We all know how difficult it is to change ourselves. We find old forms of thought coming back to us; we think we have gotten rid of them, but they have a mysterious way of reasserting themselves from time to time, and all our years of struggle seem to have meant nothing. There is a persistence about these habits of thought. But when a Divine Incarnation says, All right, all this is gone’ it’s gone. It’s such an extraordinary thing! Sometimes, just by a word, a touch, or a glance they can reveal before you, then and there, the vision of God a thing for which people ordinarily struggle life after life. It is as though a far-off uncle, long forgotten, suddenly appears on the scene, maybe from Australia. He is full of money, and he leaves a tremendous fund for his nephews and nieces, and thenceforth they are rich. God brings that tremendous fund of spiritual blessings and redemptive power to the human level. This, in fact, is the whole idea behind the Divine Incarnation.
Such powers are not possessed by prophets. Prophets have a great influence on people; they can so strongly impress many minds with certain thoughts that they create a following, and thereby a sect is formed. Even after a prophet has gone, a group of people follow his ways of thinking through centuries. But you know, to follow ways of thinking is one thing and to enjoy the fruits of such thinking is quite another. The world is full of sects and creeds, and each goes its own way. But do you mean to say that all their followers derive benefit from them? Many people want to come closer to God, but by following these sects how many are able to actually feel His proximity? Prophets may institute new modes of worship, new modes of thinking; they may give commandments and say, You should not do this, you should do this’, but that peculiar power which for centuries and centuries inspires people to practise these teachings so wholeheartedly that their efforts become immediately effective, bringing about changes in their lives, that power belongs to the Divine Incarnation; it is not given to the prophets. In short, Divine Incarnations alone have the tremendous power of redemption. You are absolutely right in thinking, if you are a Christian, that Christ was the Redeemer. This is what is meant by Redeemer': he who can break away the opposing forces and bring out the graces of the soul that is, he who grants salvation. Christ did that.
Further we find that a Divine Incarnation, before he passes on, leaves that special power with those of his apostles or disciples who are fitted for it, and they in turn give some of their power to their disciples. It is found that this redeeming power works for generations with astonishing effectiveness. But we maintain this is the tradition in India that even the power of a Divine Incarnation has an end. Generally the belief is that under normal conditions it goes on working with very tangible effectiveness for, say, five centuries, and we have noticed, in India at least, that for five centuries it does go on, then comes a decline, and then appears another Incarnation of God. By now, we almost expect it to happen like that. But you see, about God you cannot say anything; there is no compulsion about Him that He has to appear every five hundred years.
Anyhow, the power does decline, and one reason is that there are no longer proper channels for it. After several generations, the disciples become impure, they become worldly minded; that single-minded devotion to God falls away. Just as a stream of clear water flows freely through new pipes for several years and then dwindles because the pipes have become clogged or have rusted and sprung leaks, in the same way the dispensation of a Divine Incarnation comes to an end because the generations of disciples that follow him become rusted; they are no longer pure and clear channels. It is no use having just a mechanical belief: the Redeemer came, and whether his followers are saints or scoundrels, it doesn’t matter, they become equally good channels of the divine power. If God really is so indiscriminate about moral and spiritual virtues, then why, when He became incarnated as, say, Christ, did He teach moral virtues? Why did He teach purity? Why did He teach spiritual virtues? Why did He say that if you want God, you must give up everything, you must love Him with your whole mind, whole heart, and whole soul? Such teachings mean that you cannot live in proximity to God, you cannot feel His nearness, unless you become the right instrument. In India that is what we believe, and therefore we do not care a fig for those who say they are in direct line of discipleship of a Divine Incarnation unless they themselves are fit.