BROTHERS:--You will remember that yesterday, in dividing the subject under different heads, I put down certain questions which we would take in order. We dealt yesterday with the question: "What is an Avatâra?" The second question that we are to try to answer, "What is the source of Avatâras?" is a question that leads us deep into the mysteries of the kosmos, and needs at least an outline of kosmic growth and evolution in order to give an intelligible answer. I hope to-day to be able also to deal with the succeeding question, "How does the need for Avatâras arise?" This will leave us for to-morrow the subject of the special Avatâras, and I shall endeavour, if possible, during to-morrow's discourse, to touch on nine of the Avatâras out of the ten recognised as standing out from all other manifestations of the Supreme. Then, if I am able to accomplish that task, we shall still have one morning left, and that I propose to give entirely to the study of the greatest of the Avatâras, the Lord Shrî Krishna Himself, endeavouring, if possible, to mark out the great characteristics of His life and His work, and, it may be, to meet and answer some of the objections of the ignorant which, especially in these later days, have been levelled against Him by those who understand nothing of His nature, nothing of the mighty work He came to accomplish in the world.
Now we are to begin to-day by seeking an answer to the question, "What is the source of Avatâras?" and it is likely that I am going to take a line of thought somewhat unfamiliar, carrying us, as it does, outside the ordinary lines of our study which deals more with the evolution of man, of the spiritual nature within him. It carries us to those far off times, almost incomprehensible to us, when our universe was coming into manifestation, when its very foundations, as it were, were being laid. In answering the question, however, the mere answer is simple. It is recognised in all religions admitting divine incarnations--and they include the great religions the world--it is admitted that the source of Avatâras, the source of the Divine incarnations, is the second or middle manifestation of the sacred Triad. It matters not whether with Hindus we speak of the Trimûrti, or whether with Christians we speak of the Trinity, the fundamental idea is one and the same. Taking first for a moment the Christian symbology, you will find that every Christian tells you that the one divine incarnation acknowledged in Christianity--for in Christianity they believe in one special incarnation only--you will find in the Christian nomenclature the divine incarnation or Avatâra is that of the second person of the Trinity. No Christian will tell you that there has ever been an incarnation of God the Father, the primeval Source of life. They will never tell you that there has been an incarnation of the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom, of creative Intelligence, who built up the world-materials. But they will always say that it was the second Person, the Son, who took human form, who appeared under the likeness of humanity, who was manifested as man for helping the salvation of the world. And if you analyse what is meant by that phrase, what, to the mind of the Christian, is conveyed by the thought of the second Person of the Trinity--for remember in dealing with a religion that is not yours you should seek for the thought not the form, you should look at the idea not at the label, for the thoughts are universal while the forms divide, the ideas are identical while the labels are marks of separation--if you seek for the underlying thought you will find it is this: the sign of the second Person of the Trinity is duality; also, He is the underlying life of the world; by His power the worlds were made, and are sustained, supported, and protected. You will find that while the Spirit of Wisdom is spoken of as bringing order out of disorder, kosmos out of chaos, that it is by the manifested Word of God, or the second Person of the Trinity, it is by Him that all forms are builded up in this world, and it is specially in His image that man is made. So also when we turn to what will be more familiar to the vast majority of you, the symbology of Hinduism, you will find that all Avatâras have their source in Vishnu, in Him who pervades the universe, as the very name Vishnu implies, who is the Supporter, the Protector, the pervading, all-permeating Life by which the universe is held together, and by which it is sustained. Taking the names of the Trimûrti so familiar to us all--not the philosophical names Sat, Chit, A´nanda, those names which in philosophy show the attributes of the Supreme Brahman--taking the concrete idea, we have Mahâdeva or Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahmâ: three names, just as in the other religion we have three names; but the same fact comes out, that it is the middle or central one of the Three who is the source of Avatâras. There has never been a direct Avatâra of Mahâdeva, of Shiva Himself. Appearances? Yes. Manifestations? Yes. Coming in form for a special purpose served by that form? Oh yes. Take the Mahâbhârata, and you find Him appearing in the form of the hunter, the Kirâta, and testing the intuition of Arjuna, and struggling with him to test his strength, his courage, and finally his devotion to Himself. But that is a mere form taken for a purpose and cast aside the moment the purpose is served; almost, we may say, a mere illusion, produced to serve a special purpose and then thrown away as having completed that which it was intended to perform. Over and over again you find such appearances of Mahâdeva. You may remember one most beautiful story, in which He appears in the form of a Chandâla at the gateway of His own city of Kâshî, when one who was especially overshadowed by a manifestation of Himself, Shrî Shankarâchârya, was coming with his disciples to the sacred city; veiling Himself in the form of an outcaste--for to Him all forms are the same, the human differences are but as the grains of sand which vanish before the majesty of His greatness--He rolled Himself in the dust before the gateway, so that the great teacher could not walk across without touching Him, and he called to the Chandâla to make way in order that the Brâhmana might go on unpolluted by the touch of the outcaste; then the Lord, speaking through the form He had chosen, rebuked the very one whom His power overshadowed, asking him questions which he could not answer and thus abasing his pride and teaching him humility. Such forms truly He has taken, but these are not what we can call Avatâras; mere passing forms, not manifestations upon earth where a life is lived and a great drama is played out. So with Brahmâ; He also has appeared from time to time, has manifested Himself for some special purpose; but there is no Avatâra of Brahmâ, which we can speak of by that very definite and well understood term.
