How Do Avatars and Bodhisattvas Guide Us During Challenging Times?
The word avatar denotes a “descent” of a deity into the realm of the human. Hindu deities like Vishnu, Indra, Devi, Shiva and others were known to “alight” and make an appearance either through a human being or through a divine vehicle created for the visit among humankind. Vishnu was known to incarnate ten different times throughout human history. Buddhism, Jainism and even Christianity have doctrine that are similar to the Hindu avatar concept. Christianity embraces the doctrine of a “savior” who is similar, if not identical, to the doctrine of avatars.
Avatars descend from a world that is eternal into a world that is bound by time. They often mitigate the suffering of humanity and help remove the burden of evil. They also create sacred holy places which are a refuges against the evil of the world. These highly refined pilgrimage spots represent the preparation of the aspirant to meet the holy teacher or master who lives in the spiritually refined pilgrimage location, often called Shambhala. This is the basis for the idea that avatars and spiritual masters live in Shambhala. But whether the avatars and masters create Shambhala to house their temporal bodies that descend from the higher hierarchies, or they create this rarified etheric realm for aspirants to rise up into is determined by the perspective of the aspirant. Shambhala is an etheric realm were even the highest avatar of all times, Christ, is able to continuously manifest and provide etheric nourishment for aspirants who can attain that realm.
Avatars are perfected spiritual beings from the higher hierarchy that descend into the earthly realm to assist humanity with its spiritual evolution through attaining virtuous goals that inculcate into human spiritual development the tools that are needed for advancement. Avatars descend, whereas masters, bodhisattvas and Buddhas ascend from the human realm. The highest avatars are Christ and Sophia. Christ descended from the Holy Trinity and Sophia descend from the realm of the Kyriotetes, the Spirits of Wisdom. It is rare that an avatar comes down from the pure realms and incarnates in the physical plane. That is why the Christ Avatar will only incarnate in this world once for all times. It is great pain for beings of such high vibrations to be limited by a physical body. Sophia, for example, did not incarnate into Mary’s physical body, instead she over-lighted Mary. Sophia descended down to the realm of the angels from the hierarchical rank of the Kyriotetes, the beings of Wisdom.
The greatest avatar is Christ according to Rudolf Steiner, since Christ descended from the Holy Trinity, the highest rank of the spiritual hierarchy. He tells us in, The Principle of Spiritual Economy, Christianity in Human Evolution, Leading Individualities and Avatar Beings (Lecture 2, March 7, 1909. GA 109):
“There are also other individualities — other beings — who have not gone through various incarnations in the course of human evolution. It can happen that such a being appears; if we test it clairvoyantly in regard to the soul, we cannot say, as we can of other human beings, that we trace it back in time and discover it in a previously fleshly incarnation, then trace it farther back and find it again in another incarnation, and so on. Such a spiritual being who descends in this way into a human body in order to intervene in evolution as a human being is called an ‘avatar’ in the East. To repeat — an avatar being can enter a human body just once or several times in succession; but when it does, it is then something different from any other human individuality.
The greatest avatar being who has lived on earth, as you can gather from the spirit of our lectures here, is the Christ — the Being whom we designated as the Christ, and who took possession of the body of Jesus of Nazareth when he was thirty years of age.”
There is another type of avatar incarnation that does not require the avatar to descend all the way into the physical body. In fact, an avatar can “over-light” a person and influence his etheric body, or other bodies in the nine-fold constitution of the human being. The Being Sophia, Rudolf Steiner tells us, is an avatar that descended from the realm of the Kyriotetes, the Beings of Wisdom. Sophia over-lighted Mary the Mother of Jesus. Sophia only descended into the realm of the etheric body and there she renewed the physical body of Mary with the heavenly Wisdom she brought.
