The twenty four Gurus of Lord Dattatreya


Lord Dattatreya was born to Maharishi Atri and Mother Ansuiya. Mother Ansuiya had received a boon from the three god’s Brahma, Vishnu and Shiv that they will be born to her. They were born as one, in the form of Lord Dattatreya. Lord Dattatreya was an Avdhoot, a monk who has no possessions at all and constantly moves from place to place learning from everything around him, constantly seeking divine knowledge.

The Avdhoot was meek and humble. He did not disdain anybody from whom he could pick up some wisdom. During his wanderings he came across many people, birds, beasts, animals, from whose behavior and characteristic nature he deduced spiritual truths, maxims and rules of behavior that would be conducive to his spiritual progress. He found ‘books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything’.
The peculiarity of this small narration lies in the fact that it helps develop an attitude of learning from everything around us. In reality those spiritual people learn well who are able to look at every event as a means to learning. It is not just the positive events but the negative events as well, in fact especially the negative. To be able to see all criticisms, all negative events and all the stones thrown at one as the stepping stones to develop and transform the self. As a practice, repeated reading of this narrative helps in building this attitude even if a person can read it once a month.
These rules are more for the sannyasi (monk) but each spiritual aspirant can learn these qualities and practice them to some degree. In Hindu thought we say that each seed we sow today will tomorrow become a tree. Let the family man, essentially sow the seed to the means of higher consciousness, for we must strive for the best – for liberation.


  1. SANNYASI means Hindu monk, hermit, and sage.
  2. SADHAK means spiritual seeker or a person who also walks the path that leads to perfection.
  3. SIDDHA means perfected.
  4. TAPASAYA means austerities, penance or literally to burn oneself to become purer.
  5. SADHANA literally means to set one’s aim or mind on something. The word is usually used in the spiritual context and means to settle one’s mind on the highest consciousness. In simple terms it is used for spiritual practices that a spiritual seeker does to reach perfection.
  6.  JIVA means individual being.


