24 Gurus of Dattatreya – Gurus and subordinate Gurus


1. Guru

The eleventh skandha (volume) of the Shrimadbhagvat narrates a conversation between Yadu and Avadhut. Here Avadhut names His Gurus and narrates what He learnt from them. [The word Guru used in this context means the teacher. The features of a true Guru are given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 6 – Path of Guru’s Grace (Gurukrupayoga)’.]

Everything in the universe is a Guru because one can learn something or the other from it. From bad things one learns what defects to reject and from good things what good qualities to acquire. For example I accumulated knowledge from the 24 Gurus enlisted below and converted it into an ocean. Then bathing in it, I cleansed all my sins.


24 Gurus of Dattatreya

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The earth

One should acquire the virtues of endurance and tolerance of duality from the earth.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The wind

One should be detached like the wind. Just as the wind blows both in the hot and cold regions without being influenced by their qualities or defects so also those desirous of Liberation (mumukshus) should wholeheartedly tread along the path prescribed by the Vedas (Shrutis) in the hot and cold regions without paying attention to virtues or defects of others.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The sky

Just like the sky the soul pervades all animate and inanimate objects yet it remains unaltered, single and steady.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The water

1. Just like water one should behave with affection towards all. One should never be partial to anyone.

2. Just as water retains its impurity at its bed and cleanses others of their impurities so also should man renounce the impurities arising from attachment to the physical body, acquire the treasure of spiritual knowledge and cleanse people with vices, of their sins.

3. Just as water flows from a higher altitude uprooting impudent trees, nurturing humble vegetation on its way to the low lying land so also liberated souls should destroy the vain and wealthy, punish the hypocrite evildoers and redeem those who surrender to them, of their sins.

4. Man is akin to water which becomes impure by stagnation and gets purified as it flows. Hence men with a spiritual attitude should visit various places of pilgrimages (tirthakshetras) instead of living in one place.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The fire

1. Like fire, man should undertake austerities and get illumined with knowledge. He should partake of whatever is available, refrain from bad deeds and utilise his virtues only at the opportune moment for a worthwhile cause.

2. When on a pilgrimage, etc. one should eat whatever is available without accumulating it.

3. Always remaining pure like the fire one should behave with equality towards all.

4. Fire delivers the oblations to the deities made in it amidst chanting of their respective Names.

5. In order to realise the transient nature of the body the flame of fire is considered as a Guru. Just as hardly any time is required to kindle and extinguish a flame so also creation and dissolution of a body from the five cosmic elements does not take long.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The moon

There are in all sixteen phases of the moon including the subtle phase of the new moon and the fifteen of the fortnight. Though there is waxing and waning of the moon, it remains unaffected by them. Similarly, the soul is not affected by changes in the body.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The sun

The sun stores water taking the future into account and benevolently showers it on the earth at the appropriate moment. In the same way man should store useful things and make them available to all living organisms impartially, considering the time, place and the prevalent conditions.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The pigeon

A man who lives with intense attachment for his wife and children feeling that worldly life is pleasurable is destroyed with time just like a pigeon along with its family is devoured by a falcon. Thus a seeker desirous of Liberation (mumukshu) should be mentally detached from all this.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The python

The python lies in one place fearlessly having faith in its destiny. It is content with whatever food it gets and has no preferences about the quantity, taste, etc. It does not feel threatened if no food is available for sometime and inspite of having the strength does not make use of it. Similarly those desirous of the Final Liberation should partake of whatever little is available reposing faith in destiny and at times if nothing is available then they should become introverted and remain engrossed in meditating on the soul.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The sea

1. During monsoons just as the sea is neither pleased if the rivers bring in plenty of water nor is displeased if they do not, and consequently does not swell or shrink, so also man should remain steadfast to his duties and should neither feel elated if he experiences worldly pleasures nor unhappy if he is faced with tragedy. He should always remain immersed in Bliss.