This type of avatar “over-lighting” can take place in many different ways. Steiner tells us about Shem and the way an avatar worked through his etheric body and was able to make many copies of it that could be used by others. In the third lecture of The Principle of Spiritual Economy (March 29, 1909), Steiner refers to this type of avatar over-lighting in the following words:
“If clairvoyant perception had confronted Shem, it would have seen Shem himself, but with a second entity extending out of him like a second being, yet still united with Shem's etheric body. This higher being was not Shem, but it incarnated in Shem — the human being — for a special mission. Unlike ordinary human beings, this higher being did not undergo various incarnations, but descended only once into a human body. Such a being is called an avatar. An avatar does not feel at home in the world as a human being would; he descends but once into this world for the sole purpose of carrying out a certain mission.
The part of a human being that is indwelled by such an avatar being acquires a special character in that it is able to multiply. When a grain of seed is sown into the ground, the stalk grows from it, and the grain is multiplied into the ears of grain. In the same way, the etheric body of Shem multiplied into many copies, and these were woven into all his descendants. That's what happened, and thus the copies of the etheric body that had been specially prepared in Shem as the prototype were woven into the etheric bodies of his direct descendants.
But this etheric body of Shem was later used in yet another way. Now in the later phase of the evolution of the Semitic people, it became necessary that a very exalted being descend to earth in order to communicate with them and provide an impetus to their culture. Such a being was the Melchizedek of Biblical history who, as it were, had to ‘put on’ the preserved etheric body of Shem — the very etheric body that was still inhabited by an avatar being. Once it was woven into him, Melchizedek was able to transmit to Abraham the impulse necessary for the continued progress of Semitic culture. Here, then, we have become acquainted with another unique way in which an etheric body develops in a particular human being and is subsequently allotted to a specially selected individuality for the fulfillment of a mission.”
Steiner points out the greatest avatar of all times, Christ, is able to multiply not only the etheric body, as in the case of Shem, but also the astral body and the ego. In fact, Steiner points out that Christ perfected all nine bodies and they are all available to be multiplied in the realm of the etheric, or the realm of spiritual economy as he calls it. Many great saints have utilized these perfected bodies of Christ that have multiplied whenever necessary. There is no limit to the number of replications that the perfected bodies of Christ can make. Steiner described this in the lectures Christianity in Human Evolution, (GA 109):
“The greatest avatar being who has lived on earth is that Being Whom we designate as the Christ, Who took possession of the bodies of Jesus of Nazareth in the thirtieth year of his life. This Being, Who first came in contact with our earth at the beginning of our era, Who was incarnated for three years in a body of flesh, and Who since that time has been connected with the astral sphere, the spiritual sphere of our supersensible world — this Being is of unique significance as an avatar being. We should seek the Christ Being quite in vain in an earlier human embodiment, whereas other, lower avatar beings can be found to be embodied more than once. They incarnate repeatedly but obtain no benefit from their earthly embodiments for themselves. They only give; they take nothing from the earth. If you want to understand these things perfectly, you must distinguish between such a lofty avatar being as the Christ and lower avatar beings who can have the most varied missions, and so as not to flounder about in speculation, we shall give a concrete instance to illustrate such a mission [Shem] ...
Through the descent of an avatar being the essential soul-spiritual members of the individual who is the bearer of this avatar being are multiplied and transmitted as copies to other human beings. This fact assumes special significance through the appearance of Christ on earth. Because the Avatar Being of Christ lived in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, it became possible for his etheric body to be multiplied innumerable times. This was true as well of the astral body and even the ego; that is, the ego as an impulse, as it was kindled in the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth when Christ entered his threefold sheath. First, however, we will take into account the fact that through the Avatar Being the etheric and astral bodies of Jesus could be multiplied.”
