Maharaja Yadu, founder of the Yadava dynasty, in which Sri Krishna Bhagavan was born, once met an Avadhuta Swami. Wise, intelligent and a knower of dharma as he was. Yadu observed the man and his avadhuta behaviour. Seeing him to be a knower of Truth, king Yadu prostrated to him and spoke to him politely. “Sir, as I see you, I feel great wonder and astonishment. Though we possess the knowledge of the sastras, we take great pains to gratify our sense. But you do not seem to be making any such effort. How has this extraordinary understanding come to You? Even though you possess so much knowledge and are erudite, why do you sometimes behave like a boy, a mad man or a dunce? So strange are your ways. It is indeed right for you not to seek gratification of the senses, but you do not seem to be making any effort to obtain moksha. Inspite of this, you appear to be always floating about in bliss. What has made this possible?
“The whole world is burnt like a forest by the wild fire of lust and wrath. While people like us are burning in that fire, you remain unaffected, happy and calm. Without care, like a leader-elephant, you are swimming in the Ganga. What has made this state of mind possible for you? Sir, kindly instruct me”.
Observing the distress and humility concealed in these words, the Avadhutha comforted him thus:-
“O King Yadu, you are sinless and know the ways of the world. I do not think that I have anything to teach you. But I have observed the world closely and obtained a little knowledge from anumber of gurus. O King, I have twenty four such gurus. Listen carefully! Earth, Air, Sky, Water, Fire, Moon, Sun, Pigeon, Boa constructor, Sea, Moth, Bee, Elephant, Honey-thief, Deer, Fish, a Harlot named Pingala, Osprey, Boy, Maiden, Arrow-maker, Snake, Spider and Insect – these are my twenty four gurus.
“O King, I shall also tell you what I learnt from each of them, Listen:”
1. THE EARTH: From the Earth I learnt the two virtues of forgiveness and doing good to others. Even though people kick her and dig into her. Mother Earth does not wince, nor does she get angry, She always remains patient. I learnt from the Earth that a Sadhaka should possess the virtue of forgiveness in the same way. In addition, I learnt from the Earth, which supports everything, that one’s entire life should be dedicated to doing good to others.
2. THE AIR: I learnt from the airthe qualities of nonattachment and stainlessness. The vital air takes food but remains without desiring sense pleasures. I learnt that in the same way an aspirant should take food only with a view to obtaining knowledge and should be careful not to pursue pleasure. Because to obtain knowledge, a body is necessary, for the body to alive, life force is necessary; and food is necessary to support the life force. Therefore, limited quantities of food should be taken, for without food, life and the acquisition of knowledge would be impossible.
The outside air comes in contact with many things possessing many qualities, such as heat and cold etc., Yet those qualities do not contaminate the air. I learnt that in a similar way I should remain unattached even when I come into contact with sense objects.
Furthermore, air has no smell of its own. Yet it seems to have the fragrance of flowers as it passes over them. I learnt that in the same way, a Yogi, though having a physical body and being associated with its various qualities, should in reality be uncontaminated by them, and live in and for the Self only.
3. THE SKY: Look at the sky space. It is all – pervading like ether. It exists in pots etc. and yet it does not unite with them. Furthermore, it is immeasurable and cannot be cut or divided. Seeing this and recognising that the Self, though dwelling in innumerable bodies, is likewise unattached and indivisible, I learnt to experience the Self everywhere and in everything.
There is another extraordinary thing about it. Clouds are formed by the conjunction of earth, water and fire, three of the five great elements, and with the help of air they move about in the sky. Yet the sky is not stained by them. From this, I learnt that the Self is uncontaminated by the qualities that arise in the elements forming the body. This is what the sky taught me.
4. WATER: Purity, smoothness and sweetness are the natural qualities of water. That is why water can purify other things. In the same way, a Yogi should have a pure heart, speak sweet words and be full of love for all beings. Such persons will purify others by mere sight, touch or rememberance. I learnt this virtue from water.
