Sages of the New Covenant
Scriptures of several religions talk about avatar. The word ‘avatar’ could be translated into English as "incarnation", but more accurately as "appearance" or "manifestation". Avatar is a concept of the Vedic religion of the Central Asia. There are several kinds of avatars, which could be compartmentalized as follows:
Did all avatars incarnate for a universal purpose? Before finding an answer to this question, join Swami STHEVANANDA to take a glimpse of various acclaimed avatars.
As many as forty specific avatars of Vishnu are mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana, though the book adds that the number is innumerable. Twenty-two avatars of Vishnu are listed numerically in the first book. But the following are the most popular avatars of Vedic religions:
The first four are said to have appeared in the Satya Yuga (the first of the four Yugas or ages in the time cycle described Vedic religion). The next three avatars appeared in the Treta Yuga, the eighth descent in the Dvapara Yuga and the ninth in the Kali Yuga. The tenth, Kalki, is predicted to appear at the end of the Kali Yuga.
The Brahma said to have incarnated as following personalities:
In addition to the above listed avatars, the Dasam Granth, second scripture of Sikhs written by Guru Gobind Singh, mentions seven Brahma Avatars [Ref.: Dasam Granthm - An Introductory Study By Dr Sukhbir Singh Kapoor & Mohinder Kaur Kapoor, Hemkunt Publishers (P) Ltd. New Delhi, 2009 ISBN: 81-7010-325-6]
The idea of avatar is not universally accepted in Saivism. The Linga Purana speaks of twenty-eight forms of Shiva which are sometimes mistaken as avatars.
In the Shiva Purana there is a distinctly Saivite version of a traditional avatar myth: Shiva brings forth Virabhadra, one of his terrifying forms, in order to calm Narasimha, an avatar of Vishnu. When that fails, Shiva manifests as the human-lion-bird Sharabha. The story concludes with Narasimha becoming a devotee of Shiva after being bound by Sharabha. However, Vaishnava followers including Dvaita scholars, such as Vijayindra Tirtha (1539–95) refute this Shaivite view of Narasimha based on their reading of Sattvika Puranas and Śruti texts.
The monkey-god Hanuman who helped Rama – the Vishnu avatar is considered by some to be the eleventh avatar of Rudra (Shiva). Some regional deities like Khandoba are also believed by some to be avatars of Shiva.
Other stated avatars of Shiva, according to some sources, are 8th century non-dualist Vedanta philosopher (Advaita Vedanta) Adi Shankara. He was named "Shankara" after Lord Shiva and is considered by some to have been an incarnation of the god and Virabhadra who was born when Shiva grabbed a lock of his matted hair and dashed it to the ground, who later destroyed Daksha's yajna (fire sacrifice) and severed his head as per Shiva's instructions.
Most of the time, human being who possess exemplary gunas (qualities) were considered to be a avatar (manifestation) of that particular god. For example, writers like: Valmiki, Vyas and Kalidas; and physicians like Dhanvantari are considered avatars of Brahma. Based on this, current days, scientist and scholars and other creative personalities are manifestations of Brahma. Similarly, terrifying warriors like Virabhadra, who is connected with the destructive attribute of Shiva is considered avatar of Shiva. Hence, most of the guna avatars do not qualify to be called incarnation of God and all ‘guna avatar’ were either super human beings or human being with some special talents.
Purusha avatars are sometimes described as the original avatars (manifestation) of God within the Universe:
The following Purusha avatar: Vasudeva, Pradyumna and Aniruddha were four generation rulers of the Yadu and Vrishni dynasties, on whom the divine manifestations were evidenced and could be equated to King Dawud (David). It could also be said that from Vasudeva to Aniruddha, the kings of the Yadu and Vrishni dynasties followed the Imperial Cult. Hence even all the “Purusha” avatars of Vedic religion do not qualify to be called a universal avatar, as most of them were restricted to a particular kingdom, and their advent too not universal in nature.
Most of the ten avatars of Vishnu come under the category of incident-based avatar. In the Old Testament, we see God used Mûsâ (Moses) to liberate the Israelites from the bondage of the Pharaohs of Egypt. Similarly we come across an incident where God opens the mouth of the ass to warn Balaam. From this it is evident that God used human beings and animals for a specific task, so that dharma (good will) could be established. In the life of Prophet Yūnus (Younis / Jonah) God used a big fish to swallow him, so that he could be brought to Nineveh, while he was sailing against the wishes of God to Tarshish. The human beings who were used by God were known as Nabis in Islam and prophets in Judaism; whereas Vedic religion identifies such human beings and in animals as manifestations (avatar) of God.
In Luke 19:40, Jesus said: “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” This is what actually happened in the story of Narasimha avatar.
In all the incident-based avatars one could only see the manifestations of God; but for a specific purpose, restricted to one particular kingdom and not universal in nature. Even if such incidents were universal in nature, the manifested ones were just animals, similar to the ass, which God used to warm Balaam. During the baptism of Jesus, the power of God descended on Him in the form of a dove. This dove is just a manifestation of God. Similarly, the fish, which facilitated the landing of the ark / boat of Nyuha / Noah (Manu / Ziusudra / Akkadian Atrahasis / Utnapishtim), the tortoise which helped the Devas and Asuras to get the ambrosia, and the boar, which prevented the Earth from engulfing into the ocean were just the divine-manifested ones used by God, Hence, all the incident-based avatars too do not qualify to be avatar.