Each avatar brings the forces from the ranks of the hierarchy where they are usually active, whether angelic, archangelic or the like. Cosmic forces come to Earth along with the avatar; they descend together to bring help and new life to ailing humanity. These “visits of the gods” are found in mythology, legends, and religious beliefs worldwide. It is the effort to prepare for the visitation of the gods that the aspirant uses during renunciation and purification that develop moral qualities needed to attract these divine visitations. Zeus came to earth frequently to interact with humans. Odin traveled about disguised as the “Grey Wanderer” who might show up at anyone’s front door without a moment’s notice. Angles came to the house of Lots to save him and his family. But it is usually those who have developed morality and virtue that have a home worthy of a visit from the gods. Avatars come as gods both announced and disguised; it is up to us to recognize their spiritual qualities and open our hearts and homes with unconditional hospitality.
Steiner explains this in The Festivals and Their Meaning (Volume 2, Lecture 7):
“As long as the ‘I’ of man, with its physical expression in the blood, was not seized by an impulse to be found on the earth, the religions could not teach of the force of self-redemption in the human ‘I’. So they describe how the great spiritual Beings, the Avatars, descend and incarnate in human bodies from time to time when men are in need of help. They are Beings who for the purpose of their own development need not come down into a human body, for their own human stage of evolution had been completed in an earlier world-cycle. They descend in order to help mankind. Thus when help was needed, the great God Vishnu descended into earthly existence.
All the Avatars have brought redemption to mankind through power from above, through what has streamed down through them from spiritual heights to the earth. But the Avatar Christ has redeemed mankind through what He gathered out of the forces of mankind itself, and He has shown us how the forces of redemption, the forces whereby the Spirit becomes victor over matter can be found in ourselves.
The incorruptible body must wait in the secret cave until it is drawn forth by the Maitreya Buddha (successor to Buddha). Only when the ‘I’ has spiritualized the physical body to such a degree that the Christ Impulse streams into the physical body, is the miraculous cosmic fire no longer needed for redemption; for redemption is now brought about by the fire quickened in man's own inner being, in the blood.”
An avatar may have a special connection to an evolving Bodhisattva, who will one day become a Buddha. The Maitreya Bodhisattva, who is evolving into the Maitreya Buddha, has a special connection with Christ Avatar. Maitreya is mirroring or copying the bodies of Christ that are available to multiply for great initiates in the etheric realm, or realm of spiritual economy. The Maitreya is so filled with the aspects of the Christ Avatar that he resembles him in all ways. Steiner speaks of this in the lectures, Buddha and Christ (Lecture I. GA 130):
“The utterances of the Maitreya Buddha will be permeated in a miraculous way with the power of Christ. Occult investigations show us to-day that in a certain respect even the external life of the Maitreya Buddha will be patterned on the life of Christ. In ancient times, when a great Individuality appeared and was to become a Teacher of humanity, signs indicating this showed themselves in the early youth of the child in question, in special talents and qualities of soul. There is however a different kind of development in the course of which a complete change in the personality becomes apparent at a certain point in his life. What happens is that when this human being has reached a certain age, his ego is taken out of his bodily sheaths and a different ego passes into his body. The greatest example of this is Christ Jesus Himself, of whom in his thirtieth year the Christ-Individuality had taken possession. All the incarnations of the Bodhisattva who will become the Maitreya Buddha have shown that in this sense his life will resemble that of Christ."
There are many ranks of beings above the human being. Christians count them as nine ranks, but other older religions have untold ranks of beings from the Creator to the elementals below our feet. There are many ways that other beings can work in our physical realm and not be “human,” even though they use human intelligence to do their work. We hear about these beings and when they evolved, or didn’t, in cosmic history through the teachings of Dr. Steiner. In The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind (Lecture 2, GA 15) we read about a few of these ranks of hierarchical beings and their relationship to humanity.
“The ancient Egyptians still remembered a time when the leading personalities of the nation were clearly conscious of their connection with what are called gods, angels, or dhyanic beings. Now what sort of beings were these, who were not incarnated in a human form of flesh and blood, but who influenced mankind. They were man's predecessors, advanced beyond the human stage.
