King Yadu saw Lord Dattatreya (Avadhoot)
in a forest and addressed him "Sir, you are indeed quite capable,
energetic and wise. Such as you are, why do you live in the forest,
free from all desires? Even though you have neither kith and kin
nor even a family, how could you be so blissful and self-contented?"
The Avadhoot replied, "My bliss and contentment are the fruits
of self-realization. I have gained the necessary wisdom from the
whole creation, through 24 Gurus. I shall elaborate the same for
Shri Dattatreya had twenty-four teachers from nature
"many are my preceptors," he told king yadu, "selected by my keen
sense, from whom acquiring wisdom freely, I wander in the worldÖ.
The earth, air/breeze, sky, fire, the sun, pigeon, python, sea,
moth, elephant, ant, fish, Pingala the courtesan, arrow-maker, infant/playful
boy, the moon, honeybee, deer, bird of prey, maiden, serpent, spider,
caterpillar and water are my twenty four preceptors.
1. Earth: All creatures, in accordance with
their pervious store of karma (action) assume different physical
forms and live on earth. People plough, dig and tread the earth.
They light fires on it. Still, the earth does not swerve from its
course even by a hairís breadth. On the other hand, it feeds and
houses all creatures. Seeing this, I learned that the wise one should
never swerve from his vow of patience, love and righteousness under
any circumstances and one should dedicate his life for the welfare
of living beings. The earth along with its mountains and rivers
is my first guru.
2. Air: I observed that air is pure and
odorless in itself. And it blows on both sweet and foul-smelling
things without any discrimination or preference. Though it momentarily
seems to take on the smell of its surroundings, in a short while,
it reveals its pristine quality. From this I learned that a spiritual
aspirant should live in the world, unaffected by the dualities of
life like joy and sorrow and by the objects of the senses. He should
keep his heartís feeling and his speech unpolluted by vain objects.
As I have learned all this by observing it, air is my second guru.
3. Sky: The soul is also like the sky, which
is omnipresent. I have noticed that sometimes the sky (or space)
gets thickly overcast, or filled with dust or smoke. At sunrise
and during night, it apparently takes on different colors. But in
fact, it ever retains its colorless self, and it is never touched
or stained by any thing. From this I learned that a true sage should
remain ever pure like the sky or space, untouched or unaffected
by anything in the phenomenal universe in time, including his own
physical processes. His inner being is totally free from emotional
reaction to things and events even like the space. Thus I accepted
the sky or space as my third guru.
4. Fire: My fourth teacher is element of
fire. Sometimes, it manifests itself as blazing flames; sometimes
as smoldering embers, covered by ash. But it is always present in
all objects as latent heat. The god of fire accepts the offering
of everyone, irrespective of his moral worth and burns down his
sins; and it still remains the ever-pure divinity as the fire-god;
he is untainted by the sins of such devotees. So too, a sage of
perfect realization should accept food of everyone, burn down his
sins and bless the giver. Though fire has no specific form of its
own, when it is associated with fuel that burns, it assumes such
apparent forms. So too, the true Self, though formless in itself,
appears in the forms of deities, human beings, animals and trees
when it is associated with the respective physical structures. The
source of all forms in the universe, as also their end, remains
ever mysterious. All the things are manifest only in between their
origin and their end. Their source and end is the true Self, which
is eternal, unchanging, unmanifest and omnipresent. The nature of
the element of fire is such. The manifest fire transforms the various
things it consumes into the same ash. So too, the wisdom of self-realization
rejects the manifest forms and properties of things as illusion
and realizes their one original essence as itself. Thus the element
of fire is my fourth guru.
5. Sun: My fifth guru is sun. Though the
sun we see in our daily life is one, it appears as many when reflected
by water in different vessels. Similarly, the one real Self manifests
itself as many selves of living creatures when reflected by their
physical structures. As Sun illuminates the many forms in nature
to our visions, the sage too illuminates the true nature of all
things to his devotees.
6. Pigeon: I have gained wisdom from a pigeon
too. Once a pair of pigeons lived together on a tree. They bred
their young and were bringing them up with deep affection and love.
One day, a hunter caught the young fledglings in a snare. The ladybird,
which returned from the forest with food for its young ones, saw
their plight and, unable to leave them, she leapt in the snare to
share their fate. Shortly after, the male pigeon turned up and,
unable to bear the separation from its sweetheart, it too jumped
in the snare and met its end. Reflecting on this, I realized how,
even after being born as an intelligent human being, man is caught
in the coils of possessiveness and brings about his own spiritual
destruction. The self, which is originally free, when associated
with the body sense, gets identified with it, and thus gets caught
in the endless cycle of birth, death and misery. Thus the pigeon
was my sixth guru.