[Footnote 5: An outcaste, equivalent to a scavenger.]
Now for this fact there must be some reason.
Why is it that we do not find the source of Avatâras alike in all these great divine manifestations? Why do they come from only one aspect and that the aspect of Vishnu? I need not remind you that there is but one Self, and that these names we use are the names of the aspects that are manifested by the Supreme; we must not separate them so much as to lose sight of the underlying unity. For remember how, when a worshipper of Vishnu had a feeling in his heart against a worshipper of Mahâdeva, as he bowed before the image of Hari, the face of the image divided itself in half, and Shiva or Hara appeared on one side and Vishnu or Hari appeared on the other, and the two, smiling as one face on the bigoted worshipper, told him that Mahâdeva and Vishnu were but one. But in Their functions a division arises; They manifest along different lines, as it were, in the kosmos and for the helping of man; not for Him but for us, do these lines of apparent separateness arise.
Looking thus at it, we shall be able to find the answer to our question, not only who is the source of Avatâras, but why Vishnu is the source. And it is here that I come to the unfamiliar part where I shall have to ask for your special attention as regards the building of the universe. Now I am using the word "universe," in the sense of our solar system. There are many other systems, each of them complete in itself, and, therefore, rightly spoken of as a kosmos, a universe. But each of these systems in its turn is part of a mightier system, and our sun, the centre of our own system, though it be in very truth the manifested physical body of I´shwara Himself, is not the only sun. If you look through the vast fields of space, myriads of suns are there, each one the centre of its own system, of its own universe; and our sun, supreme to us, is but, as it were, a planet in a vaster system, its orbit curved round a sun greater than itself. So in turn that sun, round which our sun is circling, is planet to a yet mightier sun, and each set of systems in its turn circles round a more central sun, and so on--we know not how far may stretch the chain that to us is illimitable; for who is able to plumb the depths and heights of space, or to find a manifested circumference which takes in all universes! Nay, we say that they are infinite in number, and that there is no end to the manifestations of the one Life.
Now that is true physically. Look at the physical universe with the eye of spirit, and you see in it a picture of the spiritual universe. A great word was spoken by one of the Masters or Rishis, whom in this Society we honour and whose teachings we follow. Speaking to one of His disciples, or pupils, He rebuked him, because, He said in words never to be forgotten by those who have read them: "You always look at the things of the spirit with the eyes of the flesh. What you ought to do is to look at the things of the flesh with the eyes of the spirit." Now, what does that mean? It means that instead of trying to degrade the spiritual and to limit it within the narrow bounds of the physical, and to say of the spiritual that it cannot be because the human brain is unable clearly to grasp it, we ought to look at the physical universe with a deeper insight and see in it the image, the shadow, the reflection of the spiritual world, and learn the spiritual verities by studying the images that exist of them in the physical world around us. The physical world is easier to grasp. Do not think the spiritual is modelled on the physical; the physical is fundamentally modelled on the spiritual, and if you look at the physical with the eye of spirit, then you find that it is the image of the higher, and then you are able to grasp the higher truth by studying the faint reflections that you see in the world around you. That is what I ask you to do now. Just as you have your sun and suns, many universes, each one part of a system mightier than itself, so in the spiritual universe there is hierarchy beyond hierarchy of spiritual intelligences who are as the suns of the spiritual world. Our physical system has at its centre the great spiritual Intelligence manifested as a Trinity, the I´shvara of that system. Then beyond Him there is a mightier I´shvara, round whom Those who are on the level of the I´shvara of our system circle, looking to Him as Their central life. And beyond Him yet another, and beyond Him others and others yet, until as the physical universes are beyond our thinking, the spiritual hierarchy stretches also beyond our thought, and, dazzled and blinded by the splendour, we sink back to earth, as Arjuna was blinded when the Vaishnava form shone forth on him, and we cry: "Oh! show us again Thy more limited form that we may know it and live by it. We are not yet ready for the mightier manifestations. We are blinded, not helped, by such blaze of divine splendour."
