In the religious history of every nation we find accounts of the advents of Beings, held to be of supernatural, or at least superhuman origins, who play a peculiar part in founding new religions, giving forth new national laws, or in guiding the race through some crisis in their history. They are given various names, Prophets, Heroes, World Teachers, Messengers, Avatars, Christs. The last two names are synonymous. They mean one thing: A Divine individuality which assumes human form, gives forth certain teachings, and becomes a sacrifice which saves man from the consequence of his evil-doing, subsequently becoming deified.
Several of these Saviours are known by name to students of religious history and tradition. Though they belong to widely different races and periods, a remarkable similarity between the accounts of their appearance, lives and deaths is found to exist and, because of this similarity, the student is forced to believe that the Christ, or Avatar, is not a single miraculous intrusion of deity into the world, for a purpose which when accomplished never needs to be repeated, but is, on the contrary, a normal, recurring phenomenon — an integral part of the cyclic progress of mankind.
In the common exoteric tradition we find the names of three of these Saviours of whom the accounts given are so similar as to compel belief that the three are one. The first is Krishna said to be the son of Brahma, who appeared among the Aryans of India about six thousand years ago. He gave forth teachings such as are found in the Vedas, and finally was said to have become a voluntary sacrifice for the race, to save it from the wrath of Brahma, which its evil-doing had called forth.
The next name is Mithras who appeared among the Persians, an Aryan people, about four thousand years ago. Of his teachings no written record exists, but tradition shows them to be similar to those of Krishna. He also sacrificed himself on behalf of the race.
The third name is Jesus of Nazareth, honoured as the Son of God. Between his teachings, life and death and the reasons advanced for the latter and those of Krishna and Mithras there is no particular difference, even according to exoteric accounts. In the Occult, esoteric tradition the three are identical in all respects.
Now the question arises what was the true nature of those beings? It is one which cannot be indefinitely ignored or set aside by the student who seeks for Truth which must lie concealed within all religions. The follower of exoteric Hinduism or Christianity cannot answer it. He can only repeat the answer generations of priests have made for him. The Christian holding to the literal word of the Bible says Jesus was the Son of God, or by straightening his intellect may say Jesus was God made Man. Who were Krishna and Mithras? Idols, he will answer quickly. “Indeed, how do you account for the similarity between their lives and teachings and those of Jesus?” He will answer that the Persians and Hindus perhaps copied the accounts given by Jesus, forgetting that the Vedas are at least two thousand years older than the New Testament. The Hindu will tell you that Jesus was an Avatar like Krishna, but of a less exalted degree; but if asked who Krishna was, he can only answer that he was the son of Brahma.
Agnostic philosophers of whom the greatest and most learned is Sir James Frazer explains Jesus, Krishna, and others as being of an eccentric or semi-insane character; that the records of their lives and works are mythical or legendary; that, having run counter to established law or custom, they suffered at the hands of authority and were afterwards elevated by their followers into divine or semi-divine beings. The idea that the sacrifice of a god assuages the wrath of the higher gods dates back to earliest pagan times, the period of animal worship. By sacrificing and eating the animal gods, his worshippers conceived themselves as becoming identified with him, or becoming members of his family, and so presumably no longer likely to suffer his wrath. There is little doubt but that the sacrificial practices of modern religions, such as the Christian Eucharist, do owe their immediate origin to the savage feast on the body of the animal god. But all this does not explain away the Teachings attributed to Jesus and Krishna. These, when analysed even in their exoteric form, are found to possess a transcendent character which no mere human teachings ever exhibit. The conclusion is inescapable, that those who gave the teachings were beings of a higher order than man, though they appeared in human shape.
Exoteric philosophy or religion can, it is obvious, give no satisfactory explanation of the Avatar. Can Esoteric Philosophy give one? It can, but it is not pretended that it can give a wholly complete or wholly satisfactory one. The Occultist worships truth; he pursues it unceasingly, but he does not claim to have found it. He may claim to have found Wisdom, but the essence of Wisdom is to know that however much one knows it is but a particle of what remains to be known.
