The Divine Mystery of Avatarhood

When the question of an Avatar comes up, we tend to respond in one or two characteristic ways, depending on whether we are receptive to the concept or not. Those receptive to the concept tend to treat the Avatar as someone exceptional and extraordinary and their achievements are treated as “miraculous” and therefore not really illustrative of what we can ourselves grow into, but as an external intervention independent of the operations of Nature. Those who are not receptive to the concept simply deny that such a divine Birth in a human form is even possible or necessary and thus, do not accept the historicity or reality of the achievements attributed to the Avatar.

What we tend not to do, is recognize that the unity of the entire universal manifestation, and the reality of a conscious supreme Presence implies that all Nature is carrying out the will of the Divine, and thus, an Avatar is not so much an exceptional, miraculous intervention as, potentially, a harbinger, forerunner and leader/guide for where the manifestation is heading in the future.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issue from the viewpoint of the Gita: “We have to remember and take together its doctrine of the one Self in all, of the Godhead seated in the heart of every creature, its teaching about the relations between the creator and his creation, its strongly emphasised idea of the vibhuti,–noting too the language in which the Teacher gives his own divine example of selfless works which applies equally to the human Krishna and the divine Lord of the worlds, and giving their due weight to such passages as that in the ninth chapter, ‘Deluded minds despise Me lodged in the human body because they know not My supreme nature of being, Lord of all existences.’; and we have to read in the light of these ideas this passage we find before us and its declaration that by knowledge of his divine birth and divine works men come to the Divine and by becoming full of him and even as he and taking refuge in him they arrive at his nature and status of being, madbhavam. For then we shall understand the divine birth and its object, not as an isolated and miraculous phenomenon, but in its proper place in the whole scheme of the world-manifestation; without that we cannot arrive at its divine mystery, but shall either scout it altogether or accept it ignorantly and, it may be, superstitiously or fall into the petty and superficial ideas of the modern mind about it by which it loses all its inner and helpful significance.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 15, The Possibility and Purpose of Avatarhood, pg. 141