7. Python: The python is a sluggard, unwilling
to move out briskly for its prey. It lies in its lurch and devours
whatever creature it comes across, be it sufficient to appease its
hunger. From this I learnt that the man in search of wisdom should
refrain from running after pleasures, and accept whatever he gets
spontaneously with contentment. Like the python, he should shake
off sleep and wakefulness and abide in a state of incessant mediation
on the Self. Thus the python was my seventh teacher of wisdom.
8. Sea: Contemplating the marvelous nature
of the ocean, I have gained much wisdom. Any number of overflowing
rivers may join it, yet the sea maintains its level. Nor does its
level fall even by a hairís breadth in summer, when all the rivers
dry up. So too, the joys of life do not elate the sage of wisdom,
nor do its sorrows depress him. Just as the sea never crosses its
threshold on the beach, the wise one never transgresses the highest
standards of morality under the pull of passions. Like the sea,
he is unconquerable and cannot be troubled by anything. Like the
unfathomable ocean, his true nature and the depths of his wisdom
cannot be easily comprehended by anyone. The ocean, which has taught
me thus, is my eighth guru.
9. Moth: I often observed that the moth
(or, more precisely, a grasshopper) is tempted by fire to jump in
it and get burnt down. So too, the unthinking man is enticed by
the illusory pleasures of the senses and thus gets caught in the
ceaseless cycles of birth and death. On the other hand, the wise
one, when he catches even a glimpse of the fire of wisdom, leaves
everything aside, leaps in it and burns down the illusion of being
a limited self. Thus the moth was my ninth guru.
10. Elephant: The elephant was my tenth
guru. The human beings raise a stuffed cow-elephant in the forest.
The wild tusker mistakes it for a mate, approaches it and then skillfully
bound in fetters by the cunning human beings. So too, the unregenerate
man is tempted by the opposite sex and gets bound by the fetters
of infatuation. The seekers after liberation should learn to be
free from lust. The elephant was thus one of my teachers.
11. Ant: The ant stores up lots of food
materials which it neither eats nor gives away in charity to any
other creature. In consequence, other more powerful creatures are
tempted to plunder the ants. So too, the man who lays by treasures
of merely material things becomes a victim of robbery and murder.
But the ant has something positive to teach us, too. It is a tireless
worker and is never discouraged by any number of obstacles and setbacks
in its efforts to gather its treasure. So too, a seeker after wisdom
should be tireless in his efforts for Self-Realization. This noble
truth has the little ant taught me and became my eleventh guru.
12. Fish: The fish greedily swallows bait
and is at once caught by the angle-hook. From this, I realized how
man meets his destruction by his craving for delicious food. When
the palate is conquered, all else is conquered. Besides, there is
a positive feature in the fish. It never leaves its home, i.e. water.
So too, man should never loose sight of his true self, but should
ever have his being in it. Thus the fish became my twelfth guru.
13. Pingala: The thirteenth guru that has
awakened my spirit is a prostitute named Pingala. One day, she eagerly
awaited a particular client in the hope that he would pay her amply.
She waited and waited till late in the night. When he did not turn
up, she was at last disillusioned and reflected thus: "Alas! How
stupid I am! Neglecting the divine spirit within, who is of the
nature of bliss eternal, I foolishly awaited a debauchee (sensualist)
who inspires my lust and greed. Henceforth, I shall expend myself
on the Self, unite with Him and win eternal joy. Through such repentance,
she attained blessedness. Besides, reflecting on its obvious purport,
I also realized that a spiritual aspirant should likewise reject
the lure of lesser spiritual powers, which are mere by-products
of sadhana (spiritual practice). I learned that the temptation
to secure things from otherís hands are the seeds of misery; that
renunciation of these is the sole means of realizing infinite joy.
14. Arrow-maker: Once I observed an arrow-maker
who was totally absorbed in molding a sharp arrow. He grew so oblivious
of all else that he did not even notice a royal pageant that passed
by. This sight awakened me to the truth that such single-minded,
all-absorbing contemplation of the Self spontaneously eliminates
all temptation for the trivial interests of the world. It is the
sole secret of success in spiritual discipline. Thus the arrow-maker
is my fourteenth guru.
15. Playful Boy: Little boys and girls know
neither honor nor dishonor. They do not nurse a grudge or a prejudice
against anyone. They do not know what is their own, or what belongs
to others. Their happiness springs from their own selves, their
innate creativity and they do not need any external objects or conditions
to be happy. I realized that the sage of perfect enlightenment is
also such. A playful boy thus happened to be my fifteenth guru.
16. Moon: Of all things in nature, the moon
is unique. It appears to wax and wane during the bright and dark
fortnights. In fact, the lunar globe ever remains the same. In this,
it is like the self of the man. While a man appears to pass through
the stages of infancy, boyhood, youth, maturity and old age, his
real self remains unchanged. All changes pertain only to body and
not to the self. Again, the moon only reflects the light of the
sun, but has no such of its own. So too, the soul or mind of man
is only a reflection of the light of awareness of the real self.
