By Dr. Young Oon Kim

From World Religions, Vol. 2

The Avatar: Hinduism's Christ

Aldous Huxley, who - besides being a novelist and social critic - was a Vedanta enthusiast, believed that mankind has developed a "Perennial Philosophy." Though this philosophy is expressed by Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus in different ways, each religion incorporates the doctrine that God is incarnated in human form. For this Brittish writer there is a basic similarity between the Christian doctrine of the incarnate Christ and the Hindu idea of the Avatar. Both represent a descent and manifestation of God in human flesh.

There is no mention of this idea-in the early Vedic hymns of the Aryan conquerors and it plays no part in the mystical monism of the Upanishads. But by the time of the epic Mahabharata, belief that Vishnu appeared in material form more than once was part of popular Hinduism. The only debatable point was whether devotees of Vishnu recognised ten, twenty-two or even more avatars of the protective god. Basing their faith on a variety of sacred texts the Vishnaivas claimed that their favorite deity came to earth in the form of both animals and men. Vishnu was supposed to have lived as a swan, tortoise, fish, boar, half-lion half-man, and a dwarf. He also incarnated as

Rama, the princely hero of the Ramayama, and Krishna the dark-skinned lover of Indian cow-girls. They also believed Vishnu would reappear at the end of our age as the cosmic judge Kalki.

The Hindu faith in the avatar to come is of particular interest to eschatologically-minded Christians. According to the Mahabharata, Kalki will appear during the troubles which are to take place immediately before the end of our world. Born a Brahmin he will openly glorify Vishnu. Prior to ushering in a new age, he will destroy all evil; riding a white horse and brandishing a flaming sword, he will destroy thieves and foreigners. Public order will be restored and peace on earth will ensue. Having thus proved his ability to rule, Kalki will formally declare himself king of kings and perform the horse sacrifice expected of an emperor. Then he will give the whole earth to the Brahmins and retire to the forest to show the superiority of the contemplative life. Inspired by the presence of the avatar, men will imitate him.

After a careful study of Indian religion, one contemporary Christian theologian found twelve basic characteristics in the avatar doctrines: 1) in Hindu belief the avatar is real, a visible and fleshly descent of the divine to the terrestrial plane; 2) the human avatars are born in various ways but always through human parents; 3) their lives mingle divine and human qualities; 4) the avatars finally die; 5) there may be a historical basis for some of the Hindu avatars Rama, Krishna, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, for example; 6) avatars are repeated: one appears whenever there is a catastrophic decline in righteousness; 7) one avatar differs from another in character, temperament and worth; 8) each comes with work to do: the restoration of harmony in human society and universe; 9) avatars are not world-renouncing, and constantly advocate the importance of action rather than contemplation alone; 10) avatars for Hindus provide "special revelation" as the self- manifestation of Godhead; 11) they reveal a personal rather than impersonal God; 12) avatars prove the existence of a God of grace, in Hindu eyes; as Ramanuja insisted, a man cannot maintain his existence without God and God cannot maintain Himself without man."

This theologian then concluded: "The Avatars of Hinduism lead up to Christ and they are valuable preparations for him. More easily than Jews or Greeks, Indians can understand the coming of God in human form. Yet this very ease has great dangers, and the casual way in which many modern Hindus consider Christ as just another Avatar deprives him of significance and challenge." Ramakrishna taught that the saviors of humanity are those who see God and are so anxious to share their happiness of divine vision that they voluntarily undergo the troubles of rebirth in order to lead a struggling humanity to its goal. An avatar serves as a human messenger of God, like the viceroy of a mighty monarch. When there is a disturbance in some distant province, the king sends his representative to quell it; likewise, when religion wanes in any part of the world, God sends His avatar to guard it. In such a way Christ, Krishna, Buddha, Chaitanya, etc. were incarnations of God, that is, extraordinary human beings who were entrusted with a divine commission." Gandhi held a slightly more critical view of Jesus. It was more than he could believe, he confessed, that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God or that one could go to heaven only by becoming a Christian. If God could have sons, all men were His sons. If Jesus was like God, then all of us are like God. He could not accept literally the notion that Jesus redeemed the world by his blood. He denied that Jesus was the most perfect man ever born and even as a martyr was surpassed by some Hindus. Rather than expecting India to develop one religion, wholly Christian, wholly Muslim or wholly Hindu, he wanted his nation to be widely tolerant with different faiths working side by side." Because Hindus believe in many avatars instead of a single incarnation, they feel their faith makes them far less bigoted than Christians.

