Many Incarnations of the Divine have taken place in the world until now. But there are some distinct features in Dattaavatara. If we consider the Narasimha Avatara or Rama Avatara we see that the Lord’s form was limited. Sri Ramachandra or Narasimha did not appear before the devotees in different forms. But this cannot be said of Dattatreya, who takes on many forms.
Generally, having some great objectives in view, the divine incarnation to fulfil them. But, owing to the nature of the world, the magnitude of the task and limitations of time, a few of them remain uncompleted. Dattaavatara, in which the Lord grants final and complete emamcipation and bestows the state of ‘Atmarama’, revelling in the bliss of one’s own self, is, on the other hand, a complete and perfect incarnation. As an illustration let us recollect the episode in which Lord Dattatreya granted redemption to Prahlada.
The Story of Prahlada, son of Hiranyakasipu, in which Sri Maha Vishnu incarnated as Narasimha to protect his great devotee Prahlada and obtained the title ‘Prahlada Varada’ (Bestower of boons to Prahlada), is well known. We shall now learn the later story.
After Lord Narasimha appeared and killed Hiranyakasipu, Prahlada became king. He treated his subjects as his children with affection flowing from the heart, purified by the sweet nectar of Haribhakti-devotion to Hari.
A long tim passed. As king, he enjoyed many pleasures, yet all the while devoutly attached to Hari. From the worldly point of view, he lacked nothing. His heart overflowed with devotion to Hari. In this respect too, there was no deficiency.
Yet, in an unknown corner of the inner part of that great devotee’s heart, a thorn bush of inexplicable discontent had taken root and gradually began to trouble his heart. Questions like what is the essential nature of this world? What is my true nature, and others arose as its shoots. After deep deliberation and followed by a few scholars he undertook a journey around the world in search of the principle underlying this world.
On seeing the aged Prahlada, who after long wanderings had reached the banks of Kaveri and Sahyadri regions in the south, ‘Bala Prahlada Varada’ (Bestower of boons to the boy Prahlada), who was in the form of Dattatreya in the caves of the Sahyadri, smiled with affection.
Meanwhile, king Prahlada saw a sage rolling in the distant sands on the banks of the Kaveri. Though the figure was not clearly visible from a distance, the devotee, purified as he was by bhakti, felt that this was not an ordinary man. Immediately, he approached him with humility and prostrated to the sage, whose whole body was smeared with mud, and politely asked – “O Munindra, pardon me. I have a doubt. Please listen and reveal the truth to me”.
“Your custom is indeed very strange. Your body shines like gold, but you are lying in the mud. You do not seem to be inclined to take pains to earn and save money. Wealth comes to him who toils. He who has wealth obtains enjoyments. But you are not making any effort to acquire wealth. On the contrary, you appear to be sleeping, lying there like a log of wood. Yet your body not only shines, it is also quite hale and hearty. What is the cause of this?”
“Also some distinguishing marks are visible in you. You seem to talk with some one occassionally. By your utterances, it sounds as if you are a great poet. I also feel that you are a knower of truth and acquainted with the Vedas. But there are times when you look like an utter fool, and when people come and scold you and even inflicit pain on you, Only a very few praise you and prostrate to you. You seem indifferent to both. Neither do you scold the former, nor praise the later. You seem to be above likes and dislikes.”
“Your conduct is contrary to the way of the world. You do not seem to be bound even by the rules of righteousness. Please bless me and teach me your truth”.
The sage, moved by sympathy, opened his eyes and said ‘Prahlada, you are not an ordinary man. For you, who have strong bounds of devotion of Sri Hari, whose effulgence is only matched by that of ten million suns, there can be no such thing as darkness, and there is nothing that is invisible to you. If you assume an unworldly attitude and with a little effort, you will understand what the fruits of action are. But since you have asked me and since you are a great ‘Bhagavata’ (Worshipper of Vishnu), I shall tell you. Listen with faith and devotion.
“Prahlada, I cannot describe the innumerable births that are revolving in my memory, I have taken countless strange births, and have been a victim of diverse desires. Without a thought for righteousness and unrighteousness, I have taken not one, but all kinds of births, such as animals, birds, insects etc, In this revolving cycle, I have been once born as a man.”
“Do you not know that birth as a human being is the door to heaven on the one hand and to hell on the other? To me, born in this queer world, everything looks strange, lifeless and contradictory.”
“Now that you too are in similar state, you can understand what I mean. Committing sins in this wold results in low births, and the performance of meritorious deeds leads to superior births. Moreover, sin produces sorrow and merit produces happiness. That is why men in this world, desirous of dispelling sorrow and obtaining happiness, perform verious rituals.”
“It is surprising that whatever the reason for men to indulge in ceremonial observance, the results from often turn out to be quite contrary to their expectations.”