There is in these days much misuse of a word which may in this connection be applied in its true meaning, the word ‘Superman.’ If we really wish to speak of ‘Supermen,’ it is these beings who may rightly be so called. Human during the Moon-period, the planetary stage preceding our Earth, they had now outgrown humanity. They were only able to appear in an etheric body to clairvoyants. It was thus that they came down to earth from spiritual worlds and ruled here even as late as post-Atlantean times.
The dhyanic or angelic beings proper, who are the great inspirers of humanity, and to whom the Egyptian referred as being still their teachers, did not appear in human bodies. They could only manifest themselves through human beings. On the other hand, the beings in a mid-position between men and angels were still able, in very early times to incarnate in human bodies. Hence amongst the human race inhabiting the earth in the Lemurian and Atlantean periods, we find people whose innermost soul-nature was that of an angel in a backward state. Not only ordinary people were going about the earth, who through their successive incarnations were to arrive at the ideal of humanity, but beings who only outwardly appeared like them. These had to bear a human body, for the outward form of a human being in the flesh is dependent on earthly conditions. Especially in more ancient times did it happen that beings belonging to the lowest category of Luciferic individualities were present amongst men. And so at the same time that the angel-beings were working on human civilization through man, Lucifer-beings were also incarnated and founding human civilizations in various places. And when in the old folk legends it is related that in some place there lived a great man who was the founder of a civilization we are not to understand that such a Lucifer-being was necessarily the vehicle of evil but rather that human civilization was to receive countless blessings from him.”
Not only are there beings from the past that have relationships with humanity, there are also the beings of the future that are now coming into our realm to teach and guide us directly as avatars have in the past. These beings are also “descending” to the Earth to help humanity spiritually evolve. These “future” supermen and superwomen descend as we ascend to meet them in the middle. It is out of the future that these beings come, bearing the gifts of humanity’s future spiritual development. These beings tell us who we will become as we climb the ranks of the hierarchy and ascend to become angels and beyond.
Steiner refers to these beings with the names of the future states of the incarnations of the Earth – Mercury (second half of Earth incarnation), Venus, and Vulcan. He later refers to these beings as “our older brothers and sisters.” These beings can be seen as a type of avatar.
“Vulcan beings are now actually entering this earth existence, and it is thanks to the fact that these beings from beyond the earth are bringing messages down into this earthly existence that it is possible at all to have a comprehensive spiritual science today. The beings I have spoken about will descend gradually to the earth. Vulcan beings, Vulcan supermen, Venus supermen, Mercury supermen, sun supermen, and so on will unite themselves with earth existence. Yet, if human beings persist in their opposition to them, this earth existence will pass over into chaos in the course of the next few thousand years.” Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy (Dornach, May 13, 1921. GA 204)
Now that we have reviewed Rudolf Steiner’s indications on avatars in the selections above, let’s look at what he wrote and lectured about the greatest of all avatars, Christ. A broader selection from, The Principle of Spiritual Economy, Christianity in Human Evolution, Avatar Beings (GA 109) follows:
“We must first realize that differences exist among the beings who occupy leading places in the earth's human evolution. In the course of earthly evolution, we must distinguish those leading individualities who have developed along with humanity from the beginning, but who have made more rapid progress. Some have made relatively slow progress through their incarnations and still have long distances to travel in the future. But there are also souls who have developed rapidly, who, one might say, have utilized their incarnations to better advantage and are therefore at a stage of soul-spiritual development that will be attained by normal men only in the far distant future. Nevertheless, we may say that however advanced these individual souls may be, however far they may tower above normal men, they have still followed the same path in earthly evolution as the rest of humanity but have merely advanced more rapidly.
Besides these leading individualities, who in this sense are like the rest of humanity but are at a higher stage, there are also other individualities, other beings, who have by no means gone through various incarnations as other men have in the course of their evolution. We can perhaps illustrate what lies at the bottom of this by saying that there were beings in the time of the Lemurian evolution who no longer needed to descend so deeply into physical embodiment as the other men who have just been described. There were beings who could have accomplished their development in higher, more spiritual regions and who did not need to descend into bodies of flesh for their further progress. In order to intervene in the course of human evolution it is nevertheless possible for these beings to descend vicariously, so to speak, into just such bodies as our own.