Exoteric explanations are obviously false to the Occultist because based on the belief that God, or the Power that governs existence, is a thing separate from that which it rules. The Occultist knows that separation is mere illusion, that all existence is one being, or rather a partial manifestation of an Absolute being. The teaching concerning the Avatars is always left until the student is imbued with the understanding that there is but one real, or absolute existence, for without this understanding the true nature of the Avatar cannot be grasped at all. To give it in earlier lessons would be to increase the feeling of a separate spiritual world, ruling the world which we know, hence many teachers in earlier lessons put off the enquiry, by giving not a false, but an,exoteric explanation, stating what is the fact, but not a full fact — that the Teachers were our brothers or disciples of various grades of development who gave forth what of the true wisdom they themselves had grasped. This is true, but not the whole truth. The Avatar was in physical existence a disciple, or brother in Occultism, and in his consciousness was not aware, except in a dim way, that he was anything more. Only when he withdrew his consciousness to inner planes did he perceive his true nature.
Now what is the true nature of an Avatar? Thus, he is a being from a higher world than the physical who incarnates in a physical body, and lives as a man among men until the end for which he left his own plane is accomplished. There have been and still are Avatars of various degrees. Some are denizens of the Astral World, some of the Mental, some of the World of the Spiritual Mind and some, it is believed, such as Jesus and Krishna (but this we do not certainly know) are on the Seventh Plane. In other words Jesus and Krishna, we believe, were incarnation of Absolute Being. All alike had a mission to accomplish, of greater or lesser degree of elevation. This mission generally included the re-presentment of the Universal and Eternal Teachings, but this was not the most important portion of their work. Indeed it was but of secondary or even less importance still, because there are always in the world disciples, brothers and masters to give the Teaching. Teachings to those who are ready for them. The real work of the Avatar was always to lift some of the burden of evil effects accumulated by the Race, which its own strength could not deal with, and which would certainly crush it out of existence unless lightened by a higher power.
This brings us to a point which beginners find extremely difficult to understand. We are taught that we must inevitably suffer the effects of causes which we set up. This is the Doctrine of Karma. If the Avatar relieves us of the effects of our evil actions, is he not arbitrarily upsetting the law? It would seem so at first sight. But here the student must call to his aid the sense of the one Existence. Man is a manifestation of the Absolute. Man is the Absolute in a limited form. So also is the being from the Plane of Genius (the Sixth Plane). The absolute one Existence uses an Intelligence, which belongs to a higher aspect of Itself, to lighten the evil which a lower, less intelligent aspect has inflicted on itself. Take a crude illustration. I may place my hand in the fire and suffer a severe burn. My hand must quite inevitably suffer pain and incapacity. The lives in it will struggle to heal itself but fail. Gangrene may set in and result in the loss of the limb. Obviously the loss of the limb is a natural effect arising from the member being placed in the fire. But it is an effect which need not be inevitable if “I” use intelligent methods of healing. If “I” use them and save the hand am I breaking the law of cause and effect?
The Avatar by lifting a portion of the evil karma of the race or of any section of the race does not break the chain of cause and effect. The effects instead of being allowed to work themselves out on the lower planes where they would prove overpowering are lifted by him to higher planes where they undergo transmutation. What is evil here, is lesser evil on the second plane, while all effects lifted to the Seventh Plane become good.
Another point to be noted is that the Avatar, far from being an intrusion into and an interruption to the chain of Cause and Effect, is himself an EFFECT of Cause set up by man. Remember that existence depends on equipoise. The positive must always balance the negative, else destructive cataclysm ensues. This principle is visible everywhere. Every day we see it in action in elemental changes. A period of great heat and drought results in the air becoming rarified, and is followed by a thunderstorm, or inrush of colder, heavier air, which restores the normal balance. In the emotional mind of man a period of great excitement or intense joy is always followed by a counterbalancing period of depression or sadness. Thus in the Universal Life a piling up of evil effect calls forth some special outpouring of good and vice versa, so that balance is maintained.
