinity of His being. The objective of His avatar, as revealed by Himself, is threefold :
1. Paritranaaya sadhunaam - the protection of all the pious and devout.
2. Vinashaya cha dushkritam - the overthrow of evildoers and miscreants who indulge in adharma.
3. Dharma samsthapanarthaya - the re-establishment of righteousness.
But when and where does this happen? The Lord has anticipated this query in the following sloka :
Dharma is a very important concept in Hinduism. It refers to the right conduct, right mode of behaviour, and right observance that holds and sustains life. In its widest sense, it is righteousness that leads us towards God.
The Lord comes to help and heal, to protect the world, to lead an orphaned humanity back on track, to move onward, forward and Godward. This is not merely a promise of protection or an assurance of His grace, but also a doctrine of faith. Awareness of this avatar rahasya - the mystery of the Lord's incarnation - is the ultimate knowledge, which can lead us to liberation! But let us take note of this, awareness here does not mean intellectual cognizance, but belief held in absolute faith! How many of us are capable of such faith? If we are, liberation is assured to us!
The Lord's manifestations are not mere births in human form; His incarnations are His divine leela. His transcendental pastimes are the result of His divya sankalpa, His divine intention, and are meant to protect and benefit humanity. This is the essence of an avatar.
So what is an avatar?
Recently, a friend told me about a Google search he had made for the word avatar. He informed me very kindly that he expected the results to refer to a famous movie of that name, released a few years ago. You will be surprised to know that, in fact, the top results were all related to a software company of the same name, offering cloud computing services, while the next few results (in order of popularity I assume), pointed to a pizza delivery service in the USA.
"See how misleading this can be, Dada," he remarked. "It seems as if the original meaning of the word is quite lost in the borrowed usages of today."
The Sanskrit word avatarana, from which the word avatar is taken, means descent [ava (down) + tarana (cross)]. In the context of Hinduism, avatar is the deliberate descent of a deity among us, and is referred to in English as 'incarnation'. However, 'manifestation' would be a more accurate description, for an avatar is essentially divine. It transcends the limitations and restrictions imposed by the three gunas and the flesh-and-blood material laws of human life. God, when He chooses to descend among us, does so with a specific purpose and set intention. Thus, each manifestation serves a special divine purpose.
But how can God take birth on earth, if not in flesh-and-blood form? The answer to this question is given to us in the Shrimad Bhagavatam in verse 5.5.19, which begins with the memorable words - idam sariram mama durvibhavyam - this transcendental body of mine is inconceivable.
We cannot conceive of the Lord's avatar through logic, reason or intellect. He is inconceivable (durvibhavyam) in those terms. Yes, the Lord descends to live, move about, walk and talk amongst us; He has incarnated, manifested Himself to save dharma and protect humanity from harm. He is not flesh- and-blood like us, not bound by karma or made up of the five elements of earth, water, air, fire, ether, and is also not animated by material energies like mind, ego and intellect. The rest of us are born according to the burden of karma that we carry through, from our past lives. The Lord is birthless, deathless, and karma cannot in any way bind Him. Therefore, I stress on this fact that He incarnates out of His own divine will!
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