  1. His first teacher was MOTHER EARTH. People tread on her, sit on her, urinate and excrete on her, but she forgives them all trespasses. In return for their ill she gives then from her depths gold, silver, iron, coal, and other useful and valuable materials. She gives them wheat, corn and fruits to eat without which they would not be able to live. Similarly a spiritual seeker should cultivate the noble quality of forgiveness. Those that censure his body are his friends and helpmates; for he has firmly to fix his mind on the self, for their abuses, censure, and fault finding he should give supreme thankfulness. He should give them the benefit of his spiritual power, self knowledge and yogic capacity. From the earth the Yogi learns patience and forgiveness.
  2. WIND was his second teacher. The wind blows continuously. So, in order to avoid attachments the Sadhak should not live at one place for a very long time. He should be constantly on the move.  That would give him an opportunity to come into contact with many mature souls and win spiritual liberation. The wind carries with it good smell as well as bad smell but keeps it with itself only for a short while. It is untainted and pure. Similarly a Sadhak should not be tainted by the goodness or badness of people into whose contact he comes. He should firmly establish himself in the Self and its pristine purity.  The wind again is subtle not perceptible to the eye. The sadhak’s ways similarly should be subtle and not an open book for all and sundry to read. He should be a real mystic living in the depths of the spirit, not on the surface of existence. The wind teaches to keep moving, to be unaffected by our surroundings.
  3. The SKY was his third teacher. It is all pervading. Similarly the self is all pervading. It is the most subtle of all five gross elements. Likewise the self too is subtle. Clouds pass over the sky. Some are white and others dark. The sky appears to be colored by their hues; but it is only an appearance. Really speaking it remains pure, unsullied, and untainted. Even so, the self appears to be tainted by the various modifications of the mind but in reality, it remains absolutely pure and unsullied. The sky teaches us to expand our knowledge and mind.
  4.  WATER was the fourth teacher. It is always flowing. So the Sadhak also should be constantly and continuously on the move, flowing, progressive. Water washes everything clean. So the sadhak should purify all who come into contact with him. Water is cool so the sadhak should communicate coolness, consolation, peace to all worldly people whose minds are torn by worldly anxieties, driven by cares and worries and who come to him for peace and quiet. Water is liquid. It is soft. Similarly, a sadhak should be soft hearted, kind and compassionate. Water is also life giving. Water teaches us to be pure, cool and give life.
  5. FIRE was his fifth teacher. It is bright. A sadhak should burn with spiritual illumination. It cooks food. Similarly, a sadhak or siddha yogi should mature the mental impressions (samskaras) of the people who come to him and make them riper for Self Realization. Fire burns to purify, it devours all impurities and trash. So the sadhak should burn all the sins and impurities of the people who come to him, in the flame of his Self Knowledge. Fire drives away cold to give warmth and heat. So the sadhak should remove various fears within the minds of people and the darkness of ignorance, and give them spiritual solace and comfort. Fire teaches us to burn our impurities and that of others too.
  6. His sixth teacher was THE SUN.  It is bright. The sadhak should shine with the luster of the Self. The Sun radiates light and heat. The sadhak should spread all around him the illumination of the self, and give comfort and spiritual solace to the people who come to him. The sun is always bright, radiating energy, but we perceive it as hot or warm depending on the rotation of the earth; neither does it rise nor does it set; only the earth rotates not the sun. Similarly, the Self remains the same in all states and conditions. It is not tainted by various concepts and ideas that different people form about it. The sun teaches us to be lustrous and bright.  
  7. His seventh teacher was THE MOON. It is cool, bright, and charming. The spiritual seeker should give peace and comfort to all who go to him. He should be polite and charming in his behavior. The Moon borrows the light of the Sun, but in the transitional process makes it cool and soothing.  Similarly, the sadhak himself performs austerities, penances and other forms of tapasya; but he gives peace and spiritual solace to all who go to him. He converts the heat of the tapasya into the peace of the soul.  Such is his benevolence.
  8. His eighth teacher was A DOVE. A poor, pitiable dove had built a nest in the midst of the branches of a tree in a forest. His mate, she-dove, and her fledgling were dwelling in it. Once he flew out to gather in his beak some grains of corn for his off springs. The she-dove did the same, but at a nearer distance. In the meantime a fowler came with his net, and spread it near the tree, putting some grains of rice beneath the net. The young of the dove were hungry. They were tempted. They flew down to eat rice, and were caught in the net. After some time the she-dove came with some grains in her beak. She found some of her young screaming in pain, and some dead in the meshes of the net. She could not bear the sight. She was so attached to her offspring, she did not care to live and fell on the net to be caught in its foils. In the meanwhile the dove came with grains of corn in his beak. He wanted to feed his wife and children with those grains. But he found, to his horror and grief, that his entire family was caught in the fowler’s net screaming, dead or half dead. What use for life had he now? He loathed it. His attachment to his wife and children was so great that he fell on the net and was caught in it. Instead of trying to find out a way of freeing his family from the net, he became blind with grief and fell a prey to the fowler’s will. The fowler was happy. He had gotten a great mass of meat, which would fetch him a large sum of money from a prospective customer.

Such is the story of the worldly man with a family. He yearns for his wife and children. Attachment makes him blind. Attachment and situations brought by the advent of time; Death, the great Fowler, spreads its net, and the worldly man’s wife and children are caught in it. When he finds the sorry plight of his family, he does not think of finding out ways and means to make them free. Instead his attachment makes him fall into the snare of death and brings his own ruin. Such is the pitiable condition of an ignorant householder. Learning from this, a sadhak should never be attached to any person, and should never think of setting up a home. From this, the sadhak learns that attachment is the cause of bondage.
(Note: Attachment to the Guru and to the goal of liberation in spiritual thought, are not considered as attachments, as these lead one to higher consciousness.)

