Avatars of the Master is an exciting journey that delves deep into the sacred stories of the Indian tradition. Through these stories, we learn about love, surrender and the conquering of pride. We understand the power of grace, the yearning of the heart and the true meaning of humility.
This book describes and explains the first five incarnations of the supreme deity-Narayana (Vishnu). Each one of these incarnations opens a portal to the inner world where we gain a vivid picture of who the Master is and how He can transform our life.
To anyone who has a thirst for the Truth, the teachings expounded in these pages will provide a rich source of wisdom to carry forward on their path. They are honestly delivered and spring from the authentic experience of one who has taken shelter under a true Master.
This is about real spirituality with real divinity.
MAYURAN SENTHILNATHAN is a senior lecturer at the Bhakti Academy in Frankfurt, Germany. Having spent the last twelve years studying and teaching Indian philosophy across Europe, hi particular expertise lies in exploring the ancient wisdom of puranic stories. Since meeting and dedicating his life for over a decade to his Spiritual Master, Paramahamsa Vishwananda, Mayuran repeatedly draws on his first-hand experiences with Him. He has developed a series of writings in which these experiences are uniquely blended with ancient tradition. The result is an authentic and powerful revelation on walking the spiritual path.
I have long been captivated by the unique stories of India and the cryptic wisdom they conceal. I have grown up performing plays, listening to music, and singing all kinds of songs about the different deities described in them. These 'tales' formed an integral part of the spiritual tradition I was raised on. Clearly, they meant something, but for years I never really explored the value they had. It was only after I met my Spiritual Master that their meaning really became apparent. Through Him I have managed to have some kind of a glimpse into what lies hidden in the narrative of the characters and themes portrayed.
As a result, I have found that these so called mythological stories have sprung to life. They have begun to reveal profound lessons that are relevant to anyone walking a spiritual path. To me, they are no longer legendary stories retold age after age simply for entertainment, but are a reservoir of spiritual knowledge. They create a whole reality designed to help face the many challenges and opportunities of life.
This book is an attempt to pass on, in some small way, many of the gems these stories hold. I have based it on just five of the ten incarnations (Avatars) of Lord Narayana described in the sacred text, the Bhagavatam. Lord Narayana is described as the Supreme Deity, the source of all creation and the sustainer of the universe.
The Bhagavatam, written by the great Sage Vyasa, is an enormous vessel of devotional wisdom. It is filled with stories about the great feats of Lord Narayana, as well as the lives of His dearest devotees.
Many readers would have heard of Avatars like Krishna and Rama. The events of their advent are vast There are countless episodes with most of them being well known and celebrated throughout the world. But due to their length and epic nature I have reserved their stories perhaps for another work. Instead, I have used this book to bring forth some of the less famous incarnation of Narayana. The Avatars depicted here, although known are rarely analysed and contemplated on. I do hope this work goes some way to changing that. As a result, the five chapters in this book are divided into the five Avatars namely :
1. Matsya Avatar: The incarnation of the fish that came during the great flood.
2. Kurma and Mohini Avatars: Where Kurma Avatar, the tortoise, and Mohini Avatar, the temptress, appeared to cultivate and deliver the nectar of immortality.
3. Varaha Avatar: The boar that came to rescue the earth from the demon, Hiranyaksha.
4. Narasimha Avatar: The half-man, half-lion incarnation who saved the devotee, Prahlad, from the tyrant, Hiranyakashipu.
5. Vamana Avatar: The dwarf sage that blessed and crushed the pride of the demon king, Bali.
The five stories unfold in a systematic way, which will hopefully bring clarity to the teachings and allow the reader to easily digest the themes explored. Each chapter opens with a descriptive narration of the actual Avatar story. Although I have written them in the form of a novel, I have tried to stay loyal to the original scripture of the Bhagavatam. These stories are meditations not to be read once but over and over again. When seen in this light, they will to speak to you and deliver fresh wisdom every time they are read. After each one is described, there is a summary of the symbolism, and then a wisdom section with a point-by-point explanation of the spiritual teaching. I have then delved deep into these lessons of the stories, exploring the teachings in more detail. At the end of each chapter, there are key insights where practical solutions are given to the very real situations we may face on the spiritual path.
Many who read this book may be unfamiliar with these stories and so, at the end a section has been included where one can gather more information about the different characters and situations mentioned. I have personally found that a comprehensive knowledge of the different personalities reinforces an understanding of the symbology they represent.