5. FIRE: The mention of fire makes us think of great lustre of radiance. It is born out of wood. It is impossible for anyone to touch it. Without distinction, it consumes all kinds of things at once. Thus, even though it consumes all things indiscriminately, it does not become unholy.
In the same manner, a muni too should have knowledge, he should be a tapasvin, be free from others and remain unaffected by what others give him. Such a person may do anything, forbidden or not forbidden, and he does not commit any sin.
Fire is sometimes worshipped in a subtle and invisible form, sometimes in a gross and visible form. When it consumes the offerings sacrificed to it by devotees, it burns away their sins of both the past and the future. I learnt that a Yogi also should be like this.
The shape of fire is dependent on the wood. In a thick stick of wood, it looks as big thing. In a long piece of fuel, it appears long, similarly Isvara enters the body created by maya and appears like the body itself. Observing the fire, I learnt to reflect on the essential nature of Isvara.
Fire always has flames, yet owing to the effect of time, they sometimes cannot be seen. I learn from this that though modifications like birth are eternal, owing to flux of time, they cannot be seen.
6. THE MOON: The moon appears to wax and want due to the movement of time. Yet if we think about it we see that the waxing and waning are not of the moon but of its lustre. From the moon I learnt that the six objects of sense are of the body and not of the Atman.
7. THE SUN: The Sun sucks water from earth with its rays. At the appropriate time it returns the water to the earth again. Similarly a Yogi should accept the objects of the senses without any zeal or greed.
When deluded persons see the Sun reflected in water or mirrors they think that there are many Suns. But in reality there is one Sun that appears as so many reflected images.
From this I learnt that though Atman is one and only, he is conceived of as many by those with deluded intellect because of the disguises of the mind.
8. THE PIGEON: I learnt from the pigeon that too much attachement or friendship with anyone inevitably results in affliction. There is a story which illustrates this.
A very handsome and strong pigeon was living in forest. It developed friendship with a female pigeon, who was well suited to the male. Their love for each other was incomparable. They had, it seemed, two bodies with a single soul. In course of time the female pigeon became pregnant for the first time and laid egges. This served to intensify their mutual affection.
In due course young ones came out of the eggs. Is not Hari’s maya incomprehensible even to great Pandits? How much more so to those pigeons? To that winged couple, their young ones alone constituted the world. Whenever they beheld the young ones and their prankss and heard their sweet talk, the winged couple felt proud and happy.
One day both the parent birds went to the forest to bring food for their young ones. A hunter came and spread his net, and many birds fell into it. The poor little innocent birds, caught in the net, began to cry helplessly.
When the parent birds returned and saw the empty nests, they fainted. They soon recovered, however and each went in a different direction in search of the young ones.
The pigeon saw the young ones caught in the net, and overcome with pity and love for the young ones, without thinking of pros and cons, she rushed into the net to save them, but she too got caught in it and began to wail. Such is the result of infatuation.
A little latter the father pigeon arrived and saw the situation. Thought he did not rush forward like the mother, he was overcome with grief at the sight of his own wilfe and children dying before his very eyes. He could not countrol his weeping and began to lament loudly.
“Where is happiness for me after losing my wife and children? For whose sake should I live? Oh, if only wife or even one child had survived! What is the use of living?” he wailed. Under the weight of grief, his intellect became blind. Consequently, he concluded that it was better to die and so he too went into the net and met his end at the hands of the hunter.
“O Yadu, what is the lesson of this story? When one lives in dualities instead of revelling in the Self, one easilyu succumbs to infatuation and passion. A man who delights in dualities has no peace of mind and when he considers the maintenance of the family as his only aim in life, he will one day have to perish with kith and kin.
“O King, this world of mortals is an open door to final liberation. There is no doubt about it. But we must not waste this chance throught binding attachments.”
