The Dual Purpose and Form of the Descent of the Avatar

Sri Aurobindo quickly outlines the Avatar’s role: “The work for which the Avatar descends has like his birth a double sense and a double form. It has an outward side of the divine force acting upon the external world in order to maintain there and to reshape the divine law by which the Godward effort of humanity is kept from decisive retrogression and instead decisively carried forward in spite of the rule of action and reaction, the rhythm of advance and relapse by which Nature proceeds. It has an inward side of the divine force of the Godward consciousness acting upon the soul of the individual and the soul of the race, so that it may receive new forms of revelation of the Divine in man and may be sustained, renewed and enriched in its power of upward self-unfolding.”

While the appearance of an Avatar corresponds with outer events that need to be addressed and shaped, opposition that needs to be weakened or removed, and opportunities that present themselves for critical directions to be taken by humanity at a specific juncture in time, Sri Aurobindo reminds us that the outer action is not the central purpose; rather, it is the inner impact on consciousness, the potential developmental direction for inward growth, that represents the primary focus, goal and action of the Avatar.

“Action and event have no value in themselves, but only take their value from the force which they represent and the idea which they symbolise and which the force is there to serve.”

As humanity systematically expands its powers of understanding, thought, emotion, action and pushes up against the limitations of the environment and the societal needs, there comes a time when all the old ways of thinking and doing things no longer can solve the issues. A new framework or a new insight is needed to provide the solution and nothing else will do. We see such things even today where we face an expanding population while at the same time an ever-increasing demand for resources, stresses caused by increased pollution, and disharmony between differing viewpoints of how to appropriately and adequately deal with the complexity of all these issues interacting upon one another. Such periods have occurred in the past and triggered the advent of the Avatar to provide a new understanding and a new impetus for change and growth.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 17, The Divine Birth and Divine Works, pg. 159

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