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Who is an Avatar? || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavd Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
14 min
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अवजानन्ति मां मूढा मानुषीं तनुमाश्रितम् ।

परं भावमजानन्तो मम भूतमहेश्वरम् ।। 9.11 ।।

avajānanti māṁ mūḍhā mānuṣhīṁ tanum āśhritam

paraṁ bhāvam ajānanto mama bhūta-maheśhvaram

Unaware of my higher state as the great Lord of beings, fools disregard me dwelling in the human form.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 9, Verse 11

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Acharya Prashant (AP): So, the verse says that fools keep worshipping the Lord as a thing of their imagination, as a thing of images and pictures of deities and temples, of scriptures and myths. That’s where they are content locating and situating the Lord. They’ll say, “Oh, my lord lives and exists in the temple.” They’ll be very happy going to the temple offering their prayers. They’ll be very happy garlanding an image or idol. They’ll be very happy singing songs on a particular day to an imaginary belief of theirs. They’ll take great pleasure in narrating stories and fables about divinity, about gods, about their favourite avatar etc. They will do all these things.

But they will totally disregard Krishna in the human form even if he were to walk right in front of them.

So, that’s what the verse says.

“Unaware of my higher state as the great Lord of beings, fools disregard me dwelling in the human form.”

They see, or they claim that they see the Lord in the books, in stone, in rituals, in their prayers and homages, in their verses and in their offerings. They see the Lord at all these places, but they do not see the Lord in flesh and blood. Which is very strange.

Questioner (Q): But how do we recognize an avatar? How do we differentiate between an avatar of divinity versus an ordinary human being? Is it even possible for the Supreme to take an avatar in the human form? Please explain.

AP: An avatar is not a specific person. You have to understand.

Truth is absolute and supreme freedom. The normal, mortal human being is a bundle of limitations. The limitations really have no incentive to go against themselves. The limitations in a way are cast in stone. The baby that emerges from the mother’s womb is almost surely destined to spend all his life in physical and mental bondages. So, it’s a great difference between the Truth and the human being. The Truth is absolutely free. The human being is condemned to live in bondages of all kinds.

Yet, sometimes a meeting happens. When that meeting happens, it is called an avatar; that meeting is the avatar. The person, no person is not an avatar. Are you getting it?

When you see human limitations struggling against themselves, that’s an incidence of avatar. When you see an ordinary human being going against himself, that’s an avatar. When you see man’s consciousness eager to pay the highest price for its limitation, that’s an avatar. That’s how you are to recognize an avatar; rather, an incidence of avatar.

It is not necessary that one person be permanently labelled as an avatar. If right now you are overcoming inner obstacles—for example, to attend live to this session—then this is an incidence of avatar. You are the avatar. Whenever man clenches his fists and says that he can do something that is beyond his animal conditioning, then you could say he’s no more a human being, he is an avatar in this instance. Not permanently. Do not label him as an avatar. But right now, he’s deciding to be something bigger than and better than his usual little self. That’s the meeting.

The Truth is freedom, man is bondage. When bondage aspires to meet freedom, then you could say you are seeing an avatar.

Are you getting it?

So, you are asking: “How do you differentiate between an avatar and an ordinary human being?”

The ordinary human being himself carries the potential to be an avatar. And the course of your life and the fate of your life is in fact decided by the frequency with which you choose to be an avatar, versus the frequency of your choices in favour of your conditioning. You could probably call Krishna an avatar, because most of the times he was doing things that ordinary people would not choose to do. Mind the difference here! I’m not saying that most of the times Krishna was doing things that were impossible for ordinary people to do; I’m saying he was doing things that ordinary people won’t choose to do. And that’s what an avatar does. He makes difficult choices.

Krishna is an avatar probably because 80 percent of the times, 90 percent of the times—devotees would want to say all the time, 100 percent of the time—he was making very-very difficult and counterintuitive choices. He was going against the normal run of our body, and blood, and hormones; almost always. That’s an avatar.

Whenever you can choose Truth rather than falseness— and falseness is very compelling, very inviting—you are an avatar in that moment. Only in that moment. The next moment is again a moment of choice. Oh, so bad! You haven’t ever permanently obtained a certificate of avatarhood. You have to earn it and re-earn it again and again. The next moment will again come up with a question. And if you answer that question rightly, you are an avatar again.

Answer that question rightly: an avatar.

Answer it wrongly, and you are just your usual, normal self, and you will suffer.

It’s quite interesting. That which takes you to suffering is inviting and easy in appearance, and that which takes you to Freedom, and Joy, and Relaxation will always appear demanding and foreboding.

An avatar is one who decides to see beyond appearances, not the one who can. An avatar is one who decides to, who chooses to take that path which appears to be difficult. An avatar is one who will not make wrong choices, at least knowingly.

You know, that’s the sad thing about most of us. Not that we are operating in complete unconsciousness; most of the times we do have some inkling, rather a fair idea of what is right and what is wrong, and yet we choose to side with the wrong. That’s what is quite sad about us. An avatar is one who will not make wrong choices, at least knowingly.

You can even make it mathematical. You could say, if two by three times you are making a choice in favour of Truth and Freedom, then you deserve to be called a hero, if not an avatar. If two out of three moments for you are heroic, then you can probably call yourself, inwardly obviously, as a hero. Right?

It’s the moments that count. Increase the frequency of the right choice. Increase the incidence of the right moments. Learn to fight against yourself. There’s nothing more heroic than this. It is very childish to be fighting against four or five gangsters on the road, that any hormone driven bull can do. And it’s also not exactly an adult thing to be fighting against the entire world for even the highest of causes. Even that is semi-childish.