9. THE BOA-CONSTRUCTOR: O King, Yadu, a man will definitely experience pleasure and pain according to his past actions. They cannot be prevented when he does not want them nor do they come when he wants them. This is true of the other worlds also. So ti is of no avail to strive after this or that. Food, whether tasty or dry, whether much or little, comes providentially to everyone, and one should be content with it. If it is not available, one should simply fast. Not only this, foregoing even sleep, one should ever remain firmly devoted to the Self. I learnt all this from the BOA-Constructor.
10. THE SEA: From the Sea I learnt two or three things. Event though the sea is very large, it does not even allow a small dry leaf landing on its surface to stay there. Instead, the Sea drives it away to the shore. If the Sea had not always done so, it would have dried up like a tank by now.
In the same way, however great a tapasvin or yogi might be, he should not allow even the smallest desire or agitation to enter his mind. If he is careless, he cannot avoid being ruined by it. Therefore, I have learnt from the Sea that not event the least aberration should be allowed any foothold. The Sea is very deep,even though it does not appear so, it does not reveal the number of organisms contained in its womb or the precious gems hidden in it. Many rivers flow into it, yet it does not overflow. In summer the flow of water in the rivers decreases, yet the sea does not dry up. It is not conditioned by time and space. Similarly, a muni should not exhibit his power and express his feelings. He should not allow others to fathom his beginning and end. He should not be overjoyous when his deires are fulfilled, nor should he be depressed when they do not materialise. I learnt from the Sea to practise equanimity and to remain steadfast in my devotion to the Self.
11. THE MOTH: Deluded byt the flames of the fire, the moth, rushes towards the flames and gets burnt. Similarly, a man is attached to a beautiful woman bedecked with ornaments and walking coquettishly. He becomes infatuated with her without realising that it is an illusory toy, a device to entangle him in the whirling wheel of samsara and prakriti in disguise, believing instead that hi is embracing happiness. He thereby forfeits both this world and the next and drowns in the darkness of ignorance. In the same way, a woman, seeing an attractive man, is deluded and gets caught in the wheel of samsara. Therefore I learnt from the moth that I should not fall victim to the delusion created by the sense organs.
12. THE BEE: I learnt three things from the honey bee. The honey bee buzzes from flower to flower and nourishes its body, it sucks nectar a little at a time, without causing any flower to shrival. In the same way a muni should go to the houses of householders and obtain alms without obtrusiveness, content with whatever is given to him.
The bee gathers nectar from almost every flower. Similarly, a muni should study all scriptures, skilfully grasp their essence and adapt it in his search for the Self.
In addition to these two good qualities, the bees posses a ruinously foolish one. They make honey and hoard it for future use, but man plunders the whole stock after smoking them out and killing them. Instead of enjoying their hoarded wealth, they meet with ruin and death.
Similarly, a muni should not hoard food for the next day. He should eat at the house the food is obtained and proceed on his way.
13. THE ELEPHANT: Studying the life of an elephant. I learnt one thing. The elephant is a very strong and intelligent animal. Therefore it is very difficult to capture. Yet it often gets caught by man because of its lustfulness.
To capture an elephant, a pit is dug in the forest and covered with bamboo, mud and grass, so that it looks like ordinary ground. Then a decoy in the form of a female elephant is put on it, and the male elephant seeing the decoy mistakes it for a real elephant and lustfully rushes towards it. When it reaches the figure, the bamboo gives way, and the male elephant falls into the pit.
Seeing this, I came to the conclusion that one should stay away from women to avoid this trap.
Also when a he elephant follows she elephant, and another powerful elephant in rut sees them, it tries to drive away the other elephant and fights with it until either one dies. Seeing this, I concluded that the very thought of woman is dangerous.
This is true for women as it is for men.
14. THE HONEY-THIEF: Listen to this lesson I learnt from the honey-thief.
Bees build a hive with much effort. The honey-thief contrives to smoke out hte bees and steal the honey. Thus the strong rob the weak of their wealth. Just or unjust, this is the way of the world.
