THEOSOPHY, Vol. 48, No. 12, October, 1960
(Pages 561-566; Size: 17K)
TEACHINGS ON THE AVATARS(1)
THE Avatara is a divine incarnation. It is the descent of a god or some exalted Being, who has progressed beyond the necessity of rebirths, into the body of a simple mortal. Krishna was an avatar of Vishnu. The Dalai Lama is regarded as an avatar of Avalokiteswara; the Teshu Lama as one of Tson-kha-pa, or Amitabha. All these are but different terms used by different peoples to indicate one and the same LOGOS, the Divine Christos, the Anima Mundi. It is the "Word made Flesh" in every religion, in India a Proteus of 1008 divine names and aspects, from Brahma-Purusha down through the Seven divine Rishis ... to the divine-human avatars.
As the synthesis of the seven Dhyani-Buddhas, Avalokiteswara was the first Buddha -- the LOGOS; so Amitabha is the inner "God" of Gautama who, in China, is called Amita-(Buddha). As the reader is supposed not to be acquainted with the Dhyani-Buddhas, it is as well to say at once that, esoterically, they are seven, of whom five only have hitherto manifested, and two are to come in the sixth and seventh root-races. They are, as Mr. Rhys Davids correctly states, "the glorious counterparts in the mystic world, free from the debasing conditions of this material life" of every earthly mortal Buddha. They are, so to speak, the eternal prototypes of the Buddhas who appear on this earth, each of whom has his particular divine prototype.
Buddha means "the Enlightened" in the highest degree of knowledge. To become a Buddha one has to break through the bondage of sense and personality; to acquire a complete perception of the REAL SELF and learn not to separate it from all other selves; to learn by experience the utter unreality of all phenomena of the visible Kosmos first of all; to reach a complete detachment from all that is evanescent and finite, and live while yet on Earth in the immortal and everlasting alone, in a supreme state of holiness. Yet it is taught that everyone may become a Buddha; and a precept of Tibet has it that "even the mountains will become Buddha." The Way of Gautama, and of all the avatars, is the Way for every human soul, and is thus beautifully described. Starting upon the long journey immaculate; descending more and more into sinful matter, and having connected himself with every atom in manifested Space, the Pilgrim, having struggled through and suffered in every form of life and being, is only at the bottom of the valley of matter, and half through his cycle, when he has identified himself with collective Humanity. This, he has made in his own image. In order to progress upwards and homewards, the "God" has now to ascend the weary uphill path of the Golgotha of Life. It is the martyrdom of self-conscious existence. Like Visvakarman he has to sacrifice himself to himself in order to redeem all creatures, to resurrect from the many into the One Life. Then he ascends into heaven indeed; where, plunged into the incomprehensible absolute Being and Bliss of Paranirvana he reigns unconditionally, and whence he will re-descend again at the next "coming," which one portion of humanity expects in its dead-letter sense as the "second advent" and the other as the last "Kalki Avatar."
The Logoi of all nations are the "Word" who was "in the beginning" (or the reawakening of the energizing powers of Nature) with the One ABSOLUTE. Whenever it -- the "Word," the Divine Spirit which is sevenfold -- is manifested, desiring to impress itself upon humanity in a shape intelligible to our intellect, whether we call it an Avatar, or a king Messiah, or a permutation of the Divine Spirit, Logos, Christos -- it is all one and the same thing. In each case it is "the Father" who is in the Son, and the Son in "the Father." The immortal spirit overshadows the mortal man. It enters into him, and pervading his whole being makes of him a god, who descends into his earthly tabernacle. Esotericism teaches that there never yet was a great World-reformer, whose name has passed into our generation, who (a) was not a direct emanation of the LOGOS (under whatever name known to us), i.e., an essential incarnation of one of the Seven; and (b) who had not appeared before, during the past Cycles.
