God in a Form?
Most religions cannot accept the concept of God with a form. Further, some religions do not allow the acceptance of God in a human form. Yet every religion agrees to the fact that the Lord is all-knowing and all-powerful. If this is true then He, who is beyond all forms, can take up any form by His Will. If there is even a single form that He cannot take up, then He is not all-powerful. Therefore one must accept that the Lord can take up even the human form. He can take up a human form and come to earth as a human being. Such a human being is called the human incarnation of God or an Avatara. Not only that the Lord is capable of incarnating in human form but He has also done so in every age and continues to do so even today. He, alone came to the world as all the prophets and human incarnations of the Lord (Avataras) in the past.
Need for Human Incarnation
The important question arises as to why He needs to come down in human form in the first place. The answer to this is simple. He comes to the world for the sake of His devotees. The devotee is an individual. An individual consists of three bodies namely; the causal body (soul), the subtle body (mind, intellect and past impressions) and the gross (physical) body. The gross body is the exterior-most body and is made out of matter. The causal body is pure awareness or life energy. It can be compared with standstill water without waves. The subtle body can be compared with waves in water. Past impressions, which are waves in the pure awareness, form the subtle body. As the waves cannot be separated from water, so also the subtle body cannot be separated from the causal body. The gross body is like a cup containing this disturbed water (water with waves). At the time of death, the external gross body is given up. The causal body (soul) along with the subtle body ascends to the upper worlds. The subtle body and the soul together are called as jeevatma ('jeeva' is the subtle body and 'atma' is the causal body). In the new world, the jeevatma, takes a new external body called as the energetic or luminous body (taija sharira). This body is made up of inert energy while the jeevatma is made up of life energy. If the jeevatma goes to heaven the energetic body that it takes up is called a 'body of enjoyment' (bhoga sharira). This body is the result of good worldly deeds or dharmic actions. If it goes to hell then the energetic body that it takes up is called a 'body of suffering' (yatana sharira). This body is the result of sinful worldly deeds or papa karma. Souls, who do dharmic or good worldly deeds such as serving people, society or country, go to heaven. There they enjoy the results of their good actions and fall back to hell to suffer the results of their bad actions. They are caught up in the endless cycle of birth and death. This shows the limitation of good deeds. A few rare souls serve the Lord in His human incarnation on earth with full devotion and effort. These souls reach the highest heaven or Brahma loka. Here the soul takes up an energetic body which is highly refined and is called as a divine body or divya sharira. This body is the result of actions performed in the service of God. Such souls are very near and dear to God and do not have to be reborn except along with the human incarnation of the Lord, to serve Him in His divine mission on earth.
A soul interacts, perceives and enjoys or suffers in each world only through the medium of the external body. On earth the external body is the gross physical body. In heaven the external body is the energetic body. Now the soul can only perceive other bodies of its own kind. When the soul is on earth it has a physical body and therefore it will perceive only other physical bodies. It cannot perceive energetic bodies, which belong to another world. If a soul on earth has to perceive God, it means that God must come in a physical body. If He comes in an energetic body, then an individual on earth cannot perceive Him. In other words, the human being can perceive only the human incarnation of the Lord. Likewise in heaven when the soul is 'wearing' an energetic body, it can perceive God who too is 'wearing' an energetic body. Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma are examples of God in energetic bodies. They cannot be perceived by humans on earth.
An individual on earth has a physical body, and is surrounded by a physical world. He has five senses which are his only means to knowledge or perception. The five senses cannot perceive Absolute God as He is. Absolute God (Nirguna Brahman) is beyond space, time and pure awareness. He is beyond creation. Any form is within the limits of space and time. The human mind cannot go beyond these bounds. All that we can say about God is that He exists. Questions such as 'How is God?', 'Where is God?', etc cannot be answered since 'How', 'Where', etc. have meaning only within space and time. We cannot even say that He is Formless, since the concept of 'form' is implied in it. Space, energy, air etc. are formless. They are not God. If you imagine God like them, your imagination, made of nervous energy, is also a formless energy. You should say that God is unimaginable. When you try to imagine Him in any way, imagination itself being a form of energy, you are actually conceiving God only through energy. Energy is a part of the creation. It becomes a medium to perceive God; it is not God Himself.
