The Question of Avatarhood

It may be useful, before taking up the subject of the new chapter, to provide something of an overview of the question of avatarhood. The concept has generally been popularized as God taking a human birth for a specific purpose to advance the progress of humanity, or to remove obstacles to that progress. In the popular conception from the Hindu tradition, for instance, The God Vishnu, in charge of the preservation of the universal creation, has taken a series of births successively at critical junctures when demonic forces were obstructing and destroying the chances for the higher evolutionary forces to establish a new principle of action for humanity. Sri Krishna, the divine Teacher of the Gita, was one such Avatar and in the Gita itself, he refers, from time to time, to his Divine status as well as his human role.

The idea of God taking a human birth is however not solely a concept of Hinduism. We see the “mystery” of Christianity where Jesus is the son of God and also the son of Man concurrently, a divine being taking birth as a human in order to guide people to a new Truth. This fits the definition of Avatarhood actually quite well.

Ancient Greek legends speak of Gods mating with humans and creating half-man/half-God offspring, who are vested with superior understanding, or overwhelmingly powerful attributes of physical strength and ability to face down and overcome obstacles.

Some hold that the birth of an Avatar is not so much a physical reality as a psychological truth–the manifestation of a higher consciousness taking root in and thereby effecting changes in viewpoint and power of understanding and action in the human being who happens to be ready to make this transition. Such a person would be ‘grounded’ in the higher realm of Oneness and act from there into the human world of fragmentation with an understanding and power of action far beyond what is normally seen in the mind of division that organizes and rules the manifestation limited to mind, life and matter.

The question of Avatarhood will be explored in depth as we review the current chapter, of course, and we shall have the opportunity to reflect on how we would like to understand this term and the significance of it in the role of the teacher and the teaching of the Gita.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 15, The Possibility and Purpose of Avatarhood, pg. 137