Dattatreya 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.
Dattatreya 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).
Typical 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.
Ancient 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.
Greetings 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!