The prophecy about the avatar of Jesus is mentioned not only in Jewish scriptures (Isaiah 7:14), but this messianic prophecy is evidenced even in Vedic scriptures as well. For example, Bhavishya Purana: Pratisarga Parva, Chaturyuga Khanda Dvitiyadhyayah, 19th Chapter, Texts 23, says the following:
ko bharam iti tam praaha
su hovacha mudanvitah
iishaa purtagm maam viddhi
The meaning of the above verse is: "The king asked, 'Who are you sir?' 'You should know that I am Isha Putra, the Son of God'. He replied blissfully, and 'am born of a virgin." In the human history Jesus is the only one born to a virgin; hence, the above lines of Bhavishya Purana should definitely refer Jesus alone.
Similarly, Paul talks about ‘some of your own poets ‘in verse 28 of Acts 17. Here Paul refers the poem of Phaenomena of Aratus, who lived between 315 BC/310 BC – 240 BC. His major extant work is his hexameter poem Phaenomena (Φαινόμενα "Appearances"). Paul quotes the following lines from this poem – Phaenomena, which means the following:
Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring ... (Phaenomena 1–5)
In the above lines, Aratus was referring to the THEOPHANY that was about to happen. Aratus was not living during Jesus time; but he refers human beings as ‘offspring’, which Jesus was advocating through a born-again experience.
Many Indian Christian mis-construe that Satyam refers to the Bible. The Chandogya Upanishad defines Satyam. The word satyam is a combination of three words: Sat-ti-yam. Sat means infinite, Ti means finite and Yam means union. Satyam means union of the infinite and the finite. Jesus Christ is ‘Satyam’, as He is fully human and fully Divine. In Jesus, the finite and the infinite are united.
God spoke two times in the New Testament. The first one was immediately after the baptism of Jesus: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) The second one was after the transfiguration of Jesus: “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5).
Though Jesus was born to a Jewish mother and brought-up like a Jew, He came out of Judaism and made Him universal in nature. Despite the birth, crucifixion and resurrection happened in Judea, his purpose of the advent was universal in nature; because in Him, Kingdom of God (Garden of Eden), which the entire humanity lost was regained, as he became the archetype of True Immanuel.
Jesus is the Proxy of Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49). Adam was created in the image of God and in the likeness of God. Adam lived and died without regaining his awareness of his original form of his creation. Adam had a human death with a-sat (untruth). Hence a new Adam is to be born to have a human death (finite) with sat (truth) and resurrect into Divine (infinite) form; and all happened in Jesus. Jesus was not only a transcendent mystery, but also an indwelling presence – Immanuel. This Immanuel (God with us) nature makes Jesus avatar universal in character.
All these three factors of Sat-ti-yam make Jesus avatar an ultimate one.
In the Words of Jesus, the purpose of advent of Jesus was to bear the witness to the Truth.
“…I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. … “ (John 18:37)
Jesus' primary mission was not to reform Judaism, not to give a New Book (in fact He did not write anything), not to start a new religion, but to inaugurate the New Covenant, to initiate a new human consciousness, to awaken the universal mind, which can say like Him: “I am Light”
Jesus presented God, who is an embodiment of unconditional love. He did not come to remove the un-righteouness (a-dharma) and to establish righteousness (dharma), but to call both righteous and the un-righteous into the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of God goes beyond moral righteousness and moral unrighteousness. Jesus meant through the Parable of the Two Sons: ‘Unless your righteousness transcends that of the scribes and Pharisees (normally righteous people) you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven’, which is why He said the following:
“… Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21: 31)
According to Jesus spiritual life is not a battle between good people and the bad people. Spiritual life is not about Good destroying the bad; but discovering the absolute good, which facilitate one to transcend both relative good and relative bad. It is understanding the limitations of the relative good and accepting the possibility of relative bad. It is seeing both good and bad as children of God.
The purpose of Jesus’ avatar is not to deliver the righteous and destroy the un-righteous and establish righteousness, but to take human consciousness beyond the battle field and the unrighteousness into the unconditional love of God and peace.
Avatars are not gods; but just manifestations of God, which is why, Paul differentiates between the attributes of heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, by distinctively prefixing titles like God and Lord in the verse 1 Corinthians 8:6. Here, he uses two phrase: “all the things came” and “through whom we live”. Though these phrases are repeated for both of them, we need to understand the difference between the connotations of the usage. While talking about God the Father, Paul indicates the Creator, who gave life to the human beings by –hand-crafting Adam in the likeness of God and by blowing His own breath in to Adam’s mouth to make him alive; whereas while talking about Lord Jesus Christ, he refers to the Immanuel, through whom all human beings are brought to the awareness of human-being’s original state of creation – likeness of God. While talking about the God the Father he refers to the creation of the Original Adam or Adam in the created form and while talking about Lord Jesus Christ, he refers to the human beings, for whom Jesus Christ stood as a example of Immanuel.
Being an Archetype of an Immanuel, Jesus Avatar Is Universal and Ultimate in Nature
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Sages of the New Covenant