Sri Swami Sivananda

This article is from the book Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

The Power of Anusuya’s Chastity
Lord Dattatreya’s Avatara
The Greatest of Avadhutas
His Twenty-Four Gurus
Related Links


O Lord Dattatreya!
Trimurti Avatara!
Child of Anusuya and Atri!
Prostrations unto Thee.
Thou art the Adi-Guru
Of Sannyasins.
Thou art an embodiment of Tyaga.
Thou art an Avadhuta.
Dattatreya Dattatreya Pahimam.
Datta Guru Datta Guru Rakshamam.

ANUSUYA is generally quoted as the model of chastity and she was the wife of Atri Maharshi, a great sage and one of the Sapta Rishis. She was well established in Pativrata Dharma. She served her husband with intense devotion. She did severe Tapas for a very long time in order to beget sons equal to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva.

Once, Narada took a small ball of iron–the size of a gram grain–to Saraswati and said to her: “O Saraswati Devi! Please fry this iron ball. I will eat this iron-ball-gram during my travel.” Saraswati laughed and said: “O Rishi Narada! How can this iron ball be fried? How can this be eaten?” Narada afterwards went to Mahalakshmi and Parvati, and requested them to fry the iron ball. They also laughed at Narada Rishi. Then Narada said: “O Devis! See, I will get it fried by Anusuya, wife of Atri Maharshi, a great Pativrata who lives in the earth-plane.”

The Power of Anusuya’s Chastity

Then Narada came to Anusuya and requested her to fry the iron-ball-gram. Anusuya put the iron ball in the frying pan, meditated on the form of her husband, and put a few drops of water which were used in washing the feet of her husband, on the iron ball. The iron ball was at once fried. Narada went to Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati, ate before them the fried iron-ball-gram, and gave them also a little of it. He greatly praised the glory of Anusuya and her chastity. Then Narada resolved to fulfil the wish of Anusuya in her begetting sons equal to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva.

He said to Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati: “You also could have fried the iron ball, if you all had done service to your husbands with faith, sincerity and devotion. Make a request to your husbands to test Anusuya’s Pativrata Dharma.”

Then Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati requested their husbands to test the Pativrata Dharma of Anusuya, wife of Atri Maharshi, and ask her to give them Nirvana Bhiksha, i.e., giving alms in a naked condition.

The Tri-Murtis came to know through Jnana Drishti of the action of Narada, and the Tapas and the wish of Anusuya. They agreed. The Tri-Murtis put on the garb of Sannyasins, appeared before Anusuya, and asked her to give them Nirvana Bhiksha. Anusuya was in a great dilemma. She could not say ‘No’ to the Bhikshus. She had to maintain her Pativrata Dharma also. She meditated on the form of her husband, took refuge in his feet, and sprinkled over the three Sannyasins a few drops of water which were used for washing the feet of her husband. The Tri-Murtis were converted into three children on account of the glory of the Charanamrita water. At the same time, there was accumulation of milk in the breast of Anusuya. She thought that these children were her own children and fed them with the milk in a nude state and put them in the cradle. She was eagerly expecting the arrival of her husband who had gone for taking his bath.

Lord Dattatreya’s Avatara

As soon as Atri Rishi came back home, Anusuya related to her husband all that had happened during his absence, placed the three children at his feet, and worshipped him. But Atri knew all this already through his divine vision. He embraced all the three children. The three children became one child with two feet, one trunk, three heads and six hands. Atri Rishi blessed his wife and informed her that the Tri-Murtis themselves had assumed the forms of three children to gratify her wish.

Narada went to Brahma Loka, Vaikuntha and Kailasa and informed Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati that their husbands had been turned into children through the power of the Pativrata Dharma of Anusuya when they asked her Nirvana Bhiksha, and that they would not return unless the Devis asked for Bhartri Bhiksha (Bhiksha of husband) from Atri. Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati assumed the forms of ordinary women, appeared before Atri, and asked for Pati Bhiksha: “O Rishi, kindly give us back our husbands.” Atri Rishi duly honoured the three ladies and with folded hands prayed to them that his wish and the wish of Anusuya should be fulfilled. Then the Tri-Murtis appeared in their true form before Atri and said: “This child will be a great sage according to your word and will be equal to us according to the wish of Anusuya. This child will bear the name of Dattatreya.” Then they disappeared.

