A Saktyavesa-Avatara, Dattatreya, is believed to be a Lord-empowered being who acted for a specific purpose. He used to travel naked without any belongings, without any designated destination to reach. His unpredictable waves of laughter and crying seemed like some deity possessed him.
In the eleventh canto of Srimat Bhagwat, Lord Krishna cited a conversation between King Yadu and Dattatreya (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.7.32). Yadu Maharaj, son of Yaayathi, saw Dattatreya in the forest and began questioning him about his advanced spiritual consciousness.
The king asked,” I cannot relate to your source of happiness. Your moods of laughing, weeping, and rolling on the ground confuse me. Why are you acting so? And how are you extremely happy performing such uncommon activities?”
He replied to the King’s inquiry:
santi me guravo rajan
yato buddhim upadaya
mukto ‘tamiha tan srnu
[My dear King, I have abode shelter of numerous spiritual masters with my brilliance. Maintaining achieved transcendental wisdom from them, I now roam about the Earth in an independent state. Please listen as I clarify my gurus to you.]
Dattatreya explained he achieved enlightenment studying his 24 Siksa-gurus, who are: the Earth, wind, sky, fire, the Moon, the Sun, the pigeon, the python, the ocean, the moth, the bumblebee, the elephant, the honey collector, the deer, the fish, the prostitute named Pingala, the hawk, the baby, the maiden, the arrow-maker, the snake, the spider, and the wasp.
Sri Dattatreya was not just explaining his enlightenment but also demonstrating modern problem-solving means in the form of Puranic teachings. He is a key figure in Sustainable environment education. The idealisms and reasonings he provided are worth the attention of emerging environmental experts in a multicultural world.
Guru One: Earth (SB 11.7.37-38)
The earth teaches us to be steadfast in its cycle and duties. An inertia property of staying undisturbed even when oppressed accepts injuries by anthropogenic actions still providing feeds. A human should understand that his/her aggressors are selflessly contributing for the better under the act of god, and a person should never be distracted from his/her progress path.
Guru two: Wind (SB 11.7.39-41)
The wind teaches us to attain freedom without being disturbed by the materialistic world. Wind travels freely without any attachment, the same as the truth. The speed of wind can disturb objects of the materialistic world as it swirls around. If your mind is swirling around materialistic dilemmas, it will be almost impossible to identify the truth.
Guru three: Sky (SB 11.7.42-43)
The sky teaches us to exceed boundaries and reach beyond the material environment. The sky is a boundless, eternal space containing clouds, stars, and air, yet acts as a separate entity unconnected with them. We should embrace all the diversity within us but not be affected by what we contain. The path to exceeding limitations comes from providing the rightful place for visible and unseen objects without letting them confine our consciousness.
Guru four: Water (SB 11.7.44)
Waters teaches us to serve with pride and purify those who come in contact. A saintly person manifests Godhead’s personality transparently, like pure transparent water. Life-preserving water provides purification. If you want to get purified, you need to get associated with purity.
Guru five: Fire (SB 11.7.45-47)
Fire teaches us to take our knowledge into a bigger platform. Fire consumes every materialistic object and converts them into flames of brightness and warmth. The lesson from the fire is like knowledge from teachers that blazes life lessons when conditions are appropriate.
Guru six: Moon (SB 11.7.48)
The moon teaches the phases of life. Every shape-shifts of the moon are equally important spiritually and physically. The value of the moon never ceases to degrade despite rising or falling, waxing or waning, and losing or gaining. The phases generate self-awareness in humans. In a deeper sense, the moon phases symbolize the life cycle: birth, death, and reincarnation.
Guru Seven: Sun (SB 11.7.49)
The sun teaches us to drive the system so that we can provide much-needed gifts at an appropriate time without personal gain. The sun is the major driver of the hydrological regime, the entire biosphere, and the climate. The system formed by these processes has made life possible in the world. The rays of the Sun reflected through various albedo agents reach various nooks. The ray is deluded as multiple, but it is from the same Sun. Our spirits inhabited in distinctly different physical bodies are, in reality, the same.
Guru Eight: Pigeons (SB 11.7.52-74)
Pigeons teach us to be careful about developing obsessions of love and attachments to the materialistic world. Once, the hunter captured a brood of young pigeons in a trap. When emotionally driven parents tried rescuing the young, the adults got trapped too. If you care more for transient stuff, you yourself can get destroyed due to their loss. Sri Dattatrey added that the body is something we temporarily possess and is meant for consumption by other creatures after demise. When he took his life, he reinforced unconditional love for transient stuff equals love as the 25th guru.
Guru Nine: Python (SB 11.8.1-4)
A python teaches us to stay satisfied. The lesson from python is to accept what life brings to us instead of chasing worldly objects. Life is not meant to be misery searching for high desires.
Guru ten: Bumblebee (SB 11.8.9-12)
The bumblebee teaches us to take a little from nature and, in turn, enrich the source from which we fulfill our needs. Bees seek nectars from flowers, but the intake is very little. Before consuming the nectar, the bee sings and flies joyfully to aid the pollination process. However, bees store a lot of materialistic possessions, which is why their home gets invaded. Humans should take the amount we need from nature and enrich the source but not store excessive quantity.