The Coming Age of the Spirit

Those who criticize Hinduism for being other-worldly, life- negating and blind to the need for social reconstruction probably have never read the books of Aurobindo, one of modern India's two most celebrated philosophers of religion. After winning fame as a nationalist revolutionary, Aurobindo suddenly retired to an ashram at Pondicherry not because he had abandoned the cause of Indian independence but rather to work out a spiritual philosophy which would give substance to the nation when it won its freedom.

During World War I he published a series of essays explaining his theory about "the psychology of social development. As he saw the situation, man necessarily evolves through three stages. First comes an infra-rational period in which men act principally on the basis of their instincts, impulses and vital intuitions. The society they build is thus primarily the canalisation of responses to these needs and crystallised in a variety of social institutions. During this conventional age society tends to fix and formalise a system of rigid hierarchies. Education becomes bound to a traditional and unchangeable form. Authorities claim to be infallible. In later times, it appears to be a "golden age," because of its order, precise social architecture and admirable subordination of all its parts to a general scheme. Hence the Westerner's longing for the Middle Ages or the Hindu's admiration for the Vedic period.

But behind splendid facades such times were harsh ages with hidden evils. For Aurobindo, the medieval period in Europe and the Vedic age in India were stagnating societies floundering in the iron grip of conventionalism. Revolution was thus inevitable.

Revolt against the infra-rational stage produces an age of reason and individualism. Each man uses his reason to judge, destroy and recreate his institutions. The individual asserts his rights to develop himself and fulfil his life according to his own desire. He admits no limit to his liberty except to respect the same rights for others. Each man and nation has the inherent freedom to manage its own affairs or mismanage them without interference. This age of reason however inevitably results in a tragic conflict between nationalistic or imperialistic egoism and individual or national liberties. Consequently we witness the birth of a new idea of universalism or collectivism. And that is where we are now, states Aurobindo. The Age of Reason is visibly drawing to an end. During World War I he predicted the morning light of a new period in the human cycle. The Age of Protestantism, Revolt, Progress and Freedom is in an inescapable process of breakdown. Nevertheless, two ideas pro- duced by the rationalist period cannot be entirely eliminated. First, the future must preserve the democratic right of all persons to full development of their capabilities. Secondly, the individual is of value in himself. He is not merely a member of a pack, hive or ant hill, i.e., as in Fascism/Communism. Each soul requires freedom, space, and initiative though of course he must learn to accept the collectivity of his fellow-beings.

Aurobindo sees man approaching a third stage of his evolutionary development. We have moved beyond the instinctive to the rational, but must now step higher to the "supermental." Man is at present ready to develop a spiritual, supra-intellectual, intuitive outlook - "a gnostic consciousness." He must exceed himself, divinize his whole being, become a superman.

Only a spiritualised society can bring about the crucial harmony between individual and communal happiness. Using familiar Christian language, Aurobindo calls for "a new kind of theoc- racy, the kingdom of God upon earth, a theocracy which shall be the government of mankind by the Divine in the hearts and minds of men. For such a new age the superman must live in the free light of the intellect, and breathe the fresh air of higher ideals. The age to come requires wide intellectual curiosity, a cultivated aesthetic taste and an enlightened will.

Aurobindo carefully distinguished between what he hoped for and the ordinary Christian hope for the coming kingdom. "The trend of the Jewish nation which gave us the severe ethical religion of the Old Testament crude, conventional and barbarous enough in the Mosaic law, but rising to undeniable heights of moral exaltation when to the Law were added the Prophets, and finally exceeding itself and blossoming into a fine flower of spirituality in Judaic Christianity was dominated by the preoccupation of a terrestrial and ethical righteousness and the promised rewards of right worship and right doing, but innocent of science and philosophy, careless of knowledge, indifferent to beauty. A better symbol for the age of the superman is found in Hindu sacred literature. While in the age of Power, Vishnu descends as king and in the age of Balance, as the legislator or codifier of moral laws, in the final age that of Truth he comes as the Master of works manifest in the hearts of his creatures. Such is the kingdom to come, as we are beginning to see, when we find God not in a distant heaven but within ourselves and our society. Or as Aurobindo's widow put it in 1956, the manifestation of divinity (the Supramental) is no longer a promise, but a verifiable fact. Not only is it at work here, but the day will come when even the most blind and unwilling will be obliged to recognise it.

Ref. 1
Citat: Ford sittningen 1965

Och den nye Mästaren kommer varken att vara kristen, buddist, muslim eller något annat. Den Helige Ande talar i universella termer och Gud kommer inte längre att vara fragmenterad. Gud blir den ende Guden - som sände oss sin Son inte en utan flera gånger.

Ref. 2 Principerna
┼terkomsten av Messias i Korea