And so we find that if we would learn we must limit ourselves--nay, we must try to expand ourselves--to the limits of our own system. Why? I have met people who have not really any grasp of this little world, this grain of dust in which they live, who cannot be content unless you answer questions about the One Existence, the Para-Brahma, whom sages revere in silence, not daring to speak even with illuminated mind that knows nirvânic life and has expanded to nirvânic consciousness. The more ignorant the man, the more he thinks he can grasp. The less he understands, the more he resents being told that there are some things beyond the grasp of his intellect, existences so mighty that he cannot even dream of the lowest of the attributes that mark them out. And for myself, who know myself ignorant, who know that many an age must pass ere I shall be able to think of dealing with these profounder problems, I sometimes gauge the ignorance of the questioner by the questions that he asks as to the ultimate existences, and when he wants to know what he calls the primary origin, I know that he has not even grasped the one-thousandth part of the origin out of which he himself has sprung. Therefore, I say to you frankly that these mighty Ones whom we worship are the Gods of our system; beyond them there stretch mightier Ones yet, whom, perhaps, myriads of kalpas hence, we may begin to understand and worship.
Let us then confine ourselves to our own system and be glad if we can catch some ray of the glory that illumines it. Vishnu has His own functions, as also have Brahmâ and Mahâdeva. The first work in this system is done by the third of the sacred great Ones of the Trimûrti, Brahmâ, as you all know, for you have read that there came forth the creative Intelligence as the third of the divine manifestations. I care not what is the symbology you take; perchance that of the Vishnu Purâna will be most familiar, wherein the unmanifested Vishnu is beneath the water, standing as the first of the Trimûrti, then the Lotus, standing as the second, and the opened Lotus showing Brahmâ, the third, the creative Mind. You may remember that the work of creation began with His activity. When we study from the occult standpoint in what that activity consisted, we find it consisted in impregnating with His own life the matter of the solar system; that He gave His own life to build up form after form of atom, to make the great divisions in the kosmos; that He formed, one after another, the five kinds of matter. Working by His mind--He is sometimes spoken of as Mahat, the great One, Intelligence--He formed Tattvas one after another. Tattvas, you may remember from last year, are the foundations of the atoms, and there are five of them manifested at the present time. That is His special work. Then He meditates, and forms--as thoughts--come forth. There His manifest work may be said to end, though He maintains ever the life of the atom. As far as the active work of the kosmos is concerned, He gives way to the next of the great forces that is to work, the force of Vishnu. His work is to gather together that matter that has been built, shaped, prepared, vivified, and build it into definite forms after the creative ideas brought forth by the meditation of Brahmâ. He gives to matter a binding force; He gives to it those energies that hold form together. No form exists without Him, whether it be moving or unmoving. How often does Shrî Krishna, speaking as the supreme Vishnu, lay stress on this fact. He is the life in every form; without it the form could not exist, without it it would go back to its primeval elements and no longer live as form. He is the all-pervading life; the "Supporter of the Universe" is one of His names. Mahâdeva has a different function in the universe; especially is He the great Yogî; especially is He the great Teacher, the Mahâguru; He is sometimes called Jagatguru, the Teacher of the world. Over and over again--to take a comparatively modern example, as the Gurugîtâ--we find Him as Teacher, to whom Pârvati goes asking for instruction as to the nature of the Guru. He it is who defines the Guru's work, He it is who inspires the Guru's teaching. Every Guru on earth is a reflection of Mahâdeva, and it is His life which he is commissioned to give out to the world. Yogî, immersed in contemplation, taking the ascetic form always--that marks out His functions. For the symbols by which the mighty Ones are shown in the teachings are not meaningless, but are replete with the deepest meaning. And when you see Him represented as the eternal Yogî, with the cord in His hand, sitting as an ascetic in contemplation, it means that He is the supreme ideal of the ascetic life, and that men who come especially under His influence must pass out of home, out of family, out of the normal ties of evolution, and give themselves to a life of asceticism, to a life of renunciation, to share, however feebly, in that mighty yoga by which the universe is kept alive.
He then manifests not as Avatâra, but such manifestations come from Him who is the God, the Spirit, of evolution, who evolves all forms. That is why from Vishnu all these Avatâras come. For it is He who by His infinite love dwells in every form that He has made; with patience that nothing can exhaust, with love that nothing can tire, with quiet, calm endurance which no folly of man can shake from its eternal peace, He lives in every form, moulding it as it will bear the moulding, shaping it as it yields itself to His impulse, binding Himself, limiting Himself in order that His universe may grow, Lord of eternal life and bliss, dwelling in every form. If you grasp this, it is not difficult to say why from Him alone the Avatâras come. Who else should take form save the One who gives form? who else should work with this unending love save He, who, while the universe exists, binds Himself that the universe may live and ultimately share His freedom? He is bound that the universe may be free. Who else then should come forth when special need arises?