The most heroic of all battles is the one you fight against yourself. Be a winner. Beat yourself. That’s what the avatar does.

What do you think, the avatar does not feel the temptations that you do? He does.

What do you think, the avatar does not feel all the pain and all the seductions, and all the distractions and deceptions that you do? He too is susceptible.

Mind you, he too is a mortal born in flesh and blood; he too was conceived in the normal way of biology; he too is physically every bit the same as you are. But he chooses something that you do not usually do. That choice is what matters. Choose rightly.

Do not credit the avatar as being somebody who has descended from the skies. That’s a very-very wrong way of looking at an avatar. What you’re saying is, “There is the sky, there is the earth. Oh! The avatar is quite privileged because he is anyway descending from the skies; he is the son of God you see!”

The word ‘avatar’ itself is quite misleading. When you say somebody is an avatar of, let’s say, Viṣṇu or somebody, then what you are saying is that person already has a backing of some great authority. “He is an Avatar of Viṣṇu, so Viṣṇu is behind him, you see, already.” And you are not an avatar; Viṣṇu is not behind you, so you have already consoled yourself that it’s an uneven playing field. You have already told yourself that the avatar is bound to do miraculous things that are beyond your capacity. After all, he’s coming downwards from the skies! No, that’s not the right way to look at the avatar.

The right way to look at the avatar is: the avatar too belongs to the soil and the earth just as you do, but he has chosen to rise upwards. He’s not coming down from the skies; he’s rising upwards towards the sky. His default state is much the same as yours. But you create stories; you invent lies. You say, “No, no, no! The avatar's default state is the sky!” False. The default state of the avatar is just the same as yours. Both of you belong to the soil. Both of you belong to flesh and blood.

But you decide to continue to roll in the soil. The avatar says, “No. You see, I love the sky. Thank you mother earth, you gave me birth. But I have wings, and I will fly.” That’s the avatar.

You say, “No, I’m born here and I am OK!” knowing fully well that you’re not OK. Had you really been OK rolling in the mud, I wouldn’t have disagreed with you, but you’re not OK. You conspire against yourself. You knowingly do that, and that’s a problem. That’s what I called as a sad thing. We knowingly work against ourselves. The avatar has self-love. True self-love is love for Truth. True self-love itself can be called as love for God. The avatar says, “No, I want to rise and fly.”

Remember, the avatar is one of us. Therefore, if he does something extraordinary, it is not really extraordinary; it should’ve been possible to all of us. It’s just that he decided to pay the price; he decided to exert himself; he decided to take the right path. You too can do that. Once you start doing that, then it will not be difficult for you to identify the avatar-ness in some other person. Are you getting it?

Now, you’re asking, “Sir, how do I differentiate between an avatar and a normal human being?”

Once you yourself start making avatar-like choices, then it will be very easy for you. You’ll be able to identify the other person who is making choices of a similar quality. And you will know, that person right now is the avatar. And if he’s the avatar, he’s the one who represents godliness. * There is no better way to worship God than to side with those who stand for godliness. * Otherwise, it’s quite stupid, you see. You go and garland a stone statue, and you totally disregard a person who is fighting a godly battle in your plane, in front of your eyes, within your approach. It’s stupid.

Identify where you see the right struggle, the right battle. Identify where you see the right tension. Shrimad Bhagavad Gita is a scripture totally imbued in tension; from the very first verse, from the very first page the tension is palpable. And that’s the mark of avatarhood or avatar-ness. You’ll find a great tension ther, because the earth has gravitation, you see, the earth wants to keep you to itself. It’s not the fault of the earth. It’s the fault of your weight. You are carrying so much body that you want to stay with the earth.

Therefore, whenever you’ll want to fly away, there will be tension. The avatar has to be identified by this tension. Forget all your imaginary stories about relaxation, and peace, and restfulness. Where there would be an avatar, there would be an environment of tension. The same kind of tension that you see when a man is struggling really hard to break his chains. He’s not smiling then, or is he? But there is a great joy in witnessing his struggle, is there not? And when I say, there is a great joy in witnessing his struggle, please do not use this statement to just keep witnessing. Assist him. Are you getting it?

It’s never easy being an avatar. It’s the easiest thing being an avatar. You have to figure out where you are. Has there been a single avatar who has not spent his life in struggles? Name one. And life is not worth it, if it’s not spent struggling rightly. What is it that you remember the most about Shri Krishna? What is it that you remember about Rama? What is it that you remember about Buddha or Mahavira? What is it that you remember about any person worth talking about in the spiritual sense? His struggles.

And that’s how you can identify avatar-ness where it really is. You will see the right struggle. You will see a bloody struggle. You’ll see a man drenched in his own blood. But if you have great spiritual notions, if spirituality for you is peace and relaxation and the holy smile, then obviously you will miss the avatar, even if he is right there in your face.

Unfortunately, that’s the brand of spirituality being peddled these days. We say, “Oh, spirituality means being calm and relaxed, and unconditionally loving.” Go teach that to Krishna. Tell him to unconditionally love Duryodhana.

When you have love for the sky, then you cannot really talk of the sky and the sewer in the same breath. It would be the deepest disrespect to the sky. Or would it not be? Yes, there is the sky and there is the gutter. And you’re talking of both of them as the same, saying, “Oh, I’ll unconditionally love everything.” What nonsense! Or is it so that your path to the sky goes through the sewer?

YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/7jhLHpVQw2Q

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