Guru eleven: Beekeeper (SB 11.8.15-16)
Beekeeper has two windows of wisdom. A beekeeper teaches to make others work for you, but you will be the one receiving a profit. In alternate, bee hives teach about collecting more knowledge you need and sharing it with others. A bee consumes little of what it collects and brings much more to the hive, which they will share. The keeper harvests the collectible from hives and sells them to gain profit.
Guru twelve: Hawk (SB 11.9.1-2)
The hawk teaches us that happiness lies in sacrifice, not possession. When Hawk finds some food and picks it by its beak, other larger birds start chasing it. The bird will not find peace until it lets go of the food. We must seek spiritual goals (peace) rather than materialistic goals (food) to gain happiness.
Guru thirteen: Ocean (SB 11.8.5-6)
The ocean teaches discipline. The ocean is a vast, limitless, and mostly calm entity. The lower water layers are almost untouched and undisturbed. Clusters of billions of tons of river water pouring into the river do not change the calmness. We should be disciplined and calm even when we possess numerous materialistic benefits.
Guru fourteen: Moth (SB 11.8.7-8)
The moth teaches us to go for wider knowledge and spirituality despite harsh situations. The moth as Dattatrey guru is the first of the pitfall of senses series. Despite being fatally injured by flames, a moth is driven by lights from fire or bulbs.
Guru fifteen: Elephant (SB 11.8.13-14)
The elephant teaches us to be careful of our aims and desires. In mating season, a male elephant scented the smell of a female elephant in the pit. The uncontrolled male sprung into the pit with his desire for sexual engagement. The pit was a trap created by a hunter when the male was tamed. The restless elephant lost his life when he only cared for desire but did not look at the condition of his surroundings.
Guru sixteen: Deer (SB 11.8.17-18)
The deer teaches us to avoid gossip, news, and rumors we hear. The deer, with a keen sense of hearing, hears the sound of a pleasant flute sound. The sound was from the flute of a hunter, which led deer right into the nets. Identifying truth and genuine authoritative information is a must while making decisions.
Guru seventeen: Fish (SB 11.8.19-21)
The fish teaches us to let go of greed. The fish in the river is caught using bait as a worm or meat on the hook. The best way to let go of immense desire is to control food. Other senses come into control automatically if the food habit is controlled.
Guru eighteen: Prostitute (SB 11.8.22-44)
A prostitute named Pingala teaches us to live with dignity and self-pride. Pingala always feels disgusted with her life, pleasures, earnings, and body. She decided to change her way of living and devote the rest of her life to god. The life of a prostitute shows if our deeds are not of pride, we will not love our livelihood. The best way to earn pride is to devote life to the entity and spiritual learning.
Guru nineteen: Child (SB 11.9.3-4)
A child teaches to demand what you need. A child cries when hungry and stops when his mother starts breastfeeding. As a symbol of innocence, a child is free from materialistic anxiety. As a devotee seeking spirituality, we should demand what satisfies us instead of demanding luxurious materialistic nature objects.
Guru twenty: Maiden (SB 11.9.3-4)
The maiden teaches to focus and screen out. A maiden continuously works to prepare meals, clean the house, do dishes, and wash clothes. Her bangles might disturb her handwork, clothes might get wet, or the cooker might whistle while doing dishes; she performs her duty with full dedication and focus. The materialistic world is a huge distracting factor from the spiritual world. Such illusions should not create a gap between a human and a supreme lord.
Guru twenty-one: Snake (SB 11.9.14-15)
The snake teaches adaptation to surroundings. The snake never creates its own burrow. Instead, it travels to other creatures’ abandoned holes for residents. Flowing through nature, we will get many places to rest even though we do not have our own permanent dwelling place. The other interpretation is that snake leaving alone means that if we want self-realization, we should seek answers in our hearts.
Guru twenty-two: Arrowsmith (SB 11.9.11-13)
The arrowsmith teaches us to have a sharp focus. Once, there was an arrowsmith who was so focused on his arrow-sharpening task that he did not realize the whole King and his army passed by his side. If you are completely absorbed by your task, the materialistic world can not act as a distraction.
Guru twenty-three: Spider (SB 11.9.16-21)
The spider teaches us not to be entangled in our own creation. A little spider worked hard to make its web. After a few days, a bigger spider chased it. While it ran in its web for safety, it got entangled and was consumed by a big spider. Sometimes we create a world that confuses us, entangles us, and consumes us. It is wise to abandon webs of ideas that can trap us.
Guru Twenty-four: Caterpillar (SB 11.9.22-24)
A caterpillar teaches the art of listening. A caterpillar was caught by a songbird and taken into the nest to eat. Even in the face of demise, the caterpillar in peril was mesmerized by songbirds’ vocals. The tune we adore and absorb will make us strong even in death.
Earth displays forbearance, and the wind is freedom of truth. Sun, moon, and ocean symbolize everything that manifests one and only eternal truth. The broad ocean and limitless sky show acquiring spirituality require traveling beyond materiality. The spider is an example of how even our own creation is self-trapping transient. The elephant, deer, fish, and moth warn that too much desire can bring destruction.
Building worldly attachments are also the reason for unhappiness based on lessons from beekeepers, Pingala, hawks, and pigeons. Freedom from materialistic needs provides happiness to a child. The simple living of Bumblebee and snakes is the best way to live. Fire and water are purifiers; the maiden is the guider; the python is the consumer who feeds regardless of what is fed; the arrowsmith demonstrates focus, and the caterpillar teaches concentrating on god will help to meet our ultimate goal of Godhead.