And He gives the great types. Let me remind you of the Shrîmad-Bhâgavata, where in an early chapter of the first Book, the 3rd chapter, a very long list is given of the forms that Vishnu took, not only the great Avatâras, but also a large number of others. It is said He appeared as Nara and Nârâyana; it is said He appeared as Kapila; He took female forms, and so on, a whole long list being given of the shapes that He assumed. And, turning from that to a very illuminative passage in the Mahâbhârata, we find Him in the form of Shrî Krishna explaining a profound truth to Arjuna.
There He gives the law of these appearances: "When, O son of Pritha, I live in the order of the deities, then I act in every respect as a deity. When I live in the order of the Gandharvas, then I act in every respect as a Gandharva. When I live in the order of the Nâgas, I act as a Nâga. When I live in the order of the Yakshas, or that of the Râkshasas, I act after the manner of that order. Born now in the order of humanity, I must act as a human being." A profound truth, a truth that few in modern times recognise. Every type in the universe, in its own place, is good; every type in the universe, in its own place, is necessary. There is no life save His life; how then could any type come into existence apart from the universal life, bereft whereof nothing can exist?
We speak of good forms and evil, and rightly, as regards our own evolution. But from the wider standpoint of the kosmos, good and evil are relative terms, and everything is very good in the sight of the Supreme who lives in every one. How can a type come into existence in which He cannot live? How can anything live and move, save as it has its being in Him? Each type has its work; each type has its place; the type of the Râkshasa as much as the type of the Deva, of the Asura as much as of the Sura. Let me give you one curious little simple example, which yet has a certain graphic force. You have a pole you want to move, and that pole is on a pivot, like the mountain which churned the ocean, a pole with its two ends, positive and negative we will call them. The positive end, we will say, is pushed in the direction of the river (the river flowing beyond one end of the hall at Adyar). The negative pole is pushed--in what direction? In the opposite. And those who are pushing it have their faces turned in the opposite direction. One man looks at the river, the other man has his back to it, looking in the opposite direction. But the pole turns in the one direction although they push in opposite directions. They are working round the same circle, and the pole goes faster because it is pushed from its two ends. There is the picture of our universe. The positive force you call the Deva or Sura; his face is turned, it seems, to God. The negative force you call the Râkshasa or Asura; his face, it seems, is turned away from God. Ah no! God is everywhere, in every point of the circle round which they tread; and they tread His circle and do His will and no otherwise; and all at length find rest and peace in Him.
Therefore Shrî Krishna Himself can incarnate in the form of Râkshasa, and when in that form He will act as Râkshasa and not as Deva, doing that part of the divine work with the same perfection as He does the other, which men in their limited vision call the good. A great truth hard to grasp. I shall have to return to it presently in speaking of Râvana, one of the mightiest types of, perhaps the greatest of, all the Râkshasas. And we shall see, if we can follow, how the profound truth works out. But remember, if in the minds of some of you there is some hesitation in accepting this, that the words that I read are not mine, but those of the Lord who spoke of His own embodying; He has left on record for your teaching, that He has embodied Himself in the form of Râkshasa and has acted after the manner of that order.
Leaving that for a moment, there is one other point I must take, ere speaking of the need for Avatâras, and it is this: when the great central Deities have manifested, then there come forth from Them seven Deities of what we may call the second order. In Theosophy, they are spoken of as the planetary Logoi, to distinguish them from the great solar Logoi, the central Life. Each of These has to do with one of the seven sacred planets, and with the chain of worlds connected with that planet. Our world is one of the links in this chain, and you and I pass round this chain in successive incarnations in the great stages of life. The world--our present world--is the midway globe of one such chain. One Logos of the secondary order presides over the evolution of this chain of worlds. He shows out three aspects, reflections of the great Logoi who are at the centre of the system. You have read perhaps of the seven-leaved lotus, the Saptaparnapadma; looked at with the higher sight, gazed at with the open vision of the seer, that mighty group of creative and directing Beings looks like the lotus with its seven leaves and the great Ones are at the heart of the lotus. It is as though you could see a vast lotus-flower spread out in space, the tips of the seven leaves being the mighty Intelligences presiding over the evolution of the chains of worlds. That lotus symbol is no mere symbol but a high reality, as seen in that wondrous world wherefrom the symbol has been taken by the sages. And because the great Rishis of old saw with the open eye of knowledge, saw the lotus-flower spread in space, they took it as the symbol of kosmos, the lotus with its seven leaves, each one a mighty Deva presiding over a separate line of evolution. We are primarily concerned with our own planetary Deva and through Him with the great Devas of the solar system.