The Greatest of Avadhutas

Dattatreya attained manhood. As He had the rays of the Tri-Murtis, and as He was a great Jnani, all Rishis and ascetics worshipped Him. He was gentle, peaceful and amiable. He was always followed by a great multitude of people. Dattatreya tried to get rid of them, but His endeavours were all in vain. Once, when He was surrounded by many people, He entered a river for bathing and He did not come out of it for three days. He entered into Samadhi inside the water. On the third day, He came out, and found that the people were still sitting on the banks of the river awaiting His return.

He did not succeed in getting rid of the people by this method. He adopted another plan. He created a beautiful girl and a bottle of wine out of His Yogic power. He came out of the waters holding the girl in one hand and the bottle of wine in the other. The people thought that Dattatreya had fallen from His Yoga and so they left Him and went away.

Dattatreya threw away all His personal possessions, even the scanty clothing He had, and became an Avadhuta. He went out preaching and teaching the truths of Vedanta. Dattatreya taught His Gita named Avadhuta Gita to Lord Subrahmanya or Karttikeya. This is a most valuable book which contains the truths and secrets of Vedanta and the direct experiences of Self-realisation.

His Twenty-Four Gurus

Once, while Dattatreya was roaming in a forest happily, He met a king, Yadu, who on seeing Dattatreya so happy, asked Him the secretes of His happiness and also the name of His Guru. Dattatreya said that the Atman alone was His Guru, and yet, He had learned wisdom from twenty-four individuals and that they were, therefore, His Gurus.

Dattatreya then mentioned the names of His twenty-four Gurus and spoke of the wisdom that He had learnt from each:

The names of My twenty-four teachers are:

1. Earth 2. Water 3. Air
4. Fire 5. Sky 6. Moon
7. Sun 8. Pigeon 9. Python
10. Ocean 11. Moth 12. Bee
13. Honey-gatherer 14. Elephant 15. Deer
16. Fish 17. Dancing-girl Pingala 18. Raven
19. Child 20. Maiden 21. Serpent
22. An arrow-maker 23. Spider 24. Beetle

1. I learnt patience and doing good to others from the EARTH, for it endures every injury man commits on its surface, and yet it does him good by producing crops, trees, etc.

2. From WATER I have learnt the quality of purity. Just as the pure water cleanses others, so also the sage, who is pure and free from selfishness, lust, egoism, anger, greed etc., purifies all those who come in contact with him.

3. The AIR is always moving through various objects, but it never gets attached to anyone of them; so I have learnt from the air to be without attachment, though I move with many people in this world.

4. Just as FIRE burns bright, so also the sage should be glowing with the splendour of his knowledge and Tapas.

5. The air, the stars, the clouds, etc., are all contained in the SKY, but the sky does not come in contact with any of them. I have learnt from the sky that the Atman or the Soul is all-pervading, and yet it has no contact with any object.

6. The MOON is in itself always complete, but appears to decrease or increase on account of the varying shadow of the earth upon the moon. I have learnt from this that the Atman is always perfect and changeless, and that it is only the Upadhis or limiting adjuncts that cast shadows upon it.

7. Just as the SUN, reflected in various pots of water, appears as so many different reflections, so also Brahman appears different because of the Upadhis (bodies) caused by the reflection through the mind. This is the lesson I learnt from the sun.

8. I once saw a pair of PIGEONS with their young birds. A fowler spread a net and caught the young birds. The mother pigeon was very much attached to her children. She did not care to live, so she fell into the net and was caught. The male pigeon was attached to the female pigeon, so he also fell into the net and was caught. From this I learnt that attachment is the cause of bondage.

9. The PYTHON does not move about for its food. It remains contented with whatever it gets and lies in one place. From this I learnt to be unmindful of food and to be contented with whatever I get to eat (Ajagara Vritti).

10. Just as the OCEAN remains unmoved even though hundreds of rivers fall into it, so also the wise man should remain unmoved among all sorts of temptations, difficulties and troubles. This is the lesson I learnt from the ocean.

11. Just as the MOTH, being enamoured of the brilliance of the fire, falls into it and is burnt up, so also, a passionate man who falls in love with a beautiful girl comes to grief. To control the sense of sight and to fix the mind on the Self, is the lesson I learnt from the moth.

12. Just as the BLACK BEE sucks the honey from different flowers and does not suck it only from one flower, so also I take only a little food from one house and a little from another house and thus appease my hunger (Madhukari Bhiksha or Madhukari Vritti). I am not a burden on the householder.

