"Here is described one of the avatárs, descents or manifestations of
Vishnu in a visible form. The word avatár signifies literally descent.
The avatár which is here spoken of, that in which, according to Indian
traditions, Vishnu descended and appeared upon earth in the corporeal form
of Ráma, the hero of the Rámáyana, is the seventh in the series of Indian
avatárs. Much has been said before now of these avatárs, and through
deficient knowledge of the ideas and doctrines of India, they have been
compared to the sublime dogma of the Christian Incarnation. This is one of
the grossest errors that ignorance of the ideas and beliefs of a people
has produced. Between the avatárs of India and the Christian Incarnation
there is such an immensity of difference that it is impossible to find any
reasonable analogy that can approximate them. The idea of the avatárs is
intimately united with that of the Trimúrti; the bond of connection
between these two ideas is an essential notion common to both, the notion
of Vishnu. What is the Trimúrti? I have already said that it is composed
of three Gods, Brahmá (masculine), Vishnu the God of avatárs, and Siva.
These three Gods, who when reduced to their primitive and most simple
expression are but three cosmogonical personifications, three powers or
forces of nature, these Gods, I say, are here found, according to Indian
doctrines, entirely external to the true God of India, or Brahma in the
neuter gender. Brahma is alone, unchangeable in the midst of creation: all
emanates from him, he comprehends all, but he remains extraneous to all:
he is Being and the negation of beings. Brahma is never worshipped; the
indeterminate Being is never invoked; he is inaccessible to the prayers as
the actions of man; humanity, as well as nature, is extraneous to him.
External to Brahma rises the Trimúrti, that is to say, Brahmá (masculine)
the power which creates, Vishnu the power which preserves, and Siva the
power which destroys: theogony here commences at the same time with
cosmogony. The three divinities of the Trimúrti govern the phenomena of
the universe and influence all nature. The real God of India is by himself
without power; real efficacious power is attributed only to three
divinities who exist externally to him. Brahmá, Vishnu, and Siva,
possessed of qualities in part contradictory and attributes that are
mutually exclusive, have no other accord or harmony than that which
results from the power of things itself, and which is found external to
their own thoughts. Such is the Indian Trimúrti. What an immense
difference between this Triad and the wonderful Trinity of Christianity!
Here there is only one God, who created all, provides for all, governs
all. He exists in three Persons equal to one another, and intimately
united in one only infinite and eternal substance. The Father represents
the eternal thought and the power which created, the Son infinite love,
the Holy Spirit universal sanctification. This one and triune God
completes by omnipotent power the great work of creation which, when it
has come forth from His hands, proceeds in obedience to the laws which He
has given it, governed with certain order by His infinite providence.
"The immense difference between the Trimúrti of India and the Christian Trinity is found again between the avatárs of Vishnu and the Incarnation of Christ. The avatár was effected altogether externally to the Being who is in India regarded as the true God. The manifestation of one essentially cosmogonical divinity wrought for the most part only material and cosmogonical prodigies. At one time it takes the form of the gigantic tortoise which sustains Mount Mandar from sinking in the ocean; at another of the fish which raises the lost Veda from the bottom of the sea, and saves mankind from the waters. When these avatárs are not cosmogonical they consist in some protection accorded to men or Gods, a protection which is neither universal nor permanent. The very manner in which the avatár is effected corresponds to its material nature, for instance the mysterious vase and the magic liquor by means of which the avatár here spoken of takes place. What are the forms which Vishnu takes in his descents? They are the simple forms of life; he becomes a tortoise, a boar, a fish, but he is not obliged to take the form of intelligence and liberty, that is to say, the form of man. In the avatár of Vishnu is discovered the inpress of pantheistic ideas which have always more or less prevailed in India. Does the avatár produce a permanent and definitive result in the world? By no means. It is renewed at every catastrophe either of nature or man, and its effects are only transitory.… To sum up then, the Indian avatár is effected externally to the true God of India, to Brahma; it has only a cosmogonical or historical mission which is neither lasting nor decisive; it is accomplished by means of strange prodigies and magic transformations; it may assume promiscuously all the forms of life; it may be repeated indefinitely. Now let the whole of this Indian idea taken from primitive tradition be compared with the Incarnation of Christ and it will be seen that there is between the two an irreconcilable difference. According to the doctrines of Christianity the Everlasting Word, Infinite Love, the Son of God, and equal to Him, assumed a human body, and being born as a man accomplished by his divine act the great miracle of the spiritual redemption of man. His coming had for its sole object to bring erring and lost humanity back to Him; this work being accomplished, and the divine union of men with God being re-established, redemption is complete and remains eternal.
"The superficial study of India produced in the last century many erroneous ideas, many imaginary and false parallels between Christianity and the Brahmanical religion. A profounder knowledge of Indian civilization and religion, and philological studies enlarged and guided by more certain principles have dissipated one by one all those errors. The attributes of the Christian God, which by one of those intellectual errors, which Vico attributes to the vanity of the learned, had been transferred to Vishnu, have by a better inspired philosophy been reclaimed for Christianity, and the result of the two religions, one immovable and powerless, the other diffusing itself with all its inherent force and energy, has shown further that there is a difference, a real opposition, between the two principles."--GORRESIO.