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This section may be skipped, but this is essentially just a background to my question. I know basically nothing about Hinduism but I am curious about learning about it. My only experience with anything religious has been studying Judeo-Christianity. So a lot of the concepts in Hinduism are unknown to me.

I am aware that within the Mahabharat, Vishnu takes on an avatar form of Krishna, but I don't understand how this works. Are Avatars aware that they are Gods or are they enlightened people, are they born as men or do they simply materialize? And why do Gods have to take on an avatar form in the first place? I know that perhaps this is a stretch, and a silly connection, but is the idea of avatars on par with how Christianity teaches that Jesus was the incarnate form of God himself?

Within the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reveals himself to be an incarnate of Vishnu, so why did he need to take on a form? Are Gods simply spirits and their only way to materialize is through an avatar, or may they simply walk down on Earth? How can depictions of Gods like Vishnu exist if they only exist through Avatar form.

I appreciate any answers to the questions I've raised here, and I am aware that this is a deeply loaded question. If these questions are too long to answer, I'd appreciate any points in the right direction with reading materials or other answers.

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First- Are avatars of Gods/Deities (like Vishnu) divine? The answer lies in multiple scriptures and all agree with each other on this matter

Shrimad Bhagvad Gita Chapter 18 Verse 66 is as follows-

Abandon all varieties of dharmas and simply surrender unto Me alone. I shall liberate you from all sinful reactions; do not fear.

Here is Madhavacharya's commentary on this verse

Here Lord Krishna reveals the conclusion to the essence of all knowledge. The most confidential of all knowledge that is confidential. Sarva-dharma parityagya means renouncing all conceptions of what one thinks or imagines religiosity to be. This does not mean to renounce righteousness for righteousness to all jivas or embodied beings is always attuned and in harmony with the Supreme Lord. The ultimate goal of all religious and spiritual conceptions is communion with the Supreme Lord Krishna. To achieve this one must first have realisation of their atma or immortal soul within the etheric heart. After surrendering and taking exclusive refuge in Him alone one is blessed by the Supreme Lord and by His grace, He, Himself will accomplish this for His devotee.

Now begins the summation.

Knowing the absolute paramount position of the Supreme Lord Krishna as the creator, maintainer, protector and sustainer of all creation; one who is spiritually intelligent should incessantly attune themselves to adoring Him by bhakti or exclusive loving devotion. Then with such commitment of mind, speech and actions which is more precious and excellent than any other, one should surrender themselves completely unto Him thru the bonafide Vaisnava spiritual master in one of the four authorised sampradayas or channels of disciplic succession as revealed in Vedic scriptures. Awareness like knowing one is under the express care of the Supreme Lord and that He will always protect one in all situations, arises on its own like flowers in spring. Such awareness is known to be the result of saranagati or complete surrender.

And here is Ramanujacharya's commentary, it is pretty long but here is some of it

The phrase sarva-dharmam parityajya means renouncing all conceptions and methods of religiosity completely. Whatever is authorised in Vedic scriptures as righteous may be utilised in worship and propitiation to the Supreme Lord by karma yoga or facilitating communion with the Supreme Lord by prescribed Vedic actions, by bhakti yoga or facilitating communion with the Supreme Lord by exclusive loving devotion or by jnana yoga facilitating communion with the Supreme Lord by spiritual knowledge. But all other methods and conceptions must be renounced and relinquished along with phala tyaga or expectation of rewards, karma tyaga or identifying oneself as the owner of the result and kartritva or believing oneself to be the author of the act. The phrase mam ekam saranam vraja means to take exclusive shelter in the Supreme Lord Krishna understanding that He is the most worthy, most desirable and most worshipable of all that exists. That this is the quality of renunciation warranted in the Vedic scriptures that is required was evidenced by the Supreme Lord in the beginning of this chapter. In verse 4 He stated: Hear the truth about renunciation which is threefold. In verse 9 He stated: Actions are deemed as renunciation in sattva guna the mode of goodness when desire for rewards are abandoned. In verse 11 He stated: One is known as renounced who renounces the rewards for actions. Lord Krishna is promising His devotees that He will personally redeem and deliver from all sins His devotee who lives their life in the manner just explained. This includes sins of commission and sins of omission that accumulated over uncountable lifetimes from time immemorial. Past sins are immense burdens and obstacles in achieving moksa or liberation from material existence. Then to assure that what He has stated is a surety He states ma sucah meaning there is no need to despair.

So yes, avatars are divine not just enlightened people.

Why does God need to take an avatar? Usually when there is disbalance of dharama and adharma in this world one of the "Great Gods" descend and take an avatar to balance everything right away

Shrimad Bhagvad Gita chapter 4 verse 7

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṁ sṛijāmyaham

Whenever there is a decline in righteousness and an increase in unrighteousness, O Arjun, at that time I manifest Myself on earth.

Another point of God taking an avatar is that they can interact with us, The supreme Purusa, The Brahman, The supreme /Ultimate reality, that is, formless,He has no images, so to interact with humans for their welfare he takes on different forms (of Gods) like Indra, Vishnu, Agni, etc.

If I missed anything please forgive me.

