Devotees would often ask Sri Ramakrishna as to what is the difference between Avatara and an ordinary man. According to scriptures an Avatara is God incarnate on earth in human form and hence would have many human qualities like other men. Sri Ramakrishna would explain the idea to them using a beautiful example from daily life.
Once there were floods in a particular area and the river was overflowing with turbulent waters. A piece of wood was floating on the water and a bird tried to perch on it and cross over to the other shore. But the piece of wood could not even bear this weight and it sank down along with the bird. Sri Ramakrishna would say that ordinary Sadhakas are like this. They can at best work out their own salvation. In the same place a boat came and anchored on the shore. People were in a hurry to get on to it and cross to the other shore. The boatman was pleading with the people trying to get into the boat to stop doing so since the load was already overloaded. But the people did not listen.
The boat managed to go some distance in the river, but soon sank with all the people on board. Sri Ramakrishna would say that even spiritually illumined Gurus can at best guide a few aspirants to the ultimate spiritual goal of life. They cannot take the burden of too many.
After some time at the same place a huge ship came and anchored near the jetty. All the people on the shore got into it and yet there were place for many more. The ship safely carried them across the waters of the river to the safety of the other shore. Sri Ramakrishna would say that Avatara or God incarnate on earth is like the huge ship. He can guide the entire mankind to spiritual regeneration. Thus an Avatara is a supremely empowered person in terms of spiritual magnificence.