CHAPTER EIGHT: The Avatāras

Lord Caitanya continued explaining to Sanātana Gosvāmī about Lord Kṛṣṇa’s avatāras, or incarnations, which are His expansions who come to the material creation. The word avatāra means “one who descends from the spiritual sky.” In the spiritual sky there are innumerable Vaikuṇṭha planets, and from these planets the expansions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead come into this universe.

The first descent of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, from the expansion of Saṅkarṣaṇa, is the first puruṣa incarnation. It is stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.3.1) that when the Supreme Personality of Godhead descends as the first puruṣa incarnation of the material creation, He immediately manifests sixteen elementary energies. Known as Mahā-viṣṇu, He lies within the Causal Ocean, and it is He who is the original incarnation in the material world. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 2.6.42 states that He is the Lord of time, nature, cause and effect, mind, ego, the five physical elements, the three modes of nature, the senses and the universal form. He is the independent master of all moving and nonmoving living beings in the material world.

The influence of material nature cannot reach beyond the Virajā, or Causal Ocean, as confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.9.10). Neither the modes of material nature (goodness, passion and ignorance) nor material time have any influence on the Vaikuṇṭha planets. On those planets the liberated associates of Kṛṣṇa live eternally, and they are worshiped by both the demigods and the demons.

Material nature acts in two capacities, as māyā and pradhāna. Māyā is the direct cause, and pradhāna refers to the elements of the material manifestation. When the first puruṣa-avatāra, Mahā-viṣṇu, glances over material nature, material nature becomes agitated, and the puruṣa-avatāra thus impregnates matter with the living entities. Simply by the glance of Mahā-viṣṇu, consciousness is created, and this consciousness is known as the mahat-tattva. The predominating Deity of the mahat-tattva is Vāsudeva. This created consciousness is then divided into three departmental activities according to the three guṇas, or modes of material nature. Consciousness in the mode of goodness is described in the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The predominating Deity of this mode is Aniruddha. Consciousness in the mode of passion produces intelligence, and the predominating Deity in this case is Pradyumna. He is the master of the senses. Consciousness in the mode of ignorance causes the production of ether (the sky) and the ear. The cosmic manifestation is a combination of all these modes, and in this way innumerable universes are created. No one can count the number of universes.

These innumerable universes are produced from the pores of Mahā-viṣṇu’s body. As innumerable atoms pass through the tiny holes in a screen, innumerable universes similarly emanate from the pores of Mahā-viṣṇu’s body. As He breathes out, innumerable universes are produced, and as He inhales, they are annihilated. All of the energies of Mahā-viṣṇu are spiritual: they have nothing to do with the material energy. In the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.48) it is stated that the predominating deity of each universe, Brahmā, lives only during one breath of Mahā-viṣṇu. Thus Mahā-viṣṇu is the original Supersoul of all the universes and the master of all universes as well.

The second Viṣṇu incarnation, Garbhodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, enters each and every universe, spreads perspiration from His body and lies down on that water. From His navel grows the stem of a lotus flower, and on that lotus flower the first creature, Brahmā, is born. Within the stem of that lotus flower are the fourteen divisions of planetary systems, which are created by Brahmā. In the form of Garbhodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, the Lord maintains each universe and tends to its needs. Although He is within each material universe, the influence of the material energy cannot touch Him. When it is required, this very same Viṣṇu takes the form of Lord Śiva and annihilates the cosmic creation. The three secondary incarnations – Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva – are the predominating deities of the three modes of material nature. The master of the universe, however, is Garbhodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, who is worshiped as the Hiraṇyagarbha Supersoul. The Vedic hymns describe Him as having thousands of heads.

The third incarnation of Viṣṇu, Kṣīrodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, is the incarnation of the mode of goodness. He is also the Supersoul of all living entities, and He resides on the ocean of milk within the universe. Thus Caitanya Mahāprabhu described the puruṣa-avatāras.

Lord Caitanya next described the līlā-avatāras, or pastime incarnations, and of these the Lord pointed out that there is no limit. Still, He described some of them – for example, Matsya, Kūrma, Raghunātha, Nṛsiṁha, Vāmana and Varāha.