A spiritual being who descends thus into a human body in order to intervene in evolution as a human being, but without gaining anything from this embodiment for himself or experiencing anything here in the world of special significance for himself, is called an avatar. This is the distinction between a leading being who has sprung from human evolution itself and an avatar. An avatar being reaps no benefits for himself from his physical embodiments, or from even one embodiment to which he may subject himself; he enters a physical body for the blessing and advancement of mankind. Thus, an avatar being can either enter a human body just once or several times in succession, and when embodied is entirely different from other human beings.
Through the descent of an avatar being the essential soul-spiritual members of the individual who is the bearer of this avatar being are multiplied and transmitted as copies to other human beings. This fact assumes special significance through the appearance of Christ on earth. Because the Avatar Being of Christ lived in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, it became possible for his etheric body to be multiplied innumerable times. This was true as well of the astral body and even the ego; that is, the ego as an impulse, as it was kindled in the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth when Christ entered his threefold sheath. First, however, we will take into account the fact that through the Avatar Being the etheric and astral bodies of Jesus could be multiplied.
The etheric and astral bodies of Jesus of Nazareth were multiplied and the copies preserved until they could be used in the course of human development. They were not, however, limited to any one nationality nor to any particular people. But when in the course of time a human being appeared who, irrespective of nationality, was ripe to have interwoven with his etheric or astral body an etheric or astral copy of the etheric or astral body of Jesus of Nazareth, they could be woven into his being. Thus, we see how it became possible in the course of time for all sorts of people to have woven into them copies of the astral or etheric bodies of Jesus of Nazareth.
What made it possible for a number of people in those centuries to be able to receive revelations, which were in a certain sense clairvoyant, concerning the events in Palestine? It was possible because the multiplied copies of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth had been preserved and were woven into a great number of people. They were able to wear them as garments that were woven into their etheric bodies. This was not Jesus’ own etheric body but copies of the original. In these centuries there were those who could possess such an etheric copy and who could thereby have a direct knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ.
Francis of Assisi was one of those who had a copy of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth, and it was this that made his accomplishments possible. Many of his followers in the Order of the Franciscans also had such copies interwoven with their astral bodies. All that was woven into Francis of Assisi was wholly sentient soul of Jesus of Nazareth. Wholly sentient soul of Jesus of Nazareth was also contained in that remarkable personality, Elizabeth of Thüringen, who was born in 1207. She, too, was a personality who had a copy of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth woven into her sentient soul.
What task did the scholastics set for themselves? They set out to find, on the basis of judgment and intellect, verifications and proof of that with which there was no historical connecting link, and which was no longer available with the direct clairvoyant certainty that existed in previous centuries through the interwoven etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth. Then, from the intellectual soul, that is, from the intellectual element of the copy of the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth, they set themselves the task of proving with subtle and clearly developed concepts all that existed in their literature as mystery truths.
Among those who were more imbued with the copy of what had constituted the consciousness soul of Jesus of Nazareth, the special conviction arose, because the ego functions in the consciousness soul that the Christ can be found in the ego. Because they had within them the element of the consciousness soul from the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth, the inner Christ rose resplendent in their souls. These are the individuals whom you know as Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler and all the other bearers of medieval mysticism.
Here you see how the diversified phases of the astral body were multiplied because the exalted Avatar Being of Christ had entered into the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and they worked on in the following age to bring about the real development of Christianity. This was an important transition in other respects also. We have seen how in the course of its development humanity was dependent upon having incorporated within it copies of the other bodies of Jesus of Nazareth. In the early centuries there were people who were entirely dependent upon the physical plane; then in the following centuries came those to whom the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth was accessible to interweave with their etheric bodies. Later, between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, people tended more toward the astral body, the bearer of power and judgment, and so the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth came to be incorporated in them.