Now my reason for mentioning this is to explain one word that has puzzled many students. Mahâvishnu, the great Vishnu, why that particular epithet? What does it mean when that phrase is used? It means the great solar Logos, Vishnu in His essential nature: but there is a reflection of His glory, a reflection of His power, of His love, in more immediate connection with ourselves and our own world. He is His representative, as a viceroy may represent the king. Some of the Avatâras we shall find came forth from Mahâvishnu through the planetary Logos, who is concerned with our evolution and the evolution of the world. But the Pûrnâvatâra that I spoke of yesterday comes forth directly from Mahâvishnu, with no intermediary between Himself and the world that He comes to help. Here is another distinction between the Pûrnâvatâra and those more limited ones, that I could not mention yesterday, because the words used would, at that stage, have been unintelligible. We shall find to-morrow, when we come to deal with the Avatâras Matsya, Kûrma, and so on, that these special Avatâras, connected with the evolution of certain types in the world, while indirectly from Mahâvishnu, come through the mediation of His mighty representative for our own chain, the wondrous Intelligence that conveys His love and ministers His will, and is the channel of His all-pervading and supporting power. When we come to study Shrî Krishna we shall find that there is no intermediary. He stands as the Supreme Himself. And while in the other cases there is the Presence that may be recognised as an intermediary, it is absent in the case of the great Lord of Life.
Leaving that for further elaboration then to-morrow, let us try to answer the next question, "How arises this need for Avatâras?" because in the minds of some, quite naturally, a difficulty does arise. The difficulty that many thoughtful people feel may be formulated thus: "Surely the whole plan of the world is in the mind of the Logos from the beginning, and surely we cannot suppose that He is working like a human workman, not thoroughly understanding that at which He aims. He must be the architect as well as the builder; He must make the plan as well as carry it out. He is not like the mason who puts a stone in the wall where he is told, and knows nothing of the architecture of the building to which he is contributing. He is the master-builder, the great architect of the universe, and everything in the plan of that universe must be in His mind ere ever the universe began. But if that be so--and we cannot think otherwise--how is it that the need for special intervention arises? Does not the fact of special intervention imply some unforeseen difficulty that has arisen? If there must be a kind of interference with the working out of the plan, does that not look as if in the original plan some force was left out of account, some difficulty had not been seen, something had arisen for which preparation had not been made? If it be not so, why the need for interference, which looks as though it were brought about to meet an unforeseen event?" A natural, reasonable, and perfectly fair question. Let us try to answer it. I do not believe in shirking difficulties; it is better to look them in the face, and see if an answer be possible.
Now the answer comes along three different lines. There are three great classes of facts, each of which contributes to the necessity; and each, foreseen by the Logos, is definitely prepared for as needing a particular manifestation.
The first of these lines arises from what I may perhaps call the nature of things. I remarked at the beginning of this lecture on the fact that our universe, our system, is part of a greater whole, not separate, not independent, not primary, in comparatively a low scale in the universe, our sun a planet in a vaster system. Now what does that imply? As regards matter, Prakriti, it implies that our system is builded out of matter already existing, out of matter already gifted with certain properties, out of matter that spreads through all space, and from which every Logos takes His materials, modifying it according to His own plan and according to His own will. When we speak of Mûlaprakriti, the root of matter, we do not mean that it exists as the matter we know. No philosopher, no thinker would dream of saying that that which spreads throughout space is identical with the matter of our very elementary solar system. It is the root of matter, that of which all forms of matter are merely modifications. What does that imply? It implies that our great Lord, who brought our solar system into existence, is taking matter which already has certain properties given to it by One yet mightier than Himself. In that matter three gunas exist in equilibrium, and it is the breath of the Logos that throws them out of equilibrium, and causes the motion by which our system is brought into existence. There must be a throwing out of equilibrium, for equilibrium means Pralaya, where there is not motion, nor any manifestation of life and form. When life and form come forth, equilibrium must have been disturbed, and motion must be liberated by which the world shall be built. But the moment you grasp that truth you see that there must be certain limitations by virtue of the very material in which the Deity is working for the making of the system. It is true that when out of His system, when not conditioned and confined and limited by it, as He is by His most gracious will, it is true that He would be the Lord of that matter by virtue of His union with the mightier Life beyond; but when for the building of the world He limits Himself within His Mâyâ, then He must work within the conditions of those materials that limit His activity, as we are told over and over again.
