An incarnation — literally “descent” in Sanskrit (from ava-tṝ, “cross over”) — of a divine being, usually written “avatar.” Thus Śrī Krishna (“Kṛṣna”) is said to be an avatar of Viṣṇu (usually written “Vishnu”). Tsong-ka-pa, founder of the Tibetan Gelugpa sect, is said to be the incarnation of Amit€bha, an important Bodhisattva in Mahāyāna Buddhism and supposedly the celestial name of Gautama Buddha.
According to theosophical literature, an avatar requires three elements: (a) the inspiring divine being, (b) an intermediate soul such as that used by a Buddha or Bodhisattva, and (c) a physical body which is clean and pure. Thus Śankarācārya — sometimes identified as Ādi-Śankara to distinguish him from the later philosopher called Śankarācārya (788-820) — was considered by Blavatsky an avatar who made use of the “astral ego” of Gautama Buddha (CW XIV:390).
The descent of avatars, says Blavatsky, is caused by a bīja or seed, a life-germ contained in a mysterious principle called “Maha-Vishnu.” Such a descent is not caused by karma, as the divine being is beyond personal karma (CW XIV:370).
The Viṣṇu Purāṇa identifies nine avatars as follows: Matsya (Fish), Kūrma (Tortise), Varāha (Boar), Nara-Simha (Man-Lion), Vāmana (Dwarf), Paraśurāma (Rāma-of- the-Axe), Rāmacandra (lit. “charming moon” in Sanskrit, hero of the epic poem Rāmāyaṇa), Śrī Krishna (a hero of the epic Mahābhārata; narrator of the Bhagavad-Gītā) and Kalkin (the avatar yet to come, also known as the White Horse Avatāra because he will appear at the end of the KĀLI-YŪGA riding a white horse). Medieval Hinduism added Gautama Buddha as a tenth avatar (inserted between Śrī Krishna and Kalkin), probably in an effort to lure Hindu converts to Buddhism back into the “fold,” as it were.
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