Therefore I learnt from the honey-thief that if a person is stingy and hides his wealth without himself enjoying it or allowing others to share it, he risks being robbed by someone.
15. THE DEER: Deer bring to mind innocence and gentleness. Their swiftness in running is remarkable, and yet, due to their intense love of music, they fall into the hands of the butcher. The hunter’s music makes them stand still and listen with closed eyes.
I gathered from this that if a hermit living in the forest were to sucumb to music and dance, his fall would be a certainty.
Was it not because he was charmed by music and dance that Muni Rushyasringa fell into the snares of a dancing girl? Therefore, I learnt from the deer not to be beguiled by music or dancing.
16. THE FISH: O Yadu, know that of all the sense-organs, the tongue is like a invisible thief. Munis observe severe penance, remaining without food, and gain control over all the senses, and yet they cannot control the tongue. It appears as if it can be controlled easily, but therein lies its deception. Until the tongue is controlled, conquest of the sense organs is not complete. If the tongue is neglected, ruin can hardly be avoided.
Look at the fish. It has no defect expect the fickleness of its tongue. It is this uncontrolled tongue that makes it the prey of the fishermen’s hook. Thus observing the Fish, I have grasped the importance of controlling and conquering the tongue.
17. THE HARLOT NAMED PINGALA: Pingala is a harlot, and I have learnt from her also. I shall now narrate that story to you.
In the holy city of Videha, the capital of King Janaka, there lived a harlot by the name of Pingala. One day she was overcome by the desire for wealth and lustful pleasures. She stood as usual at the door of her house, looking for gallants. But unfortunately no one turned up that day. She stood waiting for a very long time with her eyes keen and desires strong. Midnight approached, Her legs began to drag and she grew weary. When she went inside disappointed, desire would sprout again. So she could not remain inside, but came to the door again. Thus going inside and coming out again and again, she became physically exhausted. Though midnight had passed, still no lover had turned up.
Strange indeed are the ways of the Divine. As a result of her exhaustion, her longing for wealth as well as for libidinous pleasures gradually left her. She even regretted that she had sunk so low, and her lust vanished. Disgust took hold of her. Without it, bondage to the body cannot be loosened, and one cannot reach a state of dispassion. By God’s grace, freedom from passion was kindled in her and she began to look into herself. She reflected:
“Fie upon me; What madness! Fie! Fie! Unable to control the senses, I have lamented, all the while waiting for a mean man who lustfully desires a woman. Fie upon the miserable desire that some one would come and make me happy.”
“Forgettin that God who is Truth, who is eternal and immanent and who is the bestower of happiness, is ever near, I imagined that if a low and unrighteous man were to squeeze this body, I would get happiness. How wicked is my mind!”.
“Oh, how deluded I was in beholding this body and its beauty! What is its true nature? In the lower regions are the two legs like pillars. In the upper regions there were two arms, and there is the back bone like a big beam joining both of them. On both sides of it there are the chest bones like rafters. All this covered by skin. There nine doors and what comes out of them daily is nothing but filth.”
“How hard I strove to beautify this thing called the body! What a fool I have been!”.
“How could I consider another person as a lover in this holy ‘Videhapura’ forgetting Atyuta who is of the form of my own Self and of the nature of bliss and inner peace?”
“This beauty and these desires and the gods who grant them will not all of them be consumed by time and perish eventually?”.
“By loving these perishable things, what happiness do we attain? Therefore I shall not allow myself to be deluded any longer.”
“Considering Sri Hari, who is the benefactor of all and who is the Self of all beings, as dearest to me I shall surrender myself to him”.
“Some meritorious act done by me in a previous birth has perhaps borne fruit now and the company of some Mahatma has ripened, resulting in Sri Hari’s grace falling upon me. Otherwise, how could such good sense prevail in such a sinful person like me? After all, didn’t all sorts of difficulties beset me until now? And then indifference which is the cause of such dispassion, arose. So, since this discrimination that was born in me is definitely due to Sri Hari’s grace, I shall consider it as Sri Hari’s command and banish all desire for sense objects and surrender myself to him alone.”