As far as the guṇa-avatāras, or qualitative incarnations of Viṣṇu, are concerned, they are three – Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. Brahmā is one of the living entities, but due to his devotional service he is very powerful. This primal living entity, master of the mode of material passion, is directly empowered by Garbhodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu to create innumerable living organisms. In the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.49) Brahmā is likened to a valuable jewel influenced by the rays of the sun, and the Supreme Lord, Garbhodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, is likened to the sun. If in some kalpa there is no suitable living entity who can act in Brahmā’s capacity, Garbhodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu Himself becomes Brahmā and acts accordingly.

Similarly, by expanding Himself as Lord Śiva, the Supreme Lord is engaged when there is a need to annihilate the universe. Lord Śiva, in association with māyā, has many forms, which are generally numbered at eleven. Lord Śiva is not one of the living entities; he is more or less Kṛṣṇa Himself. The example of milk and yogurt is often given in this regard: Yogurt is a preparation of milk, but still yogurt cannot be used as milk. Similarly, Lord Śiva is an expansion of Kṛṣṇa, but he cannot act like Kṛṣṇa, nor can we derive the spiritual restoration from Lord Śiva that we derive from Kṛṣṇa. The essential difference is that Lord Śiva has a connection with material nature but Viṣṇu, or Lord Kṛṣṇa, has nothing to do with material nature. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.88.3) it is stated that Lord Śiva is a combination of three kinds of transformed consciousness known as vaikārika, taijasa and tāmasa.

The Viṣṇu incarnation, although master of the modes of goodness within each universe, is in no way in touch with the influence of material nature. Although Viṣṇu is equal to Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa is the original source. Viṣṇu is a part, but Kṛṣṇa is the whole. This is the verdict of the Vedic literature. The Brahma-saṁhitā (5.46) gives the example of an original candle which lights a second candle. Although the candles are of equal power, one is still accepted as the original and the other is said to be kindled from the original. The Viṣṇu expansion is like the second candle. He is as powerful as Kṛṣṇa, but the original Viṣṇu is Kṛṣṇa. Brahmā and Lord Śiva are obedient servants of the Supreme Lord, and the Supreme Lord as Viṣṇu is an expansion of Kṛṣṇa.

After describing the līlā- and guṇa-avatāras to Sanātana Gosvāmī, Lord Caitanya explained the manvantara-avatāras, incarnations associated with the Manus. He first stated that there is no possibility of counting the manvantara-avatāras. Fourteen Manus appear in one kalpa, or day of Brahmā, and for each Manu there is a manvantara-avatāra. It is calculated that each day of Brahmā lasts 4,320,000,000 earth years, and Brahmā lives for one hundred years on this scale. Thus if fourteen Manus appear in one day of Brahmā, there are 420 Manus during one month of Brahmā, and during one year of Brahmā there are 5,040 Manus. Since Brahmā lives for one hundred of his years, it is calculated that there are 504,000 Manus manifested during the lifetime of one Brahmā. Since there are innumerable universes, no one can imagine the totality of the manvantara incarnations. Countless universes are produced by the exhalation of Mahā-viṣṇu, and thus no one can begin to calculate how many Manus are existing at one time.

Each Manu is known by a different name. The first Manu is Svāyambhuva, and he is a direct son of Brahmā. The second Manu, Svārociṣa, is the son of the predominating deity of fire. The third Manu is Uttama, and he is the son of King Priyavrata. The fourth Manu, Tāmasa, is the brother of Uttama, as is the fifth Manu, Raivata. The sixth Manu, Cākṣuṣa, is the son of Cakṣus. The seventh Manu is Vaivasvata, and he is the son of the sun god. The eighth Manu is Sāvarṇi, and he is also a son of the sun god, born of a wife named Chāyā. The ninth Manu, Dakṣa-sāvarṇi, is the son of Varuṇa. The tenth Manu, Brahma-sāvarṇi, is the son of Upaśloka. The four other Manus are Rudra-sāvarṇi, Dharma-sāvarṇi, Deva-sāvarṇi and Indra-sāvarṇi.

After describing the Manu incarnations, Lord Caitanya described the yuga-avatāras to Sanātana Gosvāmī. There are four yugas, or millenniums – Satya, Tretā, Dvāpara and Kali – and in each millennium the Supreme Lord appears in an incarnation of a different color. In the Satya-yuga the color of the principal incarnation is white, in the Tretā-yuga the color is red, in the Dvāpara-yuga blackish (Kṛṣṇa), and in the Kali-yuga yellow (Caitanya Mahāprabhu). This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.8.13) by the astrologer Garga Muni, who calculated Kṛṣṇa’s horoscope in the house of Nanda Mahārāja.