Yet if one accepts conceiving God through one medium it is a significant achievement. The unimaginable God can be conceived through the medium of any part of the creation which is nothing but a modification of the same awareness, matter and energy. Matter and energy being inter-convertible, they can together be called as inert energy. Awareness can be called as life energy. These two energies constitute creation. The Lord can take up any form in the world that He has created. A human being can attempt to perceive Him in different forms that He takes up. However we cannot perceive the Lord in His Cosmic Form (Vishwaroopa), which is the Lord in the form of the entire creation. Neither can the human being perceive the Lord in an energetic body. All these are different mediums to perceive God. The human body is also a medium. The Lord can be perceived by humans only through this medium. Since we can perceive the Lord only in a physical human body, the Lord has to take up a human body in order to fulfill the desire and devotion of his devotees.
Fulfillment of Devotion
When human beings who are extremely devoted to God and yearn for the Lord, He, in all His compassion comes down in human form to satisfy His devotees. In the human form alone, can the devotee serve the Lord, feed Him, live with Him, talk to Him and love Him fully. One cannot serve, love, or talk to the Lord in the Cosmic Form or as the Formless One. The only other option for the human being is worshipping an idol, which is not the Lord but represents Him. It is like a lover, who holds on to the photograph of his beloved one, who is in some far away land. The idol or picture is not the same as the original person. You may pretend that you are feeding the idol, decorating it, loving it and so on. However it is obvious that it is mere imagination. The idol never eats the food you offer. It never shows satisfaction and pleasure on eating the food as a real person would. You can sing hymns and songs to the idol but the idol will still be as motionless and lifeless as ever. Thus in reality, you have no opportunity to serve, worship, decorate or praise the Lord in the form of an idol. Worshipping God as the Formless One is also not possible because first of all, The Formless One is not God Himself but His formless power called as Maya. In worshipping the Formless Maya, one does not know where to start since the mind can only perceive limited forms. No matter how devoted you are, you can never attain the fulfillment of your devotion and worship if you limit yourself to worshipping the Formless or idols and images. You can never be satisfied by your worship. The only way that you can actually serve, worship, love, talk and sing to the Lord is when He comes down as a human incarnation or Avatara.
Recognition of the Human Incarnation
Recognizing the human incarnation of the Lord is recognizing the Lord Himself. Service to the human incarnation of the Lord is service to the Lord Himself. The Lord, who is beyond the perception and reach of the devotee, offers the medium of His human body to reach and serve Him. However herein lies the difficulty. The Lord offers humans the opportunity to reach Him through his human body, which is human; like any other human body. Therefore it becomes extremely difficult for the human being to distinguish the human incarnation of the Lord from any other human being. The body of the human incarnation is also subject to the rules of nature and outwardly shows no special quality. A blade can cut the shirt of a king and that of a beggar alike. The difference lies in the persons. There is no difference between the external shirts of the two. Likewise there is no difference between the human bodies of a human incarnation of the Lord and an ordinary human being. One can recognize the human incarnation, not by certain qualities of that body but by the expression of the three inseparable characteristics of the Lord: Infinite Knowledge, Infinite Bliss and Infinite Love. He brings all three to your experience. Thus your recognition of Him is based on your direct experience. It is not a question of blind faith. Although the human incarnation is capable of performing miracles using His super powers, the miracles cannot be the criteria of identifying the human incarnation. The super powers are His associated characteristics and not His inseparable characteristics. They can be given to others. Thus we find that great ascetics (tapasvis), yogis and even demons can perform miracles. God can grant these powers to anyone who does enough penance for them.
The Lord thus 'gives Himself' to his devotees and the world as the human incarnation and is called as Dattatreya or Datta (He, who is given). Datta is any human incarnation of the Lord. Datta is God in the three aspects of Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer. Datta thus includes Brahma (God in the aspect of Creator), Vishnu (God in the aspect of the Sustainer) and Shiva (God in the aspect of the Absorber or Destroyer). All other forms of God represent only a certain aspect of God. Datta is the highest conception of God that the human mind can imagine. Beyond that, God in His Universal (Cosmic) form, is unimaginable to us. He is the Adi Guru (the Primal or Original Guru), who has come down to teach man Divine Knowledge. He is the Sadguru (Sat- Guru or the teacher of the Truth). Datta is God who has given the ultimate. He has given Himself to the world. He is the example of the total sacrifice. He sacrifices His body for His devotees. He gives His body to His devotees not only for worship, but He also transfers the results of their evil deeds and suffers on their behalf. Datta donates His body for worship and sacrifices His body to remove the results of the sins committed by His devotees.
Datta in All Times and Places
Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Jesus, Prophet Mohammed, Lord Buddha among many others are examples of human incarnations of the Lord. They came to the world for the sake of the devotees. They were worshipped by devotees and they suffered for the devotees. Human incarnations of the Lord are to be found in every land, in every age. The purpose of this is to give an equal opportunity to the people of each land and time to approach and serve Him.