2. One should not let anyone perceive one’s virtues just as the sea keeps its length, breadth, depth and the treasures in its bed hidden from everyone. However one should always utilise them favourably, for the sake of others.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The moth

The moth enchanted by the alluring radiance of the lit lamp, dives at it and is soon charred to death. A man who is similarly fascinated by a woman’s beauty and youth for the sake of sexual pleasure finally perishes in it just like the moth.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The queen bee and the honey collector

The queen bee: The queen bee builds a hive encountering several difficulties in a cumbersome location high up on a tree and collects honey in it. It neither eats it itself nor lets others feast upon it. Finally all of a sudden the honey collector kills it and takes away the hive along with the honey. In the same way the miser who accumulates wealth with relentless efforts finally either becomes unhappy when it is suddenly lost in the fire, stolen by thieves or taken away by the king or when unrighteous progeny is born to him which misuses it or if he dies issueless. Thus after his death the wealth either remains where it is or is acquired by someone unrelated to him. If at the time of death he still has attachment for that wealth then he harasses the one who enjoys it in the form of a spirit or a serpent. Thus learning that accumulation of wealth leads to sudden death like the honey bee, one should stop amassing wealth.

The honey collector: Just as the one who collects the honey acquires it effortlessly so also a male seeker should partake of food cooked in the home of a householder instead of spending time in making a fire, collecting utensils, firewood, etc. and should devote that time to realise God. Such seekers desirous of Liberation partake of food from householders and ultimately uplift them.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The elephant (Gajendra)

Although the elephant is so powerful, man tries to capture it by digging a pit in the ground, covering it with grass and placing a wooden cow elephant covered with elephant skin on that pit. Infatuated by the cow elephant the elephant craves for sexual pleasure and runs towards that wooden cow elephant with speed and falls in the pit. Thus it is easily made a captive by man. Similarly man lured by sensuous pleasure is instantly entrapped in bondage.

Men allured by adulterous women are destroyed in the same way as elephants overcome with lust die fighting amongst themselves.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The bumble-bee

The sunflower which blooms with sunrise closes with the sunset. At that time if a bumble-bee is seated on it, then it gets trapped in the flower. Thus realising that attachment to object pleasure gives rise to bondage, one should refrain from such attachment.

Just as the bumble-bee savours the fragrance of several sunflowers instead of one so also seekers desirous of Liberation should realise that every science will not be easy to grasp and hence should try to understand their implied meaning.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The Musk deer

The musk deer which is as swift as the wind and can be captured by none, gets enchanted with melodious music and loses its life to others. Keeping this in mind one should not get entrapped in any kind of attachment.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The Fish

When a fish-hook fastened with bait is thrown into the water, the fish lured by the bait swallows the hook and gets caught. Thus it loses its life. Man too is trapped in satisfying his taste buds and thus continues to suffer in the whirlpool of births and deaths.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The prostitute – Pingala

One night despite a long wait not a single client approached her. As she restlessly waited pacing up and down, hoping for a client she was finally bored and suddenly developed detachment. As long as man has desire he cannot sleep peacefully. The one who sacrifices desire is unaffected by unhappiness.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The lapwing

Seeing the lapwing fly with a fish in its beak hundreds of crows and eagles began chasing it, pecking at it and tried to snatch the fish, thus harassing it. This flock began following it wherever it went. Finally exhausted it dropped the fish. Just then an eagle caught the fish. No sooner had the eagle caught the fish than all the crows and eagles began chasing it. The lapwing however calmly perched itself on the branch of a tree. In this world there is peace only if sense objects are rejected, otherwise it leads to great distress.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The child

Forsaking respect and disrespect, believing that the universe is governed by destiny one should live carefree like a child and enjoy the Bliss.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The bangles

When two bangles strike each other a jingling sound is generated. The more the bangles the greater is the sound. Similarly when two persons live together it leads to conversation and when many persons live together there is strife. In both circumstances there is no peace of mind. Hence those doing meditation, yoga, etc. should search for an isolated place and live there in seclusion.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The artisan

One day an artisan was chiselling the blade of an arrow with great concentration. A king’s procession to the accompaniment of music passed by that way. A man arriving later approached the artisan and enquired, “Have you seen the king’s procession passing by this way, just now?” The artisan replied, “I was so engrossesd in my work that I was not aware of anything”. Just like this artisan a seeker desirous of Liberation (mumukshu) should meditate surrendering all his sense organs to The Lord.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The snake

Two snakes never live or wander about together. They move around cautiously never making any sound. Instead of making a home for themselves they occupy someone else’s habitat. They neither move around freely, criticise without reason nor get angry unless injured by someone. Thus two intellectuals should not move around together, should speak limitedly, should not quarrel with one another or ridicule anyone, should act thoughtfully, should not address a gathering and should spend their lives living anywhere instead of building a house for themselves. By building a house one develops vanity and consequently attachment develops.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The spider

