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Question
Is there an difference between an avtar and an enlightened person?

Thank you.

Answer
Dear Vivek,

Thank you for your question.

The answer to your question depends on one's philosophical perspective. A follower of Shankaracarya might deny the possibility of an Avatara and insist that enlightened souls are all equivalent, allowing for individual differences in the degree of manifestation of their spiritual power. Not all enlightened souls are necessarily Rishis, Seers of Veda, for example.

Those who follow the devotional systems can quote Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita when he says, "Whenever dharma declines and adharma prevails, I body myself forth to save the righteous and destroy the wicked." (4:7-8) For believers in the Personal God the Avatara is born with full knowledge of his Divine Mission and powers.

Furthermore, among enlightened souls we find that some quietly become enlightened without ever becoming known to others, while others become teachers. Some teachers are world teachers like Shankaracarya and some may have only a few disciples. So even here we see different manifestations of spiritual power and the will to help others among different enlightened beings.

The essence of the enlightenment experience—Oneness—is the same, but we find different manifestations among enlightened souls in their ability to transmit spiritual knowledge to others. Avataras, we believe, can transmit the highest spiritual experience with a mere touch or a glance, as we saw in the case of Ramakrishna when he gave Vivekananda nirvikalpa samadhi at their first meetingi, or in the case of Krishna when he granted Arjuna the Vision of the Universal Form.

Best wishes,

Brother William

Hindus

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William Schindler, a.k.a. Brother William

Expertise

I can answer questions about Vedanta philosophy, Patanjali Yoga philosophy and practice, Tantra, Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads, Vivekachudamani (Shankara`s Crest-jewel of Spritual Discrimination), Advaita (non-dualism), the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda tradition, Goddess worship, meditation practice, Hindu monasticism (sannyasa), and Sanskrit.

Experience

I've been studying and practicing Vedanta and Tantra since 1969.

Organizations
I'm the founder and spiritual director of Ashram West, a gay spiritual community based on traditional Hindu Tantra. I have been a member of the Vedanta Society of Southern California since 1969.

Publications
I have three books in print: GAY TANTRA, ESSAYS ON GAY TANTRA, BLOOD OF THE GODDESS.

Education/Credentials
I hold a B.A. in Sanskrit (UC Berkeley 1975) and an M.A. in clinical psychology (Antioch University 1986).

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