Last week a reader asked me to write something about avatars. Given that D’Arcy and I are today visiting an avatar, Mata Amritanandamayi, given the white spaces that often arise while one is waiting for Ammachi’s “darshan” (a moment to speak and get a hug from her), and given that we’ve been here so many times that we’re no longer purchasing books and DVDs, I have the time to answer that question.
Ammachi is beginning her North American tour which will see her visit Seattle, San Ramon, Los Angeles, Albequerque, Dallas, Chicago, Washington, Boston and Toronto between today (the first day of her tour) and July 22. In that time she’ll hug tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people sitting maybe sixteen hours a day, eight hours at a time, without getting up once for a pee break or anything to eat. (For tour details see http://amma.org.)
Amma’s humanitarian projects include housing for thousands of victims of tsunamis and earthquakes, pensions for widows, scholarships for the children of farmers who have suicided (bankrupted by GMO seeds), hospitals for the poor, on and on the list goes.
The significant distinction between avatars and others is that avatars descend from the Divine into physical life whereas all of us are ascending to God from physical life. If the purpose of life is that we ascend through countless dimensions of existence until we return in full consciousness to God, an avatar descends from God to revive religion in every age, to reward the virtuous and restrain the vicious, and to model the dharmic or spiritual life.
At this time there are two avatars alive that I know of. Mata Amritanandamayi or Ammachi of Kerala is one and I believe Mother Meera in Germany is another.
An avatar is not easily known, except if they choose to declare themselves. Those who have the spiritual depth to recognize one without even the shadow of a doubt are few. One day young Hari, a devotee of the Nineteenth-Century avatar Sri Ramakrishna, was treating him as he lay dying of cancer, when this exchange occurred between them:
“The more Sri Ramakrishna complained, the clearer it was to Hari that his teacher was teasing him. Finally, Hari could control himself no longer and burst out: ‘Sir, whatever you may say, I see you as an infinite ocean of bliss.’
“At this, Sri Ramakrishna said to himself with a smile: ‘This rascal has found me out!'” (1)
Most of the rest of us, swayed by vasanas, lost in our daily concerns, cannot generate the depth of love that would respond to the avatar profoundly enough to convince us without doubt, as Hari was, that the beloved is in fact an Incarnation of God.
One day I asked AAM if I was correct in seeing the avatar as a Babushka doll and he verified that the metaphor does serve. The final nested doll in an avatar is the formless Brahman (God) in a far more active way than it could be said to be nested within us. The next nested doll is the Divine Mother, who bestows on the avatar a form and various capabilities within materiality. The avatar consents to be bound by the Mother’s laws while in Incarnation.
Other nested influences may be higher-dimensional spirits. Sananda, for instance, overlit Jesus and permits him to call himself “Jesus Sananda” as a reflection of their collaboration. Finally the last nested container is the human vessel that has been purified and prepared to serve as the vehicle for such exalted and potent forces.
Sri Ramakrishna referred to this nesting on occasion. Here he reflects on it after having broken his arm.
“There are two persons in this. One, the Divine Mother – … Yes, one is She. And the other is Her devotee. It is the devotee who broke his arm, and it is the devotee who is now ill. Do you understand? “ (2)
Each sickness or accident has a purpose in the avatar’s life. This one caused the weak in faith to leave Sri Ramakrishna, allowing him more time with his inner circle of staunch devotees.
Avatars are born in every age, throughout the universes. Sri Ramakrishna revealed that:
“Divine incarnations without number appear and disappear on the tree of the Absolute Brahman [God].” (3)
They are characterized by their ability to bring the dead back to life, forgive karma, and enlighten.
Besides Ammachi and Mother Meera, some of the best known avatars on Earth have been Jesus, Buddha, Rama, Krishna, Ramakrishna, and Babaji Mahavtar.
Sanat Kumar has come to Earth many times as Dipamkara Buddha, Skandha, Subramanya, etc. He’s been worshipped as a god by the Persians as Ahura Mazda and by the Hebrews as the Ancient of Days. If and when Sanat descends to Earth, I would imagine it is as an avatar.
So here we are in Seattle awaiting our turn for a hug from Amma, as we’ve done every year since 1991. By doing so we’re securing what Hindus refer to as darshan, sparshan, and sambhasan. This means the sight, touch, and speech of the avatar and is considered a great blessing. Amma takes away a significant portion of one’s negative karma thereby. A doctor once examined her and found her blood so toxic, it would have killed a normal person.
The first time we saw Amma in Vancouver there were twelve people in the room for darshan. We were advised that we could go up and receive her darshan as often as we wished. Today I’d estimate there are perhaps 5,000 in the Hyatt Regency. In India there might be many, many thousands of people there to receive her darshan.
We’ve just been handed a note asking people who received her darshan in Japan, Australia, or India not to go up today and I’m pretty sure everyone who is staying for the three-day retreat has also been asked not to go up today. No one would believe me if I told them what it was like in 1991.
In the past we’ve visited her in India as well as Albuquerque, Fort Flagler, etc. Always she remembers us, just as she remembers everyone else who comes to her. If you sit behind Amma and watch people approach her, everyone lights up with a great smile immediately before hugging Amma and it’s quite clear that Amma has remembered them and indicated it.
As I say this, I notice that the way things are positioned today doesn’t make it as easy to sit beside her as it has been and also that she answers many more questions than she used to while hugging devotees so she spends less time greeting them. Perhaps what I say was provable more easily some time ago than now, given the increasing numbers of people who come to see her.
If I were to tell you some of the miracles that have happened to us and others around Amma, I’d double the length of this article.
It is yogamaya that causes humans to flock to an avatar, the divine attractive power that only God has. Said Sri Ramakrishna:
“From far-off villages people used to come [to see him] and remain during the night also. It was there [at Shyambazar] I understood what divine attraction was like. In the Lord’s play on earth as an Incarnation the attraction is due to the influence of Yogamaya, the Lord’s inscrutable Power, which throws a charm over the hearts of all.” (4)
After receiving her darshan, we’ll return by way of Edmonds where we’ll see 2012S editors BZ, Dave and Paul.
(1) Swami Ritajananda in Ritajananda, Swami, Swami Turiyananda. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1973, 23.
(2) Paramahansa Ramakrishna in Swami Nikhilananda, trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1978; c1942, 943.v [Hereafter GSR.]
(3) Paramahansa Ramakrishna in GSR, 128.
(4) Paramahansa Ramakrishna in Anon., Life of Sri Ramakrishna. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1977; c1924, 223.