The Complete Incarnation
The Bhagavad Gita says that the Lord incarnates in every age when there is a downfall of humans, to re-establish justice (dharma). In different incarnations, the Lord undertakes different tasks according to the need of the time. The highest human incarnation of God, the Pari Purna Avatara, means that the Lord who has come down in human form, dwells in that human body from its birth to its end and also expresses His inseparable characteristic of the True, Infinite, and Divine Knowledge. Lord Brahma (the Lord in the aspect of Creator) came in such a full form as Sage Vashishta who preached the Yoga Vashishtam' or 'Jnana Vashishta,. Then Lord Vishnu (the Lord in the aspect of the Sustainer) came in such a complete form as Lord Krishna and preached the Bhagavad Gita. Lord Shiva (the Lord in the aspect of the Destroyer of Ignorance) came as Adi Shankaracharya and preached the 'Bhashyam'.
The Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, together, called as Dattatreya or Lord Datta has now come down as a Pari Purna Avatara, to impart Divine Knowledge to humanity. He stands before you as Sri Datta Swami.
The Paripurna Avatara is that human incarnation of the Lord who radiates the true Divine Knowledge completely. Such a human incarnation can be treated as being identical with the Lord. Let us further analyze the concept of a human incarnation of God and how people understand and approach Him. Let us take an example. Electricity by itself is beyond our reach. It has no form and cannot be seen. However, it can be felt (as an electric shock) only through the medium of a live wire. Without a wire, electricity cannot be felt by us. Thus from the point of view of our perception, electricity is identical with a live wire. The Lord, who is beyond the reach of the devotee, offers the medium of the human body of an incarnation to reach Him. It is indeed the wish of God that the devotee considers the human incarnation of God as God Himself. The devotee who accepts and worships God in the human body of the incarnation indeed worships God Himself.
But alas, not all devotees can do this. Devotees who have completely conquered their ego and jealousy towards other human beings, alone can accept the human incarnation of the Lord as the Lord Himself. Those who have only partially conquered ego and jealousy can at the most accept that the Lord dwells in the human incarnation as the major component. They still think that there is a minor component of individuality in the human incarnation. It is equivalent to stating that in the live wire, electricity and the wire both exist but that electricity is the major component. The electricity and the wire represent the concepts of the Father and the Son in Christianity. In this case God is believed to exist in the human incarnation as if a king were living as a guest in the house of his friend. These people, who have partially conquered their ego and jealousy, accept an underlying unity in duality.
In devotees whose hearts are full of ego and jealousy, the human incarnation cannot be accepted as God either fully or in part. They simply cannot accept the entrance of God into a human body. All they can accept is that the person in question is a prophet or messenger from God in whom, the power of God exists but not God Himself. Thus, based on these three categories of devotees, the human incarnation can be taken as identical with God, an abode of God (in whom God lives) or a servant of God. In both Hinduism and Christianity, all these three approaches to God are present. In Hinduism the three great preachers (Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva) separately preached about each of these three angles respectively. The three approaches are called Advaita, Vishishthadvaita and Dvaita respectively. The three preachers gave a systematic analysis of their respective approaches and developed the three angles as elaborate philosophies. In Christianity Lord Jesus alone preached about these three angles briefly.
Islam preaches only the last angle in which they do not recognize any human incarnation of God. At the most, they accept prophets and messengers of God. There is a certain advantage to this approach. False preachers who either claim to be God, or who claim that God lives in them, are avoided. Thus Muslims treat Prophet Mohammed as a messenger of the Lord and not as an incarnation.
Now when it is stated that Shri Datta Swami is a Complete Incarnation of the Lord (Paripurna Avatara), it does not mean that other incarnations of the past are incomplete or in any way inferior. It only means that Sri Datta Swami preaches the complete true knowledge, whereas other incarnations have not given the true knowledge completely. The same Lord was present in all incarnations and He possessed the complete true knowledge in all the incarnations. However earlier incarnations preached it only partially. This is a reflection not on the incarnations, but on the devotees to whom they preached. The world has progressed a lot in the past thousands of years. The entire population is far more educated and aware today than before. Science and logical reasoning have spread to all levels of society. In ancient times, science was in an undeveloped state. It was bound by the chains of blind beliefs and false logic. Logic (tarka shastra) of the time was based on what was known then. Often times it was outright wrong. E.g. In the analysis of the constituents of creation, space (akasha) was said to have the quality of sound. Modern science has showed us that sound cannot travel in empty space. It needs a medium. Therefore sound cannot be a quality of space. Advancement in modern science has refined human knowledge and logic. It has made it possible for the public to accept and assimilate the complete truth. I give this elaborate explanation because it is very easy to misunderstand.