It may be asked why does not the evil accumulated on the physical plane become counterbalanced by an out-pouring of good also on that plane? We have, we are taught, men more advanced than the mass of humanity existing in the world, of various grades reaching upward to perfection, that is as far as perfection is possible in the physical form; are not these able to maintain the balance against evil, as we are taught is their function to do? The answer is, that normally good and evil balance each other on each plane. The Adepts, Brothers and Disciples do by their efforts maintain the balance during minor cycles. It becomes evident to all with any degree of perception, that at cyclical crises, the Masters and their Disciples put forth special efforts. Then those capable of recognising them find them working among humanity, though in the intervals between cyclic crises they seldom appear in the world. The present is a series of minor crises. (1) These began half a century ago. The turning points of a number of lesser cycles came, and are still coming nearly coincidentally with each other, and with those cycles of greater magnitude. This resulted in the bringing into common knowledge of much of the secret wisdom through the mediumship of H. P. Blavatsky and her immediate followers. Their efforts carried humanity over into the interim period, during which a lesser effort was needed. Now we are experiencing a second period of stress and the Masters and their Disciples are again active among humanity, as those with any degree of perception can perceive.
A few words concerning cycles may be helpful here. It is taught that all manifestation works in cycles. There are the vast cosmic cycles of Evolution and Involution, known to Eastern Philosophy as Days and Nights of Brahma, or Manvantara and Pralaya. The Absolute comes into manifestation during a Solar, or a Universal Manvantara, and in this there occurs the evolution of Life from formless substance up to perfected individuality, after which comes Involution, or a withdrawal of manifestation till nothing remains but the Spirit as it Was. This is Pralaya, or the Night of Brahma. But besides the Greater Cycles there are innumerable lesser ones down to those we experience each day. We have our waking and our sleeping hours. We have our periods during which the tide of life slowly rises, and those during which it falls. These are minor cycles. If we set up evil causes during our daily rising cycle, those causes may produce effects which may overwhelm us when the lowest point of the descending cycle is reached.
The word Cycle which conveys the idea of cyclic, or Circular, motion is not the best wherewith to describe the process which occurs. The process is more akin to a wave motion. A Great Cycle may be fairly accurately likened to the slow rise of a vast tide, followed by its slow ebbing away. The lesser cycles are represented by the greater rollers on the surface of the tide. We are all familiar with the saying that the seventh wave is of as great volume as the six which preceded it put together. So it is in existence; many minor waves rise and fall before one greater one comes. While if we examine the minor waves we find that they themselves are made up of smaller waves, and those down to imperceptible ripples. Exactly so with the Life processes of the universe. A wave rises, and a Race, a sub-race, a Tribe, a family, an individuality comes into manifestation, and reaches its Zenith; then sinks down into the trough, from whence another wave rises, bearing with it some of the qualities and attributes of its predecessor. If this simile can be visualised and applied, much understanding of life will be gained.
The cycles of special importance to humanity are First the Universal Cycle, of Manvantara and Pralaya. Second, the Solar Cycle involving a Manvantara and Pralaya of a Particular system. Thirdly, the Great Race Cycles, that is the coming into manifestation of a great Root Race, its rise, fall and merging into the next, and more evolved Root Race. Fourth the sub-race cycles. Each Root Race divides into seven sub-races; each of these rises, falls, and merges into its, more evolved, successor, to which it brings the qualities it has evolved. Fifth, the Cycles of Civilisation. In each sub-race civilisations rise, subside, become merged into others with some of the qualities evolved. Sixth, National cycles. These cycles occur within the cycles of civilisation. Seventh, Class cycles or Cycles of sub-Civilisations. These are represented by various resurgences within each national cycle. The Italian Renaissance; the English Reformation; the French and Russian Revolution typify crises of such as these very well.
The first three (cycles) are of very little interest except to the advanced disciple. To give the Neophyte anything like a true understanding of them is quite impossible. All that is necessary to say concerning them here is that the mass of humanity at present is in that state of evolution we call the Fifth Root-Race. The cyclic wave of this race has passed its Zenith and it is on its descent to the trough from which the Sixth Root Race will emerge. Turning to the Cycles of the Fourth Class we find something of intense interest and significance. The bulk of civilised humanity is in that stage we call the Fifth Sub-race of the Fifth Root Race. This race is now mainly in the trough of its descent. Some ripples have run ahead and are already mounting to form the Sixth Sub-race while others lag behind on the descending slope of the Fifth Wave.