In the Satya-yuga the process of self-realization was meditation, and this process was taught by the white incarnation of God. This incarnation gave a benediction to the sage Kardama by which he obtained an incarnation of the Personality of Godhead as his son. In the Satya-yuga everyone meditated on Kṛṣṇa, and each and every living entity was in full knowledge. In the present age, the Kali-yuga, people who are not in full knowledge are still attempting various meditative processes not recommended for this age.

In the Tretā millennium the process for self-realization was the performance of various sacrifices, and this process was taught by the red incarnation of God.

In the Dvāpara millennium Kṛṣṇa was personally present, and the process of self-realization for everyone in that age was worshiping Him. He was blackish in color, He was the incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, and He induced people to worship Him, as stated in the Bhagavad-gītā. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.5.29) states that in the Dvāpara millennium people generally worshiped the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa by chanting the following hymn:

namas te vāsudevāya
  namaḥ saṅkarṣaṇāya
pradyumnāyāniruddhāya
  tubhyaṁ bhagavate namaḥ

“Let me offer my obeisances unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the forms of Vāsudeva, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha.”

In the next millennium – the present age, Kali-yuga – the Lord is yellow, and He teaches people the process of attaining love of God by chanting the names of Kṛṣṇa. This process is shown personally by Kṛṣṇa in the form of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and He exhibits love of Godhead by chanting, singing and dancing with thousands of people following Him. This particular incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is foretold in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.5.32):

kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ
  sāṅgopāṅgāstra-pārṣadam
yajñaiḥ saṅkīrtana-prāyair
  yajanti hi su-medhasaḥ

“In the Age of Kali the Lord incarnates as a devotee and is always chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Although He is Kṛṣṇa, His complexion is not blackish like Kṛṣṇa’s in Dvāpara-yuga but is golden. He always engages in preaching love of Godhead through the saṅkīrtana movement, and those who are intelligent adopt this process of self-realization.” Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (12.3.52) also states:

kṛte yad dhyāyato viṣṇuṁ
  tretāyāṁ yajato makhaiḥ
dvāpare paricaryāyāṁ
  kalau tad dhari-kīrtanāt

“The self-realization achieved in the Satya millennium by meditation, in the Tretā millennium by the performance of different sacrifices, and in the Dvāpara millennium by worship of Lord Kṛṣṇa can be achieved in the Age of Kali simply by chanting the holy names, Hare Kṛṣṇa.” This is confirmed in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (6.2.17):

dhyāyan kṛte yajan yajñais
  tretāyāṁ dvāpare ’rcayan
yad āpnoti tad āpnoti
  kalau saṅkīrtya keśavam

“In this age there is no use in meditation, performance of sacrifices or temple worship. Simply by chanting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa – Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare – one can achieve perfect self-realization.”

When Lord Caitanya described the incarnation for this Age of Kali, Sanātana Gosvāmī, who had been a government minister and was perfectly capable of drawing conclusions, asked the Lord, “How can one understand the advent of an incarnation?” From the description of the incarnation for the Kali millennium, Sanātana Gosvāmī could understand that Lord Caitanya Himself was that incarnation of Kṛṣṇa, and he could also understand that in the future many people would try to imitate Lord Caitanya because the Lord had played as an ordinary brāhmaṇa though His devotees accepted Him as an incarnation. Since Sanātana knew that there would be many pretenders, he asked the Lord, “How can one understand the symptoms of an incarnation?”

“As one can understand the different incarnations for previous millenniums by referring to the Vedic literature,” the Lord replied, “one can similarly understand who is actually the incarnation of Godhead in this Age of Kali.” In this way the Lord especially stressed reference to authoritative scriptures. In other words, one should not whimsically accept a person as an incarnation but should try to understand the characteristics of an incarnation by referring to the scriptures. An incarnation of the Supreme Lord never declares Himself to be an incarnation, but His followers must ascertain who is an incarnation and who is a pretender by referring to authoritative scriptures.