  1. A PYTHON was his ninth teacher. He never goes out in search of his food. He sits under a tree in the forest in a majestic pose, and fills his belly with whatever providence sends to him and with that which falls into his mouth – be it a lamb, deer or a goat. Then he twines himself around the trunk of the tree, and his prey is digested in his belly. He pulls on with its meat for days together but never stirs out in search of quarry till providence sends him one to eat. The sadhak, similarly, has supreme unshakable faith in providence, and lives contently on whatever food and clothing providence gives. He makes no effort to earn worldly gains and acquire objects of pleasure. He spends all his time and energy only in fixing his mind on the self. Without contentment and faith in providence a sadhak cannot make much progress in his sadhana.
  2.  THE OCEAN was his tenth teacher. It is unfathomable. The depth of the inner being of a sadhak should similarly be unfathomable. The ocean has pearls within it. The sadhak likewise should have very many precious spiritual realizations within. The ocean is serene and grand. The sadhak should similarly be serene and grand in his spiritual depths. Many rivers bring their watery contribution in tons of water to the mighty ocean; it still remains unruffled. It is not puffed up, it does not overflow, it never transgresses its bound. Similarly, the sadhak should assimilate and digest within himself all the spiritual realization. He should never becomes puffed up with ego, pride, self-knowledge or be upset. He never crosses the bounds of proper behavior.
  3. A MOTH was his eleventh teacher. It falls into the flame of a lamp and gets burnt, that is the attraction to beautiful form attached with dire consequences. A sadhak, therefore, should not fall a prey to the attraction of beautiful forms. He should control his mind not allowing it to go out through the eye to embrace beautiful forms; otherwise he will be completely ruined spiritually. To control the sense of sight and to fix the mind on the self is the lesson learnt from the moth.
  4. A BEETEL was his twelfth teacher. It is able to penetrate a thick piece of wood by cutting a hole in it.  But it becomes imprisoned in the petals of a lotus, because it is enamored by its fragrance, which is the result of his not being able to control his sense of smell. He can, but does not pierce through the soft delicate petals of a lotus. The reason is his attachment to and fondness for fragrant smell. So a sadhak should beware of the attractions of sweet pleasant smell. Otherwise it will spell his spiritual ruin.
  5. AN ELEPHANT was his thirteenth teacher. He is strong and majestic. Rut oozes out of both his temples. He is mad with intoxication. He will fight even with a lion, the king of the jungles. So his tamers use a trick to catch him. They dig out a pit and cover it up with bamboo-sticks, then overlay with green grass and leaves to produce an impression of a natural beautiful forest scene. Upon that network of their bamboo sticks they put in a standing posture, a she-elephant made of paper. She looks lifelike. That is their artistic dexterity. The elephant sees her from a distance thinks her to be a real living she elephant, He is eager to have her soft touch, madly rushed towards her, falls into the pit and is deceived. Then the tamers do not give him any food to eat for a few days. He grows weak and feeble. Next they begin to give him small doses of flour to eat, so that he can keep his body and soul together. At last they take him to service, make him fetch large logs of wood. He becomes the coolie to the small sized human being because he could not control himself and fell prey to the temptation of soft delicate female touch. So a sadhak should beware of the temptation of soft delicate fair touches, otherwise he will bring his own spiritual ruination. From an elephant the sadhak learnt that the sense of touch is dangerous.
  6. A DEER was his fourteenth teacher. It is fleet of foot. It runs very quickly. It frisks, plays, gambols, takes quick jumps, and hides behind a thicket of trees and bushes. Hence the hunters cannot get near it and shoot it. So they employ a trick.  It loves to hear sweet music. That is its weakness. Therefore the hunters keep with them a musician, a man who plays sweetly upon a flute. Its notes charm the deer. It stands still to enjoy the sweet music. The hunters shoot it down with an arrow. So the sadhak should beware of this temptation of sweet enrapturing sound otherwise it will undo him spiritually.
  7. A FISH was his fifteenth teacher. It is very fond of delicious meat or a ball of sweet flour. The fisherman, therefore, puts a piece of meat on the spike, the pointed bit of iron in his net. The fish comes to relish the meat gets pierced by the spike and is caught in the fisherman’s hook otherwise it would not fall in the net. It is skilled in the various ways of swimming being a water life form. But its fondness for good taste and relish becomes the cause of its death. So the sadhak should control his sense of taste, the attraction for good taste and relish. Otherwise he will fall from his spiritual heights.
  8. A BEE was his sixteenth teacher. Bees are good honey makers. A bee-hive is a factory for honey making, honey is hoarded in it. The honey collector makes a fire below it. Some bees fall into the fire and get burnt because their eyes are blinded and they are suffocated with smoke, then they drop down into the fire and are burnt. Some lucky ones are able to escape. They suffer, because they hoard. It is better to consume what we have and to give in charity to others if we can spare; otherwise we shall have to suffer like the bees, and meet with a painful death. Somebody else will snatch away and enjoy our possessions. The sadhak learns the lesson that hoarding leads to destruction, so to posses as much as we need.
  9. There was a PROSTITUTE, Pingala by name. It was the beginning of the night.  She dressed herself very attractively. She applied make up on her face, lipstick on her lips, mascara on her eyes, and perfume on her skin. She was expecting her lover to come that night. She wanted to meet him with all her charming exquisiteness. She came out on the balcony, gazed long to see if he was coming. She then returned to her room, where her bed had been prepared with garlands of flowers and fragrant incense was burning in its stand nearby. She went out onto the balcony and came back again. Eagerness, hope and expectation were in her heart. Hours passed by slowly and painfully but he did not arrive. The clock struck twelve. It was midnight. How foolish of her to have waited for him so long and so eagerly! If she had prepared herself to meet her eternal lover, the Self, then probably her hopes would not have been belied! She was tired. She gave up all hope and expectation. She undressed herself and quietly went to bed. Within a short time she fell fast asleep.