Again, our major cycle of civilisation, the Nordic, is on a descending slope. Its sub-division, which is commonly called “Modern European Civilisation” is in the trough. And again the national variety of our sub-civilisation is also at the nadir of its descent. So it is seen that one major and two important minor cycles have their crises occurring coincidentally at the present period. (2)
Now to understand the full significance of what has been said it must be explained that Karmic effects accumulated during any cycle are felt most heavily just when the first surge of a new wave is beginning, not as might be thought when in the actual trough. At the actual nadir of a cycle there is a period of apathy, or lethargy or what might be called “slack water” when the race, the civilisation, or the country seems to be blind to the presence of the evil it has accumulated for itself. But when the rise of the next wave begins the load of evil instantly becomes felt. It would prove overwhelming if man had but his own accumulated power of good to aid him in bearing it. It would push him back into the trough and there the race, the civilisation, the nation would perish and pass from manifestation. That this disaster has frequently occurred we know. Races, civilisations, nations have risen, then sunk and vanished, leaving no successor. All would sink and vanish were Man, the isolated being, dependent on his own limited power which he thinks he is. But he is not isolated, nor wholly dependent on the feeble strength he has evolved. His struggles to rise under the burden he has accumulated for himself calls down the Avatar, His Higher Self, to aid him.
Why then do races and civilisations fall if higher aid is at hand? Because it is man’s struggles which bring him help. If he makes no struggle the Avatar cannot help him. He may not even come at all. Just consider the illustration of the burnt hand for the better understanding of this. Supposing there exists no healing power in the cells of the hand, no local effort to repair the injury is made, no remedy applied by higher intelligence will effect a cure and the limb will perish. Or, supposing a limb or organ be injured or diseased but so insensitive that it does not telegraph its condition to the brain, is it not clear that the latter will neglect it? I have seen natives lose toes and sometimes a whole foot because their nerves were so insensitive that the pain of a burn or injury was not felt. A new Race coming in to manifestation is always accompanied by a greater Avatar. Krishna ushered in the Fifth Sub-race. The beginning of the new Sub-race will call forth an Avatar, one from less exalted planes perhaps. The approach of the Sixth Sub-race has led to the expectation of the coming of an Avatar, or World Teacher. And certain people calling themselves Theosophists profess, some honestly and some dishonestly, to have identified him and to be in touch with the body he uses. Mr. Krishnamurti, though doubtless a man of some vision and attainments, doing some good, though in devious ways, is the vehicle of no Avatar or World Teacher, and knows that he is not such. The Avatar of the Sixth Sub-race is not yet due, for this race, as a race has not yet emerged. A few ripples which herald it have appeared, but the wave itself has not yet begun to rise, though its rising cannot long be delayed.
How do we account for Jesus whom we are taught was an Avatar of the Highest degree? His advent should have occurred only at the rising of the new sub-race whereas it occurred when the (so-called) Celtic (or fourth) sub-race was at its Zenith. The explanation is that at this period there was a coincidence of crises, racial, civilisation, national and many others of slightly lesser weight. The sum of evil waiting to be lifted by the new waves constituted a burden which bade fair to overwhelm a major section of mankind and set back for ages the march of Evolution. Only a power of transcendental degree could shoulder and transmute that burden, and so the Christ, the Absolute Individual, came and was incarnated in the Man, Jesus.
What was Jesus, the physical man? Simply a disciple of the Occult Brotherhood, the Essenes.
Here arises another point which students find great difficulty in comprehending. Man, we are taught is the Absolute, limited by a physical body. Jesus Christ was also the Absolute limited apparently by a physical body. Surely then man can be his own Saviour? Let him but shed his limiting vehicle and he will be God.