“The affairs of the world are so strange, I thought. As I pondered on this the truth of it all became clear to my mind. It is not true that a certain action yields suffering and another happiness. All actions, in fact, produce sorrows in the end, therefore all such observances are useless. That knowledge has made me lose all interest in actions.”
“My son, listen carefully. Bliss is the Self’s true nature. Enjoyments conceived by the mind are obstacles to bliss; they are impermanent. Why should I strive to seek these enjoyments, which are perishable, which are obstacles to bliss and which cause apprehension? Therefore, without undertaking any occupation or profession and suffering the inevitable consequences of the activities pursued in previous births, I am sleeping away my life.”
“All the people in the world think that they are knowledgeable, and thinking thus, they always strive to remove unhappiness and to obtain happiness.”
“But if you ponder carefully, you will find that the absolute reality, which has the form of bliss, is within yourself. You are bliss. But, forgetting this eternal trugh, all search for happiness outside themselves.”
“This is the way of the world. Even those who are highly educated are revolving, caught in the wheel of samsara, which is very unreal, dualistic and freightful.”
“Great is the power of delusion! What kind of understanding is this, that desiring happiness for the soul which is beyond body, senses, mind and intellect, they are ever performing actions possible for the body and senses? When problems and sorrows afflict someone like devils on the one hand, how can the wealth and enjoyment acquired after undergoing many hardships, give him even a bit of happiness?”
“You have also seen the world thoroughly, you have had many enjoyments. Now tell me, are the rich really happy? If they hoard it, the eyes of everyone in the country will be on it. How many enemies, such as rulers, robbers, beggars, friends and deceivers are there who are ready to dispossess them of their wealth! A wealthy man cannot sleep both day and night for fear that someone unknown might come and take way his wealth. Is this happiness?
“Even worse, a man of wealth is ever in fear of his life. So the love of wealth combined with love of life produces grief, delusion, fear, anger, desire, a servile disposition, weariness etc.,”
“Therefore, viewed from any standpoint, it is best to give up craving for wealth. Wealth that is to come will somehow come, definitely and effortlessly. This is not only the case with man, but also the case with all animals also. For example, look at the honeybees. They toil endlessly and parsimoniously save up all the honey they gather. But in the end the fruit of all their labour is reaped by man.”
“Then, look at the python, Its body is bit, yet it does not move about for its sustenance, but eats whatever chances to come its way. Living thus without a care, it manages to nourish its hill-like body very well.”
“I have pondered over their attitudes for a long time. As a result, both of them have become my preceptors. They honey-bee has taught me how one should not live, whereas the python how on should. The bee has taught me resignation, the python contentment.” Since then “Ajagara Vrata” has become my inherent nature.
“If I do not have somethings, I do not ask anyone for it. If something is given to me, I do not refuse it. I do not worry at all if I get nothing. I do not allow sorrows and afflictions to trouble me. I do not even allow happiness to enter me.”
“Sometimes I only get a little food. At others food comes plentifully even when I do not need it. Sometimes I get tasteless food, at other times I get five kinds of sweets and paramanna (rice cooked in milk and sugar). Sometimes I am given food accompanied by abuses and insults. Sometimes I am offered food with kindness and with due respect. It is the same with clothes and ornaments. Here too I find myself in quite contrary situations. As you see, I am lying in the mud now. But occassions will arrive when, decorated with a crown, I sit swaggering upon a regal throne. What is important here is that one does not leave me grief-stricken, nor the other makes me any happier. The whole world is subject to maya, it is not an independent entity. That is why even when the people of the world treat me without respect. I do not reproach them in turn. Instead I wish them to be blessed with happiness and moksha.”
“Thus, possessing the ability to treat one and all alike and having overcome distinction in the modification of the Chitta, the modi-fication of the Chitta in Mind, which is the cause of all modifications, the Ego in Maya through Mahat, and Maya in the expereince of the self. I have gained the bliss of the Self, and I live in a state of oneness. Prahlada, you are dear to Sri Hari. Therefore you are also very dear to me. That is why I have made you listen to this account of myself, which is a secret of secrets. I have done so without withholding anything. Think it over care-fully. This alone is Paramahamsa Yoga”.
After he had heard the words of the Munindra, king Prahlada, who was the greatest Bhagavata, who had been purified by austerities and who had a stainless heart, obtained a vision of the Inner Light. He remained immersed in the bliss of the Self for some time. And when he opened his eyes slowly, he saw before him Lord Dattatreya with a sweet and gentle smile on his face.”
Prahlada, worshipped Lord Dattatreya and then took leave of him. He spent the rest of his life absorbed in the bliss of the Self.
When we ponder over this story, another thing strikes us. Whatever Got a persom might worship and believe in, if he possesses the necessary maturity of mind, Lord Dattatreya will come to him in person and teach him the Truth. The Lord has no name or form. Since all forms and names are His, who will not become His devotee? Who will not become His disciple?”