 From this incidence, the Avadhoot learnt a great lesson. It is hope that makes man unhappy.  It is hope that kills. Abandonment of hope (expectation) leads to real happiness and contentment, which comes by firmly establishing ourselves in the Self.

  1.  A CHILD was his eighteenth teacher. A small child is always happy. It is not elated by respect. It is not depressed by an insult. It does not hate anybody. It not attached to anybody. It keeps on smiling. That is why people love it, fondle it. Similarly, a sadhak should be above all pairs of opposites, respect and insult, attachment and hatred. He should always take his firm stand on the self. From the child the sadhak learns to be happy. That is the way to spiritual bliss.
  2. There was a young KITE bird. It had a piece of meat in its beak. So all the bigger kites began to peck it with their beaks, to beat it with the flapping of their wings, fell upon it, because they wanted to snatch away that piece of meat. The young kite was sorely harassed. So it gave up that piece of meat. Then all kites left it alone, and began to quarrel among themselves for the piece of meat. The young kite was then happy, unmolested. All misery results from keeping worldly possessions with us. Renunciation makes way for happiness. So a Sadhak should not keep any worldly property or belongings with him. Otherwise he will come to grief and trouble. Renunciation is the way to happiness.
  3. There was a BRAHAMAN GIRL of a marriageable age. Her parents had gone out. In the meanwhile some people from the neighboring village came to see the girl (for her marriage). The girl knew it. She spread out a mat for them. She gave them water to drink. Then she went behind her house, and began to thresh out rice from paddy to prepare a meal for the guests. She had bangles around her wrists. They began to strike against one another and to make noise. She feared lest the guests should come to know about the poverty of her parents. So she took out the bangles one after another. There was sound till there were two bangles. There was no sound when only one bangle was left on each arm.

From this the Avadhut learnt a lesson. A Sadhak should move alone in his wandering. If he has a companion, there would be useless talk even about the alms of food or clothes. If there were three or more, it would be a veritable crowd. That would be a greater nuisance, a greater disturbance in sadhna. So a Sadhak should move alone and live alone.

  1. A SNAKE was his twenty first teacher. It does not make a hole for itself. A rat makes a hole and the snake uses it. A house requires so many things, food has to be prepared, beds have to be maintained, the children have to be educated, guests have to be fed. This means a lot of external minded activity. That is a loss of time for spiritual sadhana, for meditation. So a sadhak should never think of setting up a house. He should take his alms of food from a householder, remaining there for an hour or so, and then retire to a temple in the outskirts of the town, to the hollow in a tree, to a river bank, in the forest, or a cave where he can meditate without any external disturbance or interference.
  2. An ARROW MAKER was his twenty second teacher. The arrow maker was deeply engrossed in making arrows. He was busy chopping, sharpening, smoothing. In the meanwhile a king’s procession passed by. There was the royal band.  The pipers were piping. The bugles were sounding. But the arrow-maker did not hear anything. The nobility passed by. The king went, riding on an elephant. The arrow-maker did not notice it. The Avadhoot asked him if he had seen the procession of the king or if he had heard the music of the band. The arrow-maker showing sign of surprise, replied that he was not aware of anything.  The Avadhoot learnt a lesson from this that only such single pointed concentration would lead to self realization.
  3. A SPIDER was his twenty third teacher. It weaves a web out of its saliva. It does not require any outside help for it. The spider moves on the fiber from one end to the other, or it hangs by it in the centre of the web. He is entangled in his own creation. Even so the Jiva - the worldly soul passes from one birth to another. But it is all his own making, his own creation. Similarly the aspirant must not create a web of karma that entangles him in the cycle of rebirth and repeated death. The sadhak must avoid doing any deeds that entangle him in the world and be absorbed only in attaining higher consciousness and God.
A LARVA was the twenty fourth teacher. A wasp confines a larva in it nest. As a result, the larva is always thinking of the wasp, meditating upon it. After a few days of meditation it converts into a wasp. Such is the force of single minded concentration. Similarly a Sadhak becomes Brahma, the all-pervading divine Consciousness by meditating deeply upon it. One becomes what one meditates upon. That is the supreme law of the spiritual world. That is the key that unlocks the gates of Divinity. Single pointedly think of god.

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