“Sri Hari alone can save persons like me who have been entangled in desires for sense objects and who have blindly fallen into the mire of Samsara and have been bitten by the poisonous serpent called desire. Sri Hari himself rules over those in whom discrimination has taken root and who, being vigilant, have acquired indifference. He alone is my protector”.
Thus, when dispassion became steady, Pingala attained marvellous tranquility and peace of mind.
Therefore, O Yadu, I learnt from the story of Pingala that desire is sorrow and desirelessness is the highest happiness.
18. THE OSPREY: This little bird, one day had a bit of meat in its mouth, when a bigger and stronger bird saw it and attacked it. The clever little bird immediately dropped the meat. Then the bigger bird left the little bird and followed the bit of meat. Thus the little bird escaped imminent danger.
I learnt from the bird that if we keep a thing coveted by others, it will subject us to severe anguish and therefore it is wise to give such things voluntarily.
19. BOY: O King, in this world, Yogis and their equals live like children.
A little boy has no worries about wife and children. Praise or rebuke from others does not affect him. He is always happy playing by himself. I learnt from him that a muni too should be like him.
There is really no great difference between a little boy and a yogi. Both are free from worry, both of them are happy. But, whereas the boy does not make any effort because he has no knowledge, the Yogi, knowing everything and having attained God, remains actionless through cognition.
20. THE MAIDEN: O King, there lived in a village a maiden who had attained marriageable age. So her father searched for a groom.
One day a marraige party came to see her. Since at that time her mother was not in the village, she herself had to pound the rice, cook and servle it.
It would not be proper for her to be discovered in such a plight, she thought. Therefore she tried to pound the rice in secrecy. But the bangles on ther wrist began to jingle. The more bangles she wore the more jingling. So she kept tow bangles on each wrist and took off the remaining ones and started pounding again. But even then, a little jingling sound came from the bangles. So she bagan to pound retaining only one bangle on each wrist.
I observed this attentively. I learnt from this maiden that if too many persons gather in one place, quarrels ensue. When two persons are together, talking starts. Therefore, a Yogi should always remain in solitude.
21. THE ARROW-MAKER: One is surprised at the concentration of the arrow-maker. While making arrows, his mind is so concentrated that even if a procession of the Maharaja accompanied by band players and dancers were to pass near him he would not be aware of it. All his interest and diligence goes into the making of the narrow.
Similarly, O King, a Yogi should develop dispassion gradually. He should learn to sit still for any length of time and then practise to arrest the vital air in his Yoga. Then the mind will become still. In such a stilled mind is directed towards Sri Hari, vasanas, satva guna will arise and subdue rajas and tamas, resulting in the destruction of agitation and laziness. The goal is the state of samadhi. He who reaches this state will have no knowledge of either the inner world or the outer. He will have no notion of duality. I learnt this from the arrow-maker.
22. THE SNAKE: O King, you will have observed that the serpent moves about alone. It is never absent-minded but always vigilant. Although it has two tongues, it does not make foolish noises.
If this body is a momentary abode, why should a house be built fot it? Furthermore, householders know from experience that when a house is built, many worries and troubles follow.
The serpent, instead of wasting its time building a shelter, lives happily in a hole built and deserted by white ants. Observing this, I learnt that a muni too should follow this example.
23. THE SPIDER: O King, a spider has taught me Parabrahman, the Ultimate Reality which transcends Pradhana and purusa. It has also taught me how the processes of creation and destruction are caused by the Reality.
The Spider stirs the threads in its stomach causes them to come out of tis body and with this material it weaves its web.
Observing this, it occurred to me that the process of creation also takes place in the same way. Narayana, who is the Absolute, creates the universe in the beginning throught maya, but at the time of dissolution, dissolves it again. Then all the gunas, satva, rajas, and tamas, attain the state of evenness. This evenness itself is Pradhana. This Pradhana and Purusa, who is beyond all differences and who is of the blissful form of the Self, alone remains.
