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Vaishnava Philosophy
He whom descends

Avatar means "descending, coming down." Just as one may come down from the fifth story or the one-hundredth story of a building, an avatar comes down from the spiritual planets in the spiritual sky. The sky we see with our naked eyes or with a telescope is only the material sky. But beyond this there is another sky, which is not possible to see with our eyes or instruments. That information is in the Bhagavad-gita; it is not imagination. Krishna says that beyond the material sky is another sky, the spiritual sky.

paras tasmat tu bhavo 'nyo
'vyakto 'vyaktat sanatanah
yah sa sarvesu bhutesu
nasyatsu na vinasyati

avyakto 'ksara ity uktas
tam ahuh paramam gatim
yam prapya na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama

"Yet there is another unmanifest nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is. That which the Vedantists describe as unmanifest and infallible, that which is known as the supreme destination, that place from which, having attained it, one never returns -- that is My supreme abode."
(Bhagavad-gita 8.20-21)

We have to take Krishna's word as it is. For example, we teach small children that beyond England there are other places, called Germany, India, etc., and the child has to learn about these places from the version of the teacher because they are beyond his sphere. Similarly, beyond this material sky there is another sky. One cannot experiment to find it, any more than a small child can experiment to find Germany or India. That is not possible. If we want to get knowledge, then we have to accept authority. Similarly, if we want to know what is beyond the material world then we have to accept the Vedic authority, otherwise there is no possibility of knowing. It is beyond material knowledge. One cannot go to the far planets in this universe, what to speak of going beyond this universe. The estimation is that in order to go to the highest planet of this universe with modern machinery one would have to travel for forty thousand light-years. So we cannot even travel within this material sky. Our lifetime and means are so limited that we cannot have proper knowledge of even this material world.

In the Bhagavad-gita, when Arjuna asked Krishna, "Will you kindly explain the extent to which Your energies are working?" the Supreme Lord gave him so many instances, and at the end He finally said, "My dear Arjuna, what shall I explain about My energies? It is not actually possible for you to understand. But you can just imagine the expansion of My energies: this material world, which consists of millions of universes, is a display of only one fourth of My creation." We cannot estimate the position of even one universe, and there are millions of universes. Then beyond that is the spiritual sky, and there are millions of spiritual planets. All this information is available from the Vedic literature. If one accepts Vedic literature, then he can get this knowledge. If one doesn't accept it, there is no other means. That is our choice. Therefore, according to Vedic civilization, whenever an acarya speaks he immediately gives references from the Vedic literature. Then others will accept it: "Yes, it is correct." In a law court the lawyer gives references from past judgments of the court, and if his case is tight, the judge accepts. Similarly, if one can give evidence from the Vedas, then it is understood that his position is factual.

Avatars are described in Vedic literature. We cannot accept anyone as an avatar unless he has the symptoms described in the scriptures. We do not whimsically accept avatars on the basis of votes. Nowadays it has become a fashion that any man can come and say that he is God or an incarnation of God, and some fools and rascals will accept it: "Oh, he is God." We do not accept an avatar like that. We take evidence from the Vedas. An avatar must conform to descriptions in the Vedas. Then we accept him; otherwise no. For each avatar there is a description in the Vedas: He will appear at such and such a place, in such and such a form, and He will act like this. That is the nature of Vedic evidence.

For example, Lord Buddha is mentioned in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.3.24) -- written 2500 years before his appearance:

tatah kalau sampravrtte
sammohaya sura-dvisam
buddho namnanjana-sutah
kikatesu bhavisyati

"Then, in the beginning of Kali-yuga, the Lord will appear as Lord Buddha, the son of Anjana, in the province of Gaya, just for the purpose of deluding those who are envious of the faithful theist."

In this way all the incarnations of the Lord are mentioned in the revealed scriptures. There is no scope for an imposter to become an incarnation, for an incarnation must be mentioned in the sastras. An incarnation does not declare Himself to be an incarnation of the Lord, but great sages agree by the symptoms mentioned in the revealed scriptures. The features of the incarnation and the particular type of mission which He has to execute are mentioned in the revealed scriptures.

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