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T Subba Rao's Explanation of Avatars

Aug 19, 2012 10:41 AM
by MKR

The doctrine of Avatar is well known in India. It is taken for granted.
However, there is very little published information explaining the
principles behind Avatara. There is a discussion by HPB in Secret
Doctrine.  T Subba Rao, the well known theosophist, addressed this issue in
his lectures on Gita. It is a very comprehensive explanation of Avatar. It
is quoted below for ready reference. Enjoy his excellent presentation.


Krshna is generally supposed to be an Avatar,
This theory of Avatars plays a very important part
in Hindu philosophy; and, unless it is properly
understood, it is likely that great misconceptions
will arise from the acceptance of the current views
regarding this Avatar. It is generally supposed that
Krshna is the Avatara of the one great personal God
who exists in the cosmos. Of course those who hold
this view make no attempt to explain how this one
great personal God succeeded in setting up an
intimate connection with the physical body of Krshna,
constituted as the physical body of every man is, or
even with a personality, or human individuality, that
seems to be precisely similar to that of any other
human being. And how are we to explain the theory
of Avatars, as generally stated, with reference to the
view of this particular Avatar to which I have
referred ? This view is without any support. The
Logos in itself is not the one personal God of the cos-
mos. The great Parabrahmam behind it is indeed one
and niramsha, undifferentiated and eternally existing,
but that Parabrahmam can never manifest itself as any
of these Avatars. It does, of course, manifest itself in
a peculiar way as the whole cosmos, or rather as the
supposed basis, or the one essence, on which the whole
cosmos seems to be superimposed, the one foundation
for every existence. But it can manifest itself in a
manner approaching the conception of a personal God,
only when it manifests itself as the Logos. If Avatars
are possible at all, they can only be so with reference
to the Logos, or Ishvara, and not by any means
with reference to what I have called Parabrahmam.
But still there remains the question, what is
an Avatara.  According to the general theory I
have laid down, in the case of every man who
becomes a Mukta there is a union with the Logos. It
may be conceived, either as the soul being raised to
the Logos or as the Logos descending from its high
plane to associate itself with the soul. In the
generality of cases, this association of the soul with
the Logos is only completed after death the last
death which that individual has to go through.

But in some special cases the Logos does descend
to the plane of the soul and associate itself with the
soul during the lifetime of the individual ; but these
cases are very rare. In the case of such beings, while
they still exist as ordinary men on the physical plane,
instead of having for their soul merely the reflection
of the Logos, they have the Logos itself. Such
beings have appeared. Buddhists say that in the
case of Buddha there was this permanent union, when
he attained what they call Paranirvana nearly twenty
years before the death of his physical body. Christians
say that the Logos was made flesh, as it were, and
was born as Christ as Jesus though the Christians
do not go into a clear analysis of the propositions
they lay down. There are, however, certain sections
of Christians who take a more philosophical view of
the question, and say that the divine Logos associated
itself with the man named Jesus at some time during
his career, and that it was only after that union that
he began to perform his miracles and show his power
as a great reformer and saviour of mankind.

Whether this union took place as a special case in
the case of Jesus, or whether it was such a union as
would take place in the case of every Mahatma or
Maharishi when he becomes a Jivanmukta, we cannot
say, unless we know a great deal more about him than
what the Bible can teach us. In the case of Krshna
the same question arises. Mahavishnu is a God, and
is a representative of the Logos ; he is considered as
the Logos by the majority of Hindus. From this it
must not however be inferred that there is but one
Logos in the cosmos, or even that but one form of
Logos is possible in the cosmos. For the present I am
only concerned with this form of the Logos, and it
seems to be the foundation of the teachings we are
considering. There are two views which you can
take with reference to such human Avatars, as, for
instance, Rama, Krshna, and Parashurama. Some
Vaishnavites deny that Buddha was an Avatar
of Vishnu. But that was an exceptional case and is
very little understood by either Vaishnavites or
Buddhists. Parashurama's Avatar will certainly be
disputed by some writers. I believe that, looking
at the terrible things he did, the Madhwas thought
that, in the case of Parashurama, there was no
real Avatar, but a mere overshadowing of the man
by Mahavishnu. But, setting aside disputed cases,
we have two undisputed human Avatars Rama and

Take for instance the case of Krshna. In this case
two views are possible. We may suppose that
Krshna, as an individual, was a man who had been
evoluting for millions of years, and had attained great
spiritual perfection, and that in the course of his
spiritual progress the Logos descended to him and
associated itself with his soul. In that case it is not
the Logos that manifested itself as Krshna, but
Krshna who raised himself to the position of the
Logos. In the case of a Mahatma who becomes a
Jlvanmukta, it is his soul, as it were, that is trans-
formed into the Logos. In the case of a Logos
descending into a man, it does so, not chiefly by
reason of that man's spiritual perfection, but for
some ulterior purpose of its own for the benefit of
humanity. In this case it is the Logos that descends
to the plane of the soul and manifests its energy in
and through the soul, and not the soul that ascends to
the plane of the Logos.

