Avatara and incarnation: A paradigm analysis and comparison of their respective meanings in the Bhagavadgita and in the Gospel of John
Crowe, James Ronald, Jr
Nielsen, Niels C.; Rayzor, J. Newton
Doctor of Philosophy
This study attempts a critical comparison of avatara and incarnation in the Bhagavadgita and in the Fourth Gospel on the basis of Kuhnian paradigm analysis. From this perspective, we argue that substantial similarities exist between these notions of incarnation: they reflect a similar mythical pattern, and each portrays incarnation as realistic yet non-kenotic. In the Gita, avatara represents a parallel to the cosmic creation and shares in its reality. Nevertheless, Krsna's incarnations are no less an epiphany of his divine characteristics: freedom, omniscience, and omnipotence. Again, John portrays incarnation in non-kenotic terms. On his prophetic view, neither the act of incarnation nor the passion mark a change in the nature of the Christ; thus, incarnation is the earthly sojourn of the heavenly revealer who always maintains his unity with God. Despite these similarities, the assumptions that underlie the appropriations of the incarnation pattern vary considerably. Their fundamental differences derive from the fact that John conceives incarnation as a soteriological event. This assumption underlies the christocentric emphases of the Gospel and conditions the nature of the incarnate Christ. This incarnation paradigm introduces a dialectical quality into the comparative relationship of Krsna and Jesus. It can produce a model that is strikingly similar to the portrayal of Krsna or a kenotic model that is just as striking in its dissimilarities. In contrast, the Bhagavadgita conceives avatara as the manifestation of a general movement of grace, a cooperating grace that promises assistance on the path toward release. This assumption is reflected in its unique emphases. Within its cyclical cosmology, God's offer of divine assistance results in the notion of repeated incarnations. Again, this portrayal of avatara permits a more broadly conceived conception of God's activity: Krsna's incarnations not only mediate salvation, but they redeem the social order. Finally, the soteriological functions and incarnate nature of Krsna remain separate in the Gita, and his nature is correlated to metaphysical considerations. Thus, there is neither the need nor the possibility to elaborate a kenotic-type model of incarnation.