When Wise Men Speak, Wise Men Listen
Chapter 5 – Avataras in Every Species
Question: Sri Krishna appears in innumerable forms throughout the universes. Some forms appear to be human-like while others resemble lower species, such as the boar, fish, tortoise, etc. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes:
In each and every universe there are innumerable planets inhabited by different grades of living entities in different modes of nature. The Lord (Vishnu) incarnates Himself in each and every one of them and in each and every type of living society. He manifests His transcendental pastimes amongst them just to create the desire to go back to Godhead. The Lord does not change His original transcendental position, but He appears to be differently manifested according to the particular time, circumstances and society. (Bhagavatam 1.2.34 purport)
The human form of life is the best for achieving self-realization. The activities of the animals are eating, mating, sleeping and defending. Animals cannot understand God. Yet, Srila Prabhupada says that Krishna is the friend of both human and animal society. I suppose if He appears among humans to deliver us, it would only be sensible that He appears among the animals to deliver them. I’m wondering if the dynamic is different among other species. When He appears among the humans or higher species, He can deliver those in His immediate association, and then His teachings are recorded to inspire posterity. When the Lord appears among the lower species, how does He deliver them? They cannot practice religion as humans do (though Lord Chaitanya made deer, tigers and elephants chant Hare Krishna and liberated the dog under Shivananda Sena’s care). Does He deliver only the current generation among that species (after all, animals don’t maintain written historical records)?
This may seem to be an obscure inquiry, but I was wondering if the acharyas offer us any insight into this matter.
Answer: The conception that God incarnates in the species of those living entities that are lower than human beings has always troubled the mind of the western theologian. Knowing this, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has dealt with the topic of the Lord’s incarnations in lower species in his book Sri Krishna-samhita. I suggest that you consult that book in detail before writing your proposed essay.
When the Lord appears in lower species He delivers those species by giving them auspiciousness due to His association. The living entities are then promoted to human life and there they are given a chance to come to God consciousness and love of God. That is my understanding. By the Lord’s association the living entity awakens a desire for God consciousness. This desire for God consciousness is also awakened by the association of pure devotees of the Lord and sometimes by ajnata-sukriti.
Categorically the Lord appears in every species:
jalaja-nava-lakshani sthavara laksha-vimshati
krimayo rudra sankhyakah pakshinam dasha-lakshanam
trimshal-lakshani pashavah chatur-lakshani manushah
There are 900,000 species living in the water. There are 2,000,000 non-moving living entities such as trees and plants. There are 1,100,000 species of insects and reptiles, and 1,000,000 species of birds. As far as quadrupeds are concerned there are 3,000,000 varieties, and there are 400,000 human species. (Padma Purana)
That the Lord appears in all species of life, means that He appears in each category, not that He appears as each and every individual form like each and every type of fish, each kind of reptile, every type of quadruped (animal) etc. But in each category the Lord appears.
Among the aquatics in the water the Lord appears as Matsya-avatara. Among the trees and plants He appears as Daru-brahman – the trees bearing the signs of Vishnu from which the Jagannatha Deities are then manifested (banyan trees and others may also be considered as the Lord’s incarnation). Among the insects and reptiles, He appears as the vajra-kita (the worm from Vaikuntha) that carves the signs on the Shalagrama-shilas and also as Ananta-shesha and Kurma-avatara, the tortoise. Among the birds He appears as Hamsa-avatara. Among the animals with four feet He appears as Varaha-avatara. And among the humans He appears as Krishna, Rama, and Sri Chaitanya.
As stated above the Lord creates auspiciousness for the living entities in the lower species of life by appearing among them. This would benefit those living entities who directly associated with the particular incarnation and it would also benefit all future living entities appearing in that species. That is my understanding. If any species comes in contact with any avatar then there is certainly benefit for those living entities, without doubt. What to speak of the particular species — each and every time the Supreme Lord appears in this universe all the living beings present in the universe are benefited. Some are liberated directly and others are elevated and liberated after some time. The ways of the Supreme Lord are wonderful and sometimes difficult for the tiny brain to understand. Nonetheless, shraddha (faith) tells us that the Lord is all-merciful, the friend of all living beings, and the knower of everything. How He is doing everything may only be known by Him alone, but faith tells us that He is the doer of everything and whatever He does is for our benefit.