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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dattatreya and Buddha – Teachers of Teachers

In Sanskrit, there are several words to denote a teacher. Each has a different verb root and therefore indicates different modes of teaching. Upaadhyaya denotes a teacher who sits next to you and teaches. Acharya is one who teaches by being a model in his actions. Guru is one who removes your doubts and ignorance, just by being there. In this category, Dakshinamoorthy is the guru of gurus. Dattatreya is the acharya of acharyas. That is the reason for the title of this essay.

Dattatreya is a mythical figure. He is said to be the son of the sage Atri and his wife Anusuya. According to the legend, he is the incarnation of the trinity, namely Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. His other name is avadhootha, which means an ascetic who has discarded all worldly attachments. He is mentioned in Uddhava Gita (Chapter II: Sloka 33-34) as one who considered 24 aspects/components of Nature as his Gurus. He points out what he learnt from each of these gurus.

1.Earth taught him tolerance and patience. Earth also teaches about giving (plants, river etc)
2.Space is wide and limitless like out Atman, the inner self
3.Fire burns both the good and the bad, gives warmth when it is cold outside but burns when touched.
4.Water is nice, cool and clear like our mind should be.
5.Wind carries bad odor and good smell but is unaffected by them
6.Moon seems to diminish but not really so. similarly our inner self is always there although the body diminishes.
7.Sun takes in the water and gives it back as rain. We need to take and give with our hands but do not grasp and hold on to them.
8.Ocean stays at same volume and although it receives all the rivers
9.Boat reminding us of the rafts we need to cross this river/ocean called life
10.Child with its simple mind without pride or prejudice
11.Young girl who removed all the bangles except one from her hand so they do not make noise and thus taught us the importance of solitude and silence
12.Marksman who is focused on the target
13.Elephant very strong and yet will listen to command
14.Dog for its loyalty
15.Deer (any animal) satisfied with what is available to eat, not worrying about tomorrow, caring for its young
16.Python because it eats only when food is available
17.Snake for teaching the philosophy of mistaking rope for a snake due to ignorance
18.Chameleon with its ability to change itself to suit the circumstances
19.Ant for its tireless work ethics
20.Mosquito reminding us of bad people who are always hurting others
21.Bed-bug reminding us of people who do bad things and hide
22.Spider spinning and drawing back its silk just as this universe manifests and disappears
23.Bee …. (I did not understand)
24.Birds with its two wings of knowledge and determination

There is a similar passage in the writings of Buddhism. In this passage, Buddha is teaching his son Rahula. Buddha says: “Rahula, learn from the earth. Whether people spread pure and fragrant flowers….. or discard filthy, foul-smelling material, she receives them all without clinging or aversion. Learn from the Water. When people wash dirty things in it, the water is not sad or disdainful. Learn from fire because it burns all things without discrimination. Learn from the air. It carries all fragrances whether sweet or foul”.

There is also a story of a fisherman explaining why he loves the ocean and how Buddha used this teaching into his Dharma talk. The eight reasons why the fisherman liked the ocean were:
Ocean shores slope gently towards the water, making it easy to drag the boat and net
Ocean stays in the same place
Ocean never holds a corpse, it always pushes it ashore
All rivers enter the ocean and leave their names behind
But the ocean level stays the same
Sea water is always salty
Ocean contains beautiful coral, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones
Ocean gives refuge to thousands of living creatures