Now when in the ceaseless interplay of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, Tamas has the ascendancy, aided and, as it were, worked by Rajas, so that they predominate over Sattva in the foreseen evolution, when the two combining overpower the third, when the force of Rajas and the inertia and stubbornness of Tamas, binding themselves together, check the action, the harmony, the pleasure-giving qualities of Sattva, then comes one of the conditions in which the Lord comes forth to restore that which had been disturbed of the balanced interworking of the three gunas and to make again such balance between them as shall enable evolution to go forward smoothly and not be checked in its progress. He re-establishes the balance of power which gives orderly motion, the order having been disturbed by the co-operation of the two in contradistinction to the third. In these fundamental attributes of matter, the three gunas, lies the first reason of the need for Avatâras.
The second need has to do with man himself, and now we come back in both the second and the third to that question of good and evil, of which I have already spoken. I´shvara, when He came to deal with the evolution of man--with all reverence I say it--had a harder task to perform than in the evolution of the lower forms of life. On them the law is imposed and they must obey its impulse. On the mineral the law is compulsory; every mineral moves according to the law, without interposing any impulse from itself to work against the will of the One. In the vegetable world the law is imposed, and every plant grows in orderly method according to the law within it, developing steadily and in the fashion of its order, interposing no impulse of its own. Nay, in the animal world--save perhaps when we come to its highest members--the law is still a force overpowering everything else, sweeping everything before it, carrying along all living things. A wheel turning on the road might carry with it on its axle the fly that happened to have settled there; it does not interpose any obstacle to the turning of the wheel. If the fly comes on to the circumference of the wheel and opposes itself to its motion, it is crushed without the slightest jarring of the wheel that rolls on, and the form goes out of existence, and the life takes other shapes.
So is the wheel of law in the three lower kingdoms. But with man it is not so. In man I´shvara sets himself to produce an image of Himself, which is not the case in the lower kingdoms. As life has evolved, one force after another has come out, and in man there begins to come out the central life, for the time has arrived for the evolution of the sovereign power of will, the self-initiated motion which is part of the life of the Supreme. Do not misunderstand me--for the subject is a subtle one; there is only one will in the universe, the will of I´shvara, and all must conform itself to that will, all is conditioned by that will, all must move according to that will, and that will marks out the straight line of evolution. There may be swerving neither to the right hand nor to the left. There is one will only which in its aspect to us is free, but inasmuch as our life is the life of I´shvara Himself, inasmuch as there is but one Self and that Self is yours and mine as much as His--for He has given us His very Self to be our Self and our life--there must evolve at one stage of this wondrous evolution that royal power of will which is seen in Him. And from the A´tmâ within us, which is Himself in us, there flows forth the sovereign will into the sheaths in which the A´tmâ is as it were held. Now what happens is this: force goes out through the sheaths and gives them some of its own nature, and each sheath begins to set up a reflection of the will on its own account, and you get the "I" of the body which wants to go this way, and the "I" of passion or emotion which wants to go that way, and the "I" of the mind which wants to go a third way, and none of these ways is the way of the A´tmâ, the Supreme. These are the illusory wills of man, and there is one way in which you may distinguish them from the true will. Each of them is determined in its direction by external attraction; the man's body wants to move in a particular way because something attracts it, or something else repels it: it moves to what it likes, to what is congenial to it, it moves away from that which it dislikes, from that from which it feels itself repelled. But that motion of the body is but motion determined by the I´shvara outside, as it were, rather than by the I´shvara within, by the kosmos around and not by the Self within, which has not yet achieved its mastery of the kosmos. So with the emotions or passions: they are drawn this way or that by the objects of the senses, and the "senses move after their appropriate objects"; it is not the "I," the Self, which moves. And so also with the mind. "The mind is fickle and restless, O Krishna, it seems as hard to curb as the wind," and the mind lets the senses run after objects as a horse that has broken its reins flies away with the unskilled driver. All these forces are set up; and there is one more thing to remember. These forces reinforce the râjasic guna and help to bring about that predominance of which I spoke; all these reckless desires that are not according to the one will are yet necessary in order that the will may evolve and in order to train and develop the man.