I originally sat down to write this book and simply unveil the hidden meaning behind the stories. They beautifully illustrate the inner world and I wanted to open it to the reader. But as I began writing, it quickly dawned on me that the very source of all my insights had come from my Spiritual Master. I realised that anything I said would not be completely sincere unless I made Him the centrepiece of the whole work. The lessons in these stories have not been arrived at through speculation or intellectual insight, but through direct, explicit experience from my Master.
The reliance on ancient stories to define faith can appear irrational to some. The mind is hardwired to having answers that satisfy logic and rationality. The path to the Truth has to pass the scrutiny of reason, and the fantastic 'tales' of India seem a world away from the reality we live in. As a result, they have sometimes been dismissed as being relevant only for the simple minded.
Religions and various spiritual movements, however, have built their whole philosophy around these stories. They have been used to provide answers and solutions to the great mysteries of life. For centuries, devotees, saints, and teachers have depended on them to guide and inspire other seekers on their path.
The 'tales' from the revered Indian scriptures speak of demons and gods, curses and blessings, as well as strange and wonderful worlds. We are told of the desires of kings, the wisdom of the sages and the arrogance of demons. These stories have been relayed through generations. Children listen with rapt attention, festivals honour the characters, and whole cultures have been shaped by them. They are dynamic and full of colour. The stories have been the inspiration for plays, songs, and poems, but above all, they glorify and honour God. The Lord is the focus of every saga, and the conclusion of all such tales is that devotion to the Divine is the highest aim.
But there are different ways to see these stories-one is to simply look at each tale in a purely metaphorical sense, seeing the inherent symbolism of the narrative; another is to see the events described as an actual reality. Through faith, we can create a new world, a new reality, where we fall in love with the Divine.
Unravelling the Wisdom and Seeing the Symbolism
If we recognise that these tales are not just creative fantasies born from someone’s imagination, then we will see that they carry the very meaning of life. Superficially, we learn moral lessons from the wrongdoings of demons, from the great qualities of devotees and, of course, from the Lord's interventions. But if we go deeper, we find that these stories carry a profound mystical significance. The themes give illustration to the Spiritual Truths of life.
As we unravel the different scenes, we can clearly see a depiction of the various challenges, qualities, and solutions we confront in ourselves. Certain characters become the personification of complex patterns and attitudes within. The interactions and decisions they make become representative of the temptations and aspirations that affect us. They illustrate the deep psychology of our emotions and the hold they can have on us. But what is even more significant is the role of the Divine. We graphically perceive how Divinity enters our world, and creates an inner shift. We witness the change of consciousness within and how new dimensions of life open up. In the following chapters, we will see just how deep these stories can go.
It is in the very process of unpacking of these stories that the powerful teachings become assimilated. The Truth delivered directly can often be missed and the impact diluted. Lessons given plainly are open to misinterpretation. Stories, themselves, however, are timeless. When wisdom is encased in characters and colourful situations, it retains its potency. Masters, mystics, and saints have forever preached their message through parables and allegories for this very reason.
These narrations are not just pieces of knowledge to be digested, but meditations geared to take us deeper into ourselves. The Truth is not meant to feed the mind, but to be realised within. Each one can be told and retold, allowing the insights to sink deeper within.
Opening the Heart to Devotion-Seeing a New Reality
But the intellectual approach of deciphering these tales is not the only way of using them. When we look at the devotional saints of India, who reached ecstatic spiritual heights, they did not use these stories metaphorically but saw them as their actual reality. The deities and different forms of the Lord described were not just symbols of Divinity, but real personalities. The situations and events were not carrying some hidden mystical meaning; they actually happened. This is the world of a devotee. This is where we part company with the rational mind that insists on reason, and enter the intelligence of the heart.
When we examine the ideas of saints under the lens of logic, we may find it difficult to comprehend them. The mind will always struggle to understand the sentiments of the heart: How can these amazing tales be taken as real? Surely this is just fantasy? Where is the evidence?
But we should understand that a devotee is not really seeking superficial answers to life, but the grace and blessings of their beloved. They intuitively know that reconciling the deep questions of existence lies beyond the reach of reason. A devotee is aware that the mysteries of God cannot be contained in any philosophy no matter how sophisticated or profound. Cold rationality cannot take us to the Truth. A devotee understands that it is only through spiritual practice that we grow and evolve to see the Divine.
By building a relationship with our chosen deity and absorbing ourselves in their pastimes, the heart opens to love. Gradually, as devotion intensifies, we experience deeper transcendent states. The great devotees and saints have realised the Ultimate Truth, not by intellectual reasoning, but by drowning in their love for God. The Truth is not something to be understood, but something to be lost in. The ultimate goal of life is not about signing up to a set of beliefs, or stringing apparently logical arguments together, but about attaining a state beyond the mind.
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