“The Absolute Truth is realized in three phases of understanding, namely Brahman, or the impersonal all-pervasive spirit; Paramatma, or the localized aspect of the Supreme within the heart of all living entities; and Bhagavan, or the supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna.” A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's “Bhagavad Gita, As It Is”,The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1983, pg. 62Avatar or Incarnation
The Hindu God Vishnu is traditionally said to have incarnated into nine avatars. The above mentioned Krishna (Krsna) being the most popular and well known. In the case of an Avatar the human receptacle can be seen as an empty shell; having no true sense of individuality apart from the occupying deity. Although we may split hairs on definitions and terminology, for practical purposes – and outside of cultural context - there is little to no difference between a divine Incarnation and an Avatar. They are essentially the same, possibly with the Incarnation being a one-time event.
(Although not all would agree with my position. See for example Incarnation vs. Avatar: 8 Differences and Differences Between Hindu Avatars and The Incarnation of Christ. However, Kulbhushan Singhal's blog Difference Between Avatar and God makes an interested point. “A good number of spiritualists feel that every human is an Avatar, because we have in our body, a part of paramatma (Sanskrit name for God) called Atman“).
With an Incarnation, the individual is God within a human body, and thus omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent (which would imply some sort of state of dual-existence), and omnibenevolent. (These in themselves are assumptions. We presume five criteria for God. We do not know these to be true – although as mentioned earlier, Sophia meets all of them).
kenosis (which creates the problem of a God which cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent), or a necessary involuntary kenosis (which leaves us with a Universe whose existence is dependent upon, or within, an absent deity and a powerful, but not omnipotent God – at best a pantheistic one. (See Thomas Jay Oord's book, The Nature of Love: a Theology or my book review of it)
Theophanies and Angels
I believe - outside of the context of culture - we can establish that there is little difference between Avatars and Incarnations of the divine. But into this confusing mix there are also Theophanies and Angels.
To better understand Angels we must begin by discarding everything that we claim to know yet only truly assume, and start from scratch.
Angel comes from the Greek word angelos
Messenger: n. 1 a person who carries a message. 2 a person employed to carry messages. If an angel is a messenger who carries a message from God, then this would seem to contradict God’s omnipresence. If God is everywhere what need is there for a messenger or a delivery boy? Perhaps God is simply too busy? This would contradict God’s omnipotence. So why or how can angels be justified, because angels are mentioned in the bible?
There are some interesting points we should consider:
The authors of the Old Testament seem to substitute between calling some of these manifestations “angels of the Lord” and the Lord Himself. Many times it seems to be interchangeable. Compare the following verses:
Exodus 13:21 and Exodus 14:19, both refer to the guiding pillar of cloud and fire.
"And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:"Exodus 13:21, KJV
"And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:"Exodus 14:19, KJV
"And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush [was] not consumed." Exodus 3:2 KJV
"And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here [am] I." Exodus 3:4, KJVAlso compare Judges 6:11 & 20 to Judges 6:14 & 23
(...angel of the Lord...)
"And there came anangel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which [was] in Ophrah, that [pertained] unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide [it] from the Midianites.” Judges 6:11, KJV
"And theangel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay [them] upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so.” Judges 6:20 KJV
"Andthe LORD said unto him, Peace [be] unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.” Judges 6:23
"And the LORDlooked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” Judges 6:14 KJV With these sample passages it would seem that 'angels' and God himself would seem to be completely synonymous and totally interchangeable.
Could angels truly not exist, at least in a way that we understand them? Could angels actually be physical unidentified manifestations of God in our world? Could this explain all the above points?
What I believe we have here is the 3rd State of God; the Incarnate State.
However, there is another option as oppose to a divine Incarnation. Exemplars should be contrasted with the Incarnate State simply to establish its difference. A wisdom teacher and an exemplar to such a point where the (non-divine) individual becomes such a coincidental and perfect reflection of God's Agape (love) that, for all intent and purposes, is God.
This is an important distinction because the individual's intelligence and knowledge is still limited to their technological level and culture of their time. They are not omniscient nor affect by kenosis. They can still be scientifically and factually in error. They are still restricted to their intelligence, education and the knowledge of their times.
Where an Avatar or an Incarnation would be “God in human clothing”, this would work just the opposite; “Man in God's clothing”.
This 'reverse-avatar' is purely human and absolutely non-divine.
I don't believe, to my limited knowledge, that there is a proper name or term for this state; the negative of an avatar.
Negavatar? An Exemplar.
This could be said to be 'God incarnate in metaphor'. Personally this is what I believe the heretical rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth was.
Freedom from Illusion
“The true self of a man and the world-soul (paramatman: the universal atman) are one; they are identical... the All-Soul is the very stuff of which the human soul and its consciousness are formed, and there is no real distinction between the former and the latter. We may therefore equate Brahma, the objective All, and Atman, the subjective or particular self, and call the ultimate reality henceforth Brahman-Atman, recognizing thereby that the objective and subjective are one.” John B. Noss' “Man's Religions” Revised Edition, The Macmillan Company 1956, pg. 131
Buddhism becomes an interesting branch-off of Hinduism. There's an attempt to reach a Nirvana-state, similar to the Brahman-Atman state. Whether these two things are interchangeable or not is debatable, but there is a definite similarity.
Although Buddhism doesn't easily tie into the above chart, it does have some interesting qualities. It strives to 'find the truth' or become enlightened within oneself. This echoes of the potential which lies within each and every one of us - this indwelling spirit, this Atman, this paramatma, this Divine Spark. Although the potential to get tied up in nomenclature is great, the fact is difficult to miss.
Another aspect of Buddhism is to see beyond the illusions presented in our world, or - as I would personally see it - to overcome and find personal escape from the illusion of the Edenic Birdcage. And this is done by tapping into something innate within ourselves. This same Atman, paramatma, Divine Spark, this indwelling spirit, this Divine seed of potential - call it what you wish. There is no separation between the ultimate reality or the Divine and us; only the illusion of separation.
And isn't that a message Yeshua of Nazareth taught? That the divide between Sacred and Secular was a lie? Isn't that the entire concept, whether literally or metaphorically, of God becoming Man?
This is not meant as a theology. This is simply where I find myself today.
It is a truth the resonates most strongly for me.