Dasa Avatars

B. Shankar ShankarPll at AOL.COM
Mon May 5 11:00:45 CDT 2003


With respects to Sri Jaldhar Vyas’s comments April 25th :

>Perhaps it is not based on logic :-)

In my humble opinion, this is the crux of the matter. My instinct tells me
that it is based on logical symbolism – and this should work at multiple
levels – pertaining, for example, to the Cosmic circle – from creation to
eschatological motifs, to the essence of Karma, to Kundalini yogic states,
to the very nature of the Vyavaharika universe.

>Well the Puranic story is that He was out to confuse the Daityas and
>the heretical teachings only 'accidently' leaked out to Humanity. Of
>course this raises as many questions as it answers.

>I think the basic problem is that people assume that philosophy flows
>'top-down' when in fact ideas bubble up from popular culture and only then
>are systemized by philosophers. They continue to exist at multiple
>levels. In this way it is not inconsistent to say Shakyamuni is highly
>venerable yet in many cases quite wrong!

>For a contemporary example look at how most people treat sannyasis. If it
>is just a question of saying 'jaya-jaya' and draping garlands on them does
>it matter if they wear a tripundra or urdhvapundra or have one danda or
>three or none? But if one were chosing a Guru one would be more careful.

>This is the tack taken with ostensibly 'Hindu' heretics too. In the
>Brahmasutras one of the questions is shouldn't the 'Kapilasmrti'
>(Samkhya/Yoga) be treated as authoritative as they are also of hoary
>antiquity and the product of a highly respected Rshi. Yet the siddhanta
>according to Shankaracharya is that they should not because however
>respectable their origins, they are contrary to the teachings of the Vedas
>(i.e. Advaita Vedanta.)

>If you look at the list I posted from the Bhagavata (and that isn't an
>exhaustive list) actually multiple concurrent avatars are common. Is it
>logical? Are four arms logical? Are 1000 heads logical? why not two
>bodies? (or four in the case of Sanatkumars?)
>Why does it need to be consistent?

As I mentioned before, I think there are deep metaphorical underpinnings to
the Puranas. These have perhaps become clouded over the millennia, but the
underlying truths may be derivable by deconstructing these metaphors
systematically. This should work at multiple levels – at the philosophical,
psychological, neurological and other levels. Thus, for example, if one
considers the Matsya Avatar:

>From the viewpoint of  “closed” Universe models, for example, the isotropic
expansion of a primal singularity leads to a  “cosmic ocean” of microwave
radiation. The ocean itself has other symbolic meanings – being a reflector
of “reality”. The fish has numerous symbolic meanings – from the embryo to
Kundalini shakti. Each “event” in the Matsya Purana can thus be reduced to
logical symbolism.

Now the argument that may be posed by a critic, usually of a “scientific”
disposition, is that such laboriously super-imposed constructions are
groundless.  I don’t accept this on a number of grounds:

(1) In order to systematise a philosophy around a focal message, in this
case Puranic lore, there has to be some inherent, underlying truth – at
whatever level. (Note I don’t mean Advaitic truth but “truth” at an
experiential level). If one accepts this then one can apply this logic to
the core Avatar framework.
(2) I cannot accept that the ancient sages who conceived of these stories
did not do so haphazardly – in my opinion it was a product of some
considerable internal meditation, in part to explore the nature of the
Vyavaharika universe. That is to say, it seems to me that an inherently
logical system is extant in the source message and that this was derived
intuitively and it is from this that the “top-down” process infuses the
development of a methodology.
(3) An underlying truth to a core message must have consistency to other
systems in the class of messages as well as within itself. In the case of
many Puranic stories they work at multifarious levels. But the message of
each Avatar must be consistent within itself and within the class of
Avatars. For example, in Jyotisya the second house reflects wealth,
Bhojana, speech and so forth. It is through the Second Avatar that Amrita
is churned and Lakshmi Devi arrives. The sixth reflects enemies and the
sixth Avatar Sri Parasurama destroys the Kshatriya enemies of mother earth.
The seventh reflects wife and marriage –Sri Rama is the seventh Avatar and
with Sita Devi make the divine couple and so on. Sri Krishna as the ninth
Avatar is entirely consistent – the ninth reflects the Father, Guru,
Bhakti, religion. If one likens the Puranas to a multi-dimensional jigsaw
puzzle that ultimately fits together in the way suggested above, then there
should also be links between the specific Avatars – e.g 1st, 5th and 9th
and so forth.
(4) The basis of perception is rooted in symbolism that, in my opinion, was
understood at a deep intuitive level by our Rishi’s. Its import is not even
now fully understood in psychology or neurology. To quote Professor V.S.
Ramachandran from the recent Reith lectures:

“One common fallacy is to assume there is an image inside your eyeball, the
optical image, exciting photoreceptors on your retina and then that image
is transmitted faithfully along a cable called the optic nerve and
displayed on a screen called the visual cortex
 to understand perception is
to get rid of the idea of images in the brain and think instead of
transforms or symbolic representations of objects and events in the
external world. Just as little squiggles of ink, print or writing, or dots
and dashes in the Morse code can symbolize or represent something

similarly the action of nerve cells in your brain, the patterns of firing,
represent objects and events in the external world even though they don't
in any way resemble what's out there in the world.” Ramachandran – Synapses
and the Self.

Four arms are not logical on its own– one needs to explore the metaphor
within the framework of the message – for example, what the four arms hold,
other descriptive features and contextual clues. The manifestation of this
in Vastu Shilpa demonstrates the precision involved  - the mudras involved,
for example, are precise because the symbolic rationale is precise. It is
the same in the construction of a temple – from the space that is chosen
for the construction, to the timing and nature of the consecration
(Prathista), to the timing and nature of ongoing ceremonial worship  - all
are based on logical symbolism.
(This is tangential but, theoretically one would have thought that genetic
manipulation of the parietal lobes could lead to circumstances where
individuals believed (and experienced) that they had four arms – a sort of
reverse Anasognosia. For me, the philosophical repercussions of such
hypothetical experimentation and other experiments on the substance of
proprioception brings clarity to the ironies of modern science itself –
since a case could be made to state that the output from all systematic
observation and experimentation with phenomena is relevant only to a
specific state of neurological equilibrium).

>I've not read the whole thing but from the parts of the original -- or
>rather uncondensed -- Mahabharata, it is a bit more sympathetic to the
>Kauravas then the versions we normally read. Perhaps Bhagavan did
>partially agree with the Kaurava cause. That's why Kurukshetra was a

As far as I am concerned, The Mahabharata is unbelievably complex. A
fatuous comment, I know, but what I mean is that it is far too
sophisticated to be deconstructed to the level of a Good versus Evil debate–
these terms are in any case subjective and indefinable:
Duryodhana is not the classic “villain archetype” – in fact Sage Vyasa
states that he was a good king to his subjects and, after all his deeds on
earth, he ends up in Swarga. It is therefore not surprising that Bhagwan
had great sympathy for the Kaurava case. For me the detail with which the
Mahabharata is constructed is evidence of the mind of an author of
unimaginably great intellect.

I have no doubt that all the issues with Sri Balarama as an Avatar are
explainable and my personal inability to rationalise why He is the eight
Avatar I attribute to a lack foresight or intelligence (or both) on my
part. As far as the Buddha is concerned, however, though I can attribute
greatness to him – my personal logic, however limited and limiting, denies
the attribution of Avatar-ship.



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