Do you say why? How would you learn right if you knew not wrong? How would you choose good if you knew not evil? How would you recognise the light if there were no darkness? How would you move if there were no resistance? The forces that are called dark, the forces of the Râkshasas, of the Asuras, of all that seem to be working against I´shvara--these are the forces that call out the inner strength of the Self in man, by struggling with which the forces of A´tmâ within the man are developed, and without which he would remain in Pralaya for evermore. It is a perfectly stagnant pool where there is no motion, and there you get corruption and not life. The evolution of force can only be made by struggle, by combat, by effort, by exercise, and inasmuch as I´shvara is building men and not babies, He must draw out men's forces by pulling against their strength, making them struggle in order to attain, and so vivifying into outer manifestation the life that otherwise would remain enfolded in itself. In the seed the life is hidden, but it will not grow if you leave the seed alone. Place it on this table here, and come back a century hence, and, if you find it, it will be a seed still and nothing more. So also is the A´tmâ in man ere evolution and struggle have begun. Plant your seed in the ground, so that the forces in the ground press on it, and the rays of the sun from outside make vibrations that work on it, and the water from the rain comes through the soil into it and forces it to swell--then the seed begins to grow; but as it begins to grow it finds the earth around. How shall it grow but by pushing at it and so bringing out the energies of life that are within it? And against the opposition of the ground the roots strike down, and against the opposition of the ground the growing point mounts upward, and by the opposition of the ground the forces are evolved that make the seed grow, and the little plant appears above the soil. Then the wind comes and blows and tries to drag it away, and, in order that it may live and not perish, it strikes its roots deeper and gives itself a better hold against the battering force of the wind, and so the tree grows against the forces which try to tear it out. And if these forces were not, there would have been no growth of the root. And so with the root of I'shvara, the life within us; were everything around us smooth and easy, we would remain supine, lethargic, indifferent. It is the whip of pain, of suffering, of disappointment, that drives us onward and brings out the forces of our internal life which otherwise would remain undeveloped. Would you have a man grow? Then don't throw him on a couch with pillows on every side, and bring his meals and put them into his mouth, so that he moves not limb nor exercises mind. Throw him on a desert, where there is no food nor water to be found; let the sun beat down on his head, the wind blow against him; let his mind be made to think how to meet the necessities of the body, and the man grows into a man and not a log. That is why there are forces which you call evil. In this universe there is no evil; all is good that comes to us from I´shvara, but it sometimes comes in the guise of evil that, by opposing it, we may draw out our strength. Then we begin to understand that these forces are necessary, and that they are within the plan of I´shvara. They test evolution, they strengthen evolution, so that it does not take the next step onward till it has strength enough to hold its own, one step made firm by opposition before the next is taken. But when, by the conflicting wills of men, the forces that work for retardation, to keep a man back till he is able to overcome them and go on, when they are so reinforced by men's unruly wishes that they are beginning, as it were, to threaten progress, then ere that check takes place, there is reinforcement from the other side: the presence pf the Avatâra of the forces that threaten evolution calls forth the presence of the Avatâra that leads to the progress of humanity.
We come to the third cause. The Avatâra does not come forth without a call. The earth, it is said, is very heavy with its load of evil, "Save us, O supreme Lord," the Devas come and cry. In answer to that cry the Lord comes forth. But what is this that I spoke of purposely by a strange phrase to catch your attention, that I spoke of as an Avatâra of evil? By the will of the one Supreme, there is one incarnated in form who gathers up together the forces that make for retardation, in order that, thus gathered together, they may be destroyed by the opposing force of good, and thus the balance may be re-established and evolution go on along its appointed road. Devas work for joy, the reward of Heaven. Svarga is their home, and they serve the Supreme for the joys that there they have. Râkshasas also serve Him, first for rule on earth, and power to grasp and hold and enjoy as they will in this lower world. Both sides serve for reward, and are moved by the things that please.
And in order, as our time is drawing to a close, that I may take one great example to show how these work, let me take the mighty one, Râvana of Lanka, that we may give a concrete form to a rather difficult and abstruse thought. Râvana, as you all know, was the mighty intelligence, the Râkshasa, who called forth the coming of Shrî Râma. But look back into the past, and what was he? Keeper of Vishnu's heaven, door-keeper of the mighty Lord, devotee, bhakta, absolutely devoted to the Lord. Look at his past, and where do you find a bhakta of Mahâdeva more absolute in devotion than the one who came forth later as Râvana? It was he who cast his head into the fire in order that Mahâdeva might be served. It is he in whose name have been written some of the most exquisite stotras, breathing the spirit of completest devotion; in one of them, you may remember--and you could scarcely carry devotion to a further point--it is in the mouth of Râvana words are put appealing to Mahâdeva, and describing Him as surrounded by forms the most repellent and undesirable, surrounded on every side by pisâchas and bhûtas, which to us seem but the embodiment of the dark shadows of the burning ghat, forms from which all beauty is withdrawn. He cries out in a passion of love:
Better wear pisâcha-form, so we
Evermore are near and wait on Thee.
