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Monday, August 10, 2009

The avatāra is always here

I had another interesting exchange with Dr. Satya Nārāyan Dās, this time about the concept of avatāra (a good introduction to Janmāṣṭami) -

9 august 2009
Prabhuji Rādhe Rādhe
"About the word avatāra Śrī Haridās Śāstriji says that when it is said that 'Kṛṣṇa descended from so far away', it is just to encourage the bhaktas. Does that refer to the supposed distances He crossed from the spiritual sky or to the fact that Kṛṣṇa is just here all the time anyway, but not manifest to us because of the working of Yogamaya (yogamāyā samāvṛta, B Gītā 7.25)? I think of Bhagavad Gītā 4.6-8, where it is nowhere said that He comes down, but that He appears instead. sambhavāmyātma māyayā (I appear through My own māyā) and tad ātmānāṁ sṛjāmyaham ("I create Myself through Myself"). I also notice in the Sanskrit dictionary that 2 out of 3 meanings of the word avatāra are actually 'appearance' and not 'descent'. Should we see Kṛṣṇa's avatāra as a manifestation of Him who is already here in this world, or does He really come down like a rocket capsule descending from the sky?"

Dr. Satya Nārāyan Dās :
10 august 2009
Prabhuji please read verse no 3-2-6 of SB beginning with śanakaih. This should answer your question. If it is still not clear I will answer.

(I quote and translate the verse for the readers' comfort:)

śanakair bhagavallokān nṛ-lokaṁ punar āgataḥ
vimṛjya netre viduraṁ pratyāhoddhava utsmayan

"Gradually Uddhava returned from the loka (world) of Bhagavān to the world of the humans. Wiping his eyes, he replied to Vidura in wonder."

Yes Prabhu it is an amazing śloka, 3.2.6, but there are varying ṭīkās to it. Jīva Goswāmī does seem to think in terms of location, not of consciousness, in his ṭīkābhagavallokāt nitya līlā-maya-dvārakākhyāt. nṛ-lokaṁ bahir dṛśyamānaṁ vidurādi-mayaṁ manuṣya-lokaṁ āgataḥ anusadadhānaḥ ("From the bhagaval-loka means from Dwārkā, which is filled with eternal pastimes. The human world means the externally visible. He came to the human world filled with Vidura and others")

Viśvanātha Cakravartīpāda seems to give 2 options, location and consciousness -
tatasca bhagavallokāt sva-premodrekeṇa prāpitān nitya-līlā-maya dvārakākhyāṁ nṛ-lokaṁ vidura premṇā ākṛṣyamāṇaḥ svannāgataḥ punar iti.
("Then he came from the loka of Bhagavan, which he had achieved through his own abundant prema. After attaining this Dwārkā, which is filled with eternal pastimes, he returned to the human world, attracted by the prema of Vidura...") dvitīya mūrcchā-bhaṅge satītyarthaḥ. ("The second meaning is that his swoon broke")

Śrīdhar Swāmī does seem to speak of consciousness: bhagavān eva lokas tasmān nṛ-lokaṁ dehānusandhānaṁ pratyāgata... ("He returned from Bhagavān's loka to the human world with its bodily consciousness") So how to understand it? The ācāryas seem to give different explanations.

Dr. Satya Nārāyan Dās :
I will give you the clue. Consciousness manifested everything.

Advaita Dās -
Yes, I understood that now from the context - Śrīmad Bhāgavat 3.2.4-5 do refer to Uddhava being in a state of consciousness, not in a Dwarka location. ("Completely immersed in the nectar flowing from the lotus-feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and transported with joy through intense devotion, he remained mute for nearly an hour. The hair stood erect all over his body and tears burst from his closed eyes. Seeing him overpowered with a flood of affection, Vidura came to know that he had realized the object of his life".)

My next question is - if Kṛṣṇa manifests Himself here, as in Bhagavad Gītā 4.6-8, where does He come from? Is He always here and now He just pops up from out of the veil of Yogamāyā?

Dr. Satya Nārāyan Dās :
He is always here.


  1. Thank you for such a wonderful conversation!!!! I will repost if that is okay with you.
    Radhe Radhe!

  2. In order to understand that SB 3.2.6 refers to levels of consciousness and not to interstellar space-travel, it is very important that the two words loka in the sloka and its commentaries are translated as 'world' and not as 'planet'.

  3. The loka in the sloka? You're verging on Monty Python, be careful there.

    Two words? Loka is one, what's the other?

  4. LOL Satya! I havent seen Monty in 32 years or so, cant remember that, but the rhyme is accidental (when I wrote this comment I did notice that it rhymed BTW).

    The two lokas in the sloka are bhagaval-lokAt ('from Bhagavan's loka') and nR-lokam ('to the peoples' loka').

    The point I wanted to make that when Krishna appears, it is not as if He thumps down from some high altitude, like when He jumped off the Raivataka mountain with Douji or so. He is actually here. The verse is a real discovery, because as long as 20 years ago some friends were telling me that loka is not some far-off planet but a state of consciousness. That is why the statement of Haridas Shastriji about descending from far up struck me as the key to the mystery.

  5. Sorry, my reference was wrong. It's The Court Jester with Danny Kaye. "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true." And then, "The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon, the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!" Surely we can come up with something comparable . . . The loka in the sloka ______

    You said, "Is He always here and now He just pops up from out of the veil of Yogamaya?" It is us who are behind the veil. Krsna's always there. Yes, it's the consciousness.

    Happy Janmastami tomorrow! Jaya Radhe Shyama!

  6. Wonderful post, thank you!

    Visvanath makes a similar point in his tika on Bhag. 10.1.28 :

    nityaṁ sannihita ityanena svayaṁ bhagavān paripūrṇaḥ kṛṣṇastatra svadāmani sadā vartamān evāvibhūrya prapañca gocarī bhavati natu kutaścidvaikuṇṭhādibhya āgatyāvataratīti vyañjītam

    Nityam sannihito: All perfect Krishna is eternally present in his spiritual form in Mathura in the material world. It is there that Krishna appears and becomes visible to the people of the world. Krishna does not descend from Vaikuntha.
    (Bhanu Swami's translation)

  7. Noteworthy and amazing indeed, Madhavanandaji. Indeed, Jiva Goswami always says that the use of the present tense in regards to Krishna lila in the Bhagavat is the proof of its eternality. This verse is one example. I overlooked this tika of Visvanath so far, thanks for quoting it. There is no end to the wonder and the secrets of the Bhagavat.