Mahabharat Episode 51: Krishna - Avatar or Bhagavan?
Questioner: What is the distinction between an avatar and a bhagavan? What is Krishna, really?
Sadhguru: In the traditions of this culture, whatever they do, whether they are fighting a battle, killing for food, cooking or living in a family – they repeatedly talk about dharma and karma. In this culture, mukti is the only goal. That is the reason why they are continuously debating about what the right or wrong action is. If you simply look at the physical situation, any street-smart kid will know what the right thing to do is in a given situation. The debate about dharma is just this: to see if the situation on the street and your journey towards the ultimate match.
Avatar means he is a manifestation of the Creator, but he is not living like that every moment.
Whenever someone figures out how to perform or initiate action in such a way that it will naturally lead to that goal, that being is referred to as avatar. Avatar literally means manifestation. A manifestation of what? Every creature is a manifestation of the Creator. You, a tree, and an ant are all manifestations of the Creator. In order to act like one, you need to be conscious to a point where you have access to the possibilities of being a Creator. Once people recognize that a being has this access, they call him bhagavan.
Common people may refer to someone as bhagavan out of emotion. If a qualified person, a rishi or a sage, someone who is in a certain state of knowing, refers to someone as “bhagavan,” it means this being found access to the possibilities and the ways of the Creator. A bhagavan will simply sit and bless; he will not teach. If that same person moves into a semi-active state where sometimes he is like the Creator, sometimes he is a very ordinary down-to-earth man, then they refer to him as avatar.
Avatar means he is a manifestation of the Creator, but he is not living like that every moment. He has come down by choice to make the process a little more accessible to people around. An avatar will come down and teach, eat, and do things – he is a manifestation who is consciously coming down and going up as is required. So technically, the word “avatar” is a correct description of Krishna, when he comes down. But the moment people see him as Vishwaroopa, they will say Bhagavan Krishna.