This explains the cause which produces in history and chronology certain riddles of the ages; the reason why, for instance, it is impossible for men to assign any reliable dates to Zoroaster, who is found multiplied by twelve and fourteen in the Dabistan; why the Rishis and Manus are so mixed up in their numbers and individualities; why Krishna and Buddha speak of themselves as "reincarnations," i.e., Krishna is identified with the Rishi Narayana, and Gautama gives a series of his previous births -- and why the former, especially, being "the very supreme Brahma," yet is called "Amsamsavatara" -- "a part of a part" only of the Supreme on Earth. Finally, why Osiris is a great God, and at the same time a "prince on Earth," who reappears as Thoth-Hermes, and why Jesus (in Hebrew, Joshua) of Nazareth is recognized, cabalistically, in Joshua, the Son of Nun, as well as in other personages. The esoteric doctrine explains it by saying that each of these (as many others) had first appeared on earth as one of the seven powers of the LOGOS, individualized as a God or "Angel" (messenger); then, mixed with matter, they had reappeared in turn as great sages and instructors, who "taught the Fifth Race," after having instructed the two preceding races, had ruled during the Divine Dynasties, and had finally sacrificed themselves, to be reborn under various circumstances for the good of mankind, and for its salvation at certain critical periods -- until in their last incarnations they had become truly only "the parts of a part" on earth, though de facto the One Supreme in Nature.
This is the metaphysics of Theogony. And as every power among the Seven has (once individualized) in his charge one of the elements of creation, and rules over it, hence the many meanings in every symbol, which unless interpreted according to esoteric methods, generally lead to an inextricable confusion. The personages called in Northern Buddhist religion "Buddhas," may just as well be called Rishis, Avatars, Manus, etc. These great Mahatmas, or Buddhas, are a universal and common property ... the day when much, if not all, of that which is given here from the archaic records will be found correct is not far distant. Then the modern symbologists will acquire the certitude that even Odin, or the god Woden, the highest God in the German and Scandinavian mythology, is one of the Buddhas.
All the avatars of Vishnu are said to come originally from the White Island. According to Tibetan tradition the White Island is the only locality which escapes the general fate of other dwipas and can be destroyed by neither fire nor water, for it is the "eternal land." Arghya Varsha -- "the land of libations" -- is the mystery name of that region which extends from Kailas mountain nearly to the Schamo Desert, from within which the Kalki Avatar is expected. It is now said to have been situated between the sea of Aral, Baltistan, and little Tibet; but in olden times its area was far larger, as it was the birth-place of physical humanity. Dionysos is one with Osiris, with Krishna, and with Buddha (the heavenly wise), and with the coming (tenth) avatar, the glorified spiritual Christos, who will deliver the suffering Chrestos (mankind, or Prometheus, on its trial). This, say Brahminical and Buddhistic teachings, echoed by the Zoroastrian and now by the Christian teachings (the latter only occasionally), will happen at the end of Kaliyuga. It is only after the appearance of the Kalki-Avatar, or Sosiosh, that man will be born from woman without sin. Then will Brahma, the Hindu deity; Ahura-Mazda (Ormazd), the Zoroastrian; Zeus, the Greco-Olympian Don Juan; Jehovah, the jealous, repenting, cruel, tribal God of the Israelites, and all their likes in the universal Pantheon of human fancy -- vanish and disappear in thin air.
If we examine the ten mythical avatars of Vishnu, we find them recorded in the following progression: Matsya, as a fish; Kurm, as a tortoise; Varaha, as a boar; Nara-Sing, as a man-lion; Vamuna, as a dwarf; Parasu Rama, as a hero, but yet an imperfect man; Rama-Chandra, as the hero of Ramayana; Krishna; Gautama, and tenth, Maitreya, which has not yet occurred. In the succession of avatars is to be seen clearly carried out the truly philosophical idea of a simultaneous spiritual evolution of creatures and man. The Matsya (fish, or dolphin) avatar was one of the earliest incarnations of Vishnu. Matsya avatar happened before the Varaha or boar avatar, and has reference to an event which happened on our Earth during this Round. Esoteric philosophy distinctly teaches that after the first geological disturbance in the Earth's axis which ended in the sweeping down to the bottom of the seas of the whole second continent, with its primeval races -- of which successive "Earths" or continents Atlantis was the fourth -- there came another disturbance by the axis resuming as rapidly its previous degree of inclination; when the Earth was raised once more out of the Waters. Little, however, can be said about the mystery which underlies the Matsya (fish) avatar of Vishnu, the Chaldean Oannes -- the Man-Fish, recorded in the imperishable sign of the Zodiac, Pisces, and running throughout the two Testaments in the personages of Joshua "Son of the Fish (Nun)" and Jesus; the allegorical "Sin" or Fall of spirit into matter, and the Moon -- insofar as it relates to the "Lunar" ancestors, the Pitris.