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  • I'm not sure I understand though, you stated that The Brahman has no image so He takes on a form such as Vishnu. So is Vishnu then a form that is able to interact with humans? Why does He then become Krishna. Feb 15 at 21:40
  • @perfectum.esse vishnu preserves universe.(vishnu shastranaam of mahabharat you can check)Vishnu comes on earth in huaman form to destroy evil .
    – user32378
    Feb 16 at 6:20
  • @Hope but as user31352 explained, Vishnu is a manifestation of Brahman, so why does Vishnu even need to become human? can't He appear as Himself?? Or must Gods become Humans to fulfill their will? If they are all powerful why the need to become an Avatar? Feb 16 at 8:13
  • @perfectum.esse many demons got boon that they can't be killed by a devta.So, God won't break the promise I. E. Boon given by God. You can read about avtars purpose to kill demons like example of hiranyakashyap.Means if God has said that so, he won't make his own statements wrong.
    – user32378
    Feb 16 at 8:59
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    Vishnu being one of the great gods like Shiva, shakti(Durga), Indra also are very hard to communicate or see, because they are Bhraman themselves (imagine it being an immediate form of Bhraman, even though this concept is not entirely correct) and Vishnu in his eternal state is meditating, and the energy levels of these deities are incomprehensible and are too powerful to descend on Earth in their eternal form/nature so, they take avatars to come here, interact personally and uplift people and upcoming generations (and re-establish dharma). Feb 16 at 9:08
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This is been clearly answered in Bhagavad Gita 7.24 as follows -:

avyaktaṁ vyaktim āpannaṁ

manyante mām abuddhayaḥ

paraṁ bhāvam ajānanto

mamāvyayam anuttamam

Translation -:

Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.

Purport -:

Those who are worshipers of demigods have been described as less intelligent persons, and here the impersonalists are similarly described. Lord Kṛṣṇa in His personal form is here speaking before Arjuna, and still, due to ignorance, impersonalists argue that the Supreme Lord ultimately has no form. Yāmunācārya, a great devotee of the Lord in the disciplic succession from Rāmānujācārya, has written two very appropriate verses in this connection. He says, "My dear Lord, devotees like Vyāsadeva and Nārada know You to be the Personality of Godhead. By understanding different Vedic literatures, one can come to know Your characteristics, Your form and Your activities, and one can thus understand that You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But those who are in the modes of passion and ignorance, the demons, the nondevotees, cannot understand You. They are unable to understand You. However expert such nondevotees may be in discussing Vedānta and the Upaniṣads and other Vedic literatures, it is not possible for them to understand the Personality of Godhead." In the Brahma-saṁhitā it is stated that the Personality of Godhead cannot be understood simply by study of the Vedānta literature. Only by the mercy of the Supreme Lord can the Personality of the Supreme be known. Therefore in this verse it is clearly stated that not only the worshipers of the demigods are less intelligent, but those nondevotees who are engaged in Vedānta and speculation on Vedic literature without any tinge of true Kṛṣṇa consciousness are also less intelligent, and for them it is not possible to understand God's personal nature. Persons who are under the impression that the Absolute Truth is impersonal are described as asuras, which means one who does not know the ultimate feature of the Absolute Truth. In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is stated that supreme realization begins from the impersonal Brahman and then rises to the localized Supersoul—but the ultimate word in the Absolute Truth is the Personality of Godhead. Modern impersonalists are still less intelligent, for they do not even follow their great predecessor, Śaṅkarācārya, who has specifically stated that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Impersonalists, therefore, not knowing the Supreme Truth, think Kṛṣṇa to be only the son of Devakī and Vasudeva, or a prince, or a powerful living entity. This is also condemned in Bhagavad-gītā: "Only the fools regard Me as an ordinary person." The fact is that no one can understand Kṛṣṇa without rendering devotional service and without developing Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The Gītā confirms this. One cannot understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, or His form, quality or name simply by mental speculation or by discussing Vedic literature. One must understand Him by devotional service. When one is fully engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, beginning by chanting the mahāmantra—Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare—then only can one understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Nondevotee impersonalists think that Kṛṣṇa has a body made of this material nature and that all His activities, His form and everything, are māyā. These impersonalists are known as Māyāvādī. They do not know the ultimate truth. The twentieth verse clearly states: "Those who are blinded by lusty desires surrender unto the different demigods." It is accepted that besides the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there are demigods who have their different planets (Bg. 7.23), and the Lord also has a planet. It is also stated that the worshipers of the demigods go to the different planets of the demigods, and those who are devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa go to the Kṛṣṇaloka planet. Although this is clearly stated, the foolish impersonalists still maintain that the Lord is formless and that these forms are impositions. From the study of the Gītā does it appear that the demigods and their abodes are impersonal? Clearly, neither the demigods nor Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are impersonal. They are all persons; Lord Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He has His own planet, and the demigods have theirs. Therefore the monistic contention that ultimate truth is formless and that form is imposed does not hold true. It is clearly stated here that it is not imposed. From the Gītā we can clearly understand that the forms of the demigods and the form of the Supreme Lord are simultaneously existing and that Lord Kṛṣṇa is sac-cid-ānanda, eternal blissful knowledge. The Vedas also confirm that the Supreme Absolute Truth is ānandamaya, or full of blissful pleasure, and that He is abhyāsāt, by nature the reservoir of unlimited auspicious qualities. And in the Gītā the Lord says that although He is aja (unborn), He still appears. These are the facts that we should understand from the Gītā. We cannot understand how the Supreme Personality of Godhead can be impersonal; the imposition theory of the impersonalist monist is false as far as the statements of the Gītā are concerned. It is clear herein that the Supreme Absolute Truth, Lord Kṛṣṇa, has both form and personality.

(Ref - Śrīmad Bhagavad Gita, 7.24, By His Divine Grace Śrīla Prabhupāda)

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