13. Bees collect honey with great trouble, but a HUNTER comes and takes the honey easily. Even so, people hoard up wealth and other things with great difficulty, but they have to leave them all at once and depart when the Lord of Death takes hold of them. From this I have learnt the lesson that it is useless to hoard things.

14. The male ELEPHANT, blinded by lust, falls into a pit covered over with grass, even at the sight of a paper-made female elephant. It gets caught, enchained and tortured by the goad. Even so, passionate men fall in the traps of women and come to grief. Therefore, one should destroy lust. This is the lesson I have learnt from the elephant.

15. The DEER is enticed and trapped by the hunter through its love of music. Even so, a man is attracted by the music of women of loose character and brought to destruction. One should never listen to lewd songs. This is the lesson I learnt from the deer.

16. Just as a FISH that is covetous of food falls an easy victim to the bait, so also, the man who is greedy of food, who allows his sense of taste to overpower him, loses his independence and easily gets ruined. The greed for food must therefore be destroyed. It is the lesson that I have learnt from the fish.

17. There was a DANCING GIRL named PINGALA in the town of Videha. She was tired of looking for customers one night. She became hopeless. Then she was contented with what she had, and then had sound sleep. I have learnt from that fallen woman the lesson that the abandonment of hope leads to contentment.

18. A RAVEN picked up a piece of flesh. It was pursued and beaten by other birds. It dropped the piece of flesh and attained peace and rest. From this I have learnt the lesson that a man in the world undergoes all sorts of troubles and miseries when he runs after sensual pleasures, and that he becomes as happy as the bird when he abandons the sensual pleasures.

19. The CHILD who sucks milk is free from all cares, worries and anxieties, and is always cheerful. I have learnt the virtue of cheerfulness from the child.

20. The parents of a YOUNG GIRL had gone in search of a proper bridegroom for her. The girl was alone in the house. During the absence of the parents, a party of people came to the house to see her on a similar object in reference to an offer of marriage. She received the party herself. She went inside to husk the paddy. While she was husking, the glass bangles on both hands made tremendous jingling noise. The wise girl reflected thus: “The party will detect, by the noise of the bangles, that I am husking the paddy myself, and that my family is too poor to engage others to get the work done. Let me break all my bangles except two on each hand.” Accordingly, she broke all the bangles except two on each hand. Even these two bangles created much noise. She broke one more bangle of each hand. There was no further noise though she continued husking. I have learnt from the girl’s experience the following: Living among many would create discord, disturbance, dispute and quarrel. Even among two, there might be unnecessary words or strife. The ascetic or the Sannyasin should remain alone in solitude.

21. A SERPENT does not build its hole. It dwells in the holes dug out by others. Even so, an ascetic or a Sannyasin should not build a home for himself. He should live in the caves and temples built by others. This is the lesson that I have learnt from the snake.

22. The mind of an ARROW-MAKER was once wholly engrossed in sharpening and straightening an arrow. While he was thus engaged, a king passed before his shop with his whole retinue. After some time, a man came to the artisan and asked him whether the king passed by his shop. The artisan replied that he did not notice anything. The fact is that the artisan’s mind was solely absorbed in his work and he did not know what was passing before his shop. I have learnt from the artisan the quality of intense concentration of mind.

23. The SPIDER pours out of its mouth long threads and weaves them into cobwebs. It gets itself entangled in the net of its own making. Even so, man makes a net of his own ideas and gets entangled in it. The wise man should therefore abandon all worldly thoughts and think of Brahman only. This is the lesson I have learnt from the spider.

24. The Bhringi or the BEETLE catches hold of a worm, puts it in its nest, and gives it a sting. The poor worm, always fearing the return of the beetle and sting, and thinking constantly of the beetle, becomes a beetle itself. Whatever form a man constantly thinks of, he attains in course of time that form. As a man thinks, so he becomes. I have learnt from the beetle and the worm to turn myself into Atman by contemplating constantly on It and thus to give up all attachment to the body and attain Moksha or Liberation.”

The king was highly impressed by the teachings of Dattatreya. He abandoned the world and practised constant meditation on the Self.

Dattatreya was absolutely free from intolerance or prejudice of any kind. He learnt wisdom from whatever source it came. All seekers after Wisdom should follow the example of Dattatreya.

Related Links:
Dattatreya Jayanthi
The Divine Trinity
Lord Dattatreya–Master Par Excellence

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