Dattatreya’s 24 Gurus and His Brilliant View

SHIVA IN BLACK AND WHITE 2Dattatreya blows my mind with the daring way he lived his life and the transcendent wisdom that emerged as a result. The word Datta means “given”—for it is said the Divine Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) “gave” one aspect of themselves in the form of a son to the sages Atri and Anasuya; Atreya was added on to his name, to indicate he was the son of Atri.

Born roughly 4000 years ago in an age when Veda and Tantra had once again fused, Dattatreya left home early, in search of the Absolute, roaming naked in the areas in and around Mysore, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Usually depicted with three heads, symbolizing Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; past, present, and future; and the three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep, he is shown sitting in meditation beside his shakti (mate) beneath the wish-fulfilling tree; in front of him is a fire pit, and around him are four dogs—symbolizing the four Vedas. The Nath yogis view Dattatreya as an Avatar of Shiva and as their Adi-Guru (First Teacher); they see him as a Siddha (realized being with magical powers) living in the woods with animals, and sometimes even as a frightening (demonic) being.

SHIVA MODERN PICDattatreya had no formal human guru, but in the Bhagavata Purana he lists 24 gurus: earth, air, sky/ether, water, fire, sun, moon, python, pigeons, sea, moth, bee, bull elephant, bear, deer, fish, osprey, a child, a maiden, a courtesan, a blacksmith, serpent, spider, and wasp.

Legend has it that Dattatreya once dove into a lake where he stayed for years in order to free himself of attachment, as well as to evade an assembly of Munis (sages) awaiting his return. Datta finally emerged from the water—naked, and in the company of a beautiful woman (his shakti). The Markandeya Purana reports that he made love with her (maithuna), drank liquor, and enjoyed music—and yet the Munis did not abandon him. Accompanied by his shakti, Dattatreya continued to engage in these practices and was meditated upon by those yearning for liberation or moksha.

If destiny had not sent Dattatreya unusually intelligent disciples (three were Kings), his manner of living might have been all we now have to know him. However his teachings are also contained in several Upanishads, a Tantrik text known as Haritayana Samhita, and two Gitas (the Jivanmukta Gita and the Avadhuta Gita).

SHIVA AS YOGITypical of most spiritual rebels of the ancient eastern world, Dattatreya lived completely naked, and although he was the son of a Brahmin couple, he claimed caste distinctions had no value in spiritual life. Concepts of the brotherhood of man, non-killing, or love for one another he dismissed as being for people who enjoyed worldly pleasures; instead he taught the timeless wisdom which alone can free us from the coils of suffering born of primal delusion.

Dattatreya relied on three Sanskrit words (Pratibha, Sahaja and  Samarasa) to deliver his message; each provides a springboard to Absolute Reality.

Pratibha means vision, insight, intuition, wisdom, awakening (like satori and not to be confused with enlightenment.) It is what enables one to distinguish Real from Unreal and is a bridge between egoic-mind and the Self. Pratibha cannot thrive in the material world and is cultivated best by meditation or contemplation, independent of religious strictures. Spontaneous in manifestation, it is a stage in which one requires no further guidance from a guru. Pratibha is the real Third Eye: a transcendent knowledge capable of culling diamonds of wisdom.

Sahaja. What is it that distinguishes the throng of rebels who illuminate eastern history? The answer is Sahaja or naturalness. Sahaja is not confined to physical and spiritual levels but also applies to mystical knowing. It is that easy state minus design, manipulation, wanting, striving or intention where events flow naturally: Nobody, for instance, has to instruct a seed on how to grow into a towering tree. Sahaja brings us into harmony with the Cosmos, for it is a balanced reality between the pairs of opposites.

Samarasa is the third of these three intertwined words and is considered the most interesting for it encapsulates the Absolute, the Cosmos, and the World. Tantriks used it to suggest higher truth—as in the ecstasy of sexual orgasm. It also means the primal unity of all things—an aesthetically balanced unity. To Dattatreya, Samarasa meant a stage of Absolute realization free of distinctions between felt, seen or experienced, or between the seeker and the goal.