[Footnote 6: Ceylon.]
[Footnote 7: Goblins and elementals.]
How did he then come to be the ravisher of Sîtâ and the enemy of God?
You know how through lack of intuition, through lack of power to recognise the meaning of an order, following the words not the spirit, following the outside not the inner, he refused to open the door of heaven when Sanat Kumâra came and demanded entrance. In order that that which was lacking might be filled, in order that that which was wanting might be earned, that which was called a curse was pronounced, a curse which was the natural reaction from the mistake. He was asked: "Will you have seven incarnations friendly to Vishnu, or three in which you will be His enemy and oppose Him?" And because he was a true bhakta, and because every moment of absence from his Lord meant to him hell of torture, he chose three of enmity, which would let him go back sooner to the Feet of the Beloved, rather than the seven of happiness, of friendliness. Better a short time of utter enmity than a longer remaining away with apparent happiness. It was love not hatred that made him choose the form of a Râkshasa rather than the form of a Rishi. There is the first note of explanation.
Then, coming into the form of Râkshasa, he must do his duty as Râkshasa. This was no weak man to be swayed by momentary thought, by transient objects. He had all the learning of the Vedas. With him, it was said, passed away Vaidic learning, with him it disappeared from earth. He knew his duty. What was his duty? To put forward every force which was in his mighty nature in order to check evolution, and so call out every force in man which could be called out by opposing energy which had to be overcome; to gather round him all the forces which were opposing evolution; to make himself king of the whole, centre and law-giver to every force that was setting itself against the will of the Lord; to gather them together as it were into one head, to call them together into one arm; so that when their apparent triumph made the cry of the earth go up to Vishnu, the answer might come in Râma's Avatâra and they be destroyed, that the life-wave might go on.
Nobly he did the work, thoroughly he discharged his duty. It is said that even sages are confused about Dharma, and truly it is subtle and hard to grasp in its entirety, though the fragment the plain man sees be simple enough. His Dharma was the Dharma of a Râkshasa, to lead the whole forces of evil against One whom in his inner soul, then clouded, he loved. When Shrî Râma came, when He was wandering in the forest, how could he sting Him into leaving the life of His life, His beloved Sîtâ, and into coming out into the world to do His work? By taking away from Him the one thing to which He clung, by taking away from Him the wife whom He loved as His very Self, by placing her in the spot where all the forces of evil were gathered together, so making one head for destruction, which the arrow of Shrî Râma might destroy. Then the mighty battle, then the struggle with all the forces of his great nature, that the law might be obeyed to the uttermost, duly fulfilled to the last grain, the debt paid that was owed; and then--ah then! the shaft of the Beloved, then the arrow of Shrî Râma that struck off the head from the seeming enemy, from the real devotee. And from the corpse of the Râkshasa that fell upon the field near Lanka, the devotee went up to Goloka to sit at the feet of the Beloved, and rest for awhile till the third incarnation had to be lived out.
[Footnote 8: A name for one of the heavens.]
Such then are some of the reasons by, the ways in which the coming of the Avatâra is brought about. And my last word to you, my brothers, to-day is but a sentence, in order to avoid the possibility of a mistake to which our diving into these depths of thought may possibly give rise. Remember that though all powers are His, all forces His, Râkshasa as much as Deva, Asura as much as Sura; remember that for your evolution you must be on the side of good, and struggle to the utmost against evil. Do not let the thoughts I have put lead you into a bog, into a pit of hell, in which you may for the time perish, that because evil is relative, because it exists by the one will, because Râkshasa is His as much as Deva, therefore you shall go on their side and walk along their path. It is not so. If you yield to ambition, if you yield to pride, if you set yourselves against the will of I´shvara, if you struggle for the separated self, if in yourselves now you identify yourself with the past in which you have dwelt instead of with the future towards which you should be directing your steps, then, if your Karma be at a certain stage, you pass into the ranks of those who work as enemies, because you have chosen that fate for yourself, at the promptings of the lower nature. Then with bitter inner pain--even if with complete submission--accepting the Karma, but with profound sorrow, you shall have to work out your own will against the will of the Beloved, and feel the anguish of the rending that separates the inner from the outer life. The will of I´shvara for you is evolution; these forces are made to help your evolution--but only if you strive against them. If you yield to them, then they carry you away. You do not then call out your own strength, but only strengthen them. Therefore, O Arjuna, stand up and fight. Do not be supine; do not yield yourself to the forces; they are there to call out your energies by opposition and you must not sink down on the floor of the chariot. And my last word is the word of Shrî Krishna to Arjuna: "Take up your bow, stand up and fight."