The reincarnation of avatar in English is a revealing distortion

The Sanskrit word avatar has become mainstream in English due to both a Hollywood blockbuster and computer role-playing games. In contemporary usage, avatar refers to an icon representing a person in a computer game, Internet forum, etc.

Another word central to the Bhagavad-gita’s teachings that has assumed a new meaning is reincarnation. Today, reincarnation refers to anyone reinventing oneself. Thus, in cricket, an aggressive opening batsman may be said to have reincarnated as an anchoring middle-order batsman. Combining these two semantically morphed words gives the phrase “the reincarnation of avatar” which can convey the word avatar’s usage in contemporary cultural discourse.

In the Gita (04.05), Krishna underscores the difference between Arjuna’s and his reincarnation. The human memory undergoes a near-total amnesia during reincarnation, whereas the divine memory remains unaffected. Nonetheless, both have memory.

In contrast, our digital avatar has no experiential memory because it has no consciousness to experience anything. So, our referring to something unconscious as our avatar reflects a distortion in our self-understanding. Yet this distortion is revealing, for it points to two underlying thought-trains:

  1. A mechanistic conception of the self which makes us think that we can be represented by a digital profile that is as unconscious as the electrons that comprise the digital world.
  2. A longing for escaping to some other world beyond this material world with its inanity.

The Gita guides us towards fulfilling this longing by explaining that we are better than our perishable fleshly bodies – we are indestructible spiritual beings. And our longing for belonging to a better world can be fulfilled if we devote ourselves to Krishna by practicing bhakti-yoga. As his avatars, Krishna makes himself accessible, thereby making devotion to him easier. Steady bhakti practice elevates us ultimately to his eternal abode, thus ending our reincarnation in this world.

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4 Comments

  1. You should write to Rajiv Malhotra about this aspect as he is concerne with digestion of ancient concepts

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  2. Hare Krishna prabhuji,

    Your articles are excellent I alsways share on facebook & Whats app but majority of the people say that your language is very difficult to understand. You choose very hard word and one need to see dictionary for that. Pls write in simple,lucid langauage like Srila Prabhupada. His englis is so simple to understand even my 12 year so understands vey well. Also most of the people want your articles in Hindi. I have heard your Hindi language as well you speak very well.Then why dont you write in hindi & in english and send it on facebook & on whatss app. I beg yuour pardon if someting wrong I said here.

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    • Thank you for your feedback, Jayesh P. I have addressed the question about Gita daily articles language level here:
      http://www.thespiritualscientist.com/2013/09/can-the-level-of-language-in-gita-daily-articles-be-made-simpler/
      With my various services, I can’t write in Hindi. But I agree about the need for Hindi articles. So, we are working on arranging a team that will translate the articles in Hindi. For getting consistent translation in quality and regularity, experience has shown that we need to go beyond volunteers; so, we are also looking for sponsorship for Hindi translators. Those interested can contact Manish Vithalani Prabhu, who is coordinating the Hindi translation project. His contact details are email id: vithalanim10@gmail.com and ph no: 09637006577.
      ys
      ccdas

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