Having taught this truth, the moon became my sixteenth guru.
17. Honeybee: Honeybee wanders from flower
to flower and, without hurting them in the least, draws honey. So
too, a spiritual seeker should study all the Holy Scriptures but
retain in his heart, only that is essential for his spiritual practice.
Such is the teaching I imbibed from my seventeenth guru, the honeybee.
18. Deer: It is said that deers are very
fond of music and that poachers employ it to lure them before hunting
them. From this, I learned that passions and sensual desires will
soon bog down a spiritual aspirant who has a weakness for merely
secular music, till he ultimately loses whatever spiritual progress
he has achieved earlier. The deer that taught me this truth is my
19. Bird of prey: A bird of prey is my nineteenth
guru. One day, I saw one such carrying away a dead rat. Many other
birds like crows and eagles attacked it, now kicking on its head
and again pecking on its sides in their endeavor to knock off the
prey. The poor bird was thus very much pestered. At last, it wisely
let its prey fall and all the other birds rushed after it. Thus
freeing itself from so much botheration, it sighed in relief. From
this, I learned that a man who runs after worldly pleasures will
soon come into clash with his fellow-beings who too run for the
same, and has to face much strife and antagonism. If he learns to
conquer his craving for worldly things, he can spare himself much
unhappiness. I realized that this is the only way to the peace in
20. Maiden: Once, I observed a family visit
a maidenís house, seeking her hand in marriage for their son. At
that time, her mother was away from home. So the maiden herself
had to entertain the guests with refreshments. She at once started
pounding food-grains with a pestle. The bangles on her hand started
knocking against each other, pounding sound. She was afraid that
the guests might hear the sound and be unhappy for having caused
her so much of trouble. As a Hindu maiden, she is not expected to
remove all the bangles on her hand at any time. So she kept two
on each hand and removed all the rest. Even then, they were knocking
against each other and were making noise. So she kept only one bangle
on each hand this time and she could finish her task in quiet. Reflecting
on this, I realized that when a number of spiritual seekers live
together, a lot of unwanted gossip ensues and no spiritual practice
can be pursued with a single-minded effort. Only in solitude, a
spiritual aspirant can carry his task. Knowing this truth, I henceforth
resorted to solitude. Thus, a maiden happened to be my twentieth
21. Serpent: I observed that a serpent never
builds a dwelling for itself. When white ants have raised an anthill
for themselves, the serpent eventually come to inhabit it. Similarly,
worldly people have to endure many hardships in raising houses for
themselves, while a recluse monk does no such thing. Worldly men
raise the monasteries and the monk lives in them; or, he leaves
in old dilapidated temples, or underneath shady trees. The serpent
moults, leaving off its old skin. So too at the end of his life
Yogi leaves his body deliberately and in full awareness of his own
true self and is not frightened by the phenomenon of death. On the
other hand, he casts off his old body as happily as he does his
worn out clothes and dons new ones. Thus has my twenty first guru
22. Spider: The spider is my twenty second
guru. It weaves its web from the thread in the form of a fluid.
After sometime, it gathers up the web into itself. The supreme projects
the whole creation out of itself and after sometime, withdraws it
into itself at the time of dissolution. The individual soul too,
bears the senses and the mind within itself and, at its birth as
a human being or any other living creature, it projects them out
as the sense organs, organs of action and the whole body. In accordance
with its latent tendencies, the creature thus born, gathers up all
the means and objects needed for its living. At the end of its lifeís
duration, the soul again withdraws the senses, mind and acquired
tendencies at the hour of death. Thus have I learned from the spider.
23. Caterpillar: The caterpillar is also
one of my teachers of wisdom. The wasp carries its caterpillar to
a safe corner and closes it up in its nest and goes on buzzing about
it. The young caterpillar is so frightened by the incessant buzzing,
that it cannot think of anything else than the buzzing wasp. Through
such unintermittent contemplation of its mother, the caterpillar
too, soon grows up into a wasp! In a like fashion, a true disciple
is so charmed and over-awed by the spiritual eminence of his own
guru that he cannot think any one other than him. Through such contemplation,
he soon blossoms into a great spiritual master himself. The caterpillar
is thus my twenty third Guru.
24. Water: Water is my twenty fourth Guru.
It quenches the thirst of every creature, sustains innumerable trees
and all creatures. While it thus serves all living beings, it is
never proud of itself. On the other hand, it humbly seeks the lowliest
of places. The sage too should likewise bestow health, peace and
joy to every creature that resorts to him. Yet he should ever live
as the humblest of Godís creation.
With such humility and devotion, I looked upon
the whole of Godís creation as my teacher, gathered up wisdom and,
through patient effort I realized my goal of spiritual enlightenment.