Following a time when the ego learned to think through Christianity and to apply the thoughts to the outer world, it must now be possible for it to be made into a Christ receptive organ. It must rediscover the primordial wisdom of the Great Avatar, Christ. By what means must this come about? By a more profound understanding of Christianity through spiritual science. Having been carefully prepared through the three stages of physical; etheric and astral development, the concern should now be that the organ within man be opened so that he may henceforth see into his spiritual environment with the eye that can be opened for him by the Christ.
As the greatest Avatar Being, Christ descended to earth. Let us view this in the right perspective and try to look at the world as we shall be able to see it when we shall have received the Christ into ourselves. We then find the whole process of our world evolution illuminated and pervaded by the Christ being. In other words, the Christ and Christianity must become the perspective center of the cosmic view.
So you see how Christianity has gradually prepared itself for what it is to become. In the early centuries the Christian received Christianity with his physical capacity for knowledge, later with his etheric capacity, and throughout the Middle Ages with his astral capacity. Then for a time Christianity in its true form was repressed until the ego had been trained by the three bodies in the course of Christian development. But since this ego has learned to think and to direct its vision to the objective world, it is now capable also of seeing in all phenomena spiritual facts that are intimately connected with the Central Being, the Christ. It is capable of beholding the Christ everywhere in the most varied forms as the foundation of the objective world.
It is true that, after the physical, etheric and astral bodies had come into existence, the ego appeared and is now to be developed little by little up to spirit self, life spirit and spirit man. It is also true that modern man, with his ego form and present thinking could only be developed from the astral, etheric and physical forms of Christianity. Christianity has now become ego. Just as truly as this was the development of the past, so it is also true that the ego form of humanity can appear only after the astral and etheric forms of Christianity have been developed. Christianity will develop on into the future. It will offer humanity far greater things and the Christian development and standard of life will arise in new form. The transformed astral body will appear as the Christian spirit self; the transformed etheric body will appear as the Christian life spirit. In a radiant perspective of the future of Christianity, spirit man shines forth before our souls like a star toward which we strive, illuminated and glowing through and through with the spirit of Christianity.”
This insight of Rudolf Steiner’s into the detailed working of the greatest avatar of all times, Christ, is instructive in seeing the way avatars remain with us long after their incarnation or manifestation. A model or example is left behind in the etheric realm that is perfect and can be multiplied for the use of followers. Christ, as avatar, also redeemed Earth and renewed its life body or etheric body with the forces He brought down from the spiritual world. These gifts of the greatest avatar will keep unfolding until the end of time as we know it. The Christ Avatar is truly the perfect example of the descent of a god into human incarnation that brought with it everlasting gifts that nourish the soul and elevate the spirit of the aspirant.
Another avatar that has done a similar thing as the Christ Avatar is the Sophia Avatar. Sophia descended alongside of Christ from the middle ranks of the higher hierarchies. They both descended to Earth and brought heavenly forces with them; Christ brought redemption through love, while Sophia brought the Wisdom from the ranks of the Kyriotetes with Her. Christ has left a part of His nature called the Comforter, or the Holy Spirit. Sophia has left a part of Her nature, called Wisdom or the Holy Sophia. This Wisdom of Sophia teaches the true Cosmic nature of Christ’s deeds for humanity; it is called, Sophia Christos, or the Wisdom of Christ. Sophia Christos works through the Holy Sophia who is a close companion and midwife for every aspirant on the path. Just as Christ’s Holy Spirit never leaves us, so, too, the Holy Sophia is present for every step gained on the path of spiritual development.
Who Are the Kalki Avatar and Maitreya Buddha?
Excerpt from The Gospel of Sophia: The Biographies of the Divine Feminine Trinity, by Tyla Gabriel