When the desire to create comes to Him, Narayana shakes up maya, consisting, of the three gunas, so as to produce a thread possessing creative power. The thread creates the ego and the world of multiplicity. That creative thread is the original cause, which is responsible for the universe characterised by multiplicity and variety. And when He so wills it Narayana swallows it up and remains changeless again.
I learnt all this from the Spider.
24. THE INSECT: A certain kind of bee catches an insect, and keeping it in the nest, it goes round and round the creature buzzing loudly. Out of fear, the insect shares hard at the bee, concentrating its mind completely on it. By doing so, the form of the insect gradually undergoes a change and it takes on the form of the bee. Similarly, men also obtain the form of those on whom they concentrate their minds completely out of fear or devotion or out of hatred or friendship. If a small insect can transform its body, can there by any doubt that man possessing intellect and the faculty of meditation and concentration will be liberated after the body goes and obtain the same form as the deity on which he mditated? This I learnt from the insect.
“King Yadu, as you have performed extraordinary penance, I have narrated all this to you out of love”.
“These are my twenty-four gurus. O King, I shall reveal to you a fundamental secret”.
“I mentioned twenty-four teacheres, but it reality every atom in the world is a teacher to me, indeed to everyone. All those who know the truth, got them by their own mind endowed with discrimination.”
“Ultimately, it is the mind that teaches both good and evil in all beings. Therefore, the original teacher to all is the mind itself. There is no doubt about this”.
“A man who wants to understand the nature of virtue will discover through the analysis and the examination of direct perception and inference that mind alone is the teacher”.
“In this world, God has created many diverse beings, such as unipeds, bipeds, tripeds, quadrapeds, multipeds, and beings with no legs. Yet his love is for man, because he alone is an intellectual being, and through examination and discrimination, he can understand the god-principle residing in all of them of their inner Self. Men who are experts in Yoga can know easily the god-principle in this very birth. Man possesses the faculty of investigation. Body, senses, and intellect-all these are inert and dull. Therefore, they cannot shine. However, the body, senses and intellect are instruments for us to use. The human body is very dear to God, because it is the substratum for the search for discrimination and truth. Therefore, we should take care of it well.
“But, O King, this body itself is the first deceiver. I have learnt much from it.”
“From every point of view, the body always produces suffering. It cannot escape birth and death. That is why I have no attachment to it.
“How much suffering people endure in their attachment to the body? They acquire a wife, children, servants, friends, wealth etc., They love, protect and nourish them and suffer all kinds of affliction for their sake. But to what end? Life will and has no end. The body will and has to die. Can the wife and children who surrounded him prevent this? Then why is such excessive attachment to them?”
“This body will not siply die. It dies after acquiring enough sins and merits to create another body. The misery caused by the body will not end with the body, it creates another body. This is like a seed dropping from a tree and sprouting to become another tree. There are millions of desires. The sense organs and the organs of action tease and torment man, and yet, dispassion does not arise.”
“O King, on account of this, attachment to the body is foolish. Yet, since it is the means to attain the highest goal of human life, one should without wasting time, take to the path of emancipation before death comes.”
“The highest Brahman has been described by the rishis in many ways. Therefore, discerning knowledge should be acquired from one’s teachers before it is too late. Having thus acquired wisdom and casting off egoism and mine-ness, I am rooted in the Self, and roaming about unattached. This is the religion I am following”.
Listening to this instruction of the Avadhutha, all the penances Yadu had performed in the previous births bore fruit, and in the core of his heart the light of the Self began to shine. Filled with happiness and devotion, he prostrated to the Avadhuta, and now Lord Dattatreya appeared before him. Thus King Yadu had Datta’s darsan. He reflected upon the teachings on Brahman imparted by Lord Dattatreya, and attained Brahman.