News Americas, BRONX, NY, Mon. Nov. 9, 2015: Why is it that Hindus are so quick to deify and worship humans as God? The concept of avatarhood (God manifested) has been so abused and exploited as to become meaningless, as individual after individual are transformed into avatars after their death, some of them even while they are alive.
Yet it does not take anything more than common sense for one to realize that man is not and can never be God. Nor does it take anything more than common sense to realize that should God ever become physically manifested as man, then the impact of that manifestation would be immediately global and the manifestation would never exhibit any of the frailties of man, for God, manifested or not, is always perfect. Besides there are differences of views as to the amount and types of avatars such as, for example:
- 10 avatars of Vishnu, although some argue that he has innumerable avatars;
- Avatars of Ganesh, Shiva, Brahma, Shakti and so on;
- 25 (the number varies from commentator to commentator) avatars in the Puranas;
- Primary, secondary, direct and indirect avatars;
- Purusha (described as original avatars of Vishnu), Manvantara (avatars responsible for progeny) and so on;
- Avatars as mythical creatures such as Narasimha (half man, half beast) or animals such as Varaha, the boar;
This is why many are now questioning the propagation of Ram and Krishna as avatars of God, given the many ‘imperfections’ that characterized their lives. Even some of the actions and their ‘lessons’ leave one aghast – for example, that war, with its accompanying death, destruction, and subsequent aftermath is indeed a solution to any problem.
Interestingly, I recall a conversation a couple of years ago with an erudite, well spoken and witty gentleman who spent his life in Guyana, as a mandir administrator, emcee of yagnas and other religious occasions and a staunch propagator of avatarhood, especially of Rama and Krishna. Imagine my consternation therefore, when this esteemed individual emphatically opined that Ramayana and Gita are stories and Ram and Krishna allegorical characters.
Of course I was also delighted that he concurred with my long held perspective and one that is slowly gaining currency globally. He pointed out to me that he could not dispense these views while he was part and parcel of the Hindu tradition and practice in Guyana and a person whose words were seen as representing valid Hindu perspectives. Now one has to wonder how many more like him there may be out there.
In any case, the argument that man cannot understand God’s actions defeats the very purpose of avatars, since avatars are supposed to teach by examples, as they assert Dharma (righteousness) over Adharma (unrighteousness), and if those examples are not understood, then no teaching takes place. In effect the concept of avatarhood is indeed symbolic and metaphorical rather than physical and literal, and God’s avatar takes place in the heart of every human, waiting to be called upon to help battle the demonic forces, through any one of the yogas or pathways to God.
That avatarhood is symbolic and metaphorical is supported by the concept that man is connected to God through the atma/Paratma dynamic. In effect man’s essential nature is divine and the purpose of man’s incarnation or birth, is to realize that divinity in order to be able to merge with the atmic source, God expressed as Paratma. Consequently, any attribute, displayed by any individual, that seems divine, is not an indication that the person is God, but rather than that person’s journey towards realization of his/her divine essence is advancing.
Thus, it would seem that such individuals become Mahatmas or great souls as Mohandas K Gandhi has so endearingly been titled. Of course, such persons can also acquire other titles, especially if they chose the path of spiritual teacher and propagator of metaphysics or the philosophy, which underpins religion. In effect while man is essentially divine, man is not divinity – a significant difference. That is why man accumulates karma but God does not.
It should also be noted that far too many Hindus still do not open themselves to differentiate between myths and metaphysics as well as between created narratives and history and thus the allegorical nature of the avatars of creative narratives become transformed into literal natures.
The fact is that since religion has a highly emotive hold on the vast majority of its adherents, religionists easily and quickly take offense and become temperamental, when their long and deeply held beliefs are questioned, or worse yet, pointed out to be without basis, logics, evidence or reason. And, as mentioned earlier, the outworn defense is once again trotted out: man is not able to understand God.
But then one only has to read the scriptures of the various religions to realize just how different the conception of God is in each religion. This begs the question, is there really one God? And if there is, which religion has correctly conceptualized God? Furthermore is this God really served by a phalanx of lesser gods and spirit beings?
Of course also, there are the myriad ‘rules’ of custom and practice that vary from religion to religion and often, even contradict themselves within religions as well as from religion to religion. For example the Bramha Purana states that God created one man and one woman. So where did the various castes come from? And who was the progenitor of all mankind: Adam and Eve or Manu and Satrupa?
Hinduism argues that there is indeed one God but many pathways to achieving God consciousness. But then comes the confusion – references to demi gods, lesser gods, pseudo gods, quasi gods and an entire range of gods all of which exhibit attributes and qualities that are anything but divine.
Yet, by its very connotation, God is perfect, which means God does not take revenge, display unfairness or bias, take sides, have favorites or special sets of people, rain thunder and lightning on anyone, send down death and destruction, engage in acts such as killing and violence, become temperamental and judgmental or exhibit any of the range of human frailties. On the contrary God would epitomize supreme mercy, forgiveness, love, caring concern, consideration, compassion, honesty, truthfulness…
Finally, the concept of prostrating to feet of a fellow human being is an outmoded one that relates to a time when social stratification was the order of the day and it was the pervasive custom for those lower down the social ladder to indicate their lowly status via prostration to those at the upper echelons. In effect, such prostration was an indication of subservience and reflected ‘inferior’ status.
Thus, the argument that this was/is a mark of respect holds very little water especially given that many of those prostrated to seem to expect prostration as a right and those who prostrated did so because they had no other choice.
The reality is that in Hinduism the gesture of respect is clasping the hands, slightly bowing and perhaps verbalizing an appropriate greeting. This manner of showing respect may encompass embracing to express love and affection, if such is desired or appropriate in any given context.
In effect, man’s prostration should only be to the feet of God, not his fellow man. For as Mahatma Gandhi pointed out, God is the only guru because only God is perfect!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Annan Boodram is founder of The Caribbean Voice and is ardently putting the spotlight on suicide in Guyana. For more join the conversationatwww.facebook.com/groups/suicideepidemic/ or CHECK out the group’s YouTube page.