Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Avataras of Vishnu

Vishnu, Hindu god, declares in the Bhagavad Gita that whenever dharma declines and the purpose of life is forgotten or set aside, he will manifest on earth. Vishnu declares he is born in every age, a human birth with human parents; his mission is to protect the good, to counteract evil and re-activate dharma for those fallen asleep in the world.

With this statement, Hinduism declares itself to be a salvific faith, a messiah not entirely unlike the Judeo-Christian belief. Vishnu carries out his intercessions innumerable times though not always in human form, of incarnations or avataras. Vishnu is thought to take on a disguise at times to bring dharma where it is most needed.The earliest avataras are most associated with the primeval ocean, water long seen as a symbol of life. Avataras also represent primordial chaos whose arising in Hindu philosophy is thought to be a prerequisite to the development of an orderly cosmos derived from earlier chaos.

The pantheon of avataras in modern Hinduism are: Matsya, the fish; Kurma, the tortoise; Varaha, the boar; Narasinha, the lion; Vamana-Trivikrama, the dwarf-colossus; Parasurama, Rama with the axe; Rama, the most famous of avatars, demon king-killer; Krishna, the most important of Vishnu incarnations, despot eliminator; Buddha, rids the earth of evil doctrines without exception; Kalkin, the final avataras, futuristic, will usher in a new age when manifest.

The Hindu sects of Vishnu follow a doctrine of a supreme being, a Brahman; his avatara is Rama who represents the epitome of manhood and human aspiration. In his female aspect, Vishnu is referred to as Shakti, who represents the goddess Lakshmi. As previously mentioned here, there are two distinct views of Vishnu delineated by geography.

Another important movement of believers are the Bhakti, the devoted ones. These persons see Vishnu with uncompromising devotion, a mystical, total union which may be attained by contact with the mortal intermediary of his avatara, Krishna. Typical devotions include sung or chanted expressions of adoration. The movement has strong links with Buddhism, primarily Tantric sects such as Sahajayana whose founder was Krishnacarya. Author Patrick Bresnan writes of this and more in his book, Awakening, the History of Eastern Thought.

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