SHIVA IN BROWN AND YELLOWAncient India gave birth to liberating spiritual concepts; however genuine seekers were, and still are, rare—not because liberation is reserved for a minority, but because it is a process which continues over eons. One sure indication of genuine seeking is one’s own sincerity and intensity. The penalty for neglecting higher truth is not the wrath of God, but countless future lives of misery, pain and frustration; the reward for the diligent is relief from a tedious succession of rebirths and lasting bliss.

ARUNACHALA AT NIGHT IN BLUE 3Greetings from Arunachala, the sacred mountain considered to be the embodiment of the great god Shiva, and whose promise is to destroy our egoic-mind so that we can experience ourselves as the blissful and immortal Self!

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12 thoughts on “Dattatreya’s 24 Gurus and His Brilliant View

  1. Far from the urban and deep into the rural in a small sleepy village, a temple is bustling with activity in the dark of the night. People, mostly pilgrims and many from the village gather in small numbers and seat themselves around the brightly lit sanctum waiting for the evening aarti. Tall railings separate the seating area. Some lie down, others prostrate and few seat themselves with closed eyes. The atmosphere is devotional with chimes of the temple bells ringing often and chants emanating from the swiftly circumambulating devotees. An ascending sound of a conch suddenly activates the people around, signaling the start of the aarti. Sharp drum beats resonate loudly accompanied by vigorous clangs of cymbals. People around start swinging, some shaking, few murmuring. Some women lying on the ground move rhythmically with the beats, other women move their bodies in snake like motion. Few women are seen climbing up the railings, some throw open their hair and swing wildly with the musical crescendos. Others roll on the ground wailing as if appealing to the divine or shouting off invisible spirits. Some are uncontrollable by their families. The cries and shrieks get louder and louder, but the sounds emanating from the drums and cymbals pitch along and above the human shouts and chants. The rhythmical music is swinging and swaying the audience around in an invisible cradle. The atmosphere is highly charged by now and the devotees are fully in trance lost to the sounds and spirit of the divine. Some onlookers are shocked with amazement and others are mesmerized at the wild dancing and writhing of human bodies around them, some are calm as if normal. Normal because the rituals of trance happen daily, once in the afternoon and again in the night, day after day, year after year. This extremely poor village is sustained by the intense devotion and exceedingly rich spirituality and everlasting belief in Dutta living amidst them. The place is Deval Ganagapur, a powerful nuclear center of Lord Dattatreya, 30 minutes from Gulbarga.

  2. Thanks Mira!
    “naturalness” reminds me of this quote from the Gospel of Thomas:
    Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

    • Roger Isaacs, do you know this is one of my favorite quotes? I first read it in Elaine Pagel’s ‘The Gnostic Gospels’ – and wow! I even quote it in my soon to be pubbed novel KRISHNA’S COUNSEL….it is a teaching that has helped me to flower as a writer. Om!

      • Hi Mira,
        Yeah, Elaine Pagels has done some good work. Good luck with your novel!

        There are a lot of wonderful sayings in the short Gospel of Thomas. More of my favorites below. AND, I love that in the Gospel of Philip it says: Jesus was seen frequently kissing Mary on the lips! OMG!

        And he said, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.”

        Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you. (brilliant I think to say both within AND without)

        His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?”
        “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.”

        Jesus said, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him.”

  3. Thank you Mira! I have been using Dattareya much in my practice this past week and all of the sudden this post appeared on Luthar. I did not know much about him prior to your post, but only that I had to give him strong devotion this week. Listening to his strotram gave me an immense feeling of peace and insight. Many blessings to you for this post!

    • Thank you Yogi! I noticed that you are now following my blog, and hope you will continue to enjoy these posts I write from my heart. Dattatreya – what to say? A rare gem whose luster illuminates the cosmos. Thank you for your kind words.

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