Suppose an infant who has not learned to walk be strapped into a wheeled vehicle which he can propel by turning a handle, or pulling a lever; he has then a certain range of action. Without the vehicles he can crawl helplessly. Now, suppose the infant grown to vigorous manhood be strapped, in the same or similar vehicle. His range of action would be very similar to that he had when an infant, but if released from the vehicle, how immeasurably superior would he not be?
Man is Absolute individuality, or the Christ, or God, call it what you will in the process of growth. His physical vehicle is necessary to him to enable him to express himself. He is helpless without it. As he grows up a time will come when he will not need it; when he is fully grown-up he will be Christ. Absolute Being, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal. He is not Christ now, but only Christ in germ, or in embryo. The Avator is man grown-up, no longer wearing bodies of lower planes. He limits himself within a human body, in order to contact with and aid his undeveloped self, all mankind. All this is intensely abstruse and obscure and cannot be explained in words. To fully understand it would be to understand the Absolute, and that only the Absolute being himself can do.
There are very many aspects of the Avatar which we do not understand. Of all manifestations he is the greatest mystery. We must be content to know that he does manifest and to know his full nature must remain unknowable to any intelligence we have yet developed.
To return to matters more immediately interesting. It is known that we are emerging through a time of crises, and that to enable us to emerge from it without disaster, help is urgently needed. Are we to look for the advent of an Avatar? The answer is Yes. The Great Brotherhoods are preparing for that stupendous event. They do not look for it to occur at an early date as we count time for the rise of the Sixth Sub-race is as yet hardly perceptible. Only when this wave definitely develops will the real weight of accumulated evil from the Fifth Sub-race be felt. Then will the Avator begin his mission. In the meantime the Brotherhoods are coming into the world and using their powers to help mankind through the many minor crises which are occurring or are about to occur almost together. They are preparing the way for a Greater one, and in that task every Theosophist, or student of Theosophy, can play a part. The example which the Avatar sets to man in his life as man is as important a work as any which he performs. By taking the Avatar as example man learns that he himself can act as Avatar to those less evolved than himself in the recurring crises of their daily lives. We can all help in some little way those less happily placed than ourselves. By helping, I do not simply mean giving material help, in charity and the like. Many of us have neither the means nor the opportunity to do much in that way, yet even if the means and our time were unlimited our material help would be as nothing compared to that which we can give on the inner planes. The Avatar’s real and greatest work is done on the inner planes. How is this inner work done, it will be asked. The answer is by sympathy. To give sympathy you will think is easy, it costs nothing. If you truly think so, you do not know what sympathy means. The thing you call sympathy is only a vague pity for weakness and distress, it is not real sympathy. Real sympathy is what the word implies, a feeling WITH. It means feeling what another feels exactly as though you were that other. Remember that sympathy does not merely mean fellow feeling for sorrow or misfortune. It means feeling EVERYTHING another feels, his joys as well as his sorrows, his loves and hates, all his emotions and passions in fact. That is what is done by the Avatar. He feels all the passions and emotions of humanity. He feels them; they are his; a fearful burden: but knowing to be what he is he rises above them, and lifts them above the planes of personal life to where they change their nature and cease to be evil. The Occultist does this thing also, though, of course, in an infinitely more restricted degree. All Theosophists can learn to do it to some extent. The extent depends upon the realisation of the Real Self they have gained, and the degree of sensitiveness the higher nature has achieved. True sympathy depends upon the degree of sensitiveness to which the (“higher”) astral nature has been trained. And remember that to develop such sensitiveness means assuming a terrible burden, which may easily crush and destroy the balance which comes when consciousness of one’s real nature has been gained.
Only one who has long been trained in Occultism can act consciously as Avatar to his more lowly brethren. Yet, consciously or semi-consciously the Theosophical Student can do much to endeavour to put himself in his lowly brother’s place, by a constant reminder that the lowly brother is but his own undeveloped self, who acts and feels as he does simply because he knows no better. “Forgive them for they know not what they do”, should be the constant cry of the Inner Self of him, who would be Avatar to his fellows.
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1) P. G. Bowen died in 1940.
2) Approximately 1910? – 1940. P. G. Bowen died in 1940 and this article was undated.