One sees why Occultism places Oannes and the other Annedoti in the group of those ancient "adepts" who were called "marine" or "water dragons" -- Nagas. Water typified their human origin (as it is a symbol of earth and matter and also of purification), in distinction to the "fire Nagas" or the immaterial spiritual Beings, whether celestial Bodhisattvas or Planetary Dhyanis, also regarded as the instructors of mankind. The hidden meaning becomes clear to the Occultist, once he is told that this being (Oannes) was accustomed to pass the day among men, teaching; and when the sun was set, he retired again into the sea, passing the night in the deep, "for he was amphibious," i.e., he belonged to two planes; the spiritual and the physical. The Greek word amphibios means simply "life on two planes," from amphi, "on both sides," and bios, "life." The word was often applied in antiquity to those men who, though still wearing a human form, had made themselves almost divine through knowledge, and lived as much in the spiritual supersensuous regions as on earth.
The symbolism of the ten avatars of Vishnu is further illustrated. From a fish, the progress of dual transformation carries on the physical form through the shape of a tortoise, a boar, and a man-lion. Then, appearing in the dwarf of humanity, it shows Parasu Rama physically, a perfect, spiritually, an undeveloped entity, until it carries mankind personified by one god-like man, to the apex of physical and spiritual perfection -- a god on earth. It is well known that the earliest Christian emblems, before it was ever attempted to represent the bodily appearance of Jesus, were the Lamb, the Good Shepherd, and the Fish. This is an inheritance from the Chaldees, and relates, as the very name explains, to the Babylonian Dag-on, the Man-Fish, who was the instructor and interpreter of the people to whom he appeared. Likewise in Krishna and the other Saviours of the World we see the philosophical idea of the progressive dual development understood and as clearly expressed in the Zohar. The "Heavenly Man," or the universal Form and Idea, engenders Adam. Hence the latter is god-born humanity, and endowed with the attributes of all the ten Sephiroth. "Man is both the import and the highest degree of creation," says the Zohar. "As soon as man was created, everything was complete, including the upper and nether worlds, for everything is comprised in man. He unites all forms in himself." But this does not relate to our degenerated mankind; it is only occasionally that men are born who are the types of what man should be, and yet is not.
Vaivasvata Manu is the Indian Noah connected with the Matsya (or the fish) avatar of Vishnu. There are those who are aware that the "great Flood" was connected with sinking of an entire continent -- save what became afterward a few islands. In the Hari Purana, in the Bhagavad-Gita, as well as in several other books, the god Vishnu is shown as having assumed the form of a fish with a human head, in order to reclaim the Vedas lost during the deluge. Having enabled Visvamitra to escape with all his tribe in the ark, Vishnu, pitying weak and ignorant humanity, remained with them for a long time. It was this god who taught them to build houses, cultivate the land, and to thank the unknown Deity whom he represented, by building temples and instituting a regular worship; and, as he remained half-fish, half-man, all the time, at every sunset he used to return to the ocean, wherein he passed the night.
Krishna is the most celebrated avatar of Vishnu, the "Saviour" of the Hindus and their most popular god. He is the eighth avatar. In the story of Krishna's conception, birth, and childhood are the exact prototypes of the New Testament story. Kwan-Shi-yin is in China "the great Dragon of Wisdom born of Fire and Water," and this Bodhisattva is said "to assume any form he pleases" from beginning of a manvantara to its end, though his special birthday (memorial day) is celebrated according to the Kin-kwang-ming-King in the second month on the nineteenth day, and that of Maitreya Buddha in the first month on the first day. Yet the two are one. Kwan-Shi-yin will appear as Maitreya Buddha, the last of the Avatars and Buddhas, in the seventh Race. This belief and expectation are universal throughout the East.
With the Buddhists, when Maitreya Buddha has come, then our present world will be destroyed; and a new and better one will replace it. The four arms of every Hindu Deity are the emblems of the four preceding manifestations of our Earth from its invisible state, while its head typifies the fifth and last Kalki Avatar, when this world will be destroyed, and the power of Budh, Wisdom, will be again called into requisition to manifest itself as a LOGOS to create the future world. The final destruction of the wicked, the renovation of "creation" and the "restoration of purity" will take place at the end of Kaliyuga, 427,000 years hence. The latter end of every yuga is called "the destruction of the world," as then the Earth changes each time its outward form, submerging one set of continents and upheaving another set.
THAT WHICH IS
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