The spider spins a web secreting a fluid from its belly and plays in it day and night. When it feels like it, it swallows the entire web and becomes free again. Similarly God creates the world when He wishes and indulges in various kinds of play in it. When He feels like it, with a resolve He destroys it and becomes single again. Just as a spider can weave a web with its fluid repeatedly so also can God create the universe by a mere resolve, dissolve it within Himself and recreate it at His will. Hence one should not attach importance to worldly events.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – The wasp

The one who regularly meditates on an object finally merges into it. The wasp builds a house from mud and keeps a worm in it. It lightly blows air over the worm time and again. Consequently the worm meditates on the wasp and finally also becomes a wasp. A seeker desirous of Liberation should in the same manner meditate on God as advised by the Guru so that he merges into God.

24 Gurus of Dattatreya – Subordinate Gurus

The tree

The man who does unrighteous acts under the predominance of the tama component becomes a tree in the next birth and because of his vanity is compelled to remain standing as a tree all his life. These trees remain dependent on others and cleanse themselves of the sins committed in their previous births by pleasantly serving others till they die. That is why they happily offer shelter to birds and other creatures. They also protect their refugees by bearing the brunt of the cold, wind, heat, etc. onto their bodies and offer them their leaves, flowers and fruits for survival. Men break, cut, saw, peel, uproot them, rob them of their flowers, fruits, leaves and even their gum. They are debarked, cut, scraped and used as timber, firewood, etc. Suffering is inflicted upon them according to one’s wish and any possible task is undertaken making use of them. Just as the species of trees endures the suffering inflicted by people on them and continues to serve them till they live so also seekers desirous of Liberation should endure all suffering and continue to serve others till they die.

Just as trees offer shelter to travellers, householders should offer meals to guests coming to their doorstep and give them shelter. If by chance one acquires wealth then one should not become insolent. Just as trees blossoming with flowers and fruits bow down and serve others more so also if one becomes wealthy one should humbly render more service to others.

The mountains

The mountains and the earth store precious stones, etc. in their mines. As a result man is benefitted tremendously. Every man should acquire knowledge likewise and use it favourably. Just as in summer mountains quench the thirst of man with their springs so also one should develop the habit of talking melodiously so as to make others happy.

Datta had several such subordinate Gurus.

[Based on ‘Brahmibhut Shrimat P.P. Vasudevanand Sarasvati (Tembe) Swaminche Charitra’. Author : Shrimant Rajmanya Rajbandhu Gandabuva Brahmachari. Publisher : Smt. (Mrs.) Supriya S. Marathe. Navachaitanya Publishers, 410, Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.]

Is it necessary to have a number of Gurus?

(Only one Guru is enough for God-Realisation, whereas, in order to perceive unity of the soul principle in various animate and inanimate objects, it is essential to have various qualities as Gurus).

Datta: O King Yadu, you will wonder why it is necessary to have so many Gurus when only one Guru is sufficient for Self-realisation. Is this not akin to the behaviour of an adulterous woman?

The answer to this is that to attain Self-realisation only one Guru is sufficient. If any doubts regarding His preaching are generated then they should be clarified. To be able to perceive unity of the soul principle in all animate and inanimate creation, I imbibed the qualities from these objects as my Gurus. Thus, the spiritual knowledge that My Guru imparted me with was strengthened by choosing these various qualities as Gurus.

In order to experience Brahman, that is, in order to turn away from Maya (The great illusion), towards Brahman, only one Guru is enough. At this time, the spiritual journey of the seeker is from the Muladhar-chakra [First chakra (centre) in the spiritual energy system located in the region between the anus and the base of the genitals in the subtle-body] to the Brahmarandhra (Opening in the spiritual energy system, located on the crown, in the subtle-body). However, this is just half of the total spiritual journey that a seeker has to undertake. In order to experience Brahman within Maya, it is essential to be skilled in a number of things in Maya; because it is said, ‘योगःकर्मसुकौशलम्’, which means, ‘Excellence in Karma is Yoga’. In order to do various activities proficiently in Maya, it is essential to imbibe various qualities specific to those activities. As soon as one acquires the necessary qualities, his spiritual journey is completed. At that time, one can experience Brahman and simultaneously work in Maya at the level of various chakras (The word Chakra denotes centre in the body through which spiritual energy flows). One can experience Bliss while being at the level of any chakra, that is, from the first to the last chakra.

Reference: ‘Vishnu and His forms’ and ‘Datta’, published by Sanatan Sanstha