Any intelligent person can understand the characteristics of a real incarnation by understanding two kinds of features – the principal features, called personal characteristics, and the marginal features, comprising His activities. The scriptures describe both kinds of features. For example, in the beginning of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.1.1), the features of an incarnation are nicely described. In that verse, the two terms param (supreme) and satyam (truth) are used, and Lord Caitanya indicated that these words reveal Kṛṣṇa’s principal feature. The other, marginal features are that He taught Vedic knowledge to Brahmā and incarnated as the puruṣa-avatāra to create the cosmic manifestation. These are occasional features manifested for some special purposes. One should be able to understand and distinguish the principal and marginal features of an avatāra. No one can declare himself an incarnation without referring to these two features. An intelligent man will not accept anyone as an avatāra without studying the principal and marginal features. When Sanātana Gosvāmī tried to confirm Lord Caitanya’s personal characteristics as being those of the incarnation for this age, Lord Caitanya Himself indirectly confirmed Sanātana’s conclusion by simply saying, “Let us leave aside all these discussions and continue with a description of the śaktyāveśa-avatāras.”

The Lord then pointed out that there is no limit to the śaktyāveśa-avatāras but that some can be mentioned as examples. The śaktyāveśa incarnations are of two kinds – direct and indirect. When the Lord Himself comes, He is called a sākṣāt, or direct, śaktyāveśa-avatāra, and when He empowers a living entity to represent Him, that living entity is called an indirect, or āveśa, incarnation. Examples of indirect avatāras are the four Kumāras, Nārada, Pṛthu and Paraśurāma. These are actually living entities who are given some specific power by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When a specific opulence of the Supreme Lord is invested in specific entities, they are called āveśa-avatāras. The four Kumāras represent the Supreme Lord’s opulence of knowledge. Nārada represents devotional service to the Supreme Lord. Devotional service is also represented by Lord Caitanya, who is considered the full representation of devotional service. In Brahmā the opulence of creative power is invested, and King Pṛthu is invested with the power for maintaining the living entities. Similarly, in Paraśurāma the power for killing evil elements is invested. As for vibhūti, or the special favor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the tenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā Lord Kṛṣṇa says that a living entity who is especially powerful or beautiful should be known to be especially favored by the Supreme Lord.

Examples of direct, or sākṣāt, śaktyāveśa-avatāras are the Śeṣa incarnation and the Ananta incarnation. In Ananta the power for sustaining all the planets is invested, and the Śeṣa incarnation is invested with the power for serving the Supreme Lord.

After describing the śaktyāveśa incarnations, Caitanya Mahāprabhu began to speak about the age of the Supreme Lord. He said that the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa is always like a sixteen-year-old boy, and when He desires to descend to this universe He first sends His father and mother, who are His devotees, and then He Himself appears. All His activities – beginning with the killing of the Pūtanā demon – are displayed in innumerable universes, and there is no limit to them. Indeed, at every moment, at every second, His manifestations and various pastimes are seen in different universes (brahmāṇḍas). Thus His activities are just like the waves of the Ganges River. Just as there is no limit to the flowing of the waves of the Ganges, there is no cessation of various features of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in different universes. From childhood He displays many pastimes, and ultimately He exhibits the rāsa dance.

It is said that all the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa are eternal, and this is confirmed in every scripture. Generally people cannot understand how Kṛṣṇa performs His pastimes, but Lord Caitanya clarified this by comparing the performance of His pastimes to the orbit of the sun. According to Vedic astrological calculations, the twenty-four hours of a day are divided into sixty daṇḍas. The days are again divided into 3,600 palas. The sun disc can be perceived crossing the sky in steps of sixty palas each, and that time constitutes a daṇḍa. Eight daṇḍas make one prahara, and the sun rises and sets within four praharas. Similarly, four praharas constitute one night, and after that the sun rises. And just as the sun can be seen in its movement through 3,600 palas, all the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa can be seen in any of the universes.

Lord Kṛṣṇa remains in this universe for only 125 years, but all the pastimes of that period are exhibited in each and every universe. These pastimes include His appearance, the activities of His boyhood and youth, and His later pastimes, including those at Dvārakā. Since all these pastimes are present in one or another of the myriad universes at any given time, they are called eternal. Just as the sun is eternally existing, although we see it rise and set, appear and disappear, according to our position on the earth, so Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are eternally going on, although we can see them in this particular universe only at certain intervals. As stated earlier, Kṛṣṇa’s abode is the supreme planet, known as Goloka Vṛndāvana, and by His will this Goloka Vṛndāvana is manifested in this universe and in other universes as well. Like Kṛṣṇa’s name, fame and everything else directly connected to Him, Goloka Vṛndāvana is absolute and is therefore equal to Him.

Thus the Lord is always in His supreme abode, Goloka Vṛndāvana, and by His supreme will His activities there are also manifested at particular places in innumerable universes. And whenever and wherever Kṛṣṇa appears, He displays His six opulences.