Appreciating the Human Side of the Avatar’s Incarnation

One aspect that is possibly the most difficult for us to accept in the Avatar is the “human” side of the incarnation. We somehow expect that a divine incarnation must be a “miracle worker” or somehow function outside the framework of the normal human life and the limitations of the human existence, thereby exempting the Avatar from suffering, disease, old age and death (the 4 noble truths identified by the Buddha). When the incarnation goes through any of these conditions, it shakes our faith in the Avatar or the possibility of such a divine birth.

Sri Aurobindo makes the case that an incarnation that did not go through the issues of the human being and be subjected to those conditions would not in fact be able to fulfill the mission of the Avatar to provide a path and a real opportunity for others to follow and adopt the new powers of consciousness for which the Avatar has made his appearance. “A merely supernormal or miraculous Avatar would be a meaningless absurdity; not that there need be an entire absence of the use of supernormal powers such as Christ’s so-called miracles of healing, for the use of supernormal powers is quite a possibility of human nature; but there need not be that at all, nor in any case is it the root of the matter, nor would it at all do if the life were nothing else but a display of supernormal fireworks. The Avatar does not come as a thaumaturgic magician, but as the divine leader of humanity and the exemplar of a divine humanity.”

In fact, it is the application of new powers of consciousness and action, to address the limitations and issues of human beings, to propel the progress of humanity that is the essence of the Avatar’s mission. “The Avatar is always a dual phenomenon of divinity and humanity; the Divine takes upon himself the human nature with all its outward limitations and makes them the circumstances, means, instruments of the divine consciousness and the divine power, a vessel of the divine birth and the divine works. But so surely it must be, since otherwise the object of the Avatar’s descent is not fulfilled; for that object is precisely to show that the human birth with all its limitations can be made such a means and instrument of the divine birth and divine works, precisely to show that the human type of consciousness can be compatible with the divine essence of consciousness made manifest, can be converted into its vessel, drawn into nearer conformity with it by a change of its mould and a heightening of its powers of light and love and strength and purity; and to show also how it can be done.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 16, The Process of Avatarhood, pp. 155-156