Theoretically it is possible for us to entertain either
of these two views. But there is one difficulty. If
we are at liberty to call that man an Avatar who
becomes a Jlvanmukta, we shall be obliged to call
Shuka, Vasishtha, Durvasa and perhaps the whole
number of the Maharishis, who have become Jivan-
muktas, Avatars ; but they are not generally called
Avatars. No doubt some great Rishis are enumerated
in the list of Avatars, given for instance in the
Bhagavat, but somehow no clear explanation is
given for the fact that the ten Avataras ordinarily
enumerated are looked upon as the Avatara of
Mahavishnu, and the others as his manifestations,
or beings in whom his light and knowledge were
placed for the time being ; or, for some reason or
other, these others are not supposed to be Avatars
in the strict sense of the word. But, if these are not
Avatars, then we shall have to suppose that Krshna
and Rama are called Avatars, not because we have in
them an instance of a soul that had become a
Jivanmukta and so had become associated with the
Logos, but because the Logos descended to the
plane of the soul, and, associating itself with the
soul, worked in and through it on the plane of
humanity for some great thing that had to be
done in the world. I believe this latter view will
be found to be correct on examination. Our respect
for Krshna need not in any way be lessened on that
account. The real Krshna is not the man in and
through whom the Logos appeared, but the Logos itself.
Perhaps our respect will only be enhanced, when
we see that this is the case of the Logos descending into
a human being for the good of humanity. It is not
encumbered with any particular individuality in such
a case, and has perhaps greater power to exert itself
for the purpose of doing good to humanity not
merely for the purpose of doing good to one man, but
for the purpose of saving millions.

There are two dark passages in the Mahabharata,
which will be found very hard nuts for the advocates
of the orthodox theory to crack. To begin with Rama.
Suppose Rama was not the individual monad plus
the Logos, but in some unaccountable manner the
Logos made flesh. Then, when the physical body
disappeared there should be nothing remaining but
the Logos there should be no individual ego to follow
its own course. That seems to be the inevitable
result, if we are to accept the orthodox theory. But
there is a statement made by Narada in the Lokapala
Sabha Varnana, in the Mahabharata, in which he says
speaking of the court of Yama, who is one of the
Devas, that Dasaratha Rama was one of the individuals
present there. Now, if the individual Rama was
merely a maya not in the sense in which every
human being is a maya but in a special sense -there
is not the slightest reason why he should subsist after
the purpose for which this maya garb was wanted
was accomplished. It is stated in the Ramayana that
the Logos went to its place of abode when Rama
died, yet we find, in the Mahabharata, Dasaratha Rama
mentioned, together with a number of other kings, as an
individual present in Yamaloka, which, at the highest,
takes us only up to devachan. This assertion becomes
perfectly consistent with the theory I have laid down
if that is properly understood. Rama was an indi-
vidual, constituted like every other man ; probably he
had had several incarnations before, and was destined,
even after this one great incarnation, to have several
subsequent births. When he appeared as Rama Avatar,
it was not Rama's soul transformed into the Logos, or
rather Rama himself as Jivanmukta, that did all the
great deeds narrated in the Ramayana an a allegorical
as it is but it was the Logos, or Mahavishnu, that
descended to the plane of the soul and associated
itself for the time being with a particular soul for the
purpose of acting through it. Again, in the case of
Krshna there is a similar difficulty to be encountered.
Turn, for instance, to the end of the Mousala Parva in
the Mahabharata, where you will find a curious passage.
Speaking of Krshna 's death, the author says that the
soul went to heaven which corresponds to devachan
where it was received with due honours by all the
Devas. Then it is said that Narayana departed from
that place to his own place, Narayana being the
symbol of the Logos. Immediately after, there
follows a stanza describing the existence of Krshna
in swargam, and further on we find that when
Dharmaraja's soul went into swargam he found Krshna
there. How are these two statements to be reconciled ?
Unless we suppose that Narayan, whose energy and
wisdom were manifested through the man Krshna, was
a separate spiritual power manifesting itself for the
time being through this individual, there is no solu-
tion of the difficulty. Now, from these two statements
we shall not be far wrong in inferring that the Avatars
we are speaking of were the manifestations of one
and the same power, the Logos, which the great Hindu
writers of old called Mahavishnu. Who then is this
Mahavishnu ? Why should this Logos in particular,
if there are several other Logoi in the universe, take
upon itself the care of humanity, and manifest itself
in the form of various Avatars and further, is it
possible for every other adept, after he becomes
associated with the Logos, to descend as an Avatar
in the same manner for the good of humanity ?

A clear discussion of these questions will lead us
into considerations that go far down into the mys-
teries of occult science, to explain which clearly I
should have to take into account a number of theories
that can only be communicated at the time
of initiation. Possibly some light will be thrown
upon the subject in the forthcoming Secret Doctrine,
but it would be premature for me to discuss the
question at this stage. It will be sufficient for me to
say that this Mahavishnu seems to be the Dhyan
Chohan that first appeared on this planet when
human evolution commenced during this Kalpa, who
set the evolutionary progress in motion, and whose
duty it is to watch over the interests of mankind until
the seven Manvantaras through which we are passing
are over. It may be that this Logos itself was
associated with a Jivanmiikta, or a great Mahatma
of a former Kalpa. However that may be, it is a
Logos, and as such only it is of importance to us at
present. Perhaps in former Kalpas, of which there have
been millions, that Logos might have associated itself
with a series of Mahatmas, and all their individualities
might have been subsisting in it; nevertheless it has
a distinct individuality of its own, it is Ishvara, and
it is only as a Logos in the abstract that we have
to consider it for present purposes. This explanation,
however, I have thought it necessary to give, for the
purpose of enabling you to understand certain
statements made by Krshna, which will not become
intelligible unless read in connection with what I
have said.


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